Memories of Yankeetown: A Couple of Shootings
A. Frank Knotts
On the evening of the day of the Joe Louis/Max Schmeling fight, the one which Louis won there came an excited call at our family window. I was still awake and heard it though I don't recall who it was. A man's voice said, "Mr. Knotts! Mr. Knotts! Ringo shot Old Man Humphrey down at the fish house! Come quick!" Dad went and he later related to us what he discovered.
On his first arrival at Dowda's Fish House he saw Humphrey lying on the floor with half of one foot blown off and a large hole in one thigh, big enough to expose the femur. Ringo, whose first name I can't recall, stood nonchalantly cleaning and packing fish as though nothing unusual had happened. Dad's first concern was for Humphrey. They took a dirty sheet off the bed upstairs and ripped it into strips to bandage his wounds. They lay him in the bed of one of Dowda's fish trucks and someone whisked him to Crystal River for medical attention. Someone called Bronson for the sheriff while Ringo continued to pack fish until they came for him.
From witnesses and participants Dad got an account of what went on. Humphrey and Ringo had worked together all day to get a big catch cleaned and iced. As they worked the took sips from a jug of 'shine and in the evening they turned on the radio go hear the big fight. Somewhere along the way, Ringo got the idea that Humphreky had been flirting with Ringo's girlfriend. Apparently doing a slow burn, Ringo went to a nearby house and fetched a twelve gauge, double-barrelled shotgun loaded with buckshot, not bird shot. He may have told Humphrey to dance before he shot off the front of his foot. Then he announced that his next shot would be higher, apparently a threat to Humphrey's organs of manhood. That shot caused the thigh wound. Then Ringo turned his back and resumed working.
Well, the sheriff came and arrested Ringo and the mills of justice began to grind, and Ringo had a trial, was found guilty of something. He went to the State Pen at Raiford where he served about two years before he came back to town.
Humphrey, meanwhile made a good recovery and came back his usual genial self. He walked with a limp, of course, but would gladly show off his specially made shoe for the foot with no toes. Remarkably, he held no anger toward Ringo and seemed to carry on with a cheerful life.
Ringo, by contrast, did not fare so well. Times were hard, as you know, and he had a hard time making a living. He joined together with a couple of other men to hunt alligators. That work is best done in the swamps at night when a bright light will cause the gators' eyes to glow red indicating where to aim the shotgun blast. The blast with the double-ought buckshot. Between the eyes.
In those days to get a bright light you had to have a couple of very large batteries, weighing a couple of pounds each, connected to a lamp strapped to the hunter's head. Keep that fact in mind while I digress just a bit.
Bill, of a previous story, "Coveting," came to Dad one day and said he'd been talking with Ringo and that Ringo was having a hard time out there in the swamps with only minimal clothing. Bill knew that some greenhorn hunters from Chicago had left a first-class pair of hip boots at the lodge when they fled back north after seeing what hunting ducks on the Wacassassa was really like. Bill asked if Dad would let him give those boots to Ringo. Dad said, "O. K."
Two or three weeks after Ringo got the boots he and his companions were returning from a night of hunting 'gators. His two companions rode a boat with a motor while Ringo rode in a towed boat, wearing his boots and his big batteries strapped to his back.
The two hunters in the lead boat later reported that they had seen Ringo sleeping on the net table of the towed boat. However he was not there when they arrived at their landing. Of course they had to go back and search even though they knew that a man does not swim in hip boots with a few pounds of batteries strapped to your back. Of course they did not find Ringo.
I suppose that today the scuba divers would be called out to scour the river, but in those days you knew what had happened and you just waited. A week or so later someone was fishing for red fish just below Pat's Elbow when he snagged a log. When he managed to reel in that "log," it was, of course, Ringo.
Poor Ringo. He just wasn't too savvy.
Another shooting of which I have some first-hand knowledge occurred in the early thirties, probably about 1932, plus or minus. One evening my mother had deposited me in the bathtub with instructions to scrub away the considerable amount of dirt and grime which a boy would collect in his busy summer day. There being no guests at the lodge, she left open the bathroom door as well as the one between the lobby and the family quarters. That gave me visual privacy and gave her a chance to sit in the lobby and hear me if I became too rambunctious. It also gave me a chance to hear what was going on in the lobby.
Soon, I heard Mr. Robinson, our much-liked mail carrier come in and start talking with Dad. After the pleasantries, he said that he needed some of his money which Dad had placed for him in the hotel safe. He sasid that he had just come from Dampier's store in Crackertown and that Mr. Dampier had demanded that he pay his account. As best I recall it wasn't a lot of money--seven or eight dollars--perhaps seventy or eighty dollars in present-day terms.
Dad retrieved the money and Mr. Robinson left for Crackertown.
In less than twenty minutes, I, still in the bathtub, heard a young man arrive (I cannot recall who) and shout excitedly, "Old Man Dampier just shot Mr. Robinson!"
Dad called the sheriff and I believe he went to see if he could do anything. In any event, there was nothing to be done. When the officers arrived Mr. Robinson lay dead in the doorway to the store and Dampier had laid his revolver on the counter and waited to be arrested. They obliged him by taking him off to Bronson. It was reported that Dampier had admitted to having a list of seven or eight people whom he intended to kill. Mr. Robinson happened to be at the top of that list.
People were mystified. No one that I heard of had any inkling that Dampier was dangerous. Quirky, yes, but not lethal. I don't know how old "Old Man Dampier" was because anyone over sixty seemed ancient to me.
Mr. and Mrs. Dampier lived upstairs over the store as I recall. My memory on that is vague. while Dampier, himself, served two years or so in Raiford. I think she tried to keep the business going for a time, but I'm not sure about that either. At some point the business was sold and they moved away.
This absolutely senseless killing left the whole Dunnellon-Inglis-Crackertown-Yankeetown community without a very good and valuable citizen and a large family without a husband and father.
Mr. Knotts may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org