Rich, Mississippi is a small community in northern Coahoma county with a population of less than fifty souls. There isn’t a store or post office and really not much of a town. It lies on the banks of the Yazoo Pass which was made famous during the Civil War in one of Grant’s failed attempts at Vicksburg. The small community also has the distinction of the being the childhood home of author Thomas Harris who gave the world such horror novels as “Silence of the Lambs” and “Red Dragon.”
Rich is indeed just a sleepy little delta hamlet surrounded by cotton and soybean fields located within earshot of historic Highway 61, but it has a past. Like most places in the Delta that past has a smattering of violence, blues, heartache and excitement. America in the 1920s was a land of jazz and prohibition. With temperance came bootlegging though. Speakeasies like the Cotton Club in Harlem became famous as celebrities and criminals rubbed elbows over a bottle of illegal liquor. Smaller towns like Rich had their own speakeasies too and that’s where our story will unfold.
In 1927 Rich boasted a cotton gin, a theatre and few stores. The town had been named after a local merchant named Richberger who carried with him a shady and somewhat criminal past. Although life was usually slow things picked up on weekends when the farm hands got paid and wanted to raise a little hell. That hell could usually be found in a few homes which doubled as juke joints on Saturday night. Liquor was illegal, but local police usually looked the other way unless somebody complained. This was the Delta after all. We like a little sin as long as it doesn’t interfere with our sleep.
Several locals had grumbled to the Coahoma sheriff’s department about one particular home which was labeled “the most notorious dive in the county.” Nearly forty people had gathered at this juke joint on Saturday November 26. 1927. The gin was flowing and music playing when suddenly the law arrived. Deputy sheriffs Bob Frazier, W.D. Rasberry and Frank Hamilton stormed in the back way. Cutting off escape Deputy Hunter Scott along with policemen Happy Davis and O.L. England entered the front. With revolvers drawn the deputies ordered everyone to line up. Seeing a would-be reveler they knew, a deputy ordered Jim Harris to stand at the front door and not let anyone else enter. Quickly they got to work searching for weapons and illegal booze. Suddenly there was yelling at the front door. Carter Williams had appeared demanding to be let in the house. When told by Scott that the law was inside, Williams responded by saying “Damn the law, let me in or I’ll shoot that door down!” Whether angered or drunk, the thirty-year old Carter Williams was not happy about his spot being raided.
Realizing he wasn’t stopping, Deputy Scott told Harris to open the door. Producing a pistol Carter Williams barged in. Scott grabbed at the man as the two struggled over the pistol. The revolver fired grazing Hunter Scott’s hand. Another shot went wild and hit a female patron named Rosa Saddler in the leg. Then a third shot hit the wall near Deputy Frazier. In the melee Scott produced his weapon and fired twice striking Williams in the head killing him instantly.
During the confusion and panic nearly all of the people managed to escape except the wounded Rosa Saddler. She would be taken to the hospital and eventually return home. Nobody was arrested and the deputy was only slightly injured. Unfortunately, Carter Williams had lost his life. No reason for why he had produced a gun or wanted to come inside was ever given in the papers. A man was dead. A juke joint was closed until the next weekend. This was life in the Mississippi Delta and that was Rich on a Saturday night.
“The Clarksdale Press Register” 28 November 1927, Monday – Page 1.