|When we watched the old westerns on television there always seemed to be a struggle between
the good guys and the bad guys. The good guys wore the white hats and the bad guys wore the
black hats. You could always tell them apart.
But the real world is a little more complicated. Sometimes you have a little trouble seeing the
line between good and evil. Very few people are either absolutely good or absolutely bad.
Deputy William Johnson Tabor
McDowell County Deputy Sheriff William Johnson Tabor certainly seems to have been one of
the good guys. Often going by his mother’s family name, people around Welch knew him as Bill
Johnson. He was born in English, a small community in McDowell County on May 28, 1892.
He was a star athlete at West Virginia University and a decorated officer in the First World War
Welch Mayor J. H. Whitt was also supposed to be one of the good guys. But on Wednesday,
March 2, 1921 that was being called into question. Several accusations had been made against
the mayor and the city council was meeting to hear some of these charges. There was some
interest in impeaching him. While the council was meeting in private the mayor is said to have
broken down the door, demanding to know what was going on. After being told what the
meeting was about he is said to have overturned the table and left.
It appears the Sheriff had been contacted by the city council and asked to investigate. Two girls
having something to do with this investigation were in Deputy Tabor’s car and he was taking
them towards Kimble, a small community about 8 miles from Welch. While on his way, his car
was overtaken by Mayor Whitt and the Welch police chief who ordered him to turn the girls
over to them. Deputy Tabor did so, but then followed them back to Welch.
It was about 6:00 P.M. when they stopped in front of the mayor’s house. Tabor pulled over in
front of them and approached their car, saying he wanted to talk to the mayor. According to
published reports at the time, the deputy was warned not to come any closer. The mayor then
pulled a pistol and shot Deputy Tabor twice. At first it was believed the wounds were not
serious. They mayor posted bond and was released. Deputy Tabor died from these wounds at
about 2:30 A.M., a little less than 9 hours after the shooting. Mayor Whitt was re-arrested, this
time for murder, and was placed in jail.
About three thousand people attended Deputy Tabor’s funeral. That alone is sufficient evidence
of the respect he had earned in his 28 years of life.
Mayor Whitt was acquitted of the murder charge and soon afterwards moved out of the area.
Sheriff Nehemiah Danlel
Fayette County Sheriff Nehemiah Daniel also seems to have been one of the good guys. And at
age 57 he must have been pretty pleased with where he was in life. It was November 1904, and
he was now less than two months away from finishing his four year term as sheriff. It had been
a pretty good experience for him and he was leaving office as one of the most respected men in
the area. His leadership during a coal miners strike had no doubt spared his community a lot of
grief and bloodshed.
The coal mines were familiar turf to Sheriff Daniel. For much of his life he had worked in the
mines. He had been successful in business and was now a large stockholder in several new coal
companies. Come January 1st, his plans were to put away his badge and jump right back into
managing his business interests. But that was not to be.
On Wednesday evening Sheriff Daniel received a telephone call from Mayor J. C. Montgomery.
The town of Montgomery, population about 3,000 was in crisis and the sheriff’s help was
needed to restore order. Montgomery was about 25 rugged miles away from the county seat of
Fayetteville. Sheriff Daniel would take the train there first thing the next morning.
Politics, alcohol, and ego all had a part to play in the unfolding of this tragic drama. Tuesday
had been Election Day. And, as always, the day after an election finds half of the candidates
and their supporters celebrating victory and the other half nursing the wounds of the defeated.
On this day after the election Walla Jackson, a constable in the Kanawha District and others
were drinking in the Mecca saloon. A little before 5:00 P.M. a miner named Dan Hemmings
made some insulting remark about a judge that Constable Jackson took exception to. The
constable slapped Hemmings, knocking him to the floor.
At that moment Officer John Elliott of the Montgomery Police Department entered the saloon,
placed both Jackson and Hemmings under arrest and advised them they were going to jail.
Constable Jackson refused to go to jail. He told Officer Elliott that he would report to the mayor’
s office whenever he wanted him to but that he wasn’t going to jail. After quite an argument
Officer Elliott took Hemmings on to the lock-up.
A few minutes later Officer Elliott returned to the Mecca, this time with Police Chief Frank
Hundley. They found Constable Jackson standing on the street in front of the saloon. Elliott
again stated his intentions to take Jackson to jail. Jackson again refused to go.
We will never know for sure what happened next. The Montgomery officers say Jackson drew
a gun and would have shot them if they had not shot first. Others say Jackson did not have a
gun in his hand but did have two in his pockets. Whatever led up to it, 28 year old Walla
Jackson, a respected constable for the past 3 years, fell dead as a result of two gunshots fired by
Officer Elliott. One bullet entered his abdomen and the other entered the back of his neck.
Chief Hundley and Officer Elliott then went directly to the mayor’s residence. It soon became
apparent that this was not over. The constable had a lot of friends and relatives that made no
secret of the fact that they would seek revenge. Mayor Montgomery, who was usually pretty
capable of crisis management, could see he needed help. A lynch mob seemed to be forming.
He wanted Sheriff Daniel to come and take custody of John Elliott.
The Sheriff arrived in Montgomery at about 10:00 o’clock on Thursday morning. While on the
train he had ran across Constable Nate Davis and persuaded him to come along. He soon
learned that Officer Elliott and Chief Hundley had been taken to Charleston during the night for
their safety. Word had filtered back to Montgomery that the two were staying at the Ruffner
Hotel and would not be placed in jail.
When Sheriff Daniel got off the train he found the dead constable’s brothers there at the depot.
Their plans were to take the next train to Charleston, hunt down Elliot and Hundley, and kill
them. And they were not bashful about making their plans known.
Constable Jackson had four brothers, Ed, Robert, George, and Ernest. The sheriff knew them
and had always gotten along well with them. But on this day their anger made any reasonable
conversation impossible. Mayor Montgomery had tried to reason with them only to have his
own life threatened. Ed Jackson even accused the mayor of ordering his officers to kill his
Ed was the most vocal of the brothers that day. The sheriff tried to get him to go home and quit
stirring up an already explosive situation. The conversation only lasted a minute or two and did
nothing to relieve the tension.
Sheriff Daniel’s next stop was Mayor Montgomery’s office. After a brief conference with him it
was decided that it would be best to shut down all the saloons. It was also decided that if the
Jackson brothers continued to be disruptive they would have to be arrested to preserve the peace.
He was in the process of closing up the saloons when he ran across Ed, Robert, and George
Jackson in front of the Smart Clothing Store. They were still enraged and were threatening to
kill anyone who interfered with their vengeance.
The sheriff knew at this point that action had to be taken to defuse the situation. He took Ed by
the arm and told him he was under arrest. Without saying a word, Ed reached into his pocket
and drew his pistol. Daniel, not having time to draw his own pistol, grabbed Jackson’s hand and
struggled with him for control of the gun. The scuffle lasted only a few seconds as the two
wrestled their way about twenty five feet from the starting point. Jackson got his pistol free and
quickly fired four shots.
Three of the .41 caliber Colt bullets struck the sheriff. One bullet entered the left side of his
head, one struck his lower abdomen, and the other lodged in his shoulder. It was now about 10:
30 A.M. The sheriff had been in town only about half an hour. He was carried to Dr. Owens’
office where he would live until 1:00 P.M., never speaking or regaining consciousness.
Ed Jackson simply walked away, seemingly in no hurry. As he walked down the railroad tracks
he was confronted by Constable Keeney. Keeney aimed his pistol at Jackson and pulled the
trigger. The weapon misfired. Before the constable could take further action he found himself
facing the drawn pistols of both Robert and George Jackson. They disarmed him and kept him
covered while Ed made his escape.
As word of the sheriff’s murder got out, law enforcement officers from throughout the county
began to converge on Montgomery. The immediate concern, however, was not the capture of
the murderer. There were very real concerns that there may be rioting. Governor White was
telephoned and asked to have the state militia on standby. As it turned out they were not
needed. The community now seemed too stunned to act out any further.
It wasn’t until late that evening that the search for Ed Jackson began. By that time he had been
joined by his brother George. The County Court posted a $2,000 reward for Ed Jackson’s
arrest, dead or alive. Governor White added $500 to it. Nobody ever collected on the reward.
After hiding in a mine a couple of miles from town, the brothers surrendered voluntarily 2 days
later. Most people were surprised by that development. They believed he would never be taken
alive. The men were in the Charleston jail before most people knew they were in custody.
All four of the Jackson brothers were held in the Charleston jail, along with Chief Hundley and
Officer Elliot. While the dispositions on the others are not known, Ed Jackson would go to
prison. He was convicted after a hard fought trial and sentenced to 18 years in the West Virginia
Penitentiary at Moundsville.
Ed Jackson had operated a restaurant and occasionally assisted his brother with his constable
duties before all of this. He had been a respectable member of the community, as was his father
and most of his brothers. So it is not surprising that as soon as he was convicted several of his
friends began to lobby the governor to parole him. Governor Glasscock did parole him in
November 1909. So he served only about 5 years of his 18 year sentence. Needless to say,
many in the Fayette County community were surprised when their sheriff’s murderer was
released after serving only 5 years.