STORIES ABOUT MR. WILLIAM C. PIERCE
OF ST. LOUIS
By: John Quincy Wolf
Recorded on June 23, 1963
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One, the story of Herbert Cease. One day, he said, a man appeared in a wagon in the business district, the busiest part of Cotter, with a load of whiskey, which he had distilled, and he announced that he was going to sell the entire load there in the center of Cotter. But he waited until the sheriff and his deputies appeared before he got into action.
When they did appear on the fringes of the crowd, he took two pistols out of his belt and laid them on the wagon seat beside him, and announced in a loud voice, "I've got 78 gallons of whiskey here in this wagon, and I'm going to sell it before I leave town. That's all right, ain't it, sheriff and deputy?" he said, and getting no response from the latter two gentlemen, he proceeded to conduct a sale. And in the course of time, he had disposed of the entire 78 gallons. Upon doing so, he put his pistols back in his belt, looked at the sheriff and deputy, and said, "Thank you, sheriff. Thank you, deputy," and drove on back to his home unmolested.
This man . . . This man's name was Herbert Cease. I don't know how to spell Cease, C-e-a-s-e, S-e-e-s-e or something of the kind. He was described by Mr. Pierce, who was on the outskirts of the crowd on this occasion, as a strange-looking man with a peculiarly pointed head, pointed at the top.
It seems that Herbert Cease got into deep trouble a few years later, or a short time later, when he tried to buy some land--a farm--that belonged to a Canadian. The Canadian wouldn't sell to him. Cease apparently thought it would be a good spot for his moonshine operations, and Cease became extremely put out, shot the Canadian, threw his body in White River, was arrested, tried, and sentenced to the penitentiary. At the penitentiary, he and a man named Slaughter, so I'm told, broke out, and both men were shot out of trees by a posse a few days later. That's the end of the first story.
The second story which Mr. Pierce told me was this. After he'd been in Cotter for three months or so, he received a summons from the sheriff that he would appear on a certain date at a certain hour in the morning on the streets of Cotter prepared to work all day on the streets. There was to be a kind of cleanup day, and he was to come equipped with broom, rake, and shovel.
Well, he had never heard of any such deal. There is a sort of, uh . . . There used to be a sort of road law in Arkansas, in accordance with which people could be summoned to spend a day on the roads of the county, but this is the only practice of the kind that I am aware of. It seems that once a quarter, certain people were summoned to work on the streets, and the sheriff chose to pick on the newcomers to the town.
Well, Mr. Pierce said he had no intention of spending a day working on the streets of Cotter, so he looked up the sheriff and told him that he couldn't get off from work and asked him how he could get out of it. Well, the sheriff said, "You can pay three dollars and a half, and I'll hire somebody else to do the job." So, Mr. Pierce paid him three and a half, and the sheriff hired his own son to do the work. I suppose that's the way a county officer picked up a little pin money for members of his family back in 1922.
The third story was about Mr. Pierce's trouble with stock. It seems that he had all sorts of trouble keeping cows and horses and sheep and goats out of his roundhouse at Cotter, and the goats especially gave him a lot of trouble; and among the goats, one aged billy goat with a very long beard was the worst offender. Said Pierce, "I'll bet I've put him out of the roundhouse five hundred times." And the goat not only would go into the roundhouse, but would also invade the office and mess up the place generally.
Well, there was no stock law, of course, at the time in Arkansas, so Pierce and the others had to put up with the situation. In about, well . . . In a short time, one morning he entered his office to find the old billy goat in his office, and judging from the appearance of the place, he'd been there for some time. He was eating some orders and reports that Mr. Pierce had been working on. In fact, part of the pages were sticking out of the old goat's mouth. Well, this was more than Pierce felt that he should stand for, so he got a large hammer and hit the goat in the head.
Now the question was what to do with the goat. Well, answers for a railroad man seemed pretty simple. He asked one of the crew if there was a hot engine around, and there was: a switch engine, I suppose, was all heated up. So Pierce, with the assistance of the crewman, put the goat on the track and the crewman ran over the goat and cut off its head. Well, as Pierce anticipated, the owner of the goat, in a day or two, came down looking for his animal, and Pierce told him to look around all he pleased for him; and in a short time he did discover the body of the animal, and of course raised something of an uproar about the railroad killing his goat. Pierce told him to make out a complaint, which he did, sent him to the railroad, and was paid ten dollars for his billy goat.
Mr. Pierce said that once, when a train stopped in Cotter that had run into some cattle on the tracks and had killed several of them, bloodying up the cowcatcher, spattering most of the engine, or a good bit of the front part of the engine, with blood. The cattle in Cotter smelled the blood and went on a kind of rampage. He said that a part of a herd, a gang of evidently angry cattle, charged him, and he had to take refuge on the ladder of the watering tower.
He told one other story about . . . which illustrates the spirit of the hillbilly. A young fellow, twenty-odd years old, was hired in the roundhouse at Cotter, and he, on his first or second day at work, reported drunk. Well, this wouldn't be tolerated, so he was promptly fired by the foreman. And the following day, the boy's mother came in to see Mr. Pierce and demanded that the boy be put back on. Mr. Pierce said he couldn't put him back on; the boy appeared drunk, in no shape to work, and he'd been fired by the foreman, and that he would have to stand by the foreman's judgment. But the woman was very insistent. She demanded that the boy be put back to work. And Pierce refused.
In a few days, he got a letter from her to this effect
. . . By the way, Pierce was living at this time in a coach, a certain coach which was on a side track, which had been fixed up as a kind of living quarters for him. In this letter, she told him that unless her son were put back to work, coach number so and so, which was the place where he slept, would be blown up with dynamite within a certain period of time. Well, he replied to her that the boy would not be rehired, and if she chose to blow up with dynamite
. . . By the way, she signed her name to the letter. . . If she chose to blow up the coach with dynamite, he would be in it. I don't believe he put it quite that way. He said, uh, "I received your letter saying that you were prepared to dynamite coach number so and so in case I did not re-employ your son. I will not re-employ your son. I expect to be in coach number so and so. Yours truly . . ." and he signed his name. He heard no more about the matter.
He had a little further difficulty with the sheriff. It seems that his crew of men gambling on a Sunday in one of the boxcars were arrested by the sheriff and charged, properly, with gambling, and thrown in jail. Well, uh, Pierce, loyal to the railroad, felt it was his duty to get them out. So he looked up the sheriff and told him that the men ought to be released. And the sheriff refused to release them, so Mr. Pierce said, "Well, now look, you're impeding U.S. mails. A mail train is going to pass through here . . . is due to pass through here at such and such a time today, and it must be serviced. Now, if it's not serviced, it can't go on. So when that train comes in, it will stand on the tracks until you release these men from jail. Now, if you want to take the consequences of standing in the way of the delivery of the United States mail, you do so at your own risk." So the sheriff saw fit to release the men from jail.