Thursday, July 31, 2008

Bob Dockery Kills an Irishman

He died in 1895, but I still wonder about the mysterious life and death of a traveling salesman named Pat Brice.

Several years ago, I was perusing some microfilms of old newspapers, when I happened upon a story unrelated to the subject of my research. It was an account of a murder that occurred in Cherokee County, NC, the story written in a style that no newspaper would print today, though I appreciate journalism that has room for a line like "when he had a jager of whiskey it tingled joyfully throughout his entire being."

The utter senselessness of Mr. Brice’s murder made it unforgettable. An innocuous wisecrack cost him his life.

And I’m curious about the facts that weren’t reported, the rest of the story that remains untold. Where had he been before he arrived in Murphy? What became of the merchandise that he’d brought along to sell? Were his mother and sister ever given the sad news? Does a headstone mark the location of Mr. Brice’s gravesite? Did Bob Dockery return to North Carolina to face charges? What ever happened to Sis Roberts and the Widow Hubbard?

Anyhow, here’s the full text of that sad story from the September 10, 1895 edition of the Cherokee Scout (Murphy, NC).

Bob Dockery Kills an Irishman by the Name of Brice

On last Tuesday afternoon about 3 o'clock at an illegal whiskey shop, some two miles from Murphy, on the Hangingdog road, kept by a white woman named Sis Roberts, there was a horrible murder committed.

The victim was an Irishman by the name of M. Brice, familiarly known as Pat, who had been peddling spectacles through the country and boarding at the Widow Hubbard's in our town. He was a genteel fellow and had all the genial qualities common to the sons of Erin, and when he had a jager of whiskey it tingled joyfully throughout his entire being.

So on this occasion he offered some spectacles for sale and said he would give a pair to anybody that was a good Democrat, and threw off good humoredly on the Republicans.

The woman who kept the house called him to her and advised him to be quiet. He took her hand and said he would do so, and just at this time Bob Dockery, one of the three Dockery boys and son of Eli Dockery, who were present, caught up a chair and struck him on the head from behind, crushing his skull, some two and a-half inches above the right ear. Brice fell and after a few minutes scrambled to his feet. He did not know who struck him or why they did it, but seemed to realize that he was badly hurt. Later he knelt down and prayed, and spoke of his mother and sister. He died Wednesday morning about 7 o'clock.

There were present at the time of the killing Sis Roberts, Elmira Reid, Tom, Joe and Bob Dockery and Sid McLelland, colored. Others came up soon after and saw what was done and heard declarations of who did the killing.

The remains of Brice were interred in the Methodist cemetery Thursday afternoon.

An effort was made to apprise his relatives of his death, but they could not be located, but we understand that he has relatives in Cincinnati, Ohio.

The material point at the coroner's inquest was testified to by all the witnesses that we heard. The coroner's jury, after being in session half a day, rendered a verdict that the deceased, known as M. Brice, came to his death from a blow on the head inflicted with a chair in the hands of Bob Dockery. The chair with which Dockery struck and killed Brice was broken all to pieces, showing that the lick was a powerful one.

The witnesses before the coroner's jury all testified that Dockery and Brice had no hard words. In fact, some claim that they had not even spoken to each other.

Last Friday Coroner J.L. Berrong and Deputy Sheriff Hugh Sneed made diligent search for Bob Dockery, but he could not be found. He has not been seen since Wednesday morning, and it is thought that he has left the State.


Cherokee County Courthouse, Murphy, NC, ca. 1909