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"The Revenge of John Pryor"

True and Thrilling Story Of The Life Of Noted North Georgian

The following story is a reprint verbatim, of a story written for the Rome Tribune by Houston Harper, a member of the staff and published in the edition of April 18, 1897. Not a line has been changed, nor the manner of spelling the name.

Opinion may differ regarding details of the story. The preliminary announcement elicited considerable comment and much interest. Many old-timers, who knew the family well, state that the tale does not do the man justice. Few recall just who wrote the story, and it has been variously credited to staff writers for the paper--Fred Govan, Ivy Ledbetter---even Jas. B. Nevin has been mention as the author.

It is not reprinted as controversial material. It represents the earnest desire of the Rome News Tribune to give its readers the best there is. The original copy was secured through the kind co-operation of Mrs. George T. Watts, from her grandmother, Mrs. Hamrick, of Cedartown, who has valued it all the years. If the promised republication does no more than remind the citizens of North Georgia that they are sprung from stock that was firm in determination and brave as lions, it will have justified the effort involved.


PRYOR'S STATION, GA., April 17--Six men have been slain by John T. Pryor, of this place, to avenge the murder of his father. He has never been arrested, nor suffered any penalty for his half-dozen manslaughters. He traveled through Texas and Arkansas in search of one the murders of his father.
Of all stories of southern romance and revenge this true history of Mr. Pryor is one of the most trilling ever recorded. In fact, the life of this fearless man, full of tragedy, mingled with comedy, who made a novel stranger than fiction.
Throughout Northwest Georgia the fame of John T. Pryor has spread and stories of the number of men he has killed have been exaggerated into a score or more. There are few boys in this section who have not heard since childhood of his wonderful shooting with pistol, rifle and shotgun, for he is regarded as a mighty Nimrod. It was told that he could kill thirty quail in the field, firing first one barrel and then the other without missing a shot; that he hunted squirrels with a pistol, bringing them down from the tallest trees, and as for turkey, deer and other game the record was decreed to unimportant to mention. It was with peculiar interest that I called on this Esau of Georgia yesterday and heard from his own lips the story of his remarkable life. His home, which is in sight of the railroad station named for him, is a comfortable frame house of colonial style, and was built shortly after the war. It is of a much better type than the average southern farmer's home. With the noted and cordial hospitality, of Dixie Land he invited me in and insisted that I stay to dinner. "I never turn anybody away," says he. "I have a special room out here where I feed the tramps.
Cold Glittering Eyes

The Pryor family was among the earliest to settle in the fertile and very productive Cedar Valley. Our hero was born in Green county, Ga. July 22, 1840 and is, accordingly, 57 years old. He is a typical Georgia mountaineer about five feet, eleven inches tall and very thin and wiry. Some people would say he is delicate. That is a mistake. He is all muscle. His features are pinched and small and a straggling gray beard covered his face. The moment you look at him here is one feature that impressed you so that you scarcely look at the others, although you are only permitted fleeting glances. Never have I seen such weird, peculiar eyes as those of John Pryor. They are small, gray and glitter like a jewel.
"You see as if you were looking through me at that nail head in the floor," I remarked.
" I never center my eyes on anybody but a person I hate," he says. I know their effect on people, and have often been told what you say, so that I never stare at anybody because it would frighten them."
But for a minute, at my request he looked me squarely--in the eyes, and I saw, strange to relate, that there was no white around the little glassy, gray iris, while the pupil semed never to dilate, but was always minimized. If the "eye is the window of the soul" this nervy North Georgia hero must have a peculiar soul indeed. No Negro in all this cotton and iron territory would dare to meet the spirit of the slayer of six men, and they all believe his house is haunted. (The Rome News Tribune, Sunday, January 4, 1931, page 16)

As this history of Mr. Pryor will concern the period of the closing of the Civil war it will be necessary to relate some of the existing conditions. The Pryor family, with a large number of slaves and broad acres of productive land, became wealthy, and at the time of the firing on Fort Sumter counted their possessions way up in the hundred thousands. H.M. Pryor, father of the avenging son, was a strong man.

Sympathizer With The Union

He believed the slavery question ought to have been settled without war. John T. Pryor, our hero, went to the war with a Georgia cavalry company, but after a few months returned home, having hired a substitute. He says he saw there was no hope of the Confederate states winning.

In Georgia a reign of terror and lawlessness followed Sherman's march to the sea. Despite the fact that Colonel Pryor was such a strong Union sympathizers the soldiers of Sherman burned his barns and warehouses in which were stored 365 bales of cotton, besides helping themselves to all corn provisions hogs and cattle they wished. Cotton was then worth $2.20 per pound. Just after the war Colonel John Pryor sold forty bales he had for 50 cents a pound, or a total of $10,000. The robbing and plundering by marauding bands became so great after Sherman passed on that Governor Brown was prevailed upon to appoint a home militia for protection in various parts of Georgia. H.M. Pryor was appointed captain for the Cedartown district. These depredations were generally committed, it was said by Gatewood and Colquitt's scouts. There were illegal Confederate scouts appointed by the men whose name they bore. They carried on a guerilla warfare. They killed all the Yankee stragglers behind Sherman, but at the same time felt no compunctions about helping themselves to whatever they wanted at southern homes. They were cordially hated by the people of both sides, for their sneaking methods and high-handed deeds. There is no record of how many wealthy southern people they hanged or killed, but some of them are now remember. These desperadoes, under the mask of scouts, hanged Judge Burrell near Rome and got his money; killed Mr. Omberg, and a villain named Phillips, who will hereafter appear conspicuously, got his watch; Mr. Allgood, the owner of ?rion factory, was hanged and left for dead because he would not tell where his money was hidden; Mr. Cohen, a wealthy miller and merchant, was hanged until life was almost extinct, and until he told the hiding place where several thousand dollars were dug up. All the above victims were among the leading men of North Georgia. This brings this true history down to the time of the Pryor tragedy, and it is best to let John T. Pryor tell about it in his own words.

The Avenger's True Story

"After the appointment, of my father, H.M. Pryor, as captain of the home militia in the Cedartown district, we began active measures to check the marauding mands," said Mr. Pryor. "One day on the road between Pryor's Station and Cave Spring we came upon a band of five of the so-called scouts, whom we had been pursuing. The desperadoes were armed to the teeth, but my father and I and the others of the party got the drop on them and ordered them to ride up one at a time and surrender. All of them did so except one, who was riding a showy calico or piebald horse. His name, I afterwards learned, was "Ducky" Ward, and that he was from Texas. I had covered him with my rifle. As the last man was riding up to surrender, Ward, who could ride like a cowboy, threw himself on the side of his horse and started off in a gallop. In a few moments I sent a rifle ball after him, and we knew it did its work, as we saw the dust fly. Just before we took up our line of march with our prisoners for Cedartown a man came down the road leading. Ward's horse and said that there was a man lying dead near a branch up the road. After a few days in the Cedartown jail our prisoners were sent to Newnon, to the militia prison, but within two weeks had been set free and were back in this section. They threatened to kill my father for having them arrested, and a fellow named Phillips was very bitter.

In arresting these desperadoes we often ran great risks. Colquitt, the leader of the Colquitt scouts, was in Cedartown shortly after this, and his men were terrorizing everybody. I was detailed to arrest Colquitt and went in search of him one night with another officer. We found him in a drunken stupor on the counter of a store in Cedartown. When we aroused him he was very quarrelsome and cursed loudly. We let him rave, but when he reached for his pistol to shoot us I saw I had not a moment to lose. I sent a bullet, through his heart. All the people said it was good riddance. I have now told you of the killing of two men.

Murder Of His Father

"It was on April 6, 1865, shortly before the assassination of Lincoln that my father was murdered by some of the desperadoes we had arrested. They had threatened to kill him, but he never took it seriously. The murder occurred on the road between here and Cave Spring, and about two miles from Pryor's Station. Father had been to visit Mr. Hampton, and left there to return home, when not one hundred feet from the gate a party of the lawless scouts met him. The leader of the party, of whom there were four was the fellow Phillips, whom we had arrested in the first gang not from from the very spot he now held up my father. Mr. Hampton did not like the looks of the fellows and stood out in his yard watching them. There was some conversation between them and my father, while his colored body servant was a short distance behind.
Phillips then drew his pistol and deliberately killed my father, shooting him at close range through the heart. With the murderer as particeps criminis were two men named Montgomery and Bishop and a young fellow whose name I do not care to mention. The killing occurred about 10 o'clock in the morning, but I did not hear of it until about noon, as I was out hunting. As quickly as possible I had my horse saddled and road to the scene of the murder. I learned all I could as to the murderers, and leaving the body to be cared for by one of my brothers road of with the single purpose of killing the guilty men. However, I was unable to get any trace of them and returned to my home about dark. About 1 o'clock, accompanied by a faithful Negro and several friends, all on horseback. I started out again. We were rewarded by striking a hot trail. At the Wheelers a few miles from my home we found they had been robbed by the prowling scouts. One of the Wheeler boys joined us in the pursuit. About sun-up we reached old Tom Treadaway's and found he himself had been driven out of the house by outlaws. Mrs. Treadaway was a good old soul, and was weeping as she told of the outrages they committed. May the good Lord help you to catch them, she said, and then she fell on her knees and prayed for the deliverance of the bandits into her hands. I am a sort of an infidel, but I believe.

That Old Woman's Prayer

Helped me to catch up with the guilty scoundrels. We road on rapidly across the Alabama line to Ladigo for which point we thought they would make, but we could learn nothing of them. Baffled, but never despairing. I rode three miles to Cross Plains, a point lower down. Here I could find no clue. On my return to Ladigo it occurred to me that there was a certain road leading out of the town on which there was a school house, and riding there I asked the teacher's permission to question the boys. It was given and to my delight I was given a good description and found the men had passed there. We were joined by a young man at Ladigo with a fresh horse and as mine was very spirited we road ahead of the others by a mile or two. I soon could tell that we were not very far behind the gang, as the tracks of their horses were fresh. I road even faster, hoping to catch sight of the rascals. It was between 11 and 12 O'clock when just beyoun Coloma, Ala. I rode up in front of the Widow Lane's house and saw two men sitting under some trees and three horses tied near by. I remember the pink and white blossoms of the peach trees, and the house situated as it was at the foot of the Wiseman mountains made a most inviting place. The men I think saw me about the same time I saw them and both sides were somewhat surprised. One of them made a movement to reach for his gun. I jumped off my horse in a single bound, cocking my double barreled shotgun, fired before he raised his. One of the men fell over riddled with buckshots, while the other ran around the house. I drew my pistol and ran after him, but just around the corner came upon his dead body where he fell. A girl about sixteen years old came running to the door and said: I am so glad you killed them. They threaten to shoot me if I did not cook their dinner. When I was about to jump off my horse one of my men had yelled to me that there was a fellow down the road shooting at me. I had looked in the direction and seen the smoke. When I got back to my horse they told me the fellow had taken to the woods. I quickly caught up with him and kicked him. His name was Poe, and the name of the other two, Slack and Tucker. They were not the murderers of my father, but doubtless belonged to the same gang. They were all well armed. Tucker had on four pistols and about $200 in money, which I divided among the men who accompanied. I gave my Negro one of the horses and a pistol. I insisted on the girl in the house taking half the money. She would not do it, so I gave her $5. We then rode back home, which I reached in time to attend my father's funeral.

The Sixth Victim

"For several weeks following the murder of my father I staid around home, occasionally going off on short trips, when I heard of Phillips, Montgomery or Bishop being in our section of country. They knew that it was dangerous for them to get into my neighborhood, as I would kill them on sight. It was Phillips that I wanted more than the other two, as he was the murderer, although I swore to never rest until all had bit the dust. The country was considerably excited with the news of the assassination of President Lincoln, but nothing made me lose sight of my purpose to revenge the cold-blooded murder of my father. I learned that Phillips, when not on a free-booting excursion, lived on a farm down in Haralson county. I made a trip there in June but missed him.
"I was more successful on my second trip. It was early in July that one of my brothers and two friends started out about nightfall for Phillips' home with the determination of killing him. We surrounded his home somewhere about 3 o'clock in the morning. I was on a little path that led through the woods to the clearing beyond. The others were well stationed, and as he was at home, as we had heard and had every reason to believe, we did not see how he could escape. Just before day somebody came out of the house and down the path past where I lay. It was to dark for me to see. I would have hailed him and ordered him to throw up his hands but I was afraid it was not Phillips, he would go off and give the alarm, and if it was, he might get the drop on me. Therefore he passed on without any notion of my presence. I laid out there in the woods until about 8 o'clock, and as I had seen and could see no sign of a man about the premises, I gave the Bob White whistle for my comrades. The one nearest to me came up and I told him the circumstances. We determined to follow the man who had gone out so early. Taking the path we followed it for about half a mile, when we came to an open field at the foot of a high hill. There in the center of the field was Phillips plowing. We quickly drew back under the thick cover of the woods without him seeing us. Then I rode around to the top of the hill above him and waited in the edge of the woods. He plowed on to the end of the row under the hill, and just as he was going to turn around I stepped out from the woods and covered him with gun.
"Phillips," says I, I want you.
"Let me go to the house first and see my wife, says he.:
"No, I want you right now.: says I.
"Well, let me unhitch my horse from the plow."
"All right, go ahead, but be quick about it."
"About a mile away beyond the woods I could see the women and children running out of the house, and I knew they had seen some of our party and knew our mission. They were starting toward the field and I knew unless I killed him pretty quick they would all be crying and sniveling around me. Phillips, while surprised, showed no great agitation. He knew that his time had come. I kept my gun on him, and when he had taken the harness off his horse he came on up.
"Phillips, who killed my father?" says I.
"He gave me the name of a man who I knew had no connection with the murder. I told him I had the best of evidence that he did the killing. Then he fell on his knees and began to beg for his life.
"You needn't expect any mercy from me," says I. 'I am going to kill you.'
He then asked for a drink of water, and I told him we would get over the fence and go to the spring. We had just gotten over the fence when he started to run. I drew a pistol and shot him in the back. He fell on his side and then rolled over on his back. I walked up to him and shot out his heart with my gun.
"Montgomery, one of the other murderers, lived near Phillips and I wanted to get him too. I could have killed him that very morning and once before, but had determined to shoot Philips first. Seeing that my victim was too dead to even kick again I jumped on my horse and rode to Montgomery's as fast as I could. But he had gone. He had got wind of me and fled the country. I had people looking for him in Texas, and I once went to Oklena Arkansas after him, but his brother-in-law so plead with and persuaded me that I did not kill him. Bishop died within a short time after I killed Phillips. About five years ago Montgomery died in Arkansas.
"So now I have told you the tragedy part of my life as it occurred. I have told you all the truth, for half the truth is worse than a lie. HOUSTOUN R. HARPER

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(NOTE: H M Pryor, the father, is Haden Matthew Prior born April 5, 1812 died April 6, 1865. He is buried in the Asa Prior Cemetery on Brooks Street in Cedartown.)

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