There is a story, said to be true, about an Army officer traveling from Jacksonville, Florida to Macon, Georgia in the late afternoon of a day in the middle years of World War II. Parts of it I have to explain to those of you who have not lived in or near Dodge County for a long time. For those who have, you will know exactly what I am talking about.
It was getting dark and the officer decided it would be a good idea to stop in Hawkinsville to get something to eat, fearing that there would no place open by the time he got to his destination in Macon. So, he pulled in at a roadside eating joint. Beside the front door were two older gentlemen sitting on a bench. As he approached the men, the officer saw one of them reading a newspaper with a big headline on the front page. The man read out loud, "Germans take Milan." Here's the explaining part. The man pronounced the word "Mi-lun," a reference to a small town in southeastern Dodge County, once known far and wide for its toughness and lawlessness, instead of the Italian city, "Mi-lon." The other old gentleman quickly responded, "Yeah, but they'll never take Rhine!" (A town in southwestern Dodge County, a German sounding place also once known as far and as wide for its toughness and lawlessness.)
Rhine, Georgia was incorporated as a town on September 1, 1890, one hundred and twenty years ago tomorrow. Named for a large river in western Germany, the community of Rhine long held a reputation for being a raucous place in southern Central Georgia. Listening to these stories will make you believe, but if you look closely enough, you'll find that these kinds of bad boy behavior happened in many places across the state and our country.
John D. McRanie and Henry Lancaster didn't like each other. They met first in the court room. Then they stepped outside into the streets of Rhine to settle their differences. Both men grabbed each other with their left hands, reached in their pockets, grabbed their pistols, and began firing with their right hands. Lancaster struck McRanie five times. Lancaster somehow managed to come out of the fracas with a harmless glancing blow to his scalp. McRanie went to his grave in the summer of 1903.
Somehow money always seemed to figure into the killings in Rhine. In the days before January 27, 1905, temperatures had fallen to the coldest levels in years, but the tempers of several Rhine residents were as hot as ever. It was reported that Bailiff W.P. Livingston, W.B. Bryant, and W.T. Bryant attacked and severely beat a son of M.A. Burnham, all over a dispute regarding a tract of land. The following day, friends and family of the victim gathered at the assembly area to prepare for an attack on the scoundrels. Shots rang out. Mrs. Ray, a sister of one of the Bryants, rushed to the scene of the battle, only to be struck by an errant shot. Bailiff Livingston was killed. In addition to Mrs. Ray, M.A. Burnham was injured, along with both Bryants and Tom Coffee.
H.G. Everett and Manly Peacock hated each other much worse than McRanie and Lancaster. Peacock had alienated the affections of Everett's wife. Not taking too kindly to Everett's advances, Peacock's response to the incident erupted from a scuffle to all out carnage. Everett filed a damage suit in the amount of $20,000.00. When Peacock traveled to Rhine to settle the matter, the melee began. As the men were sitting on the steps of a store in the cool afternoon of November 7, 1905, Everett told Peacock he had written letters to his wife. Peacock rose to his feet and screamed, "you lie!" Peacock drew his gun and fired a blast into Everett's side. As he fell, Everett returned a single shot, striking Peacock in his head just above his ear. Peacock died an hour later. At first, doctors feared that both men would die of their wounds, but miraculously Everett, the non-aggressor, survived.
Town Marshal Tom Burnham was making his rounds on New Years Eve 1913. Burnham had tried to put a lid on the illegal liquor selling activities of the ubiquitous "blind tigers" in the town, which had the potential of elevating revelry into chaos. Walking with Burnham, who had himself been acquitted of a murder at Bowen's Mill, was M.A. Davenport. Marshal Burnham was cut down and murdered by a volley of bullets which broke his thigh in two places. Davenport was hit by shrapnel which had passed through Burnham's body. Speculators believed that the dead lawman was killed by spirit sellers or angry relatives of the victim at Bowen's Mill.
Just five years later, in the days before Christmas, another Tom Burnham met death on the streets of Rhine. Thomas W. Burnham, a restaurant owner, was gunned down by 19-year-old James Cullen Dowdy. The two got into a scrap when Burnham demanded payment for some syrup he sold to Dowdy. Dowdy exclaimed, "this syrup won't make Kennesaw liquor!" The men exchanged curses until Dowdy picked up his walking stick and whopped Burnham up side his head. Bystanders broke up the fight, if only for a little while.
Dowdy was outside the barber shop when Burnham walked up. "I'll kill him," the ego hurting youngster screamed! Burnham, urging a truce to discuss the matter, turned to go inside the barber shop. Then, Dowdy unloaded his revolver into his antagonist's abdomen, killing him dead on the spot.
New Year's hootch was again the catalyst for a near fatal fight in the early days of 1922. Cleve Studstill, a former town marshal, was working in his butcher's shop late on a Saturday afternoon. A ferocious hail of shots rang out from the direction of Mr. Stuckel's store across the way. As Studstill and his 15-year-old son ran out to see the nature of the commotion, they were ambushed by unknown assailants. After the firing of more than fifty shots, both Studstills, William Harrold, Dan Smith, George Smith, and six or seven others were lying wounded in the streets. Cleve Studstill, the most severely wounded combatant, was taken to a Dublin hospital for treatment.
It seems that it was always open season on the marshals of Rhine. J.J. Lancaster had only been on duty for a few weeks in February 1923, when an unknown assailant hiding under a small bridge attempted to assassinate him right on the town's main street. No motive was found for the attack. Authorities later arrested B.W. Smith and his sons, Joe and J.B., for the attempt to murder the marshal.
The Dowdys were back in the news in November 1923, when Mrs. Oscar Kirkland shot H.A. Dowdy after he allegedly made some unflattering remarks about her. Mrs. Kirkland, believing the maxim that some men need killing, emptied a load of buckshot into her nemesis, breaking one of his legs.
The Germans had heard these and many more reports about the residents of the namesake of their homeland. And, they completely abandoned all plans to invade the lower Ocmulgee valley. But, if the Germans, or any other invading army, ever decide to attack us, I am digging my foxhole in downtown Rhine, where it is said, "all the good people have killed off all the bad people."