Feud Flares at Ray City

In the summer of 1926, the widow Lucretia “Cresie” Luke was living near Ray City, on the Ray City-Adel road.  After the death of her husband in 1905 she had raised her family in Nashville and Lenox, GA.  Her two eldest boys, Walt and Perry,  had married two sisters, Ellie and Estell Nash, and the two couples rented a house together in Nashville.

Following these unions, Cresie first went to live with a younger son, Ollie, at New River, but by 1926, she moved from New River down near Ray City.  The Nash girls’ parents, Susannah and Eddie Nash, were also living near Ray City,  and in the late summer of 1926 a third Nash daughter, Bessie Nash Johnson, and her husband, Lonnie Johnson, returned from Florida to Berrien County and Ray City.

Apparently, the relationship between the  husbands of the three Nash girls had grown contentious, with the Luke brothers on the one side and Lonnie Johnson on the other. Later, Walter Luke would observe “that there had been ‘a little feud brewing between them’  for some time.” It was in late August of 1926, in the dog days of summer, that things came to a head.

On the afternoon of Saturday, August 28, 1926 Perry and Estell took their six-year-old son, Horace, for a drive to pick up Perry’s mother, Cresie. This particular weekend, the matriarch of the Luke family was going to spend Sunday with her two sons and their families in Nashville.  Perhaps Perry was expecting trouble or perhaps he was always cautious, but he carried his pistol  along for that afternoon drive.

With temperatures rising and tempers, too, Lonnie Johnson reached a fateful decision that Saturday afternoon to confront Perry Luke.   With loaded pistol a with wife Bessie in tow, he drove out in search of Perry Luke.    The outcome was reported in the Sunday papers in Atlanta:

The Atlanta Constitution
August 29, 1926


Aggressor Is Shot to Death, One Man, Woman and 6-Year-Old Child Injured in Family Duel.


Lonnie Johnson, 35, Returns Suddenly From Florida and Threatens To “Wipe Out Family”

Nashville, Ga., August 28. –(AP)– One man is dead and three others are seriously wounded as a result of a gun battle between the Johnson and Luke families in the lower end of Berrien county this afternoon.

The dead:

Lonnie Johnson, 35, of Daytona, Fla., formerly of this county.

The wounded:

Perry Luke, 35, bullet wound in the shoulder.

Mrs. Perry Luke, shot through the neck, the bullet coming out at the mouth.

Perry Luke, Jr., aged 6, child of Mr. and Mrs. Perry Luke, bullet wound in the chest, within an inch of the heart.

Doctors say he cannot live.

Lonnie Johnson, just back from Florida, who was in an automobile with his wife, is said to have driven to the home of Walter Luke, this afternoon, informing him that he was going to wipe out the family of Walter’s brother, Perry, on sight.

At the time, according to information in the hands of county officers, Lonnie Johnson, who married a sister of Mrs. Perry Luke, ascertained that Perry Luke had gone to the home of his mother, to get her to spend Sunday with them. The mother resides on the highway between Adel and Ray City.

As Johnson drove away rapidly in the direction of the residence of his mother, Walter Luke cranked up his truck and obtained his shotgun and started in pursuit, but the automobile outran the truck in the chase.When approaching the residence of his mother, Walter Luke found Lonnie Johnson’s car turned across the highway, blocking traffic, while he said Lonnie Johnson was shooting into the car containing his brother and the members of his family.

As he climbed out of the truck, Walter Luke says that Lonnie Johnson turned his pistol upon him, but Walter Luke opened fire with his shotgun and killed Johnson almost instantly.

The wounded were taken to a doctor’s office in this city [Nashville] and they are being cared for by relatives tonight.

Perry Luke tonight informed the officers who investigated the case, the latter said, that there had been “a little feud brewing between them” for some time, but he said he did not consider it serious. Perry Luke said that he didn’t know that Lonnie Johnson was in the county.

Perry Luke told officers that he had a pistol on the seat beside him in the automobile, but would not use it for fear of killing his wife’s sister, Mrs. Johnson, who was at the latter’s side, endeavoring to prevent the tragedy.

There have been no warrants issued. Officers of this county said that there would probably be a coroner’s inquest. 

Three Sisters

Once upon a time in Berrien County there were three Nash sisters named  Ellie, Estell, and Bessie.

Properly, they were Martha Elizabeth Nash, Frances Estell Nash, and Bessie Nash. They were daughters of Edward C. Nash and Susannah Hancock, and they grew up near Lenox, GA where where their father was a farmer.  The Nashes  and Hancocks were among pioneers of old Berrien, both families settling here even before the county was created in 1856. Later, when the girls were grown, Edward  and Susannah  Nash would move to near Ray City, GA.

Two of the Nash sisters married Luke brothers. The Lukes were also from an old Berrien family.  Their grandfather, Samuel Young Luke,  came to Berrien county prior to the Civil War.   The Luke boys were sons of Lucretia C. “Cresie” Stone (1872-1937) and William Burton Luke.  Their father was a  Berrien county farmer and the boys were raised in the family home on Washington Street in Nashville, GA. Their father died in 1905 before the boys were in their teens.  Thereafter the boys and their siblings were raised by their widowed mother. To support the family young Perry and Walt Luke worked as farm laborers, while  their mother worked for wages as a seamstress. The boys appear in their mother’s household in the 1910 Census of Nashville, GA, but some time before 1917 Cresie Stone Luke moved her family to Lenox, GA.

It was in the winter of 1917 that the eldest of the three Nash sisters,  Ellie,   married Walter B. “Walt” Luke. They were married December 18, 1917 in Berrien County, GA in a ceremony performed by D. J. Baldree, Notary Public and Ex Officio Justice of the Peace.  The bride was nineteen years old.  The groom was  twenty-one, of medium height and build,  with brown hair and brown eyes.  He was working a farm as an employee of Newton Rowe.

Marriage Record of Walt Luke and Ellie Nash, December 18, 1917 Berrien County, GA

Marriage Record of Walt Luke and Ellie Nash, December 18, 1917 Berrien County, GA

The following summer on July 20, 1918 the middle sister, Estell Nash, married William Perry Luke. They were married in Berrien County by T. J. Drawdy.  Perry was tall with a medium build, grey eyes and dark brown hair. He was self employed  in Lenox, GA.

Marriage record of Estell Nash and Perry Luke, July 20, 1918 Berrien County, GA

Marriage record of Estell Nash and Perry Luke, July 20, 1918 Berrien County, GA

The third Nash girl, Bessie Nash, married Lonnie or Lannie Johnson.  The Nashes didn’t know much about Lannie Johnson, not even the name of his father or mother.  Just that he had come to Berrien County from Alabama, and he was twice Bessie’s age.

Ellie and Estell Nash Luke, and their husbands, Walt and Perry,  rented a house together on Avera Street North in Nashville, GA and set up housekeeping. The men both got jobs as laborers at the planing mill in Nashville. The women kept house and raised their babies together.

1920 Census of Walter Luke, Ellie Nash, William Perry Luke, and Estell Nash. Nashville, Berrien County, GA

1920 Census of Walter Luke, Ellie Nash, William Perry Luke, and Estell Nash. Nashville, Berrien County, GA


After marriage, Bessie and Lonnie Johnson had moved to Daytona Beach, Florida.  They would return to  Ray City, GA in the summer of 1926.

After her two eldest boys married, Cresie Luke first went to live with a younger son, James Oliver “Ollie” Luke, at New River, GA. By 1926, Cresie Luke moved from New River down to a home on the Ray City – Adel road near Ray City.

Thus, the Lukes, the Nashes, and the Johnsons were all connected to Ray City in the summer of 1926.