Bill Carico, great great grandson of Alexander Carico
The Murder of Alexander Carico On my father’s side of the family, the last 5 generations of Carico’s were all from Southwest Virginia. His parents were married in Cumberland Gap. I was born in Coeburn hospital, which more closely resembled a large boarding house with wheelchair ramps. Coeburn sits on the southeast side at the base of Wise Mountain, and is only 8 miles from the Wise County Courthouse, provided you take the direct route straight up Wise Mountain. I had also learned this morning that Wise County had been formed February 16, 1956 by an act of the Virginia legislature authorizing the reassignment of portions of land from Lee, Scott, and Russell Counties.
Sunday evening I searched online for the words, “Wise County, Carico , Murder,” and was very pleased to find the most detailed account of Alexander Carico’s murder that I have ever seen. It’s a single chapter in the book Charles Johnson first published in 1933, titled History of Wise County. Reading his account, two subtle things stood out to me. I noticed Mr. Johnson’s unique writing style and the considerable length of some of his longer sentences. Also, what is particularly revealing is the level of complexity of the legal processes that were already in place by the mid-1800’s. Here are some excerpts from the chapter “The First Tragedy”: When Alexander Carico at dawn of day on Monday July 28, 1856, called his little boys, Montgomery and Weldon, up to his side, patted his brawny hand on their heads, told them to go to the mountain-top on that day and spread salt for the cattle, bade his wife and affectionate goodbye, and departed for the “Big Glades,” to join in the celebration of the birth of the county, and to witness the organization of its first county court, he never one time thought his name would be inscribed on the records of that court as the first man to be murdered in the county. Neither did Beverly Dickenson, when he parted with his family on the early morning of July 28, 1856, and made his way up Guest Mountain to the Big Glades on the same mission, one time think his name would go down on the county’s records beside that of his neighbor, as being the first man in the county charged with the crime of murder. Alexander Carico and Beverly Dickenson were neighbors, and lived in the neighborhood of Bull Run settlement. It is said they both owned land, and had settled there in the early pioneer days among the hills and wild woods of what is now the eastern part of Wise county, to dig out their living by the sweat of their brows. The county at that time was very sparsely settled, and a large wild mountain range surrounded them. They both had horses, livestock, hogs, cattle and sheep. The cattle, hogs and sheep fed over a broad range on the wild peavine that grew so abundantly and on the chestnuts and acorns that fell by the bushels to the ground. In the late fall of the year the stock was gathered up for seal-fat, some to be butchered for home consumption, and others to be driven to the town of Lynchburg for market. Once a week each man would go to this salting place on some hilltop or down in some low valley by a water course, and leave fresh salt for his cattle and sheep, and a sprinkle of corn for his hogs, to keep them from straying too far away. The stock wore bells, and each man knew the sound of his belled cattle and belled hogs and sheep, and could stand on the top of some peak and hear the jingle of his bells in the far distance, and distinguish the sound. Time passed, and one day, it is said, Alexander Carico found some of his hogs had been shot and killed, and other crippled, and the bells cut off some, and shot off others. And some of his horses were found with their tails cut off. Carico accused his neighbor, Dickenson, of doing this, and a grudge commenced between them which continued to grow in feeling. A foot-path led through the low underbrush from the Primitive Baptist Church that had been adopted as the courthouse of the county, to the spring, some two hundred yards in a southeast direction from the church. This spring was near the east side of the lot on which the dwelling house of Mrs. G W Kilgore now stands, and back a few feet in the rear of the house.
When the crowd which had spread out in the Big Glades below, at noon recess of the county court on July 28 1856, heard loud talking and cursing, and a dull hollow sound near the spring, and ran toward the spot, they found Alexander Carico stretched out upon the ground, unconscious, caused from a lick on the back of the head with a large stick in the hands of Beverly Dickenson. The grudge had been rekindled, and as they were leaving the spring, Dickenson in front and Carico close behind him, Carico made a remark to Dickenson, who turned on him and struck Carico with a large stick. Carico was at once carried to the home of Daniel Ramey, the Monarch of the Big Glades, and laid on a pile of rails in the yard of the Monarch’s home. Dr. John Burns, who lived in the settlement where Tacoma is now located, on Guests River, was called to Carico’s side, and at first pronounced him not seriously hurt, but later Carico was carried and placed under the shed of The Monarch’s home and commenced to grow worse, and died sometime after midnight, on July 29, following. Beverly Dickenson was arrested on the ground by the Crier charged with murder of Alexander Carico, a warrant was sworn out against him for the offense, and he was afterwards carried to the Russell County jail which had been adopted as the jail for Wise County. His case was continued in the county court until November 28 1856, on which day William Richmond, Jesse Davis, David Short, Nicholas Horne and James Estep advised, were of the opinion, as the records show, that Dickenson should be sent on to the circuit court for trial. Motion was made for bond for Dickenson, but the court refused him bail, and he was remanded back to the Russell County jail.
On February 18, 1856, two days after the act had been passed establishing Wise County, and providing for the organization of a county court, the legislature passed an act placing Wise County in the seventeenth Judicial Circuit, then composed of the counties of Smith, Tazewell, Washington, Russell, Lee and Scott, and fixing the terms of the circuit court for Wise County to commence on the first Monday after the fourth Monday in April and September of each year. The case of Beverly Dickenson for the murder of Alexander Carico was brought up to the circuit court of Wise County on October 5, 1857. The court was opened with the Hon. Samuel V. Fulkerson, judge, presiding, and a grand jury was impaneled, and presented an indictment against Beverly Dickenson for murder…” Dickenson was brought into court on the indictment and arraigned, and entered a plea of not guilty. The court allowed him bond in the sum of $1000. Bond was afterwards forfeited. Dickenson skipped his bond and fled to Kentucky. He was afterwards apprehended and brought back to Wise County, and on April 20, 1861, placed on trial. On the third day of the trial the jury returned the following verdict, “We the jury, find the prisoner, Beverly Dickenson, guilty of voluntary manslaughter, and ascertain the period of his confinement in the public jail and penitentiary to be one year.” The civil war was on. Men were being called to the colors. Volunteers were needed. Dickenson volunteered in the Confederate Army, and was pardoned by Governor Fletcher after serving part of his term. At the end of the war Beverly Dickenson, it is said, moved to Wolfe County, Kentucky, and it seems he was never heard of again. Alexander Carico left a widow and a large family of children.