Horrible outrage.

by Lisa Y. Henderson


Three Radicals Murder a Negro, His Wife and Four Children in Their Own Home.

The House Burned to Conceal the Crime – A Mother’s Devotion – The Woman Alarms Neighbors and Secures the Arrest of the Murderers.

RALEIGH, N.C., May 2, 1871.

The Sentinel of to-day has a correspondence from Rutherford Court House, which give the details of one of THE MOST HORRIBLE OUTRAGES that has ever shocked human ears. The perpetrators of the deed are radicals, though it partakes of the nature of Ku Klux Klan outrages. Six souls were, without a word of warning, ushered into eternity, and their slaughtered bodies afterwards consumed in the flames of their burning home. The outrage occurred in Morgan township, on the border of McDowell county, and is as follows:

Silas Weston, a free negro before the war, has for many years been living with Polly Steadman, a white woman of loose character. Polly has or had four children, white, the oldest about fourteen, the youngest nearly two years of age.

SILAS AND POLLY lived peaceably together, and were in better circumstances than most of their class. Some time ago three notorious characters – Govan and Columbus Adair and M. Bernard – were charged with the theft of a quantity of brandy and bound over at McDowell County Court. Silas had seen the thieves carrying off the booty, and was subpoenaed as the principal witness for the prosecution. The Adairs threatened his life if he peached but Silas expressed a determination to bring the rogues to justice. What we now proceed to tell is THE SWORN DEPOSITION of the woman Polly Steadman: — On Wednesday evening, April 26, shortly after nightfall, while the family were preparing to retire to peaceful repose, the dog began to bark violently. Polly, looking through chinks between the logs, received a pistol bullet in the eye. With a wild scream she sprang back, and at that instant the door was broken down and in rushed Govan Adair, Columbus Adair and Bernard FIRING AS THEY CAME. Silas fell dead, with two balls in the head. One of the assassins stood over the children as they lay upon the floor, shooting them through the head like so many pigs. Polly stopped to creep under the bed, but was flung back. Then she began to fight like a tigress. One of the butchers attacked her with a knife. Finally, with five deep cuts on the body, with her throat deeply gashed and a pistol shot through the eye, this poor creature sank to the floor and was kicked into a pile of broom straw preparatory to THE GRAND AUTO DA FE.  Meanwhile every voice in the family had been stilled. Six lifeless bodies lay on the bloody floor – the old man on the hearth, the mother haggled in pieces on the straw, and the children in their night clothes, lying where they fell – all had been jostled by rude feet. The fiends contemplated their work, to make sure it had been done thoroughly, and prepared to hide their tracks. Piling up clothing, straw and other combustible matter they applied the match, and then, with an ineffaceable stain on their souls, fled away into the darkness.

A MOTHER’S DEVOTION. And now occurred what may well sound marvelous. Polly Steadman, scorched by the flames, arouses herself, seizes her youngest child, who gives signs of life, and, crawling towards the door, tries to drag out another child, but nature fails, and the body lies just outside the threshold; then, with supernatural strength, Polly staggers the distance of half a mile to the residence of Mrs. Williams, and gives THE ALARM. It is too late. Three bleached skeletons grin from the ashes,, and a blistered corpse lay without the door.  As soon as possible messengers were dispatched for Sheriff Walker and for medical assistance; but before either arrived, Polly, supposing herself in the last agony of death, solemnly testified against the murderers. She knew them well; they were her near neighbors, and were not disguised. Her testimony was so clear and positive it carried conviction to all who heard it. Accordingly Squire Hanes promptly issued a warrant for THE ARREST of the suspected parties. They were found at home, one of them in bed, though late in the day. Sheriff Walker arrived shortly afterward and conveyed the prisoners to this place, where they are closely confined. Commenting on this horrible affair, it is proper to state with emphasis that all the parties are of the lowest order of society, and that all of them, the slain and the slayers, are radicals of the deepest dye. The Adairs for years have attended the polls for no other purpose than to insult and intimidate conservative voters. So “trooly loil” were they that even with murder in their hearts they sought to make the deed redound for the benefit of the party.

Reading Eagle, Reading, Pennsylvania, 4 May 1871.

In the 1860 census of Catheys Creek, Rutherford County: Cinthia Weston, 41, (described as “idiotic”), Elizabeth, 32, Stephen, 21, and Silas Weston, 20. In the 1870 census of Morgan, Rutherford County: Silus Western 50, farmer, wife Mary, 25, and children Harberd, 10, Docia, 6, David, 4, and Mary, 7 months. Silus, Harberd and baby Mary were described as mulatto; Mary, Docia, and David as white. Nearby, the large household of James H. and Arminta Adair, which included sons Columbus, 26, and Govan, 24.