- Associated Press - Monday, December 8, 2014

PARAGOULD, Ark. (AP) - On Wednesday, December 29, 1909, a violent winter storm was ripping across Paragould. After a day of hunting, brothers John Monroe and James Henry Trammell, both of Greenway in Clay County, ducked into the Elk Café on Paragould’s North Pruett Street.

Advertised as the, “most up-to-date restaurant in northeast Arkansas,” the Elk Café served regular and short-order meals, cigars, liquor and even ice cream. When the brothers entered the café, James became embroiled in an argument with a man identified only with the last name of ‘Gragg.’

A brakeman for the local Iron Mountain and St. Louis Railroad, Gragg had apparently had previous contact with the Trammell boys according to newspaper reports, but the relationship between James and Gragg likely ran deeper than previously suspected as it was later reported that Trammell knew Gragg and the latter made a joking remark toward Trammell while some documentation and family lore suggests it was over a local woman, Zula Ward, of Greenway.

Whatever the cause, a scuffle ensued and Trammell jerked his pistol from his side and, while claiming later it was an accident, shot Gragg fatally through the mouth, the Paragould Daily Press (https://bit.ly/12mRoZf ) reported. Trammell immediately fled out the back window of the café and down the main rail line. He was not seen again for two years.

While no grave has been located in the state for Gragg, research suggests that Gragg had no family except for a sister who lived near Wynne in Cross County at the time of the shooting. One report shows that Oliver Benjamin Gragg of Paragould, identified as ‘an uncle’ fronted a $50 reward for the capture of Trammell. Yet the identity of Gragg remains shrouded in mystery and while no grave for Gragg has been located, a recently discovered probate case in Gragg’s name was opened two months after his death.

After Trammell fled Paragould in 1909 following the shooting, he first made his way south to Jonesboro where he caught a train at the Frisco Crossing just off today’s Highland Drive. From Jonesboro, Trammell went southeast to Memphis, where eventually he caught a train out west.

Trammell had worked for a time in this city as a brakeman for the city’s streetcars and it was also variously reported that Trammell operated a saloon in Memphis or, as one newspaper called it, a ‘dive.’ According to Trammell, he then traveled through Oklahoma City and through Utah and on to Seattle where he worked for a time as a barber. Apparently not yet feeling safe, Trammell went south to Los Angeles where he claimed to have worked on a ranch and finally to San Francisco where he was employed again as a streetcar motorman under the alias Arthur Hoil.

By May 1911, Trammell had been captured by career San Francisco city detectives and was promptly escorted back to Arkansas by Greene County Sheriff Charles Stepp. It is surmised that during this time, James’ brother John Monroe, who served as Clay County coroner and Rector druggist, helped to fund his brother’s travels and exile in the West. No record of Trammell has been found in the Greene County Jail Register of Prisoners and this suggests that he broke free at an early stage in his imprisonment.

Trammell was ever seen or heard of again. Likely, John Monroe, who continued his responsible medical duties in northeast Arkansas, received correspondence from James Henry and still supplied funds for his fugitive brother. But what became of him?

Exhaustive research into the life of Trammell has yielded surprising results.

In January 1912, a Los Angeles newspaper reported that Zula Ward, the woman seemingly at the heart of the 1909 shooting in downtown Paragould, was with her family at the Third International Aviation Meet at Griffith Aviation Park in Los Angeles. The report states: “Miss Zula Ward of Greenway, Clay County, claims the honor of being the first Arkansas girl to fly. She made a flight lasting more than a half hour last Friday afternoon at Griffith Aviation Park in Los Angeles and declared she could never be satisfied until she owns an aeroplane. Her mother, Mrs. Samuel A. Ward, watched the daughter’s thrilling flight with considerable anxiety. The Wards went out to the aviation field to see the tryouts of the machines. Aviator Charles Stevens had a newly completed Gage bi-plane out for a trial flight. As he landed near the Wards, Miss Zula rushed up to him enthusiastically, ‘Oh, I should love to fly!’ His engine still running, Stevens said: ‘All right, jump in,’ and they were off before Mama Ward could voice her objections.”

While it cannot be proven, evidence suggests that Zula, along with her parents, made their way to California to fund fugitive James Trammell on the newly-established Sydney Short Line operated by the Oceanic Steamship Company.

The paper trail of Trammell leads clearly across the Pacific and by 1915, one year after the death of his brother, James Henry Trammell is listed as living at 45 Meagher Street in the heart of Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. Trammell lived for several more decades down under, the result of which was a first generation Australian family still thriving today.

Trammell worked for many years as a grocer near Sydney Harbour and was even involved in black market crime during World War II. While no evidence shows that Trammell was involved in other, more sinister crimes, he lived in Sydney during a very violent time. Known as the Sydney Razor War, bootleggers and enforcers fought vicious battles on city streets for control of the liquor market and Trammell was surely a witness to this.

Paul Neary, grandson of James Henry Trammell, confirmed the story of, “A shooting in the south (United States) somewhere.” But details given to the family over the killing of Gragg were thin.

Neary described his grandfather. “He was a very charming man and right until the day he died he maintained his heavy Southern accent. The accent charmed everyone because there were so few Americans living in Australia at that time, especially those from the south . For us grandkids we were always happy to visit because he and my Nan (Phoebe Trammell) always had Coca-Cola in the refrigerator . Also, he would always cook us pancakes for breakfast when we stayed for longer visits. That was not a common breakfast menu for Aussies,” said Neary.

James Trammell died in 1966 and is buried at Rookwood Cemetery in Campsie, New South Wales, Australia, a suburb of Sydney. Among the possessions passed down to his grandson, Paul Neary, was an old cabinet card photo of Zula Ward, presumably given to Trammell when he departed the United States for the last time. “My mom was named Zula,” Neary said.

John Monroe Trammell is buried in a small cemetery near Rector, Arkansas, not far from Paragould. His son, Eric Harvey Trammell was a highly-decorated World War I veteran and died in 1932 while serving as Secretary of the United States Embassy in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

The site of the Elk Café today is the now the empty H&W; Hardware building just south of Terry’s Cafe on Pruett Street in downtown Paragould. While some descendants of the Trammell and Gragg families have been located locally, little memory of one of Paragould’s most significant chapters of history remains.


Information from: Paragould Daily Press, https://www.paragoulddailypress.com/

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