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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Virginia Foster Durr, March 13, 14, 15, 1975. Interview G-0023-1. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

The duel between Edward Ward Carmack and Duncan Brown Cooper

Durr reflects on her uncle Malcolm R. Patterson, a former governor of Tennessee, who in 1908 was part of one of the more unusual moments in Tennessee's political history. Duncan Brown Cooper, the editor of the <cite>Nashville American</cite> and one of Patterson's key supporters, became embroiled in a rivalry with Edward Ward Carmack, the editor of the <cite>Nashville Tennessean</cite>. One day as Cooper and his son Robin walked through Nashville, they met Carmack. The situation escalated and a gun battle ensued. At the end of the fight, Carmack was dead.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Virginia Foster Durr, March 13, 14, 15, 1975. Interview G-0023-1. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

Now, my uncle Malcolm Patterson, I used to see him. He was a great orator and he had three wives and he was also accused, fairly or unfairly, of being too fond of the bottle, but in any case he got beat by . . . he had a very tragic thing happen to him which ruined his career. He was the governor of Tennessee and was married to his third wife. The first wife committed suicide, the second wife died. He was married to his third wife. I carit remember all the children, but he had a lot of them, but there was a big fight in Nashville and one of his enemies was named Edward Carmack he was the editor of the Nashville Tennesseean, Carmack, and he had a series of very bitter editorials against my uncle who was the governor. Now, what they were about, I still don't know. To this day and hour, I've tried to inquire, but I still don't know what the political situation was that made him so bitter, but he was a very bitter enemy of my uncle. Maybe you can find that out, because I never was able to find it out. So, his third wife told me the following story. She said that they were sitting at breakfast . . . she was much younger than he was and they hadn't been married very long, and she said that the Coopers came by. The Coopers were great supporters of my uncle and they wereson and father. They came by and they told my uncle that they were going down and kill Carmack because he had been so vicious in his attacks on my uncle. And so, she said my uncle remonstrated with them and they said that no, they were determined to kill him. And so, they went off and my uncle said to my aunt, "Do you suppose that they could possibly kill Carmack?" She said, "Oh, Malcolm, don't go, you would be involved in it and they might kill you." She said that she threw her arms around him and held him, but he broke away and went down and they had already killed Carmack. He was lying in a pool of blood down there in the center of Nashville. So, the two Coopers were convicted of the murder and were to be hanged, and Uncle Malcolm pardoned them and that absolutely ruined his political life. He was at that time considered to be sort of the rising star.
Do you remember what year that was?
Oh, that was in the early 1900's.
And your mother was married to your father and living in Birmingham at the time?
Yes. But my uncle ruined his political career completely. I think that he was elected in his later life to a judgeship or given one in Mamphis. But he knew that it would, he told my mother, "Annie, of course, this is going to ruin my political life and I will never be elected to political office again, but I cannot let my friends hang. I know that they did it for me, as unwise as it was and I can't let them hang." Now, whether that was noble or silly depends on your point of view. After that, Uncle Malcolm practiced law in Memphis and then he became a great . . . (you know that he had been accused of drinking so much) and he became a great prohibition advocate. He used to go all over making prohibition speeches and he was a wonderful orator and used to attract thousands of people to the cause of prohibition. I remember him coming to our house and having a meeting in the city auditorium or some theater and speaking on prohibition. Thatwas a great political cause in the South for years, you know, the fight against prohibition. I never knew him well at all, he was a very self-absorbed man. Even my mother never got on too well with him, because she always said that Malcolm was a very self-absorbed man and he was. He was a man that led his own life and his own career. A brilliant man, but a very self-absorbed man.