From the book, “Pensacola’s Finest,” available on Amazon.
End of Watch: The Death of Officer John G. Yelverton: June 1, 1899
As the town approached the 20th century, law and order took a turn for the worse on June 1, 1899. Officer John G. Yelverton was shot and killed by suspect Rueben Harris while Yelverton was attempting to apprehend him. Harris was wanted in Georgia for a shooting. After the shooting incident in Georgia, Harris fled to Pensacola on a train. Georgia Detective Thomas Watts and a deputy followed him and were present when Harris got off the train at Alcaniz & Wright. They watched him as he proceeded south on Tarragona Street. Detective Watts noticed Officer Yelverton, identified himself and motioned for him to stop Harris.
Yelverton followed Harris to the corner of Tarragona and Chase Streets and approached him in front of the Stratton Ice Works. Harris pulled a revolver and fired three rounds into Officer Yelverton. One struck him in the head and another to his right side, mortally wounding him. As he fell, the wounded officer drew his revolver and shot at Harris, who had turned to run.
However, before Harris could flee, Detective Watts and the deputy arrived and each fired, striking Harris in the lungs. He ran behind the Stratton Ice Works building and hid. A few minutes later, Pensacola Police Chief Frank Wilde arrived and, together with the Georgia officers, began searching for Harris. Chief Wilde found him, armed with two pistols. Before Harris could shoot, Wilde subdued him and took him into custody.
Officer Yelverton was immediately taken to the Pensacola Infirmary where he underwent emergency surgery – unsuccessfully. Officer Yelverton succumbed to his injuries on June 3, 1899. He left to mourn his death his wife, Ida, 32.
As to Harris, his condition – wounded in his lung – did not initially look good. However, he began to slowly improve. A few days later, he was moved to the jail infirmary. Citizens of Pensacola became enraged. Talk began about forming a lynching party. This threat became so real that Sheriff George Smith – who was in charge of the jail – stationed specially armed deputies at the jail around the clock.
On December 5, 1899, Harris’ murder trial took place. Harris’ attorney argued that the shooting was an accident, but the jury returned with a guilty verdict. Harris was sentenced to hang, much to the approval of the community. However, On January 26, 1900, Governor William Bloxham allowed the State Board of Parole to commute Harris’ sentence to Life in Prison.