Frontier towns in America were rough and tumble places after the Civil War. Names like Tombstone, Abilene and Deadwood bring out images of gunfights and saloons. Well we had a number of these rough and tumble places in Mississippi too. As the 19th century came to an end civilization began to take hold in most of these towns, but it took longer in some places than others. Lula in the Mississippi Delta was one of those places that it took a little longer.
As the country celebrated the closing of the Spanish American War and the emergence of the United States as a world power in 1898, a feud came to an end on dusty Front Street in Lula on Saturday December 24th. Deputy Marshall John E. Kennedy represented law and order in the town on that particular day. Not much is known about Marshall Kennedy however Newspaper reports list him as a former Union soldier in the Civil War who had moved to Lula. However, there was also a John Kennedy living in Beat One of Coahoma County on the 1880 Census. He had been born in 1862 in Mississippi though, so that would have made him too young to fight in the Civil War. I’m leaning more toward the younger Kennedy being Deputy Marshall. What we do know as fact about John E. Kennedy was that he had served in the 2nd Mississippi Infantry during the Spanish American War. Kennedy and a man named John W. Brewer enlisted in Company B of the 2nd Mississippi Infantry Regiment United States Volunteers. They both identified their home as being Lula. Company B was mustered into United States Service on June 1, 1898 at Jackson. They were mustered out at Columbia, Tennessee on December 21st. Both Brewer and Kennedy were privates. Upon returning home, Kennedy became Marshall of Lula. To help him on that particular day, he had deputized William T. Grady. Grady was a salesman in the store of N.E. Sledge and Company. With guns in hand the two men walked toward a cotton platform near the deport. They were after Richard Harman. Harman was a local farmer who had moved to Lula about a year before and had been involved in trouble ever since. Harman figured Kennedy was coming and carried his own pistol. In order to understand why this scenario was playing out, we must look back at how it started.
In 1897 a shootout occurred between three men in the middle of a street in Lula and two were killed. One of these men was a cousin of Richard Harman. This cousin had been bullying a local farmer every time he came to town. Finally tired of it, the farmer had brought his Winchester rifle to Lula. When he saw the two men who had been bothering him, the farmer opened fire killing them both. He was arrested and put on trial where a jury acquitted him. A local merchant named Thomas H. McKenzie took an interest in the case and began to boast about helping get the farmer out of trouble. Richard Harman took offense at this and became angry at the store owner. One night McKenzie was shot in the shoulder near the railroad depot by an unidentified assailant. Although everyone suspected Harman, they couldn’t get any solid proof. McKenzie and his friends had had enough of Harman and got a judge to issue a warrant for him. He was accused of selling liquor and running a “blind tiger.” A “blind tiger” is an illegal bar. With the town on edge, it was at this point that the two law enforcement officers walked toward the platform where Richard Harman was waiting.
Kennedy walked up directly on Harman and the two men locked eyes as Grady slid to one side of the Marshall in support. Kennedy informed Harman about the arrest warrant. He had barely said these words when Harman drew his pistol firing the first of five shots he would get off that day. Marshall Kennedy was shot twice, but managed to shoot Harman twice. Both men fell dead. William Grady was struck in the left lung in the hail of bullets and taken to a Memphis hospital by train where he would soon die. Newspapers from around the state and country picked up the story. This was the time of national journalism and a growing interest in the wild regions still left in our country like the Mississippi Delta. It was indeed a bloody affair in Lula.
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