July 19, 2014

Assassination of Sheriff McHargue and Lynching of Gilliland Brothers, Pulaski, 1891



There is a great deal of controversy about this case regarding what may or may not have actually happened. It is a common belief among descendants that the Gilliland brothers had nothing to do with the murder of Sheriff McHargue, but were believable scapegoats due to the poor reputation of their family at the time. Please note that I am not expressing any opinions here, nor making accusations, nor did I purposefully "only represent one side." If the contemporary newspaper reports were one-sided, that is not my doing.  Unfortunately news reports often get it wrong, or don't tell the whole story, back then just as today. As always, feel free to comment below if you want to express your opinion or knowledge of these incidents.


[September 14, 1891] -


Pulaski County's Sheriff Shot Down At His Own Home.

Two Gilland Brothers In Jail Charged With the Murder.

Guards on Duty To Prevent Violence At a Mob's Hands.

The Assassins Were Recognized By the Sheriff's Wife and Daughters.


Somerset, Ky., Sept. 13. -- (Special.) -- John H. McCargue, the Sheriff of this county, was assassinated last night. He left Somerset about 6 o'clock p.m., reached home, put his horse up and fed him and went to the house and ate his supper. At 9 o'clock he started to the barn and was shot.

The people of Pulaski county are greater excited over the murder of Sheriff McCargue than anything that ever happened in this county. The news has spread to the adjoining counties and many here have come to learn the facts, which are about these:

For several years that locality has been troubled by thieves and robbers. It was nothing unusual for a man to lose his plow, harness, some wheat or corn, or for some person to be robbed of his money and his house plundered. Four years ago McCargue was Sheriff and at that time did all he could to bring the guilty parties to justice. Since that he has lost heavily by those parties. Last August a year ago he was again elected Sheriff. He was gathering facts to place the guilty parties where they belonged. These parties had heard of these facts and entertained deadly hatred toward him. For the last three months he has been in fear of his life and has so told his friends, but he flinched not from doing his duty. Last evening he left Somerset for his home, five miles out in the country. He reached there about dark, put his horse in the stable, fed him and went to the house. He ate his supper and then told his family that he had met a man down the road that he feared would kill him. About 9 o'clock, he went to the barn to turn his horse out, and about half way between the barn and house he was shot down. The ball entered near the right breast, ranged downward and came out left of the back bone, just below the left shoulder blade.

His wife and two daughters were standing out int he yard about half way between the house and front gate. They saw the flash of the pistol and heard their husband and father exclaim: "O, Lord." They rushed to him and there stood the murderers, one of whom snapped a pistol at them. When Mrs. McCargue raised her husband up and exclaimed that he was dead, they walked off, but it was too late. They had been recognized. One was James H. Gilland, whom McCargue had just a while before met in the road. The other was his brother Joe, a boy eighteen years old.

Early this morning the chief officers of the county and a large crowd of the best citizens from this and adjoining counties assembled to see if there was any way to catch the murderer who had taken the life of the officer. Suspicion by those present soon fell upon J. H. Gilland, who was present, though the crowd at this time did not know what the women had seen, as they kept it quiet till the Coroner's inquest, when the women told what they knew. At that time Gilland had left and gone to his father's, almost a quarter mile away. The jury soon returned a verdict that McCargue had come to his death by a ball fired by J. H. Gilland or his brother Joe. The judge soon signed a writ and ex-Sheriff Elrod, Chief Police anderson, Deputy Sheriff Jones, Jailer Shipperd, Detectives Bates and Foxe started to arrest the parties. This they soon accomplished. At the time of the arrest Joe Gilland had a red cloth around his neck, as the women testified he had when he burst a cap at them. They also found a large round-barrel navy pistol, which had one barrel empty. The men were hurried to jail for fear of a mob, and at this hour, there is much excitement, and there is great fear that they will be mobbed to-night. The County Judge has secured a special guard for the jail to-night to keep Judge Lynch* from doing his work. [1]

*[a euphemism for a lynch mob]


[September 15, 1891] -


Work of an Assassin in Pulaski County, Ky,

SOMERSET, Ky., Sept. 14.-- Sheriff John H. McHargue was assassinated at his home Saturday night about 8 o'clock, and killed almost instantly by Harve and Joe Gilliland, sons of Doc Gilliland. The Sheriff lives about six miles east of this place, and had just reached his home from his business in this city, ate his supper, and told her family of his suspicion of an attack, mentioning that the Gillilands had threatened to kill him and had followed him.  He remarked that he would go to his barn and turn his horse into the pasture.  His family advised him not to go, but he persisted, and his daughters went with him part of the way.  When within about ten steps of his barn he was shot, when he exclaimed "O Lordy," and fell, pierced through with a bullet, which entered obliquely his right breast and came out just back of and under his shoulder.  His daughters ran to him and held him up but he was dead, and they heard another pistol snap, and saw his assassins, and begged them not to shoot again, as their father was now dead.  Harve Gilliand had fired the fatal shot and Joe attempted to shoot again, but they both then left and went to the house of their grandfather, about a quarter of a mile distant.

The affair has created intense excitement, as McHargue was a very prominent and most estimable citizen and a very efficient and reliable officer, and popular, and but few would have supposed that he had an enemy in the world.  Hundreds of people gathered yesterday in the vicinity, many going from the city.  The officers went out early this morning and arrested the Gillilands and found in their possession a large navy pistol with one chamber empty.  They were brought here this afternoon and placed in jail.  They do not bear a very favorable reputation, and it is alleged that McHargue is their fourth victim.

It is said they were enraged against the Sheriff concerning the August election. [2]


[September 15, 1891] -




LOUISVILLE, Ky., Sept. 14, 1891. -- Sheriff John H. McCargue, of Pulaski county, was shot down in cold blood last night shortly after dark by J. H. and Joe Gilliland. The Sheriff had returned from Somerset, the county seat, and was taking his horse to the stable when the assassins stepped out from behind a fence and fired.  Mrs. McCargue heard the shots and her husband's dying moan and ran to the spot.  She got there in time to recognize the murderers.  One snapped his pistol in her face and then turned and fled.  Mrs. McCargue summoned the neighbors and the two men have been captured and jailed.  Excitement is running high and lynching is threatened. [3]


[September 15, 1891] -


John H. McCargue, sheriff of Pulaski county, was assassinated at his home near Somerset Saturday night.  J. H. Gilland and Joe Gilland have been arrested charged with the crime.  There is much excitement and from the Misses Hail, who came up from there yesterday, we learn that there was every prospect of a lynching last night.  The Gillands have for years plied their trade of theft and the sheriff had determined to bring them to justice.  McCargue was shot about 9 o'clock as he was going to his stable and died in a few minutes.  The men were recognized. [4]


[September 15, 1891] -

John H. McCargue, Sheriff of Pulaski county, was assassinated at his home near Somerset, Saturday night.  J. H. and Joe Gilland have been arrested, charged with the crime. There is much excitement, and the Gillands may be lynched. [5]


[September 15, 1891] -


Lives of Sheriff McCargue's Assassins Not Safe.

Somerset, Ky., Sept. 14. -- (Special.) -- Doubtless the greatest number of people that ever assembled in Somerset were here to see the remains of Sheriff McCargue laid in their final resting place. It was not a funeral of a family and their relatives, but of a whole county. The county officers, the Somerset bar and the officers of the Somerset Banking Company, of which bank McCargue was a director, marched in front of the hearse, which was followed by relatives. Then came his friends, who filled the streets from the church to the cemetery. The sermon was preached by Pastor Ward, of the Baptist church, of which McCargue had been a consistent member for a number of years.

Excited and indignant men have come into the city all day long, and as the day draws to a close the excitement increases. Little groups of men are seen standing on corners and up and down the streets in all directions. They are becoming determined, and it is whispered on all sides that a mob will do its work to-night. An extra guard of forty men has been secured by the Judge to protect the accused and have the law work its course, but the indications are that it will all be of no effect. Judge Lynch* was ready to do his work last night, but the counsel of gray hairs prevailed. It is rumored that the officers will run the prisoners off to some adjoining county to-night if an opportunity is afforded, but at present there is no change. [6]

*[a euphemism for a lynch mob]


[September 16, 1891] -


Gilland Brothers Lynched at Pulaski For Sheriff McCargue's Murder.

Somerset, Ky., Sept. 15. -- (Special.) -- Every citizen of this city last night expected a mob to visit the county jail before morning, and they were not disappointed. 

Sheriff McCargue's remains were interred in the afternoon, and nearly every good citizen in the county followed his body to its last resting place. After the funeral the streets remained crowded. Country people, who had come to town on horseback, in buggies and on foot remained in town. There was no general meeting, but every one seemed to understand that something would happen during the night, and they remained to be on hand. McCargue's assassins, J. H. and Joe Gilland, were in jail, and the prisoners also seemed to know that something out of the ordinary was up.

At 11 o'clock last night men were seen leaving the town in twos and threes. Half an hour later a patrol extended around the city, to prevent the jailer or county officials removing the prisoner, to the woods or some other place of safety. The guard allowed the men to leave town in groups of twos and threes, but nobody was allowed to return.

Between 12 and 1 o'clock a well armed band of 200 men came down the road toward town. They were well organized and seemed to look to one man, clad in a long white gown, for their orders. He gave a signal, and a cordon of men who had been on guard about the town joined the band, and swelled its strength to 300. There was no discharging of firearms and no noise whatever.

The leader of the mob stationed fifty or sixty up and down the street on which the jail is located, and about forty as jurymen, all dressed in white gowns, filed down to the jail.

When just in front of the large iron door four wheeled and presented their guns in the face of George Howell, one of the guards, who is a city policemen. He held the keys to the jail as the jailer's wife was sick and needed her husband's attention. The keys or his brains were demanded to be given up at once without a noise. Howell did as any other sensible man would do, gave up the keys. The guard, seeing there was no use to resist such a mob, stepped back.

The jail was opened and soon J. H. Gilland and his brother, Joe, were on their way to a sycamore, from which they were soon to dangle. They stoutly demanded their guilt. Harve Gilland said he was innocent of this, but he had done other crimes. They were given time to say their prayers, after which Harve was swung off into eternity.

After Harve was hung Joe Gilland said that he was innocent, that he was present while his brother, Harve, did the shooting. The jury found him guilty and fixed his punishment at hanging, but before he was swung off he gave the names of all their ring.

All do not live in this county, but Judge Lynch* is now on the bench, and he is finding out where to hold his courts. After Joe was tied up the leader came back and took his seat, telling his officers to meet again soon, and they would hold a special term until the whole crowd was put under dirt or was run out of the State.

Coroner Patton cut the bodies down before 8 o'clock, and brought them into his office. The prisoners were in no way mistreated or abused in the slightest.

Judge Morrow was on the street last night pleading for the boys' lives and asking for the law to take its course. But he could not get closer to the jail than one square. His words had no effect on the mob.

Dr. Parker had a patient at the jail and was there when the mob came. He tried to change the minds of the mob, but they were too firmly fixed. He came very near losing his life.

Judge Denton went to his house about 9 o'clock, and after that he was not permitted to leave his house, the cause being that it was closely guarded.

Coroner Patton held the inquest today over the dead bodies of the Gilland boys. The jailer and the guard were put on the stand, but none of them knew any of the mob. The jury's verdict was that the Gilland boys had come to their death at the hands of a mob whose names were not known. The father and brothers of the hanged men came to town today and took the dead bodies home for burial. [7]

*[a euphemism for a lynch mob]


[September 16, 1891] -


The Murderers of Sheriff McCargue Swung from a Sycamore.

SOMERSET, Ky., Sept 16. -- The Gilliland gang, which has terrorized this vicinity, is broken up by the lynching of James and Josiah Gilliland at an early hour Tuesday morning for the murder of Sheriff McCargue of Pulaski county, on Saturday.  The jailer and his posse did all in their power to prevent the mob getting the murderers, but it was of no avail.  They were hanged to a sycamore tree in a ravine near town.  The murderers protested their innocence to the last, dying with a lie on their lips.  The court house is draped in mourning for the dead sheriff.  The citizens of Pulaski county now feel that the community is relieved of two desperadoes who have been terrorizing that section for years. [8]


[September 16, 1891] -



A Mob Easily Secures Possession of the Gilland Boys and Hangs Them to a Sycamore Tree
--Threatened Trouble Near Harrodsburg From an Old Feud.

Special to The Republic.
SOMERSET, Ky., Sept 15. -- Judge Lynch came into town between 11 and 12 o'clock this morning and took the bench.  His jury and officers consisted of 300 or more well-armed men.  He placed 200 or more around and through the town; stationed fifty or sixty up and down the street on which the jail is located and with about forty as jurymen, all dressed in white gowns, filed down to the Jail.  when just in front of the large iron door four wheeled and presented their guns in the face of George Howell, one of the guards and city police.  He held the keys to the Jail, as the jailor's wife was sick and need her husband's attention.  The keys or his brains were demanded to be given up at once without noise.  Howell did as any other sensible man would do, gave up the keys.

The guard, seeing there was no use to resist such a mob, stepped back.  The Jail was opened and soon J. H. Gilland and his brother Joe, were on their way to a sycamore from which they were soon to dangle.  They stoutly denied their guilt.  Harvey said he was innocent of the crime.  They were given time to say their prayers, after which Harvey was swung off into eternity.

After Harvey was hung Joe said he was innocent, but that he was present while his brother Harvey did the shooting.  The jury found him guilty and fixed his punishment at hanging, but before he was swung off he gave the names of all their ring.  All do not live in this county, but Judge Lynch is now on the bench and he is finding out where to hold his courts.

After Joe was tied up the Judge came back and took his seat, telling his officers to meet again soon and they would hold a special term until the whole crowd was put under the dirt or run out of the State.  Coroner Patton cut  the bodies down and brought them into his office.  He held an inquest to-day.  The men were the murderers of Sheriff McHargue. [9]


[September 17, 1891] -

Life Ended With a Jerk.

SOMERSET, Ky., Sept. 16. -- The Gilliland brothers, James H. and Josiah, were lynched before daylight by a mob for the murder of Sheriff McCargue, of Pulaski county, last Saturday.  The mob is supposed to have come mostly from Whitely and Laurel counties.  McCargue was raised in Laurel county and had many friends in that section.

The Gilliland boys were game to the last, and no confession could be procured, they only asking to kneel and pray, and protest innocence.  Their groans were answered by angry curses from the mob.  The authorities did all in their power to surpress and quell the angry mob. [10]


[September 18, 1891] -

As much as mob law is to be deplored, it must be confessed that Judge Lynch was excusable in taking a hand in the Pulaski case, though if the officers had exercised due diligence they might have prevented the hanging of the assassins, who might have been sent off or a heavier guard put in the jail, but the fact of the business is they did not want to prevent the hanging, and they can not be blamed very much.  They knew as everybody else does, that the courts can not be depended upon to dispense justice and that it was 10 to 1 that these red-handed murderers would ultimately escape punishment if the people were not allowed to hang them.  It is a bad state of affairs, but that they exist none of us can deny. [11]


[September 23, 1891] -

Sheriff McCargue's Successor.

Somerset, Ky., Sept. 22. -- The County Court of Pulaski county, composed of Judge Denton and eighteen Magistrates, has appointed Lincoln Denton Sheriff, to fill the unexpired term of John McCargue. McCargue's bondsmen, some eighteen in number, met and appointed Walter Elrod to attend to the collection of taxes. Mr. Elrod was Sheriff here for several years, and is a man of ability. The appointments are both good. [12]


[September 25, 1891] -

An eye witness of Judge Lynch's operations at Somerset, Monday night a week, was at Hustonville Tuesday afternoon and reported it the most businesslike transaction in that line of work of which he ever heard or read. [13]


[September 28, 1891] -


Posses On the Trail of the Gilliland Gang in Pulaski County.

Excitement At Somerset, and There Are Fears Expressed of Another Lynching.

Somerset, Ky., Sept. 27. -- (Special.) -- For several years an organized gang of thieves, accused of almost every crime known, had existed in the eastern part of this county. Doc Gilliland, father of the two Gilliland boys who were lynched at this place two weeks ago, was the brains of the gang, and along with his son, James Harvey Gilliland, and their gang, had for many years been a terror to this county. The cowardly assassination of Sheriff McHargue, of this county, however, has brought matters to a crisis and Chief of Police John Anderson, assisted by E. Schlessenger, of Hazen's[?] Detective Agency, of Cincinnati, tasked by the court officials the day after the lynching started to capture the gang, and, if possible, bring them to justice.

The first arrests were made by Anderson and Schlessinger of William Moore and James H. Moore, his son, who have made a full confession of their part in the affair. Their written confessions were procured and they are now bound over to court by means of evidence procured in the confessions and sixteen more warrants were sworn out, some of them against men of some considerable prominence in this county. The same day Harvey Randall and Wesley Gilliland were arrested and placed in jail at this place.

Two posses last night were sent out under the charge of Chief of Police John Anderson and Walter Elrod. The posses searched the premises of Doc Gilliland, father of the Gilliland boys, two of whom were lynched, but the old man could not be found, and it is thought that he has fled the country. The posse under the charge of Walter Elrod succeeded in capturing the McCallister boys, Buck and Bob, who are two of the most desperate of the gang. The posse under Anderson succeeded in capturing William Gilliland, a son of Doc Gilliland.

The prisoner were all caught within one mile of their hoe, in caves, and they were armed to the teeth. They were all bought to town tonight and lodged in jail with their companions in crime.

Great excitement prevails at this hour, 11 p.m., and the jail is being guarded. If Doc Gilliland is captured there will no doubt be another lynching in this county, although the officials are doing all they can to prevent it.

Prominent citizens are mixed up with the gang, and further sensational developments are expected. Chief of Police John Anderson and Detective Schlessinger deserve great credit for their work in this case, as they had to work in the wildest part of the country and had to hunt the men at their own homes. Last night two spring wagons loaded with members of the gang were seen to leave town, and it is supposed that there will be many who will move, to evade justice.

Among the many crimes laid at the door of this gang is the robbery of John Slessenger, a local dry goods merchant, of this place, some time ago, of some $1,800 worth of goods. At least four men have gone to the neighborhood of the gang and have never returned alive.

Prior to this time the victims of the gang have been afraid to talk, and had it not been for the determined stand made by Chief of Police Anderson and Judge James Denton, of the County Court, no doubt their depredations would have continued as of old; but it is now thought that a halt has been called, and the officers, no doubt, have the gang on the run. [14]


[September 29, 1891] -

Pulaski county is again in the throes of intense excitement.  A detective employed to ferret out the members of the desperate gang of outlaws, which exists in the eastern end of the county, two of whom were lynched for the assassination of Sheriff McHargue, succeeded in arresting Wm. and J. H. Moore, who are cousins of the Gillilands, and from them obtained a confession, which implicates Doc Gilliland, father of the lynched assassins, his three sons and a number of others.  Warrants for 16 were issued and several of the men captured and lodged in jail, where they are guarded to prevent either rescue or lynching.  Several large robberies have been traced to the gang, which is said to include Dr. Bentley and other more or less prominent citizens. [15] 


[October 2, 1891] -

Buck and Bob McAlister and William Gilliland were added to the arrests in Pulaski for numerous robberies.  Old Doc Gilliland, father of the two lynched for assassinating Sheriff McHargue, has fled the country and the excitement has subsided. [16]


[October 2, 1891] -

The Courier-Journal has interviewed a Pulaski man, who says the Gilliland gang has bene robbing and counterfeiting for 40 years and that people belong to it who are apparently above suspicion. Two or three of these were wealthy and prominent citizens of a Bluegrass county, two of them were bankers in another State and one of them is now a wealthy and well-known minister of the gospel in Missouri. The Pulaski man also says that Augden Bridgewater, of this [Lincoln] county, was a member of the gang for years, but has reformed and is now a good citizen. [16.5]


[October 9, 1891] -

The Somerset Reporter states that the two Gillilands who were hung by a mob for the murder of Sheriff McHargue, at that place a short time ago, are probably innocent of the crime.  If this proves to be the case, it bu demonstrates more conclusively that mob law is wholly unjustifiable, and the grand juries should do all in their power to bring the guilty parties to trial. [17]


[October 9, 1891] -

The grand jury at Somerset is the first that Judge Morrow has had empanelled since the new constitution reduced the number to 12.  In his charge the judge impressed upon the jury the importance of investigating fully the sheriff's assassination and the mob that hanged the alleged assassins, saying that in the eyes of the law they are murderers.  The second trial of young Doolin and Cope, for killing Will Watson at a S. S. picnic was in progress at last accounts. [18]


[October 11, 1891] -


Pulaski County Outlaws Try to Frighten the Grand Jury Now In Session.

One of the Gilliland Gang Brought In and Surrendered By His Friends.

Somerset, Ky., Oct. 10. -- (Special.) -- Today at noon, just after the Circuit Court had adjourned for dinner, the people of this place were treated to a real surprise which threw the entire town into intense excitement for several hours. It was caused by the action of members and sympathizers of the notorious Gilliland gang, who to-day gave up one of their number, in the person of H. G. Bobbitt, who, with some fifteen others, is charged with grand larceny, and is also charged with being a member of the Gilliland gang, and being a party to their nefarious deeds of outlawry.

The first that was known of the intended surrender was at about 10 o'clock this morning, when County Judge Denton was waited upon by George M. Claunch, who informed the Judge that Bobbitt was ready to give himself over to the court and have his bond fixed. The Judge acted on the instructions, and thought the matter of little importance. About 11:30 o'clock, just after court adjourned, and before Judge Denton left his office for dinner, some twenty mounted men were seen to file down the public square of the court-house. Soon a large crowd congregated, and they were at a loss to know the importance of the affair until many minutes after the horsemen had wheeled away and left in a gallop in the directions of the Gilliland neighborhood, and when it was learned that twenty mounted men had ridden eight miles to surrender one man charged with grand larceny, the citizens were indignant, and for some time considerable excitement prevailed.

It is alleged by those who claim to know that to-day's scene was enacted for no other purpose than to intimidate the grand jury, which is now in session, and to have effect on the witnesses. Public opinion is at fever heat, and all good citizens condemn to-day's act as not only cowardly but uncalled for. The grand jury is composed of men of cool judgment and nerve, and they feel as if to-day's proceedings indicate guilt over ten minutes in signing the bond, when he and the bondsman, George M. Claunch, arm and arm, marched out of the court-house and joined their mounted friends at the court-house door. Bobbitt's language and demeanor before Judge Denton was not only rough, but abrupt, and why the gang should choose this rude course is not known. However, the authorities are not scared and the law must and will take its course.

The following are the names of the men who brought Bobbitt to town: E. N. Ping, William Pointer, J. F. Farrell, James Ester, Jim Panley, John Lee, Bowley Lee, Alex. Fletcher, George M. Claunch, John Hargis, John Owens, J. J. Sutton, H. G. Bobbitt, W. R. Gill, George Barnett. Detective E. Schlessinger, of Hazen's Agency, Cincinnati, who has worked upon the case, is still here furnishing information to the grand jury. He says he will not flinch from his duty. The law-abiding citizens of this county are with him. Sensational developments are expected when the present grand jury reports. [19]


[October 13, 1891] -

Twenty men rode into Somerset Saturday and surrendered H. G. Bobbitt, one of the alleged Gilliland gang, and demanded that the county judge fix his bond. The amount was named, the bond was given and the men rode out of town. It was thought their action was to intimidate the grand jury, which is investigating the gang, and the incident created much excitement. [19.5] 


[October 15, 1891] -


One of the Gilliland Gang Promises to Take James Brinkley's Life.

Somerset, Ky., Oct. 14. -- (Special.) -- As James Brinkley, one of the members of the present grand jury, was passing the Gilliland house on his way home last night, he was stopped by H. G. Bobbitt, who is under indictment for general larceny, who tried to induce Brinkley to reveal the proceedings of the grand jury, to which Brinkley, of course, refused. Then Bobbitt threatened Brinkley's life, and for a few moments appeared about to put his threat into execution.

It will be remembered that Bobbitt is the party that was given over to the court by about twenty armed men a few days ago. Brinkley came to town this morning very much excited, and seems to feel as if his life is in danger, as he lives in the Bobbitt neighborhood. But he would not have Bobbitt arrested for fear of him.

Bobbitt also came to town to-day and expressed a desire to meet Detective Schlessinger of Hazen's Agency of Cincinnati. Schlessinger heard of Bobbitt's desire and hunted him up. They met in Judge James Denton's office, and it is useless to state that there was no blood shed. Bobbitt's relatives and friends think that he has become somewhat deranged, as they can not account for such actions on his part. He is a wealthy citizen of this county, and has heretofore stood well.

The grand jury is yet in session, and the report will no doubt create quite a sensation, as it is claimed that many heretofore reputed good citizens will be indicted as members of the Gilliland gang. [20]


[October 20, 1891] -

The Pulaski county grand jury found 16 indictments against alleged members of the Gilliland gang of robbers. [21]


[October 31, 1891] -


Somerset's Chief of Police and the Sheriff Organize a Posse.

William Morrison, Alias Detective Spencer, and Babe Bobbitt Create a Sensation.

Somerset, Ky., Oct. 30. -- (Special.) -- The detective, Spencer, who turns out to be William Morrison, of Cincinnati, has, it seems, been duped by the Gilliland gang and is no longer in their employ. Yesterday afternoon at 4 o'clock, Babe Bobbitt and Morrison, alias Spencer, came to town. Their appearance on the streets caused no little excitement and it was feared for some time that personal violence would be resorted to and the affair would not perhaps have ended so easily[?] had not it been for local railroad detective Jim Hughes, who, it seems, had been enlisted with Morrison in some railroad work and knew he was all right.

Bobbitt was taken charge of by Chief of Police John Anderson, who got him away from the crowd. Hughes at once informed the authorities that Morrison had only been imposed upon and that he was willing to make a statement of all he knew in regard to the whole affair. His statements to the authorities were about as follows:

"I was engaged on the case at Lexington, when Babe Bobbitt, of this place, came to see me. He told me that he wanted me to go to the Gilliland vicinity and ferret out, if possible, the real assassins of ex-Sheriff John McHargue. We left for his place Tuesday. I arrived at his house that evening and remained their all night. Next day I went to the Gilliland homestead with Bobbitt, where I met a small number of witnesses, who, I was informed, knew all about the murder of Sheriff McHargue, and also the names of the men who composed the mob, who recently hung the Gilliland boys. It was not long, however, until I saw that the real object of the gang was to trump up charges against citizens of the vicinity, whom they did not like, and, in fact, they had parties who were willing to do the swearing.

"As soon as I discovered their real motives, I at once decided to get out of their power, and made an excuse to come to Somerset. I wanted to come alone, to which they would not hear. All the time I was there they kept me under close guard, and Wednesday night I slept in the woods with Doc Gilliland."

"The authorities at once organized a posse, and ten men, headed by Sheriff Lincoln Denton, and John Anderson, Chief of Police, were sent out to scour the county, but up to this time they have not succeeded in making a capture. This was a desperate move on the part of Bobbitt and the Gilliland gang. Sheriff Denton and Chief of Police John Anderson declare that the whole gang must be arrested or leave the country, and the laws must be observed, if the entire county has to be called out. It is also learned to-day that Aug. Bridgewater, of Lincoln county, who some time ago was a prominent member of the gang, was in council with the Gillilands Thursday.

Bridgewater, it will be remembered, has served time in the Kentucky penitentiary, and was shot and wounded by the Chief of Police of Harrodsburg, Ky., some few years ago. He has been arrested many times for grand larceny and has always been mixed up with crooks and counterfeiters. It is thought by some that those who have not been placed under bond will leave the country, as they are the toughest of the gang. The two Gillilands are still at large, and declare they will not be taken alive. They are well armed. Much anxiety is felt over the outcome. The Sheriff's posse was re-enforced to-night. [22]


[November 3, 1891] -

The Gillilands have employed a detective to find out who hung Harve and Joe Gilliland for the alleged assassination of Sheriff McHargue. [23]


[November 3, 1891] -

The Pulaski detectives are trying very hard to connect Augden Bridgewater, of this [Lincoln] county, with the Gilliland gang, but our information is that Bridge has long since given up his wicked ways. A dispatch, however, from Somerset, says that he used to belong to the gang and that he was in council with it Thursday last. [24]


[November 6, 1891] -


Good Citizens Determined to Put an End to the Gang of Robbers.

Milton Gilliland was arrested Wednesday week by Deputy Sheriff Hansford and taken to Somerset, Ky., and in default of bail was lodged in jail.  Young Gilliland is implicated with the notorious Gilliland gang in robberies committed a few years ago, for which crime he was recently indicted by the grand jury of Pulaski county.  Milton Gilliland is a son of Wesley Gilliland, and a nephew of the notorious Doc Gilliland, who is still at large.  This makes the eighth member of the gang who has been arrested. A united effort is being made by the best citizens of the county to forever break up the gang, and so far they have arrested half of the accused. [25]


[November 6, 1891] -

Stanford Interior Journal: The Pulaski detectives are trying very hard to connect Augden Bridgewater, of this county, with the Gilliland gang, but our information is that Bridge has long since given up his wicked ways. A dispatch, however, from Somerset, says that he used to belong to the gang, and that he was in council with it Thursday last. [26]


[November 7, 1891] -

Aug. Bridgewater, of Lincoln county, has frequently been referred to as a former member of the Gilliland gang, which the officials of Pulaski county are now engaged in breaking up. He denies any connection with the gang, or even any knowledge of it, and complains that for years his efforts to lead an honest life have only involved him in persecutions. The old man does seem to have had a hard time. He writes a very pathetic plea to the Stanford Interior Journal, in which he says: "Many years ago, when I was hunted down and went in the woods and laid eight years, I thought that it would wear out, but notwithstanding all that, to-day I have more enemies than if I had been the bad man that they made me out. My house is full of bullets and I know the parties that put them there, but I am not allowed any protection more than my arms can give me. I have made several attempts to explain my whole life, but have never been able to get a newspaper to publish anything." [27]


[November 15, 1891] -


The Whole Gang of Disturbers Are Now in Jail at Somerset.

SOMERSET, KY., Nov. 14.-- The notorious "Doc" Gilliland and his son Gale Gilliland, have surrendered to the authorities.

Some days ago word was sent to Deputy Sheriff Hansford that if he would meet friends of "Doc" Gilliland, that "Doc" would be on hand and would be turned over to Hansford.  This was agreed to and yesterday afternoon Mr. Hansford met the friends of the Gillilands at the residence of George Gillis, some seven miles east of this place.  The two Gillilands, father and son, were there and bonds were given in the sum of $1,500 each for their appearance in the circuit court.

There are several indictments against "Doc" and Gale Gilliland, the most prominent being a robbery committed at this place some few years ago.

This completes the list and the Gilliland gang are now all under bond to appear in court.  The bonds were signed by some of the best citizens of the county, and it is thought that all serious trouble is over.  This makes ten of the gang who are bound over to court.  The cases will not be tried until the regular term of court in April of next year. [28]


[November 17, 1891] -

Doc and Gale Gilliland, the last of the gang, have surrendered and given good bond for their appearance at the next Pulaski court. This makes 10 of the gang now bound over and it is thought that all trouble is now ended. [29]


[November 19, 1891] -

The clouds appear to be clearing away from eastern Kentucky skies.  Wesley and William Whitaker, two members of the Eversole faction, have been sentenced to the penitentiary for life; the last of the Gilliland gang in Pulaski county has surrendered to the county authorities, and the Harlan county Bulletin says: "All we need in this part of Harlan is more good coon dogs." [30]


[April 6, 1892] -

The Somerset Reporter lays down the law to the law-breaking element in that town and vicinity. But to lay down the law is not to enforce it, and there's the rub with Somerset. Reading the riot act lacks the persuasive efficacy of a Gatling gun. For lack of something, perhaps a proper public sentiment, the disorderly class fails to get its deserts, and Somerset--though not to a greater extent than many other Kentucky communities--has been injured by the conduct of this troublesome element. The Reporter says: "The frequency of homicides in Somerset and vicinity, beside the other disgraceful happenings, its especially unfortunate for the city, and does much to retard its growth and popularity and to check public enterprises and investments. It is unfortunately that we have even a small number of citizens who are disposed to be quarrelsome and murderous in disposition, and they are certainly not a desirable class of citizens, by any means." [31]


[April 22, 1892] -


And a Change of Venue Asked For, But Not Yet Granted.

Somerset, Ky., April 21. -- (Special.) -- The Gilliland cases were called in the Circuit Court at this place, by Judge T. Z. Morrow. The defense has asked for a change of venue, but owing to the heavy rains, which raised the creeks last night, the motion to this effect could not be heard to-day, as the witnesses could not get to town. As is well-known, two of the Gillilands were lynched last September, for assassinating Pulaski county's Sheriff, John H. McHargue, and the entire gang, some sixteen in number, were indicted last October for robbery, housebreaking and other crimes. [32]


[June 3, 1892] -

W. G. Bobbitt was placed in jail at Somerset for illicit distilling.  He was already under bond as an accomplice of the Gilliland gang. [33]


[June 5, 1892] -

Bound Over to the United States Court.

Somerset, Ky., June 4. -- (Special.) -- H. G. Babbitt, a wealthy distiller of Pulaski county, was tried before United States Commissioner E. M. Porch, at this place yesterday, and bound over to the Frankfort Court on a $1,000 bond. Babbitt would not let his storekeeper remain at the distillery. [34]


[July 4, 1893] -

Jury In the Gilliland Case Discharged.

Somerset, Ky., July 3. -- (Special.) The jury in the cases of the Commonwealth against the Gillilands, after being out several hours, were discharged by the court, as they could not agree on a verdict. [35]


[July 7, 1893] -

The jury in the case against the Gillilands at Somerset failed to agree and were discharged. [36]


[September 18, 1894] -

"Doc" Gilliland, "Buck" McAlister and Wesley Vaught have been arrested for burning William James' barn in Pulaski some three months ago.  Gilliland is the father of the Gilliland boys who were lynched some three years ago for the assassination of Sheriff McHargue. [37]


[October 25, 1895] -



(The Post's Special Service.)

Somerset, Ky., Oct. 25.-- Sheriff Link Denton left with requisition papers for ex-Chief of Police John C. Anderson, who has been arrested at Port Hope, Ontario, by Detective Morrison.

Anderson is wanted here for the assassination of J. B. Rucker, editor of the Somerset Reporter, Sept. 15, 1892.

This murder caused much excitement, and the arrest will cause more, as it is expected that Anderson will talk and will implicate a number of people in the lynching of the Gilliland boys. [38]


Findagrave.com entry for Sheriff John H. McHargue, buried in Somerset City Cemetery, Pulaski County, KY. 

Findagrave.com entry for James Harvey Gilliland, buried in Gilliland Cemetery, Pulaski County, KY. 

Findagrave.com entry for Josiah Gilliland, buried in Gilliland Cemetery, Pulaski County, KY. 


[1] "Assassinated." The Courier Journal, Louisville, KY. September 14, 1891. Page 1. Newspapers.com.

[2] "Murdered the Sheriff." Evansville Courier and Press, Evansville, IN. September 15, 1891. Page 4. Genealogybank.com.

[3] "Sheriff M'Cargue Murdered." New York Herald, New York, NY. September 15, 1891. Page 7. Genealogybank.com.

[4] "A Lynching Probable." Semi-Weekly Interior Journal, Stanford, KY. September 15, 1891. Page 3. LOC. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85052020/1891-09-15/ed-1/seq-3/

[5] Mt. Sterling Advocate, Mt. Sterling, KY. September 15, 1891. Page 2. LOC. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn86069675/1891-09-15/ed-1/seq-2/

[6] "Guards at the Jail." The Courier Journal, Louisville, KY. September 15, 1891. Page 1. Newspapers.com.

[7] "To A Sycamore." The Courier Journal, Louisville, KY. September 16, 1891. Page 1. Newspapers.com.

[8] "Brothers Lynched." The Evening Bulletin, Maysville, KY. September 16, 1891. Page 1. LOC. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn87060190/1891-09-16/ed-1/seq-1/

[9] "Two Brothers Lynched." St. Louis Republic, St. Louis, MO. September 16, 1891. Page 1. Genealogybank.com.

[10] "Life Ended With a Jerk." Jamestown Weekly Alert, Jamestown, Dakota Territory. September 17, 1891. Page 5. LOC. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85042405/1891-09-17/ed-1/seq-5/

[11Semi-Weekly Interior Journal, Stanford, KY. September 18, 1891. Page 2. LOC. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85052020/1891-09-18/ed-1/seq-2/

[12] "Sheriff McCargue's Successor." The Courier Journal, Louisville, KY. September 23, 1891. Page 5. Newspapers.com.

[13] Semi-Weekly Interior Journal, Stanford, KY. September 25, 1891. Page 1. LOC. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85052020/1891-09-25/ed-1/seq-1/

[14] "Making More Captures." The Courier Journal, Louisville, KY. September 28, 1891. Page 4. Newspapers.com.

[15] Excerpt from "City and Vicinity." Semi-Weekly Interior Journal, Stanford, KY. September 29, 1891. Page 3. LOC. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85052020/1891-09-29/ed-1/seq-3/

[16] Excerpt from "Newsy Notes." Semi-Weekly Interior Journal, Stanford, KY. October 2, 1891. Page 2. LOC. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85052020/1891-10-02/ed-1/seq-2/

[16.5] Excerpt from "City and Vicinity." Semi-Weekly Interior Journal, Stanford, KY. October 2, 1891. Page 3. LOC. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85052020/1891-10-02/ed-1/seq-3/

[17] Excerpt from "General News Items." The Hickman Courier, Hickman, KY. October 9, 1891. Page 2. LOC. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85052141/1891-10-09/ed-1/seq-2/

[18] Excerpt from "City and Vicinity." Semi-Weekly Interior Journal, Stanford, KY. October 9, 1891. Page 3. LOC. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85052020/1891-10-09/ed-1/seq-3/

[19] "For Intimidation." The Courier Journal, Louisville, KY. October 11, 1891. Page 1. Newspapers.com.

[19.5] Excerpt from "City and Vicinity." Semi-Weekly Interior Journal, Stanford, KY. October 13, 1891. Page 3. LOC. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85052020/1891-10-13/ed-1/seq-3/

[20] "A Grand Juror Threatened." The Courier Journal, Louisville, KY. October 15, 1891. Page 2. Newspapers.com.

[21] Excerpt from "Newsy Notes." Semi-Weekly Interior Journal, Stanford, KY. October 20,
1891. Page 4. LOC. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85052020/1891-10-20/ed-1/seq-4/

[22] "After The Gilliland Gang." The Courier Journal, Louisville, KY. October 31, 1891. Page 9. Newspapers.com.

[23] Excerpt from "Newsy Notes." Semi-Weekly Interior Journal, Stanford, KY. November 3, 1891. Page 2. LOC. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85052020/1891-11-03/ed-1/seq-2/

[24] Excerpt from "City and Vicinity." Semi-Weekly Interior Journal, Stanford, KY. November 3, 1891. Page 3. LOC. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85052020/1891-11-03/ed-1/seq-3/

[25] "Eighth Gilliland Caught." Hazel Green Herald, Hazel Green, KY. November 6, 1891. Page 8. LOC. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn86063242/1891-11-06/ed-1/seq-8/

[26] Excerpt from "Other State Gossip." The Courier Journal, Louisville, KY. November 6, 1891. Page 4. Newspapers.com.

[27] Excerpt from "In and About Kentucky." The Courier Journal, Louisville, KY. November 7, 1891. Page 6. Newspapers.com.

[28] "Doc Gilliland." Evansville Courier and Press, Evansville, IN. November 15, 1891. Page 4. Genealogybank.com.

[29] Excerpt from "Newsy Notes." Semi-Weekly Interior Journal, Stanford, KY. November 17, 1891. Page 2. LOC. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85052020/1891-11-17/ed-1/seq-2/

[30] Crittenden Press, Marion, KY. November 19, 1891. Page 2. LOC. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn86069457/1891-11-19/ed-1/seq-2/

[31] Excerpt from "In and About Kentucky." The Courier Journal, Louisville, KY. April 6, 1892. Page 4. Newspapers.com.

[32] "The Gilliland Cases Called." The Courier Journal, Louisville, KY. April 22, 1892. Page 3. Newspapers.com.

[33] Semi-Weekly Interior Journal, Stanford, KY. June 3, 1892. Page 8. LOC. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85052020/1892-06-03/ed-1/seq-8/

[34] "Bound Over to the United States Court." The Courier Journal, Louisville, KY. June 5, 1892. Page 2. Newspapers.com.

[35] "Jury In the Gilliland Case Discharged." The Courier Journal, Louisville, KY. July 4, 1893. Page 3. Newspapers.com.

[36] Excerpt from "Newsy Notes." Semi-Weekly Interior Journal, Stanford, KY. July 7, 1893. Page 2. LOC. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85052020/1893-07-07/ed-1/seq-2/

[37] Excerpt from "Newsy Notes." Semi-Weekly Interior Journal, Stanford, KY. September 18, 1894. Pa
ge 2. LOC. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85052020/1894-09-18/ed-1/seq-2/

[38] "After Anderson." Kentucky Post, Covington, KY. October 25, 1895. Page 7. Genealogybank.com.

[39] Findagrave.com entry for Sheriff John H. McHargue.  Findagrave.com entry for James Harvey Gilliland. Findagrave.com entry for Josiah Gilliland.



Anonymous said...

The Gilliland boys sister wrote in the family Bible that both her brothers were home when the killing of the sheriff took place and then signed her name. The Bible is still in the possession of the Gilliland family and I have a photo of the statement. It was said that the sheriff was killed by his daughter, whom confessed to killing her father while on her death bed!

Curtis Gilliland said...

I now have the original photos of both boys hanging from the trees they were hung from. The pictures are very morbid and so I will not post them. Interestingly, John Anderson who was the city police chief was never captures. My take is many of the people didn't wish for him to return for fear he would implicate them in the illegal hanging of these two innocent young men, which the courts two years later would not implicate them in the crime.

Dora said...

In addition to the possible investigation of Anderson's connections to the Gilliland hangings, he was also suspected of murdering Somerset Reporter newspaper editor Joseph Rucker. ( http://papershake.blogspot.com/2014/07/somerset-ex-chief-of-police.html ) So that's another reason why he disappeared and never returned to Somerset.

Larry Herrin said...

I want to thank Curt for linking me to this site. I have for years been intrigued by this story. As I was looking for a grave in the Lankford Cemetery several years back a farmer stopped and asked "Did you a hear about the lynchin'?" I thought "Last week?' He was talking 1891 as if it was yesterday.

My intent is to write a novel, which I have started, entitled "The Gilliland Tree". It will be fiction based on fact with real names changed.

Any person who has information which will lead to a more complete story, please email me at penengr@att.net (Larry Herrin, Franklin, KY).

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