Sheriff Clifford Peak; photo courtesy of the Haleyville Advertiser.
From The Haleyville Advertiser, August 3, 1951
Three Officers Wounded Thursday
Winston County’s biggest shooting spree and manhunt in recent years took place Thursday in Double Springs, leaving three officers shot down and a fourth man lodged in jail charged with assault and attempted murder.
Winston County Sheriff Clifford Peak and County Deputy Sheriff Talmadge Stephenson were critically wounded and Lamar County Sheriff H.C. Smith was shot in the face, all with blasts from an L.C. Smith double-barrel shotgun.
Taylor Peoples, 64, of Double Springs was captured after one of the most intensified five-hour manhunts in the county’s history. He is being held in Cullman County Jail charged with the shootings.
Some 30-40 officers and highway patrolmen joined the search for Peoples after Sheriff Peak and Deputy Sheriff Stephenson were wounded between 7 and 8 a.m. Thursday.
A shotgun blast from bushes struck Sheriff Smith in the face a few minutes before Peoples was captured at about 1:30 p.m., about two miles east of the spot were Peak and Stephenson were shot. He yelled to the officers, ‘don’t shoot, I’ll give up.’
The Lamar County Sheriff and Patrolman Claud Turker had brought two bloodhounds from Camp Fayette to join the search. The dogs could not pick up the trail, however, but the officers stayed with the posse.
Sheriff Smith is said to have spotted Peoples in a wooded area and told him to ‘drop your gun’ after yelling ‘here he is.’ After being shot in the face Sheriff Smith fired in the general direction of Peoples about three times.
Peoples was not shot, Dr. R.F. Blake reported after an examination at Blake-Manasco Hospital, but several stitches were taken in a wound in the forehead. Peoples told an Advertiser reporter that he was hit with a pistol after being captured. His left ear was cut and there was a bruise behind his ear.
Sheriff Peak was taken to Wilson Hospital where Dr. W.H. Wilson reported his condition as critical. It was reported that a shot struck the sheriff’s lung, liver, and leg.
Deputy Stephenson was treated at Blake-Manasco Hospital, as was Sheriff Smith. Stephenson was reported to have had five pellets strike him in the back, one in the back of the head, and one in the arm. Smith was struck in the right eye, neck, chest, and face.
Deputy Stephenson gave this version of the shooting shortly after arriving at the hospital: "A member of the Peoples family came to the court house early Thursday morning and asked us to take a gun away from Taylor Peoples, that he had threatened ‘to kill the whole bunch,’ and Sheriff Peak and I went to get the gun.
"When we got there (in a hollow near the Newt Aaron and Joe James residences) we saw Taylor going across the pasture. Clifford yelled to him to ‘drop that gun.’ Neither of us had our guns out.
"Instead of dropping the gun Taylor raised it and fired and Clifford dropped to the ground. He said ‘he’s done killed me.’ Then I was shot, and I emptied my gun toward Taylor, and Clifford fired, too, after he fell.
"I went behind a tree to reload my gun. I then went after help, and found Newt Aaron and George Robinson nearby, and we went back after Clifford."
Interviewed at the hospital, Taylor Peoples gave his version; when asked how it all started, he said:
"Son, I don’t know to save my life. I borrowed my brothers gun. One of the kids said they had seen a coachwhip snake, and I had been looking for a hawk that had been catching chickens.
"The law came up and said ‘drop that gun,’ and when I looked they both had their guns pointed at me. I was afraid they were going to shoot me. I shot three times, and they shot five times at me. I just had four shells, No. 5. squirrel shot."
When asked if he had been drinking, Peoples said ‘not a drop.’
Sheriff W.C. Waldrop of Cullman County, Deputy T.G. Waldrop, Patrolman J.C. Coan, and Patrolman V.E. Richey brought Peoples from the area where he was found to the hospital. The accused man weighs about 200 pounds and stands about six feet tall.
Solicitor Joe James said Peoples will be held without bond pending the outcome of Sheriff Peak and Deputy Stephenson’s condition. If either dies, he will be charged with murder, he said.
From The Haleyville Advertiser, August 10, 1951
Clifford Peak Dies of Shotgun Wounds Suffered on August 2nd
By the hundreds they fled by the gold hammerstone, lustre casket, people from every walk of life and from every section of Winston County, to pay their last respects to Sheriff Clifford peak.
"A great man among us has fallen...," the Rev. J.M. Burns said as he officiated at services held in the Pleasant hill Missionary Baptist Church, where Sheriff Peak held membership.
The overflow crowd of relatives and friends in the church and over a loud speaker to the thousands who could not get in, the minister continued. "Clifford's faith was anchored to God. He died a Christian..."
One of the score of highway patrolmen who attended the service estimated the crowd at between 3,000 and 4,000 people.
John and J.R. Nichols, who directed burial for Nichols Funeral Home, said 2,000 persons walked past the casket to view the body.
One elderly man was heard to say "...this is not just a crowd of curious, these people knew and loved Clifford Peak. He was a fine man, and had friends everywhere."
Several citizens said more people attended the sheriff's funeral service than any other funeral ever held in the county.
Sheriff Clifford Peak was buried in Pleasant Hill Cemetery Thursday afternoon exactly one week from the day he was struck down by a shotgun blast and sent, critically wounded, to Wilson Hospital in Haleyville.
A noted surgeon aided in an operation on the sheriff Monday night. His bullet-filled right kidney was removed in an effort to save his life. But in spite of everything that was done his life ebbed away. The end came Thursday afternoon at about 6 p.m.
In Cullman County Jail charged with the murder of Sheriff Peak is Taylor Peoples, 64, of Double Springs. He is also accused of shooting Deputy Talmadge Stephenson of Winston County and Sheriff H.C. Smith of Lamar County, who was in the posse that captured Peoples six hours after the sheriff and deputy was shot.
The Winston officers had gone to take a gun away from Peoples on the complaint of a daughter but Deputy Stephenson said when they approached Peoples he opened fire on them.
Services were scheduled for 1 p.m. Thursday afternoon, but were started 35 minutes late in order to allow those who wanted to file by the casket.
Dozens and dozens of sprays and wreaths of beautiful flowers were banked behind the casket.
The hall before Sheriff Peak's door at Wilson Hospital was also lined with scores of flowers that could not be placed in his room. As the elderly gentleman said at the funeral, the sheriff had many friends.
The Knight Quartet and the Speer Family sang during services. Masons came from Haleyville, Double Springs, Addison, Arley, Lynn, Birmingham, and other towns to help with Masonic services held at the grave.
Masons Ben Little, John Ward, Bill Coats, S. Crittenden, Curt Frazier, and Frank Horsley were active pallbearers.
One side of the church was reserved for, and filled with relatives of the dead officer. The casket remained open for one-and one-half hours, until just before the relatives were seated. They had reviewed the remains for the last time at the home, prior to the service.
Clifford Peak, who was 40-years-old at the time of death, was elected sheriff of Winston County in November, 1950. He took office January 20, 1951, holding it six months and eighteen days before shotgun wounds brought death.
J.R. "Red" Nichols of Haleyville, funeral home director and Winston County Coroner, is now acting sheriff. He will remain sheriff until the governor appoints a new one.
Sheriff Peak was a bachelor, and made his home with his widowed mother, Mrs. J.J. Peake. Besides being a Mason, he belonged to the American Legion Post in Double Springs. He is a veteran of WWII.
Other survivors besides the mother are six brothers, Virgle, Clyde, Freeman, Henry, James, and Morgan Peake; three sisters, Mrs. Frank Whatley, Mrs. Wallace Martin, and Mrs. Harold Dailey; two uncles and one aunt.