March 13, 2016

Mary Eades James Kills Smith Burton, Pulaski, 1882


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


[April 6, 1882] -

Somerset Reporter: A little thirteen year-old daughter of Mary Eads (the woman who recently killed Smith Burton and is now a fugitive from justice) applied to Judge Cosson last Saturday for a home, and when the Judge proposed to get a home for her she concluded she didn't want a home, but wanted to be sent to Louisville. The young girl was rather pert, and as she was not furnished transportation she returned to her home in the country. [1]


[May 25, 1882] -


Mary Eades Arrested on the Charge of Killing a Man near Somerset, Ky.

Policemen Reid and Broderick arrested a woman named Mary Eades, alias James, at Emma Hedges' bagnio, on North College street, yesterday afternoon, on the charge of the murder of a man named Samuel Burton, near Somerset, Kentucky, about three months ago.

An American reporter visited the prisoner at the work-house, and asked her how the killing was brought about. She said that there were about twenty-one in the party, and all of them had been drinking more or less. Burton, throughout the day, had been threatening to kill somebody, and had beat his nephew. Burton had gone into the house of a woman and was beating her, when Eades appealed to two men to know whether they would stand on the outside and hear the shrieks of the woman and not offer any aid. They told her that if she would break down the door they would see that she was not harmed, as Burton would kill one of them if they dared to do what they requested of her. Feeling a deep sympathy for the woman and having herself taken several drinks, Eades assented, broke down the door and prevented the further beating of the woman. Subsequent to that time, Burton brought in a single-tree and threatened to kill Mary Eades, but it was taken away from him by his nephew.

He then threatened to kill her with an ax. She asked him whether he would kill her, when he responded that he would, and drew back the ax to strike her. At that moment, someone gave her a knife, and under the excitement of the moment, she stuck it in his breast, and ran away, he following her, as she believed at the time. She said that the act was done purely in self-defense. Burton was considered a desperado, and had in his shoulder eight buckshot, which he had received in a fight. He did not believe that lead would kill him. Eades said she regretted the occurrence, but it was an act which could hardly have been avoided. Burton's nephew, after the affair was over, brought her down the river in a skiff, and put her on a steamboat for Nashville, where she had since remained. She had been separated from her child, and did not know who had the care of it. She believed she would be able to prove that the deed which had been forced upon her had been done in self-defense. She had preferred to have gone to Somerset and to have given herself up, but she had been persuaded to come to Nashville and remain until the excitement had died away. With even half justice she would be cleared.

Mrs. Eades is a small woman, was neatly attired in black, and it would seem strange that she had the courage to attack a man who is said to have been a stalwart blacksmith. She said that he had previously struck her three times and that the knot from a blow still remained on her head to testify his assault. [2]


[May 26, 1882] -


Another Talk with the Alleged Murderess at the Police Station.

A reporter of the American interviewed Mary M. James, the alleged murderess of Smith Burton, yesterday, at the police station. She had evidently been weeping, and remarked, "I would be glad to talk with anyone. I feel that I have been here a month, it is so wearisome."

She said that the man who took her away on the night of March 3, from a point ten miles distant from Somerset, Ky., had papers upon his person on some of which her address was written. She still insisted that she had killed Smith Burton in self-defense after repeated threats and blows from him. She would not have run away from the neighborhood, but was advised to do so. She would have preferred to go to Somerset and stand her trial. She was so greatly excited at the time that she was not aware of the fact that she had killed him until she was told of it. The only idea she had after she had stabbed him was that at every step she took he would split her head open with an axe.

"Two men," she said, "carried me away. It was a beautiful night, but after they had gone a short distance over the Mill Springs knobs the men built a fire and bade me wait until they should return. I remained in fear and trepidation lest Burton should still be following me because I could scarcely believe he was dead. After the two men returned we again set out on foot over the knobs. If you lost your footing you were sure to roll down the steep hill sides until you got to the bottom, unless you should meet some obstruction on the way. When the men came to the fire that had been built they brought me some food, but I could not eat it. I felt very sick and it was all that I could do to walk through the near cut to the river, which was about four miles distant. While on the way a wild cat broke through the woods and followed us. It uttered the most unearthly cries, and so terribly frightened me that I asked one of the men to walk before me and one behind me, and taking the trail Indian fashion, we moved off. After passing through many bushes and thickets I was glad to see the river, from which was reflected much more light than we had experienced while passing through the dense forest. A skiff was soon obtained by one of the men, and with him I began to float down the river; the other man returning to our neighborhood.

"I want to tell you another thing about that night's walk. You know the flood had just about subsided, and we had to step through a great deal of mud away down in the bottoms. I believe it was the most trying walk I ever took in my life, though I was brought up in hardships. My life has always been a sad one. Reared, as I was, in the backwoods, I lacked an education; in fact, I was the only one of the family who had been prevented from going to school. I was the drudge of the household. I have since learned to read writing, but cannot read print. What a blessing the latter would have been to me, to-day, in my lonely confinement. I have suffered ten thousand deaths since I have been here on account of not knowing the whereabouts of my daughter, who is 13 years old. She is said to have been taken to Louisville, but I have never had the means to ascertain where she has gone. I most sincerely hope that she will be protected from the wayward course that has blotted out the finer instincts of my life. But I would not have you believe that all the good in me has been blighted, for there frequently rises within my soul that which nothing could wipe out--I suppose that there always lingers in the breast of every one a hope, of sympathy that is far beyond our understanding. It was my sympathy for a poor, helpless woman that I got into this trouble. I could not hear her cries without feeling that some one should go to her assistance.

"I will never forget the shudder that passed over me whenI thought Burton was going to split my head open. After he first struck me, I asked him whether he would kill me, and he answered in the affirmative. This assertion and the ax was what frightened me, because I thought that that was the last night I would ever spend on earth.

"I have tried to forget all that occurred, and had begun to have some repose, if it could be called so, in witnessing the scenes usually witnessed in such a house as that in which I have been staying."

"How old are you?" asked the reporter.

Mrs. James--"Thirty one."

"And you have suffered greatly?"

"I separated from my husband on account of his ill treatment and I still have bruises on me from the affray in which Burton was killed. I hope I will not have to lay in jail long. If justice is done me I will be set free. I could not live a year in prison. I once weighed 140 pounds; now 110 pounds. I have got the consumption and have not got long to live at best."

She then said she did not desire to be called Eades, because her right name, by marriage, was James. She was very thankful for the attentions that had been shown her. They had sent her all the good things there were to eat, but she had but little appetite. The only fear she had on returning to Somerset was that she might be lynched, because there were men in the locality from which she came that did not care any more for a woman than they did for a dog. She had seen women kicked and cuffed about until they were hardly able to stand up. All the men were fighters, and it did not take a great deal to get up a row, and especially if the quarrel was about a woman. [3]


[May 29, 1882] -


A Statement from Her Relative to the Killing of Burton -- Taken to Kentucky.

Before leaving here for Somerset, Ky., last night, in the custody of a man named Shepherd, Mrs. Mary M. James sent the following communications to the American:

To the American:

In regard to the killing of Smith Burton, I wish it understood that I have no guilty conscience. I know it is wrong to take life, but under the circumstances i did this it was in self-defense. I was employed by Ben Burton to go to the house of Smith Burton to get the daughter of Ben Burton, who was destitute of a home and in a helpless condition. It created great sympathy with me and I pledged her father to take care of her until she was able to work. When I reached the house of Smith Burton I found the girl prostrated from the excitement of Smith Burton who was whipping his son in the house near her. She was trembling and very nervous, and asked me for God's sake to do something for her. I told her I could only give her a stimulant of whisky, which I did. I informed her of my mission, that her father requested that I should bring her away, but she was not able to walk. In the meantime Burton came to the door and told me to get out, in a very rough manner. The men on the outside requested him to let me alone and he replied all right, as I was taking care of the girl. In a few moments I did go out, and then Burton went in and said he would get his gun and shoot the top of my head off. The men on the outside dared him to bring his gun out. He brought a club out about three feet long and came towards me, and I backed some forty or fifty yards from him, he following. The men got between us with open knives and pistols and stopped him from coming any further. He then went back to the house and commenced to beat the woman he was living with. Esq. Turpin came up in the meantime and stopped him from beating the woman, and told him the neighbors would not tolerate his conduct. I had taken several drinks of brandy with the 'Squire. I had made up my mind not to leave the girl. The men on the outside told me to bring the girl out, as they would carry her if she could not walk. Burton went in the house, and I heard the smothering cries of the girl, and Burton commenced to beat his woman again. I asked Buck Baker and [B]ill Burton to take the ax and burst in the door. They both seemed to be afraid to do it, and I asked if I should burst it open, and they said, "Yes; we will stand by you." The first blow i hit the door, the men ran and left me alone. The third blow broke the door down. Burton threw a chair at me, then took a single-tree and hit me three or four licks over the head and shoulders. His woman was holding him the best she could, or he would have killed me. In the meantime Gussie Burton came up and took hold of my arm, while Smith Burton pulled the ax out of the door where I left it sticking. He asked Jesse Burton if he took my part. He said "Yes, he would die by me." He drew the ax and said he would split me wide open. Then Curt Burton hit the ax with a hickory club which prevented him from hitting me. By this time the knife was placed in my hand. Burton let my arm go and they all stepped back. I said, "Smith, do you intend to kill me?" He said, "Yes, I will, G-d d--n you." I then stuck the knife in him and ran off. I learned he followed me about four steps from the door and fell. I waited at a neighbor's house until the men reported to me that he was dead. I wanted to go to Somerset and give myself up, but they said "no," and they furnished me with $3.75, and they came with me to the river, and one came on with me and the other went back to get my child and bring it to me." [4]


[June 2, 1882] -

Mary Eads, the woman who killed old man Smith Burton in this county some weeks since was arrested in Nicholasville, and the authorities here were notified by telegram of the fact, and Jailer Shepperd went after her. [5]


[September 6, 1882] -



Leads to the Arrest of an Alleged Murderes.--A Letter in Her Possession Gives Away the Sheriff.


SOMERSET, KY., Sept. 6. -- Last March a woman named Mary Eades, of vile character, living a short distance west of this place, murdered a man named Smith Burton, and fled the country. A few weeks ago a man named Russ Muse, supposed to be her accomplice in the murder, was killed by a falling tree. A letter was found on his person from the woman Eades, stating that she was at 242 Crawford st., Nashville, Tenn.  County Attorney Shodoan procured a requisition from the governor of Tennessee, telegraphed to the chief of police at Nashville, and had the woman arrested. On her person was a letter from Samuel Tate, sheriff of Pulaski county, telling her to stay where she was; that he would have a reward offered for her arrest, and then for her to give herself up, and they would divide the reward between them. The woman is now in jail at Somerset, and the sheriff does not deny the charge. [6]


[October 13, 1882] -

The case of Mary Eads, charged with the killing of Wm. Burton, was commenced yesterday and is likely to consume most of the week. [7]


[October 24, 1882] -

The case of Mary Eads for the murder of one Burton, was tried last week, and resulted in a hung jury. The jury stood 11 for acquittal and one for the death penalty. The case was called again yesterday, and a venire of fifty men was summoned, out of which a jury was selected and the case is being tried again. The prisoner is now in the last stage of consumption, and it is expedient that an early disposition should be made of the case. The community at large join in hoping she may be acquitted, as our jail is not a suitable place for a woman in her condition. Later.--She was acquitted. [8]


[October 25, 1882] -

Mary Eads was tried for the murder of a man named Burton and acquitted at Somerset last week. She is in the last stages of consumption. [9]


[October 31, 1882] -

Highly jubilant over her success in the Circuit Court, Mary Eads concluded to take unto herself a husband and lead a better life; so on last Monday she was married to James Higgins. [10]


[June 15, 1883] -

Jim Higgins, of Pulaski Station, was before Judge Tarter Tuesday, on the charge of using insulting and abusive language to a young girl, and was fined $3 and costs. Jim married Mary Eades, the woman who killed Smith Burton, and the young girl he insulted is Mary's daughter, and about 15 years of age. Jim paid up the damages, and was released from the custody of the law. [11]


[1] Excerpt from "The Commonwealth." The Courier Journal, Louisville, KY. April 6, 1882. Page 4.

[2] "Alleged Murder." The Daily American, Nashville, TN. May 25, 1882. Page 4.

[3] "Mary M. James." The Daily American, Nashville, TN. May 26, 1882. Page 4.

[4] "Mrs. James' Deed." The Daily American, Nashville, TN. May 29, 1882. Page 4.

[5] Excerpt from "Pulaski County." Semi-Weekly Interior Journal, Stanford, KY. June 2, 1882. Page 2. LOC.

[6] "Somerset Sensation." Cincinnati Post, Cincinnati, OH. September 6, 1882. Page 4.

[7] Excerpt from "Some Scattering Notes from Our Business Manager." Semi-Weekly Interior Journal, Stanford, KY. October 13, 1882. Page 2. LOC.

[8] Excerpt from "Pulaski County." Semi-Weekly Interior Journal, Stanford, KY. October 24, 1882. Page 2. LOC.

[9] Excerpt from "The Commonwealth." The Courier Journal, Louisville, KY. October 25, 1882. Page 7.

[10] Excerpt from "Pulaski County." Semi-Weekly Interior Journal, Stanford, KY. October 31, 1882. Page 3. LOC.

[11] Excerpt from "Pulaski County." Semi-Weekly Interior Journal, Stanford, KY. June 15, 1883. Page 3. LOC.

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