Chatham – The “Wild West” of the South

While it was the mob uprising that put Chatham in the news as far away as Europe, there were several other infamous incidents that took place as well. As result, after a while the small burg fostered a reputation of being the “Wild West” of the South.
There was no one in a law enforcement capacity in Avard or Chathamville, which ever you choose to believe was the rightful founding name. There was plenty of drinking, gambling, fighting and “horse-play” though. Of particular note is the exploits of Frank Kettler, who would routinely get liquored up and ride his mule in the front door and all around the cafes, businesses and bars.
There were several “poker shanties” in the early town catering to a clientele from one extreme to the other. It was Mr. Sanders, who was well thought of because he donated money to local churches and different things, that owned the “Gentlemen’s Club.” Patrons had to be well dressed, mind their manners and not get into any rough stuff.
Conversely Pool’s Poker Parlor was as rough as it could get. It was located right on the sidewalk and easy to just walk into. Hardly a day would go by when there wasn’t a shooting, stabbing or fight. Several deaths occurred but nothing was ever done about it.
It may be because when “law and order” finally did officially arrive it was in the form of Mr. John Nevilles, who was the Town Marshall as well as the Barber. According to reports, Nevilles was as bad as the next one when it came to drinking.
One day while Nevilles and Mayor R.L. Jordan was standing on the corner with Mr. Tom Ewing, who commented on two people wobbling toward them and declaring them drunk. One of the fellows was the local blacksmith who proceeded to slap Ewing. Outraged he demanded that Nevilles arrest him for being drunk in public.
Intimidated by the big blacksmith, Mayor Jordan intervened stating it was difficult to prove drunkenness. He did charge him with profanity though causing Nevilles to decide to get drunk citing that if no one could tell when a man was drunk he might as well enjoy himself. The next day when he arose from his stupor he resigned as Marshall stating that he couldn’t do two things at once and do it right. Some thought he meaning his Barber trade but most thought it was his desire to drink.
Whiskey was sold in five gallon bottles in those days. Two men, R.P. Webb and J.Y. Carpenter made a mint by bringing in railcar loads of whiskey from Monroe and stacking them on the platform of a side rail awaiting the line of workers that would form each Saturday.
There was a cultural (if you want to call it that) side to the locale as well. Mr Lea, an early depot agent, along with several “prominent” loggers didn’t go for all that “carousing” and formed their own private “beer club.”
They had the beer shipped in big kegs with sawdust packed all around them. Once received they would put the keg in about one hundred pounds of ice and on Saturday would pack the keg down to an isolated spot on the creek. A spigot, which was nothing more than a faucet fixture, was set in the keg which allowed only for a small portion of beer to come out. This was done on purpose so as not to have the beer “chugged” but rather “sipped.”
Yes, before there was an official town called Chatham, there were many a wild time in Avard or Chathamville, take your choice. From cultural clubs of men sipping beer and eating cheese by the creek to having folks riding their mules into stores and the Town Marshall choosing to get drunk while on duty, Chatham was indeed the “Wild West” of the South.

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