Hometown Heroes: Constable William Bolton
Updated: Apr 5, 2022
End of watch: 1903
Camp Meetings in Mt. Victory
By 1903 the Mt. Victory Camp Meeting had taken place annually for several years and was considered a tradition. It was a popular meeting with hundreds of people in attendance from Pulaski and surrounding counties each year. A man named J.B. Sanders owned around 1,000 acres in Mt. Victory, where he constructed a building on the Nunnelly Springs tract of land large enough to hold more than 1,500 people. Mt. Victory is around 12 miles east of Somerset proper.
In August 1903, the local papers and handouts began advertising for the Mt. Victory Camp Meeting on the Sanders property from August 29 through September 6. A camp meeting is a church service similar to today's tent revival, but a little more. The community members would gather together to sing and pray. The local preachers would head up the gatherings and preach, but preachers may visit from other regions to preach sermons. Some of the attendees would camp or stay with people who lived nearby. It was a big deal. A really big deal.
Constable William Bolton, 41 at the time, lived in Mt. Victory on Nunnelly Springs with his wife, Martha, and their four daughters. Bolton also had a son, but it is thought that he had already moved out of his parent's house and started his own family by this time.
Last day of the camp meeting
Constable Bolton and his family were in attendance at the camp meeting on the last day, Sunday, September 6. Also in attendance were a couple of brothers named Charles and Tweed Richmond. It is probably safe to assume that it was common for the men to be armed even at a church service back then.
On that bloody day in September, as the preacher was delivering the church service, Constable Bolton and Charles Richmond began arguing at the door of what the gatherers referred to as the auditorium, where the preaching and singing took place. Suddenly Charles Richmond pulled his pistol and started shooting at Constable Bolton. Richmond hit Bolton in the leg, causing him to fall to the ground. As this was happening, Tweed Richmond joined his brother and started shooting at Bolton. What the brothers probably didn't count on was that Bolton was a marksman with his pistol. Bolton, wounded and on the ground, shot and killed Charles – even as Tweed continued to fire shots. Finally, Bolton turned his gun from Charles and was able to shoot and kill Tweed on the spot. Both Richmond brothers lay dead near Bolton, who was gravely wounded but not dead yet.
As if all this shooting and killing at a church service weren't enough, a relative of the Richmond brothers, Columbus Garrison, came out of nowhere and opened fire on Bolton, killing him where he lay.
As one would imagine, the Richmond brothers and Bolton were not the only casualties that day. Constable Smith was shot in the shoulder, causing a "dangerous" wound. As the sound of shots began ringing out, the crowd started to scatter, and it was reported that two women were accidentally shot during the chaos. It was said that some of the congregates were so excited by the gunfire that they ran for more than a mile from the camp and became lost in the forest. The injuries to the two women must have been superficial since these two injuries were not officially documented.
After the dust settled
After the gunfight was over, with three dead and several wounded or lost, the minister carefully made his way to the dead men on the ground in front of the church edifice to offer prayers over the bodies. As he was praying over one of the men, a man walked up and knocked the minister's hat off with the muzzle of his pistol threateningly until he moved away from the body. We can only assume that this man may have been Columbus Garrison, the shooter who finished off Bolton.
Sometime after the final shots found their target and the man who threatened the preacher fled, Bolton's son rode up to where his father lay dead. Sources said that his son, grief-stricken and filled with rage, took a look at the scene and started wildly firing shots. Fortunately for the already frazzled congregates, no one was struck by the flying bullets.
The reason three men are dead
The newspapers reporting the shooting said the reason for the argument between the two men went back to a long-standing feud.
The last gunman
The reports do not say what happened with Columbus C. Garrison directly after he shot Constable Bolton at the camp meeting, but it is known that the Sheriff had his men looking for him in the days after. Garrison was wanted for second-degree murder.
Five days after the shooting, Garrison was arrested by officers Hines and Elrod and lodged in jail with a trial set for September 15; his bond was fixed at $2,000. After his capture, the papers reported that "Dead-eye" Bolton was able to get a shot off on Garrison, wounding him before Garrison delivered the killing shot. It is also remarkable that reports said, "none of Bolton's shots went wild." If this is true, he was indeed a marksman since his weapon was a 32-caliber pistol.
By this time, witnesses to the shootings were starting to make reports. One witness said that a man on the scene following the shootings had a Winchester rifle, which he fired several times at a woman and would not allow anyone close to the dead bodies of the Richmond brothers when someone attempted to move them out of the hot sun into the shade. As a result, the bodies were left in the sun, where they were "stamped upon by an enraged enemy." It sort of sounds like it could have been Bolton's son.
Not much can be found on Columbus Garrison's trial results outside of the fact that a Pulaski County jury acquitted him in July of 1906. We imagine that since nearly three years passed before the acquittal, it was a long, drawn-out ordeal in court.
Life after the tragedy
We do know that Columbus Garrison sold his farm in Mt. Victory and moved to Mississippi between 1920 and 30. Garrison died in Mississippi in 1952 and is buried in the Asbury Cemetery.
As for Bolton's family, his wife Martha stayed at the Nunnelly Springs farm for a few years, raising their daughters. After the children were grown, Martha moved from the farm and lived with one of her daughters and son-in-law before moving in with her brother some years later. Both of her last two residences were in Whitley County. Martha died as a result of a fall in 1942 in Pulaski County.