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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Zeno Ponder, March 22, 1974. Interview A-0326. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Madison County sheriff incumbent does not step down peacefully

E. Y. Ponder had to face violent resistance and file a lawsuit in order to take office as the sheriff of Madison County. The Republican incumbent resisted with a machine gun inside the local jail.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Zeno Ponder, March 22, 1974. Interview A-0326. 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

the Republicans just absolutely homesteaded and set up tommy guns, machine gun and refused to surrender the jail to the lawfully elected sheriff, so . . .
BILL FINGER:
They actually had a machine gun?
ZENO PONDER:
Oh yes. They had a machine gun. We had a lot of fun out of them with that. They had it manned by Mr Claude Henderson. He was a pretty rough old fellow. And we would try to shake his nerves. And we had a lot of fun. We'd go down and throw out firecrackers. Drive by the jail and throw out firecrackers. And they would start passing out these pistols just like passing out apples, you know. And he would get to his machine gun. It was manned in front of the jail, there where you could cover the court house. So we'd go driving off . . . let them get settled back down . . .
BILL FINGER:
The machine gun was outside, in front of . . .
ZENO PONDER:
It was setting right in front of the jail, where they could aim toward the court house or swing around 180 degrees. Yep. So we'd let them settle back down. 30 minutes or an hour later we'd go back by and flash the lights, throw them another firecracker. So they never knew whether we were foolish enough to attack. Of course we were never going to attack. We were just having fun. This was our nightly passtime.
BILL FINGER:
That's not quite as calm as the grand ole opry. (laughter)
ZENO PONDER:
No, not so serene. But it's exciting.
BILL FINGER:
I bet it was. So E.Y. brought suit in superior court to . . .
ZENO PONDER:
To take possession. He brought what was known as a mandamus proceeding—which is a taxpayers proceeding to determine who is rightfully entitled to the tax money in the form of the salary for sheriff of Madison county. So it really . . . a proceeding is really a three way law suit. You have the tax payer who is bringing the suit. Then you have the one, the incumbent in this case. The Republican, contending that he rightfully had won. And E.Y., the challenger, contending that he had won. And the tax payer, over here, bringing the law suit. So it was a three way . . .
BILL FINGER:
Who brought . . . who was the tax payer?
ZENO PONDER:
The tax payer was Roy Freeman and Ernest Nelson.
BILL FINGER:
Were they Democrats?
ZENO PONDER:
They were Democrats.