Saturday, November 21, 2009

Sweet Youth, Hot Lead, and Bitter Revenge - Part 2

Well folks…Hod Miles is at it again in Ozark County, but “the rest of the story” becomes an eye-opening event in the details of a feud “gone south.”   I have been blessed to glean another episode that is ripped from a Hollywood Western made in Ozark County, Missouri.

From Part 1 of the story last week, I received calls, comments, and emails inquiring on how Hod Miles can get away with such outlandish & cantankerous deeds. Fortunately, I believe the answer lies within another set of old and fragile leaves of a bygone newspaper, The Sun.  As I started to assemble this next blog, I started thinking of many time honored morals for lessons never learned, and how someone can add insult to injury.

Skeletons in the Closet
Reading about the quick demise of the Gibson Clan can put a shiver down one’s spine. History has a way of rubbing some people raw…especially when it gets a little close to home. Nevertheless, they were someone’s cherished infant in the past, but a few wrong decisions leads to a path of thorns & thistles. Unfortunately, some uncomfortable situations can arise and feelings can get miffed. No matter who we are today, skeletons can be lurking in everyone’s closet, but that’s ok.  This is an issue that I wrote about at the beginning of the year after I left writing a history column for The Baxter Bulletin. You can read my rant here at: The Bleaching of History’s Tapestry. Along this venue, I have a friend, Mary Ann Edge, who wrote a book on the murders in Baxter County, Arkansas, entitled, Was It Murder?  She also apparently ruffled & cackled some feathers when laying bare the facts of past crimes.

Bibles & Moonshine
Concerning the Gibson family, they came from a region that was ripe with religion, and they knew better. Before the Ozarks, they came from Jackson County, Tennessee. This county was the homestead one of the pioneers of the Primitive Baptist Movement…which became The Church of Christ. This pioneer is my Great, Great, Great Uncle, Joel Blanton Anderson. Today, one can drive through Gainesboro, Tennessee, or look through the Jackson County phone book yellow pages and see the many Churches of Christ listed. As to the moon-shining profession, great training went in procurement of this craft in Jackson County also. This can be evidenced in a book entitled, Bullets, Fire, Moonshine and the Bible: Life in Jackson County, Tennessee, transcribed by Shelta R. McCarter Shrum.

Older Vocabulary & Colloquial Speech Here is a list of words or terms that are not in our everyday vocabulary. I have tried to render an explanation after each statement; yet, some may be familiar.

  • “The county had become one of the drys.”Baxter County had become a county that would not allow the manufacturing or sale of alcohol.
  • “If he didn’t “pull his freight.” If he didn’t stand up and face it like a man.  
  •  “They were simply spoiling for a fight.”  - They were simply looking for a fight.
  • “A …charming Ozark Mountain lass.”  - She was a charming Ozark Mountain girl.
  • “He alone of the lot strove to bushwhack the man.” - He alone endeavored to surprise and attack the man.
  • Davidson’s store was about three rods away.” – Davidson’s store was about fifty feet away. (A rod is an old English measurement that is about 16.5 feet…give or take)
  • “They … felt like doing something to relieve their ugly feelings.” No explanation…just another great line.

The Truth And Nothing But The Truth
Lastly, I have endeavored to reprint the story as it was published in the same manner of grammar, sentence structure, and colloquial language as retrieved. I have also placed the title banner from The Sun newspaper from New York City. Notice the caption on the upper left-hand corner, which states, “IF YOU SEE IT IN THE SUN, IT IS SO. THIS APPLIES TO ADVERTISEMENTS AS WELL AS THE NEWS.”

Let this be your judge.

I hope you enjoy the column.

(Double click banner to enlarge picture.)


A Sequel to the Story of the Gibson-Miles
Feud in the Ozark Mountains of Missouri
Gainesville Has a Novel Jail.

Gainesville, Ozark County, Mo., March 4  -  Hod Miles has killed another Gibson.   He might with reason have killed two more, but to the surprise of everyone who knew him, he simply arrested the second and lodged him in jail at this place.  Hod Miles first became known to the people of the United States generally when THE SUN told, in December, 1888, something of his history.  He was a Massachusetts boy, who drifted into this country, found the climate and soil to his taste, bought a quarter section of land for $100, improved it, and finally got into trouble with the Gibson boys, all on account of an unusually charming Ozark Mountain lass.  Miles had paid but little attention to her until Dan Gibson got jealous of him and tried to run him out of the country; but when this thing was undertaken Hod began to realize that the girl was really worth fighting for.  He took her to a Christmas eve dance after she had declined to go with Dan Gibson, and Dan went to the ball to kill Miles.  Miles heard he was coming for that purpose, and went prepared for a fight, for he had taken kindly to the Ozark Mountain habit of carrying a pistol, and was counted a good shot even here where the most skilful pistol shots in the world, taking the community as a whole, are to be found.  How the two happened to be crossing at opposite ends of the dancing hall at once when the floor was empty, how Gibson strove to draw a heavy revolver, how Miles was quicker because his weapon was a light target pistol, and how he shot Gibson dead with the tiny pellet of lead, formed one of the most interesting stories of life in the Ozarks that THE SUN correspondent heard when here.

Miles had three brothers who swore to kill the man who had shot Dan, but one after another they met the Yankee and found him quicker than they were, and died in the finding, until at last but one remained.  He alone of the lot strove to bushwhack the man. He hid behind the team which Miles had hitched to a post in front of Davidson’s store here, and with his revolver levelled waited for Miles to come out of the store.

Miles knew the man was there, and knew that to leave the store was death.  To complicate the case he had left his pistols at home - had forgotten them. However, he borrowed one of Davidson, stepped to the door, stood there an instant with the pistol in his left hand and the muzzle up, and then with a motion too quick for the eye to follow dropped the muzzle outside the door frame and pulled the trigger.  Gibson fell dead with a bullet through his brain. He was the last of the brothers, and every one supposed that the trouble was ended by his death.

Last January, however, Bartlett Gibson, an uncle of the boys whom Miles had killed, moved into this county from Arkansas.  Bartlett was a moonshiner, and he had a little trouble with the local authorities in Arkansas over the sale of his liquor. The county had become one of the drys, and the officials, lead by a preacher named Gerton, made life a burden even for the men who for years had defiled the deputy United States marshals.

How it happened that Bartlett and his son Jacob took up the almost forgotten feud between Miles and the Gibsons is not known, but it seems likely that they were simply spoiling for a fight - they had been driven out of Arkansas and felt like doing something to relieve their ugly feelings.  As a result, Jacob’s feelings are relieved permanently.  He is dead.

After the fashion of the country old Gibson let it be known that he and Jake were going to do for Hod Miles, if he didn’t “pull his freight.” It is said that when this word was brought to Miles it caused him real distress. He had hoped that he could live in peace. But he at once took to carrying the target pistols he had worn when the boys were alive, and thereafter never lighted a lamp in his house at night. Then he began coming to town more frequently.  He told John Davidson that he came simply in the hope of meeting the enemy and having the thing ended as soon as possible

It was not until Saturday of last week that he met his man. They were both at the Danson Hotel, and both had been drinking.  Jake came out on the veranda and saw Miles on the steps in front of Davidson’s store, about three rods away.  Miles was looking the other way at the moment, and Jake succeeded in getting his revolver from his holster before Miles turned.  It was then too late to draw even the light target pistol; and, for once in his life, Miles had to run. He did not run away; however, he simply jumped off the steps.  It was lucky for him that Jake had been drinking; however, for the liquor no doubt made the young man’s aim uncertain quite as much as the sudden jump did. At any rate, the bullet which Jake fired flew wild, and then Miles had a chance. He drew his pistol and shot Jake through the heart.

This part of the fight was all over in much less than a minute, but old Bartlett Gibson was inside the barroom of the hotel and had to be cared for.   Miles drew another pistol at first, and then, to the surprise and apprehension of his friends, put it back again and ran toward the hotel.  He met Gibson at the hotel door, as he had hoped to do.  Gibson had a revolver in his hand, but Miles knocked it aside, and grabbing the old man by the neck, choked him into submission.

This done, the people remembered something they had forgotten.  Hod Miles was a deputy sheriff.   He had determined to arrest the old man and prosecute him according to the law.

When one comes to consider the sort of an existence the criminal who is unable to get ball leads in the Gainesville jail, it is almost a question whether Miles was really merciful in sparing Gibson’s life.  The jail is built of hewed logs and is of a form much better adapted to resist the attack of a party of lynchers than to prevent the escape of prisoners.  It is about ten feet square and nearly twenty feet high to the peak of the roof.  It has two floors, but the sole entrance is by a ladder to a door in the second story.   The lower story has neither door nor window.  The lower story is entered by a ladder through a trap in the second floor.  Once in the lower story the only hope of escape is by tunneling; it is impossible to get on through the trap after the ladder is removed.  Having neither the light of day nor ventilation, and only a wooden tub for refuse the prisoners in the lower floor of Gainesville jail are in a most deplorable condition.  They have a lamp, of course, but it only serves to make the air more foul. Their food is carried down the ladder to them, but the ladder is invariably carried away to the home of the Sheriff between meals and at night.  When dangerous prisoners are there the food is lowered to them in a tub.  There are half a dozen prisoners in the lower cell now, and one, a woman in the upper.

Bartlett Gibson will be taken before the Grand Jury next week. The chances are that he will eventually be tried on a charge of carrying concealed weapons and fined $10. Meantime, Hod Miles expects to patch up a truce that will prevent the necessity of further use of the target pistols.

McCarter Shrum, Shelta R. ed. Bullets, Fire, Moonshine and the Bible: Life in Jackson County, TN. Lafayette, Tennessee: Ridge Runner Publications, 2004.

“Has Killed His Fifth Man.” The Sun 57.186 (05 Mar. 1890): 7. New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundation. United States Library of Congress, Washington D.C. 15 Nov. 2009 < >

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