Peter Garner: The Hunter
Peter Garner, a native of southeastern Randolph County, was born about 1831. He was a son of Peter Garner Sr. and Elizabeth Morgan. Garner married Susannah Latham on February 26, 1857. She was a daughter of James Latham and Lucretia Garner. Peter and Susannah had four children: Julia, born in 1858, Lucy Jane, born August 4, 1860, Sarah, born about 1862, and James Henry, born in August 1864.
During The War Between The States, Garner was a conscript detailed from Mallett’s Battalion to hunt deserters. As a “professional hunter,” well versed in the “philosophy of hunting,” Garner served as guide to Confederate troops detailed to hunt deserters, and he had the authority to command small detachments of troops on their own. Because he successfully hunted down deserters, he was called ‘The Hunter.’ He wore a big gun and knife on his belt, and a rope hung from under his coat.
In late 1864, a band of deserters met at a little spring, the actual headwaters of Panther Creek on the side of Purgatory Mountain, to work out a plan to exterminate The Hunter. Garner lived near Deep River, on a little stream. The deserters, with extreme caution, stationed themselves so that they could watch his movements for a couple of days. They found that every morning at sun-up he and his little seven year old daughter, Julia, walked down to his fish traps, crossing the little stream on a log. The little girl walked ahead, on the log, holding his finger, but each time, when she got halfway across, she turned his finger loose and ran the rest of the way ahead of him. On the third morning, the deserters loaded three guns: They poured powder into each gun barrel — a double charge — and then tamped it down with “wadding” and a ramrod. Afterward, not one, but four bullets were poured in each gun, and more wadding tamped down; then they set the percussion caps on the powder tubes and let the “hammers” down.
When Garner and his daughter were crossing the stream, after Julia let go of her father’s hand, two of the deserters fired while the third kept watch. Two of the deserters ran over, cut the big brass buttons off The Hunter’s coat, and then disappeared. Peter Garner’s family took his body home and buried him in his yard. (The land was later owned by Henry Johnson and was called the old Joe Chavais place.) He was survived by his wife and four children; also, at the time of Garner’s death, Susannah was expecting their fifth child, my great-great-grandmother, Christina Louise Garner, who was born on June 4, 1865 .
The following is the report of the Coroner’s Inquest: “We the under signed after being lawfully summoned By the Coroner of Said Co. and duly sworn to hold a [sic] inquest over the Body of Peter Gardner [sic] Do report to Said Coroner on oath as follows after being assembled at the grave of said Peter Gardner [sic] we proceeded to take him up and open him and examine his person on which we found various wounds: one in the left side of his head and several in his left side, all of which was bound to produce Death those wounds was produce[d] by gun shot.”
It is said that The Hunter’s spirit still lurks on Purgatory Mountain, seeking vengeance for his murder. There is an eerie feeling of being watched, but no one is ever seen. Supposedly, every daybreak, the ghost of Peter Garner looks for the ones who shot him.
Sources: North Carolina’s Inner Civil War: Randolf County by William Thomas Auman, Hoot Owls: Honeysuckle and Hallelujah by C. Waldo Cox, The Heritage of Randolf County, Vol. 1 (page 95) by James F. Steed, Silk Flags and Cold Steel: The Civil War in North Carolina; The Piedmont by William R. Trotter, Randolf County Coroner’s Report May 13, 1864, and Randolf County Census Records.