January 20, 2015

Escaping Convicts Kill Guard, Rockcastle, 1884


Click here for a list of my other Pulaski/Rockcastle/Laurel County KY articles


[May 13, 1884] -

MURDERED.--G. L. Ball, who was taking eight convicts across from Mt. Vernon to the K. C. R. R., was murdered by them Thursday evening. One of them pretended that his handcuffs hurt him and while the guard unlocked it he seized the gun and shot and beat him so he died shortly afterwards. Four of the negroes went on to camp and delivered themselves to the proper authorities and three of the others who escaped, Morgan Johnson, Chas. Brown and Bank Smithers were captured by W. R. Dillion of Crab Orchard, Friday night. Henry Smith, the scoundrel who did the killing, is still at large, but strong efforts are being made for his capture. He was sent from Boyle county last winter for killing a negro woman. When Morgan Johnson was taken back to camp the other convicts placed him on a table and box under a joist, to which they had tied a rope, with a hangman's noose already made. They bade him prepare for death, as they were going to send him to meet his victim. The guards interfered in tie to prevent Johnson being hanged. He was taken to Frankfort Sunday, where he will be kept til August, when he will probably be brought back here for trial for complicity in the murder of Ball. Should Smith be caught and placed in the penitentiary at the camp, he would be immediately killed. The convicts almost worshiped Ball. He would not allow them to be punished when he could prevent it. Ball was 57 years old and had been a guard for about 15 months. He was fearfully shot, the load of buckshot entering the face and head on the right side. One shot struck center in his eye, another beneath and to the right of the eye and still another hit him on the lip and also one in the mouth. Three shots hit his hat, only one of which touched the scalp. The shot in the eye is undoubtedly the one which caused death. [1]


[May 13, 1884] -

George L. Ball was taken to Winchester Saturday, for burial. He leaves one son and two daughters all about grown. [2]


[August 19, 1884] -

There is one indictment for murder and that against Morgan Johnson, a convict, for killing Ball, the guard, last spring. Johnson is now in the penitentiary at Frankfort. [3]


[August 22, 1884] -

Morgan Johnson, one of the convicts who killed a guard on the 9th of last May, was indicted by the grand Jury at this session for murder. Johnson was brought to this place Wednesday by deputy sheriff White; the case was called to trial and Jas. G. Carter, Samuel Averitt and J. K. McClary were appointed by the court to represent the defendant. A motion was made to continue on account of the absence of one of the defendant's witnesses. The case was then passed until to-day. Johnson still has until March 1886 to serve in the penitentiary. The question now is whether this court has jurisdiction of this case or not, until his present term of confinement expires. This question was raised by defendant's attorney. The court decided that by reason of his being a convict was not good grounds for a continuance. [4]


[March 11, 1886] -

Inspector Craig left on the noon train to-day for Mt. Vernon, Rockcastle county, where he will be a witness in the trial of Henry Smith for murder. Smith is a negro convict. May 8, 1883, he and six other prisoners were being carried by the same guards to Mt. Vernon. Smith was under the direct charge of a guard named Ball. He asked Ball to button his shirt cuff for him. Ball bent down to do so, and Smith, suddenly wresting his gun from his hand, stepped back and shot him through the head, killing him instantly. Smith escaped and was not captured until eighteen months after. He is from Boyle county. [5]


[March 12, 1886] -

The case of the Commonwealth against Henry Smith, colored, for the murder of Ball, his guard, was continued until next court. His attorneys stated that he was of unsound mind and asked to have a jury to inquire into the state of his mind. The court said that as Smith was under sentence and serving time as a convict in the State penitentiary he would return him to that institution where any investigation could be had that is deemed necessary. Joe Redmon was to-day given one year in the penitentiary for hog stealing. He, in company with the negro convicts Henry Smith and James Callan, will be taken to Frankfort to-night by the Sheriff. Callan was sent up for twelve months for stealing a guitar. [6]


[January 27, 1888] -

The case against the negro convict Smith for murdering a guard was continued on account of absence of witnesses. [7]


[February 19, 1889] -

Henry Smith, the cowardly negro murderer of the convict guard, Ball, who is confined in jail here, managed to secure a short hickory stick and secreted it in his cell. For a short time he had not been allowed out in the corridor. Failing to get a chance to knock the jailer on his head he took his spite out on young Hollinsworth by reaching thro' the bars and striking the boy across the forehead, cutting an ugly gash two inches long. [8] 


[March 29, 1889] -

Henry Smith, the negro who murdered Guard Ball nearly four years ago and convicted for life during our late circuit court, was taken to Frankfort Wednesday. He wore the same handcuffs he was wearing when Ball was killed, though they had lain hidden for years in an old stump near the scene of the murder, where he had secreted them. He lately divulged their hiding place and the officers thought it a good idea to use them again on him, though he strongly objected and asked that others be used instead. [9]


[May 25, 1902] -


Gov. Beckham Releases Old Man Who Has Been Twenty-Three Years In Prison.

Frankfort, Ky., May 24. -- (Special.) -- Morgan Johnson, a decrepit negro, who has been an inmate of the State penitentiary here for twenty-five years, was released from the institution to-day on a pardon from Gov. Beckham. The pardon was granted on the statement of the prison physician that the old prisoner is now an imbecile, and on the recommendation of State Senator Kenton and others, of Robertson county.

Johnson first came to the prison here from Maysville, May 4, 1880, on a conviction for grand larceny, to serve a two-year sentence. He was sent out under the contract system shortly after being received, and was implicated with another negro in the killing of a guard named Ball, in Rockcastle county. He was tried for that crime and given a life sentence in prison. [10]


[1] Excerpt from "Mt. Vernon Department." Semi-Weekly Interior Journal, Stanford, KY. May 13, 1884. Page 3. LOC. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85052020/1884-05-13/ed-1/seq-3/

[2] Excerpt from "Mt. Vernon Department." Semi-Weekly Interior Journal, Stanford, KY. May 13, 1884. Page 3. LOC. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85052020/1884-05-13/ed-1/seq-3/

[3] Excerpt from "Mt. Vernon Department." Semi-Weekly Interior Journal, Stanford, KY. August 19, 1884. Page 2. LOC. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85052020/1884-08-19/ed-1/seq-2/

[4] Excerpt from "Mt. Vernon Department." Semi-Weekly Interior Journal, Stanford, KY. August 22, 1884. Page 2. LOC. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85052020/1884-08-22/ed-1/seq-2/

[5] Excerpt from "Snowed In." The Courier Journal, Louisville, KY. March 11, 1886. Page 1. Newspapers.com.

[6] Excerpt from "Mt. Vernon Circuit Court." The Courier Journal, Louisville, KY. March 12, 1886. Page 4. Newspapers.com.

[7] Excerpt from "Mt. Vernon, Rockcastle County." Semi-Weekly Interior Journal, Stanford, KY. January 27, 1888. Page 1. LOC. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85052020/1888-01-27/ed-1/seq-1/

[8] Excerpt from "Mt. Vernon, Rockcastle County." Semi-Weekly Interior Journal, Stanford, KY. February 19, 1889. Page 2. LOC. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85052020/1889-02-19/ed-1/seq-2/

[9] Excerpt from "Mt. Vernon, Rockcastle County." Semi-Weekly Interior Journal, Stanford, KY. March 29, 1889. Page 1. LOC. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85052020/1889-03-29/ed-1/seq-1/

[10] "Pardon Granted an Imbecile Negro." The Courier Journal, Louisville, KY. May 25, 1902. Page 2. Newspapers.com. 


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