February 24, 2015

Emmett Snodgrass Kills James Bethurum, Rockcastle, 1878


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

Also, this post is related to several others, including:
Ku Klux Group Raids Mt. Vernon Jail, Hangs Four Prisoners, Rockcastle, 1877
Jack Adams Kills Liberty Langford, Rockcastle
Double Fratricide in the Snodgrass Family, 1890-1892


[November 19, 1878] -

Name of Deceased: James L. Bethurum; White.: White; Age.: 31; Sex: M; Condition: Single; Occupation: Farmer; Date of Death: November 19, 1878; Cause of Death: Shot; Place of Birth: Rockcastle; Residence: Rockcastle; Names of Parents: Bethurum, B. K. & Lucy A.; Birthplace of Father: Rockcastle; Birthplace of Mother: Rockcastle; [1]


[November 22, 1878] -

After the trial, on their way home, a difficulty arose between Emmett Snodgrass, a school teacher, and James L. Bethurum, a famous desperado, which resulted in the former shooting the latter in the head.  Both parties were on horseback, Bethurum riding behind a friend.  At Snodgrass' fire Bethurum fell on his face in the mud and died without a struggle.  His right hand clutched a pistol, which he never had an opportunity to use.  Snodgrass surrendered to the authorities. [2]


[November 23, 1878] -


The evil of letting murderers go free was strikingly illustrated at Mt. Vernon, Ky., Thursday. One Jack Adams was brought before two 'Squires to be tried for the murder of Liberty Langford. The regular Judge, McClure, for some reason or other declined to serve, and the two county Magistrates were constituted the court. The testimony was conclusive that the dead man provoked the difficulty and fired the first shot, and after some hesitation the Justices decided that Adams was guilty of no offense under the law, and he was allowed to go free. A great many people were attracted to the trial, among them Emmett Snodgrass, a school teacher, and James Bethurum, "a famous desperado." These two left town together, the teacher riding one horse and the "famous desperado" riding behind a friend on another. About a mile out of town a difficulty arose, and Snodgrass shot Bethurum in the head. It was late in the afternoon, cold, dark, and drizzly. Bethurum fell on his face in the mud, and died without a struggle. In his right hand was found a pistol, which he had not been quick enough to use. Snodgrass was put in jail, and the dead man's body was laid in the same Court House where a few hours before a man who had killed another was set at liberty after a brief examination. It may seem strange to those unfamiliar with Kentucky life that a schoolmaster should carry concealed weapons, but this is not a subject of remark in a State where even ministers of the Gospel go armed. Mr. Snodgrass' business was to teach the young idea how to shoot, and if the rising generation of Kentucky is to follow in the tracks of the present, a teacher who can instruct the young idea how to shoot revolves is a prime necessity to the complete education of children. We anticipate for Mr. Snodgrass a farce of a trial, and the congratulations of his friends. [3]


[November 24, 1878] -


His Death Near Mt. Vernon, Ky.--A Scrap of History in Regard to This Great Kentucky Outlaw.

Special Dispatch to the Enquirer.
MT. VERNON, Ky., Nov. 22.
When the news of the death of Jim Bethuram first reached town last night there were many people slow to believe the report, but about 7 o'clock a messenger came in for a doctor to attend what was reported to be the mortally wounded man, and a little later Emmett Snodgrass, the man who did the work for Bethuram, came in and reported his man dead, almost simultaneously with the crack of his pistol. This had the desired effect of fully confirming the original report, and I have not heard whether a doctor went to the scene or not; but, be that as it may, there is no one in or around Mt. Vernon to-day who has shed tears at the death of Bethuram. 

James Bethuram has been a terror to many of the citizens of this vicinity for many years. He and his kin-people have been engaged in family quarrels and fights with other families and bad blood has been running through his veins for all that length of time. He has been a fugitive from justice in the Civil Courts and  the United States Court, and has set all law and the officials at defiance. He was accused some years ago of burning the county offices here in order to destroy the papers in cases against him, and in this I learn that he was successful. At another time he associated with a lewd and degraded woman, and suspicioning her of being implicated in an attempt to capture him, slew her in a most brutal matter. At another time, when a party of men were at his house making an attempt to arrest him, he threw his gun out of the window, killing two men outright and wounding two or three others. Just after this last deed, and when he knew there was great danger of a mob, or other strong efforts to capture him, he visited Mt. Vernon with a belt filled with pistols and a Henry rifle swinging across his horse, and riding up to the postoffice, where he knew there was some important mail matter for him, without leaving his saddle, demanded in the most insulting and bullragging style, that all mail for him be handed out. The postmaster was not long in complying with his demand, and upon landing the batch to Bethuram he wheeled his horse, rode immediately past the court house, where Circuit Court was in session, and bowing to the Sheriff of Rockcastle county, who stood in the door, proceeded on his way to the "green bush" again. The actions of Bethuram that day were observed by nearly every body on the principal street of Mt. Vernon, but none dare interfere with him, for too well they seemed to know their fate should they make the attempt to capture him. There seems to be no limit to the many broils that this noted desperado has been engaged in and his death last night is no doubt the cause for many people hereabouts breathing freer to-day.

Emmett Snodgrass will have an examining trial to-day or to-morrow, and there is but little doubt that he will be acquitted on the ground of self-defense. [4]


[November 25, 1878] -

Yesterday (Thursday) there was a trial in town and the occasion brought in a large crowd. Snodgrass and Bethuram were both here mixing with the crowd all day. Late in the afternoon, they met at Dick Welch's grocery and exchanged a few words. After talking a while they agreed to pay off "old scores" by shaking hands, taking a drink together, and promising to live peaceably hereafter. After drinking and shaking hands, Bethuram started towards home. He rode behind his cousin, a young fellow named Whitehead, as far as the Somerset road, not quite a mile, when he alighted and proposed to continue his journey on foot. At this moment Snodgrass came up on horseback, accompanied by a young man named J. J. Thompson. Snodgrass rode up to Bethuram and asked him to get up behind him and he would take him home. He started to do so, but, as Thompson says, preferred to ride behind him. Accordingly, he was mounted behind Thompson. He was drinking considerably. The evening was cold and gloomy, and a cheerless rain was falling. The parties proceeded on their way some forty or fifty yards down the Somerset road. According to Thompson's statements Bethuram revived the difficulty with Snodgrass as soon as they started. Sharp words ensued, and Bethuram made an attempt to draw his pistol, a large Colt's revolver, which hung in the scabbard. While he was trying to extricate it Snodgrass fired, his ball striking Bethuram near the top and a little on the left side of the head, ranging through the brain and lodging under the left eye. Without a word, a gasp or a groan, Bethuram tumbled off the horse on his face in the mud, his right hand grasping his pistol stock. An hour afterwards, when the Sheriff went for the body, it was lying there in the rain and mud in the same position. It was brought to the Court-house, washed and dressed, and this morning taken to his father's for internment. As the wagon conveying the remains jolted out of town it was followed by a single mourner, a little girlish-looking woman named Pointer, who had lived with the desperado for years.

I had like to forgot to mention that Bethuram has been for some months acting as a Deputy United States Marshal under General Crittenden. he is said to have made a good officer, and, for aught I know, may have held the position when he was killed.

Emmet Snodgrass is a young man about 21 years of age and recently married. He is a school teacher and bears a good character. He surrendered himself immediately after the difficulty and confessed the killing. Thompson, a farmer, and about the same age of Snodgrass, is also under arrest, charged as an accessory to the killing. They will have their examining trial before Judge G. W. McClure on Monday next. If I stay here till then I will send you the result.

FRITZ. [5]


[November 26, 1878] -


Trials of Snodgrass and Thompson Postponed Till Next Thursday.

[Special Dispatch to the Courier-Journal.]

MT. VERNON, Nov. 25.-- The trials of R. E. Snodgrass, for the killing of James L. Bethuram, and J. J. Thompson, accused of being an accomplice to the killing, were continued till next Thursday, at 10 o'clock. The Commonwealth Attorney, being related to one of the accused parties, asked to be excused from the prosecution, which was consented to, and R. D. Cook appointed in his stead. There was a considerable crowd in town to-day, but all seemed to be good-humored, and every thing passed off quietly. [6]


[November 29, 1878] -


Last Thursday evening, 21st inst., as parties who had been attending the trial at this place on that day, were making their way home, a most unfortunate difficulty occurred about one mile from town on the Somerset road.  James L. Bethuram and J. J. Thompson were riding behind.  Beside them rode Emmett Snodgrass.  Some hot words passed between Bethuram and Snodgrass.  Both went for their pistols--Bethuram's a large Colt's navy, hung in the scabbard.  Snodgrass's was a pocket pistol, a small Smith & Wesson, calibre 32.  He fired and struck Bethuram near the top, and slightly on the left side of the head--the ball passing through the brain and lodging under the left eye.  Bethuram never spoke, but tumbled off his horse into the mud--and died without a groan.  Snodgrass surrendered himself to the Sheriff and told what he had done.  The next morning a warrant was sworn out against Thompson, charging him as an accessory to the killing.  Their trial was set for Monday, but when it was called the County Attorney stated to the Court that he was related by marriage to one of the defendants, that he had made this fact known to the father of Bethuram, and at his advice, he asked the Court to excuse him from prosecuting the case, which was done accordingly, and R. D. Cook was appointed to represent the State in the prosecution.  The examination was then adjourned till yesterday (Thursday.)  Public opinion is somewhat divided about the affair, though it is generally believed that Snodgrass shot in self-defense.  There has long been a decided antipathy between him and Bethuram.  The latter, your readers will recollect, indicted Snodgrass for Ku Kluxing some time ago, but when the case was called in the Courts, he failed to swear to his identity.  This caused a bitterness, as Snodgrass was put to considerable trouble and expense, and the case was decided on a peremptory instruction from the Court.  Last Thursday the parties met and talked matters over.  They agreed to make friends, shake hands and take a drink, which they did. And in less than an hour afterwards Bethuram was a corpse and Snodgrass was in custody.    QUITO. [7]


[December 4, 1878] -

R. E. Snodgrass killed James L. Bethuram, in Rockcastle county, the 23d instant.  J. J. Thompson is also under arrest for being an accomplice. [8]


[December 6, 1878] -

ON BAIL.--When the case of the Commonwealth vs. Snodgrass and Thompson, for killing James Bethuram, was called for the fourth time in the Examining Court Saturday last, the plaintiff moved for a continuance, on account of the absence of R. D. Cook, Prosecuting Attorney pro tem, the Count Attorney having been excused from the prosecution at the request of the dead man's father, by reason of his relationship to one of the defendants. The Court granted a continuance until next Friday, the 6th inst., and the defendants were released till that time under a bond of $5,000. [9]


[December 6, 1878] -


The Trial of Snodgrass and Thompson, for the Killing of John Bethurum, to Begin To-day--Bethurum's Friends Reported Armed and Equipped for a Conflict. 

[Special Dispatch to the Courier-Journal.]

MT. VERNON, Dec. 5. -- To-morrow is the day fixed for the trial of Snodgrass and Thompson, charged with killing John Bethurum. Rumors well authenticated reached me tonight to the effect that the friends of Bethurum will be on hand armed and equipped for a conflict. James Langford, whose son was recently killed in this place, is said to be one of the men who are actively engaged in rallying Bethurum's friends. It is reported that an attempt will be made to-morrow to show that Bethurum's death was the result of a conspiracy. However this may be, should any parties come here with this intention of violating the law, a little hell will be apt to break loose. We will have no Breathitt county affairs enacted here, and the good citizens largely outnumber the bad. Messrs. Kirtley and McClary of this place, and W. O. Bradley, of Lancaster, will appear as counsel for the defendants to-morrow. It is not yet known who will conduct the prosecution, the County Attorney having been objected to. [10]


[December 13, 1878] -

When the case of the Commonwealth vs. Snodgrass and Thompson, for killing Jas. Bethuram, was called in the Examining Court last Friday, the plaintiff again asked for a continuance.  Efforts were made by the defendants to have an investigation, and finally an agreement was affected by which the defendants waived an examination and gave bond to await the action of the Grand Jury, in the sum of $5,000. [11]


[May 9, 1879] -

The Grand Jury have returned an indictment for murder against Emmett Snodgrass and J. J. Thompson, charged with killing Jas. Bethuram. [12]


[October 3, 1879] -

Since our last, the mill of justice in our Circuit Court has continued to grind. The case of the Commonwealth vs. Wat Bledsoe for killing Wm. Hicks, was tried last Wednesday and resulted in a verdict of acquittal. Same vs. Lewis Rains, an old colored man, for killing Andy Burch, another negro, in 1877, resulted in a like verdict. Both cases went to the jury without argument, the proof on the part of the Commonwealth almost warranting a peremptory instruction. The case of the Commonwealth vs. John C. Mize, for manslaughter; same vs. Wm. Cundiff, for murder; same vs. same, for manslaughter; same vs. Emmett Snodgrass and J. J. Thompson, for murder, were all continued to next term. [13]


[April 30, 1880] -

The case set for trial next after the Mize case is that of the Commonwealth vs. Emmett Snodgrass and J. J. Thompson, charged with the murder of James L. Bethuram. [14]


[May 7, 1880] -

On Wednesday the case of the Commonwealth vs. Emmett Snodgrass and J. J. Thompson, for the murder of Jim Bethuram was called.  The plaintiff announced ready, and the defendants filed affidavit for a continuance, because of the absence of important witnesses.  The Court granted a continuance to the next term, and the bonds of the defendants were respited. [15]


[August 13, 1880] -

On Tuesday the case of the Commonwealth vs. Emmett Snodgrass and J. J. Thompson, charged with the murder of J. L. Bethuram, was called and continued as to Snodgrass. Both sides being ready in the other case the trial of Thompson began. Judge B. K. Bethuram, father of the man who was killed, produced an affidavit disqualifying Sheriff W. H. Albright from summoning jurors in the case. Thereupon, by consent, the Court appointed G. H. Albright to summon the jurors. He chose for his assistant Isaac Coffey. Tuesday evening 41 persons were examined touching their qualifications, from whom 5 jurors were obtained. The Sheriffs were directed to summon 75 men to report at the Court-House Wednesday morning, from whom it was thought the jury would be completed. The following are the visiting Attorneys: R. M. Bradley, W. O. Bradley, Lancaster; O. H. Waddle, Somerset; Capt. B. F. Holman, Manchester; Fontaine Fox Bobbitt, Crab Orchard; Alex Lusk, Gum Sulphur; R. D. Cook, Scaffold Cone.

THURSDAY. -- The jury in the case of the Commonwealth vs. J. J. Thompson, was completed at noon Wednesday. The testimony for the Commonwealth was begun, and when it was completed Col. W. O. Bradley, of defendant's counsel, asked the Court to instruct the jury to find his client not guilty. Mr. Warren did not resist the motion, there being no evidence showing that Thompson had anything to whatever do with the killing of Bethuram. Thereupon, the Court directed the jury to return a verdict of acquittal, and Mr. Thompson was discharged from custody. His friends were very happy over the result of trial. Thursday at noon the call of the Commonwealth's docket was completed, all of the felony cases being continued. Only a few trifling misdemeanor cases have been tried. It is thought that very few of the civil cases will be tried, and the prospect is very good for Court to adjourn Saturday. [16]


[January 21, 1881] -

On Monday the case of the Commonwealth vs. Emmett Snodgrass was taken up, the trial of which occupied the time of the Court until Wednesday afternoon, when it was given to the jury. A jury was obtained without much trouble. Considerable interest was manifested in the trial, large crows attending at the Court-House each day. Mr. Warren was assisted in the prosecution by Capt. B. F. Holman, Fontaine Fox Bobbitt, G. Pearl and Isaac Stuart. The defendant was represented by W. O. Bradley, F. H. Reppert and Burdett. At half past 9 o'clock yesterday morning the jury returned the following verdict: "We of the jury find defendant not guilty." Mr. Snodgrass was thereupon discharged. [17]


[February 11, 1887] -

Tuesday evening while James McKenzie and Cal. Owens were returning from a hunt they sat down by the roadside to rest.  McKenzie had his gun lying across his lap and was putting on a fresh cap when the hammer slipped from his grasp, firing the gun and its entire load of shot struck Owens in the hip, cutting away most of the upper portion of the bone, the charge going on into his body and he is now lying very low with but faint hopes of surviving.  This is the third time Owens has been accidentally shot, having received a charge from a gun in the hands of a man who was repairing it, but a short distance from where he was shot Tuesday, and at another time he received a pistol shot.  It's but a hundred yards from this point where Andy Baker was accidentally shot and killed a few years ago and but a few yards from the point where Owens' brother was nearly crushed to death by the cars.  Fifty yards down the track a deaf and dumb man was killed by a freight train some years since. Four hundred yards from that point James Bethuram was killed seven years ago and it is but a short distance from that place where young Burton met his death in 1877.  Within half a mile of that point four men were hanged in 1877.  We are not very superstitious, but it seems to us that that immediate vicinity is very unlucky and from the unusual number of casualties happening thereabouts it looks strange indeed. [18]


[1] Death Record for James L. Bethurum. Ancestry.com. Kentucky, Death Records, 1852-1953 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2007.

[2] Excerpt from "Kentucky Specials." The Cincinnati Daily Star, Cincinnati, OH. November 22, 1878. Page 1. LOC. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85025759/1878-11-22/ed-1/seq-1/

[3] "One Tragedy After Another." Cincinnati Daily Gazette, Cincinnati, OH. November 23, 1878. Page 4. Genealogybank.com.

[4] "Jim Bethuram." Evansville Courier and Press, Evansville, IN. November 24, 1878. Page 1. Genealogybank.com.

[5] Excerpt from "Rockcastle Killings." The Courier-Journal, Louisville, KY. November 25, 1878. Page 1. Newspapers.com.

[6] "Mt. Vernon, Ky." The Courier-Journal, Louisville, KY. November 26, 1878. Page 1. Newspapers.com.

[7] Excerpt from "Rockcastle County News." The Interior Journal, Stanford, KY. November 29, 1878. Page 2. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84038328/1878-11-29/ed-1/seq-2/

[8] The Breckenridge News, Cloverport, KY. December 4, 1878. Page 1. LOC. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn86069309/1878-12-04/ed-1/seq-1/

[9] Excerpt from "Rockcastle County News." The Interior Journal, Stanford, KY. December 6, 1878. Page 2. LOC. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84038328/1878-12-06/ed-1/seq-2/

[10] "Mt. Vernon, Ky." The Courier-Journal, Louisville, KY. December 6, 1878. Page 1. Newspapers.com.

[11] Excerpt from "Rockcastle County News." The Interior Journal, Stanford, KY. December 13, 1878. Page 2. LOC. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84038328/1878-12-13/ed-1/seq-2/

[12] Excerpt from "Rockcastle County." The Interior Journal, Stanford, KY. May 9, 1879. Page 2. LOC. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84038328/1879-05-09/ed-1/seq-2/

[13] Excerpt from "Rockcastle County." The Interior Journal, Stanford, KY. October 3, 1879. Page 2. LOC. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84038328/1879-10-03/ed-1/seq-2/

[14] Excerpt from "Rockcastle." The Interior Journal, Stanford, KY. April 30, 1880. Page 2. LOC. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84038328/1880-04-30/ed-1/seq-2/

[15] Excerpt from "Rockcastle." The Interior Journal, Stanford, KY. May 7, 1880. Page 2. LOC. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84038328/1880-05-07/ed-1/seq-2/

[16] Excerpt from "Rockcastle." The Interior Journal, Stanford, KY. August 13, 1880. Page 3. LOC. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84038328/1880-08-13/ed-1/seq-3/

[17] Excerpt from "Rockcastle." The Interior Journal, Stanford, KY. January 21, 1881. Page 2. LOC. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84038328/1881-01-21/ed-1/seq-2/

[18] Excerpt from "Mt. Vernon, Rockcastle County." Semi-Weekly Interior Journal, Stanford, KY. February 11, 1887. Page 1. LOC. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85052020/1887-02-11/ed-1/seq-1/


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