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Officer Joe Nelson
Jacksonville Police Department
Incident Details
Cause of Death: Gunfire
Date of Incident: June 26, 1880
Location of Incident: E. Bay Street
Weapon Used: Firearm
Suspect Info: Ben Byrd, executed

On June 23, 1880, a labor disturbance broke out at Alsop & Clark’s mill on East Bay Street near Hogan’s creek, among the workers who demanded shorter hours of work. That night, five extra policemen were sworn in and sent to the mill to protect the property from firebugs, and on the 25th, two more were added. On the 26th, Joe Nelson, a policeman, was killed by Ben Byrd, one of the strikers, and the situation assumed a serious aspect. Following the shooting of Nelson, W.C. Cooper, captain of the city police, and John Keefe, a patrolman, went on duty at the mill. They remained all night. Early the next morning, a mob began to mass at the bridge farther up Bay Street. Keefe saw Captain Cooper advancing alone toward the mob and at once determined to share the danger with him. Upon the approach of the two officers, the mob fell back from the bridge and took shelter in the weeds behind the slab piles. The moment the officers reached the bridge, the mob opened fire upon the officers with pistols, rifles and shotguns. One of the mob had a Spencer rifle, but the man had his sights too high and the bullets went over the officer’s heads. Keefe saw a man drop to one knee and let drive both barrels of a shotgun at him. Half a dozen buckshot struck his shirt aslant, made black dints in it and glanced off; however, two buckshot pellets penetrated the flesh and came out two or three inches beyond. The charge of buckshot spun Keefe around and burnt him like fire, but he charged on the man with the shotgun, knocked him down with his club and carried him to jail where he was sentenced to five years. The mob fled before the advancing officers. There was no more bloodshed and quiet was restored and the mob went back to work on June 30th.

Ben Byrd, who shot the officer, was hanged.

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