New-to-me background on U.S. vs. Penton


When I last visited Florida in 2015, I spent most of the time going through courthouse archives in search of testimony and notes for the cases Emmett was prosecuting.

Although I didn’t find much in the way of notes, I did uncover a load of paperwork with Emmett’s signature, which (at least) confirmed some of the details of the cases he prosecuted while serving as District Attorney from 1907-1909, then as States’ Attorney from 1911-1913.

But one of the major cases Emmett prosecuted was U.S. vs. Frank Penton, and today, I lucked upon the blog Judging Shadows, which has excellent background about the principals in the case.

The (New Orleans) Times-Picayune, December 9, 1910, page 13.

The Pensacola Journal, January 8, 1911, page 1. Source:

In the third paragraph of his essay on Frank Penton, the blog’s author wasn’t sure about Frank Penton’s sentence in the murder of George Warwick Allen: Although Frank Penton was not charged, his father Abner Penton was sentenced to four years in prison.

Abner Penton would later appealed his sentence to the Florida Supreme Court, but the December 13, 1912 issue of The Pensacola Journal reported Florida Supreme Court upheld Penton’s original sentence.

I’m hoping that perhaps the descendants of the Corbins or Pentons would have something about their ancestor’s interactions with Emmett from this and other cases (it turns out that Emmett prosecuted Frank more than once). If the information exists, I’d love to see it.


Percy’s Funeral


On March 10, 1918, Emmett’s older brother Percy Brockenbrough Wilson died of tuberculosis.

Percy’s death, as reported in The Chipley Banner, March 1918.


Percy’s death, as reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association, 1918, Vol 70, No. 14, page 1025. Source: Google Books

Percy was only 46 years old, a well-respected and admired community physician.


The quote on the headstone says: “We knew no sorrow, knew no grief, till that bright face was missed.” Source:

Percy’s funeral was held one hundred years ago today, March 12, 1918, in Sneads, Florida. It was likely well attended by most of Percy’s family, although I wonder about Emmett’s attendance. If I could find a copy of the obituary from any of the Jackson County, Florida archives, it would tell us who was at the funeral. But according to the holdings records of the Library of Congress, and the holdings records for institutions that have archived Jackson County, Florida newspapers, a copy for this particular date doesn’t exist. (Percy’s descendants apparently don’t have a copy of the local obituary either — at least, not one known to them at this point. At least we have two obituary sources that provide some information — that’s better than nothing!)

Emmett was in end-stage alcoholism only weeks away from death, and mostly shunned by his siblings. Several articles from The Pensacola Journal mention Emmett’s presence at different local activities, so we know he was ambulatory and getting around, but may not have been in any condition to attend the funeral.

I tend to think family members may have simply asked Emmett to stay away.

And Emmett, who himself shunned family dramatics, who himself probably didn’t want to face his family members anymore, would have complied.

When Caring Turns Ugly


As I read this wonderful and insightful post, I thought of Emmett and those close to him, who probably tried to save him from himself.

I thought of Jennie Kehoe, and Emmett’s sister, Katie Meade, who probably felt the weight of their compassion as impossibly heavy at times.

Bert Fulks

Are you exhausted from worrying about someone?  Weighed down from constantly carrying them in your heart?

Okay, friends.  Huddle up.

One of my favorite football plays is the ol’ Hook-and-Ladder.  To pull it off requires some impeccable timing, skill, and trust … but this one play can change the entire game.

For the non-football fan, here’s the gist:  The receiver goes out for a pass and cuts back just as the quarterback delivers a perfect strike.  As the defense closes in, the man with the ball pitches it to a teammate streaking toward him.  Sometimes the receiver makes a rushed, wild toss.  Sometimes he holds the ball too long and gets clobbered.  In either case, it’s usually a fumble recovered by the other team.  When executed well, however, the defense fails to account for that unseen teammate who collects the toss in stride toward the end zone.

The ol’

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Emmett’s Regular Getaway


Although the life and behavior of an alcoholic can be unpredictable, Emmett Wilson appears to have been a man of regular habits, especially when it came to his annual vacation.

The Gulf View Inn, 1910. Source: The Panama City Pilot, July 28, 1910, p.1

Every year, on or about the first week of August, Emmett would go to St. Andrews or Panama City for two weeks. When there was room available, he would stay with either the J. Walter Kehoe family, who would rent a cottage in Panama City for several weeks, or he would stay at the Gulf View Inn.

Advertisement of the Gulf View Inn’s room rates, from the March 17, 1910 issue of the Panama City Pilot, page 4.

Two weeks was pretty much the upper limit of Emmett’s vacation time, as he was a busy lawyer. Emmett would take a steamer, primarily The Manteo, from Pensacola to Panama City.

Emmett on the steamer Manteo, August 1908. Source: The Pensacola Journal

What’s interesting about Emmett is that while he was considered a well-connected lawyer and politician who’s job it was to see and be seen, to be out and about in circulation, I get the feeling that he really wasn’t comfortable in all that circulation, that he had to force himself to be social, to interact, to make public speeches.

It wasn’t that Emmett was unable; but it seems that he was uncomfortable being in the public eye so much. He had to have known that the legal profession would necessitate social/public circulation, and he had to have known that would certainly be the case if he got into politics — but Emmett was an accidental politician — a last-minute substitution by the Florida Democratic Party when Judge Charles Parkhill suddenly withdrew from the race for the third congressional district on January 6, 1912.

The Pensacola Journal, January 6, 1912

Emmett on vacation, again during the first week of August, in 1912. Source: The Pensacola Journal

So of course, by the time August rolled around, Emmett would relish his time by himself, with just his fishing gear, a camp stool (and maybe a bottle of Scotch), deep in appreciation for the quite moments away from the crazy reality of his life.


Namesake Coincidence?


I often check back on several databases, to keep up with new additions from archives or new-to-me sources that may have been added. This past week, I came across two interesting names in the year 1913:

Emmett Wilson Harrison (born January 31, 1913, in Okaloosa County Florida) and Emmett Wilson Strickland (born August 23, 1913 in Florida).

Is it possible that Emmett impressed these parents enough for them to name their children after him? Although these are the only two, there may be more out there.

I think this was the case. You see, 1913 was Emmett Wilson’s big year — the high point of his meteoric career. Consider:

  • In 1913, Emmett was the youngest U.S. Congressman in history at the time. He won his very first-ever political campaign by an overwhelming margin, beating two older, more politically experienced (and certainly wealthier) candidates.
  • And just a few years earlier, Emmett was the youngest District Attorney in the United States.

Although considered inexperienced by many older political leaders in Florida, Emmett was achieving tremendous goals for his youth.

Emmett Wilson Kehoe, son of Jennie and Walter Kehoe. 1930, University of Florida. Source:

West Florida papers were depicting Emmett as the personification of a middle-class good boy, who was a go-getter, who worked hard, and succeeded against all odds. And indeed, this was one of the reasons why Emmett’s closest friends, Jennie and Walter Kehoe, named their youngest son Emmett Wilson Kehoe.

“It was easy to see why at the time. They (Jennie and Walter) thought the WORLD of Emmett,” Mike Weenick told me, when I asked why his grandparents named his uncle, born in 1909 after Emmett.

Why wouldn’t West Florida parents consider naming their sons after Emmett Wilson, in his honor?

I’ll reach out to the descendants this week to see if they know the story behind their ancestor’s names. I’ll let you know what I discover, if anything.


Following the Money


One of the things I’ve always found curious about Emmett Wilson’s life was why he never lived on his own, never owned a house, never had his own apartment in which he was responsible for everything (food, furniture, utilities and the like).

Emmett was a bachelor with an active and upscale social life and a good job. According to an interview in the Sterling (Illinois) Daily Standard in 1905, Emmett said he was always anxious to be on his own, to prove himself in the legal profession, to be his own man as soon as he could, because he was ready for it.

But according to different editions of the Pensacola City Directory, the U.S. Census for 1900 and 1910, and several articles in Florida contemporary newspapers, Emmett never really was on his own in the true sense of the word.

908 N. Spring Street, Pensacola. Source: Google Maps

In the 1900 U.S. Census, Emmett was enumerated at his father’s home in Chipley, then he moved that same year to his brother Cephas’ house in Marianna. Emmett had roommates both in college dorms and boarding houses while a student at Stetson University; when he moved to Pensacola, he lived with friends at a boarding house, then with the Kehoe family from 1911 onward. Obviously, he paid rent at the boarding houses (In 1908, 124 W. Belmont, today an office building, and in 1909, 908 N. Spring Street, still standing).

Was it money? Couldn’t Emmett afford it?

Sure he could.

Source: Who’s Who in America, Volume 4, 1906, p. 1201

It wasn’t that Emmett didn’t make enough money to live on his own. For example, in 1906, when Emmett was a clerk, then temporary Assistant District Attorney (a part-time position while he also worked in his uncle Evelyn Croom Maxwell’s law office). Emmett eventually became Maxwell’s partner in 1908. But in 1907, Emmett’s salary was $1,500 a year (the average salary for a family of four in the U.S. was about $600 in 1907), in addition to whatever he was making as a private attorney.

Emmett was named to the clerkship, then temporary assistant district attorney in 1906, which terminated in 1907. The image is hard to capture, but you can see the original at this link.

Source: Annual Report of the Attorney General of the United States, 1907.

Emmett also lived with the Kehoes from 1911 onward — he may have paid something towards rent or household costs, but it probably wasn’t substantial, and because Jennie and Walter Kehoe considered Emmett a member of their family, I doubt they would have accepted much, if anything from Emmett towards rent. He made good money, and he had plenty of opportunities to save it.

In 1908 Pensacola, the average rent at a good boarding house was $5 a week, which included room, board, electricity and laundry services.

According to the Inflation Calculator, $5 a week in 1908 has the same purchasing power as $124.56 today — about $500 a month in rent. That was a bargain, considering Emmett’s rent included board and laundry services. Try finding that kind of rent package deal today.

I know that Emmett had to spend a lot of his own money on his political campaign in 1912. He complained in a speech after he won the primary in June, 1912, about how expensive it was — campaign spending records for 1912 show that he spent over $2,000 of his own money leading up to the primary — which is the equivalent of $50,074.14 in today’s dollars, according to the Inflation Calculator. Expensive, indeed.

So, although Emmett certainly would have been able to afford a home of his own by 1912, it seems he put his money towards his political ambitions. It was a gamble, but it makes sense.

But it is too bad that Emmett didn’t invest in real estate, or have something to call his own. Real estate ownership was considered a solid, sound investment. Also, owning a home conveyed the appearance of reliability, consistency.

Even sobriety.

And perhaps the last point was the other stickler.

By 1913, we know Emmett was a full-blown alcoholic, and booze was costly: For example, ONE gallon of nine year old Kentucky whiskey cost $9 in 1913. In 2018 dollars, that’s $225. I doubt Emmett limited his drinking to a gallon a week. It was likely SEVERAL gallons.

Emmett was also a member of two prominent men’s clubs in Pensacola: The Osceola Club and the Elks. The Osceola Club was a fancy society club where one could read, meet and socialize with select and prominent Pensacolians, and drink (although that was not publicized). Membership in The Osceola Club was approximately $500 a year, not including your bar tab, if you had one. And Emmett had one, for sure.

Yes, that’s $500 a year.

In 1913 dollars.

Or, $12,518, according to the Inflation Calculator in 2018 dollars.

I don’t have Emmett’s receipts, of course, but it seems obvious to me that spent most of his money on his political campaigns in 1912 and 1914, and booze.

And when Emmett died in 1918, he was in financial trouble. Emmett’s brother and executor of his estate, Cephas Love Wilson, stated in a letter that Emmett didn’t have anything of value in his belongings except a life insurance policy worth about $13,000, and that Emmett had already borrowed $3,000 against it (that he knew of). In the end, there wasn’t much, if anything, left of Emmett’s estate.