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A Kentucky Image
The Cockrill/Hargis Feud
Taken from Kentucky Land of Contrast” by Thomas D. Clark
While politician and contitutional delegate bumbled their way into the twentieth century, less uncertain Kentuckians in the mountains were shooting themselves into history and their neighbors into eternity. Gaping wounds opened by the Civil War slights and injuries still festered and erupted. An evil deed committed by guerrillas forty years before was compounded into a deep sense of injury with the passing spawning of bacterial spores, every new spilling of blood generated dozens of new hates until neighborhoods were in open conflict for no other definable reason than a desire to annihilate ancestral enemies.
Causes of the Kentucky feuds, however, ran deeper. They were compounds of ignorance, isolation, Old World clannishness, poor economic conditions, and failure of the Kentucy political system to assume its social responsibilities. It would be foolish to isolate any one thing as a cause of the feuds. Sometimes it was the imagined slight to a family, the impregnating of a daughter, or a fuss over a land line, or a sale of timber that actually touched off the shooting. May times it was boredom with life itself that drove men to drink and then to fighting one another. Whatever the causes the Kentucky feuds played havoc with domestic peace.
The pressing silence of many a haze-shrouded mountain cove was split by the crack of a rifle wich dropped a carelessly exposed enemy and called for future killing of a dozen or more men. Hatfield form West Virginia battles with Kentucky McCoys along the Tug Fork of the Big Sandy until both clans were bled white. Tollivers fought Martins up and down the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad in Rowan County in the 1880’s while Eversoled and Frenches ran each other over the Kentucky River hills about Hazard, and Bakers and Whites fought to bloody exhaustion in Clay County.
There was scarcely a mountain county which at some time in its post-Civil War history did not know a major neighborhood tragedy in which personal grudges and slights had been settled at rifle and pistol point. The rifle and the shoulder-holstered pistol were regarded as standard personal equipment, even for some of the colonels in the Bluegrass. Kentucky school and college youths are still apt to answer a question about major guarantees in the Kentucky Bill of Rights by saying first, the right to bear arms.
It is little wonder that the incipient war between the Hargises and their neighbors the Cockrills and their kin and countless bystanders in Breathitt County, 1890-1910, was to become so murderous as to fasten the adjective bloody to both state and county. The American newspaper press form Jackson to Boston spread the news of Breathitt’s evil deeds. Judge Jim Hargis, county judge, merchant, and local politcal boss of Jackson and Breathitt County was given almost as much publicity as General George Armstrong Custer and Sitting Bull. In some ways perhaps he deserved more. The judge was not only highhanded as a feudal lord with major local political ambitions but he also cut a wide swath in state and local affairs. Wherever he went he was recognized as a clever manipulator of men and a hard-bitten chieftain. But as the old boss and his kind lived so they died, and so their reputations have passed under historical scrutiny.
After his election to the county judgeship in 1898 Jim Hargis and his clan were involed in politics, and this involved them in all the affairs of their county. An election dispute arose between the fusionist Democrats and O.H. Pollard, a straight-out Democrat, and this had its bloody consequences, Judge Hargis, however, operated on an even larger political stage. He was one of the main manipulators in the notorious Music Hall Convention in 1899 which had nominated Goebel as a Democratic candidate for governor. In those days in Kentucky and Breathitt County the judge strode down the streets of Louisville and through hotel lobbies exultant over the fact that his hand-picked candidate and fellow townsman, Daniel B Redwine, had been selected as presideing officer of the convention. Jim Hargis knew he could manage the chairman. On one occasion such a state of excitement prevailed that there was danger of the presiding officer’s being shot; Judge Redwine jumped up to leave the platform. Jim Hargis was quick to discourage him, and when Redwine whimpered that the delegates favoring P. Wat Hardin for governor would shoot him if he remained, Hargis was said to have replied, “Damn you, I’ll shoot you if you leave!”
Thus it was that Jim Hargis and his concepts of the democratic process became known to Kentuckians gengerally. Back in Breathitt the people had known since 1890 how much turmoil this willful mountaineer could cause. Not only had the Hargis gang killed and intimidated their lesser opponents, they had become embroiled with James B. Marcum, a prominent local attorney and trustee of the University of Kentucky. Judge Hargis and Marcum became so angry at each other that they were charged with distrubing the peace of the neighborhood. Warrants were sworn out against them, but Hargis refused to submit to the arresting officer, Judge Jerry Cardwell, who was also a bitter political rival. He insisted that he would honor a warrant of arrest only from his friend Magistrate Edwards. This stubborness caused the accompanying constable,Tom Cockrill, to draw a gun, and only the intervention of his brother Jim prevented bloodshed.
The intervention of Jim Cockrill prevented a shooting at the moment, but the Hargises were not to forget that Tom Cockrill threatened to shoot the judge. Drawing a gun on a Kentucky mountain man was no light matter. Judge Hargis reasoned that a serious threat had been made upon his life and that he stood grossly insulted. The constable had taken unfair advantage on him in a moment when he was being presented with a warrant of arrest. Relatives and political henchmen took it upon themselves to avenge the insult. Back of this immediate dispute were smoldering angers growing out of the recruiting and raiding activities in the mountains during the Civil War. One of Judge Hargis’ stoutest defenders was Ed Callahan from Crockettsville, and the current candidate for sheriff. Ed was a merchant and log man, and as such he was associated with Judge Hargis in business dealing. He claimed that J. B. Marcum’s uncles had assassinated his grandfather in a guerrilla fight before either of them was born. When charges and countercharges were made there was no hope for restored peace-the people form the North Fork of the Kentucky Valley girded for war and bloodshed.
In 1902 the Hargis-Cockrill feud came to an open break. Tom Cockrill and Ben Hargis, Jim’s brother, met in a blind tiger, or bootlegger’s stand, and shot out a drunken quarrel. When smoke cleared away Ben was dead, and the war in Breathitt had begun in earnest. Hargis henchmen waylaid the Cockrills and their friends the Coxes. An evil day had dawned in eastern Kentucky.
Hardly had Ben Hargis’ body been buried when his brother Tige was ambused at a molasses mill and murdered. Between July, 1901, and November, 1902, thirty-seven partisans of the two factions were killed. Warring feudists concealed themselves in the somber brick temple of justice on Main Street in Jackson and took pot shots at unsuspecting enemies who strolled along the sidewalk below them. The old courthouse was prostituted to foul and bloody use in these days by mountain assassins. Behind one of its windows on July 21, 1902, gunmen waited for their enemies to come within range along the street. The first unfortunate victim was Jim Cockrill, who was killed by a shot fired from the second story of the courthouse. Cockrill fell within a few steps of Hargis Brothers store and within speaking distance of Jim Hargis and Ed Callahan. As he fell the town marshall wailed, Shot in the back! My God! They have got me this time!
Curt Jett, a tall long-legged, high-cheeked, auburn-haired, and blue-eyed deputy sheriff was accused of committing the crime. It was said that he and two confederates had hidden in the courthouse all day, and were taken away that night by friends. There were innocent eyewitnesses such as C. C. Green, an employee of the Lexington and Eastern Railroad, who left Jackson at once to avoid having to testify against the Hargis mob. Unfortunate witnesses became marked men for no other reason that they had looked up when they heard crashing gunfire and had seen a man fall at their feet with his body riddled by bullets.
The five shots which cut to pieces the body of town marshal Jim Cockrill increased the fury of war. J. B. Marcum, defender of Republican contestants in the election of 1901, and Dr D.B. Cox, guardian of the Cockrill children, were at the top of the list of Hargis enemies. Dr. Cox was the first to go. He was ambushed while preparing to make a professional call.
Subsequently J.B. Marcum was visited by his friend Moses Feltner, who came to tell him of the Hargis plan to have him killed. The trembling Moses told the amazing story that he had been given $35 and a new shotgun to kill his friend and defense counselor. At that time Moses stood charged before the Breathiff grand jury with murder. He was promised freedom if he could get Marcum to go to his office in an unguarded moment so that a Hargis partisan could ambush him.
To prove to the apprehensive lawyer that he told the truth, Feltner took him to the woods and showed him four Winchester rifles which he and three companions had concealed with the hopes they could waylay and murder the lawyer. This discovery of the rifles was frightening, and Jim Marcum was now certain that he would be murdered if he did not leave Breathitt County. He conealed himself in his home and for seventy-one days was a prisoner behind his own door. In the meantime his law practive went to pieces. He prepared to leave Jackson and begin a new law practive elsewhere, but there were unfinished matters pertaining to his office as United States Commissioner which which he could not leave unsettled. Again his friend Moses Feltner came bearing the ominous news that the Hargis faction had learned of his plans and were waiting for him at the train.
Marcum abandoned his plan to escape, and chose to remain in Bloddy Breathiff and fight to the last ditch. Business in his law office, he decided, had to go on, and he realized that the most bloodthirsty feudist in the county would not harm a woman or a child. To ensure his personal safety Marcum went about the streets of Jackson with his youngest child in his arms and was accompanied by his wife. His enemies lay behing the window ledges of the courthouse hoping that he would appear on the street alone. On one occasion one of the assassins had actually drawn a bead on Marcum, but the baby was in the way, and, too, the child might be hurt in the fall.
Other attempts were made to ambush the aggressive attorney but each time emissaries of the Hargises informed him of his danger. At times rifleman dressed as women watched the Marcum home for an opportunity to shot their man. One morning Marcum discovered a window shade raised about four inches, and he knew that was a stern warning to stay well beck from the window and doors. For two weeks he did not dare go near the front porch of his house.
James Marcum was well above the average of mountain men. He had some education and his reputation for honesty and fair dealing was highly respected. Yet he was kept a harassed prisoner in his own home by unscrupulous murderers, and without access to the law enforcing agencies of the county. He finally escaped to Lexington, but with typical mountain nostalgia he later returned to Jackson say, If I have to die, I want to die at home. Jim Marcum reopened his law office in Jackson in April, 1902. He was welcomed home by friends, and it seemed that the troubles would abate. One the morning of May 4 he filed papers for clients in a disputed election case which, as always, involved Judge Hargis and his henchmen. If this case was allowed to come to trial the testimony would be damanging to the Hargis faction. On that morning Judge Hargis and Ed Callahan sat in the judge’s store across the street from the courthouse and watched Marcum enter the building.
When Marcum had filed his papers with the circuit clerk he walked out the front door. On the way out he stopped to talk with an old friend, Captain B. J. Ewen, a local hotelkeeper and deputy sheriff. While he chatted with Ewen he was jostled by a Hargis henchman named Tom White. White was a no-account loafer who hung about Jackson ready to perform any errand, including murder, for Judge Hargis and Ed Callahan. In passing, white had looked Marcum in the eye with an evil expression. As he walked on, Marcum told Captain Ewen, I am afraid of that fellow, that is a bad man. A shot rang out at that instant, Marcum’s body quivered, his knees buckled, and he fell moaning, O Lord! They have killed me. Ewen looked back and saw Curt Jett coming toward the stricken man with a pistol in each hand. Jet advanced on the dying Marcum and shot him through the head. The pistol was held so close that the powder flash singed the hair and flesh. Captain Ewen fled, leaving the bleeding body to lie unattended in the doorway of the courthouse.
Attorney Marcum had fallen at last, a victim of determined murderers who wished him out of their way. His killing was well planned and its execution was carried out with cold-blooded highland vengeance. Again Hargis and Callahan were miraculously near the scene of the crime. Ed was high sheriff and bound by oath to act, but Judge Hargis would not permit him to appear on the street, so it was said in the Marcum murder trial, for fear he would get hurt. No immediate move was made by officials to capture the murderer or to attend the slain man. For fifteen minutes Marcum’s body lay where it had fallen.
Within moments after J. B. Marcum was shot the mountain grapevine telegraph was active. A Lexington Herald reporter wired his paper that it was an open secret that Curt Jett had fired the fatal shots. Five witnesses, it was said, had seen the shooting, but the reporter believed they would be afraid to testify. The two weekly papers published in Jackson failed to print anything of significance about the crime; in fact, their reports of the cold-blooded murder would have given and outside reader the impression that nothing worthy of notice had happened.
Mrs. Marcum was grief-stricken. At last the terrible tragedy which she and her husband had feared so long had occurred. She told friends that only that day two local men, Henry Bach and Edward Strong, had tried to warn Marcum of his danger, but they were unable to reach him in time. When news of their efforts became public they, too, were involed with the Hargis boys’ and they quickly denied Mrs. Marcum’s statement.
Bloody Breathitt was at the mercy of the murderers and the powers behind them. No arrests were made, and Ed Callaham showed a remarkable indifference toward the crime. Witnesses were badgered by county authorities rather than protected. There was Captain Ewen, a deputy sheriff, who was an innocent witness of the shooting, and one who immediately became a victim of the plot. His $10,000 hotel was burned to the ground by incendiaries who hoped to trap him and his family. Captain Ewen’s building was a total loss, for since 1902 no fire insurance company would carry a risk in Breathitt County. There was no doubt as to the origin of the fire; witnesses, as in the Marcum case, saw the firebugs running away from the building. Hargis hirelings had broken into a vacant room and started a fire there.
The killing of Marcum was a heavy blow to Breathitt County, and Kentucky’s fair name was placed in an evil light before an enraged nation. Murder after murder occurred along the many creeks of the county, but somehow the ambushing of an ordinary mountaineer along a creekbank did not carry with it such horrible implications as did the shooting of a man in town. This was especially true since Marcum was a prominent lawyer, and his blood stained body had fallen and laid at the very door of the courthouse. Citizens of Kentucky were up in arms over the shameless killing.
Societies and newspapers were vigorous in their criticism of the mountain community. At Lexington, Colonel Billy Breckinridge and his son Desha of the Lexington Herald assailed the Hargis gang. Marse Henry Watterson thundered menacingly in the columns of the Courier Journal at the skulking evil doers up the Kentucky River. Editorial columns of all the other Kentucky papers were crammed with venomous outpourings against the feudist. Urey Woodson, a guiding force in the Democratic party in Kentucky and a personal friend of Jim Hargis, was extremely critical in his editorials in the Owensboro Messenger. Outside of Kentucky the press was angered, and many a Kentuckian’s face blushed at the awful publicity his state got.
Days passed and no arrests were made. Ed Callahan mad no effort to trackdown the criminals and it seemed that, unless Governor J. C. W. Beckham acted, the Marcum murder, like that of the three Hargis boys, Dr. Cox, and Jim Cockrill, would go unpunished. Finally, Tom Jett, an uncle of Curt’s, swore out a warrant for his arrest. Six day passed before a move was made to locate Curt and his fellow in crime, Tom White. Where had they gone? Jim Marcum’s sister, Mrs. Johnson, told friends that she met the two strolling nonchalantly down the river hill immediately after her brother had fallen, and Curt had said, Hargis money killed Marcum; I fired the shot.
Someone recalled that Curt had gone off down the Kentucky River to Jackson’s Ferry to visit with his mother in Madison County. Sheriff Woods McChord of Clark County was instructed late in the evening of May 10 to arrest Curt and to hold him in jail. This was a disturbing order, for Woods McCord well knew that Curt was a bad man when he wanted to be and that he was handy with a ‘forty-four'. The story of Curt’s arrest is , however, one of the fine contradictions of all the Kentucky badmen. Curt was mean, and he was quick with his gun, yet in his own way and after his own code he was a gentleman. He wouldn’t shoot Marcum when he was accompanied by his wife and baby. A few days before the killing of the Jackson attorney Curt had plunged headlong into the river to rescue a drowning child and had succeeded in doing so in the face of grave personal danger. Once before he had performed a brave deed of lifesaving; yet he would lie in wait for long hours to ambush an enemy. McChord’s posse drove out of Winchester on the night of May 10 in four buggies. They headed for the old Jackson’s Ferry above Boonesboro on the Kentucky River. When the party arrived at the ferry they hitched their horses and went the rest of the way on foot. They were now in the rugged palisade country where there were steep cliffs and deep ravines. The Hagin home, to which Curt Jett fled, was far down the river under the cliff, making it difficult of secret approach.
All but two of the party were stationed around the house on guard. Sheriff McChord, accompanied by a deputy, knocked at the door of the tenant-farmer’s house; Curt’s mother came to the door, and after a moment’s explanation they were admitted. Mrs. Hagin led the sheriff to her son’s room where he was sleeping. The mother was the very soul of humble but gracious rural Kentucky womanhood, and Sheriff McChord and his deputy were gracious and gallant. They entered the badman’s room as calmly as though they were sidling up to the counter in a country store. There was no bluster or show of arms. The sheriff greeted Curt as casually as if he were passing home on a Winchester street on Saturday afternoon, and Curt replied, “Hello, Woods,” as cordially as if he were welcoming the sheriff to a love feast.
After an exchange of small talk, the Clark County high sheriff informed the gunman that he had a delicate matter of a murder warrant to attend to. An observer would have thought that the officer spoke a bit apologeticaly for having to bring up such a distasteful subject in so pleasant a company. Curt was in his shirt and drawers, leaning lazily on one elbow, and from beneath his rumpled pillow the butt of his pistol protruded. Gently he said to the sheriff, “All right, Woods, I will submit to you; you won’t have any trouble with me. All I want is to be treated right and protected.
Curt got out of bed, put on his clothes, reached under his pillow and picked up his gun, twirled it on his forefinger a time or two in good mountain braggadocio manner. The officers of the law stood by entranced with the calmness of their notorious prisoner. Meekly the deputy asked Curt to let him see the revolver, but Curt handed it over to his mother, saying to the curious deputy as if he spoke to a little child, “oh, you don’t want to see it.” It was a long- barreled gun that had gone along way toward earning Breathitt County the unhappy name of “bloody.”
Curt Jett gave his word of honor that he would submit peaceably, and the officers knew that a mountainman’s honor was a sacred bond which would not be violated. He was allowed the privilege of handing his gun to his mother, and of dressing as leisurely as he pleased without fear he would escape.
On their way to Winchester the sheriff and his posse attempted to get their prisoner to talk. They were curious to hear from Jett some of his experiences with Marcum. It was with some subtlety that the sheriff asked about his marksmanship “Oh,” said Curt, “I can kill a squirrel.” “With a pistol?” asked the sheriff. “No,” said the gunman, “with a shotgun.”
To all questions bearing on the Marcum case the mountaineer was shrewdly silent. In his cell in the Winchester jail Jett displayed a picture of himself holding his pistol. He seemed to be very proud of it. He disliked, however, being on display to a curious public. Where the famous gunman had been genteel and polite to the arresting officer he became peevish with visitors. He snarled at inquisitive visitors, “I’m no sideshow!” Newspapermen asked, “Where were you when Marcum was killed?” and the murderer replied, “What do you care?” Curt bellowed at one gawking jail hanger-on who asked about the Marcum murder, “I don’t know a damn thing about it, and don’t care a damn thing about it!”
Back in Jackson a mountain balladmaker was composing a gloomy but incriminating recitation of the bloody crime. In the genuine manner of an Appalachian ballader, this one covered the whole gruesome story, and set it to a tune which was reminiscent of “Jesse James” and “The Wreck of Old Ninety-Seven.” To the twanging of many a highland guitar, the historian whined a fine nasal voice:
At least thirty-eight homicides, and some commentators have been even more generous in their estimates, were committed in the county. In a damaging open letter addressed to Judge Hargis, Mrs. J. B. Marcum asked about these homicides and the murderers who were running at large. When a murderer did come to trial he usually found his case tucked away safely between charges against culprits for dynamiting the Kentucky River for fish and charges of lowly and petty thievery.
Jackson was in continuous turmoil; henchmen of Jim Hargis were busily engaged in intimidating witnesses and the Marcum-Cox-Cockrill clans. Drunken men shot their pistols into the air throughout Jackson, and especially around the blind tigers, without fear of arrest. Jim Cockrill had been the town marshal, and “that little Curtis Jett had laid him low.” Jackson was without a law-enforement agency. No man could be found who was foolhardy enough to act as town marshal. More recent Jackson officials said that the state of their health would not permit the strain of the office. An old-timer gave a good reason for this state of affiars. He said he remembered when stores closed at four o’clock in the afternoon because of rowdiness, and within a few moments afer their closing a blue haze of gunsmoke hung low over the town.
Ironically it was William Goebel’s successor, J. C. W. Beckham, who had to deal with the Jackson “troubles.” As governor of Kentucky, Beckham, a Music Hall Nominee, was the one man in the state who could influence the procedures of courts and law-enforcement agencies in Jackson. No one will ever know what passed between Jim Hargis and his friend Creps Beckham. Emissaries were said to have gone back and forth between them, and on one occasion the town met in a Llexington hotel room in secret conference. Jesse Spider, a deputy sheriff and a Hargis yes-man, passed through Frankfort “on his way to Indiana after a prisoner” when the Marcum case was getting under way. He stopped off, so it was said, to pay a “courtesy” call on the governor.
Louisville and Lexington newspapers began to dig into Governor Beckham’s pardon record, and before they were through they gave their readers and astounding mass of information which incriminated the chief magistrate’s administration. Joseph Raleigh was pardoned by the governor after a Breathitt jury had given him a long sentence for a murderous attack upon a fourteen-year-old girl. Petitions for the release of Raleigh wer formulated by Thomas Cope, Harigs’ lawyer, and upon Hargis stationery. The pliable governor wrote on the pardon that the crime “was at its worst no more than manslaught. While this man was reckless in handling his gun there was, nevertheless, no murderous or homicidal intent.” A fine bit of moralizing on the part of a state governor. By accident Raleigh’s “graduation” from the penitentiary was left off the record book and for two years the fact was not publicly known, except as the “wronged” Raleigh was seen about his home community. Again petitions, written by the omnipresent Mr. Cope and on Hargis stationery, were presented requesting the pardon or “graduation” of Ezekiel Spencer, gun handler extraordinary from Breathitt, and there was some question about his graduation being made known to an anxious public. In all, Crepps Beckham in three and a half years “graduated” thirty-seven Breathiff County hoodlums to enjoy the regenerative air of their native hills. Among this army of poor mortals who were sorry for their wrongdoings and who craved “another chance” were Curt Jett and Tom White. They had been imprisoned for shooting a couple of men with some indication that they inteded to kill.
Kentucky newpsper editors were active in their criticism of the Jackson clique, and of their friend the govenor. They felt that feuding in Breathitt was ruining Kentucky’s reputation before the nation. Leading the pack was the Bath Messenger. Its straightforward editor wrote with intense feeling: “To think that one little, miserable mountain hole, with a small bank of cowardly assassins, who are fortunate enought to have gained control of the offices of the county can disgrace the whole state and dictate to the governor of the whole people is a proposition not entirely without a flash of humor to us who live on the ground and understand conditions.” He then struck hard at personalities: “Redwine don’t want any troops; all he wants is for people ‘to please go away and let him sleep.’ County Judge Hargis don’t want any troops. Sheriff Ed Callahan can see no need for troops. These are the three officials in whose hands rest the prosecution of the murders of J. B. Marcum, James Cockrill and Dr. Cox . . .”
Other papers were equally vigorous in their condemnation of the “troubles.” At Owensboro, far removed from Jackson, the facetious editor of the Enquirer said “that good and generous gentleman, Mr. Curtis Jett, is in prison at Winchester, Kentucky, in the effete Blue Grass, when he ought to be breathing the free mountain air of his native heath. He has only killed a man or two or three men, and the law has no business to interfere with his chosen industry.” This editor had more to say about Jett, but he was even more pointed in his remarks about Judge Redwine. Even Urey Woodson, a political ally, made serious charges against his friend Redwine.
This was the general state of feeling in Kentucky when Judge Redwine finally got around to holding court to investigate the Marcum murder. On May 26 Curt Jett was brought home from Winchester and Tom White was arrested far back in the hills by state troops who had been sent to Jackson to prevent jailbreaking by the prisoners and their friends. All night a race was in progress between the arresting party and an informant who went to warn White that he was to be taken into custody. This race was somewhat a re-enactment of the famous turtle and hare contest. The mountain informant, sure of his ground, stopped to spend the night while the Bluegrass soldiers plodded on, and the next morning they met the would-be tattler two miles from his destination and an hour late. Struggling back to Jackson with their whimpering prisoner mounted on a very large mule, the troops reunited the murderous pair who had been seperated on May 4.
Late in the afternoon the sooty Lexington and Eastern passenger train bearing the notorious Breathitt deputy sheriff Jett puffed into the station over across the Kentucky River from Jackson. Everybody who could get away from his business was on hand to greet the Jackson celebrity-in-irons upon his arrival. Troops lined the way to keep the crowd back. When the famous prisoner came down the steps of the coach it was evident that he had been in a tantrum. He was sullen at first, but before he reached the jailhouse he was joking with his friends along the way. Just before he was to cross through the portals of the gloomy, dirty, vermin-infested Breathiff County jail, three tender young lasses approached and caressed his manacled hands. In a sense Jett was enjoying a homecoming. Once before, at least, he had accepted the hospitalities of this well-known establishment. Curt had escaped, and the sheriff had not gone to the trouble of rearresting him. On this latter occasion a zealous newspaperman followed Jett to his cell, but to his questions the high-strung prisoner replied, “You have got the wrong horse this time, partner. Lots of you fellows tried that on me at Winchester, and I haven’t a damn word to say to any of you.”
Before circuit court was commenced in Jackson, Governor Beckham ordered several companies of state guard to that place. They were sent to keep peace and to prevent a raid on the jail to release the prisoners. Rumors flew fast and thick. Informed persons claimed that before court was to meet on May 25 the grand jurors were already chosen. They were all said to be men definitely implicated in the murder of Jim Marcum.
Judge D. B. Redwine, “regular political handyman of the Hargis faction,” was determined to preside over the trial. Attacks were made upon him, for it was believed that it was impossible to hold a fair trial so long as he, Commonwealth’s Attorney A. F. Byrd, and Ed Calahan retained their offices. Pistols were being fired on the streets and around the blind tigers at will. Jackson citizens’ nerves were at the breaking point. and when a fisherman exploded a charge of dynamite in the river there was general pandemonium.
When the troop train arrived in the town the population turned out to meet it. Here, at last, was safety if not peace. The troops marched into the town and encamped. While they drove down tent pegs and disentagled guy ropes, attorneys argued the question of who should serve as “elisor” to take Ed Callahan’s place. From the start of the procedure at the courthouse there was high tension. It spread to the troops; devilish veterans of the militia told their naive fellows horror tales of militia wars. At night more sensitive troopers dreamed of grim mountaineers firing guns of ungodly caliber into their carcasses. Nightly there was screaming and yelling among those raw heroes whose dreams were disturbed by these fantastic assaults. These weird experiences did not help the general troop morale. On top of the nerve-racking experiences there appeared an eerie spotlight on top of the north mountain which looked squarely down on the town. This flashing beam played upon the guard around the jail. Guardsmen who saw it were horrified. Their officers grew apprehensive that conspirators were hidden near by and that by the aid of the light they could pick off the guards. Gatling and Hotchkiss guns were put in position and plans were made to blast away at the light if it reappeared. News of a raid on the jail spread daily. Citizens were nervous and the slightest irregularity sent them into a community panic. On the night on May 28 a prowler crept up close to a sentry and refused to halt. The sentry fired on him, and the intruder answered back with a shot. A thunderstorm was in progress, and with each flash of lightning the guards fired upon the retreating visitor. They knocked out the glass windows, destroyed two lamps, disarranged papers, and smeared coal oil over the interior of the Jackson Deposit Bank, but the object of their firing escaped. On the north side of the courtyard a sentry fired upon what he believed to be a charging horseman. However, when the clouds rolled away and the morning light crept over the mountains he discovered that instead of downing a bloody mounted feudist and his horse, he had drilled a $40 milk cow from end to end. Killing the cow and tearing out the front of the bank was rather conclusive evidence to drinking mountain pistol toters that the boys from the “outside” could and would shoot with deadly aim.
At the courthouse the Marcum case dragged along in true Kentucky style. Lawyers could not agree on Ed Callahan’s substitute. A grand jury could not be selected, and on top of these troubles Judge Redwine became ill. Down in the jailhouse Tom White grew temperamental, while Curt Jett was stolid and loudly profane. Tom had frequent spells of crying aloud. Through the powerful intercession of Curt’s uncle Jim the sobbing White was permitted to take his mind off the “troubles,” and perhaps to corroberate his stories of defense in spare moments, by sharing a cell with Jett.
Blind tigers in the town were crowded with armed men who argued and quarreled on the slightest provocation. Hargis men were everywhere. They talked too much, and told more than they knew. Newspapermen, among whom was the well-known mountain novelist, John Fox, Jr., were busy taking down everything they heard. They overtaxed the capacity of the clumsy telegraph facilities at the Lexington and Eastern Railway depot. When facts were lacking in the preliminaries of the trial, they wired reams of “color” to their papers. In daylight Jackson streets were crowded with coarsely dressed, unshaved, and unbathed citizens who had ridden into town astride scrawny mules and ponies soon after sunup to hear the trial. Many of them were drinking but “they warn’t drunk!” They were all chewing and spitting into the corners and around the baseboards of the courthouse, under benches, or into the breaks of stair treads. Breathitt County’s courthouse had the rancid, nauseating smell of liquor, unwashed bodies, and tobacco-laden floors.
At the dry goods counters, shoe racks, or before the hardware shelves, mountain women stood in gabbing flocks. They were clad in faded and formless calico dresses of home manufacture; sunbonnets with heavy stave hoods dropped sadly over careworn faces, bony legs and calloused feet were encased in coffee-colored home-knitted stockings which in turn were thrust into cheap coarse shoes. These women, “old long before their time,” had trod long miles up rough creek trails behind their slouchy husbands or they had ridden astride stubborn mules and clumsy-footed ponies to the county seat.
Down along “Jockey’s row” sluggish mouse-colored potbellied mules with heads drooping awaited the return of their drunken masters. “Shingle-tailed” ponies rested on three feet, with one hip thrown out of joint, from jogs up the Kentucky creek beds. Dogs in packs ran among lolling mountaineers. They chased through the courtroom, the stores and through the streets smelling each other, raising their rough naps, and growling fiercely at canine strangers. This was the county seat of Bloody Breathitt in May, 1903 and it was the atmosphere in which the law, order, and good name of Kentucky were on trial. Since there were numerous accusations that the case was to be tried on partisan grounds by partisan court officials, at least the petit jury had to be imported from another county. The native grand jury returned indictments against Curt Jett, charging him with murder of J. B. Marcum, and against his cellmate, Thomas White, as accessory. While the grand jury was making its report, a dramatic scene was taking place at the depot: Thomas Marcum, burly brother of the murdered man and a successful Oklahoma criminal lawyer, was being greeted by grieving relatives. Tom Marcum was on hand to avenge through the courts the heartless murder of his brother.
Each day brought new and bitter attacks upon Judge Redwine by the press. Desha and Colonel W. C. P. Breckinridge, of the Lexington Herald, led the pack. Redwine was frightened and confused. At one time he planned to move the trial to West Liberty in remote and inaccessible Morgan County. This announcement brought so much protest that the muddled judge immediately rescinded it and sped a court representative to Magoffin County to secure an impartial panel of jurors.
On the morning of June 2 Judge Redwine read a stirring charge to the grand jury. Before a packed courtroom he declared to the talesmen: “Crime has flourished in this county, and only once in a while is punishment meted out. The victim then is generally a poor fellow without friends, money, and influence. The stigma that rests upon Breathitt County is upon your shoulders. Wipe the stain from the records.” He then lamented the fact that the pistol toter and the whiskey seller had victimized the county. It had become the rendezvous of “blind tigers: kept by men who were too mean to live elsewhere in Kentucky. “This is your county,” Redwine told the jurors. “If you prove false to the trust and the expectations in you, these crimes will haunt you.”
The judge did task of charging the jury well. He had four fifths of the mouths in the room agape. Men leaned forward to catch every word and to nod approval when the court mentioned the chief causes of crime in their community. Even those who crowded themselves into the windows were intent upon hearing every precious syllable. Every man who entered the room was searched for pistols and knives. Several pocketknives with tobacco-grimed “big blades” were retained by the doormen, and an occasional pistol was taken into custody. Boney knuckles were the only weapons allowed in the presence of the jury. Just as the eloquent judge said these “crimes will haunt you” a sentry going off duty beneath the windows of the courtroom accidentally fired his gun. Pandemonium broke out, and one black-hatted ruffian jerked out a ‘forty-four and waved it menacingly at his stampeding brethren.
Men from Magoffin County rode over the steep hills and down the creeks to the Kentucky River town to serve their benighted neighbors as impartial jurors. There were forty in the first contingent, and others straggled in later. Twelve of these men were selected and they testified that they had not heard anything about the crime. Although they lived only fifty miles away they had not even read of the Marcum murder in a newspaper. Defense and prosecuting attorneys were vigorous in their examination of these unread yeomen. One man, Burns FItzpatrick, caused Commonwealth’s Attorney A. F. Byrd to hesitate. There was something about Fitzpatrick which caused the attorney to doubt he would be a good juryman. Finally, however, he was accepted, and the panel was completed.
Witnesses for both the prosecution and the defense were brought in one by one to give their versions of the crime. “Boss” Hargis, however, was permitted the irregular privilege of sitting through the whole trial. Eyewitnesses generaly agreed in their stories of seeing Ewen talking to Marcum, and of seeing Tom White coming out of the courthouse and looking Marcum squarely in the eye. They told of hearing shots ring out and of seeing Marcum crumple and fall. They said they saw Jett run out of the side door of the courthouse. One difficulty faced the prosecution; witnesses were hesitant about telling “all” they knew. They were afraid to tell their stories even with troops surrounding the courthouse. The burning of B. J. Ewen’s hotel was indelibly imprinted upon their minds, and they feared ambush and assassination. Blustering defense attorneys tried to establish an alibi to prove that Jett and White were not at the courthouse and that they had no part in the murder. One sullen witness after another gave evidence of having been coached, and nearly every one of them was a Hargis employee.
For four days the lawyers argued back and forth in the case. On June 18 it went to the jury after a stirring plea by the commonwealth for conviction. The twelve Magoffin farmers made their way into the jury room to argue among themselves as to their decision. Eleven of them were for hanging the defendants, while Burns Fitspatrick was for clearing them. Burns refused to change his opinion and became downright threatening in his manner. Rumors went around that the dissenting juryman was a son-in-law of a Breathitt man and that he boasted of getting $500 and a Winchester rifle out of his trip to Jackson.
>From Jackson in the mountains the case was sent to Cynthiana in the Bluegrass for retrial. On July 27 the case was reopened in the court of Judge J. J. Osborne. The prosecution staff was composed of A. F. Byrd, J Stanley Webster, Tom Marcum, and L.P. Fryer. Defense attorneys were J. D. O’neal, J. D. Black, Ben Golden, W. T. Lafferty, J. T. Blanton, Thomas Cope, D. B. French, and Judge Noble. This was a fine assembly of legal talent. Some of these ment were the best criminal lawyers in Kentucky-an honor which required exceptional skill where the demand for criminal practitioners was heavy. These eloquent barristers were to display their talents before twelve tried and true citizens of Harrison County. Eleven of them were farmers, and the twelfth “went out to the country to sleep every night.” New witnesses were introduced by the prosecution. Miss Emma Clark, who did not apear in the first trial, told of seeing Ed Callahan peeping through the door of Hargis Brothers store at the time of the killings. He had stood clutching his pistol and peeping expectantly in the direction of the courthouse door. Then there was the perspiring proprietor of a blind tiger who said that he heard Curt Jett say at his place that a dog had been killed. Curt had philosophized over a glass of moonshine, “I had to get rid of him and I did the best I could.” This was incriminating evidence, and for three days this witness had pretended to be drunk rather than make it known. It was not until he had been “cooled” on a militia “Cooling Board: that he was sober enough to talk. All other witnesses who found themselves safely beyond the clutches of the Jackson assassins added materially to the evidence against the defendants.
When the defense called up its witnesses at the beginning of the trial, there were fifty-one of them. Perhaps a more bumptious lot of testifiers was never assembled within an American courtroom. Among this crowd were unshaved, unbathed Breathitt County mountaineers. Many of them had come without coats and ties. There were among them men who bore the highly interesting nicknames of “Rantankle” and “Tickle.” One of the witnesses was Jim Rose of Clay City. He had the reputation of being the best rifle shot in the mountains and was a distinguished “Beckham graduate” from the penitentiary at Frankfort. Once he had gone to guide troops to the home of a prosecution witness who lived back in the mountains, but before the party reached the house he began yelling to warn him to escape. This shabby Hargis rabble had come to Cynthiana to clear Curt and Tom. They had memorized an alibi but unfortunately they had done the job too well, for they had all memorized the same lines. When questions led outside the memorized procedure all of them suffered strange lapses of memory.
Jett and White were at last placed on the stand. Jett was cool and deliberate in his testimony. His very nature, plus his rough-and-tumble experience with inquisitive newsmen, had conditioned him for the grilling of the courtoom. He cast his blue eyes leisurely but observingly over the audience. Even stinging cross-questions did not disconcert him. Tom White was nervous; frantically he crossed and recrossed his legs. His eyes were focused upon the floor, and his voice quavered and broke in his answers. But Tom Marcum was merciless in his questioning of both Jett and White. Perhaps no other Kentucky criminal trial, not even the great cases in which Henry Clay figured as an attorney, was prosecuted so vigorously. Tom Marcum placed his large body before Tom White and pounded searching question after question at him. White became so badly involved in contradictions that he could scarcely speak. Marcum’s last thrust was to damn the cowardly defendant for permitting his brother and White’s professed friend, to die without giving his comfort. So stirring and dramatic was Marcum’s handling of the prisoner that even the defense attorney, W. T Lafferty, was unable to speak until he could send to a nearby drugstore for menthol drops. The palliative influence of the drops seemed not to help, for Lafferty was confused and unethusiastic in his plea.
J Stanley Webster of Harrison County followed the defense with a bitter rejoinder. He damned the leaders of the Breathitt County political ring by declaring: “In the hereafter, when time shall be no more and the Angel Gabriel shall come forth and blow the final blast, James Hargis and Ed Callahan will ready by the red fires of hell the story of the murder of James B Marcum at the hands of their tool Curtis Jett.” These were stirring words with which to send a jury to its private room to reach a decision in a murder case.
As the last juror filed through the door scarcely an individual doubted that they would reverse the Jackson decision. Many people from Breathitt hoped that Jett and White would have to pay the supreme pentaly. One juror, Jasper Kings, however, disagreed with his fellows. It was said that he had a grudge against Lawyer Webster, and the Marcum trial. Jett was tried and sentenced to die for killing Jim Cockrill, but the weak-kneed Beckham saved his neck. Judge Hargis and Ed Callahan were then tried at Mount Sterling, Lexington, and Sandy Hook as accessories to the Breathitt murders, but they were finally acquitted. After the Cynthiana trial life in Breathitt County became more bearable. The troubles, of course, were not ended, but the fact that a case could be transferrred to a Bluegrass county for trial was a sobering fact. For James Hargis and Ed Callahan the shabby drama was to be played out with fatal results for both of them.
At the tiny county seat town of Sandy Hook, tucked away deep in the Elliott County hills, Jim Hargis’ reign as feudal lord practically came to an end. He returned to Jackson to recoup his fortune in the log and mercantile business. He carried with him a deep worry in this moment of freedom from the charges of accessory to the Marcum murder. His son Beech was a sore disappointment.
On the morning of January 24, 1908, the troubled lord of Breathitt came down from the hills. He walked along Fourth Street in Louisville, a dignified-appearing man of fifty-five. He was as properly groomed as a drummer for the nearby Stewart’s Dry Goods House. He was, in fact on a commercial errand himself, he was going to visit the salesrooms of the National Casket Company. His mission was to buy a coffin which would be in keeping with his status in life. Louisville knew Jim Hargis well. Many times he had trudged its streets on political missions. His picture had appeared in local newspapers on several occasions. Mention of his name in connection with the killing of J. B. Marcum had appeared in dozens of stories. Now times had changed, and on this brisk January morning not all of Jim Hargis’ thoughts were on the past. He was going to buy a coffin-not a crude one known to the mountain hardware trade as “a rough box,” but a really fine affair with graceful silver handles. He wanted the best casket the big city supply house had to sell.
He walked into the stockrooms of the great casket company and in a commanding yet mellow tone of voice announced to the patronizing clerk: “I’m Jim Hargis, of Jackson, and I don’t know that I’m going to die right soon, and I don’t expect to, but when I die I want to put myself away in the best style you ever saw.” This was the most unusual customer who had ever wandered into the company’s showroom. The clerk, although a hardened veteran in the business of selling funeral supplies, was startled. He was courteous and obliging to the point of being obsequious. Many fine caskets were displayed, and finally a choice red mahogany one with shining silver handles was selected. Judge Hargis had selected a masterpiece of the coffinmaker’s art. He asked that his $1,500 coffin be stored until he had need of it. There must have been some presentiment in the Breathitt County feudal lord’s mind that death stalked his heels in Louisville that morning. But surely he did not foresee the horrible future that lay before him as he strolled out of the casket company’s door into the street again. Within two weeks he was dead—a victim of a wayward son.
Jim Hargis—a feudist who was said to have been involved in the killing of Jim Cockrill, Dr D. B. Cox, and J. B. Marcum—fell at the hands of his son Beech. He fulfilled the biblical prediction: “Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.”
Beech (Beauchamp) Hargis was an only son, and a headstrong one who was given from early youth to drink. His father had been generous and even tender at times with the boy, but not even the judge’s closest friends could deny that he had set his son a horrible example. The boy, truly a prodigal son of blood, had wandered off to Honduras as a teamster for a Louisville box company, but in six months he was back in Jackson drinking liquor and sporting pistols in wild mountain style. He was frequently in trouble. At Cincinnati in 1908 he ran amuck of the vagrancy law, and at the time his father and mother paid his fine he was laboring on the city rock pile. His mother, a patient and forgiving woman, tried in her quiet way to persuade her sone to calm down and be decent, but Beech was a product of violent family environment. Too long the Hargis had had their way in Breathiff County where bloodshed was almost a way of life.
Shortly after Beech came home from Cincinnati and the municipal workhouse he attempted to raise a row. There were many versions of his tirade; some say the judge whipped him with his cane, some say it was with a rope, and others that the judge hit the boy in the mouth and dragged him into the house. There were subsequent efforts to discipline the son, but none succeeded. The sullen drunken boy became obsessed with the idea of killing his father. He had boasted on the streets that within a week either he or the old man “would be in the bottomless pit of hell.”
Beech stole his father’s pistol from its hiding place in the store. He brandished the gun at customers in his brother-in-law’s drugstore until he was forced to leave. From Dr. Hogg’s, Beech went into the large Hargis Brothers general store and seated himself near the front. He overheard his father’s conversation with Squire Brown about his failure to reform his son. Beech walked toward his father as the latter criticized him for being drunk, and from behind a counter shot him. Judge Hargis advanced toward the boy, but Beech threw a coat over his father’s head and shot him four times more. The great feudist fell at three o’clock, February 8 1908, a victim of his own son and is own gun. He whispered to the people who tried to aid him, “I’m killed! oh Mercy!” Judge Hargis died close by the spots where Jim Cockrill, D. B. Cox, and J. B. marcum had been murdered.
Jim Hargis, mastermind of the Breathitt County feuds, was dead, but the means and not the news of his death was the only element of surprise. He had been a “marked man” for many years, and he reasonabley expected to die a violent death. Three brothers before him lay in the small family graveyard on the Pan Bowl formed by the Kentucky River, all of them having died violent deaths.
This was Jim Hargis’ long and unhappy story. As his fine silver-trimmed mahogany coffin was loaded onto a Kentucky Lumber and Veneer Company railroad car for transportation across the Kentucky River to the family graveyard mourners recalled with pitying memory Jim’s trials. The coffin was carried to the humble mountain home where the judge was born. Granny Hargis, grief-stricken feudist mother, was once again called on to follow the body of a “warring” son to its final resting place beside three brothers in the family cemetery. At the Hargis homestead the Primitive Baptist minister, Calloway Cooper, intoned and endless sermon on the hereafter from the standpoint of both eternal salvation and eternal damnation. As primitive brethren huddled about the long-winded preacher and followed him as he lined out that faith’s mournful dirges, the Masonic Order of Jackson lowered Jim Haris’ body into the grave. Friend and foe alike stood about the grave to see him take his final leave of Jackson and Breathitt County. For days afterward Jackson citizens had the unnatural feeling that they were caught up collectively in some fantastic dream. A degree of peace had come at last to the North Fork country. Only Ed Callahan remained behind to answer the final roll call of the feudists.
Grim Kentucky feudists never forgot, and one final anticlimactic chapter was to be written to the Hargis-Cockrill story. In 1908, when Sheriff Ed Callahan stared for the last time on Jim Hargis’ face as he lay in his fine mahogany coffin, many troubled thoughts must have run through his mind. He must have recalled the plots which he and the judge had formed. But Ed’s grief was not provoked alone by the passing of his old friend and chieftain; he knew that he, too, would someday have to pay the same ghastly price unless he had better luck. There was little hope for better luck when he knew that every move he made was watched by sharp- eyed and vengeful mountain riflemen.
Since 1903 and the death of Jim Marcum, Sheriff Callahan had been extremely unhappy in Jackson. The place was a horrible reminder of his bitter trials and of an anxious life of uncertainty as to whether he would remain free or become another toiling convict in the stinking old hole of a penitentiary in Frankfort. Here the strain of living had grown unbearable and he escaped the torture by moving back to Crockettsville, up the Kentucky River, to get away from the county seat. When he gave up the sheriff’s office, the Hargis’ righthand man built a store, and also went into the log business. Rafts tumbled down the Kentucky River bearing his brand, and his raftsmen went armed to ensure their getting through to the big log markets downstream. His store prospered as customers came in from all over Breathitt County. Only one real obstacle stood in his way to complete happiness: who were his customers? It was impossible to distinguish between harmless and innocent mountaineers who cam bearing chickens, tied by their feet, and baskets of eggs to trade for spools of thread, cans of chum salmon, and jugs of kerosene, and those who brought pistols in overall pockets to take his life.
No one knew better than Ed Callahan himself that there were dozens of people lurking in the mountains who wished to see him die. They wanted him to die so badly that they were willing to do the shooting if a halfway decent opportunity presented itself. Ed’s life history tells part of the story of why he was such an unhappy object of murderers. He was a grandson of one of the feuding Amys, and as a child he had learned to hate the Strongs, Grandfather Amy’s enemies, with complete Appalachian highland bitterness. His grandfather was ambushed by a Strong, and as a boy Ed had spent most of his time trying to retaliate against the Strongs for the crime. It all went back to the Civil War and the guerrillas. When Captain Strong was ambushed in 1899 everybody was certain that Ed Callahan had fired the fatal shot. And again, on the banks of the Kentucky River, he was said to have paid off an old Strong debt by killing Jim Deaton.
This latter shooting led to a bitter row with Jim Marcum. Marcum was extremely severe on the defendant Callahan in his trial for murder. So bitter was his attack in the courtroom that Ed Callahan, mountain man, could not forget it. Later, when he peeped through the door of Jim Hargis’ store to see whether Jim Marcum had been killed, doubtless he was inwardly happy to see that Curt Jett had paid Marcum’s account in full.
When finally the Sandy Hook jury freed him and Jim Hargis from charges of complicity in the Marcum murder, the sheriff dreamed of a life of peace. The Callahans, however, were not born to peace; there was to much hatred in the clan. For sixty years they and their kinfolks had exacted high prices for their abuses. When one of the tribe was shot they killed in return. With them life was on continuous and vicious circle from ambush to courtroom and back to ambush.
The Callahans were people who never exaclty looked upon the established courts as effective agencies for settling family disputes with neighbors. Every one of them believed literally that an eye for an eye and at least two teeth for every tooth made an excellent moral formula for quick and decisive justice. Wilson, Ed’s son, killed his uncle John Deaton when the latter made a free-handed assault on his father with a butcher knife. Ed Callahan almost lost an arm in the fray. This opened the troubles anew. Now it was Callahan against Deaton to the bloody end.
Callahans oiled their pistols and rifles, and old Ed rode into Jackson”slaunched” over in his saddle at the head of his clan. He stroked his handle-bar mustache as he jogged along; again he was determined that his people should be respected. With half-closed eyes the old sheriff planned the day’s campaigning. Once more his tribe was to foregather on that bloody spot, the courthouse square. They were to take up their stand in the upper rooms of the courthouse, and when Deatons strolled below them they were to be shot.
The Deaton clan was wary. They respected the cunning of Chief Ed, they knew by long experience of Callahan marksmanship, and they did not propose to get caught off guard. There was Hargis Brothers store across the way, and from its windows they could fight Callahans on a somewhat equal plane. For days the warring factions terrorized the town, and its main street was no man’s land.
Every place he turned Ed Callahan faced an enemy. Long since he had tried to give up the old fights but still he was forced to lead his folks and to be cautious. He could not travel openly and alone. Every move he made was watched by sharp-eyed riflemen hidden on nearby mountainsides. The porch of his home was denied him, and he had to stay well back from the windows of his house and store. It was necessary to build a high fence around the place, and to construct a puncheon-wall lane from house to store. Ed Callahan was a cowed man within his own castle.
In 1909 he grew careless, and an enemy shot and wounded him while he stood talking over the telephone. His body was silhoutted before the window, and the gunman hiding on a neighboring hillside was quick to spot him. Since 1903 many enemies had missed their mark and it seemed that the old sheriff led a charmed life. No one had been able to cut him down; they had hit him, but his wounds were always slight. Early in the morning of May 4, 1912, however, a rifleman broke the charm. Forgetting to be cautious, the storekepper again stood at his telephone and a volley of shots crashed through the window into his body. One bullet took effect in a knee, another pierced a lung. At last Ed Callahan was to die the death which both his bitter enemies and his intimate friends had died. The rifle had taken up where the courts left off, and without fear of tricky jurors and mistrials its decision was both positive and permanent.
Skilled surgeons from Lexington, Buckhorn, and Booneville worked frantically over the wounded ex-sheriff, but they were unable to save him. Fever and pneumonia completed the work of the rifle. Before he died the hardened old feudist became sentimental. Generously he forgave his enemies. He forgave them perhaps as a matter of intercession with the Lord. “I know that I will die and that soon,” gasped the clansman. “I have forgiven my enemies and I want them to know it. I want all of my people to live in peace, pull together and do the best they can. I have been trying to live as I should for the last five years and I have interfered with the business of no other man and I do no think I should have been murdered while attending to my business and at work.”
Then, with what may to some have seemed unreasonable optimism, Ed offered solace to his hard-shell brethren by saying, “I believe I will go to a better world and I want my people to live right and meet me there.”
As though sounding a valedictory to the old highland disputes, Sheriff Callahan pleaded, “I want my little boy educated. I want to be buried by my dear old mother, she was my true friend and I expect to meet her above.”
This last request of the slain man was carried out. He was buried at Crockettsville alongside other sturdy Callahan clansmen. Friends trudged twenty miles over impossible roads to deliver a factory-made casket which they thought good enough for the slain merchant’s last journey.
But even while Callahan lay dying his friends were planning revenge—mountain justice, they were certain, would take its positive course. Away in the hills rural silence was distrubed by the thunderous and bloodcurdling baying of Captain V. G. Mullikin’s two bloodhounds. They scoured the neighboring hills for the murderer but the trail was to cold and obscure for them to make a “strike.”
At Frankfort, Governor James B. Mccreary offered $400 as a reward to an informant who would name the Callahan murderers. All this—Captain Mullikin’s hounds and the governor’s $400--availed the commonwealth nothing. The crags and deep ravines of the great mountain ridges had once again concealed a feudist’s secret. Only God can know who it was that closed the books for good on the last chapter of the bitter feudal war in “Bloody” Breathitt and all but marked the end of a bitterly unhappy chapter in Kentucky’s social history.
© 1997 email@example.com~~Tom Cockerel
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