For many years Ira Butts and neighbor Clifton Pitts had been arguing over the boundary line of a small piece of property. The land was separated between the neighbors by a small creek, which headed on property owned by Butts. Each neighbor suspected that someone had channeled the branch to run opposite its original location.
Early in the morning of June 6, 1939, Ira Butts left his home in Holly Springs, SC for a trip back to his old homeplace near Toxaway Baptist Church. He set out walking by way of old foot-paths and wagon roads, for this was nearer than by way of the main roads. He was born and raised in the mountains, and knew every inch of the woods for miles around.
On his way he visited his sister Julie Lee near the Welcome Baptist Church, and Dandy Lee, who lived then at the old Joel Vinson place.
Just before noon, he arrived at the home of his son Tom, who was not there, for he was working that day at a textile mill in Greenville. Ira spent a short while talking with Tom’s wife Bessie. She offered to fix lunch for him, but he refused to eat with her.
After visiting with Bessie, Ira started walking down a path leading to a spring from which the family carried water, and which was close to the property that had caused problems for years between Pitts and Butts.
Tom’s son, Edward, had gone to the spring for water, and was at the spring when Ira arrived, and he talked with his grandfather for a few minutes. The well at the homeplace had gone dry while work was being done on the Southern Railway; blasting had probably cracked the bottom of it. Several attempts had not gained water in the well. The water from the spring formed a branch, which was also a property dividing-line.
After talking with Edward for a while, Ira started walking down the branch bank toward a street which lead from the Toxaway Road to the home of William Carson, another neighbor of Ira Butts and Clifton Pitts.
Edward ran back to the house, leaving his water bucket, and told his mother that he thought trouble was going to occur. Rumor has it that he saw Pitts coming toward the place where Ira was about to enter the road. He was frightened terribly when he reached the house.
Felix Bradley, a long-time neighbor and friend of Ira Butts, was walking up the road just at the time Ira stepped into the road. Ira had not seen Pitts, for some pine bushes along the road had blocked his view, so he turned toward Felix and started to talk to him. Just then, Felix saw Pitts behind Ira with a shotgun, and he yelled – “Look behin ju Pharoah!” (This was a name he used when addressing the aged man, for Ira was then 72 years old.)
Turning, Ira faced a 12-gauge shotgun aimed directly at his chest from not more than thirty or forty feet away. Ira reached into his overalls pocket and drew a revolver, but it was too late, for at that instant a blast from the gun struck him in the left side of the chest and knocked him over. He fell dying in the dusty country road, shot by his own neighbor.
Even though he lay on the ground with a two inch hole in his chest from the shotgun, with the last bit of life left in his body Ira continued to squeeze the trigger, but there was no strength left.
Bradley moved foreword, and by that time Pitts had also moved closer. Ira must have thought Pitts was intending to shoot him again, for with the final breath in his body, Ira said – “Don’t let him shoot me again, he’s got me.”
These words marked the end of a life that had been taken for a piece of property; land valued at not more than the $3.50 Ira had in his pocket when he died.