Short, weighing just over 100 pounds, highly intelligent and graced with a choirboy face, he was nicknamed for a small baitfish. He made up for his diminutive stature with guns and his willingness to use them. No jail could prevent him from escaping, but before one jailbreak, he ran a counterfeiting scheme behind bars. And while committing crimes, he worked as an IRS agent responsible for busting moonshiners, all the while making illicit corn whiskey in his own stills.
Born in 1879, Miles Houston “Chub” Wall was described by the Atlanta Constitution as “a notorious North Georgia desperado.” But violent criminal that he was, his daring and creativity had to be admired. One story has it that he rode through Clayton in a coffin to evade capture. An escape artist with a sense of humor, Chub left the Hall County sheriff a letter explaining how he made his getaway from that jail. And according to lore, he showed up at his mother’s funeral disguised as a woman to keep from being arrested for one of his many crimes.
Criminal as a Teenager
As teenager, Chub was known to steal sheep, cattle and just about anything that was not nailed down. A Rabun County jail logbook indicates that Chub’s first brush with the law occurred in 1898, when at the age of 19, he was arrested for an unspecified misdemeanor. He was released from jail. Later that year, he was arrested for “rioting” but again was set free after paying a small fine.
Things took a turn for the worse in April 1899 when Chub shot and killed Tyre Queen in Clayton with a .38 caliber revolver. He claimed Queen attacked him with a knife and that he shot the man in self-defense. No charges were filed in the matter. However, Chub’s propensity to settle disputes with guns only grew with time.
“Horrible Murder on Dick’s Creek”
The June 7, 1900 edition of The Keowee Courier in Pickens, South Carolina, reported a “horrible murder on Dick’s Creek (in eastern Rabun County). “On last Sunday, Christopher O’Byrne, a peddler by trade, was shot by M.H. Wall, more familiarly known as “Chub” Wall.” The story goes on to report that Chub was an IRS agent, who was instructed to go to the residence of one Tom Page on Dick’s Creek to find a moonshine still.
Various newspapers wrote that Chub found O’Byrne in the loft of Tom Page’s house and shot him in the leg without provocation. After O’Byrne jumped out of a window, Chub shot him again, this time fatally. The Keowee Courier reported, “The verdict of the Coroner’s Jury was that O’Byrne came to his death at the hands of H.M. Wall, who shot him in cold blood.” Chub was jailed but “denied any knowledge of the murder and claims to have never seen O’Byrne until after his death.”
Sentenced to Death by Hanging
During his trial, The Atlanta Constitution wrote, “Wall is a small boy or man, weighing perhaps 110 pounds, about twenty years old, has a bright, intelligent face and wore a countenance during his entire trial that looked anything else but a murderer.” Despite his angelic appearance, Chub was found guilty of murder in August 1900 and sentenced to death by hanging. The Clayton Tribune reported, “A strong public sentiment prevails against Wall because of his affiliation with those connected with the internal revenue service.” It would seem that Rabun County moonshiners were just as upset about IRS agents busting stills as they were about the murder.
Chub remained in jail pending appeal. His attorneys argued that due to the vast amount of publicity surrounding the case, it was impossible for Chub to receive a fair trial. A new trial was granted, but the case was remanded to Rabun County. The retrial again found Wall guilty but his sentence was reduced to life in prison. After he served three years in the state penitentiary, questions arose about the veracity of certain prosecution witnesses in Chub’s two trials. In 1903, The Atlanta Constitution reported that “much of the testimony upon which Chubb (sic) Wall was convicted…nearly three years ago was of so doubtful character that the governor decided to commute Wall’s sentence to the time he has served.” Chub was a free man, but he did not stay out of trouble for long.
Shooting His Uncle
In October 1905, Chub came across his uncle, Augustus Wall, who, according to newspaper accounts had refused to sign a petition for Chub’s pardon for the O’Byrne murder. It was said that both men had been drinking and got into a heated argument. True to form, Chub shot his uncle, although not fatally. He was found guilty of assault with intent to murder in 1906 and sentenced to the Hall County jail for “safety,” either for his own or, more likely, for that of the people of Rabun County. After a short time, he escaped by cutting through his cell bars with a saw provided by a visitor. It is not known if the saw was baked into a cake.
Later that year, The Atlanta Constitution reported that a man giving his name as W.M. Crowis, who “was taken up by Marshall W. W. Winn of Cochran (near Macon, Georgia) after a hot chase down the Central railway 7 miles distant, turns out to be Chub Wall.” He was returned to the Hall County jail.
Counterfeiting While Serving Time
Even in jail, Chub had a propensity for trouble. While behind bars, he started a counterfeiting ring. Before any bogus bills could make it into circulation, Chub’s jailers discovered the scheme. Facing a counterfeiting charge which carried a hefty prison sentence, Chub once again escaped from the Hall County jail. This time, he left a note for the sheriff, gloating about how he made his getaway.
The Hall County sheriff spent the better part of a year tracking Chub down before being notified that he had been arrested in Custer, South Dakota in 1909. The sheriff traveled to Custer to retrieve Wall, but habeas corpus proceedings and some legal maneuverings delayed Chub’s return to the Hall County jail. In fact, he did not return to Georgia with the Hall County sheriff, because Chub escaped from his Custer jail.
Convicted for Moonshining
After four years as a fugitive, Chub was arrested for moonshining in 1913 by an IRS agent in Rabun County. His arrest was made on a tip that was received after a “four figure” reward was posted. Chub was sentenced to four years in prison for moonshining and other charges related to past crimes. However, he served only a portion of this sentence before unexpectedly receiving a pardon from Governor Nathaniel E. Harris in 1915. Records do not indicate a reason for the pardon. Though reelected in 1916, Harris received only 89 of the 719 votes cast in Rabun County, allegedly because of pardoning Chub.
In 1919, Chub was caught with 45 gallons of moonshine when the Ford in which he was running the whiskey became stuck in a muddy South Carolina road. He was remanded to Rabun County for trial, where Chub was convicted of moonshining and other charges related to past crimes. He received a seven-year prison sentence. However, Chub escaped from a chain gang allegedly with the help of his mother, who was said to have gotten the chain gang foreman intoxicated with a quart of whiskey (not necessarily of her son’s making).
Rum Running From Cuba
As a fugitive, Chub fled to Mississippi and then Florida, where he went to work cleaning homes. This gave him the opportunity to steal furniture, which the enterprising Chub sold in Cuba. On his return trips to Florida, he ran rum into the U.S. in violation of Prohibition law. Chub eventually was apprehended by Florida authorities and served time in prison. Rabun County Sheriff Luther Rickman decided against returning him to Georgia, preferring instead to leave the notorious criminal hundreds of miles away in Florida.
There is no record of Chub’s whereabouts after his prison time in Florida. What we do know is that The Salt Lake Tribune (Utah) reported funeral services for “John O. (Chub) Wall” at an LDS (Latter Day Saints or Mormon) chapel in Salt Lake City in 1945. If John O. Wall was, indeed, Miles Houston Wall, Chub was 66 at the time of his death and would have undergone a religious conversion. Stranger things have happened.
A former lawman called Chub Wall “the meanest desperado in Rabun County so far.” He was a killer, a counterfeiter, a moonshiner and a Houdini-like escape artist. That is an impressive resume for a diminutive man with an angelic face named for a baitfish.
This article by Society member Richard Cinquina was originally published in the Georgia Mountain Laurel magazine in November 2021.