Part 3 - In Search of a Bootlegging Cop Killer

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

I will tell you some things about what happened to Ernest Price after the deadly shooting that took the life of Revenue Officer Hugh T. Lowery.  Out of respect for his living descendants and other close relatives, and to honor their request, I will not tell you everything some members of his Price family know.  But I will reveal enough for you to understand, in general, how the story ended.

Escape from the Crime Scene – Generally Unknown Story

Newspaper accounts of the shooting of Hugh Lowery do not tell the story of how Ernest Price managed to escape the crime scene, other than he waved his pistol at those around him, threatened to kill anyone who tried to arrest or hinder him, and took off in the direction of his home in Doyle.  Another account says he was “last seen making his way for the mountains.”  But, according to Price’s family, here’s how he made his initial get-away:

After Officer Lowery was shot, Ernest Price took off and apparently hid near the scene of the shooting.  His companions, Ernest Seals, Everett Rowland, and Sarah Davis, put Officer Lowery in the car with them and drove him to a doctor (Doctor A.F. Richards) in Sparta.  

But, according to the Price family, what is not commonly known is that they (Seals, Rowland, & Davis) returned to the mountain,  picked Ernest up and took him away from the crime scene and let him out miles away so that he could make his escape.  The lawmen soon concluded that Price had been picked up by someone, because the bloodhounds lost his scent abruptly.  If his buddies did pick him up, that information apparently did not come out in the court case.  Seals and Rowland were fined for public drunkeness and carrying pistols, but not for aiding Price in his escape. 

Note: This version doesn’t seem to match the newspaper stories that say Ernest’s companions, Ernest Seals and Everett Rowland, were held in jail as witnesses after they took Officer Lowery to a doctor in Sparta.  But, perhaps the stories are reconcilable – maybe (1) Seals and Rowland took Officer Lowery to the doctor, (2) returned to DeRossett and picked Earnest Price up and carried him away from the crime scene, and (3) returned to Sparta (perhaps accompanied by law officers) where they were placed in jail.

Search Expands and Reward Grows

The citizens of DeRossett offered a $250 reward for the capture of Price.  A like amount ($250) was offered by the Bon Air Coal & Iron Corporation.  And a reward of $200 was offered by the State of Tennessee.

Note: If the “citizens of DeRossett” offered a reward, that is another indication that the shooting occurred in or near DeRossett, not down the mountain below Bon Air.

Striking miners numbering more than 2,000 joined in the hunt for Ernest Price.  It just so happened that the shooting occurred while miners were on strike, which resulted in a massive expansion of the posse (official or unofficial posse) who joined the hunt.  For miners on strike, the reward would have given them a strong incentive!

Ernest Price Almost Captured

Nashville (TN) Banner - May 14, 1924

On May 9, 1924, fifteen days after the deadly shooting, Federal Prohibition Agent Logan Molloy and a posse of men came to an abandoned cabin where Ernest Price was said to have been staying.  But Price fled the area suddenly when he received information that officers were closing in on him.

Note: As I recall, I think one version of the story said that Ernest was hiding under the porch of the cabin.

The Great Get-Away

They said, “Ernest Price will never be captured alive.”  They were right!

Here’s the part of the story where I will try to honor the wishes of the Price family, but provide enough information for you to know how the story ended.

One newspaper account says that Ernest Price was married when he shot and killed Hugh Lowery.  But I can find no record of Ernest Price having been married by that time…or, frankly, ever.

The Haston Connection

At some point, Ernest Price “hooked up with” Kathleen Haston.  At the time of the 1920 census, Kathleen, the oldest of 12 children, lived with her parents in Cave, TN, a community (District 3 of White County, TN), about 2 miles east of Doyle, TN near the Calfkiller River.  The Cave, TN post office no longer exists and most locals are not even aware of its past existence.  Ernest Price (according to the Price family) lived on Eaton Road, north of Doyle, TN before the shooting.  Ernest and Kathleen may have known each other for a long time, even though he was seven years older than she was. She was born in 1904 and he was born in 1897.  But when and where and how they connected is not known.

Kathleen’s Parents are buried in the Bethlehem Church Cemetery, near Doyle, TN – Same cemetery where Officer Hugh Lowery and his family are buried.

Despite a diligent search, I have found no record of a marriage between Ernest Price and Kathleen Haston.  However, it is known that they lived together as man and wife for the remainder of their lives and are buried side by side.  Perhaps they were married, but the change of their identities may be the reason their marriage date and place are hidden from us.

The Westward Escape

Some of the following information is from the Price family but most details about their life “out west” are from public records.

One writer, probably a relative of Ernest Price, stated: 

Price went on to Michigan and into the auto plant.  His wife and kids joined him and lived a normal life.  I know he was home in 1965 for his brother's funeral.  That wasn't his first visit either and he didn't hide.  That was when I first heard it all told.

Part of the above is likely true, but some of it is inaccurate.  The Michigan destination is not accurate.  There is ample evidence to disprove the Michigan and auto plant part of the assertion.   The Michigan statement may have been given intentionally to continue to cover-up where the family really lived.  Records do seem to show that he and his family did live a normal life after they got away from Tennessee.  Ernest died in 1985, so it is very possible that he did return home in 1965, as well as other times previous to that.  The Price family acknowledged that Ernest (and probably Kathleen) did return to White County to visit family members and that some of them traveled west to visit with Ernest, Kathleen, and their family.

According to a member of the White County, TN Price family–someone closely connected genealogically to Ernest Price–Ernest and Kathleen went to Kentucky and caught a train to _______ (somewhere out west, that I will not mention).

They changed their names to some very common names that made it very difficult for them to be traced–and it worked.  

Here are some of what I know about Ernest and Kathleen in their life out west:

  • They appear on the 1930, 1940, and 1950 census records for the western city they lived in, nowhere near Michigan.  The 1950 census is the last census that is available to the public.
  • According to the City Directory, they lived in the same house from at least 1930 through 1958.  They were homeowners.
  • Ernest was employed, over the years, as a janitor for a pie company, a house mover, and an agricultural aid for a company that did laboratory research on animal diseases.  Kathleen was a commercial tailor.
  • They had a daughter, Jacqueline, who was born in Tennessee and a daughter Maxine who was born in a western state, as well as a 1947-born son whose middle name was Haston.
  • Jackie (Jacqueline) was born October 1, 1925 in Eaton, Tennessee of Gibson County, TN.  So, if this is accurate, Ernest and Kathleen were still living in Tennessee eighteen months after the shooting death of Officer Hugh T. Lowery, but far enough away from Sparta, TN to feel safe, I suppose.
  • An record says that Ernest Price (under his aka assumed name) was born in Gibson County, TN, so I’m not sure if any of the Gibson County, TN information is true or just a misdirection to point law officials to a false trail.  
  • Kathleen died in 1960.
  • Ernest (aka Joseph E. Smith) died in 1985.

True, “Ernest Price would never be captured alive.”  He was never captured at all!

We never felt revenge. We felt since Price had to run all those years, that it was punishment worse than being in prison.

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