A few months ago, I decided to drive through the community of Draketown in Haralson County, Georgia. I stopped driving the second I saw this column in the front yard of a home. My first thought was, why was someone buried in a front yard with such an elaborate monument?
When I got home, I started researching and discovered it was a memorial to Alice “Wildie” Stewart. Wildie was the wife of the local Methodist preacher, Reverend Robert Stewart, who had gained the nickname of “The Raiding Parson” because he would search out the stills of local moonshiners and destroy them. Thankfully, a book titled Draketown Tragedy was written about the events surrounding Alice “Wildie” Stewart’s death. The book and supporting newspaper documentation provided the information needed for this post.
On Thursday, November 13, 1924, local bootleggers, and likely the KKK, showed up one night at the Stewart’s home, the Methodist parsonage, to kidnap him. Wildie grabbed her pistol and stepped out to the front porch to protect her husband. She was shot in the process. The bootleggers immediately ran off. As this was a rural town, Reverend Stewart was required to drive his wife to Atlanta to get care.
Wildie became known as the first woman to die for the cause of prohibition. Her story was carried in newspapers throughout Georgia and surrounding states. The governor of Georgia, Clifford Walker, offered $200 for the arrest of her killers. A memorial plaque was placed in her honor at the Wesley Memorial Hospital in Atlanta commemorating her heroism.
The manhunt began using the identifications made by Reverend Stewart and several men were arrested. Yet, the identification of some of the men by Tannie, the 17-year-old daughter, was ignored as she identified some of the known local Ku Klux Klan members. While not shared publicly, the youngest daughter Lorene did tell a childhood friend that she found KKK robes under her father’s bed.
Interestingly, the KKK seemed to do what they could to prove they weren’t associated with Stewart’s death. They gave the family $50 and wrote a resolution that was signed by “John B. Gordon, Klan, Number 2, Realm of Georgia” (p. 124). Additionally, they helped fundraise to erect the column in Stewart’s honor. Hundreds dressed in their robes attended the unveiling of the marker.
There were several arrests made in the murder of Alice Stewart. Reverend Robert Stewart served as the prosecutor for the case even though there was no mention of him having any legal experience. Once the accused were brought to trial, all were acquitted because of their alibis, which according to news reports, were often the others accused in the murder.
Despite the acquittal, the story of the “Raiding Parson” and the death of his wife were made into a movie by the Atlanta film studio, Winn Studio. Stewart would often attend showings, which would often be sold out.
After reading the book, which I think is a good one regarding sharing local lore, I was left with so many questions. What was Reverend Stewart’s connection to the KKK? Why did they show up at his house? Why did Stewart serve as the prosecutor? Were members of the jury moonshiners and/or members of the KKK? It seems odd all of the men were acquitted since it was such a small town and everyone knows each other. The jury believed the alibis of known bootleggers over a reverend. The case is a weird one.