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Fun day turns deadly in Madison streets

Mickey Starling

On Thursday, Nov. 18, in 1909, the citizens of Madison had just enjoyed a wonderful afternoon being entertained by the John Robinson Circus, which was in town. As Range Avenue bustled with travelers making their way home, shots rang out in front of the law office of Council Black Ashley. Ashley was a prominent citizen who was responsible for building the Ashley Building, which is still a central figure in downtown Madison.

Ashley's office was located in the vicinity of where Norris Cafe is currently. Ashley was going about his business when a man came in from the street and told him that someone was asking for him outside.

Thinking nothing of it, he exited his office to find Mr. J.A. Beatty, a saw mill operator in Lee, waiting for him on his wagon. Beatty told Ashley he wanted his notes, meaning he wanted to presumably rid himself of his debts. Ashley was hired by numerous businesses to help in the collection of debts, sometimes having to sue for payment.

Ashley explained to Beatty that the notes were locked in the court house and that he would have them for him the next day. As the Madison Enterprise-Recorder stated, "With those words yet upon his lips, he (Ashley) turned to go back into his office." Beatty, who may have been drinking, reached for a pistol in his coat pocket and accidentally fired a shot for which the bullet was never located. The bullet exited from his pocket to an undetermined location. Beatty then somewhat steadied his pistol and took another shot, which successfully landed in the chest of Ashley. Ashley made it back to his office, exclaiming, "I've been shot." He died soon after.

Beatty decided to create a ruse to cover his dastardly deed and immediately threw himself back in the buggy, shouting that he had also been shot. Several passersby jumped into his buggy to be of assistance. The sheriff soon was on the scene and he gave Beatty a thorough examination, "failing to discover the slightest inclination of a wound." Beatty was promptly arrested and hauled to the old Madison jail.

Strangely, Beatty's cell door was never locked and he soon escaped. He was later captured out West. However, Ashley's widow, Cora Ashley, requested that he not be returned to Madison for trial, saying, "Enough sorrow had occurred."

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