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
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 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
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
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
"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.
Submitted by [an error occurred while processing this directive]
(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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