Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Gunfight On Seventh Avenue

  For as long as I can remember the statue of Edward Ward Carmack has stood in front of the south entrance of the Tennessee State Capital. For a big part of my life I didn't know who he was and it is safe to say that most Tennesseans don't know who he is even today. Edward Ward Carmack was born in Sumner County on November 5, 1858. He went to the famous Webb school when it was in Knoxville and became a young city attorney in Columbia at the age of 23. He was eventually elected to the State House of Representatives as a Democrat in 1884.  After this he became a hard hitting newspaper editor that blasted his political rivals with caustic editorials. In 1889 he became editor of the Nashville Democrat which later became the Nashville American. His editorials were bitter, partisan and laced with colorful language. On one occasion he made a political rival so angry he challenged Carmack to a duel. They were arrested however before they could hurt each other. 

  He moved to Memphis where he became editor of what later became the Memphis Commercial Appeal. Carmack was a virulent racist who went after anti- lynching crusader Ida B.Wells in his editorials. Several of Wells black friends were lynched in the Memphis Curve riot of 1892 because whites were upset because they had opened a grocery store that was competing with a white grocery store. Ida Wells was called the "Mother of the Civil Rights movement" and she spoke out against this atrocity in her newspaper called the "Free Speech". Carmack demanded retaliation against the "black wench" as he called her in his newspaper. As a result of this editorial her newspaper offices were destroyed. Luckily Wells was out of town when this happened. It was thirty years before Ida Wells ever returned to the South. He was elected to to the U.S.Congress in 1896, serving two terms and to the U.S. Senate in 1901, serving one term. In 1907 he was defeated for a 2nd term and returned to the practice of law. In 1908 he ran against incumbent Malcolm Patterson for governor but was defeated narrowly in a bitter race. One of the big issues of the time was prohibition. Carmack represented the "Dry" side and Patterson represented the "Wet" side of the issue. 

  Malcolm and especially his father were long time political rivals of Carmack. After his defeat he was hired as editor of the new newspaper the Nashville Tennessean. It was not long before he was hurling insults at the Patterson's and friends of the Patterson's through the editorial pages. Carmack attacked a supporter of the Patterson's named Colonel Duncan Cooper who was a former Confederate soldier. Duncan warned Carmack to quit writing about him but Carmack ignored his warnings Carmack's friends advised him to cool it but he refused. He began carrying a pistol for protection as walked the streets of Nashville. Duncan Cooper was at his son Robin Cooper's law office at the corner of Third and Church on the afternoon of November 8, 1908 when Governor Patterson called Robin on the telephone and asked him to come to the Governor's mansion which was where the War Memorial building is today. He, along with his elderly father Duncan walked up to 4th Avenue, then right on to 4th to the Arcade. They then walked through the Arcade where they chatted with a friend who decided to walk with them. When they reached 5th Avenue they turned right to Union Street and walked up the hill toward 7th Avenue. 

  The Hermitage Hotel was under construction and they passed a large hole in the ground where they chatted with more friends. Robin was staying close to his father in the event that they might run into Carmack. Duncan kept walking up the hill until he reached 7th where he spotted Carmack who was walking south to north up 7th Avenue on the opposite side of the street. Duncan crossed to street to confront Carmack. Carmack pulled his pistol to fire at Duncan but by this time Robin had caught up with his father. He jumped in front of Duncan and took two bullets intended for his dad. Robin was a better shot and he was able to fire three rounds killing Carmack instantly. Duncan and their friend, who was an innocent bystander, were arrested. Robin was taken to the hospital and he would survive his wounds but he was also charged with murder. There was a much publicized murder trial. Carmack would become a martyr in the state of Tennessee, which is why a statue was erected in his honor on capital hill. He looks off toward 7th Avenue and the place of his death. Because of his death the prohibition forces won out in the state. During the trial a woman testified that Carmack was in conversation with her and suddenly pulled his pistol and hid behind her when he saw Duncan. Duncan shouted "damned cowardly to get behind a woman with a pistol in your hand". The woman jumped aside and Carmack hid behind two utility poles nearby. He took aim at Duncan at about the time Robin jumped in front of his father. Duncan and Robin were found guilty of 2nd degree murder and sentenced to 20 years in prison. The friend was acquitted. 

  The Tennessee Supreme Court upheld Duncan's conviction but acquitted Robin. Their friend governor Malcom Patterson then pardoned Duncan. As a result of this pardon Patterson was defeated for re-election. In 1919 Robin was murdered and his body was found in Richland Creek in West Nashville near where I grew up. Many people believed that Carmack's family or friends finally got revenge on Robin Cooper. Because of Carmack's death Tennessee remained dry for a generation and because of the publicity the Nashville Tennessean became the leading paper in the city. The Nashville Banner was it's only competitor for many years. In my humble opinion Edward Ward Carmack is no hero and certainly does not deserve a statue.


  1. What part of seventh avenue?

  2. I believe that the gunfight took place near the north end of seventh ave near Union Street.