Between 1920 and 1940 Johnson County had more than its share of multiple deaths in numerous gun fights. One of the worst occurred on Monday, April 29, 1929, in the Green Rock section of Jennies Creek.
The Silver Heel Branch of Green Rock Fork is a tributary of Jennies Creek, located about eight miles west of Paintsville near the Johnson Magoffin County line. For years the area has been known for its contentious family factions. Among them, at the time, were the Gipsons and the Hannahs.
Monday afternoon, in what was originally thought to have been a school board election dispute between members of the Gipson and Hannah families, two men, a woman and a teenage boy were killed and a fifth individual was seriously wounded. The public first received word of the tragedy when the wounded man, Wayne Hannah, was brought to Paintsville's Golden Rule Hospital. He was not expected to live.
When Johnson County Sheriff H. B. Adams and deputies arrived at the scene of the shooting at 4:00 A. M. Tuesday morning they arrested Dennie Saylor who surrendered voluntarily and without resistance.
Saylor, 32, claimed that he took no part in the fight, but was merely a spectator when the fight began. Later, before a Johnson County Grand Jury, Saylor disclaimed any knowledge of the affair. He did, however, tell the Grand Jury that it was Cassie Gipson, 36, who started the fight when she jerked a revolver from her husband and shot Wallace Hannah, 35, "dead in his tracks." The witness said that he then ran but heard more shots fired.
Wayne Hannah, brother of victim Wallace Hannah and the only other surviving witness to the shooting, claimed in an interview with by County Attorney Sam Stapleton and Magistrate Wince Trimble that he appeared on the scene a few minutes before the shooting began. He heard Lee Gipson, Cassie Gipson and 16 year old Bernie "Red" Gipson talking with his brother Wallace Hannah and arguing over the school election. Wayne Hannah stated that he turned to leave. He had gone but a few steps, he reported, when "two or three pistol shots rang out." The last of these shots struck Wayne Hannah in the back of his left shoulder knocking him to the ground and over a hill.
Both Saylor and Hannah admitted that there was liquor at the scene and an empty fruit jar, suspected of containing moonshine, was found. Indeed, while searching the scene of the killings, officers found two moonshine stills and a quantity of sour mash.
According to officers at the time, the murders occurred in a plowed field. The body of Wallace Hannah had already been removed from the gruesome scene by family members when Sheriff Adams arrived. The Gipsons had been stretched out on a sled with their son placed between them. Powder burns on the Gipsons indicated that they had been shot at close range. However, no weapons were found and no empty shells were found.
Saylor was lodged in jail at Winchester. One week later the Johnson County Grand Jury indicted him for the murders of Lee Gipson, Cassie Gipson, Bernie Gipson and Wallace Hannah and with intent to kill Wayne Hannah.
It seems that upon arriving at his home after the gunfire, Saylor reportedly told a neighbor to "go and see about these people for I believe I have killed the whole damned bunch."
School board elections in Johnson County are still lively and hard fought but, fortunately, we have passed the time when they were as deadly as this one in 1929.