Tales From Local History: Ambush at High Point

Josephine Hawkins Parrish

Josephine Hawkins, one of my daddy’s great-aunts, was also known as Aunt Jo or Aunt Josie. As a mother, I’ve always felt a lot of sympathy for her and the tragedies in her life. An older member of the family told me that as a young woman she had a son without benefit of marriage, but that while the boy was riding a horse across the creek, the horse stopped to drink water and the little boy fell head first into the creek and was killed.

The story my daddy told about his Aunt Josie was that her husband and son were ambushed and killed by bootleggers. Daddy didn’t know a lot of details because it all happened before he was even born. Again, I wondered if he had the story right and what else I could learn about it. So I went to the Rossville Library where I could look at old copies of The Walker County Messenger on microfilm, and I did learn more about this tragic story.


The 18th Amendment, referred to as Prohibition, went into effect in 1920. It prohibited the manufacture, transportation and sale of alcoholic beverages. Alcohol consumption was not actually illegal, and it didn’t slow down much. Prohibition had a lot of support from religious groups in the South and law enforcement spent much of their time running down illegal liquor.

For example, on the front page, in the edition of the Walker County Messenger dated Friday, Jan. 20, 1922, the following report was on the front page: “The officers report raids of last week as follows: 65-gallon copper still, 2000 gallons of beer, near Ascalon on Lookout Mountain. Near Hinkle last Thursday, 75-gallon copper still, 800 gallons of beer and 25 gallons of whiskey. No one captured. West of the Durham mines last Thursday, 35-gallon still, 800 gallons beer, and 25 gallons of whiskey. Near Wright’s Mineral Springs on last Friday, a galvanized outfit and 1000 gallons of beer. At the foot of John’s Mountain on Mrs. Amanda Puryear’s place, Sunday, 1200 gallons of beer and two men Boss Surrett and Barney Montgomery were arrested.”

It seemed that every week, there were articles like this in local papers. On Friday, February 3, 1922, in The Walker County Messenger, this report: “Ben Whitner and Lee Lindsey were arrested last week by Sheriff Harmon and Deputy. The officers stated that a smokehouse was used to conceal a 10-gallon still, completely outfitted and with the fire under the furnace still going. $750 Federal bond was furnished. Last Sunday Deputy Parrish raided a 75-gallon copper still near High Point, seizing 1000 gallons of beer and capturing several boxes, kegs and other equipment.”

Reports like these suggest that while Prohibition didn’t seem to be working, law enforcement officers were working very hard to uncover these moonshiners.

Josephine Hawkins Parrish

Let me draw your attention to the mention of Deputy Parrish in the last article. On August 13, 1906, at the age of 43, Josephine Hawkins married Christopher Columbus Parrish in DeKalb County, Alabama. C.C. Parrish was a widower in his 50s and had adult children. One part of Daddy’s story was inaccurate. Aunt Josie’s husband was not a “revenuer.” He was in his 70s when Prohibition was voted in. His son, John C. Parrish, was the aforementioned “Deputy Parrish.”

In the first year of her marriage to C.C. Parrish, Josephine gave birth to a son, Cecil C. Parrish, born in June of 1907. He surely grew up hearing stories from his older brother, Deputy Parrish, and maybe even wanted to follow in his footsteps. In early February, 1922, Deputy Parrish got a tip about another still and took his younger brother along to investigate. According to a newspaper account on Friday, February 10, 1922:

Ambush at High Point

“The shooting affair last Thursday night at 8 o’clock at Kendrick’s Siding near High Point, resulted in the death of Deputy Sheriff J.C. Parrish, aged 50 years, his half-brother, Cecil Parrish, aged 14, and Tom Partain, an alleged moonshiner.

"It is understood that the Parrish men were in search all last Thursday for moonshiners in that section and that they were at Kendrick’s Siding early that night when the elder Parrish was shot twice, once with a rifle and once with a shotgun. As he fell mortally wounded, he reached for his pistol and in falling shot Tom Partain through the abdomen. Cecil Parrish, who was reported to be in the station at the Siding at the time of the shooting, was also shot and killed while in the station. The elder Parrish died almost instantly while his half- brother died enroute to a Chattanooga hospital. Partain was accompanied to Chattanooga by his brother Will Partain and died on the operating table before the operation was performed.

"It was reported that the Partains had been suspected of operating stills and that the Parrish men were in search of Partain last Thursday, but had failed to find him, and that they did not know Partain was present when the shooting began."

According to family stories, it was felt that this was an ambush. Maybe it was payback to John C. Parrish for his earlier raid on the still at High Point. Killing an officer of the law was terrible enough, but killing his younger brother as well, surely made this a heinous crime. And on Feb. 17, 1922, in The Walker County Messenger:

Partain and Boss Held Without Bond "Will Partain and Ott Boss were held on the charge of murder of Deputy Sheriff, J.C. Parrish and his half-brother, Cecil Parrish, at Kendrick’s Siding near High Point, Thursday night Feb. 2nd at the preliminary hearing here Tuesday before Justice G.W. Brown. . . The hearing took all day with a large number of witnesses being used in the trial. C.C. Parrish, father of the slain men, and wife (this would be Josephine Hawkins Parrish) were valuable witnesses for the state. A large crowd of people witnessed the trial here Tuesday. . . the Partain brothers and Ott Boss will be tried at the February term of Superior Court, beginning next Monday."

That seemed like very quick justice to me. And indeed, in the February term of court, the trial was continued to the August term of court.

The Verdict

I did not find a detailed account of the trial in the newspapers; evidently the trial began in the late August term of court in 1922. I found this report in The Messenger’s Sept. 8 edition:

"As the Messenger went to press last Thursday, the case of the state versus Will Partain and Ott Boss was on trial. This case took all of Thursday afternoon and Friday for trial, going to jury late Friday afternoon. Court adjourned Friday evening until Monday morning and Saturday morning, the jury in this case returned a sealed verdict, which was read in open court Monday morning. The verdict was one of guilty with recommendation which carried with it life imprisonment, which Judge Wright imposed on Partain and Boss.

"Partain and Boss, it will be remembered were apprehended in connection with the murder of J.C. and Cecil Parrish last February near High Point during a gun battle in which Tom Partain, brother of one of the defendants, was also slain."

Childless and Widowed

So while justice may have been done, Aunt Josephine Parrish lost her second child. It would not be long until she would also lose her husband. Christopher Columbus Parrish died early the next year in March of 1923 at age 72. This tragedy may have been a contributing factor.

So at age 60, Josephine Hawkins Parrish had no husband and no children. In a day when most women only worked in the home, what does she do? I don’t know much more about that. Seven years later, in 1930, she is living in Dade County, in Rising Fawn, Georgia, next door to the Walter Wilson family – my husband’s grandfather. Although I can’t now remember who told me this—maybe it was Daddy—I think she may have lived in the small brick building that was the payroll office for the Furnace. There is a 14-year-old boy named Willard Baker living there with her who is described as an unpaid worker, a member of the family. I don’t how he would have been related to her. In 1920 he was living in Walker County, so maybe the connection was to her husband’s family.

On March 9, 1946, 23 years after the death of her husband and 24 years after the death of her son, Josephine Hawkins Parrish passed away. Once again, my mother came forward with a bit more information. Mama’s family happened to live next door to the Tip Hawkins family near Valley Head, Alabama. Tip Hawkins was Josie’s brother. Mama said they fixed up the “Tater house” for Aunt Josie to live in and there she spent the final years of her life. Living in your brother’s ‘tater house doesn’t sound like the greatest of accommodations, but Mama said others lived there--a son recovering from a bad accident--and rooms were added later for another son and his family to start out in, so maybe it wasn’t too bad. She was buried at the Lookout Cemetery at High Point near her husband and son.

I don’t know much about what Aunt Josie was like, but her life was a sad one. I know I’m pretty thankful for my teacher’s retirement and my husband and son, too. My brother doesn’t have a Tater house, and I wouldn’t want to end up living in his outbuilding with the blue tarp on it. Where would he put his lawn mower?

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