Genealogist clears name of her grandfather killed in shootout in 1926

Genealogist clears name of her grandfather killed in shootout in 1926

The death of James Mullins was reported at the time as being the result of a family feud with his cousin, who also died of his wounds. Mullins has now been honoured thanks to his grandaughter.

On 6 August 1926, in front of the Dickenson County Courthouse, Clintwood, Virginia, Pridemore Fleming shot his second cousin, James Sherman Mullins, three times with a revolver.  Mullins managed to return fire and shot Fleming.

Fleming, the hard-drinking sheriff of Dickenson County, was dead within half an hour.  Mullins, a Prohibition inspector for the state, died two days later.  They were buried on the same day in neighbouring cemeteries.

Local newspapers portrayed the story as a long-running feud between two hillbilly cousins who had settled their scores in an old-style Wild West shootout.  The Roanoke Times reported: “Animosity between the two men dates back a number of years.  Repeated remarks which each has made about the other brought the crisis last night.”

However, Mullins’ 16 year-old daughter, Snoda, never believed it.  As far as she was concerned, her father died in the line of duty.  She went on to bring up her own daughter, Jenny, to believe the same.

James Sherman Mullins
James Sherman Mullins

In 2010, at the age of 70, Jenny Cooper decided that clearing her grandfather’s reputation was long overdue.  She went to work, looking up records, letters and documents at the Library of Virginia in Richmond and the National Archives in Washington, meticulously uncovering the paper trail that led to the truth behind the shootout.

Sheriff Fleming was an habitual drunkard who was protecting illegal bootleggers.  Inspector Mullins had sufficient evidence of Fleming’s activities to have him arrested, and was preparing to serve warrants on him.

After dinner on 6 August 1926, Mullins left home and drove into town with the warrants.  He met the District Attorney near the Clintwood town square, and was in discussion with him when Fleming appeared, drunkenly stumbling up the sidewalk, brandishing his revolver.  Shouting to a group of bystanders to get out of the way, he then began shooting.  Sustaining 3 gunshot wounds, Mullins scrambled to the top of the courthouse steps and hid behind a pillar.  When Fleming was out of bullets, he turned and walked away.  Mortally wounded, and despite having lost his right arm in an accident the year before, the 59 year-old Mullins managed to pull his revolver from his holster and shot Fleming in the back.

Jenny’s research has led to her grandfather’s name finally being included on the National Law Enforcement Officer’s Memorial in Washington, D.C., which commemorates over 19,000 officers who have died in the line of duty.

James Sherman Mullins was also honoured with a memorial ceremony at the sheriff’s office on 1 June 2013.  Among the attendees was his daughter Snoda, now aged 103, and the last of his 13 children.

She recalled the day, 87 years earlier, that her father was shot.  Her brother had driven from town to tell the family their father had been shot, and they rushed to hospital to see him.  She said:  “I couldn’t get close to him in the hospital.  No one was allowed over to him. He called out, ‘There’s, Snoda …'”

They were the last words she heard him say.

Because the authorities deemed the gun fight to be a family feud, Snoda’s mother never received the widow’s pension she was entitled to, so the family struggled in the years after her father’s death.  Snoda said: “My father was honest.  He put his whole life into his work.  My father was a wonderful man.”

Jenny said: “This brings closure for my mother.  Something has been done that has made her feel better about all this.”

Source: Roanoke Times

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