THE RED SUMMER
A Series of Unfortunate Events
Part 1 of 4
Little Miss Mary Stanley forgot her parasol as she was headed to church on a lazy Sunday summer afternoon. Mary never dreamed that her one moment of innocent forgetfulness would indirectly lead to the deaths of four men and the serious maiming of another. It all started at one of the most historic intersections in Laurens County. It ended on a hard bunk in a cold cell of the dank Laurens County jail.
The scene is Thomas Cross Roads, one of Laurens County's most ancient landmarks. This is the place where the red men greeted each other as they trekked along their ancient paths. This is the place where the Blue and the Gray stopped as they were looking for the fleeing Confederate President Jefferson Davis or where General Joseph Wheeler brought his 10,000 man cavalry force in an attempt to thwart the villainous General William T. Sherman's 60,000 man right wing as it cut a devastating swath through Middle Georgia. This is the place where the venerable Governor and U.S. Senator, George M. Troup, maintained a small plantation, not too distant from where Laurens County's government began in 1808. None of these historical facts seemed to matter to the people who gathered there on that faithful Sabbath afternoon.
Buster Wells and his wife Winnie were heading toward late afternoon church services on the afternoon of June 15, 1919. It was a beautiful fair late spring Sunday afternoon. Their daughter and her friend were driving down the Old Macon Road when Mary noticed that she had left her parasol. The little girl asked Buster to stop his car at the home of Mrs. Alice Carswell, the mother of one Herbert Cummings, and some four and one half miles from the Wells place. Wells stopped his Overland car. After the girls warned him that cars were coming down the road behind him, Buster immediately pulled off to the right shoulder of the road as close as he could to the slope of a four-foot-high embankment. Wells parked just beyond the yard gate, leaving plenty enough room, or so he thought, for cars to pass by.
Tailing just behind the Wells family was one Raymond Cannon, son of James N. "Mr. Jim" Cannon, a prominent area farmer and his wife, the former Miss Mollie Green. Cleveland Currington, a twenty-four-year-old married sharecropping farmer working for Cannon, was driving his Maxwell car on the way to see Charlie Stinson. Though he couldn't recall why he going there, ol' Cleveland did seem to vividly remember in exacting detail all of the events of the afternoon, which contrasted starkly from Buster Well's account. "I saw Mr. Cannon, who I knew, coming down the road when he saw Buster Wells pull out in front of Cannon's stripped down Ford automobile. I don't know exactly where he was going," he remembered as they left the Cannon home. Currington recalled that he was traveling about 15 to 20 miles an hour about a quarter of a mile from the crossroads when he saw that Cannon's car was about sixty feet away from Well's car.
All of sudden Wells began to back up, a move which ended in a rear end collision. He distinctly remembered that Well's car was not on the side of the road as Wells had said but definitely in the dried mud ruts in the center of the narrow road some 50 to 60 yards ahead of Cannon on a slightly uphill grade. Currington was able to pass Wells on the right but Cannon tried to stop and couldn't. After skidding about thirty feet, Cannon's car collided with Well's automobile, which according to the witness had backed up some thirty feet and was still backing up upon impact with Cannon's car. The sole white observer of the collision opined that no one could have avoided the collision when Wells was backing up as he did. He saw no evidence that Cannon was driving recklessly, although he did admit that
both he and Cannon liked to take an occasional drink of moonshine when the notion came over them.
Raymond E. Cannon was a veteran of the late war. The resident of Rt. 2, Montrose was inducted into the U.S. Army on July 17, 1918. He served at Camp Greenleaf at Fort Oglethorpe in northwest Georgia until August 22nd, when he was transferred to the U.S. Army Hospital # 1 in New York, where he was discharged on February 28, 1919.
Cannon, agitated and aggravated, got out of his car and sprinted toward the Well's car. Cannon's car was slightly damaged, suffering a bent radiator. The men quietly and peaceably assessed the slight damages and came to an amicable settlement. That's when all Hell broke lose.
Hubert Cummings was visiting his mother at her Route # 4 home when he heard a loud noise. He sprang to his feet and ran to see what the matter was. Witnesses to the event told the happenings which followed differently. Currington said Cummings came out and told Wells "you don't pay him a damn cent, it wasn't your fault. Cannon told Cummings to hush, telling him that he had no business in the matter. Then Cummings ran back into the house. He appeared a few moments later brandishing a single barrel shot gun. Currington clearly remembered the alleged assailant standing in a garden before Cummings dashed toward the scene of the collision, aimed his gun at Cannon, and screamed "Now, God d..n you, make me hush!" Cannon turned to see the barrel of Cumming's gun pointed straight at him. Buster Wells slowly backed away, not wanting to alarm either one of the
combatants, who were standing just beyond the garden in the middle of the road.
Cummings fired. Cannon, a fine physical specimen, was thirty one years old and
weighed about 145 pounds. He died almost instantly from the wounds to his breast and face, but not before he managed to pull his pistol, its trigger guard broken from the impact of the buck shot, from his pocket and get off a futile shot at his assailant. The girls screamed. Buster tried to comfort them, knowing that Cummings was not going to shoot them and it was all over, or so it seemed. After the commotion subsided, Cleveland Currington picked up the pistol, which wound up at the home of Cannon's father though Currington denied under oath that he took it there.
Realizing that his friend was dead, Currington sped to the Cannon home to tell his family what had happened. Cummings, fearing for his life, set out toward the nearby Chappell's Mill pond. The Cannons took their son's body for burial in lower Wilkinson County in the old family cemetery on the place of his great granddaddy, ol' man Eason Green. Sometime later after his death, the State of Georgia marked his grave with a marker indicating that he was a member of the 157th Depot Brigade.
All night and throughout the next day, some two hundred or so of Cannon's armed neighbors and friends frantically searched Burgamy's District for the suspected murderer. Cummings later stated that he ran back into the house and met Buster Wells in the back yard. From there, Hubert said that he rode with Buster to his house. Cummings left on Monday night, with a small stipend from Buster in his pocket. Somehow, he managed to escape and found his way to Lyons, Georgia.
A reward of $1,000.00 was posted for the capture of Hubert Cummings. Half of the money was put up by the family and friends of Raymond Cannon. The other half came from the State of Georgia. An all points lookout was placed for Cummings, who was described as six feet tall and weighing 175 pounds. He was described as large muscled with a ginger brown complexion with a slight tinge of red. Cummings wore a size 10-11 shoe and could be further identified by a gold crowned tooth on the right side of his mouth and having a small scar under one eye.
The following Friday, Cummings boarded a train for Millen eluding the reward seekers. From there, he made his way to New Orleans, LA, Mascot, TN., Lynch, KY. to West Virginia, where, under the assumed name of Will Roach, he was helping to sink a shaft for a mine. Meanwhile, Buster Wells was taken to jail and charged with conspiracy in the murder of Raymond Cannon.