2 Taylors do battle over who said what
One hundred years ago, the enemies of Little Rock Mayor Charles E. Taylor were looking for ways to get his goat.
In July, he went to New York to obtain an extension from city creditors for $575,000 in loans. That’s when Somebody spread The Bad Story about him.
None of the four historians I’ve asked knows what that story was, but then, we don’t need to know. What’s interesting is how the mayor, one of Little Rock’s formative leaders, reacted.
He had a lot going on. Military draft numbers had been called, and Camp Pike was setting up to house thousands of soldiers. A Belgian delegation was in town. Certain city aldermen were trying to ram through an ordinance to allow movie theaters to operate on Sundays — which he opposed.
So this must have been a doozy of a rumor: He issued an angry statement denouncing it. Then he held a rally where 250 of his friends pledged to root out its mongers and take them to court. (My Old News column from July 17 had fun words from that rally.)
Martha Rimmer, who wrote Taylor’s bio for the online Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture, is certain the rumors, whatever they were, were lies. She has found no evidence of misconduct by Taylor, who was the father of four, happily married, a Sunday School manager — and also the mayor who shut down Little Rock’s large and ugly “red light” district, began curbside garbage collection, made the fire department effective, empowered a real health department with inspectors ….
When he took office in 1911, typhoid fever was killing about 30 residents a year. His first year of municipal modernizing reduced that toll to 12. And before state law banned alcohol in 1916, he reduced the not-funny problem of public drunkenness by enforcing stricter liquor laws.
The creation of Camp Pike in North Little Rock caused a milk shortage and then a coal shortage, as well as other problems.
“Taylor had his enemies after four terms in office because of his reform policies, especially from those who benefited from its earlier ‘wide-open-town’ image, the city’s financial problems,
and the added burdens arising from Camp Pike, all of which were creating a lot of tension,” Rimmer says.
One immediate result of the loud defense mounted by Taylor’s friends July 17, 1917, was that one gossip came forward.
Here’s the Democrat, July 21 (the Gazette’s report was similar):
Mayor and Doctor in Fight on Street
Mayor Charles E. Taylor was cut twice with a small pocket knife and slightly injured by Dr. W.H. Taylor, 115 Arch Street, following some words between them at Second and Louisiana streets at 10 o’clock Saturday morning. …
Dr. Taylor, according to the mayor, had called at his office, and admitted that he had repeated the stories, and apologized. Later the mayor was told that Dr. Taylor had denied that he had apologized, and when, Saturday morning, while he was talking with some friends, the mayor saw Dr. Taylor approaching, he stopped him and asked him to repeat what had been said in the city hall Friday.
Words followed, and according to the mayor, Dr. Taylor called him a vile name. The mayor then struck the doctor in the face, and the two men clinched. While they were clinched the doctor cut the mayor twice, once in the back under the right shoulder blade, and again on the right arm.
Witnesses separated the men, and friends of the mayor took him to the office of Dr. J.H. Lenow, 104 Louisiana street, where the wounds were cauterized, and pronounced not of a serious nature. The cut on the back was about six inches long, and the one on the arm about four inches long. Both broke the skin, but did not penetrate to any depth.
A large crowd was attracted by the men struggling on the street, and after the men were separated it was reported that the mayor had been seriously and perhaps fatally injured. This report was telephoned to police headquarters, and Chief Rotenberry hurried to the scene in an automobile. He placed Dr. Taylor under arrest and took him to police headquarters.
There he was booked on a charge of assault with intent to kill. His bond was fixed at $500, and it was signed by Mrs. Ida B. Jones, who is Dr. Taylor’s daughter. Attorney Hal L. Norwood was retained to represent Dr. Taylor.
Dr. Taylor is 71 years old and retired from active practice some years ago.
The paper quoted a statement from the mayor to the effect that Dr. Taylor had assured him he’d learned that the rumor was “lies, d—n lies,” and regretted repeating it. The next day in the street, the mayor wrote, he was telling his friends J.G. Cubage and L.S. “Sharp” Dunaway, both of Conway, about the apology when W.E. Butler strolled up.
“Mr. Butler said his information was that Dr. Taylor had denied making any apologies. About that time I saw Dr. Taylor coming down the street and I stopped him and said: ‘Doctor, Mr. Butler says you have denied saying to me that you were sorry for having repeated those vicious rumors about me.’
“He got mad and said that what he had told me was that he said to two of his friends that the stories were lies. I answered, ‘Doctor, what you really said was that you were satisfied that the stories were lies, d—n lies, and that you were sorry for your connection with them.’
“In reply the doctor called me a vile name and came at me with his right fist raised in a threatening manner.”
So the mayor hit him. But he thought better of fighting an old man and tried to shove him away.
“The doctor evidently had his open knife in his hand when he stopped to talk to me.”
Doctor Taylor gave the paper a different account. First, he said he never claimed to have spread the Bad Story. No. What he had confessed to was expressing belief in a rumor that the mayor had been shot. Further, he remembered that the mayor had approached him on the street and demanded he say he had apologized for lying.
“I then said, ‘You are a liar, I never said any such thing.’ He then struck me and commenced to choke me. I reached in my pocket and got my knife and struck at him.
“I am 71 years old and have had two sun strokes and am feeble and not able to defend myself with my fist against an attack or an active man like Mayor Taylor. I did not want to kill him, and had no thought of killing him, but I did want him to quit choking me and had no other way of making him quit and what I did, I did in self-defense.” Cubage also spoke to the Democrat, corroborating the mayor’s account up to and including the phrase “lies, damn lies.” Interestingly, the Democrat didn’t censor the dirty “-am-” in its quotations from Cubage, so we can credit Taylor with the delicacy of not spelling out a cuss word.
Also credit him with having all charges against the old doctor dropped, because he did that, too.
And then Somebody tried to have the mayor’s son arrested as a draft dodger.
But that is a story for another day.