From The Vineyard Gazette, Aug. 7, 1874
Tragedy at Oak Bluffs.
The community has been somewhat agitated for some time past over reports of certain scandalous proceedings at Oak Bluffs, and our readers are already acquainted with the abortive attempt made to mob one of parties implicated. The excitement subsided for a little, but soon revived and culminated in the tragedy of Saturday night.
From the testimony produced, at the Coroner's inquest, the following facts appeared. On the night of August 1st, Abner(?) Dickson, Caleb C. Smith, John Gordon, Geo. W. Watrous and Stephen Robbins met at Dickson's house with the avowed intention of tarring and feathering Samuel K. Eliot, who, it was alleged, was living at 89 Tuckernuck avenue in criminal intimacy with two sisters of Smith's one of whom was the wife of Dickson. At about 9 o'clock they started for Eliot's cottage, with a wagon in which were feathers, tar, etc. After a considerable time consumed in determining how to get Eliot outside, and whether to do anything about it that night or not, it was finally arranged that Watrous, who was not known, should go to the door and ask to see a horse which Eliot had to sell, and which was in a barn at some little distance. He accordingly knocked at the front door, but was finally admitted by Eliot at the side door, Watrous then made known his errand, and Eliot said he couldn't go out that night but that he (W.) could go to the barn and see for himself, and then arrange it Monday morning, or there was a man in the house who would go with him. Watrous insisted that he had come a great way and that the owner of the horse must go out with him and fix it up that night. Eliot still declining, Watrous presented a pistol and produced a pair of handcuffs and said he would compel him to go; whereupon Eliot also drew a revolver and snapped it at Watrous, but failing to discharge it. Smith, hearing the noise rushed in, and, the revolver again missing, they all closed in; Eliot was knocked down but again fired, hitting no one, however, and still again at Smith, who had him in his arms, the ball entering his breast. Smith dropped, but seems to have jumped up again and assisted the others who finally succeeded in dragging Eliot out to the wagon and throwing him in. Then all jumped in and started across the open field to the southwest. Before they had gotten far however, Eliot had freed himself from his captors by kicking or knocking them down, sprang from the wagon and made off. Nobody seems to know exactly, in the confusion, when Smith fell from the wagon. He was found about ten rods from the cottage, seeming to be in great agony, and died about half an hour after he was shot and about twenty minutes after he was found. Drs. Ginn and Mayberry made the autopsy; they reported that the ball entered the breast about two inches to the right of the right nipple, passed through the lower edge of the upper lobe of the right lung to the spine, whence it glanced downward through the left lobe of the liver, and thence down through the spleen, where all trace of it was lost.
The witnesses concurred substantially in their testimony, except that Watrous, says that he didn't draw his revolver until Eliot had become alarmed and presented his and then only did it to intimidate, as it was not loaded.
The inquest opened Sunday morning, continued Monday, and Monday afternoon the jury returned their verdict as follows: --
COMMONWEALTH OF MASSACHUSETTS.
DUKES COUNTY, SS.
The inquisition taken at Edgartown in the County of Dukes County on the 3d day of August, 1874, in adjournment from the 2nd day of said August, before Caleb H. Hobart, one of the coroners of said county of Dukes County, upon view of the body of Caleb C. Smith, there lying dead, by the oaths of the jurors whose hands are hereunto subscribed, who, being sworn to inquire on behalf of the Commonwealth, when, how, and by what means the said Caleb C. Smith came to his death, upon their oaths do say that he, the said Smith, came to his death, by means of a pistol shot fired by Samuel K. Eliot; and the jury further find that Samuel K. Eliot, at the time he fired said pistol shot, to wit, on Saturday evening, Aug. 1, 1874, between the hours of nine and ten o'clock, was acting in self-defence.
(Signed) I. N. LUCE, foreman.
FRANK W. NYE,
JOHN P. FISHER,
CALEB H. HOBART, Corner.
Eliot was accordingly discharged from custody, the other parties being held for examination on the charge of breaking the peace.
Tuesday afternoon Dickson, Gordon, Watrous and Robbins were arraigned before Trial Justice Pease, for aggravated assault, riotous conduct, etc. C. G. M. Dunham, Esq. appeared for the complainant and J. T. Pease, Esq., for the defense. The defendants waived examination and were bound over to the September term of the Superior Court, with bail fixed at $800 each. They all obtained bail but Watrous.
LETTER FROM MR.ELLIOTT
To the Editor of the Gazette.
DEAR SIR: - In view of the many false statements made against my household, I wish to make a few remarks, stating facts as they are. First, I came to this island about four months ago; traded for some property; returned to Worcester, and within two weeks I returned to this place again. I then traded for some cottages, and wishing to bring my aged mother here for her health, also my children, I procured the service of Mrs. P. A. Dexter as housekeeper. She at first said she could not leave her sister, Mrs. Dickson, she being near confinement. I kindly offered to give her a home, with her husband to join us when he returned from his coasting voyage. He, Mr. Dickson, returned in my absence; came to my house; everything was pleasant and agreeable at first, but before I returned he wanted his wife to go back to the house owned by Mrs. Dickson and remain alone, which Mrs. Dickson declined to do until after her confinement. I returned to the island and sent what things Mrs. Dickson had brought for safe keeping to my house back to Mrs. Dickson's, not dumping them down, but setting them down carefully and in good shape. Upon this Mr. Dickson threatened to shoot me and knock my brains out, tar and feather me, &c., to which I paid no attention for the time being. Shortly after a party called upon Deputy Sheriff Vinson, to go and quell a row at Oak Bluff House. He got up at one o'clock, A. M., went to the place above named, found everything all quiet, returned to the cottage, and remarked that he thought it was a sell, gotten up to get him out. The day following I heard that a party of phaps and roughs had made an attempt to tar and feather one of my boarders. They again called at and around my cottage to carry out their plan, but I took the person they were in pursuit of over to Sheriff Norris, asking him to return with us to the cottage, but Mr. Norris advised us both to remain at his house until he had been over and reported how matters stood, &c.
After my friend left my house I thought everything was all peaceable; but simply because I would not turn Mrs. Dickson out of a home where she could be properly cared for during her sickness, the outrage which took place at my house on the night of August 1st, 1874, was perpetrated.
As regards any illegal proceedings at my house there have been none. If I have laid myself liable to the law, I hold myself ready to answer to the law for it, but not to the mob who wish to deal with me as they undertook to do. I hold myself in readiness to answer to the law at all times. What I have done I am truly sorry for. I was obliged to deal with them as I did. It was wholly in self-defense. If a party wants to dictate who I shall have for a housekeeper, or who I shall have board with me, I wish to know where they get their authority. If I am to decide that matter I wish to be protected rather than to be obliged to get up a ten o'clock at night on a pretence to show a horse, or to be forced to leave my cottage against my will, with threats and violence. Respectfully yours,
S. K. ELLIOT.
[Ed. note: According to his Tisbury death record, Caleb C. Smith, son of Thomas and Nancy (Rotch) Smith, died of a gunshot wound on 1 Aug 1874 in the town of Edgartown. He was 28 years old, and a farmer by occupation.]
Back to Island News Comments? Questions? Corrections? Suggestions? Let me know! Return to Dukes County History.