Rufus Springs was first lawman killed in a distillery

Published 4:19 pm Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Constable James Holland Howard, about whom the well-known ballad was written, was not the first lawman to be killed in a Dark Corner distillery.

On April 19, 1878, Chief Deputy U.S. Marshall, Rufus H. Springs, was killed by ambush in an illegal distillery raid near Hogback Mountain.

Springs and seven other collection agents and revenuers left Greenville the day before, intent on destroying five reported distilleries in the Glassy and Hogback Mountain areas.

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Federal revenuers and Deputy U.S. marshalls were necessary on the distillery raids in order to arrest participants in the illegal activity. Collection agents (think I.R.S.) were only authorized to seize the illegal stills and untaxed whiskey. They had no arresting authority.

The raiding party had already destroyed four of the stills, when, early in the afternoon of the 19th, they arrived at the fatal fifth.

Deputy Collector H.H. Gillson, the Internal Revenue officer in charge, ordered three of the men to remain on guard with the horses. He and the other four men, including Deputy Marshall Springs, proceeded to walk toward a shed, in which it was believed the still was being operated.

As they got closer to the shed, they broke into a rushing dash for the last few yards. They converged at the door, kicked it in, and burst into the shed.

Surprisingly, there was no one operating the still.

Realizing that the moonshiners were probably still in the area, Springs and another revenuer named Moss stepped outside the shed and looked at the surrounding woods. With their backs to the shed, and standing about six paces apart, they began to inch closer to the woods.

Both men felt the tension in the air. Neither said a word. The scene fell eerily silent.

Then a single rifle shot shattered the stillness.

Lord o Mercy, Springs said, as his body reeled back toward the shed. Im shot…shot through!&bsp; His body slumped.

Moss, panicked by the unexpected rifle fire, instinctively ran directly into the woods, passing three armed strangers. Startled by his running wildly past them, the bushwhackers had no time to fire at him. Moss kept loping.

Gillson called to the men with the horses. Hurriedly, the rest of the raiding party converged on the shed. Without wasting a second, they tied Springs body across his saddle and all fled the scene.

For several miles, they were aware that some men were following them down the mountain. Then a sudden, spring thunderstorm ended the chase.

Gillson and his men made it safely back to Greenville, where they found Moss waiting for them, with no immediate explanation of how he got back to town.

Coroner Rayne determined that the shot entered the back of Springs right shoulder and lodged against the ribs of his left side, cutting the main artery.

He held an inquest on the body but no information was elicited as to who were the guilty ones, according to an item in the Greenville Enterprise and Mountaineer.

The state Attorney General authorized a $200 reward for the arrest of Springs killer. Sheriff P.D. Gilreath began an investigation, which indicated that a mountaineer named Hub Garmany was the guilty party.

Sheriff Gilreath went to Hubs home on Gap Creek and talked with John Garmany, Hubs father.

He persuaded the father to reveal where Hub was hiding. Following instructions, he went, unarmed, to the well-hidden mountain area until he came to a rail fence. Hub stepped from behind a large oak tree about 20 feet from the fence with a gun, and told the sheriff not to come any closer.

Gilreath talked with Hub for a long time, easing toward the fence a few inches at a time until he reached it. He told Hub he was tired and would sit on the fence while talking. They continued talking for a shorter time, then Hub stepped forward, gave the gun to the sheriff, and said, Alright, Sheriff, Im going to trust you.

Late that night, the sheriff, with his prisoner, arrived in Greenville and drove directly to his own home. They ate a good supper, and the sheriff told Hub to sleep in one of the upstairs bedrooms. The next morning they ate breakfast together and walked to the jail.

Hub was tried at the next term of court and was acquitted.