In the late 1920s, in Detroit, Michigan, a nineteen-year-old youth stood in court and, having been convicted of the crime of stealing sixteen cars, faced a judge for sentencing.
His name was Stuart Franklin Lee, and he had been in trouble for several years. He was born in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1907, to one Arthur Lee, son of a prosperous builder, and Annie Lee Jones, who had led a hard life.
Arthur Lee had served as his illiterate father's bookkeeper, secretary, and assistant in his successful construction business, but when his father died, Arthur Lee was unable to hold the company together. He moved his family north, to Detroit, where he found work as a circulation manager for a large newspaper-a somewhat inflated title, since it meant that he was in charge of filling and collecting coins from a string of newspaper vending machines. Arthur began to drink.
Annie Lee Jones, a farmer's daughter, had been orphaned at the age of six and, with her younger brother, Willie, sent to a children's home where little Willie later died in her arms, apparently of institutional neglect. Annie Lee's fortunes took a turn for the better when she was adopted by a St. Louis family named Chevalier. (Their Missouri neighbors had apparently been unable to handle the French pronunciation of their name, so they pronounced it Chev-a-LEER.) The adoption was not an entirely altruistic one. Annie Lee was put to work in the Chevalier household and, although she was treated kindly, especially by her adopted older brother, Stuart, she was little more than a servant.
Annie Lee and Arthur had three sons, Ohree, Stuart, and Brown, and a daughter, Palestine, called Pal. Although raised in a strict Baptist household by their mother, their father was not much of an example, and the boys became wild in their teens. They got away with vandalism, but soon they turned to joyriding in stolen cars. As a result, Stuart spent some time in a reformatory, where he managed to get himself charged with assault with intent to kill, for hitting a guard who called him "a filthy name." The charges were later dropped. After his release he turned to car theft and, eventually, tried to pull off an armed robbery. Finally, Stuart was arrested, charged, and jailed. While awaiting trial he escaped from custody and was recaptured.
The family rallied around him, concocting an alibi that he had been at home on the evening of the crime, playing pinochle. The defense called his parents, brothers, and sister to the stand, and each of them related the alibi. Then, when the prosecutor confronted Stuart with evidence that they had lied and threatened to charge the whole family with perjury, Stuart changed his plea to guilty.
At his trial, when asked by the judge if he had anything to say for himself, Stuart replied, "A man's got to have a car."
Not amused, the judge sentenced him to fifteen years in the Michigan state penitentiary.
His uncle, Stuart Chevalier, meanwhile, had become a prominent attorney in New York and Washington, specializing in tax law. Stricken with polio at the age of four, he walked on crutches, and as a young man he was told by his physicians that he had only a short time to live. His reaction was to write a reflective book, A Window on Broadway, offering advice to young men on living a responsible life, advice his nephews did not follow. He wrote much of the early federal income tax code and taught law at Washington and Lee University.
When his friend and fellow polio victim, Franklin Roosevelt, started a polio treatment center in Warm Springs, Georgia, and built a house there, Chevalier built a house next door and was treated in the waters from the hot springs. He married a beautiful and capable young woman named Elizabeth Pickett, a novelist and screenwriter who wrote the screenplay for the first full-length, Technicolor motion picture, Redskin, starring Richard Dix, and whose novel, Drivin' Woman, a Southern saga in the mold of Gone With the Wind, was #3 on the first-ever New York Times bestseller list in 1942 and achieved a higher price from the movies than had Miss Mitchell's book. The film was shelved because of the advent of World War II and was never made.
The law firm that Chevalier cofounded in Washington, D.C., Miller, Chevalier, Peeler & Wilson, survives today as Miller & Chevalier.
With her son in prison, Annie Lee sought the help of her adopted brother, and Chevalier, in one way or another, managed to get the boy released after serving seven years. Since he had not impressed the Michigan authorities with his respect for the law, a condition of his release was that he take up residence in another state.
Stuart's sister, Pal, married a Detroit policeman, Garrell Noah, and settled down to raise a family in that city, but Stuart Chevalier, mindful that his namesake was persona non grata in Michigan, moved the Lee family to Warm Springs, where he bought them a small farm. Since none of the Lees were farmers by experience or inclination, this was not a happy time for the family, but Stuart got a job at Roosevelt's polio treatment center, later called the Georgia Warm Springs Foundation. He worked as a pushboy, a position unique to that institution; a pushboy's duties consisted entirely of pushing patients in their wheelchairs or on tables to their surgeries, treatments, and meals. It wasn't much, but Stuart Lee was a free man.
Whether his prison experience had changed him is hard to say, but it cannot have been easy for him. These were rough years in the penal system, and the Michigan authorities were not noted for being leaders in prison reform. Still, Stuart's reputation among his youthful peers in his new town was one of being handsome, charming, and an all-round good fellow, who boxed as an amateur in local bouts.
Soon he met a young woman from nearby Manchester who, a gifted pianist, was often asked to play as entertainment for the Warm Springs patients, and they fell in love. Her name was Dorothy Callaway, called Dot by all who knew her.
The Callaways were an old pioneer family in Meriwether County. The first of their ancestors in America, one Sir Thomas Callaway, a Cornishman, had received a king's grant of land in Kentucky and had arrived in the New World in 1688. His son, Colonel Richard Callaway, was a friend of Daniel Boone, who rescued Callaway's kidnapped daughters from the Indians, as related in the novel The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper.
Some of the family radiated south, one branch to Meriwether County, another to LaGrange, in Troup County, where Fuller Callaway founded Callaway Mills. In 1909, Fuller Callaway founded a new town in Meriwether County at the spot where Georgia's Highway 41 crossed the Birmingham Southern Railroad. The railroad would site the repair shops for their engines in the new town, becoming an important employer. But Callaway would build a cotton mill, which would become the town's major employer for more than half a century. He called his new town Manchester, after the English textile center. (Incidentally, there is a Manchester in each of the contiguous forty-eight states, except Rhode Island. This is the sort of thing one learned in the Manchester public schools.) Callaway bought some of the land, where the mill and the workers' houses would be built, from William Henry Callaway, a distant cousin, who was a farmer, landowner, and a lay Baptist preacher in the county.
W. H. Callaway had two sons, W.H., Jr., called Will Henry, and Tom. With the money from the sale of land to his kinsman, W.H. created farms for his two sons and built a comfortable house on each. The brothers settled down, married sisters, Carrie and Lesta Fowler (thereby making their respective children double first cousins), and farmed cotton. In the late nineteen-teens, the boll weevil swept through the county, ruining most of the cotton farmers. Tom, regarded as the less responsible of the brothers, got a job on the railroad and managed to hold on to his property, though he never seriously farmed it again. Ironically, Will Henry, who was regarded as hardworking, upright, and the better farmer, lost everything. He took himself to town and called on James S. Peters, the president of the Bank of Manchester, a member of the city council, and the major political power in the town.
Jim Peters as a young man had been a schoolteacher, then had worked as cashier of the bank at Woodbury in the northern part of Meriwether County. One Saturday afternoon in 1908, along with a few dozen other local citizens, he boarded a train for the ten-mile trip to Warm Springs, for a church picnic. Halfway there the train broke down where the tracks ran through a pine forest, and the conductor told his passengers that they could get off and stretch their legs while repairs were made; the engineer would blow the whistle when they were ready to proceed again.
Peters wandered off into the woods and came into a clearing, where he found three men poring over a set of plans spread out on the hood of a car. The three men were: the president of the Birmingham Southern Railroad; a Norwegian gentleman, who was an architect and town planner; and Fuller Callaway. Introductions were made and Callaway, who had heard good things about Jim Peters, explained about the new town they were planning. It would need a bank, he said, and the bank's first customers would be the railroad and the mill. How would he like to run the bank? Jim Peters said he would like that just fine. The whistle blew, and Peters returned to his train. His life had suddenly taken a major turn. And so, unbeknownst to him, had that of Will Henry Callaway. Of such material history is made.
Soon after that a barbecue was held on the still-empty site of the new town. Plans of the town were displayed, and a lottery was held for the purpose of distributing lots. The participants paid a hundred dollars a lot, then drew for location. Jim Peters bought two lots. One of the two he drew, oddly enough, was at the corner of what would become Main and Broad, dead center of the proposed business district, and a perfect site for a bank. The other was for a residential lot on what would become the town's best block.
Ten years after the founding of the town in 1909, Manchester was ready for its first chief of police. The job was in the gift of James S. Peters, president of the bank and chairman of the town council. Will Henry Callaway, being out of work because of his farm's failure, applied for the job. Peters recommended him unreservedly to the city council, who voted to hire him. Fatefully, the banker insisted that the new chief's pay include an insurance policy for ten thousand dollars, since he might be putting himself in harm's way. The council agreed, and Will Henry, so recently a cotton farmer, became a policeman.
Peters found the family a comfortable house, owned by the bank because of the failure of the mortgagee's feed and grain business, on Third Street, a block from his own, and Will Henry, along with his wife, Carrie, his son, Herman, and his daughter, Dorothy, moved in, settled down, and began a new life together.
Eight years later, in 1927, when Herman was at military school in Barnesville and Dorothy was a music student at Bessie Tift College, in Forsyth, Will Henry arrested a Black teenager for petty theft. The boy was sentenced to ten days in jail, during which time he would work on the city's streets. As the chief was about to go home that night the boy began to cry. He was afraid to spend the night alone in the jailhouse, and he begged to go home. Will Henry knew his parents and told the boy that he would allow him to go home every night, if he would promise to be at work on time each morning. The boy gave his promise and was allowed to go home. The following morning, he did not turn up for his assigned duties.
Will Henry got into his car and drove out to the family's house. He got out of the car and called for the boy to come out, so he could take him to work. Suddenly, the boy's father burst through the front door with a shotgun in his hands and fired at the chief of police. Will Henry, struck in the chest, fell to the ground, mortally wounded. The boy's father, it turned out, was in a malarial delirium and had mistaken the chief for someone else. He threw down the shotgun and ran.
Will Henry was taken to the local doctor's office where, an hour so later, he died in Carrie's arms.
If this story sounds familiar, then you have probably read the author's novel Chiefs, or seen the television miniseries based on the book.
The malarial shotgunner was captured after a manhunt and had three trials. At each, Carrie Callaway pleaded for his life, saying that he was not responsible for his actions. Eventually, though, he died in the electric chair. His body was shipped back to Manchester, but his family had left town and could not be found, so the stationmaster at the depot finally shipped the casket to the University of Georgia Medical School, in Augusta, where the cadaver was assigned to a medical student for his study of anatomy. The student was James S. Peters, Jr., son of the Manchester banker.
Carrie Callaway and her children were saved from poverty by the ten-thousand-dollar insurance policy, so presciently insisted upon by Jim Peters. Carrie opened a small ladies' shop, and her two children cut short their educations and returned home to help their mother.
Then, in 1928, a new merchant came to town. Henry Washington Denham had been born to a struggling farmer and his wife in nearby Upson County, near Thomaston. One of a large family, Henry was sent as a teenager to the Berry School, in Rome, Georgia. It was an institution founded by an heiress, Martha Berry, for the education and agricultural training of poor farm children. The students worked after school on the schoolÕs extensive farms, earning a few cents an hour. Henry Denham had, by the time of his graduation from high school, managed to save from his wages the amazing sum of one hundred dollars.
The boy found a job with a storekeeper in Zebulon, near his home, and worked industriously for the man. When the owner retired, Denham bought the business from him and made it more prosperous. Eventually, he sold that business in order to take up a new opportunity, a butcher's shop in a south Georgia town. In the following years he married twice and lost both young wives to illnesses which, today, would be routinely cured by antibiotics.
Copyright © 2022 by Stuart Woods. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.