#52Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Troublemaker (#Genealogy)

The Cook family had a couple of troublemakers – or at least they associated with troublemakers – and they were killed in shootouts 19 years apart.

This pair was father and son.

John Cook – my great-great grandfather – was born in Georgia in 1858. He lived with his mother, Frances Cook, and her father, George Cook. You read that right. Frances wasn’t married. We can’t say for sure where he was born, but the 1860 Census shows the family living in Marion County, and that’s where John was gunned down by the Kemp boys in 1898. His youngest child, Emmett B. Cook, was just a year and a half old.

The family story went like this: John Cook and the other fellows got into an argument over a whiskey worm – the coil of copper tubing used in a still – and guns were drawn.

The Enquirer-Sun newspaper reported that Cyle was drinking with three others, Albert Benson and Tom and Frank Kemp, and father John “came up and called him off.” The others got mad and shots were fired. John died from a bullet to the lung, the papers said. Cyle was unhurt, but another of John’s sons, James Robert Cook, was injured.

In January 1899, brothers Tom and Frank Kemp were found guilty of John Cook’s murder and sentenced to life in prison. They broke out of jail in May and were recaptured months later. Benson was apparently never charged.

College of Articles about John Cook's Murder

College of Articles about John Cook’s Murder

Cyle was 41 years old when he was killed in a gunfight.

The Columbus Ledger said Cyle was at a party when three men called him aside and attacked him. The Columbus Enquirer-Sun reported that Dewey and J. Robinson were charged with his murder. Both newspapers said the men were arguing over “moonshine whiskey” and “illicit distilling.” The Ledger wrote, “Some are of the impression that the attacking party regarded Cook as an informer.”

It’s entirely possible the two deadly shootout stories became commingled in the family lore, and it was Cyle’s case that involved the argument over the whiskey worm. Or maybe distilling was the farming family’s side hustle.

I have not been able to find any articles on what happened to the Robinsons at trial. The news coverage I have seen is thanks to my cousin, Pat Lowe, who transcribed the two articles she found and shared them on FamilySearch.

I do have to wonder if John and Cyle would have gotten mixed up with a bad crowd if the elder John had had a father at home. I wonder how he was treated growing up. It wasn’t that long ago that having a child out of wedlock was a serious stigma, and the children were treated just as badly, even though it’s hardly their fault.

My great-grandfather, Arthur Thomas Cook was 9 when his father was killed. A few years later, he got married and moved to Florida. One wonders if he wanted a fresh start where there weren’t so many family scandals.

I didn’t know these stories growing up. I got the first hint at a family reunion in the ’80s, but it wasn’t until I really devoted some time to genealogy that this all really sunk in. You know, I never would have thought of Georgia as being like the wild west, but 100 years ago, I guess it was.


About Taminar

When I grow up, I want to make movies and write books. Now in my 50s, I wonder if I'll ever really accomplish the dreams of my youth. I have made two short films, one for a college film-making class, the other for an MTV-sponsored contest. I have written short plays that have been produced, and a few short stories and reviews that have been published. I also perform and direct for community theatre. My working life has included stints in local TV news, public relations, retail management and cashier, and for a couple of years, I made the rides go at Walt Disney World. I have two cats and a husband.
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5 Responses to #52Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Troublemaker (#Genealogy)

  1. I love my newspapers.com subscription for giving me details on family history, but my best results come from all the small-town Kansas newspapers and I have little luck with my Arkansas newspapers. I’m glad you found some to clarify the family murders.

  2. It does sound a bit like The Wild West

  3. Barb LaFara says:

    Fantastic! I’m intrigued by the idea of distilling as a “side hustle”. Many farmers would have extra grain on hand, either un-sellable or more than their own livestock needed. I imagine a simple mash could be made and distilled to grain alcohol suitable for drinking. Thanks for sharing.

    • Taminar says:

      At first I was confused, because it all happened before prohibition, but then I figured they were just trying to avoid federal taxes or fees. I hadn’t thought about them just trying to make sure none of their crop went to waste. 🙂

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