May 2, 2017

Kentucky Senate Candidate Kills Man At Poll Site, Rockcastle, 1867


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


[August 6, 1867] -


On Friday last, two men, brothers, named Ham, were shot in Rockcastle county by a man named Boyd, who is the Radical candidate for the Senate in the district composed of the counties of Whitley, Knox, Laurel and Rockcastle.

Two old men, respectively Bullock and Ham, got into a fight at a political meeting at Providence, in Rockcastle county. Bullock bit off Ham's ear during the scuffle, and this so enraged the two sons of old man Ham that they picked a quarrel with the sons of old man Bullock. Young Bullock fired three shots at young Ham, missing him entirely. Young Ham then opened a small pocket knife and started after young Bullock, and while he was chasing him around the meeting house, he was shot in the back by Boyd. He died instantly. Boyd also shot the brother of Ham through the body, mortally wounding him. The Sheriff succeeded in arresting all parties engaged in the affray, with the exception of Boyd, who made his escape. Young Ham had said to old man Bullock that no one but an abolitionist would vote for Boyd. This is supposed to be the only cause Boyd had for killing these two young men. [1]


[August 7, 1867] -

FATAL AFFRAY IN ROCKCASTLE COUNTY--TWO MEN KILLED.--As we passed through Mt. Vernon on Saturday inst; we were informed of the occurrence of a fatal affray at one of the precincts in Rockcastle County, a day or two before. It appears that at the close of a public speaking between the candidates for the State Senate and Legislature, a difficulty occurred between a number of brothers named Ham and another family, during the course of which the Union candidate for the Senate, named Boyd, became in some way involved. Boyd shot Will Ham as he pursued one of his opponents with a drawn knife, killing him almost instantly. Ed Ham, was also fatally wounded, by some one, and died the following night. Boyd gave himself up to the civil officers, and the remainder of the parties were arrested. A legal investigation of the affair was to have taken place in Mt. Vernon on Saturday evening, but the result we have not learned. -- The details of the difficulty are very conflicting -- the blame being placed on various parties. [2]


[August 12, 1867] -

A fatal affray occurred in Rockcastle county last week, between Mr. R. Boyd, Radical candidate for the Senate, and two men of the name of Ham. Boyd shot William Ham, killing him instantly, and some one shot Ed. Ham, who died in a few hours. The matter is undergoing judicial investigation. [3]


[August 16, 1867] -


RACOON P.O., Aug. 6, 1867.

To the Editor of the Louisville Courier:

The election is just over, and ends in a Radical triumph in this county. Ewel, the negro equality candidate for county clerk, is elected; also Boyd, for Senator, and McClary, for Representative. I understand that Boyd killed two men in the county of Rockcastle on Saturday before the election--particulars not known.

Send me your weekly paper; there is nothing right without it. I should like to see it penetrate to every hearthstone in this end of the State.

J.B. [4]


[August 21, 1867] -


The Fight Between the Harrises [Hams] and Bullocks--Two of the Harrises [Hams] Murdered--One Killed by Senator Boyd--Radical Outrages, etc., etc.


To the Editor of the Louisville Courier:

A communication dated from Crab Orchard was recently published in one of your city papers relative to the killing of two citizens of this county, by the name of Hand [Ham]. As that letter, perhaps, gave an imperfect account of the affray, and as it has acquired some political significance in this district, I request a place in your columns to lay before the public more of its details.

On Thursday, August 1st, the candidates for the Senate in this district, Hyatt and Boyd, met at their speaking appointment in the Glades precinct, in the lower part of the county. The speeches were delivered by the opposing candidates without any disturbance on the part of the crowd in attendance; but immediately after they were concluded a difficulty occurred between several of the Bullocks and Harrises [Hams], the cause of which grew out of an old grudge existing between the two families, and was unconnected with any political matters. It has been developed from the facts, as learned from the witnesses, that the father of the Harrises [Hams] was first assailed by one of the Bullocks, and his sons came to his assistance, whereupon the Bullocks reinforced and the fighting became general. The pistols drawn and fired repeatedly were used only by the Bullocks, the other party being entirely unarmed. One of the Harrises [Hams] soon fell mortally wounded, and it is not definitely ascertained who fired the fatal shot. Another one of them, who fell dead a few moments after, was, when he received his death shot, pursuing one of the Bullocks who had emptied his pistol and was fleeing. The individual who killed him is the Senator elect from this district, having been sustained by over one thousand majority. The temporary importance of this worthy representative--Robert Boyd--renders it necessary that a full and impartial account should be given of the conspicuous part he played in the tragedy. While the last of the Harrises [Hams] who was killed was pursuing his adversary, Mr. Boyd fired three deliberate shots at him as he passed by him, the last taking effect in his back, and caused his death in a few moments. It is established by still further developments, that Boyd interested in no way in the issue of the affray; that he was comparatively a stranger to the Harris [Ham] brothers; that he had not the slightest provocation to extenuate or excuse his act of cool and deliberate slaughter; and that he must have been governed alone by his political friendship for the opposite party, all of whom are Radicals of his own stripe.

The above are substantially the facts of the bloody murder, for such it evidently is, and if contradicted, they can be established by the oath of many of our best citizens. As it may be interesting to your readers to know how Radical justice is done in this region, I will, if permitted, subjoin a statement of the doings of some of our Radical magistrates and judge in the arrest and examining trial of this man Boyd. It would serve to show some of their Northern brethren, who are constantly howling through their press about the murder and persecution of white and black Radicals in this State, that a white Democrat can be shot down in cold blood by a red handed Radical and be protected by sworn officers of the law; nay, even assisted by these same officers in avoiding their own writs for his arrest. After firing the remainder of his shots at the father of the Harrises [Hams], Boyd put spurs to his horse and fled toward the southeastern line of the county. Upon the ground, at the time he left, was one Wm. Carson, our Radical County Judge. This officer witnessed the whole fight, but made no effort to arrest him before or after he rode off; on the contrary when the whole affair was at an end this puissant judge issued, with evident reluctance, a warrant directed to Ashley Owens, our jailer, for the arrest of the two dead men, the Bullocks, the live Harris [Ham], and carefully left out the name of Boyd. Subsequently, however, at the suggestion of Owens, his honor condescended to add this name. The next step in the drama was the strange conduct in the judge in accompanying Boyd to a remote and wild part of the country, aiding the fugitive to escape from arrest under his own warrant; and nor which that worthy officer was yesterday. I am informed, indicted by the grand jury of this county.

It is proper to state here, too, that this same warrant charged Boyd with a breach of the peace only. 

The next step in the drama or rather the farce, was the arrest of the murderer, and his arraignment before two Radical magistrates, Newsom and Nicols, on a charge of murder in a new warrant.

The counsel for the defense suggested to the Court the propriety of waiving an examination, provided their Honors would change the terms to the charges from murder to manslaughter, and admit the prisoner to bail. To their prosecution the County Attorney and the prosecutor in the case assented, and the Court so determined, without the examination of a single witness for or against. Boyd was then admitted to bail in the sum of $5,000.

The next scene is in the grand jury room now sitting. To understand this, the closing act of the farce, it is necessary to inform you that one of Boyd's lawyers, employed to defend him before the examining court, and retained to defend him before whatever future tribunal he may be arraigned, was appointed by the Circuit Judge, during this term, to act as Commonwealth's attorney in all cases in which he was not engaged for the defense. He entered upon his duties after having been sworn, as required by law. The grand jury reported an indictment for murder against Boyd, this Commonwealth's Attorney, setting for the State and at the same time one of the prisoners' employed lawyers, went before them and respited his recognizance as the prosecutor.

Such, Mr. Editor, was the conclusion of the judicial farce, one in which, however, the impartial judge of this circuit had no hand, as he is, in the opinion of every unbiased mind among us, a faithful guardian of the law.

This is a case that needs no comment. If unsuspecting men are to be shot down by candidates for office in this way, simply because they oppose them in their political views, we may well say the time has come when we need no law nor courts. If our magistrates and prosecuting attorneys are thus to become the mere tools of a party and are allowed to employ their official positions in countenancing outrages and murder, then indeed had we better quit playing the farce of judicial justice. If county judges are to be allowed thus to defy the law, in issuing warrants for breaches of the peace, when in fact and truth murders are committed with a high hand, what will we come to next? 



[August 21, 1867] -

CORRECTION. -- Owing to the indistinctness of the manuscript we observe that, in the communication from Rockcastle county, on the third page (in our first edition), the printer has put the name Harris where it should be Ham. The men killed by Boyd were named Ham, not Harris. [6]


[August 29, 1867] -


Letter from the Commonwealth's Attorney.

MOUNT VERNON, KY., Aug. 27, 1867.

To the Editor of the Louisville Courier:

In your issue of the 21st of August you publish a correspondence from this county, under the name of Justice, relative to the Ham affair. That communication purports to give a true account of the affair, and implicates the whole county, grand jury, and all concerned as being Radical, except the circuit judge. Now, your correspondent has grossly misrepresented nearly the whole affair--has not used as much truth as did the Devil to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden; and as that correspondent, who assumes the name of Justice, if not contradicted, might claim that it was truth, I beg you to publish this communication.

It is true that William and Edward Ham were killed, in which they and their father and the Bullocks were engaged in a general fight, and it is true that Senator elect from this district, Robert Boyd, was indicted by the grand jury of Rockcastle county, for the murder of William Ham. As to the origin of the difficulty between the Bullocks and the Hams I am not certainly advised, but believe it originated a few days before between the two elder Bullocks and Ham, and culminated on the first day of August at the political meeting spoken of by "Justice," and that politics had nothing to do with the affair. Now, when the elder Bullocks and Ham were engaged in a mutual fight, their sons, on each side, ran in, with pistols and knives, and William Ham, with a knife in his hand, was closely pursuing James Bullock, who had a pistol in his hand and shooting back at Ham as he ran; and while William Ham was thus pursuing James Bullock, he (Ham) was shot and killed, for which Robert Boyd is now indicted. Who killed Edward Ham is not certainly known. Robert Boyd was indicted for the killing of Wm. Ham, which is all the indictment in the affair, except that the old man Bullock is indicted for mayhem in biting off the ear of the old man Ham. The grand jury refused to find any indictment against James Bullock, as the evidence is clear that what he did was in self-defense. I will now take up each case that "Justice" tries to stigmatize in this matter.

In the first place, as he hits me as acting Commonwealth Attorney a hard lick, and if it was true it certainly would reflect upon my character and that of the court and grand jury, and even upon the county. This man, Justice as he styles himself, is known. He has a license to practice law. The licensed lawyer that will write a piece as his, "the closing act of the farce," as he styles it, that the Commonwealth Attorney and the grand jury could respite the recognizance of Robt. Boyd, when any county justice of the peace knows that the Circuit Judge alone can do it. Either justice does not know any law or cares nothing for his reputation as one, and for this reason comes out under a fictitious name.

Now, I can assure your correspondent, ties[?], and the community at large, that the part of the correspondence relative to the acting Commonwealth's Attorney before the grand jury is false from beginning to end. I drew the indictment against Robert Boyd, as no one else could draw it, unless in my name, and I followed the directions of the grand jury, and did not indure any bail[?] upon it whatever, as the indictment will show for itself, and was so reported to court. I then requested the court to appoint a Commonwealth Attorney to prosecute it, and some of the balance of Boyd's counsel suggested to the court that there was not sufficient time of the term left to get the witnesses up and try the case, and the court himself reputed the recognizance of Mr. Boyd, and not the Commonwealth Attorney and the grand jury, as Mr. Justice would have it. I wish Justice to understand that I am no Radical, but a life long Democrat, voted for Polk, Pierce, Buchanan and John C. Breckinridge for Presidents, and have never voted any other way. The sixteen grand jurymen were all Democrats, save one or two, and yet the imputation is thrown out that the Judge upon the bench, was the only Democrat belonging to the court.

As regards his account of Wm. Carson, our County Judge, being indited, that is entirely false. Judge Carson and myself differ widely in politics, and he issued the warrant about as claimed by Justice; but as to Judge Carson's hiding Boyd, the proof before the grand jury contradicted it. The proof was that Boyd went toward the southeast portion of the county, and that Judge Carson went and arrested him and placed him under the care of Wm. D. McGraw, to be by him kept and brought to Mount Vernon for trial, to answer the charges and the conclusion arrived at by the grand jury was that through excitement Judge Carson did not know what kind of warrant he did issue, and intentionally did no wrong.

As regards Justice's statement of the examining court, in the main it is true, except the County Attorney did not consent, but submitted to the court, and the court did hold it not to be murder, but manslaughter, and admitted Boyd to bail int he sum of $5,000, offered voluntarily by Mr. Boyd's counsel.

Now, as regards Robert Boyd, he is a high toned gentleman, but a Radical, and is elected to the State Senate, but if he did use his pistol on the 1st of August, as is alleged, he certainly did wrong, and, according to Justice, the Hams were strangers to him, and there could be no premeditated malice, no intent to murder, and the act was done through excitement, on the spur of the moment, on seeing William Ham pursuing James Bullock with a drawn knife, and Bullock running; and under these circumstances Boyd, not knowing the politics of either; fired, as some of the witnesses say, three times at William Ham to save the life of James Bullock. He, therefore, cannot be guilty of murder, only manslaughter, and is entitled to bail.

As there will be a trial of this matter before the courts, as to Boyd's guilt or innocence, I forbear comment for the present as to the merits of the case. My only wish is to exculpate myself and set the matter aright before the country, and not have people thinking that Rockcastle county (the place where you can breathe pure air, drink as pure water as ever slaked the thirst of the red man of the forest, find kind and generous people, good society, good lands, plenty of timber and coal) is a God-forsaken county, abounding in murderers and cut-throats, that the civil law will not reach. When this is done I am satisfied.



[August 29, 1867] -


A Personal Vindication.

Mt. Vernon, Rock Castle Co., Ky., 
August 27, 1867.

To the Editor of the Louisville Courier:

I see in your daily of the 21st inst., a history of an affray which happened on the first day of this month, in this county, between the Ham's and Bullock's, in which two of the Ham's were killed. In that article I am accused of acting corruptly as a peace officer.

You will therefore please insert the following brief reply in the Courier for the benefit of those who may be concerned:

I was on the ground at the time the difficulty occurred, and it is needless for me to say I discharged my duty as a conservator of the peace on that occasion; but for the benefit of those concerned I refer them to the grand jury of this county, which was sworn and instructed by his honor Judge Pearl on the 8th day of this month and discharged on the 16th, of which Capt. R. L. Myers was foreman, and all of which, with one exception, differ with me in politics. Said article referred to above, charges that I was indicted by the grand jury. The young gentleman that wrote the article either willfully lied or was badly informed, as the grand jury found no against me at all. Notwithstanding I was charged with having acted corruptly in office before the election, I thought it was only for electioneering purposes and would stop as soon as the election was over; but the charge was made, and it was the duty of the grand jury to investigate it, especially when it was given to them in charge by his honor Judge Pearl. The grand jury did investigate my case, or rather the charge against me, and called every witness that was on the ground at the time said affray occurred, numbering in all some fifteen or twenty, the father of the two deceased Ham's being one of the number. It seems then that if I had acted as badly as charged so many witnesses would have sustained the charges; but it seems they explained it away.

In answer to the charge of having run Senator Boyd to a remote part of the county, I found Boyd just at daylight the next morning after the killing was done. I arrested him and took him to a justice of the peace, who resides about twelve miles from the county seat, and turned Boyd over to him with orders to keep him safely until I called for him.

My object was to satisfy myself that there was no danger of a mob, which was a part of my duty, seeing the amount of excitement which I did on that occasion, and especially in a time when mob law is prevalent. I let him remain there one day when I sent orders to the justice having him in charge, to deliver him under a safe guard to me in the town of Mt. Vernon, on Saturday, Aug. 31, which he accordingly did. When Boyd was taken out of my custody by a warrant for murder, which was issued by Esquire Neweum of this place, and was in the hands of Ashley Owens, jailer of Rockcastle county, I was then relieved of any further responsibility so far as Boyd was concerned.

Very respectfully,
Judge Rockcastle County Court. [8]


[1] Excerpt from "Letter from Crab Orchard Springs." Louisville Daily Courier, Louisville, KY. August 6, 1867. Page 1.

[2] Excerpt from Column 2. Central Kentucky Gazette, Danville, KY. August 7, 1867. Page 3.

[3] Excerpt from "Kentucky Items." Louisville Daily Courier, Louisville, KY. August 12, 1867. Page 2.

[4] "From Laurel County." Louisville Daily Courier, Louisville, KY. August 16, 1867. Page 1.

[5] "From Rockcastle County." Louisville Daily Courier, Louisville, KY. August 21, 1867. Page 3.

[6] Excerpt from Column 3. Louisville Daily Courier, Louisville, KY. August 21, 1867. Page 4.

[7] "More of the Rockcastle Tragedy." Louisville Daily Courier, Louisville, KY. August 29, 1867. Page 1.

[8] "Letter from Judge Carson." Louisville Daily Courier, Louisville, KY. August 29, 1867. Page 4.


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