Monday, February 28, 2011

The Death of "Steel Arm" Dickey

1917 Etowah Aluminum Sluggers
image from Dennis Stewart
included in a paper on the Dickey family prepared by John Harshaw

Spring had not yet officially arrived.  The temperature in the area reached the low 60s on Sunday, March 11, 1923.  Thoughts of baseball crossed the players' minds.  Then things went wrong.  Horribly wrong.

Journal and Tribune (Knoxville)  - March 13, 1923
image copied from the Calvin M. McClung Historical Collection

Chattanooga Times - March 14, 1923
image copied from the Chattanooga Public Library

This was not just local news.  The Chicago Defender picked up the story about a week and a half later.
Chicago Defender - March 24, 1923
image courtesy of Gary Ashwill

So, three newspapers accounts differ.  What really happened?  Who was to blame?  To add to the confusion, we have to look at the Death Certificate.  Walter?  What happened to Claude?  Pistol wound?  Where did the knife of the newspaper stories end up?  The birth date given by Martin Dickey doesn't match up with the date on Claude's Draft Registration.  One thing that seems consistent is that Mr. Walter/Claude Dickey died as the result of profuse loss of blood.

Death Certificate - McMinn county, Tennessee
image copied from the Calvin M. McClung Historical Collection

I assume that informant, Martin Dickey, is related to Claude.  There was a Martin Dickey in the 1920 census.  That family was next to the Ben Dickey family.  Fland/Claud was enumerated with the Ben Dickey family.  Martin Dickey has a son named Claud.  Was Martin an uncle to Claude the pitcher?  The 1900 census seems to indicate that.

Was "Steel Arm" Dickey a bootlegger?  A black man in the wrong place at the wrong time?  A ruffian?  A good Samaritan?  It is possible that he could have been all of those.  What I do know is that he died on March 11, 1923.

As far as the bootlegging goes, a Sports Illustrated story about "Cool Papa" Bell says:
Soon he was facing the lethal St. Louis Stars of the Negro National League. "They were a tough club," says Papa. "And mean! They had a fella named Steel Arm Dicky. Used to make moonshine as mean as he was on the side. His boss killed him when he began to believe Steel Arm weren't turnin' in all the profits."
"Steel Arm" Dickey's final resting place is at the New Zion Cemetery, Etowah, Tennessee.

image courtesy of Marian Presswood

1 comment:

  1. This is an incredibly interesting story, very well put together. Really gives you insight into racism that long ago and how different views on race were depending where you lived in America...I believe in many ways it is still the same way (not only with race, but now more with views on sexuality as well). Nice work.