Circle of Friends, Part Two: Paul Hayne Carter

Friendship troika (top to bottom): Walter, Cephas, Paul.

Friendship troika (top to bottom): Walter, Cephas, Paul.

One thing that stands out to me in getting to know Emmett’s closest friends is that his inner circle was consistent and remained close to him all his life. Emmett’s true inner circle were: Walter Kehoe, Big Brother Cephas, Paul Carter.

Emmett wasn’t a snob. He seemed to make friends everywhere he went. But there’s a difference between true friends and acquaintances, and Emmett never confused the two. True friends stick around because the relationship is genuine. When the shit hit the fan for Emmett several times in his life, those three guys were always there for him.

If Emmett were ever uncertain about something, these were the three he’d consult. But whose opinion weighed the most to Emmett?

I think it was Paul’s. Here’s why I say this:

Dateline: June 1, 1905.

Paul Carter, a full-fledged attorney, is now working as a private secretary of Congressman William Bailey Lamar in Washington D.C. Emmett is the junior partner in his big brother’s law firm in Marianna, Florida. Kehoe has moved on to Pensacola, to expand his growing political career. Impatience and adventurelust strikes our hero: Emmett is tired of living in Cephas’ shadow, he’s tired of small-town life, he wants something different. His successful older brother, and his two best friends both seem to have a lot more going on than he did.

Nicholas Van Sant. Source:

Nicholas Van Sant. Source:

A friend from college days, Nicholas Van Sant, has stayed in touch with Emmett over the past year. Recently, Van Sant offered him an opportunity to go into practice with him as a full, equal partner. Business was thriving, he’d be busy, he’d meet new, influential people.

This seemed like just the ticket at the right moment: It sounded good, but the opportunity was about 1,500 miles away, in Illinois. He’d be a Democrat working for a Republican, in the North. He knew nobody, had no real contacts up there other than his old college friend. Still, it seemed a chance of a lifetime for Emmett.

What did Emmett do? He talked to his trusted friends.

Who would not want to bask in my hotness 24/7, anyway?

Who would not want to bask in my hotness 24/7, anyway?

He told his brother, Cephas, who probably said, “It sounds OK, but, gee, look at all you are giving up here: Free room and board at my house. The cache of working with me, Cephas Love Wilson. This is comfortable for you. Why give up something comfortable for something unknown?”

He told his friend, Walter Kehoe, who probably said, “Affiliation with the Van Sants, even though they are a powerful and important Republican political family, may be challenging for you, a lone Democratic Southerner, far away from home, with no other contacts. There are benefits, but you would be far away from friends and family. Won’t you be lonely?”

Still undecided, Emmett went to visit Van Sant in Illinois to discuss it in person. After that visit, Emmett may have felt better about making the change…but he was still on the fence. So, on his way home to Florida, Emmett took a significant detour to Washington, D.C., to visit Paul, and to talk about this opportunity. This speaks volumes about how Emmett valued Paul’s opinion. I think it was this conversation that pushed Emmett off the fence, and to Illinois.

I think Paul told Emmett that it didn’t really matter that Van Sant was a Republican per se, as this was an opportunity to do something completely different than he’d ever have the chance to do in Florida. If he stayed in Florida, working for Cephas, he could expect more of the same for years, probably. That’s not such a bad thing, but Paul knew his friend wanted to try his wings, and that Emmett probably would never learn to stand on his own professional merits unless he got away on his own. Moving to Illinois, starting fresh, even though it would be hard at times, was one way to say to the world, “I’m Emmett Wilson, not Cephas Wilson’s little brother.”

Paul probably said to Emmett, “What would you stand to lose if you did try this? You aren’t leaving anyone or any big opportunity behind. If nothing else, you’ll gain valuable experience working with the Van Sants, and you’ll know you can stand on your own.”

Illinois in January! It would be a whole new adventure!

Working with Van Sant in Illinois in January! It would be a whole new adventure!

Also, “Look at this like an adventure. If it doesn’t work out, you can always start over. You’ve done it before, you can do it again.”

That’s just what happened.

Emmett moved to Sterling, Illinois; it lasted six months. He moved back home to Florida, and indeed, started over — this time, in Pensacola —  more experienced, wiser. I don’t think Emmett had regrets, but it made him realize a few things: He had it good in Florida with his friends, even though it seemed dull at times. And, in the political/legal business, it is all about connections and relationships, two things he really didn’t have in Sterling.

Would Emmett have done this if Cephas or Walter advised against it? I’m not sure.

But: I believe that if Paul had said the move was a bad idea, Emmett would not have done it.

I mentioned earlier that I believe Emmett absolutely trusted Paul’s opinion. Here’s one more example why Paul and Emmett’s friendship is so critical in telling Emmett’s story.

Dateline: August 1, 1910, Panama City

At this point in Emmett’s life, he was still unmarried, unattached, and was being groomed for a more significant political career. His friends (who now included Frank Mayes, editor of the Pensacola Journal and head of the local Democratic Committee) believed that if Emmett were able to ‘settle down,’ i.e., get married, stop hanging out at his club so much, cut back on the drinking and carousing, he’d be considered more seriously for office. He had a good political career ahead of him. His public image, though, was being questioned by the party dads. He didn’t send a ‘mature enough’ impression for political office consideration.

Emmett’s friends, who also had political ambitions tied to Emmett’s rising star, believed they needed to be proactive to force this change on Emmett. A few friends (Kehoe, Cephas) thought this was a great idea, and set about doing some matchmaking. One of the people they called in to help was Paul Carter, who was now the third-term Mayor of Marianna. (Note: Paul would be elected in 1912 for a fourth term; he and Mary Horne, a longtime friend and childhood sweetheart from Chipley, would be wed September 5, 1912.)

Mayor Paul Carter of Marianna, Florida. Source: The Pensacola Journal, 1912.

Mayor Paul Carter of Marianna, Florida. Source: The Pensacola Journal, 1912.

Operation Matchmaker was activated by Walter Kehoe and his wife during the first week of August, 1910. They ‘found’ a suitable girl from Georgia, who was (according to her descendants) uptight, tense, did not dance, did not play cards, did not drink, but played piano beautifully. The Kehoes introduced Emmett to this girl while hosting friends in Panama City over a two week period. Paul Carter was invited to visit during this matchmaking weekend, as were several of Emmett’s family members.

Everyone was there to vet this young woman for Emmett. She was from a good family; she impressed everyone she met. The Kehoes thought she was a good match for Emmett, because she was a strong, tough character, who (apparently) did not tolerate ‘loose’ behavior of any kind. She certainly had a strong enough character to ‘change’ Emmett, since (it seemed) Emmett was not going to change himself.

I can imagine Emmett talking to Paul about her and the fact he and the woman were being pushed towards each other.

I can imagine Emmett saying to Paul, “She’s nice, but I don’t know her. I’d never see her on a regular basis.” And, “I know they (the Kehoes) are just trying to help, but this woman would try to change me into someone I’m not.”

It is likely that Paul weighed in against the matchmaking. I can imagine Paul saying, “Do you want to take a chance that you’ll get to know her, maybe fall in love with her, after you get married? What if you don’t? If she loved you, she’d take you as you were. If you truly wanted to change, she’d leave that up to you, if that was what you wanted.”

I can also see Paul saying something like:

“Gee, Emmett, it is like they are picking out the person for you to have sex with for the rest of your life. Can’t you do that for yourself?”

I believe that if Paul had suggested that if Emmett really liked her, and there was ‘something’ there between them, Emmett should at least spend time with her on a regular basis (she lived 250 miles away, which was a 10-hour trip one way back in 1910), and get to know her. It would have been tough: It wasn’t just the distance, but this young woman was only allowed to ‘date’ on the front porch of her house in Columbus, Georgia, with her tyrannical father in hearing range of the courting couple. This matchmaking episode pretty much died on the vine, but I do think if there had been sparks, Paul would have encouraged it; and Emmett would probably have followed through with it.


Paul was the kind of friend who helped Emmett stay true to himself, when people were trying to micromanage Emmett’s life to their own political/professional benefit. He was just there for Emmett, whether Emmett needed him or not.

Emmett was lucky he had Paul in his life.

The Illinois Experiment


Back in the mid-1980’s, when I was a year or so out of journalism school with some experience writing for daily newspapers under my belt, I got the itch to move on to a bigger newspaper market, with a more interesting beat, and more exciting stories to write. Columbus, Mississippi was a nice place to live, and the newspaper, The Commercial Dispatch, was a great paper to hone my skills right out of college, but once I had been exposed to big-city journalism (as I had my senior year at MSU as an intern at the Memphis Commercial Appeal), the small-town reporting routine got tedious.

The Commercial Dispatch. Same building for decades. Source:

The Commercial Dispatch. Same building for decades. Source:

I was impatient to do bigger, more interesting stories. I asked my editor for more important assignments. She told me that I needed more experience, and some patience to boot. I thanked her for the advice, then started shopping around for another job.

I thought I knew better.

I moved on to a larger paper, but I quickly realized that the ‘bigger, more interesting’ stories often went to reporters with many years of small-town, beat reporting experience. I wound up making some errors that indicated professional immaturity. Clearly, I had a lot of growing up to do in my writing career, and that was only going to happen with time and work.

Even now, I realize that writing is a lifelong skill. A true writer is always learning and sharpening his or her craft, even with 20 or 30 years experience.

I share this because I think this is the lesson Emmett learned too, in 1906, when he was also about a year and a half out of law school, and with some legal experience under his belt. He wanted to be a big shot like his brother: Successful. Rich. Powerful. He was impatient, though, and made a move that slowed his progress up the West Florida political ladder.

Different profession, different century, but it is the same old story. Here’s the scoop.

I came across the following item from the 1905 edition of The Chipley Banner:

Source: The Chipley Banner, 1905

Source: The Chipley Banner, 1905

This surprised me. In tracking Emmett’s career from 1904-06, there was no indication that the Wilson & Wilson law firm of Marianna had clients from Illinois, or had legal business outside of the state … except there was an item in the Pensacola paper in October, 1905, that said Emmett was headed to Illinois for a trip, and would pass through Chicago on his way home. There was no other information about that trip available.

I remembered seeing an item I found over a year ago from the Tallahassee Weekly True Democrat for August, 1906, that said Emmett Wilson, of Illinois, was visiting his friend JTG Crawford. Initially, I thought this was a factual error (or perhaps another man named Emmett Wilson). I’m glad I kept the news item. The timing is excellent: I haven’t been able to account for Emmett for the first six months of 1906, and now, I can.

Initially, I thought this was wrong. Source: Weekly True Democrat, August 24, 1906

Initially, I thought this was wrong. Source: Weekly True Democrat, August 24, 1906

This not only opens up a whole new set of sources to check for information on Emmett’s life, but it also raises more questions:

  • If Emmett’s family’s political/legal/judicial power base is in Jackson/Escambia Counties, why move 1800 miles away from it?
  • If Emmett’s family was strongly Democratic (and important players in the Democratic party), why move to a heavily Republican state to start your career over completely, as a virtual unknown, in a community where you have no family or close friends?
  • Was the work uninteresting, or, was Emmett not given that much responsibility on big, important cases? Were the locals more used to Cephas handling the important cases, and bypassing Emmett altogether?
  • What was in Sterling, Illinois, a small town not much larger than Marianna and at least a day’s travel from Chicago, that would make Emmett pull up roots?

Was it a woman? I strongly doubt it. The local papers were quite gossipy, and into everyone’s business. If he was seeing someone, it would have been mentioned. There wasn’t anyone serious. He was seeing someone in college, but that relationship ended when he graduated.

Would Emmett uproot his entire career for a woman back in the day? Maybe, but it seems to me that, in general, it was the woman who moved to where the man (the breadwinner) lived, not the other way around. Emmett’s career was just getting started. He had little money saved, he didn’t own a house or property. He was in no position to support a wife at this point.

To answer the last question first: What was in Sterling, Illinois?

Source: Robinson Constitution, November 20, 1905

Source: Robinson Constitution, November 20, 1905

Nicholas Van Sant.

I mentioned him in an earlier blog post: Wealthy, older, self-made man who went back to school because he wanted to fulfill a childhood dream, and graduated with Emmett from Stetson in 1904. Van Sant was 56 years old, and lived in Sterling, Illinois.

According to this news report, he also had just been admitted to the Illinois bar in October, 1905. Emmett and Nick were friends in college; they stayed in contact with each other. Nick told Emmett he wanted to start his own law firm. He knew Emmett was smart, he probably also knew Emmett was bored and/or wanted to get out from under Cephas’ shadow, and start over.

Emmett knew that an affiliation with Van Sant was good; he’d be allowed to practice law without the shadow of his successful big brother hanging over him. Also, Van Sant was a successful, well respected businessman, who brought himself up from nothing — he understood Emmett’s struggle to make something of himself. Finally, the political connections, albeit Republican, were not something to discount. Nick’s big brother was the governor of Minnesota.

Win-win, right?

I think it could have worked out well for Emmett if he could have stuck it out. Six months after he had moved to Sterling, this article appeared in the 1906 Chipley Banner:

Source: The Chipley Banner, July 26, 1906.

Source: The Chipley Banner, July 26, 1906.

Emmett’s visit in Chipley lasted longer than one month: He was back in Florida permanently. By mid-September, Emmett moved to Pensacola, where J. Walter Kehoe took him under his wing, and the whole mentorship-with-a-mature-professional routine started over again. This time, with Kehoe, it sticks.

From what I’ve learned, Nicholas Van Sant was an excellent choice as a mentor and/or business colleague. I’m curious about why Emmett lasted only six months with him. Perhaps Emmett was unable to pass the Illinois bar. Perhaps Van Sant was a worse taskmaster and/or business partner than Cephas. Perhaps Emmett was simply homesick for Florida, friends and family.

I think the issue was that Emmett was simply not seasoned enough a lawyer to go into practice with a mature businessman like Van Sant. Here’s a clip from an interview Van Sant gave about his first year as a lawyer (and this is when Emmett would have been working with him in Sterling):

Source: Stand By Magazine, December 12, 1936.

Source: Stand By Magazine, December 12, 1936.

I get the impression that the first year was tough, even though Van Sant was, basically, a millionaire and a business success story. I wonder if Emmett had anything to do with the low earnings that first year. Maybe some mistakes were made, and Van Sant had to cover them.

You can read the entire interview with Van Sant here. It is a great story.


I’ll order the Sterling, Illinois newspaper microfilm in a few days to track what was going on with Emmett’s career while in Illinois, and perhaps, we’ll find out what happened between Emmett and Van Sant.