My 3rd cousin 2 times removed, James Holland Howard was born on September 18, 1872, in Glassy Mountain, Greenville County, South Carolina. He was the last of 8 children born to Wade D. Howard (1839-1905) and Narcissa Center (1842-1905). Their ancestors had lived in this part of the Blue Ridge Mountain range for over 150 years.
James became a farmer at 18-years-old when his father gave him a large piece of land. He married Margaret Elizabeth Moon (1876-1957) in January 1894. Over the next 24 years, they had 12 children, 8 sons, and 4 daughters. His family had a history of involvement in moonshining and had several confrontations with the law. Hatred of the “law” was greatest in Dark Corner (the name given this moonshining area) after 1892 when the South Carolina Legislature, at the urging of Gov. Benjamin R. Tillman passed a law creating the State Dispensary. Many individuals and even entire towns openly defied the law. This was an era known as the “Prohibition Years”, when an amendment had been added to the Constitution of the United States, prohibiting the manufacture, sale, and transportation or consumption of alcoholic beverages, except in the exercise of religious rites.
James, or “Hol” as he was called, was a representative of the “new order” and he was opposed to the moonshining activity of the “old order.” He was so convinced that moonshining was the “curse of the mountains” that he became a State Constable “serving without pay” (the Greenville News described him as a Special State Constable.) Hol worked for some time as a Deputized Constable and was well known and highly regarded by the law enforcement authorities in Greenville. However, he was hated as a traitor by the moonshiners.
On January 31, 1924, Hol participated in a raid on an illicit whiskey distillery beside the headwaters of the South Pacolet River at the base of Hogback Mountain. The site, five miles from the nearest homestead, has been described as a cove between Hogback Mountain and Chestnut Ridge. It is said to be one of the loneliest spots in Dark Corner. As the raiding party walked up the cove toward the suspected still site, they met two brothers, W. P. and Alexander Plumley, both around 20 years old, coming from the direction of the still. The experienced officers could tell by the condition of the brothers’ clothing they had been working at a still. They searched the two and found a .32 caliber pistol on one of them. The two Plumley’s were placed under arrest and incarcerated in a small log corn crib about a half-mile below the still site. After securing the two prisoners, Constable Hol proceeded toward the still site along with Reuben Gosnell who was a Governor’s Constable with 19 years experience.
When Gosnell and Constable Hol came very close to the still, Gosnell crept stealthily around to the head of the cove to cut off any escape in that direction while Howard prepared to run into the still area and flush the moonshiners out into the open. After Hol made his dash, Gosnell heard cursing and several shots fired. He then saw two men run from the still, one going west and one going east. He ran after the man going west and after a 400-yard chase, caught Holland Pittman, who tried to draw a loaded .45 caliber gun. Gosnell returned to the distillery and found Hol dead, his pistol lying within two feet of him. He was found in a kneeling position, shot through the stomach by five bullets. One bullet entered in the front and the others from the rear. Holland Pittman was placed in Greenville County jail, and Alexander Pittman, the father of Holland Pittman, learned he was wanted by the law, surrendered himself in Greenville. Both father and son were charged with murder.
The murder of Constable Hol Howard had a great impact on the law-abiding residents of the Dark Corner. On February 13, 1930, men from the Pleasant Hill, Highland, and Mt. Lebanon communities organized the Pleasant Hill Law and Order League “to aid State and County Officers in a general cleanup of lawlessness said to be prevalent” in the Dark Corner. Rev. R. L. Barton, principal of Pleasant Hill School was elected President of the organization.
The killing of Constable Howard was said to be largely responsible for the new spirit of the local law enforcement. This new spirit was expressed at a meeting by speeches given by J. A. Howard, a son of the slain Hol, who was a Ministerial student at Furman University, Deputy Sheriff F. L. Ballenger and P. H. Jones, Holton Morrow, J. L. Hawkins, J. Farnham, and T. W. Forrester. In the speeches at the organization meeting, the prevalence of lawlessness and the necessity of quelling it was duly emphasized and the citizens called upon Juries to be less lenient with law-breakers. They asked the Judges to impose sentences on chain gangs and in the penitentiary instead of just giving out fines. The communities in which each leader lived should gather and place evidence of lawlessness in the hands of the President of the League, who would see that warrants were issued for alleged law-breakers. Gov. McLeod would be petitioned by the League to place at least two special State Constables on duty in the Highland and Glassy Mountain Townships sector of the County for a period of at least three months while the League members pledged themselves to act as special Deputies at all times. They also pledged to aid State and County Officers in the two Townships. James Holland Howard’s death was the catalyst that started the clean-up of moonshining in the Glassy Mountain community.
James Holland Howard’s name is inscribed on the National Law Enforcement Monument at Judiciary Square, on E. Street (between 4th and 5th Streets, N. W.) in Washington, D.C.
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