On the 2oth of March, 1845, he (Forrest) was drawn reluctantly into a personal and fatal rencontre, which brought him into great local prominence, and made a lasting impression upon all who knew the young man. Hernando was little more than a frontier town, and it was the habit of many people to go armed. His aged uncle had been drawn into a controversy on account of having gone on the bond of one James Martin, the guardian of some orphan children. A family named Mat lock was involved in some way also. Bedford was drawn into it merely through sympathy.
On the morning in question the Matlock brothers—William, James, and Jefferson—accompanied by their overseer, named Bean, came to town and purposed to attack the elder Forrest. Bedford happened to come across the square at the moment, and protested against four men assaulting one. The whole party immediately turned on him and a general fusillade followed. The first shot at Forrest missed; ten others were fired by the attacking party. Young Forrest was wounded, but not seriously. He had only a double-barreled pistol, which he used effectively. A bystander handed him a bowie-knife, and he made a rush for the Matlocks; three of them were wounded, two seriously, and all, with Bean, were driven from the field. In the melee Jonathan Forrest, the uncle, came out of his place and received a mortal wound at the hands of Bean, who then turned and fled into an office near by.
Bedford Forrest quickly followed, and found Bean hiding under a bed. Dragging him out, Forrest exclaimed: " You deserve death at my hands, but I am too brave a man to murder one so completely in my power; I give you your life; " and then turned him over to the civil authorities.* The sympathy of the community was entirely with Forrest, and after he gave himself up to the officers of the law he was released without bond. The others when arrested were held without bail, and only released after long confinement, vigorous prosecution, and heavy payment of costs and other expenses.
Another incident will serve to illustrate the coolness and courage of the man and the times in which he lived. Riding one day on the road from Hernando to Holly Springs with Mr. James K. Morse, a prominent lawyer of the former place, they were suddenly met by one James Dyson, a planter of the neighborhood, noted for desperate and bloody deeds, who cherished a mortal grudge against the lawyer. Without one word of warning Dyson raised a double-barreled gun and shot Morse through the heart with a rifle-ball, and then turned the other barrel on Forrest and threatened to shoot him merely because he had witnessed the atrocious murder. Forrest, however, had drawn his pistol and cocked it, and told Dyson to make sure work, for it would be his time next. Dyson lowered his gun and rode off. He said afterward that his remaining barrel was only loaded with buckshot, and he was afraid that he could neither kill nor disable Forrest. He was arrested, vigorously prosecuted by Forrest, and convicted of murder in the first degree; but he had money and was not hanged. - FROM GENERAL FORREST - BY J. HARVEY MATHES (1902).
I love that last line: "He was arrested, vigorously prosecuted by Forrest, and convicted of murder in the first degree; but he had money and was not hanged." Which provides a clue as to why Lynchings were a 19th Century American pastime.