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Saturday, September 15, 2018

Disorder in Court.



Henry Miller went to the home of his doctor, Zachariah Walker, in Brownsburg, Virginia, to pick up some medicine on Wednesday, November 13, 1889. Dr. Walker was under the weather and could not see Miller, but his wife, Bettie, knew the prescription and she took him to the office while she prepared the compound. Though 50 years old, Bettie Walker was a strikingly attractive woman, delicate and refined, her black hair sprinkled with silver. Henry Miller, nearly 70 years old, could not control himself alone with Mrs. Walker; he tried to kiss her, “offering other indignities which were repulsed.”

Mrs. Miller did not tell her husband what had happened until Friday morning when the doctor was fully recovered.  He was immediately incensed and went out with his manservant and his shotgun looking for Henry Miller. He made it generally known that he intended to kill Miller on sight. 

When Miller heard of this he went to Justice E. B. Bosworth and procured a warrant against Walker and a hearing was held in Brownsburg later that day. Mrs. Walker accompanied her husband to court, and Henry Miller was there with four of his sons. Miller was one of the wealthiest farmers in Rockbridge County and Dr. Zachariah Walker was a celebrated physician and surgeon, a distinguished member of the State Medical Examining Board. Both families were prominent and well respected, but on this day they would not show any pretense of civility.

Justice Bosworth heard both sides of the case. No one denied that Dr. Walker threatened Henry Miller’s life so Bosworth charged him $500 bail to keep the peace for twelve months. He told Walker if he refused to pay he would have no alternative but to send him to jail.

“That’s what I want you to do,” said Dr. Walker, “but I would like to get my dinner before going.” Bosworth agreed to this then Walker said, “There is one other request I wish to make and that is to be allowed to slap Henry in the face.”

Of course, Justice Bosworth said that could not be done, but Dr. Walker insisted that he would do so and as he rose he drew a revolver from his hip pocket. As he tried to cock the revolver, Henry Miller’s son David wrenched the pistol away from him. This ignited a general melee in which everyone in the courtroom was more or less involved either as a peacemaker or antagonist. Pistol shots were fired, and men were striking each other with uplifted chairs. Justice Bosworth later said that the first thing he saw was “Dr. Walker stabbing Henry Miller with a large dirk knife, dealing deadly blows with unstinted vigor.” David Miller fired a pistol hitting Dr. Walker in the back, then Walker went to a bench to lay down.

Mrs. Walker went to the bench and while trying to revive her husband she received a fatal shot and slipped to the floor. Their roles now reversed, Dr. Walker went down to the floor to see to his wife.  He was shot several more times and died on the floor next to her.

Several witnesses saw Miller’s son James shoot Mrs. Walker and heard him say, “You caused the death of my father and you shall all die together.”

When the battle ended, Henry Miller, Dr. Walker, and Mrs. Walker were dead; David Miller was seriously wounded; T. A. Deaver, another participant in the affray had a knife wound in the neck; and John Hempsey had a pistol wound in the side.

The inquest held several days later found that Mrs. Walker was killed by James Miller, Dr. Walker was killed by pistol shots fired by the Miller boys without individualizing them, and Henry Miller was killed by Dr. Walker. 

William Miller was tried the following February for the murder of Dr. Walker. It could not be determined that he fired the shot that killed Dr. Walker so he was acquitted. In March, James Miller won the sympathy of the jury by stressing the family hardship of losing his father. James was acquitted as well.

Sources:

“Brownsburg's Bloody Scene,” Daily dispatch, February 11, 1890.
“The Brownsburg Tragedy,” Sun and New York Press, November 12, 1889.
“Carved in Court,” National Police Gazette, November 30, 1889.
“A Dramatic Scene,” Daily Dispatch, February 16, 1890.
“A Story of Horror,” Manning Times, November 20, 1889.
“Trial of the Millers,” Shenandoah Herald, February 14, 1890.
“The Trial of James Miller,” Sun, March 13, 1890.
“Verdict of Acquittal,” Daily Nebraska State Journal, March 14, 1890.

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