Not many people today talk about the terrible January 3, 1893 riot that took so many lives in Bakersville. Maybe not many know about it and those that do just want to forget that awful time. Perhaps their relatives were among the mob of over 500 angry men bent on revenge. The mob completely overpowered the brave men in law enforcement who killed some 25 of them. But they were no match and after seven of their number were killed those remaining were not able to keep Calvin Snipes, who murdered Isaac Osborne, from being taken out into the dense woods and hanged. A posse was formed and 25 more men were killed.
As they say today, the story went viral and included accounts in dozens of newspapers coast to coast as indicated from the St. Joseph Telegraph. The story also made the London Times. The most informative account of the riot is included in K.B. and S.R. Whitson’s book, Red Hill: The Untold Story of the Whitson Brothers and the Murder of Kit Byrd (copies at Mitchell or Spruce Pine Library, in the MCHS research room, or available from 322 Farmer Hollow Road, Clinton, TN 37716). While the story was so widely circulated as indicated above, the major reason why it is not often discussed today is that the entire episode was a fabrication and news hungry media were quick to grab onto “the bloodiest battle since the Little Big Horn.” Fake news!
And now the rest of the story…
We take you back to 1983, when within 2 days, many reporters, to their shock and dismay, discovered that the entire story of the Bakersville Riot was “the libelous account by the Bakersville fake.” The following information is from newspapers of the time.
The Bakersville News reported: “We have been convinced that no less an individual than J. Wallace Hyams is responsible for the libelous account the Bakersville fake above alluded to.”
J.W., as he was known, was born in Bakersville, the son of W. S Hyams, Clerk of the Superior Court of Mitchell County. He attended well known private schools in NC, eventually “receiving a most thorough English education.” He studied law with T.A. Love in Bakersville (1892-93) and “would have applied for license to practice law in 1893, but for his tender years.”
In January 1893, it was reported that J. W. became City Editor of the Johnson City Daily Comet. However, the Daily Comet reported 1/24 that “the world’s champion liar who victimized the press of the whole country…has skipped the town, leaving his hotel in the lurch to the amount of his board. The report current that he was at any time, and in any way, connected with the Daily Comet is untrue,” Four days earlier it was reported under the heading, “Good!” that “the originator of the purported Bakersville riot is wearing a sore head tonight, the result of a fight with Captain H.F. Perry in which Hyams was badly whipped.”
J.W. became Editor and Proprietor of the Bakersville Enterprise in 1894 and apparently redeemed himself. He was married to “the beautiful and accomplished Nellie G. Bateman of Virginia,” and had a son, Carl Gibbons Hyams, born December 1894 and died 3 months after his father. J.W. died on 1/1/1895 and was buried exactly 2 years to the day his elaborate hoax supposedly took place. Father and son are buried in the Historic Bakersville Cemetery.
The Bakersville Enterprise, 1/2/1895, offers this account of his death: “Mr. J. Wallace Hyams, editor and proprietor of the Bakersville Enterprise, died at his residence on Hill street, Bakersville, N.C. on January 1st, 1895 at 2:30 p.m. after a painful and lingering illness of several weeks with typhoid fever…buried from the M.E. Church at Bakersville on Jan. 3rd, at 2 p.m. by the Rev. Mr. Anderson, his pastor, attended by a large concourse of mourning friends and relatives. Mr. Hyams was a most brilliant young man, just arrived at manhood’s estate.” Another newspaper called him a “talented young editor.”
From the 5/9/1895 Morganton Herald: “Our contemporary, the Bakersville Enterprise, has started up again, Good Luck to it.” The new editor S.J. Turner, turned editorship over to James Britt in 1896.