|Edward W. Carmack||1858-1908||
Columbia Herald, Columbia
Nashville American, Nashville
Nashville Democrat, Nashville
The Commercial Appeal, Memphis
The Tennessean, Nashville
At a Christmas party this past weekend, I met two delightful Columbia natives who entertained many of us with their outrageous stories "off the record" of several notorious Columbia residents, both past and present. Unfortunately, neither would allow me to quote or photograph them. However, they did turn me on to some very interesting stories. None of which was more outrageous than Columibia's own Edward Ward Carmack. I knew nothing of Carmack Boulevard's namesake, until now. And what I learned is this... politics is an unseemly business today, but it was a deadly one 100 years ago.
Edward Ward Carmack was a writer, orator, lawyer, congressman, and editor whose habit of boldly expressing his opinions on public questions led to his assassination. He is the last Tennessee editor to be slain and the only one to be memorialized by a statue on the state capitol grounds.
Although born in Sumner County, Carmack attended school in Maury County at Webb School (now in Bell Buckle, TN), and went on to read law and be admitted to the bar in 1879. He practiced law in Columbia, served in the state legisiature, and became editor of the Columbia Herald in 1884.
Carmack moved to Nashville in 1886 and worked on the Union-American, then founded the Nashville Democrat. Those papers merged, and Carmack went to Memphis and became editor of the Commercial. Under his direction the Commercial merged with the Appeal-Avalanche, and Carmack became editor of the Memphis Commercial Appeal.
He left that paper and ran for Congress against the candidate the Commercial Appeal supported. He won by a narrow margin. He was re-elected to the House for a second term and in 1901 was elected to the Senate.
Carmack was named editor of the Nashville Tennessean and continued his blistering editorial attacks against the governor, bringing about a bitter dispute with Duncan Cooper, a friend of the governor's. As a result of these editorials he was shot and killed by Cooper on November 9, 1908.1
Duncan Cooper was a distinguished, proud man with a handlebar moustache that reminds you of someone from an Agatha Christy novel. During the Civil War Cooper had led his own detachment of Confederate cavalry until he was captured and spent time in a prisoner of war camp up North. After the war he mined silver, owned and operated newspapers and managed business interests in Central America and in general lived by his wits.
By 1908 he was a close advisor to Tennessee Governor Malcolm Patterson.
Carmack was 15 years Cooper’s junior. A native of Columbia, he had started as a newspaper man (Cooper gave him his first job as an editorial writer for the American) and shifted to politics, becoming a U.S. Congressman and a U.S. Senator. Politically he was against big business, opposed to American imperialism and against the mixing of the races.
In 1906, Carmack’s career hit a stumbling point when he lost his senatorial re-election campaign. Two years later he lost the gubernatorial race to Patterson. By the fall of 1908 he was back in journalism, playing the role of bitter critic of his former opponent. And it wasn’t just Patterson he was attacking; it was his old friend Duncan Cooper – an old man with a deep southern sense of honor.
In one editorial, published on October 21, 1908, Carmack compared Cooper to two Jewish men who ran a disreputable bar in the Black Bottom section of Nashville (which, within the white community of Nashville at that time, was about as nasty a thing as you could say). A few days later, Carmack again attacked Cooper on the editorial pages.
Cooper sent a message to Carmack, saying he wouldn’t take it anymore. “You have no right in this manner to annoy, insult or injure me than you would have to do so to my face,” he wrote in a letter to Carmack. “I notify you that the use of my name in your paper must cease.” The Tennessean editor ignored the warning and even wrote another editorial about Cooper.
The gauntlet had been thrown down. During the next few days, both Carmack and Cooper borrowed pistols from friends. Friends on both sides – among them Governor Patterson, James C. Bradford and Edward Craig – tried to get the two men to calm down. Nothing worked.
2 Carmack's murder riveted Tennessee in 1907