March 29, 2015

One Killed in Sheriff's Posse Standoff, Rockcastle, 1885


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


[January 8, 1885] -


The Liquor Men of Livingston Stand Out Against the Late Prohibitory Law.

They Release One of Their Brotherhood From the Custody of County Officers.

And Defy the Authorities to Enforce the Enactment of the General Assembly.

The Result a Clash of Citizens and Sheriff, One Man Being Killed and Others Wounded.


[Special to the Courier-Journal.]

MT. VERNON, KY., Jan. 7. -- There is serious trouble in this county between the whisky dealers and the officials, and to-night the devil is to pay at Livingston, a railroad station on Rockcastle river, the junction of the Kentucky Central railroad with the Knoxville branch. For years there has been a local prohibition law in this county, and latterly the majority sentiment of the people has opposed the law. Last winter, however, the Legislature repealed the old law and passed another much more stringent in its application. At the same time the criminal code was so amended that a Magistrate was given the power to call persons before him and inquire of them, under oath, if any offenses against the law had been committed within their knowledge. The new plan was inaugurated by the County Judge of this county, and the County Court came to be known as a perpetual grand jury. Citizens from all parts of the county were brought into court and made to give information under oath concerning the misdeeds of their fellow-men. In spite of this surveillance, the whisky traffic blossomed like an aloe-tree. Whisky was sold in all parts of the county, and especially at Livingston, where eight saloons did a thriving business.

During the holidays the County Judge summoned S. H. Thompson and T. T. Wallace, two citizens of this town, to testify before him concerning the sale of intoxicants, carrying pistols, and so forth. These witnesses declined to testify, and were accordingly adjudged to be guilty of a contempt. They were assessed with a fine of $2.50 each and ordered to be imprisoned in the county jail for six hours. They paid their fines, went to jail and on their release at once brought suit against the County Judge, County Attorney and County Jailer and their bondsmen for $10,000 each. In the opinions of many prominent attorneys these suits can be maintained, while others say the County Judge did not exceed his powers by punishing the witnesses.

About the same time, or just before these suits were filed, there came to this place from Livingston one J. W. Goff, who has for years been engaged in illegal whisky traffic in this county and Laurel county. He opened a saloon there, but enjoyed a brief career. In a few days he was arrested on eleven bench warrants from the Laurel Circuit Court. The officer and posse started with Goff to London; when the train reached Livingston Goff was rescued by a party of friends said to be composed of James Burton, Henry Burton, Fred. Shuck, George Thompson, Mart. Goff, and others. Since then Goff has been at large, but not left this county. He is supposed to be hiding in the woods near Pine Hill. Warrants of arrest were issued against James Burton, Powell, Barlow, Mart. Goff and Fred. Shuck, charged with the offense of forcibly rescuing a prisoner. These warrants were placed in the hands of James White, Deputy Sheriff, and he went to-day to Livingston to execute them. The Burton boys have a whisky saloon at Livingston, and the officer found his men in this saloon. Attempting to enter, the door was closed in his face, and he was told that if he forced his way in he would be shot. Some reports say there were as many as ten men in the saloon, some of them negroes. The officer summoned a posse and surrounded the saloon, a little cabin in a field just beyond the railroad depot. The men persisted in refusing to surrender, and White, leaving his posse to guard the place, went to the depot and telegraphed to H. H. Baker, Sheriff of this [Rockcastle] county, at this place, to come to his relief with recruits. Baker, accompanied by ten men armed with shot-guns and pistols, went down on the train which passes here [Mt. Vernon] at 3 o'clock. Before Baker started the excitement here was running high and the reports from Livingston were to the effect that the denizens of that locality were anxious and expectant.

Henry Burton, it seems, was allowed to leave the saloon, there being no warrant for him. Among the besieged were known to be some dangerous and desperate men. They were all well armed with guns and pistols. Among the besiegers were Lee Arnold, A. J. Pike and others, all as fearless as can be found in Kentucky. The recruits who went down with Baker numbered among them several who are not afraid of a fight. Baker, the Sheriff, is a cool, cautious, bull-headed man. He told me before he started that he intended to have a parley with the besieged, and he thought he could induce them to surrender. It was believed that he would prevent trouble, but many were apprehensive of bloodshed. It has been reported that the whisky dealers at Livingston openly announced their defiance of the law, and swore by high heaven that no officer should interfere with their inestimable privileges, so it was not without concern that the result of Baker's arrival was awaited.

The train bearing Baker and posse reached Livingston at 3:45 o'clock this afternoon. Baker at once proceeded to the saloon, presumably under a flag of truce, and told the parties that if they would come out quietly and surrender they should not be harmed. 

The occupants consulted awhile, and presently they emerged from the saloon and started toward the officers. They proceeded a few steps, when James Burton, one of the men charged in the warrant, undertook to make his escape by running. He was fired on by the posse, and fell, pierced by many balls. He died in about thirty minutes. There were many shots fired, and the excitement was intense. It is reported that the friends of Burton escaped. They rallied, however, and were perhaps re-enforced. There has been occasional fighting for two hours. Since 5 o'clock two other men are reported wounded. The particulars are hard to obtain. The operator at Livingston refused to furnish information, but I have telegraphed parties there who will send me a full account. The excitement is intense. The Sheriff has altogether about twenty-five men at his back.

James Burton, who was killed, is a young man of perhaps 30 years of age. He is a brother of John Burton, who was killed in this town about three years ago by Thomas Moore. He and his brother Henry were for years coal miners at Livingston, and were quiet, good boys. James went into the whisky business recently with this unhappy result.

Livingston is a small mining town on the north bank of the Rockcastle river, ten miles from this place [Mt. Vernon]. It has lately gained an unenviable reputation for lawlessness. The residents of the locality are peaceable enough, but the population is for the most part transient and incongruous. A large force of men has been engaged in the stone quarries there; another force, mainly composed of negroes, was there building the road-bed and switch yards of the Kentucky Central. These elements caused the excess of saloons. The coal miners are generally well behaved. Livingston was incorporated some time ago, and the town authorities tried to control matters; but the foreign, lawless element backing the saloon-keepers was too much for them, and they gave up in disgust. The town, though small, has a bloody history. Killings and fights have been frequent. Six years ago, one entire afternoon was spent in fighting, more than twenty men participated, and the results footing up two killed and half a dozen wounded. Even the best citizens, while not disposed to be quarrelsome, are characteristic mountain men and not afraid of a fight.

In a community like this, with the elements I have mentioned and plenty of free whisky afloat, an outbreak is liable to occur at almost any moment, especially when a strong disposition to defy the law is prevalent. The officials of this county seem determined to enforce the law, but their backing is not strong, there being a general opposition to the prohibitory liquor law passed by the last Legislature. That law embraced five mountain counties, and it is certainly the acme of foolishness in some of its terms. One of its sections prohibits the importation of liquor in quantities less than 20 gallons by express companies in collect on delivery packages; druggists are not allowed to sell liquor for medicinal purpose. One result of this extreme statute is the existence of at least 20 groggeries in this county. The opponents of the law charge that another evil effect is seen in men and boys perjuring themselves to shield the whisky sellers when called before the County Judge sitting as a grand jury. 

S. M. B.


[Special to the Courier-Journal.]

LIVINGSTON, KY., Jan. 7. -- Last Wednesday, December 31, Mr. J. W. Goff was arrested in Mt. Vernon to answer some indictments against him at London for selling whisky. He was placed in charge of Lee Arnold and Harvey Mink at Mt. Vernon, who got on the evening train to go to London. When the train reached Livingston Goff wished to speak to his wife, who was getting off of the train. This privilege being granted, Mr. Goff went out on the platform, accompanied by Arnold and Mink. When the train was ready to start Arnold caught of one of Goff's arms and Mink the other one. They got on different platforms of adjacent coaches, consequently Mr. Goff could not get on either. They did not seem to notice that the other had hold of the prisoner, consequently they pulled him to their respective platforms. Mr. Jas. Burton became enraged at the manner in which his friend was treated and drew a pistol on Lee Arnold, at the same time M. L. Goff, younger brother of the prisoner, and Fred Shuck produced their pistols, whereupon the officers released the prisoner. Arnold remained here, saying he had been overpowered. Mink went to Rockcastle river. This morning Mr. J. I. White, Deputy Sheriff, came here on an early train and went to Mr. Arnold's house, about two miles from town, to spend the remainder of the night. After breakfast they served the warrant on Burton and Shuck, who were in Mr. Burton's store. The warrant was for releasing a prisoner. There were some other persons in the store at the time. Mr. Burton and Shuck answered the messenger with the warrant that they would not surrender. The Deputy Sheriff summoned a posse of seven or eight men and surrounded the store. Finding Burton and Shuck would not surrender he sent the following telegram:

Sheriff, Mt. Vernon--Have Burton's house surrounded: they will not surrender. Supposed to be ten or twelve men, well armed. Bring some men on No. 23, and all the guns you can get. WHITE.

This message was sent at 11:28 A.M. They kept close guard on the house, and at 1:47 P.M. another message was sent, as follows:

H. H. Baker, Sheriff, Mt. Vernon--Bring all the men and arms you can. Come prepared to stay over night. Answer. J. WHITE AND PIKE.

Twenty-three arrived here at 4 o'clock, fifteen minutes late. The posse from Mt. Vernon immediately proceeded to Burton's store. Arriving there he found Mr. Garrard Thompson, a good friend of Burton's, and the Sheriff got him to go and see Burton and try to settle the matter with as little difficulty as possible. Mr. Thompson knocked at the door, and after giving his name was admitted. He told Messrs. Burton and Shuck that the house was surrounded by a large and well-armed guard, and that he could have an examining trial before the Magistrate, and if found guilty, could use his own discretion as to what course to pursue. Burton and Shuck agreed to this, provided Thompson and McCaul be allowed to conduct them to the Magistrate's office. Their reason for this was because they did not like Arnold, and consequently did not want him to arrest them. Thompson took Burton and McCaul took Shuck, and they proceeded to the Magistrate's office. Not finding the Magistrate, they sent Mr. Garrard, Thompson's father, for him.

Before the Magistrate arrived, Burton called Shuck to one side pretending to wish to speak to him, then Burton, after firing a pistol, started to run toward his store, whereupon the posse, consisting of 15 or 16 men, fired upon him. He fell, and Shuck immediately went ot him and raised his head. Thompson was the next to reach him. They carried him home, and he died very soon after. He never spoke after he was shot.

The names of the persons who were in Burton's store were Jas. Burton, Fred. Shuck, Benj. Price, Geo. McCarthy and Lewis Hunter, colored. Immediately after the shooting the Sheriff's posse, with the exception of McCaul and Garrard Thompson and old man Thompson, assembled and left town. I think they used good judgment in doing this. 

Burton was 22 years of age and was in the grocery business. He leaves a wife and several children and an old mother, all of whom were dependent upon him for their living. He was the third one of the brothers who have been killed. I visited his house shortly after his death, and the wailing of his wife and mother, accompanied by the weeping of the children, was enough to melt a heart of stone, without the sight of a murdered father bleeding on the bed. He received many wounds, but the location of them can not be given until the examination is held. Maj. Bullock, an old and estimable citizen, was wounded in the arm by a bird-shot. There were between twenty and thirty shots fired. No one else was hurt. It is very evident that the end is not yet, as Burton's friends, who are many, are very indignant at his murder. He has one brother remaining. [1]


[January 8, 1885] -


After Boone, They Make the Ground Red.

Louisville, Ky., Jan. 7: The Courier Journal's Mt. Vernon, Ky., special says: There is serious trouble in this county, between the whisky dealers and officials, and to-night the devil was to pay at Livingston, a railroad station on the Rockcastle River Junction and Kentucky Central railroad, with the Knoxville branch. Deputy Sheriff Jas. White went to arrest Jas. and Henry Burton, brothers, charged with aiding J. W. Gaff, said to be engaged in the alleged illegal whisky traffic, to escape from an officer who had him under arrest last week. Burton barricaded his saloon doors, and with his friends on the inside defied arrest. A posse of fifteen men was summoned, and Burton surrendered. On the way to jail James tried to escape, was fired upon and killed by the posse. Burton's friends, some ten in number, then attacked the posse and the firing became general an continued for two hours. The particulars are meagre, but several men are reported killed and a number wounded, among them Judge Bullock, wounded in the arm. The excitement is intense. [2]


[January 9, 1885] -

There has been serious trouble at Livingston between the officials and the whisky dealers and more trouble is expected. Last week J. W. Goff, one of the men who have been engaged in the illicit sale of whisky at Livingston, was arrested at this place on a lot of warrants from Laurel county and in charge of deputy sheriff J. S. Arnold was started to London. When Livingston station was reached Goff asked to be allowed to assist his wife off the cars. His request was refused but he got up and went to the platform of the cars and some of his friends took hold of him and pulled him off the train, saying that he should not be taken any further. Arnold asked Goff to get back on the cars and was immediately covered with about ten revolvers, and the men who were behind them said they would die before Goff should be taken any further. Thus by force of arms they rescued Goff from the sheriff and carried him away and he has been at large defying the officers of the law since that time. This week warrants for the arrest of James Burton, Fred Schuck, Mart Goff and two or three others who are charged with rescuing a prisoner were issued and placed in the hands of deputy sheriff Jos. White, who went to Livingston Wednesday for the purpose of executing said warrants. When he arrived at Livingston he found James Burton, Fred Schuck, Benj. Price, George McCurly and a negro all in Burton's saloon with the doors closed and threatening to kill the first man who attempted to enter. White summoned a guard and surrounded the house, but did not try to enter. Finding that he could not procure men enough in that section, he telegraphed Sheriff Baker, at this [Mt. Vernon] place, to come to his rescue with a good guard. Baker summoned about ten men, some of whom are considered brave and dangerous men, and went to Livingston on the 3:46 train. When he arrived at the depot, he sent Garrard Thompson to try to effect a compromise with the men in the saloon, which compromise was finally agreed upon. It was that Baker would withdraw his guards from around the house, and that Burton and Schuck were to give themselves up before 'Squire James Roberts. Burton and Schuck were not disarmed, but came out of the house with their pistols in their hands and walked on down to the magistrate's office with Sheriff Baker and two of his posse. The magistrate was not in but the Sheriff sent for him to come at once. Before the magistrate arrived, Burton asked to step aside to speak with Schuck, and when they had got some 20 or 30 steps they began to run, and as they ran, fired off their pistols in the air. At this firing, the Sheriff's posse who had arrived at the magistrates office, opened fire on the fugitives with about 16 guns and pistols. Burton fell and died in about thirty minutes. Schuck was shot two or three times, once in the arm and in the legs. Burton was shot in the back, the bullet entered under the left shoulder blade and came out on the right side of his mouth, knocking out two teeth and mashing his jaws all to pieces.  Schuck assisted in carrying Burton home after he died. He went among the posse with his pistol in his hand and they did not arrest him, presumably because he was not known to them. After the shooting this brave posse made a hasty return up the dirt road to Mt. Vernon, some of them stopping to spend the night at one place and some at another, none of them arrived in Mt. Vernon until Thursday morning. One or two Deputy Sheriffs went back to Livingston this morning and succeeded in arresting one Chumbly. I can't find out what offense he is charged with. His trial is set for today. The Sheriff is now consulting with officials and friends as to what is the best thing to do next, as it is thought that there will be very serious trouble before everything is quiet again. Burton will be buried at Livingston to-day, Thursday. What the end of this unhappy occurrence will be, no one else can tell, you need not be surprised at anything. [3]


[January 9, 1885] -


Fuller Particulars of the Killing of James Burton By a Sheriff's Posse, From Whom He Was Fleeing.


[Special to the Courier-Journal.]

LIVINGSTON, KY., Jan. 8. -- Everything and everybody is quiet here this morning. Some are clustering around to talk over the affairs of last night's special that Messrs. Arnold and Mink treated J. W. Goff in a rough manner while trying to get him on the train at this place December 31. This is erroneous, as Arnold and Mink are both very gentlemanly in their conduct. The opinion of a good many citizens here is that the party, consisting of James Burton, Ben. Shuck and M. L. Goff, met the train December 31, knowing that J. W. Goff was on the train as prisoner, and also for the expressed purpose of releasing him from the officers, Arnold and Mink. This statement is certified to by Mr. M. L. Goff, that they accomplished their project as desired in last night's special. It was for this that the warrants were issued for James Burton, Fred. Shuck, Howell Barlow and M. L. Goff. They arrested Barlow and handcuffed him. He wore them all day, and was released in the evening upon giving bond for $600. M. L. Goff was arrested also, but escaped and went to Richmond on the Kentucky Central freight, returning on the evening passenger train.

When the Deputy Sheriffs, Arnold and White, informed Burton and Shuck of the warrants against them there were in the store three other persons--a man, a boy and a negro. When the boy was let [out?] of the store he was asked by the Sheriff how many men there were in the store, and he answered there were enough. This is the source of the belief that there were ten or twelve men well armed in the store. The only arms that were in the store were four pistols--Burton had two and Shuck had two. It is known that they contemplated their escape before leaving the store to go to the Magistrate office, but the Sheriff and Mr. Henry Burton, who also accompanied them, were unaware of this. When the prisoners started to run they shouted, shot their pistols up in the air, and started across the field back of Burton's store. They had heard the Sheriff dismiss the guard and thought they had gone to the depot. The reason for the Sheriff dismissing the guard was because Shuck and Burton said they would surrender to a gentleman, but not to the mob he had summoned. The Sheriff was afterward seen talking to some of his men, and it was then that he countermanded his dismissal order. The posse had been standing stationed in the field across which the prisoners were escaping. When the prisoners retreated Henry Burton called to his brother and told him he would be killed if he did not stop, and the Sheriff fired some shots trying to scare them. The pleadings of a brother and the threatening of an officer had no influence on them whatever.

Shuck was ten or twelve feet in front of Burton. When Burton fell he turned, caught his companion, and drawing his pistol said he would die with a friend. He was, however, prevailed upon by Mr. Henry Burton not to shoot, as the posse would answer with a volley that would kill the whole crowd that had then assembled. Burton had run about 150 yards when he fell. He was carried to his house by Fred. Shuck, Henry Burton, Garrard Thompson and some one else. He only received one wound, contrary to the first opinion. The ball entered between the spinal column and right shoulder, shivered his shoulder-blade, ranged upward, severed the jugular vein, and came out the left side of the mouth. He bled very profusely. Judging from the wound, he was shot with a 44-caliber ball. From the entrance of the wound it is very evident that Burton had turned to run in a different direction when he was shot, as his first course was almost facing the guards. He died at 5:26 P.M., seven minutes after he was shot.

After the posse fired it was announced that Burton was killed, whereupon the posse ran like a defeated army. They sounded like a drove of mules coming down the State road. Mr. Robert Lee Arnold is an exception to those who ran. He did not consider he had committed a crime, as the others apparently thought they had done. After Fred. Shuck had given all the assistance to Henry Burton possible, he started toward the depot. There were at least ten men of the posse assembled near Shuck's path. They had been brave enough to shoot a man who was running while they were stationed behind chimneys, houses, trees, etc. But to arrest a man who was accused of the same crime as Burton, and who was within a yard of them, could not be found one in that band.

Fred. Shuck passed this posse, cursed their absent leader, Arnold, and made his escape. Shuck went to a coal-chute on Rockcastle river and remained until dark. He then sent word to Henry Burton to come to his assistance. When Mr. Burton reached the place he found it vacated. There are contradictory reports as to what course Suck pursued when he left the chute. Some think it possible that his wounds were more serious than they were at first thought to be, and that he went to some desolate place and died. Friends have been searching for him all day, but no traces have yet been found. Shuck is a man twenty-four years old, has a good education and polished manners. He was raised near Lebanon, Ky., is a cousin of Gov. Knott's and the renowned Sol Shuck, of Lebanon, Ky. He is blind in the right eye, over which he wore a shield. He is medium sized and shaves clean.

The Sheriff's posse took the State road back to Mt. Vernon. Some of them arrived there at 3 A.M. This morning the others came out of the woods about one mile north of Livingston and got on the train at Round Stone bridge, No. 1. This bridge is being renewed and all trains consequently have to stop there. It is not known whether any of the guards are hurt or not, but it is positive that some of them were as their shooting was quite promiscuous. The remnants of the Sheriff's posse here are about a dozen. Telegrams to the different members of the posse are here, but as their departure was quite sudden they did not call by the depot or ask anybody to let them leave.

The remains of Jas. Burton were buried this afternoon. His distressed family and many friends attended the funeral; the cemetery is a lovely spot on the side of a mountain. The rolling waters of the river and the rugged mountains added to the sublimity of the sadness. Some of Burton's friends assembled this evening. No one knows what next will be done. 

The special sent from Mt. Vernon that was printed in to-day's Courier-Journal contained several mistakes. Mr. Henry Burton was not present the evening Goff was released, neither did Mr. Geo. Thompson have anything whatever to do with the affair. Furthermore, yesterday Mr. Henry Burton was out rabbit-hunting nearly all day. He is a quiet, peaceable citizen, and had nothing whatever to do with the recent affair. He is liked by all who know him. He says his brother was the cause of his own death. [4]


[January 9, 1885] -

Fatal Whisky Riot.

MOUNT VERNON, Ky., Jan. 9.--There is serious trouble in this county between whisky dealers and officials. At Livingston, a railroad station on the Rock Castle river junction of the Kent[u]cky Central railroad with the Knoxville branch, Deputy Sheriff James White arrived to arrest James and Henry Burton, brothers, charged with aiding J. W. Gaff, said to be engaged in illegal whisky traffic, to escape from officers who had him under arrest last week. The Burtons barricaded their saloon doors and with friends on the inside defied arrest. A posse of fifteen men were summoned, when the Burtons surrendered. On the way to the jail, James tried to escape, but was fired upon and killed by the posse. Burton's friends some ten in [num]ber, then attacked the posse, and the firing became general and continued for two hours.

Particulars are meagre, but several are reported killed and wounded, among them Judge Bullock, who was shot in the arm. The excitement is intense. [5]


[January 13, 1885] -

Jas. Burton, an illegal whisky dealer, was shot and killed at Mt. Vernon, while trying to escape from a posse of officers. [6]


[January 14, 1885] -

At Mt. Vernon, Ky., there is serious trouble in the county between whisky dealers and officials, and there was a desperate fight at Livingston, railroad station on Rockcastle River, at junction of Kentucky Central Railroad with Knoxville Branch. Several men were reported killed and wounded, among them Judge Bullock, wounded in the arm. [7]


[1] "Whisky and Blood." The Courier-Journal, Louisville, KY. January 8, 1885. Page 1.

[2] "Many Days." Evansville Courier, Evansville, IN. January 8, 1885. Page 1.

[3] Excerpt from "Mt Vernon Department." Semi-Weekly Interior Journal, Stanford, KY. January 9, 1885. Page 3. LOC.

[4] "The Livingston Tragedy." The Courier-Journal, Louisville, KY. January 9, 1885. Page 2.

[5] "Fatal Whisky Riot." Daily Evening Bulletin, Maysville, KY. January 9, 1885. Page 4. LOC.

[6] Excerpt from "Kentucky Knowledge." Semi-Weekly South Kentuckian, Hopkinsville, KY. January 13, 1885. Page 2. LOC.

[7] Excerpt from "Tersified Telegrams." Summit County Beacon, Akron, OH. January 14, 1885. Page 5.


No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...