Edgefield, S.C. (WJBF)- October is a month people like to settle down and watch a good horror movie, but sometimes truth is scarier than fiction.
On this month’s Hometown History, Kim Vickers visited Edgefield, South Carolina, also known as Bloody Edgefield. Though it has calmed down significantly since, the history of violence in Edgefield earned it the nickname.
Duels, family feuds rivaling the Hatfields and McCoys, and murder reigned supreme in the town’s earliest days, with few legal consequences. It was said that back then, if you wanted to get away with murder, you would do it in Edgefield.
“Oh, they claim that every square inch of our square has had blood shed upon it. That we’re known as bloody Edgefield for a reason,” said Tonya Guy, Edgefield County Archivist.
‘The Devil in Petticoats’
According to Guy, if you ask any Edgefield resident about Bloody Edgefield the first person they will tell you about is Becky Cotton, also known as “The Devil in Petticoats.”
There are many stories and legends about Cotton, who is said to have married many times, killing each one of her husbands. She was tried for the murder of John Cotton, who she killed by putting an ax through his skull after he stood by and watched her father be murdered.
“So, she labels her husband a coward and says he’s only fit to milk the cows and wear petticoats,” laughed Guy. “So, she grows a seething hatred for him for the next 5 years.”
After she killed him, she enlisted the help of her brother David to hide his body. Eventually, she stood trial for his murder, but she was acquitted of the crime.
“And though they have all this overwhelming evidence against her, she was so bewitchingly beautiful, the jury felt like this creature never could have committed such a heinous act,” Guy explained.
In May of 1807, Cotton was murdered on the steps of the courthouse by her brother Stephen who was never charged with her murder. Her ghost is said to haunt those steps.
Leitreanna Brown is a medium from Edgefield. She doesn’t think John Cotton was Becky’s only victim.
“She’s got a vendetta against men. And every time she got in trouble or she wanted something, she found a way to find a man who had what she wanted, and she was that black widow. And she would get what she wanted from them. And then she would murder them,” Brown said.
Brown said she has investigated claims of Cotton’s ghost on the steps of the courthouse and believes them to be true.
“I went to the top of the steps to kind of get my bearings and put myself into the moment and was asking for some type of interaction from her. I started down the steps and I felt a light hand on my shoulder and as I went down, I heard ‘Oh no!'”
Despite the stories and Brown’s belief that Cotton married over and over and killed each of her husbands, Guy, who enjoys the legend, reluctantly said there is no record of that.
“All I can tell you is, I found no evidence of the other husbands. And actually, what’s interesting is, the trial records are missing for the time period when she would have been tried. So I can’t even prove she murdered John,” she explained.
Booth/Toney Shootout of 1878
Edgefield is the site of an 1878 shootout that was the result of a ten year family feud between the Booth and Toney families.
Both families attended a huge event celebrating the anniversary of the election of Governor Wade Hampton, who they believed redeemed them from the “radical Republican Rule.”
They spent the day taunting each other and it didn’t end well. The Booths followed the Toneys into A.A. Clisby’s bar room and a fight ensued.
“So Brooker Toney and Benjamin Booth come spinning out of the building. They’re spinning around and around and around onto the square,” Guy said. “And Benjamin Booth is being hit over the head by Mark Toney with his gun. So finally, Benjamin gets his gun out, puts it in Toney’s abdomen, shoots him and he falls down. He dies right there on the courthouse square.”
In the end, 3 were killed, 4 were wounded and 9 were arrested and tried for murder. It was a media sensation that rivaled the shootout at the O.K. Corral. But, Guy said there were no consequences for those involved.
Guy: “Nine were arrested and tried and they’re all acquitted.”
Kim: “Why were they acquitted?”
Guy: “It was seen as self defense.”
Kim: “On both sides?”
Guy: “On both sides.”
Brown told NewsChannel 6 that, when she is in the town square, she sees evidence of what she thinks could be leftover energy or ghost from the shootout.
“I’ve done a lot of them actually, events here. And I just can’t help but shake the fact that I am seeing and feeling conflict on the other side of the square. I mean, we are standing in a place that has seen so much blood and so much violence that it can’t help but be marked,” said Brown.
Code Duello: Louis T. Wigfall
In the 1700’s and 1800’s dueling was an approved of way to settle arguments. One man, Louis T, Wigfall, a prominent Edgefield lawyer, believed in the code duello and was well known for dueling.
Wigfall was a large man with a penchant for drinking and gambling. He was also very outspoken and had a hot temper.
In the gubernatorial race of 1840, Wigfall did not support the popular candidate, James Henry Hammond, and that led to many arguments, mainly with Whitfield Brooks, a Hammond supporter. Because of this, Wigfall got into fistfights, dueled twice and almost dueled three times, and indicted for killing a man.
The story goes that Wigfall, in a rage, went to the courthouse, hammered a sign to the wall that said “Whitfield Brooks is a coward!” He stood by the sign with two pistols and said anyone who tried to remove the sign would be shot.
“Thomas Butler Byrd, that’s Whitfield Brooks’s grandson. He hears that his grandfather’s name is on the courthouse being labeled as a coward. So, he comes down here to see. He is a young man, just shy of 20 years of age. He sees this and he sees Wigfall standing there. And so he goes up and he tries to take the sign down,” Guy said. “And as he tries to take it down, Wigfall says ‘You touch that sign and I’ll shoot you dead. So he does. He reaches up to take down the sign and Wigfall shoots him and he rolls down the steps and he is killed.”
After Wigfall is acquitted of murder, another member of the Brooks family, Preston Brooks, challenged him to a duel. They had a meal together, then dueled, both having been shot. They laid in the field all night until help came the next day.
Wigfall, hung up his dueling pistols and left Edgefield. He headed to Texas where he later became a Confederate States Senator, then a U.S. Senator.
Violence in Politics: Brooks and Tillman
Some of the stories that contribute to Edgefield’s bloody reputation didn’t happen in town, but were committed by Edgefield natives– most of them government leaders.
One such case happened in 1856 in Washington DC.
Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts made a speech on the senate floor against allowing Kansas into the Union as a slave state. He verbally attacked Senator Andrew Butler and the State of South Carolina which he likened to a harlot. Butler’s cousin, none other than Preston Brooks, read about Sumner’s speech in the paper and became enraged.
“So he walks up on the senate floor, right up to Charles Sumner and he summarily beats him unconscious with his cane,” Guy said. “Now when he was asked why he did not challenge Sumner to a duel, he said ‘Only men meet on the field of honor. I whipped him like the dog he was.'”
Another murder based in politics was committed by Edgefield native, Lieutenant Governor James Tillman.
He lost an election for governor, a seat previously held by his notorious uncle Benjamin “Pitchfork Ben” Tillman. He felt the seat was his to inherit and blamed a journalist at The State newspaper, N.G Gonzales, for his loss.
“And so, Tillman just walked right up to him in broad daylight and shot him through his over coat,” Said Guy.
Tillman stood trial and like so many others before him, was acquitted, though the jury had some help in that decision.
“The defense actually had a picture of him and a picture of Gonzales and they went around to all the people in the area who would be potential juror and they were pretending to be photographers,” Guy laughed. “And they said, let me show you a sample of our work and they would show them the pictures. And they would write down whether they were pro or con Tillman. And so, when they selected the jury, they selected all pro Tillman.”
Sue Logue: First Woman Electrocuted in S.C.
In all of these stories, the people accused of murder were acquitted of their crimes. In one bizarre story, justice was served.
In 1940 Davis Timmerman’s mule got into a field that belonged to Wallace Logue, kicking a calf and killing it. Timmerman offered to pay $20 for the calf and the men shook on it.
Logue went to Timmerman’s store to collect the money and allegedly demanded $40 instead. Timmerman refuse to pay it, which made Logue very angry. He grabbed an ax handle and began to beat Timmerman. Timmerman reached for a gun he kept in a drawer and shot Logue, killing him.
He reported the incident to the sheriff, was tried for murder and acquitted for self defense.
Logue’s widow, Sue Logue, and his brother-in-law George Logue hired their nephew Joe to kill Timmerman. Joe hired Clarence Bagwell to do the job and he followed through, killing Timmerman in his store.
Bagwell later bragged during a drunken night, that he had been paid $500 to kill a man. It led to his arrest and he confessed. Joe Logue was also arrested and he turned on his aunt and uncle.
After a shootout that killed three and injured one, Sue and George Logue and Clarence Bagwell were arrested. They were tried and convicted of murder and sentenced to death by electric chair. Joe Logue was sentenced to death, but received a stay of execution, and instead got life in prison.
Sue Logue was the only women to ever be put to death by electric chair in South Carolina. She was also the first of only two women to be executed in the state’s history.
The amount of blood spilled in Edgefield or by people from Edgefield in the earliest days of its existence makes for a very colorful history.
Brown explained that history has resulted in a lot of paranormal activity that she looks forward to investigating.
“I feel like the number of calls that I’ve gotten recently about activity– and I have a group on social media of people that are interested in the supernatural, the paranormal around Edgefield County– it shows me that people are very interested in this. It shows me that there is a lot of activity as well and a lot of people are wanting answers.”
There are so many more interesting stories relating to Bloody Edgefield.
It’s the perfect month to learn about the spooky and the violent history of Edgefield, and it could make for a great horror movie.
Hey Edgefield! That’s just part of your Hometown History.
Video Editor: Will Baker.