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Johnny Vardeman: Desperadoes broke into bank in long, wild shootout
Johnny Vardeman

The train robbery by the Bill Miner gang at White Sulphur near Lula in Hall County in February 1911 is an oft-told tale.

It was a sensational escapade, likened to train robberies by desperadoes in the Old West and depicted in cowboy movies. Indeed, Miner, nicknamed the Grey Fox or The Gentleman Bandit, had made his living robbing trains and stagecoaches all over the country and Canada.

After the White Sulphur heist, Bill and his colleagues eluded capture for a while before being found in Lumpkin County, later tried and convicted. Miner himself had a reputation for escaping jails, which he did a couple of times before finally dying in prison at Milledgeville in September 1913. It was said that Miner, whose real name was George Anderson, had contracted a disease from lying in a swamp trying to evade captors in a previous escape.

The same year he died there had been another sensational robbery and shoot-out with robbers in Lumpkin County. It was like a Wild West scene right in the middle of Dahlonega. At 1 a.m. on a night in February 1913, student Cleveland Duncan, who lived in downtown Dahlonega, was awakened by an explosion. The first blast was followed by a pistol shot, then another blast, a third explosion and pistol shots. Duncan got on the phone to call authorities. Looking toward the scene of the noise, Duncan was shot at by robbers at the Bank of Lumpkin County.

The sheriff and bank president Bob Meaders were aroused and snuck up on the scene. The thieves spotted the sheriff and shot at him, and Meaders shot at the robbers.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Meaders, who lived nearby, was on the phone alerting others to what was happening, bullets striking the walls of her home. By that time bullets flying from the robbers and their pursuers were filling the night air. But the robbers got away, a posse in hot pursuit.

Inspecting the bank, authorities found a key that had opened the front door, and the vault door damaged by explosions. However, the robbers apparently failed to get into the vault, as the only things missing were two pistols owned by bank employees.

The sheriff of neighboring Gilmer County was alerted the robbers seemed to be heading his way. When he determined their route, he hid in a store on the road they would be taking, and his posse surprised the men as they approached. Nevertheless, the bandits escaped again in the darkness near the Ellijay and Cartecay rivers.

The posse waited till daylight to approach the men, but they sneaked off again, shots being fired between the law officers and the suspects. It wasn’t until sometime later the sheriff found the exhausted robbers asleep on a hill, arrested them and returned them to Lumpkin County, where they later were tried and convicted.

A Gainesville man bought a large white automobile used by President William H. Taft when he visited Georgia. But G.W. Dobbs didn’t plan to show it off in parades or other public events. It was used to haul his ice wagon from the railroad depot to the town square. It allowed his ice company to take larger loads of ice, thereby making fewer trips.

A Clarkesville man was somewhat of a hero in the nation’s capitol building in March 1913. H.W. Ketron was serving as acting sergeant-of-arms in the U.S. Congress during a heated debate over naval appropriations in the budget. A congressman, William Murray of Boston, became so passionate in his argument that he refused to take his seat as ordered by the House Speaker.

The Speaker then told Ketron to see that Murray was seated, and he took hold of him to enforce the order. It caused a commotion for about an hour in the House before things got under control.

Ketron, acting in place of the regular sergeant-at-arms, away at the time, was well suited for the job. He weighed 200 pounds and was a former center and captain of the University of Georgia football team, as well as assistant coach.

H.H. Grigg of Gainesville was trying to put old-fashioned butter churns out of business. His store on Bradford Street became the first south of Philadelphia to operate an electric butter worker, as the device was called.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times whose column appears Sundays. He can be reached at 2183 Pine Tree Circle NE, Gainesville, GA 30501; phone, 770-532-2326.

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