The Aftermath: A Bloody Night in Downtown Asheville, Part Six

Chief of Police Si Bernard and Sheriff Henry Reed headed toward Skyland on their horses. They went down South Main Street (now Biltmore Ave.) toward Biltmore. They switched between running their horses and trotting them. The men wanted to get there quickly but did not want to tire the horses out. They made good time. Before they reached Skyland, they met a wagon pulled by two mules. The wagon was followed by 50 armed men on horseback and walking. The body of Will Harris was laying in the wagon.

Frank Jordan handed Harris’s rifle to Chief Bernard. “Si, the boys voted to give this rifle to Captain Page. They thought he might like to have it,” said Jordan. “They also voted to give the reward money to the widows of Blackstock and Bailey.” Chief Bernard said, “That’s nice, Frank; very nice.”

Chief Bernard and Sheriff Reed moved with their horses directly behind the wagon. They asked the posse men to follow them back to Asheville. They reached Biltmore and went across the railroad tracks. They then started up the hill toward Asheville. They soon met the first of thousands of people who lined South Main Street to greet the posse and catch a look at Asheville’s most deadly murderer. Bernard ordered the posse to surround the wagon in order to get it through the crowds. The crowd grew larger as the went up the hill past Newton Academy School.

They stopped the wagon at Hare, Bard and Company Morticians on South Main Street. The members of the posse formed a wall from the wagon to the door of Hare Morticians in order to get Harris’s body in the door. The crowd was mad because they wanted to see the body. Sheriff Reed told the crowd he would let them see the body later. Sheriff Reed told Chief Bernard to go home and get some sleep; he could handle the situation.

Positive ID

Sheriff Reed sent for Harry Finkelstein, who had sold Harris the gun, and J.R. Roberts, who had sold Harris the clothing at the Swartzberg and Son department store. They both identified Harris as the man they had dealt with.

Between the funeral home and Pack Square, South Main Street was jammed with more than 1,000 people. The crowd soon had to part to make way for the funeral procession of James Bailey, whom Harris had murdered, to pass through on the way to the cemetery.

The crowd began to demand to see the body. Sheriff Reed, Dr. Morris and Captain Taylor decided they would allow 20 people in at a time to view the body. It soon became apparent that this would take all day and most of the night at that rate. Reed, Morris and Taylor conferred. They decided to place the body near the window, where it could be seen from the street.

Three police officers were placed outside the window to help control the crowd. They grabbed a man who pulled a pistol and was so angered he tried to shoot the body again through the window. The policeman looked the man in the eyes and said, “Where were you this morning when we needed you?” People stood in line to look at Will Harris’s mangled face. Many people wished to stand several minutes staring at his face. The crowd was so large that viewers were quickly pushed aside by the crowd. Everyone wished to see the killer’s body, and they were in no mood to wait.

New Town, New Name

It appeared no one really knew the man’s name. Some called him Will Harris, and others called him James Harvey. Eli White, an elderly man, stepped up to view the body. His eyes opened wide in disbelief. He said, “That is Rufe Lindsey of York, SC. I knew him well.” It appeared that Will Harris, or whatever his name was, used a different name in every town. No one will probably ever know his real name. He would get in trouble and come up with another name.

Chief Bernard went home and rested all afternoon. He ate supper at 8 pm and then took the streetcar downtown. He got off at College and North Market Street. He walked over to South Main Street, where he saw a group of men gathered on the sidewalk. Bernard figured the men were up to no good. He walked up to the men and stared at them. They started leaving one at a time until there was only one man left: W.B. Anderson. Anderson was known to be a local troublemaker. Finally, Anderson turned and left. The Chief then walked across the square to police headquarters.

Asheville newspapers gave an accurate account of the events. James Caine, the editor of the Citizen, was a member of the posse. The out-of-town papers were a different story. They said the posse was led by George W. Vanderbilt and John A. Roebling, both from wealthy New York City families. They reported that Vanderbilt and Roebling fired the two shots that killed Harris. Chief Bernard read the papers and shook his head in disbelief. The big-city papers could not believe native Asheville and Buncombe County residents were capable of doing anything.

To read the earlier parts of this story, go to, click on “SECTIONS,” then “DAYS GONE BY.”

Bruce Whitaker documents Fairview-area genealogy. To get in touch with him, contact the Crier at [email protected] or 828-771-6983 (call/text).

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