I’ve written three columns about the same country graveyard: “Finding Walter Nutt,” “Whiskey, Guns, & Horses,” and “Wallace Cemetery – An Unsolved Murder.” Walter Nutt was killed in a tragic accident on his wedding day January 1, 1919. The other columns are about three men who died from gunshots. Two of those men, John and Will Joiner, were brothers to my grandfather, Jim Joiner.
The stories of John and Will’s deaths are recorded in the Joiner, Mashburn, & Allied Families History Book. It was written by Mary Joiner Pearce, a first cousin to my father. Her versions are the same as those told to me on visits to Wallace Cemetery with my father and Uncle Murray. It surprised me to recently learn that the facts are quite different from what I had long believed.
When I ran the column about John Joiner’s unsolved murder, I had no idea it would lead to any answers. It always struck me as odd that an unknown man on a horse would shoot him as he walked home with friends from a dance. That vague account begged for an explanation. Edward Benns, from Taylor County, gave me one. He called and told me what he’d found on a website for Georgie Historic Newspapers, then mailed copies of three articles.
Bill Giles, who grew up near Unadilla, emailed what he discovered online, then helped me navigate my own search. Thanks to Edward and Bill I can now give a more accurate account of some ancient family lore.
A headline in The Vienna Progress, December 22, 1898, edition read, “KILLED AT A DANCE.” “At a country dance near Singletary’s Mill, five miles from Unadilla, Bose Turner and John Joiner, two young men in that community, became involved in a dispute which ended in a duel, the result of which Joiner is in his grave and Turner is not expected to live. The young men, previous to the difficulty, were the best of friends and went to the dance together. It seems that both were drinking and the trouble was provoked without cause. They quarreled in the house about a young lady and after the dance renewed the difficulty outside the house. Both were armed with pistols and began firing about the same time. Joiner was shot through the heart and Turner over the heart but the ball glanced and did not pierce his vitals.”
The Tifton Gazette and The Macon Telegraph referred to John Joiner and Bose Turner as cousins. John’s father, W. G. Joiner, was married three times, outliving his first two wives. John’s mother was Mary Ellen Turner, which probably accounts for John and Bose’s kinship. I don’t know why the reports of his death in multiple newspapers are so different from what was told in our family. Maybe it was less painful for his parents to blame an unknown man rather than explain the sad truth.
John’s mother died in September of 1899, nine months after his death and seven months before the death of another of her sons on April 24, 1900. The April 26th edition of The Vienna Progress states that Dr. Will Joiner died from a gunshot wound inflicted a week earlier by Bud Downing. Their trouble started at Singletary’s Store when, “Joiner spoke to Downing about some ill treatment to a horse that Downing was training for Joiner.” Downing followed him home and they exchanged fire. A man named J. C. Spradley held the reins of the horse and was charged as an accessory.
The October 4, 1900, edition of that same paper reports O. L. Downing returned home after fleeing to Texas, where he had lived with some cowboys. He and Mr. Spradley were in jail at the time awaiting trial. Mr. Spradley was acquitted. Mr. Downing was convicted of murder and sentenced to “life on the gang.”
I’ve learned more about our family history than I ever expected. John Joiner and Bose Turner made foolish choices. One died from it and the other had to live with it. Bud Downing’s sentence left his wife to raise several children without a father. The youngest, a son born while Mr. Downing was in Texas, was blind from birth. Will Joiner’s son never saw his father for a different reason. He was born four months after Will died. The death of one man affected the lives of many.
Wallace Cemetery holds ample evidence of the dangers in mixing gunpowder with alcohol. I don’t know the location of Singletary’s Mill or Store, but if I find out I’ll travel another road. Our family record of settling disputes that originated in that area is zero and two. I have no interest in adding to either number. As far as I can tell, that’s the rest of the story.