This week’s article on Wayne County Family History was submitted by Whitney Butler Thompson. It was written by her father, Russ Butler. It is a very interesting account of the life of his ancestor, Reuben Vernor Butler.
Reuben Vernor Butler was born July 25, 1894, in Decatur County, TN, the son of Thompson Christopher Butler and Mary Hulda Hay Butler. (Thompson was a brother to the author’s great-grandpa James Russell Butler.) Following his wife’s death on May 1, 1900, Thompson moved to Wayne County. Shortly afterward, Thompson married Nancy Wade Strickland and had a son, Matthew Wade Butler (half brother to Vernor) born on May 18, 1905. Marriage records show that Thompson married Nancy on July 24, 1904. I assume Vernor came to Wayne County with his father. The 1910 census shows Vernor as living in Wayne County.
During World War I, Vernor was stationed at the Panama Canal. After the war he returned to Lutts, TN. He worked as a carpenter in Memphis, driving back and forth home to Wayne County every weekend. He also worked as a carpenter in Lutts. He later spent several years working at Oak Ridge, TN.
From the earliest records I can locate, he first became a Deputy Sheriff in Wayne County on June 5, 1948. He remained in this position until February 14, 1953. On April 13, 1953, he became a constable and remained in this position until he was wounded and paralyzed in the line of duty on May 18, 1954. From what I can find out by way of newspapers and other sources, after he became constable, his primary job was raiding moonshine stills throughout rural Wayne County. The Wayne County News referred to Vernor a lot as a Special Officer. I am led to believe he could have been working in part or had connections to what was then the Tennessee Alcohol Tax Unit. He also raided stills in Hardin County. Other information states that he and Mr. John Allen, a county constable who later became Wayne County Sheriff, were good friends.
Some of the stills Constable Vernor Butler and John Allen destroyed were in the Middle Cypress area on September 18, 1953, and several in the Olive Hill community east of Pickwick.
The following is a combination of information taken from The Wayne County News and from information I have gathered from interviewing people who knew Vernor. I discovered that Vernor Butler was one of the most aggressive special law enforcement officers in Wayne County. He was shot and seriously injured at approximately 2:00 p.m. on Tuesday afternoon, May 18, 1954, after raiding a whiskey-making outfit close to May Branch Loop Road near the Tennessee/Alabama state line. Vernor, working alone, raided the still and arrested one of the two men there. The other individual made his escape. The shooting was done, according to the report, by the captured man as Mr. Butler was pouring a quantity of the liquor into a bottle from a large container to be used as evidence. The shot that felled Mr. Butler was fired from his own .38 caliber revolver, but the second bullet missed as Mr. Butler fell. He would have been shot again as he lay on the ground, but persuaded his assailant that he was fatally wounded. The man asked Vernor if he knew his name, and he said he did not, whereupon the assailant left, taking the officer’s revolver with him. Mr. Butler was found at about 9:00 p.m. that night by coon hunters and taken immediately to a Florence hospital.
It was reported that the bullet passed entirely through his body from right to left, and that his gun holster belt possibly kept him from bleeding to death. Following this ordeal, Mr. Butler spent several years in the Veterans Hospital in Memphis, TN. He was never married. He passed away on June 11, 1966, and in buried in Pinhook Cemetery in Lutts, TN. I would gladly accept any information on his brothers and sister, or any information about this or with a different version of the story.
Vernor’s siblings were Omer Witt Butler, Benjamin Harrison (Ben) Butler, Henry Arthur Butler, Terry Cordelia (Cordie) Butler Strickland, William Hobart Butler, Matthew Wade Butler, and Earl Cranston Butler.