As it turns out, Scott County’s current game warden is related to the county’s only slain game warden.
Wade Young has served as Scott County’s game warden for the past eight years, but he didn’t realize he was related to Lindsay Phillips — who was Scott County’s game warden in the 1930s — until just recently.
Phillips was killed in 1936, gunned down in a Helenwood tavern after taking out a warrant that accused the county’s sheriff, Herbert Bilbrey, of violating the state’s game laws. He was shot 16 times, and witnesses would later say that he had gone for his gun but was unable to clear his holster before being gunned down. The sheriff, Bilbrey, was present but was not implicated in the shooting. Two other men were — the bar’s owner, Ralph Harralson, and a future sheriff, Dorsey Rosser. Both men were acquitted, however.
As a story in last week’s Independent Herald (Page A1 of the April 11, 2019 edition) detailed, Phillips is believed to be Tennessee’s only wildlife officer killed in the line of duty. Officially, the state has long claimed to have had no game wardens slain in the line of duty. However, Phillips’ death came before the Tennessee Game & Fish Commission, a precursor to the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, was established as an independent agency in 1949.
The circumstances behind Phillips’ death were widely reported at the time, but had been relegated to the dustbins of history until the work of Allen Keeton and David Jeffers — two of Scott County’s history buffs — caused the story to resurface. Phillips is one of three slain law enforcement officers — along with Oneida policeman Levi Burchfield and constable Fowler Keeton — whose names will be added to the Fallen Officers Memorial in Huntsville.
Young was intrigued by the story because his maternal grandmother was a Phillips. His mother had done some genealogy research, but focused on his grandfather’s side of the family — the Chambers. After Oneida Police Department Officer Dustin Burke, who is a member of the Fallen Officers Memorial Nominating Committee, shared Lindsay Phillips’ story with Young, he began to dig a little deeper — and found that his third great-grandfather and Phillips’ grandfather were brothers. That makes the two of them second cousins, three times removed.
It was an ironic find, not just because Young also wound up serving as a wildlife officer in Scott County, but because he is not originally from Scott County — though his family is.
Young’s grandparents, Tommy and Mertie Phillips Chambers, were both from Scott County. His grandmother grew up in the Phillips Flats neighborhood, while his grandfather was from Norma. After marrying, they left Scott County to seek work, and wound up at a leather factory in Michigan.
After retirement, Tommy and Mertie Chambers moved back to Tennessee. Though they did not return to Scott County, their ties to the community remained, and they would eventually purchase real estate here. So while Young grew up in Knoxville, Scott County was a part of his childhood.
“I spent a lot of time in Scott County, hunting and riding jeeps and stuff,” Young said. “Scott County is always where I wanted to be if I had free time. I always found myself coming back here.”
Young had an interest in law enforcement, and he had an interest in the outdoors. But he wasn’t initially interested in college — “like a lot of people, I guess,” he said — and instead went to work as a corrections officer in Blount County. But after a few years on the job, he realized that he would nearly be finished with his degree if he had pursued college. He decided to enroll, and graduated from the University of Tennessee in 2010.
Meanwhile, Dean Sexton — Scott County’s long-time game warden — had retired in the early 1990s. Scott County had eight different game wardens after Sexton, but none of them lasted long.
“It was a revolving door,” Young said. “I talked to some of them and found that they either liked it here but wanted to move closer to home when they got a chance, or their wives wanted to move.”
Every time a new wildlife officer was assigned to Scott County, Young realized his window of opportunity was closing. “I kept thinking someone is going to get it and stay,” he said.
As it turned out, when he was certified as a TWRA wildlife officer, Scott County was open. The game warden assigned to Scott County, Casey Pittman, had just transferred. Of the 14 new wildlife officers who were certified with Young, he was the only one who listed Scott County as a primary choice.
So, as things worked out, Wade Young — a brand-new wildlife officer who had no idea he had a relative who had died in the line of duty while serving as the county’s game warden more than 70 years earlier — wound up where he always wanted to be: in Scott County.
“I always knew I wanted to come to Scott County,” he said. “It was a place I liked and a place I enjoyed being.”
It truly is a small world. And, through a few twists of fate and circumstance, a relative of Tennessee’s only game warden to be killed in the line of duty has become a long-serving game warden in the same county.