The 1929 Johnson County Shootout

From The New York Times

May 1, 1929


Woman and Boy Among Slain
After Argument at Still in

     P A I N T S V I L L E, Ky., April 30 -
     Six men, a woman and a boy gathered around a moonshine still in a mountain hollow ten miles from here last night, got into an argument which ended in pistol fire, and today the woman, boy and two of the men were dead, two men wounded and county authorities were looking for the other two.

     Sheriff Hapley Adams, going into the Riceville neighborhood early today to investigate reports that there had been a shooting, met an old-fashioned horse-drawn sled --- still a common vehicle where roads are not good. On it was a wounded man, Wayne Hannah, 32, lying beside the body of his brother, Wallace Hannah, 34, and the bodies of L. E. Gibson, 45; his wife, Mrs. Cassie Gibson, 35, and their son Bernie, 16. A neighbor was driving the sled.

     The bodies were taken to the home of Zena Johnson, father-in-law of Gibson and of Wallace Hannah. Wayne Hannah was brought to a hospital here. The sheriff found two large moonshine stills near the place where he met the sled coming out of the woods.

     The wounded man at first refused to talk, but when he was told that the bullet in his lung would probably cause death, he told the authorities that the shooting had occurred while eight persons were around the still. He refused to name the other three, but one of them, Benny Saylor [Dennis "Dennie" Saylor], appeared later and surrendered. His arm had been broken by a bullet. Hannah insisted that he and Saylor were the only persons in the gathering who were carrying pistols.

     Authorities were inclined to regard the shooting as the outcome of a family difficulty rather than disagreement over the liquor business.

     Four murder charges and a shooting and wounding charge were placed against Saylor. He said that the shooting was the result of a drunken quarrel.


1929 - Gun Battle at Green Rock

     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.

From The Johnson County Historical Society

Obituary of Frank Blair

BLAIR, Frank
BATTLE ON LITTLE PAINT "BIG FRANK" BLAIR Guns flared again on the head of Little Paint in Johnson County near the Magoffin county line and as a result "Big Frank" Blair is dead and Hobart Saylor is at his home with several wounds in his body, and Arthur Saylor, brother of Hobart Saylor is in the Johnson county Jail at Paintsville in connection with the shooting. The shooting took place at the home of Blair Sunday night. In the absence of evidence before the examining trial not much could be learned of the affair, nor what caused the trouble. However, it is claimed that the Saylor brothers went to the home of Blair and the shooting began. When the firing ceased Blair lay dead on his own front porch with a charge from a shot gun in his breast just over the heart while Hobart Saylor lay in the yard desperately wounded. The charge from the shot gun was evidently fired at close range as the hole could be covered with a silver dollar. Hobart Saylor had been shot with a shot gun and a heavy claibre revolver. Sheriff W. M. Preston was notified of the killing 7 o'clock Sunday evening and left immediately for the scene of the trouble with seven deputies and went to the home of Arthur Saylor where four of the brothers had assembled and arrested Arthur Saylor. As the sheriff knocked on the door the door was thrown open from the inside and Arthur Saylor pointed an automatic shot gun at the officers. However, he was covered by the officers before he had a chance to shoot. A search of the inside of the house disclosed three more shot guns in addition to the one held by Arthur Saylor. The guns were taken charge of by the officers and brought to the Sheriffs office. The outcome of the shooting is said to be an old family grudge, as the parties to the affair are closely related. Frank Blair being an uncle of the Saylor brothers. Blair was a witness against Dennie Saylor, brother of Hobart and Arthur Saylor, who is now in the penitentiary charged with the murder of Lee Gibson, Cassie Gipson, Bernie Gipson and Wallace Hannah on Silver Heel Branch in April 1929. Blairs testimony at the trial of Dennie Saylor is believed to have led to the trouble. Sunday night's shooting occurred near the scene of the slaughter on Silver Heel Branch in 1929. PAINTSVILLE HERALD THURSDAY DECEMBER 25 1930

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