Archived Story

Warrant serving sometimes met with ambush

Published 10:30am Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Even though Greenville County High Sheriff P.D. Gilreath had an excellent rapport with most of the mountain people in the Dark Corner (he did not carry a gun when he came to the area), his deputies were not always accorded the same kind of reception.
In fact, on numerous occasions, they were greeted by bullets in well-planned ambushes, when they arrived in the area to serve outstanding warrants.
Such an incident occurred in the late 1890s when Deputy Sheriff J.H. Ballenger came to the Corner to serve several warrants on folks who were in open defiance of the dispensary law, which had been put into effect.
A great number of the mountain residents had openly announced their opposition to the law and their intention not to obey it.
Deputy Ballenger encountered few people on his way into the township, and found only one person to serve with a warrant. As he was riding in his buggy in the vicinity of Glassy Mountain Baptist Church, he suddenly had an eerie feeling that he was being watched.
Suddenly he was fired at by a person or persons in ambush. At first, he thought it was merely done to frighten him. He began to look around to see who it might be.
As he rode on a little further, however, he was again fired at from another thicket. Then he heard balls whizzing around him and several bullets hit the buggy and a nearby tree.
Now fully aware that the shooters were seriously trying to do him harm, he slapped at the reins and forced the horse to quicken its speed. A dozen or more shots were fired from the thicket as the horse galloped away.
Thankful for outrunning the shots, he wondered why he had been able to do so. They had sounded like they came from pistols rather than rifles. Most folks in these mountains were more accustomed to shooting rifles. Perhaps that accounted for the misses.
Sheriff Gilreath was rightly outraged by the incident, and announced that, even though he had endeavored to treat the people in the Dark Corner section with all courtesy and kindness, he intended to do his duty as an officer at any cost.
A great many persons in the mountain area were in sympathy with the law breakers. Later that year, the sympathizers held a meeting and resolved that they would stick together and resist any arrests that might be made, even if it meant using force to do so.
In learning of the meeting and the resolution, Sheriff Gilreath stated: “It is sincerely to be hoped that this will not be done, but that sober thought may yet lead to a happier state of affairs.”
Following the ambush incident of Deputy Ballenger, two deputies began serving warrants.

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