Much more serious mayhem developed the next June , involving the father of a professed spirit medium, Miss Post. This lady claimed she could make spirits answer questions by rapping the table legs on the floor. William Oates was a skeptic, and soon found that the slightest pressure on the table top kept it immobile. The Posts were angry enought to order him off their property, and he went. The enraged father followed beyond and, after some hot words passed, he attacked Oates with a piece of lumber. Instead of running, young Oates [then about age fifteen] grabbed a mattock lying nearby, and, as he recalled, "aimed to split his head open with the mattock, but hit him a glancing lick which fractured his skull, knocked him senseless, inflicting a terrible wound." Oates was about to hit him again, but thought "that he was killed." A passerby came running up to see Oates standing over Post with weapon in hand. The boy ran for home, saddled a pony, and struck out to the west, convinced that he was a fugitive murderer.
The first stopover in the wanderings brought on by his hasty flight was at Milton, Florida. His $50 stake was used to rent a cigar stall and set up a tobacco business, and "Some little of it went on a game or two or a dozen of cards." Then Oates apprenticed as a house painter. Then he hired out on a Gulf schooner with a brutal captain and mate, and no friends but a "big, long Negro" with whom he slept to keep warm. As soon as he possibly could, Oates got back to shore and headed for Pensacola. There he got such a bad case of yellow fever that he was once pronounced dead. A kindly old sailor took him home, and there the young man slowly recovered and watched the daily procession of coffins passing his window carrying victims of the fever."
William C. Oates, The War Between the Union and the Confederacy 1905, (reprint, Morningside Bookshop, 1974), introduction.