Showing posts with label Gurganus William Isaac. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Gurganus William Isaac. Show all posts

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Swift Justice—Moonshiners in Court - Part 3

Tuscaloosa Court House used for U.S. District Court1

The jury needed only twenty minutes to deliberate on the charges facing Marion W. Gurganus, William Isaac Gurganus, John T. Morgan and Johnnie Gurganus.  In my mind, I can envision the judge reading the verdict and all straining to hear every word.  What did they hope to hear?   Did they consider it even a possibility that the men might go free or was their only hope for leniency?  

According to the newspapers, both Marion and young Johnnie had confessed that there had been a conspiracy and that they had indeed shot at the revenuer and the Marshall.  Newspaper accounts also indicated that Marion had not hired legal counsel and that he had been totally open in court about his role in the shooting and the part others had played. How would his confession impact their sentence? 

Justice was swift in this case.  The initial incident had taken place on April 13, 1910 and court convened on the evening of Thursday, June 10, 1910 and finished the following morning.  The entire process had taken a relatively short amount of time by today’s standards. 

As the verdict was read, both John T.Morgan’s wife and mother began to weep.    Marion and John broke down as they were removed from the courtroom.

According to several newspaper reports, Marion Gurganus, Isaac Gurganus and John T. Morgan were given ten years each on the charge of “conspiring to interfere with an officer in the discharge of his duties,”  and, in addition, on the second charge, which was “conspiracy to interfere with or injure an officer of the government in the discharge of his duties,”  Marion and Isaac were given twenty years and John T. was given ten years.  The three would serve their time in the Federal penitentiary in Atlanta.   Johnnie, however, being only 14 years old was sentenced to ten years in the Federal Reform School in Washington D.C. 

Federal Penitentiary Atlanta 1920 postcard2

I tried to find a written opinion from court records regarding the case in various legal subscription databases (with a little help from friends in the legal profession), but was not successful.  I  had hoped to find microfilmed court records at the Family History Library in Salt Lake, but could not.   Consequently, I have instead relied on newspaper articles  from The Atlanta Constitution3 and Montgomery Advertiser4.

If I had left things at that, I would have gone on assuming that  Marion and his boys went to prison for the charges listed in the newspaper.  But while  searching on Ancestry, I found Marion listed on  the U.S. Penitentiary, Prisoner Index5.   His index entry indicated that Marion was incarcerated on 13 June 1910 and was released on 23 Oct 1925, which meant he actually served a total of about 15 years. In addition, according to that record,  his crime was “conspiracy to murder.”   While this charge made sense to me, the newspaper articles had not suggested that they were ever charged or tried on murder.  A search on the National Archives site, Southeast Region, Atlanta,  brought up the index “Atlanta Federal Penitentiary, Inmate Case Files, 1902-1921.  The information recorded there confirmed what I had found on Ancestry.  Marion, William Ike, and John Morgan were all listed, along with their crime of  “Conspiracy to Murder.” 

Without definitive court records, it is difficult to determine exactly what the charges actually were. It is strange to me that all of the newspaper articles indicated that they were charged and found guilty of conspiracy to interfere with an officer in the discharge of his duties, without any mention of them being charged with conspiracy to murder, although certainly the murder of the revenuer was at the center of everything that happened.  Oh how I wish I had a copy of those court records in order to know exactly what occurred.

I wonder what happened to each of the men once they were released? How had the event and their imprisonment changed them?  Did young Johnnie spend the entire ten years in the reform school as originally dictated?  I wonder if Marion and the others replayed the events of April 13th, thinking how they could have made different choices and achieved a better outcome.  It always amazes me how quickly things can escalate and how rapidly things can evolve into something so different from what was originally planned.

According to  the 1930 census, Marion returned to Tuscaloosa, Alabama. He was listed as a widower and living with him were several daughters, a son-in-law and a grand daughter.  His occupation was listed as farmer and he was living within a few homes of other family members.  By all appearances, he resumed his life, but I wonder if it ever was really the same.  I also wonder if he ever again was tempted to make an extra dollar making moonshine. 

UPDATE: A distant cousin recently shared a picture of this family, which can be found HERE

1.   Wikipedia Commons, in Public Domain

2.   Wikipedia Commons, in Public Domain

3.  Newspaper articles:
“Trio Given Sentences,” Montgomery (Alabama), Montgomery Advertiser,  11 June, 1910, p. 7, Digital images, Genealogy Bank,

“Found Guilty of Conspiring to Interfere With Rights of American Citizen,” Atlanta (Georgia), The Atlanta Constitution, 11 June, 1910, p. 9 col. 3, digital image, (

“Marion Comes to Prison,” Atlanta (Georgia), The Atlanta Constitution, 13 April, 1910, p. 2 col. 3, digital image, (

“Revenue Agent Surber is Back After Raid,” Atlanta (Georgia), The Atlanta Constitution,  17 April, 1910,  p. 15, col. 1, digital image, (

4.   “Trio Given Sentences,” Montgomery (Alabama), Montgomery  Advertiser,     11  June, 1910, p. 7, Digital images, Genealogy Bank,

5.  Atlanta, Georgia, U.S. Penitentiary, Prisoner Index, ca 1880-1922,

Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2013 

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Ambush on a Revenuer- Part 2

Marion Washington Gurganus
Marion Washington Gurganus
picture from
 "From A Helenic Seed"  by Leroy Gurganus
My curiosity was peaked as soon as I discovered the first newspaper article about Marion Gurganus and his moonshine.  I immediately began to dig to see what more I could learn about both Marion and about moonshining in the South. Neither subject disappointed me, although I will say that I did wish I could have learned just a little more about Marion himself as there are always more questions than answers, but this is what I did learn. 

To start with, I  learned that the principle difference in a moonshiner and a distiller was simple.  The distiller had a license and paid taxes, and a moonshiner did not.  In much of the South, farmers struggled to find ways to survive and many a farmer found that making and selling moonshine went a long ways in helping to make ends meet.  If they didn't pay Uncle Sam, it helped their pocketbook that much more.

I learned that revenue agents were determined to catch moonshiners and used every tactic imaginable. Once they caught the moonshiner, some agents just destroyed the still while others arrested the men and helped send them to prison.  Moonshiners soon created their own network,  finding creative ways to signal each other when a revenuer was in the area.  But there were also individuals who saw other moonshiners as competitors and chose instead to tip off revenue agents about the location of neighboring stills.

I also learned that, according to newspaper articles, on April 13th 1910, Revenue Agent W. A. Anderson and Marshall Putnam had been tipped off and were riding through the woods near near Tuscaloosa, Alabama on their way to arrest Marion and his boys for making moonshine.  Anderson and Putnam inevitably had been through similar scenarios dozens of times.  Being a revenue agent was a dangerous and risky job at best, with shoot outs being fairly common.  I am sure that Agent Anderson and Marshall Putnam were painfully aware of the risk and came prepared for such an event, yet as Marion and his boys laid in wait for them, they were caught off guard.  Marion later testified that, as he watched the two men approaching in their buggy, he thought Anderson was about to shoot, so he shot first, killing Anderson instantly.  Putnam was wounded, but able to escape.

I assume that Putnam was able to make it back for help, for soon the word was out that Anderson was dead and Putnam was wounded.  Ten agents formed a posse and rode out to Marion’s property.  Undoubtedly tension was high on both sides as the posse entered the woods where a short time earlier Anderson and Putnam had been ambushed by gunfire.  While the original issue had been the operation of what the newspaper referred to as an “illicit still,”  this time much more was at stake. If the Gurganus men had reacted violently before, there was now an even greater potential for violence, however, a completely different scene awaited the posse.  According to newspaper accounts, as the men approached the area of the shooting, Johnny, Marion’s son, was standing outside and indicated that Marion had indeed fired the fatal shot and then he pointed out Marion’s house  The posse broke into Marion’s house, where they discovered him on the floor in agony, with burns covering his hands and feet.  Later in court, Marion would testify that he had intentionally burned himself in an effort to create an alibi.   I fail to see the logic in this act and apparently neither did the arresting officers or the judge, but somehow, in a moment of panic, it had made sense to Marion.  I am sure he was disappointed that his painful attempt at an alibi was all in vain.  

Marion Washington Gurganus, William Isaac Gurganus , Johnny Gurganus and John T. Morgan were then  arrested and taken to the county jail in Birmingham.  While Marion, Isaac and John T. were all adults, Johnny was only 14 years old at the time.
It is interesting to me that there were two charges made, neither of which included murder.  The first charge was "conspiracy to interfere with an officer in the discharge of his duties," and the second was very similar and was the charge of "conspiracy to interfere with, or injure an officer of the government in the discharge of his duties."  On June 10th, 1910, the men went to trial.  Details of that trial will follow in the next post. 
Meanwhile, there are many good articles on the internet about moonshining.  Below are links to two very interesting articles, including one about moonshine's connection to Nascar. 

The Godfather of North Alabama

NASCAR'S Earliest Days Forever Connected to Bootlegging

Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2013