5 Daniel Burton Tucker

Stanly Has a Lynching: The Murder of Alexander Whitley: A Family Legacy Entangled in a Web of Fiction & Folklore.


 

5

 

Daniel Burton Tucker

 

 
 

Photograph Courtesy of the Stanly County Museum, Albemarle, North Carolina

 

   Rev. Harrington painted a sympathetic portrait of Daniel Burton Tucker, but when I compared his words describing Tucker with those written in news articles about Alex’s lynching, something didn’t add up. It is undeniable that Tucker’s remains were desecrated, and that fact led to speculation that whoever committed that act had also murdered him. Despite exhaustive research, I was unable to determine how Tucker died and why his body was dismembered and hidden, but my research did reveal a clearer picture of D. B. Tucker.

   Daniel Burton Tucker was born February 8, 1856, to the prominent family of James Craig and Elizabeth Tucker, and he lived most of his 36 years in Cabarrus and Stanly Counties, North Carolina. The first news of Tucker’s death in Arkansas appeared in a small article in the Arkadelphia on April 27, 1892. The language in the article sparked intrigue and stirred the prurient interests of people across both states.

 

A FIENDISH

Horrible Murder and Mutilation of the Victim’s Body

 

Special to the Gazette.

ARKADELPHIA, ARK., April 27, 1892

 

A murder was committed yesterday at Gum Springs, a point on the Iron Mountain Road five miles south of this place, which was as cruel and cold-blooded as those of “Jack the Ripper,” the White-chapel fiend. Upon investigation, the body proved to be that of D. B. Tucker, a white man who has been recently teaching school at Donaldson and Dalark, Ark. After nameless mutilations upon his person, the murderer severed the head from the body with some very sharp instrument and threw all of the remains into a small branch, where they were discovered by a negro man, who reported his find to the proper authorities. Up to this hour, there is no clue to the murderer and no one seems to be able to give any reason for the ghastly

 

   The association of the unknown murderer with Jack the Ripper appeared to inflame the minds of ordinary people in Stanly County with the fear of a returning savage when they learned that Alex Whitley was wanted for the murder of Tucker. Those few words of dramatic storytelling came to define the lives and legacies of both D. B. Tucker and Alex Whitley.

   The first clue that folks in Stanly were tiptoeing around something well known in certain circles but not talked about in public was the description “Tucker’s reputation was not the An article entitled “That Western Murder” in the Standard explained that after Tucker’s expulsion from college, he dabbled in politics and “ran for sheriff on the Republican ticket several times without catching The Daily Charlotte Observer, in a rare article condemning the lynching, was more direct in its description of Tucker: “the man who Whitley is alleged to have murdered, is reported to have been a person of bad Another characterization of Tucker in a report of the lynching was a “good news, bad news” word salad.

 

Tucker attended school at the college at Mt. Pleasant, and while known as a bright and intellectual man, he was considered a man of bad character, and when it was known that he was gambling, Tucker was expelled from college. He was one time considered the best public school teacher in Stanly, but his association was such as to bring him into evil

 

   Several articles reporting on the lynching of Alex repeated a story of a gambling dispute in connection with Tucker’s death. But the characterization that “his association was such as to bring him to evil was a clue that Tucker’s life was more than the story of a good school teacher turned gambler.

   I discovered some of Tucker’s secrets and the community’s shame in the Raleigh Archives, where dusty, leather-bound books were brought forth on a cart by a librarian who plucked them from a hidden vault. A long history of Tucker’s trouble after his marriage to Sophia Morton was preserved in fading words inscribed in pencil on brittle, yellowing paper.

   The first evidence of Tucker’s trouble with the law was noted in 1878, when he was charged with trespass on the property of L. T. Tucker by “drawing a blade and forcibly opening the door of a That Tucker was charged with a criminal offense by someone who was apparently related to him raised further questions about Tucker’s relationship with his family and his life in Stanly County.

   In the 1880s, when Tucker was living with his wife and two sons on a 126-acre evidence of aggressive, violent tendencies were recorded in a conviction of assault and battery and the assessment of court costs of On July 7, 1884, Tucker executed a deed of trust on his farm to none other than J. C. Burroughs Jr., Alex Whitley’s father, suggesting that his debt was mounting. The deed of trust was to secure the payment of a debt of “One Thousand Dollars plus interest to Hary Tucker and Sallie Tucker clearly was fighting mounting debt, but he was resilient and resourceful.

   On October 15, 1887, Tucker was certified to teach in Stanly County and apparently was successful at it: “He was considered the best school teacher in However, his debts continued to plague him, and his family continued to grow. On June 10, 1889, after Tucker failed to repay the loan secured five years earlier by the deed to his farm, J. C. Burroughs sold the property at the courthouse for only It’s unclear where Tucker, his wife, and four children lived after 1889.

   Sometime after January 3, 1891, and before July 19, 1891, Tucker left Stanly and his family behind. Events on these two dates mark his departure and document that he, Alex, and Judy did not leave Stanly County together.

   D. B. Tucker signed his name as a witness to the will of Levi C. Tucker in North Carolina on January 3, Three months later, on March 10, 1891, Levi Tucker died.

   D. B. Tucker’s arrival in Arkansas can be pinpointed based on a letter bearing his signature sent to his brother from Elmore, Arkansas, dated July 19, The contents indicate that Tucker was in Arkansas long enough to send and receive correspondence from relatives, and to visit and contact other natives from Stanly.

 

I was very sorry to hear of the death of Mrs. Brattain and also that your wife was in bad health. I certainly was much grieved to learn that Sister Sallie’s health was worse. I wrote her a letter sometime since I trust she has received it at this

 

   D. B. Tucker’s own words six months before his death state with clarity his reason for leaving Stanly County.

 

This is a good country, much better than NC. It is an easy matter for a man to get a tract of land here. It only costs $16 to get 160 acres—good land too. I know that this is a much better place for a poor man than

 

   On October 28, 1891, Tucker received his license to teach school in Arkansas. His employment contract in Arkansas is dated November 2, 1891, the same date as the probate of Levi Tucker’s will in North Carolina. Tucker did not appear in North Carolina for probate of the will or at any time after that.

   When D. B. Tucker left Stanly County, the 36-year-old former farmer, teacher, and failed politician left behind his pregnant wife, five children, debts, and judgments against him. He had found a new home with folks he preferred and never intended to return to a place where he was known as a gambler and “a man of bad with “associations” that brought him “into evil

 

I don’t expect to make Stanly my home any

 

The people in this country as a general rule are kind and sociable and more accommodating more so than in

 

   His abandonment of his family in North Carolina, along with a series of court documents, captured his disregard and disobedience of the law and his violent temperament. Yet a preacher’s words diminished his flaws and glossed over his weaknesses. Harrington redefined Tucker’s life in “Lines,” portraying him as a young man loved and admired as a school teacher, whose move to Arkansas was justified. He was a man facing financial hardship, forced to leave Stanly for the West, like many other young men.

 

2. Times were financially hard, and money coming slow,

He went to the West where many young men go.

He went to his employment which was teaching school,

His scholars, they all loved him, and all obeyed his rules.

 

   Harrington describes Tucker’s home life as one of domestic tranquility and Sophia as a faithful, hopeful wife waiting for her husband’s return.

 

8. His wife in North Carolina she could not take her rest.

She felt that there was trouble with her husband in the West.

Oftimes she had looked for him, and oftimes seen him come,

But now he is gone from her to never more return.

 

   Harrington artfully wove some truth into his story: times were financially hard; Tucker was a school teacher in Arkansas; and he did leave a wife at home who probably did look for him to come back. Ignoring the gambling, failure to repay mounting debts to family and neighbors, and abandonment of his pregnant wife and children, “Lines” recast Tucker’s life in a favorable light, serving as a eulogy inserted into a provocative sermon on Prohibition.