November 6, 2016

Former Rockcastle Judge Gunned Down on Church Steps, Lincoln, 1876


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


[April 27, 1876] -


Horrible Murder of Judge John A. Carson by John Smith at Crab Orchard Last Sunday -- The Murderer in Jail and Mob Violence Expected--Political Points.

[Correspondence of the Courier-Journal.]

STANFORD, KY., April 26, 1876. -- On Sunday morning last, about 11 o'clock, Judge John A. Carson was assaulted at the Baptist-church door in Crab Orchard, by John Smith, and shot to death. One of the witnesses states that Smith was observed standing at the church door as the congregation was assembling for worship, and when Judge Carson was seen approaching Smith crossed the street to his shop, entered it and remained a few moments, when he came out and recrossed the street, coming up behind Carson, and just as Carson reached the door Smith drew a pistol, and, without warning, shot him in the back. Carson turned and cried for help, receiving a second shot in the breast, he then begged piteously for mercy, seeing no help at hand, and, receiving a third shot, fell. A Mr. Foly rushed across the street and caught Smith, who hurled him away, and, presenting his pistol at him, made him retreat. Smith then turned and shot Carson, while prostrate upon the ground, bleeding and dying, twice more. One chamber of his revolver failed to fire, he stood over his dead victim and snapped his pistol several times. The congregation inside of the church heard the shots and screams and dying groans of the murdered man, but feared to go to his assistance. After snapping his pistol several times and failing to fire the remaining load, Smith cooly pocketed it and walked across the street, and stood calmly and apparently unconcerned until arrested, when he told the officer that Carson had "talked about him and had to die for it, and had as well die then as at any time." The officer placed him in jail here Sunday night, and to-day the grand jury (which has been in session several days) has the case under consideration. Great excitement exists about Crab Orchard especially, and mob violence is expected. The jail is guarded at night by citizens, summoned by the jailer.

As an atrocious, fiendish and unprovoked murder, this has no parallel in the annals of Lincoln county. And this is not alone the opinion of your correspondent, but the outspoken judgment of every one who has heard the particulars of the tragedy. No sort of justification or excuse can be offered for the assault and murder -- not even the plea of insanity. The malice of Smith was shown a short time ago, when the deceased called upon him in his shop to assess his property for city revenue. Smith responded by seizing a hatchet and attempting to kill him.

Smith has heretofore borne the character of an industrious mechanic, of sober and peaceable habits, but morose and unsociable. He is about thirty-five years of age.

Judge Carson was aged seventy, has kept a hotel in Crab Orchard for a number of years, is very extensively related in this part of the State, and was pious, inoffensive and generally beloved. He has four sons in the 'drumming' business, two (John F. and Zack) in Louisville, and two in Cincinnati, all of whom are well known in the State, and deservedly popular as salesmen.

Our circuit court is still in session, and, having disposed of the Aug[den] Bridgewater case, nothing of importance in the criminal line remains to be done, save the trial of Smith, which we learn will not take place this term. [1]


[April 27, 1876] -

Another Account.

[To the Editor of the Courier-Journal.]

CRAB ORCHARD, KY., Sunday Evening, April 23, 1876. -- Our little village, which is usually quiet on Sundays, was thrown into a blaze of excitement at precisely 11 o'clock by the report of several pistol-shots coming from the direction of the Baptist church. Upon reaching the scene of action it proved to be a most horrible murder. Judge John E. Carson was on his way to church and had gotten within a few feet of the church-door when he was attacked by one John Smith, a carpenter by trade, and long a resident of this place. Smith advanced toward Carson, coming from almost an opposite direction, and when within six feet of him drew a Colt's revolver and began his deadly work without one word having been passed between them; the first shot struck about three inches below the left nipple, and the second the cheek bone, and glancing downward into the neck. Just then the judge threw up his arms and pleaded for mercy in the most piteous tones, saying, "You have killed me; that is enough;" but no-- Mr. Andrew Foley, who was in company with Carson, attempted just here to interfere but was soon desisted when that deadly weapon was drawn on him -- Smith turns to his reeling and submissive foe, who was then breathing his last, and shot him three more times. Every shot except the one in the cheek bone would have proved fatal. The Rev. Mr. Johnson had just begun preaching when the tragedy had occurred, and such an excited host of men, women, and children that came rushing out the doors, some jumping out the windows, you will but seldom see. Judge Carson leaves six sons and two daughters to mourn over his death. He was an excellent citizen, a kind father, and I believe a professor of religion; he was 70 years old only a few days ago. He was once judge of Rockcastle county; has been a widower for some years, and has been making his home with a widowed daughter, Mrs. Brooks, a most estimable lady, who was the only one at home at the time to receive the terrible shock. It is thought by some that the end is not yet, and as a precautionary measure Smith had an informal trial and was taken to Stanford by our very worthy sheriff, Baily Weathers, with a strong guard. Smith is a middle-aged man, and has always borne a good reputation for sobriety and industry, and up to three months ago, when he and the judge had a difficulty, in his shop, was considered a peaceable citizen. It seems that he accused the judge of telling a lie upon him; the matter has apparently been constantly weighing upon his mind, though trivial, until it has culminated in a most dastardly murder, for which it seems there can be no escape except "insanity," and so far as I know he has never been charged with that.

Our Circuit Court is now in session, and has been drawing some of our Young America over the coals for carrying concealed weapons. God grant that some means could be devised to do away with this curse. [2]


[April 28, 1876] -

A BLOODY MURDER -- JUDGE CARSON ASSASSINATED. -- Crab Orchard was the scene, on Sunday last, of a most foul murder. Judge J. E. Carson, a useful and respected citizen of that place, aged 72 years, while on his way to church, was shot and instantly killed, within a few steps of the church door, by a man named John Q. Smith, also a resident of Crab Orchard. Without any warning, and from the rear, Smith commenced shooting at Carson, and after firing three shots, any of which would have proved fatal, a Mr. Foley, caught Smith and endeavored to prevent him shooting again, but Smith, who is a very strong man, shook him away, at the same time threatening to shoot Foley, if he further interfered. He then fired two more shots, both taking effect in the Judge's body. Smith made no effort to escape, and when on being arrested, was asked why he did the shooting, only replied "that some one had to kill him, and it might have as well been me, as any one else." He is a man about 50 years old, a carpenter by trade, and is naturally, very reticent, and for this reason, and the fact of the bloody deed, is supposed, by many, to be crazy. It is said that he has cherished an ill feelin[g] for Judge Carson, since January last, when the Judge, in his capacity as Assessor of Crab Orchard, applied to him for his list. Some warm words passed between them, and ended by Smith running Carson out of the house with a hatchet. Smith waived examining trial and as his case is not a bailable one, he will be held in Jail here, to be tried for an indictment for murder at the next term of the Circuit Court--provided the friends of Judge Carson do not fear that justice will be thwarted and mete out a more certain punishment to him.

Fearing this, the Jail has been nightly guarded by a number of young men summoned for the purpose. Such fiendish acts as the one recorded, deserve the quickest and direct punishment of the law, else no person in this country can feel himself in the least safe. If Smith is insane, he ought to be ironed and placed in an asylum, if not, the severest penalty of the law can hardly atone for his dreadful crime. [3]


[April 27, 1876] -


Great Excitement Caused by an Attempt to Shoot John Smith, the Alleged Murderer of Judge Carson.

[Special Dispatch to the Courier-Journal.]

STANFORD, KY., April 26. -- Last Sunday a man named John Smith shot and killed Judge J. E. Carson at Crab Orchard, in this [Lincoln] county. He shot him five times without provocation. Smith was indicted for murder at the present term of court, and brought out for trial this morning. Not being ready, he was sent back to jail. Four sons of the murdered man were in attendance, and as the guard was on the way to jail with Smith, young Joe Carson, a son of Judge Carson, drew a revolver and snapped it at Smith. One of the other sons was there with a pistol. The guard disarmed them. His honor Judge Owsley took their word of honor that they would not interfere with Smith again, and they were permitted to go. Great excitement prevailed for a time. [4]


[April 28, 1876] -

AN EXCITING SCENE. -- On last Wednesday morning, a very exciting scene occurred at the Court House. The man, John Smith, who killed Judge Carson, was brought out to the Court-House to see whether or not the case could be tried at this term. Four sons of Mr. Carson, John, James, Joe and David, came into the room. The Court on hearing that they were armed, had the Sheriff to search them but no pistols were found. Smith was remanded to Jail, with a guard of six or eight men, and on reaching the Court yard, young Joe Carson, sprang forward with a drawn Navy Revolver, and, placing it almost against the breast of Smith, attempted to fire, but the pistol snapped. The other three sons were present with weapons but by the courage of the guard, they were all four caught and disarmed, and Smith's life saved, so far. The two young men mostly engaged in the affair, were taken before the Judge, who, at first, ordered them to give bond in $500 each, to keep the peace, but on reflection, concluded to take their word of honor to do no further violence to the prisoner, and they were thus set at liberty. The sympathy of the entire community is with these young men, and we heard numbers regret that young Carson did not succeed in avenging the death of his aged father. [4]


[April 28, 1876] -

For ten or fifteen minutes during the excitement over the attempted shooting of Smith by the Carson boys, the other three prisoners who were being taken to jail at the same time, by the guard, had a chance to escape. Every one seemed to be unconscious of the fact that the others besides Smith were on the road to jail; and Bridgwater and Yancy, especially the latter, might have made good their escape. We presume, however, that they were as much excited as any body, if not more, and therefore no attempt was made by either to escape the punishment prescribed. [4]


[April 28, 1876] -

There being such a strong probability of the summary punishment of Smith, the murderer of Judge Carson, he was ordered by Judge Owsley, to be taken to the Lexington Jail to await his trial--Sheriff Withers, with Capt. Shanks and Woods Little, as guards, started with him to that place, on Wednesday night last. [4]


[May 5, 1876] -

When the men who were sent off with the man John Q. Smith, the murderer of Judge Carson, reached the toll gate on the Danville pike, Smith, fearing an attack, told his guard to give him a pistol also, as he wanted to have a chance to defend himself, in case any one attacked him. The guard very properly, of course, refused to comply with his request, thinking, no doubt, that as he had killed one man already, he might conclude to kill a few more. Smith was lodged safely in the Lexington Jail, but as Judge Owsley learned from several sources that the Jail in that city was insecure as a place of confinement, he made an order to remove the prisoner to the Louisville Jail, which has been done, or will be, in a short time. [5]


[May 26, 1876] -

Smith, who murdered Judge Carson, at Crab Orchard, some weeks since, has been carried from the Lexington Jail to the prison at Louisville, for safe keeping, where he will remain until the next October Term of the Lincoln Circuit Court, and at that term, Smith will be brought here for trial, on the charge preferred against him. [6]


[October 13, 1876] -

The man, John Smith, who murdered Judge J. E. Carson, at Crab Orchard, will be brought here next Monday for trial at this term of the Circuit Court. He is in the Louisville jail. His plea is that of insanity, and a large number of witnesses for and against the prisoner, will be examined. [7]


[October 20, 1876] -

John Smith, charged with murdering Judge Carson, at Crab Orchard, was brought up from Louisville last Wednesday, and his case will, in all probability, be called this morning, and tried during the term. The case creates much excitement. [8]


[October 27, 1876] -

Circuit Court.

TRIAL OF JOHN SMITH. -- Promptly at nine o'clock, last Saturday morning, the Court called the case of the Commonwealth against John Smith, charged with the murder of John E. Carson, at Crab Orchard last April. The court room was filled with people from all parts of the county, who were anxious to hear the trial. It was with great difficulty that a jury was obtained, as nearly everybody had come to an opinion as to the guilt or innocence of the accused, from reading the papers or from rumors. It took nearly an entire day to get a jury, but finally the following jurymen were sworn: A. K. Denny, J. M. Elder, Jno. W. Logan, J. B. McKinney, G. N. Bradley, John Jones, A. M. Jones, John Dinwiddle, Jno. Menifee, George Bright, George Tribble and T. M. White.  After they were sworn, the attorneys for the defense put in the plea of not guilty on account of the insanity of the accused, to which plea of insanity the attorney for the Commonwealth replied in effect that it was simulated, not a real insanity, and that the case of the murder was jealousy. In other words, that there was a "woman at the bottom" of the entire acts of the defendant Smith. A great many witnesses were examined, especially for the defense, the latter to prove the monomania of Mr. Smith. The witnesses for the prosecution, in giving their evidence in chief, necessarily confined themselves to the act and circumstances of the killing, which occurred on a Sunday morning in April last, in front of the Baptist church door, at Crab Orchard. Judge Carson, the man killed, was shot by Smith with a revolver, five times, either of which is thought would have produced death. Such was the advanced age (72 years) of the deceased. Divine services were just about to begin. A Mr. Foley was with Mr. Carson, who asked Smith not to shoot, and held him for a moment, but Smith was bent on killing Judge Carson. After shooting all the loads out of his revolver but one (which failed to fire), Smith walked deliberately across the street to where his carpenter shop was situated, but was halted and arrested, and taken to Stanford to jail. There was some proof that Carson, who was town assessor of Crab Orchard, went to Smith's shop to get a list of his taxable property, some months before the killing, and that Smith greatly abused him. There was also some proof that a certain woman who lived near Crab Orchard, was visited now and then by both Smith and Carson, privately. Some proof was also given that Smith sometimes drank liquor, but not to excess. His character was proven by all the witnesses to been that of a quiet, peaceable, unoffensive man, one who rarely ever said a word to any one even on business. That he had a great impediment in his speech, and did not like to talk. At the close of the statements as to the killing, etc., the Commonwealth rested her case in chief. The defense then introduced their witnesses to prove the plea of insanity. The sister of Smith, with whom he lived, the niece of Smith and the brother, swore that Smith acted strangely for several months before the killing. That his health was bad, had but little appetite, was restless and lost much sleep. That he imagined there were several men after him to kill him. That there was a combination of men to ruin his character and break him up in business. That on one occasion he told his sister, a maiden lady of fifty years of age, one night at home, that there were three men around the house who had come to harm him. Smith would not be satisfied until his sister or some one else, went for the town marshal and another person, to look for the three men. The marshal and another came, examined the premises, and told Smith no body was there, and that if he was afraid to stay there, to go and stay all night with a Mr. DeBord. Other witnesses, among them Col. W. G. Welch, a Mr. Myers and others, testified to acts of monomania, or insanity. The defense introduced two physicians, who had heard all, or nearly all of the evidence, and after defining the various species of insanity, said that if the evidence was true, as detailed by the witnesses, then, in their opinion as medical men, the man John Smith was of unsound mind. Other witness said that in their opinion, Smith was insane. The foregoing are the main details of the evidence in the defense. After this, the Commonwealth introduced rebutting evidence to show that Smith was a sane man. These were not medical men, however, but were men who had known Smith for years. Many of them said they believed Smith to be of sound mind, from conversations they had with him on certain occasions. One other physician testified for the prosecution, but his evidence differed but little from that of the other two physicians who testified at the instance of the defense.

At the conclusion of the testimony for and against the prisoner, the court gave full instructions to the jury, and adjourned them at five o'clock Tuesday evening, until after supper. The sheriff kept them together until half past six p.m., when they were called together and the argument was opened for the defense by J. W. Alcorn, Esq., in a forcible speech of about one hour. He was followed by Col. G. W. Dunlap for the prosecution in a speech of much power. He spoke over an hour and a quarter. After this, the jury were discharged until Wednesday morning, at 9 o'clock. At that hour, W. O. Hansford addressed the jury for the defense for over an hour. His speech was a feeling and good one. He was followed by Judge M. C. Saufley for the prosecution in a somewhat lengthy speech, but it had a seemingly powerful effect upon the jury and the audience. Next and last came Col. T. P. Hill, for the defense, in one of the finest and ablest efforts he ever made in behalf of a criminal at our bar. His speech, nearly two hours long, was logical, beautiful, eloquent and convincing. The case was closed by Commonwealth Attorney George Denny. Mr. Denny, as a prosecutor, has but few equals in any district of the State. To say that he did justice to the Commonwealth, would be only a slight compliment. His effort in the prosecution was bold and telling, and showed him to be capable of attending to the public interest in afield to which he has been chosen. A number of ladies attended the speaking, and seemed to be much entertained. The case was given to the jury at 6 o'clock, and they retired and remained in their room for about two hours, without making a verdict. The Judge then adjourned them for the night, but called them together the next morning and they remained out until nearly noon. Being wholly unable to agree, they came in and so announced to the court, and they were therefore discharged. how they stood in the matter, no one yet knows, as they made a solemn vow among themselves not to let the public know. Smith, of course, was remanded to jail, where he will remain until the next term of the court in April, and all the long and tedious trial will have to be gone through with again.

Four days and a part of two nights were spent in the investigation of the Smith case, which is quite one-third of the entire term. [9]


[November 3, 1876] -

On the night preceding the day that Jno. Smith was taken back to the Louisville jail, a considerable excitement was created on the groundless rumor that a mob was to take possession of Smith and meet out his just punishment. This threw the officials on their guard, who had all the young men and some of the older ones of town summoned to protect the murderer from the supposed lynchers, and the result was that some twenty or twenty-five men lost a night's sleep, the county about $40, when we do not suppose the idea of lynching Smith ever entered the heads of the Carson boys. [10]


[November 3, 1876] -

Judge M. H. Owsley in a New Role. When the the excitement arose the other night with regard to the probable lynching of Smith, the sheriff had considerable difficulty in getting a guard. Judge Owsley was summoned, obeyed, and heroically stood the night through. Our young men, encouraged by his action, fell into line, and soon there were enough guards to head off the U.S. army. Judge Owsley is, without doubt, the most untiring man, the hardest working Judge, and one of the most affable and courteous gentlemen in the State. His rulings in court give general satisfaction, and the correctness of his decisions are attested by the usual concurrence of the Court of Appeals. In point of fact the Judge has, since ascending the bench, exceeded the expectations even of his warmest friends. Intrepid, able, incorruptible, and impartial he makes a Judge of whom the district is justly proud, and some fine day the 8th district will have, and embrace, the opportunity to assist in conferring still higher honors upon this knightly and distinguished gentleman. [10]


[April 27, 1877] -

Circuit Court Notes.

The greater portion of the time of the Court since our last report has been taken up in the trial of John Smith, who our readers will remember, shot and killed Judge J. E. Carson, at Crab Orchard on the 23d day of April, 1876. This is the second trial of the case, and as it has created great excitement throughout the county, it was impossible to obtain but four jurors out of the regular panel, to-wit: Thomas Robinson, Liberty Green, Perry Land, and P. L. Simpson, and the Court being satisfied that a full jury could not be obtained in the county, appointed Mr. T. T. Daviess a special Sheriff to go to Boyle county and summons sixty men. On Friday morning about forty men, in obedience to his summons appeared in Court, from which the additional following jurors were obtained: Jeff. Hudson, Wm. Calvert, Peter Bonta, Anthony May, Wm. Dibon, J. N. Prewitt, Samuel McDowell and Nick McDowell, and the panel having been completed the jury was sworn in. The taking of the testimony was commenced at noon Friday, and after the examination of some thirty or forty witnesses was concluded on Tuesday morning, when the charges to the jury having been agreed upon, the argument of the case was begun. The plea of the defendant was that he was at the time of the killing, and is now, insane. He was very ably defended, the speeches of some of his counsel being especially comprehensive and eloquent. Commonwealth Attorney George Denny, Jr., closed the argument on Wednesday about 10 o'clock, with one of his best and most forcible speeches, and the case was then given to the jury, who, after a short retirement returned the following verdict: "We, the jury, find the defendant, John Smith, guilty of murder and fix as his punishment, confinement in the Penitentiary during his natural life." The verdict appears to give almost unusual satisfaction as it will be easy enough to change Mr. Smith's residence from the Penitentiary to the Asylum if the officers at the former institution discover the much longed for insanity. Since the first trial of the case in October last, Smith has been confined for safe keeping in the jail at Louisville, and we are informed by the Clerk of the Court that his case has already cost the Commonwealth over $2,000. It is to be hoped that it is at last ended. [11]


[May 4, 1877] -

The counsel for John Smith, argued on Monday, a motion for a new trial, but it was overruled and will not be taken to the Court of Appeals. Under a new law the execution of the judgment is suspended for sixty days, to await the action of the higher Court. Smith was taken on Tuesday to the new jail at Danville, as ours is rather too close, and badly ventilated to insure his comfort. [12]


[June 1, 1877] -

The sons of Mr. John Carson, who was killed at Crab Orchard some months ago, have presented to Commonwealth's Attorney Denny a one-hundred dollar Cane, with an inscription indicating their gratitude for his services in the prosecution of the murderer. [13]


[June 1, 1877] -

Card of Thanks.

Messrs. Joseph, Z. T., T. B., G. W., J. E., and D. B. Carson:

I received through the hands of Mr. W. A. Carson, the magnificent $100 gold-headed cane, with the inscription: "To F. F. Bobbitt, presented by the sons of Judge J. E. Carson, deceased, as an additional testimonial of esteem for his able and faithful discharge of professional duty." I accept the costly present at the hands of the generous donors, and shall ever preserve it as an invaluable souvenir of the past. The pleasure in accepting the much appreciated gift at your hands, is deeply tinged with sadness at the thought of the melancholy occasion that called forth the speech that was the cause of its presentation. Your lamented father was highly esteemed, and much revered by me, and I argued the case against his murderer with as much ardent zeal as I would have plead against him who had killed my own father.

Very Respectfully, yours, Fontaine F. Bobbitt. [14]


[June 22, 1877] -

The case of John Smith, the slayer of Judge Carson, is set for argument before the Court of Appeals, on the 4th of September next. [15]


[June 29, 1877] -

HUNG HIMSELF WITH A TOWEL. --  The  much tried and expensive case for the Commonwealth vs. John Smith for the murder of Judge Carson, has at last been brought to a close by that gentleman taking the law in his own hands and hanging himself, no doubt under the impression that the jury made a mistake in not having it done for him. He is said to have accomplished his end by tying strips of towel together, forming a rope long enough to do the work. His body hanging stiff and stark met the eye of the Jailer yesterday morning and was the first intimation that he had of the deed. He was confined in the jail at Danville until the Court of Appeals could pass on the verdict of the Jury that had condemned him to the Penitentiary for life. [16]


[1] Excerpt from "Lincoln County." The Courier Journal, Louisville, KY. April 27, 1876. Page 1.

[2] Excerpt from "Another Account." The Courier Journal, Louisville, KY. April 27, 1876. Page 1.

[3] Excerpts from "Local News." The Interior Journal, Stanford, KY. April 28, 1876. Page 3. LOC.

[4] Excerpt from "Stanford." The Courier Journal, Louisville, KY. April 27, 1876. Page 1.

[5] Excerpts from Local News." The Interior Journal, Stanford, KY. May 5, 1876. Page 3. LOC.

[6] Excerpt from "Local News." The Interior Journal, Stanford, KY. May 26, 1876. Page 3. LOC.

[7] Excerpt from "Local News." The Interior Journal, Stanford, KY. October 13, 1876. Page 3. LOC.

[8] Excerpt from "Local News." The Interior Journal, Stanford, KY. October 20, 1876. Page 3. LOC.

[9] Excerpt from "Circuit Court." The Interior Journal, Stanford, KY. October 27, 1876. Page 3. LOC.

[10] Excerpts from "Local News." The Interior Journal, Stanford, KY. November 3, 1876. Page 3. LOC.

[11] Excerpt from "Circuit Court Notes." The Interior Journal, Stanford, KY. April 27, 1877. Page 3. LOC.

[12] Excerpt from "Circuit Court Notes." The Interior Journal, Stanford, KY. May 4, 1877. Page 3. LOC.

[13] Excerpt from "Garrard County News." The Interior Journal, Stanford, KY. June 1, 1877. Page 2. LOC.

[14] "Card of Thanks." The Interior Journal, Stanford, KY. June 1, 1877. Page 3. LOC.

[15] Excerpt from "Local News." The Interior Journal, Stanford, KY. June 22, 1877. Page 3. LOC.

[16] Excerpt from "Local News." The Interior Journal, Stanford, KY. June 29, 1877. Page 3. LOC.


No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...