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Secret family history surfaces

Society presents tales of the past

POSTED: August 29, 2012 4:00 a.m.
Chelsea Thomas Dawson Community News/

David Wallace holds up photos of his ancestor during last week’s local historical society meeting. Wallace spoke on the feud that existed between his great-grandfather and then Dawson County Sheriff Will Orr in the 1920s.

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Dozens of local residents gathered last week to hear the unpublicized, long-kept-secret history of a 1920s Dawsonville murder.

The Dawson County Historical and Genealogical Society met at the local library on Aug. 21 to hear David Wallace, a great-grandson of Etna Parks, share his family's story on how Parks shot the county sheriff.

Wallace said the dark deed was kept secret for many years and not until recently did he begin to learn the truth.

"This event was very traumatic for our family. It was something we never talked about," Wallace began.

Parks, born in 1881, was a local garage owner, property proprietor and moonshiner in the 1920s.

According to Wallace, Parks' public image was that of a businessman, while at home, his wife and children knew him as "a mean drunk."

Although longtime friends with Dawson County Sheriff Will Orr, Parks reportedly started feuding with him after a practical joke had gone wrong.

"They started a lifelong, hateful feud," Wallace said.

Court documents show Parks later testified to accidently offending Orr and Orr choosing to hold a grudge.

A bitter rivalry grew and festered with the two men accusing one another of numerous illegal behaviors, Wallace said.

Parks had various court charges come against him, including driving without a license in August 1923, according to county records.

In early July 1924, the disagreement reached a fever pitch when Parks finally shot Orr.

Wallace told historical society members that local Charley Swafford, who was at the scene of the crime, testified later that Parks shot Orr three times, twice in the back.

Court examinations reveal that Orr came into Parks' downtown store after Parks requested that he stay off of his property. After words were exchanged, witnesses said Orr had his gun loose.

"I had an idea that [Orr] was hunting Parks with his pistol," Swafford recounted at trial. "He looked mad. I don't know that I ever saw a man look much madder than Orr did at that time. He and Parks both are mad looking men to me."

After Orr was led from the building by Swafford during his first visit, he later entered from the back, which is when Parks reportedly shot him.

Parks was convicted of murder and served seven years in a penitentiary in Blairsville. He later returned to live in Dawsonville before his death in 1944 from cancer.

Local historical society member Evelyn Hyde, who was in attendance last week to hear the story, said she found it interesting.

"This story was special because it was from first-hand experience," Hyde said. "When people usually share their research and stories it is rarely from a first-hand account, but David's was from him actually hearing the story from his parents."

Wallace used court documents and newspaper articles to verify the majority of the research he presented.

He said he is glad to have an organization like the historical society to support his research, encourage genealogical study and to preserve local history.

"It offers a chance for us to find out about our heritage here," he said.

Monthly meetings are at 5:30 p.m. in the Coleman Meeting Room of the Dawson County Library. The meetings are open to the public.

 

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