|The White Caps|
|THE WILL PURVIS CASE
Numerous stories have been written on the life and experiences of Will Purvis, known as the "Miracle Man," or the man who was hanged and still lives. His life on the gallows, in the convict camp and as a fugitive was all brought about by his being a member of the White Caps. In the year 1895, when he had just returned from school at the age of 19, there was a secret clan known as the White Caps, which had overrun Mississippi. They had banded together to promote a "regime of law and order." Their meetings were held in secret and no one but a member knew of their meeting place or their plans. The order was much like the Ku Klux Klan and must have been an outcropping of the original clan.
The White Caps were held responsible for many acts of violence and disorder. The law was very much opposed to the White Cappers and even the Governor of the State determined to destroy their power.
Soon after Will Purvis became a member of their Clan, some of the White Caps called on a Negro, Sam Waller, who was a farm hand on the Buckley Place nearby. San had been working for an aged widow in this community, who could pay only a very poor wage. The Buckleys knew Sam's ability as a worker and finally obtained his service on their farm at a higher wage. The White Caps determined this act an injustice to the widow and marked Sam Waller for vengeance. They called at the Buckley farm that night and took Sam out and gave him a flogging. Will Purvis had nothing to do with the whipping, but was present when it took place.
Now, the Buckleys were members of the White Caps,but denied this. They became very wrought up over the flogging of the Negro and declared that they would report this to the sheriff. All members of the White Caps were stirred up over this and became wary, lest Sam had recognized some of their members.
The Grand Jury was in session in Marion County at the time. the White Caps called a meeting at Red Bluff on Pearl River and the death lot was cast for the murders of Will and Jim Buckley. So, while the Buckleys were reporting the misdemeanors of the Clan to the Grand Jury, their neighbors were planning their murders. They held their meetings after dark and made their plans. Will Purvis had only attended two meetings prior to this. He arose and stated that, as long as the Clan stuck to the "colored line," he was with them, but when it came to killing members of the white race, they could count him out. He resigned that night and knew nothing more of the activities of the Clan.
Late one afternoon, as the Buckley brothers and Sam were returning from Columbia, where they reported the whipping of Sam, they were fired upon from an ambush and Will Buckley was killed from his saddle.
Buckley's murder was soon reported in town and the Sheriff, Jim Buckley, the coroner, and others returned and prepared Will's body for burial. Jim Buckley claimed that he saw Will Purvis near the scene of the murder and pinned the crime on him. The next day, June 22, 1895, Will Purvis was summoned to appear before the county Grand Jury. About midnight that same night, Sheriff I. G. Magee and several deputies called at the home of Will Purvis' father to arrest Will and carry him to jail.
The following day, his father engaged two lawyers, Watkins and Travis, of Hattiesburg, Mississippi, to defend Will. In a short while, he was taken to Meridian and placed in jail and remained there thirty days and then was returned to Columbia for trial. This was a special term of court. As public sentiment was running high at that time, the Judge felt justified in calling a special term. Then came the strenuous siege of trial, and witness after witness was summoned and questioned. After hours and hours of debating, the Grand Jury returned the verdict: "We, the Jury, find the defendant guilty as charged in the indictment and recommend him to the mercy of the court." Then the Judge's sentence: "I sentence you, Will Purvis, to hang by the neck until you are dead, dead, dead, on the 5th of September, 1895, between the hours of 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. at the jail, Marion County, Mississippi." This was to be a lesson to the White Caps.
On September 5, 1895, the Reverend Sibley read a short passage of scripture. the sheriff asked Will if he had anything to say. Will stated that, "The only regret I have is on account of my grief-stricken mother." Then shouted, "I didn't do this. There are men out there among you who could save me if they would." The black cap was placed over his face and the trap door was sprung, but the knot slipped and he was escorted to the scaffold a second time. The Rev. Sibley cried out, "We have seen a miracle from God and the hand of Providence slipped the noose." Then the vote was cast and was unanimous to the effect that the act should not be repeated. He was taken back to jail and a new trial. The State Supreme Court confirmed the sentence and set the date for him to be hanged a second time on December 12, 1895. He was brought back to Purvis and stayed five months. One Sunday night, friends broke into jail and set him free. He hid out with friends until February, 1896, then he gave up. Upon his surrender, Governor McLaurin sent him to Okley Farm, between Natchez and Jackson, and he remained there until on December 20, 1898, he was pardoned.
After coming home, he married and reared a large family. In 1920, Joe Beard, a resident of Marion County, went before Toxey Hall, then District Attorney and confessed to the murder of Will Buckley. After Purvis' innocence was established, the Mississippi Legislature, on March 15, 1920, appropriated $3,000 compensation for the services performed in the penitentiary through an erroneous conviction.
From the petition asking for Will Purvis' pardon in 1898:
"The petition for the pardon of Will Purvis, the Marion County White Capper, who miraculously escaped the hangman's noose by the slip of the rope and is now serving a life sentence in the penitentiary, has received over 100 signatures among the members of the legislature. This petition is signed by all officers in Marion County with some 1700 citizens of the county. Representative Hathorne of Marion County, will present these petitions to the governor in a day or two."
-- The Pearl River News, February 4, 1898