Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Elias Russell, Shot in the Leg!

Elias Russell of Cass, Arkansas, was shot in the leg in December of 1933 and recovered fully except for a lifelong limp, that much I know to be truth. He was fifty-nine years old that year. Because his son, Doyle J. Russell, our father and primary source of information, had left his Arkansas home by 1933 and was working in Colorado where he would soon put down roots, the story and its details was slow to filter in. Only after Elias had recovered from his wound would Doyle receive a letter about his father’s serious injury and recovery.

Many years later, after Doyle married and became father to four children he probably told his kids what he had learned from letters back home about his father’s being shot, piquing their interest in this grandfather they only met once or twice, but Doyle was not one to tell all. He chose his stories about his Arkansas family carefully, not wanting to put them in a bad light to his Colorado family. So it wasn’t until the early 1960’s when two of Doyle’s children, young adults by now, Mary, and Bob, separately visited their recently widowed Grannie Russell in Cass and heard her stories about their Grandpa Elias, including the shooting incident.

This is what then 25-year-old Mary remembers her Grannie telling her:

“The story from Granny Russell was that Elias went off with some
deputies to help the sheriff arrest some law-breakers.  They had a fearful shootout.  The only bullet that hit anyone hit Elias.  He was shot in the hip. Broke the bone.  Compound fracture.

The lawman in charge sent a deputy to tell Addie that Elias had been shot and to come pick him up.  The deputy got his wires crossed and the message that got to Addie that night was that Elias had been shot dead and to come pick up his body.

It was too late that night to harness up the team and wagon and get her
dozen kids together and mule team, as it was quite a distance to the site of the shooting.  She got the kids up early the next morning and harnessed up the mules and drove over to pick up Elias's body. 

When she got there she was quite surprised to learn that she was not a widow after all.  They had left him lying where he got shot and had done nothing for him.  No doctor--no sleeping accommodations--nothing.  So she loaded him up and brought him home.

When she got him home she decided that it would do no good to get a doctor as it had been 24 hours since the shooting and was too late to set or treat the leg.  So Granny bandaged Elias up and nursed him back to ambulatory condition.  He always walked with a limp afterwards.

Why Addie got the notion that a broken leg could not be treated after 24 hours is anyone's guess.  Of course with medicine the way it was in that area at that time--she was probably right!  I would guess that Tennessee came over and helped nurse her son. She was a midwife and considered the local medicine woman in that township. Addie did not mention Tennessee---that is just my guess.  

Addie was quite furious that no one had done the first thing to help Elias--just let him lie there in his own blood where he fell until she came after him the following day.

Elias was working as a volunteer deputy--free--so that was really quite a show of gratitude on the sheriff's part!  Strangely enough Elias continued to volunteer his services when his leg healed enough to ride again. 

My story is just a repeat of what Addie told me in 1962.”

We have three more bits of information to add to Mary’s story. First, the Spectator Newspaper in nearby Ozark mentioned Elias’s recovery in January of 1934 with two brief comments:

“Mrs. Tennessee Russell returned to her home at Cass Friday after a visit with her son, Elias Russell, who is recovering from gun-shot wounds at the home of his sister, Mrs. Alex Nichols of Ozark. Mrs. Elias Russell who has been with her husband several days returned to her home at Cass.”

And “Mr. Elias Russell, one of the victims of the shooting which occurred at this place some six weeks ago, was the guest of Mr. and Mrs. W.B. Walden last Saturday."

When Bob Russell visited his Grannie Russell in early 1962 she made this comment about her husband being shot, “Elias poked his nose in where he ought not have.”

As to what the shooting was all about, who did the shooting with what sort of gun, who else was there, was anyone else shot, and did anyone have to answer for shooting Elias, we do not know. Bob remembers thinking all those years it was about moonshining, about Elias trying to crack down on the local moonshiners and shut down their stills, but Bob doesn’t know how he came to that belief. Doyle did tell Bob that he didn’t help his father in his crusade to shut down the moonshiners, didn’t tell him of the stills and moonshiners he knew about when he lived at home. One of Doyle’s reasons for keeping that sort of information close to his chest may have been because his mother’s father, his Grandpa Jess Mahaffey, was a well-known moonshiner in the area. I have to wonder if Elias was successful in shutting down his own father-in-law’s stills.

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