Alfred Jackson Pate Sunday, April 20, 1997
From "The Fayettevile Observer"

The ’CarbineWilliams story

Fate entangles lives of 2 men

First of a four-part series
By Pat Reese
Staff writer
Alfred Jackson Pate, a tough, two-gun deputy who once stood off an angry lynch mob in downtown Fayetteville, died in a hail of gunfire during a raid on a liquor still near Godwin on July 22, 1921.

The man convicted of killing him was the son of a well-to-do landowner, an unruly 21-year-old who quit his railroad job to become a moonshiner -- Marshall Williams.

Williams went to prison for killing Pate. He was sentenced to 30 years at hard labor, but served only eight before he was pardoned by Gov. Angus McLean in 1929.

The pardon came after he invented a light-weight carbine rifle while working as a trusty in the machine shop at Caledonia prison camp. Williams was called Marsh by people who knew him, but his firearm invention earned him fame as “Carbine” Williams.


Date unknown
Contributed photo

Williams’ rifle, with its short-stroke piston and floating chamber, was carried by American foot soldiers during the Pacific campaign of World War II and the Korean War.

Al Pate’s descendants are unhappy that the lawman’s life is practically forgotten, while the man convicted of killing him was paid special tribute by Fayetteville in 1952 during the premiere showing of a movie about his life, “Carbine Williams.”

The controversy over the killing has lived long since the Friday evening when it occurred almost 76 years ago.

Williams’ relatives have insisted through the years that he did not kill Pate, that the guilty man was a hired still hand named Randall A. “Ham” Dawson, one of the prosecution’s key witnesses. Williams’ youngest brother, Gordon, lives today near the Falcon exit on Interstate 95. He was just 7 when his brother went to prison. He says he has never believed his brother killed the deputy.

Pate’s family remained angry for years. When his daughter died in 1978, a telegram sent to the newspaper by a family member sarcastically recalled his murder and Williams’ subsequent fame.

Tough lawman

Pate died at 63. In his 20 years as a lawman, he shot two men -- one fatally. He had scars on his face where he was slashed by a carnival worker who attacked him during fair week several years before his death.

In 1908, he held off an onrushing mob bent on hanging the man who murdered Fayetteville Police Chief James H. Benton.

The prisoner, Sam Murchison, killed Benton outside his home on Green Street, just a few yards from St. John’s Episcopal Church. Newspapers reported Benton and his family were having Sunday dinner when a woman ran into the front yard, crying for help. She said someone was trying to kill her.

Benton, a former newspaper editor, put on his hat and walked outside with his pistol in his hand. Murchison shot him to death just a few feet from his front door.

Benton’s teen-age son picked up his father’s pistol and wounded Murchison as he fled along the street. Murchison surrendered later in the day to a group of armed townspeople and was put in a two-horse buggy for the trip to jail. Hundreds of angry men, many of them armed, had gathered in downtown Fayetteville as news of Benton’s death spread through the county.

The buggy driver, a man named Colerider, whipped his horses around the Market House and headed down Gillespie Street toward the courthouse on Russell Street.

One wheel came off the buggy as the crowd closed in, but Colerider kept going on three wheels. He made it to the jail yard, where Sheriff N.A. Watson and Murchison tumbled out of the buggy. Pate, who was the county jailer, drew one of his two pistols and ran to the front gate, shouting he would shoot anyone who tried to take the prisoner.

The mob backed away and Pate slammed the gate shut, saving Murchison, a black man, from a lynching. But Murchison died at the end of a rope anyway. One month and 23 days later, after a jury found him guilty of murder, Murchison was hanged at the courthouse.

Pate was one of the officers who helped Watson trip the trapdoor on the third-floor gallows built at the top of the courthouse stairwell.

Liquor in the woods

Crime in Cumberland County accelerated after prohibition became federal law in 1919. The county and other parts of North Carolina were already dry as a result of church-led campaigns in the late 1890s, but lawmen had shied away from strict local enforcement.

Men coming home from World War I found they could make more money selling whiskey than working on the farm. Dozens of moonshiners produced liquor in woods and swamps around Fayetteville. Federal revenue officers swarmed into the Southeast and churches exorted politicians to do something about the bootleggers.

Ministers and some officials called town meetings to plead for law and order after three deputies were shot to death and another seriously wounded in a year of lawlessness in 1920 and 1921.

Deputies Herman C. Butler and W.G. Moore were killed in a gun battle in Massey Hill in May 1920. Deputy Malcolm N. Blue was shot to death and Deputy A.O. Patrick was seriously wounded in a gunfight in downtown Fayetteville on Jan. 28, 1921.

There was constant pressure from ministers who blamed whiskey for most of the county’s crime. Sheriff N.H. McGeachy’s small force of deputies was kept busy, searching creek banks and swamps from Linden in the north to Beaver Dam in the south, dismantling liquor stills and pouring out fermenting mash.

Deputies often took the dismantled stills back to Fayetteville and put them on display on the jail lawn at the Russell Street courthouse.

Pate had two jobs in the Sheriff’s Department. He was McGeachy’s chief jailer and sometimes was the lead investigator in working major crimes. In February 1921, Pate asked McGeachy to take him out of the jail and put him to work as a full-time deputy. He was replaced at the jail by Deputy Bill West.

On July 16, 1921, Pate and West, during a downpour of rain, found two liquor stills in a swamp “just north of the state colored normal school,” today’s Fayetteville State University.

The officers poured out the mash and loaded up West’s Ford with jars of liquor and the distillery cookers and coils. When they got back to the courthouse, the deputies added the stills to the jail yard collection.

A few days later, he and other lawmen headed to Godwin to raid another still -- one that belonged to Marsh Williams.

In Monday’s Observer-Times, deputies describe the late afternoon raid that resulted in the shooting death of Al Pate. Marsh Williams surrenders and is locked up in the Raeford Jail.

Click here for Page 2