Part 1 - Deadly Encounter With Bootleggers in White County, TN

One of Daniel Haston’s G-G-G Granddaughters played a major role in the post-shooting drama.

100 Years Ago – A White County, TN Murder Was in the News Across the Country

Along the west side of Highway 70 East, a half mile or so below the famous Sunset Rock on Bon Air Mountain, most White County Tennessee folks have seen this memorial marker.  Some old timers know the story, or at least some version of the story.   Many others, especially younger passersby, have seen the stone dozens if not hundreds of times and still do not know why it is there.  Well, here’s the story as told largely in newspapers shortly after Revenue Agent Hugh T. Lowery’s death, with some additional comments that have been passed down through the shooter’s family.

2nd (Smaller) Hugh Lowery Monument - 2024

Original Hugh T. Lowery Memorial

The monument in the photo below was erected at a spring (approximately 1/2 mile down the mountain from Wildcat Falls) on the east side of Highway 70 E where people stopped to get a drink, but the shooting did NOT occur here.  Hugh Lowery was shot about four miles east of the monument, near DeRossett.  This original monument was removed when a new road was created up the mountain.  The small memorial stone (photo above) on the west side of Highway 70 E was erected to replace the original monument.  It is located across the current road from the first and more elaborate monument.  The spring is no longer visible. 

Who was Hugh T. Lowery?

What Happened on the Afternoon of April 23, 1924?

According to a Variety of Newspaper Reports (Source:

  • “Several men” were alleged to have drawn guns on citizens and were driving drunk on what locally is known as Bon Air Mountain.  I don’t know, but I assume these threatening shenanigans occurred at or near the company store owned and operated by the Bon Air Coal and Iron Company.
  • On complaint from these citizens, Federal Revenue Agent Hugh T. Lowery and A.M. Phillips attempted to arrest these men.  
The "Company Store" was located just west of the Bon Air Market (2024). An incline from the train depot was used to deliver goods to the store. -Lonnie Carr

A.M. Phillips was the manager of the Bon Air Coal and Iron Company’s store in Bon Air.  One source says Lowery “enforced the law in Bon Air, DeRossett, Clifty, Eastland, and Ravenscroft for the Bon Air Coal and Iron Corporation.”  A local legend claims that Lowery deputized Phillips and they drove a 1920 Ford owned by Phillips, perhaps similar to the 1920 Model T Ford Coupe in this image.  Lowery’s daughter has stated that they were in her father’s 1920 Ford.

  • Lowery and Phillips overtook a car driven by Ernest Price near DeRossett, between the communities of Bon Air and DeRossett, east of Sparta, TN on Highway 70.
  • It turned out that the car these men (three of them) and a woman were in was loaded with illegal whiskey.  “It is alleged that the men and woman were all drinking.”  “Were all intoxicated, according to officers.”
  • One of the men, Ernest Price (age 28, said to be a bootlegger), stepped out of his car and opened fire on Lowery and Phillips.
  • One bullet struck Lowery “in the hip” (abdomen, actually–see death certificate below) which severed an artery, resulting in Lowery (“almost immediately”) bleeding to death.
  • Ernest Seals, Everett Rowland, and Sarah Davis were with Ernest Price at the time of the shooting. 
  • Price’s companions loaded Lowery in their car and took him to Sparta, presumably to a doctor.  One article says Lowery died “before reaching Sparta.”  Other articles say he died “almost instantly” (after he was shot).
  • Seals and Rowland were held as witnesses in jail in Sparta. 
  • Price fled the scene of the shooting making threats as to what he would do if any man attempted to arrest him.  Another reported summed it up this way: “Price lives at Doyle about 30 miles from here and left in that direction with a pistol in his hand.”  “Men who know Price declare that it is improbable that he will be taken alive.”
  • One article stated that Price had a police record and was married.  Both of these assertions will be explored in posts following this one.
  • The citizens of DeRossett offered a reward of $250 or the capture of Price.  The Bon Air Coal & Iron Company also offered a reward of $250.  Later, Governor Peay authorized a $200 reward to be paid by the State of Tennessee.  

Another Version Supposedly From a Newspaper Clipping Found in the Lowery Family Bible

There are several significant pieces of information in the following version of the Hugh Lowery story that contradict the newspaper stories written soon after the shooting, most notably concerning where the incident happened.  The newspaper articles all agree that the shooting took place in or near DeRossett.  The site where the monument was placed was approximately four miles west from the Officer Lowery was shot.  The monument was probably placed at the spring because that is where passersby stopped and rested, making it more likely that people would read the inscription and learn the story.  But it definitely has led people to assume this is where Hugh Lowery was killed.  It certainly fooled me for 70 years or so.

This version of the story of Hugh T. Lowery’s death was introduced in the source I found, with these words: “This copy from an old newspaper clipping that was found in the Lowery family Bible.  It is believed to be from a Rockwood (TN) newspaper.  The date was April 24, 1924.”  But some of the “facts” in this version seemingly occurred after the newer (current) Bon Air Mountain Road was constructed, replacing the previous road. 

Did Hugh Lowery live long enough for him to give his statement to Judge Harry Camp in Sparta?  You don’t get that impression from other accounts.  However, read the statement by Hugh Lowery’s 10 year old (at the time) daughter, below.  

Statement by Lowery's daughter, Hattie - Article in a file in White County Historical Museum

As you go up Bon Air Mountain, before you reach Sunset Rock is a monument.  It is the second monument to be placed at that site…the first one was torn down to make way for the new road to be built.  The monument was given by the citizens of Bon Air and the Bon Air Coal and Iron Corporation in memory of Hugh T. Lowery.  The first monument was a site where travelers would stop and take a break.  There was a spring that fed the fountain around the monument, so people would get a cool drink while they rested.  Hugh T. Lowery was a lawman who apparently died at the hands of a bootlegger whom he was trying to arrest.  He was 44 years old.  He enforced the law for Bon Air, DeRossett, Clifty, Eastland, and Ravenscroft for the Bon Air Coal and Iron Corporation.

Legend says that Lowery deputized Maddin Phillips and the two drove Phillips’ 1920 Ford up toward Bon Air from Sparta.  They were looking for two men and a woman who were reportedly driving drunk and carrying whiskey in the card.

The two had stopped around the site where we now see the monument.  They had spotted the drunks’ car parked on the road.  One of the men hid behind a boulder and opened fire on the lawmen.  Bullets from his gun struck Lowery in the abdomen.  The shooter high-tailed it on foot.  Deputy Phillips panicked and left his car to go get help.  The gunman’s two companions put the wounded Lowery into their car and carried him to Sparta.

This was a time when there was not a hospital in town.  So Lowery was taken to a doctor’s office…a Dr. Richardson’s (A.F. Richards).  The people who brought Lowery told the investigators that they had simply found Lowery on the road wounded and bleeding.

Before Lowery died, he identified the shooter as Ernest Price.  Judge Harry Camp, who had an office next door to the doctor took Lowery’s statement which is still on record.

There was a massive search with bloodhounds and many lawmen.   Legend is the assailant was never found.  Rumors have said that Price escaped and went out of state.  He returned to Sparta on occasion never detected.  Fifty-nine years later, Lowery was awarded the “Medal of Honor” by the America Police Hall of Fame.  His name now resides in the Police Hall of Fame.

Bethlehem Church of Christ Cemetery - Doyle, TN

The funeral of the slain officer at Bethlehem cemetery, south of Sparta, was one of the most largely attended in the history of White County and fully attested the esteem in which the deceased was held and the indignation which his killing has aroused throughout White County and this entire section of the state.  The funeral sermon was preached by Elder J.D. Gunn of Sparta, who paid an eloquent and feeling tribute to the slain officer.

And, for what it’s worth and whatever it means…

One of Daniel Haston’s G-G-G Granddaughters played a major role in the post-shooting drama.

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