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Retired police captain investigating 1906 death of Oakwood police chief
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Robert Lee Puckett, his wife Ella Hope and their son Arthur stand in front of their home.

Eddie Puckett, 74, had heard stories growing up about his great-grandfather, Robert Lee Puckett, but was unsure what was fact or fiction.

The family, with multiple generations having lived in Oakwood, had heard their ancestor had been shot in the back and died three days to a week later.

“Through the years when you’re young, you don’t think about getting information about your family like you would when you get older and you say, ‘Boy, I wish I had talked to daddy, or I wish I had talked to my uncles or my grandfather’ and know more about what really took place and different things you wished you had asked. When you get older, it’s too late. They’re all gone, and you can’t ask them,” Puckett said.

Puckett was surprised to be contacted by retired Gainesville Police Capt. Chad White, who has been researching Hall County law enforcement history for many years.

White has recently turned his research to Robert Puckett, the former Oakwood Police chief who was shot 115 years ago while breaking up a disturbance after Christmas.

“I think for law enforcement, the way I look at it and having done it for 30 years, they are the peacemakers. They are the ones we call when we’re in trouble or we need help. For me, it just gives me the honor to be able to honor someone that has been lost in time who lost their lives,” White said.

The captain said he started researching the chief’s family, located the children and worked his way back through obituaries until he found the living descendants such as Eddie Puckett.

White said he has learned Robert Puckett was called out to a disturbance on Dec. 26, 1904, involving four men drinking and celebrating Christmas.

“When he went to break it up, he was attacked. He was knocked down to the ground, and my understanding is as he was knocked down to the ground, someone shot him,” White said.

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Robert Lee Puckett's grave in Oakwood City Cemetery.

Puckett shot Jesse Bartow Wofford, 42, who died two days afterward.

According to White’s research, Wofford did not appear to be the shooter. The other three men were taken to the jail.

The next month, Wofford’s father took warrants out on Chief Puckett and his brother, and the Hall County sheriff arrested both men, White said.

White was unsure of how Puckett’s brother was involved.

The Oakwood chief was charged with involuntary manslaughter. 

His punishment? A $10 fine paid to the court.

White speculated that Robert Puckett’s gun may have gone off when he fell to the ground.

Chief Puckett and his wife, Ella Hope, had three children. Puckett died Aug. 3, 1906, from health complications related to the shooting, and he was buried in the Oakwood City Cemetery.

Puckett’s history is similar to that of Gainesville Police Chief William Jones Kittrell, who was shot on Christmas Day almost 130 years ago.

Kittrell responded to the train depot near what is now Industrial Boulevard to assist Officer Henry Towery about 4 p.m. Dec. 25, 1890. He witnessed a domestic dispute near the train depot and saw a woman threatening a man and his children.

When the woman was told she was under arrest, she resisted by holding on to a fence, White said.

The woman’s father arrived — armed — to inquire about his daughter’s arrest.

When the assisting Kittrell told the father and daughter to stop, the man fired his pistol at the police chief, the bullet “striking (Kittrell) in the right shoulder and lodging in his spine,” White said.

Officer Towery returned fire and killed the man who shot the police chief.

Kittrell died five hours later.

White is planning to submit to have Chief Puckett’s name added to the Georgia Public Safety Memorial Wall and the National Law Enforcement Police Memorial in Washington, D.C.

He is also working on having a monument in Kittrell’s honor erected behind the train depot next to South Bradford Street.

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