The Death of Girrard H. Blake & Torture of Oscar Anderson
Revelations of abuses committed on juveniles in county convict camps continued to appear in
the Florida Times Union and described in letters sent to the Governor. One report stated a
sixteen-year-old white boy from Georgia named Girrard H. Brake, charged with vagrancy,
received a sixty-day sentence in the Alachua County jail. The County authorities included Brake
in a lease to a phosphate concern operating at Dutton. Witnesses reported that two men held
Brake down while the owner of the camp applied the strap. The boy died as the result of the
beating. Five physicians performed autopsies and they all attributed his death to torture.
Ex-convict W. F. Brown explained that a young prisoner named Oscar Anderson "was a docile
boy, obedient to every order, and tried to do the tasks assigned to him as manfully as he could."
Brown reported that the boy had orders to collect fifty-two buckets of turpentine every day, the
same as required of an adult man, but the boy could not do it.
"I saw them beat Oscar Anderson each and every day upon the alleged ground that he had not
completed his allotted task. They beat him with a piece of leather, a strap, and they beat him
until he was raw on the back." Brown explained the productivity quota doubled what free
laborers did in a day. "The boys are given the same tasks as the men, and are obliged to work
sick or well. I have seen them fall over in the fields and afterwards whipped because they fell."
The Death of Martin Tabert ( An Excerpt)
Compare the testimony of T.W. Higginbotham to that of Troy Tidwell...The both swear to only
giving "gentle blows"..... "ten blows" as said by both men.
Martin Tabert's fellow prisoners testified before the grand jury, describing the events that led up
to his death. They said Tabert, strong and sturdy when he first entered the camp, weighed only
125 pounds at the time of the whipping. They explained that Tabert suffered with frequent
headaches and his feet were badly swollen and covered with boils.
Several prisoners reported that they lined up, waiting for the guards to count them, on the night
of Martin Tabert's whipping. T. W. Higginbotham, head guard and "Whipping Boss" of the camp,
first called three men out of the line and beat them. When he finished with those men, he called
for Martin Tabert. Higginbotham did not hear Tabert's answer and became angry.
Tabert, the prisoners agreed, was weak from his illness. He spoke softly and moved slowly.
Higginbotham was so angry that he grabbed him and ripped off his undershirt. Then he began
to whip Tabert. Glen Thompson reported that Higginbotham "whipped Martin about thirty-five to
fifty licks." He described the lash Higginbotham used as a "four inch strap, five feet long, with
three-ply leather at the handle, two-ply half way down." Another prisoner reported he counted
eighty lashes in all.
A third prisoner testified that Higginbotham told Tabert to get up when he stopped hitting him,
but the man was too weak to stand. This angered Higginbotham further and he said, "haven't
you had enough?" and started whipping Tabert again. Several prisoners testified that this
second whipping lasted as long as the first and Higginbotham placed one of his feet on Tabert's
neck throughout the beating.
Another prisoner testified that when Higginbotham finished beating Tabert he hit him over the
head with the butt end of the whip and continued striking him with the whip until he was back in
line. Several prisoners reported that when they got Tabert in the sleeping shack and removed
his clothes his "skin was all off his back in one chunk from his shoulders to his knees." Another
witness said the doctor did not come to see Tabert and they "dared not ask for one" although
they knew he was dying. This whipping took place on a Friday and Tabert died the following
Higginbotham refuted the prisoners' testimony, swearing he had only given Tabert ten "gentle"
blows with the whip because he refused to do his work properly. He denied putting his foot on
Tabert's neck during the whipping and claimed that he sent for the doctor as soon as he heard
the man was ill.
Higginbotham's lawyer argued that the Putnam Lumber Company employed him to discipline the
prisoners and he had not broken any law because corporal punishment was legal in Florida.
The court indicted Higginbotham for the murder of Martin Tabert. He denied the charge, saying
he did not deny whipping Tabert and others, but the whipping he gave Tabert was light and
according to law.