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I write this column on the morning of Labor Day so, on behalf of all the mill workers of Water Valley’s past, I will let Daniel Wagner do the work. Yes, it’s a Wagner Week! In this letter, we have an intriguing reference to an early dust-up between Reverend Gibbs and big man about town, Daniel Wagner. This incident seems to be a stepping stone in what would eventually lead to Gibbs’ public death by Daniel’s nephew’s cane-beating! I wish I knew more about the 1902 case referenced in this letter.
The historians from the Water Valley, MS Historical Preservation Facebook page document the later cane-beating incident this way: “Rev. Gibbs of the North Main Methodist Church in Water Valley preached against the child labor regularly in the early 1900s, and this eventually led to his death. Will Wagner, (the same man who was murdered in 1931) was the president of the Twine Mill, confronted the preacher outside of his church after a service one day and beat him with his walking cane for speaking out against the harsh practices. This led to the death of Rev. Gibbs. Will Wagner was ultimately acquitted on all charges. “
Daniel and family owned Yocona Twine Mills which employed a whole bunch of kids. And when I say kids, I also mean babies.
Lewis Hines, the famed documentary photographer, reports kids as young as three years old working in deplorable conditions at the mill. In 1908 child labor (12 and under, at least) officially became illegal in Mississippi’s factories. Of course, we all know that Mississippi child labor most certainly did not become illegal outside of factories at that time or for many decades after.
Also of note, Daniel hates novels.
Wagner and Company
General Merchants and Cotton Buyers
Water Valley, Miss
March 15th, 1902
Your letter rec’d. We have our report and we are all proud of you. It’s a nice thing to be in 2nd group and be ranked as honor man! I hope you will continue to keep on as you have done.
The Gibbs case went against me much to the surprise and indignation of all my friends. I have been badly treated in this matter from the beginning and the action of all the slander have much to answer for.
Evelyn is nearly well again – she will be up in a few days. Tomorrow is 2 years since your dear Mother left us. I miss her every hour. We have thousands of violets. I will put some on her grave and a bunch for you also.
I think I will go to the Reunion at Dallas and to Hot Springs in April. I still suffer from Rheumatism.
Aunt Sis is well. So are all the others. I am sorry you have a bad cold, hope you are well of it now. George is doing well at school, he will be down next Saturday. He seems to take an interest in his studies.
Don’t read too many novels. You can’t do your best in your studies and read sentimental books of fictions.
We all send you our love.
Affectionately your father,