Historically Speaking: M.A.B. Tatum Loses Life by Walking Off Train in 1897



Photo from Ancestry.com. The family member who posted this picture notes that this is most likely the last photograph taken of Brad Tatum. He is probably on his last inspection or "raid" of a distillery about 12 miles outside Athens, Ga.

After serving his county in various local elective positions—as state representative for Dade, then as state senator for the district, in about 1879, Brad Tatum was appointed to a job with the federal government as deputy collector of revenue. One of his descendants has meticulously captured and shared letters, documents, newspaper clippings and photographs that clearly document the last few days of his life on Ancestry.com.

According to United State Internal Revenue stationery, he was appointed by Henry A. Rucker for the second time on Aug. 6, 1897. Rucker was the director for the state of Georgia and Brad was his deputy. The ability of the Internal Revenue service to collect income taxes had been struck down by the Supreme Court, but there was apparently plenty to do inspecting the many distilleries around Georgia.

As Brad left his job in the Georgia Legislature about 1879, he had his fellow legislators sign what appears to have been an autograph book. He is regaled by them as a good man and much respected. They wish him well in his new endeavor.

Then there is one page totally out of order that was signed “your affectionate daughter, Daisy Tatum.” It was dated May 14, 1887. It seems that Daisy may have been playing in her father’s papers and decided to leave him a note. He was away from home and traveling a lot and he sent many letters home to his wife and his children who remained at home. In one he wrote from Dalton to his Ann on Oct. 31, 1893, it begins by declaring:

“My Precious wife,

I have frequently called to mind this beautiful day, that Twenty-seven years ago this evening we were married and have permitted my mind to gap over the time that has passed since and have to mind many pleasant and unpleasant things.”

He continues his remembrances of happy and not so happy times and reflects upon his life and how it would not have been the same without her.

On Sunday, Oct. 17t of 1897, less than 48 hours before his death, he writes the following:

“Dear Mama and children,

I have been to the Christian Church today and heard a young Bro. preach a very good sermon. Came back to my Hotel (the Central) and received your letter. I did not imagine that I would be so much moved because I know that I will not get to come home before the 1st of Nov. I went out eight miles to a distillery yesterday. Will have to drive out 12 miles tomorrow. I wish that I had to go somewhere every day . . . .”

He continues by taking care of some directions for repairs which are being done while he is away. He gives Ann instructions for the wood, bricks and work being done by a Mr. Lymance. He directs a man named Frank to make the best job he can of painting the house. He inquires as to whether Bob Thurman has sold the mules or not. It is clear that he misses his family, but he is scheduled to return to Atlanta on Tuesday and to be there on Wednesday and Thursday to be a witness.

His involvement with the Lodge is strong and he states plans to attend the Grand Lodge meeting in Atlanta on the 27th and 28th. This letter might have come home on the same train as his body was returned to Trenton.


The bridge where M.A.B. Tatum walked off a train to his death, near Athens,Ga. There was speculation that he might have been drinking, but all of the witnesses attested to the fact that alcohol was not a part of his habit for life. In many of his correspondences, he referenced his deep faith in God.

These are the facts of his accident as reported by the Dade Gazette: (No date is included on the clipping.)

“Thursday night, the deceased left here under orders from the revenue department to go to Athens, Georgia, in which district he had been temporarily assigned by the Deputy Collector.

On Monday night he had made a raid and was returning to Athens on Tuesday night. Within two hundred yards of the Athens Depot and on a bridge 70 feet high the train porter called out Athens. Mr. Tatum arose from his seat and bidding his traveling companion, Mr. Wheatly of the revenue service goodbye, walked out of the door and thinking that he was at the station, in the darkness stepped off the train platform and was hurled to instant death on the rocks fifty feet below.

The body was taken into Athens, where a Coroner’s inquest fixed blame upon railroad authorities for a dangerous custom of stopping on the bridge and calling out Athens station.”

The untimely death of M.A.B. (Brad) Tatum was a horrible event but the story was far from over. His funeral was one of some note. His Masonic brothers were distraught and did everything that their order would require for a brother so loved.

Having one son who was a lawyer and another who was a court reporter in Rome, Ga., Ann did not waste any time in filing a lawsuit against the train company.

Included with this article is a picture of the bridge from which our hero fell and a photograph which was taken on the day before he died.


Ann’s story is still not finished and so this saga will have to continue another week.

--Donna Street

donnam.street@gmail.com


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