N.C. justice, 1827: ‘Allowed to keep his Ears’

“In Davidson County, North Carolina, a drunken young mountaineer named William Tippett had bitten off a large piece of old Arthur Newsome’s chin, almost plucked out his left eye and grasped Newsome’s right eye with his other hand…..

“The old man was left with just one, badly injured, eye when the right one popped out some days later.

“The little community was in an uproar when the judge sentenced Tippett to lose his ears as punishment for the mayhem. A long, half-literate petition from Tippett’s kinsmen for remission of the penalty quickly circulated. Newsome, they argued, was an old rogue whom nobody liked. Tippett, on the the hand, was a man in the prime of life.

“The governor [Hutchins Gordon Burton], recognizing that the will of the people should be heard, showed becoming mercy, writing on the back of the memorial, ‘Allowed to keep his Ears, 1827.’ ”

– From “Southern Honor: Ethics and Behavior in the Old South” by Bertram Wyatt-Brown (2007)

Given North Carolinians’ widely-known affinity for gouging — the NFL of its time? — the only surprise in this account is that Tippett even had to go to court.


Trail to Donner Pass began in Rowan County

On this day in 1846: George Donner, born in the part of Rowan County that would become Davidson County, leads a California-bound wagon train out of Springfield, Illinois.

The Donner Party will be caught in a weeks-long snowstorm in the Sierra Nevada. Many will die, and some resort to cannibalism.

In what is later known as the Donner Pass, a bronze statue commemorates the bravery of all pioneers who went west.

In 2010 a publicist’s misreading of research by an Appalachian State anthropologist would give the Donner Party a moment of unmerited exoneration.