A New Year's Nightmare
It was 1-1-1911, the first day of the first month of the first year of the second decade of the 20th Century. Everyone was looking forward to a new and another prosperous year. Pomp and John were good friends. They enjoyed a wonderful winter holiday weekend talking about old times and new plans for a bumper cotton crop in the fall. In fact, it would become the county's and the state's largest cotton crop ever. Then, the unthinkable happened. But first, let me tell you a little about the two men in this story.
Edward Everett Hicks, a son of Willie P. Hicks and his wife Jane Outler, descended from two of Johnson County's earliest settlers. Known as "Pomp" to his friends and family, Edward grew up in the days of Civil War and Reconstruction in Johnson County. Pomp followed his father to Laurens County when the elder Hicks left his position as Postmaster of Wrightsville to take the position as the assistant postmaster and then Postmaster of Dublin. A farmer most of his life, Pomp Hicks sought the office of Sheriff of Laurens County in 1898 and was elected. Sheriff Hicks courageously served as the county's chief law enforcement officer through 1904 when he was replaced by J.D. Prince. Hicks was elected for a fourth two-year term in 1906.
Half way through his second term, Sheriff Hicks was charged with the responsibility of hanging one John Robinson, the last man to be publicly hung in Laurens County. After much debate as to who would actually pull the trap door, Hicks took charge and sent ol' John Robinson to his dangling death.
After leaving office, the former sheriff entered into a partnership with J.T. Grinstead to form the Farmers Cooperative Warehouse, which was located not far from his South Church Street home.
John Wyatt, a son of the somewhat prosperous farmer James Wyatt and his wife Lucretia, grew up in the Bailey District of northern Laurens County. Wyatt, who apparently never married, lived primarily with members of his family.
The new year rang in on a cold rainy day. John Wyatt had been spending a few days with his old friend Pomp, whose farm adjoined the Wyatt place, some four miles north of town. When Pomp was in town on business, John managed his farm. After the death of his wife Winnie some two years earlier, Pomp Hicks enjoyed spending his leisure time on his farm which he bought from Wyatt's father.
Nightfall came early that cloudy evening. After a filling supper, John and Pomp retired to bed about seven o'clock - an hour and a half after sunset. In those days, it was customary for people to share beds out of pure necessity, especially in small farm houses. Wyatt had expected to spend one more night with Hicks before returning back to his sister's home by Tuesday afternoon.
Wyatt, reported to be a fifty-eight-year-old, half-witted, partially deaf, slow learner, awoke from his slumber and stepped outside for a bit of fresh air. Hicks remained asleep. Just as Hicks turned over and suddenly awoke from a sound sleep, he noticed the dim outline of a fully dressed man illuminated by the flickering light of an oil lamp in an adjoining room. Pomp suspected it to be the figure of a skulking burglar. Instinctively, the sheriff reached over his bed for his shotgun. He called out, "Who's there?" There was no answer. He called out again, this time in a louder voice. Still, there was no answer. Hicks quietly cocked his gun and took aim at Wyatt's motionless silhouette. John, a near mute who may have been sleep walking, spoke not a single word nor heard not a single sound, not even the blast of Hick's gun as it fired.
Wyatt was dead when he hit the floor, his chin blown away and his jugular vein completely severed by the blast. His heart racing dangerously and his lungs breathing rapidly, Pomp Hicks could only hear the faint murmurs of the gurgling victim as he laid on a blood-spattered rug outside the bedroom.
Hicks turned back to his bed to awaken Wyatt and tell him of what had just happened. "John! John! Get up! I have killed somebody!" he screamed. Again, he called out to his friend. In the shadowy bedroom, he began rifling the patchwork quilts hoping to touch Wyatt.
Horrified at the thought that he may have shot and killed his good friend, Hicks, uncharacteristically failed to investigate his victim, sprinted out of his house still wearing his night clothes in the near freezing night air, and set off in the direction of a Negro tenant house for help. The farmer rushed back with Hicks to the scene.
Hicks struck a match and lit a lamp to look for his closest friend. He didn't want to look at the body of the man he shot, fearing that it was John whom he shot. Pomp searched his bed one more time. Then he forced himself to examine the body lying outside his bedroom. Sure enough, lying lifeless on the floor was Wyatt, the victim of a single, but deadly volley of buck shot. The sheriff crumbled in anguish. The Negro man ran for more help. At dawn Pomp was prostrate, his mind spinning with horrifying thoughts of "My God, what have I done?"
The next morning Sheriff J.J. Flanders accompanied the coroner to the Hicks' farm to interrogate his predecessor about the circumstances of the tragedy. Hicks sobbed violently, unable to tell a coherent account of what happened the night before. The investigators believed their friend, although his story was broken by nervous and unintelligible words
No charges were filed as the killing of John Wyatt was not done with malice aforethought. Nor was it considered manslaughter, nor were Hicks' firing at a shadowy figure in the night considered negligent homicide since he was in reasonable apprehension of immediate harm to his person.
Nine years later, he attempted an unsuccessful campaign for another term as sheriff. Pomp Hicks died on November 20, 1928 and is buried in Northview Cemetery. You know when John Wyatt died. I do not know where his body was laid to rest.
Pomp Hicks never fully recovered from that New Year's night when he killed his good friend. The nightmarish visions of his old acquaintance lying there with part of his face missing was always brought to his mind in the days of old lang syne.