November 11, 2017

The Murder of Major James H. Bridgewater, Lincoln, 1867


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


Related: Roll of the Hall's Gap Battalion

See also: Maj. James H. Bridgewater's page on - includes pictures and a summary of his life and career.


[June 8, 1867] -

LYNCH LAW IN LINCOLN COUNTY. -- Some four or five days ago a party of men at Crab Orchard undertook to lynch one James Bridgewater, but he succeeded in escaping from them. Thursday evening, about the time the cars arrived, Bridgewater rode into Crab Orchard, with about ten men, in search of one Birch who was said to be the leader of the lynching party. But before they succeeded in finding him, Birch had concentrated his forces and made another attack on Bridgewater, who being outnumbered had to beat a retreat, which he did very successfully. [1]


[June 9, 1867] -

Some two weeks ago a party of six or seven men, headed by a man named Steven Bruce [Burch?], undertook to regulate, reconstruct or reform one Major Jim Bridgewater, in the vicinity of Crab Orchard, Ky. This Major was in the Federal army, it is said, during the war, and mounted himself, it is asserted, without regard to expenses, rather too often to the cost of certain citizens in or near Crab Orchard. At any rate, considerable prejudice existed against him when he returned to the rosy paths of peace. The attempt to reconstruct him proved a failure, and no damage was done. The second act in the drama occurred on the 6th instant at Crab Orchard. Bridgewater in turn collected a party of about ten men, all armed with Spencer rifles, and made a dash into the town about train time. Bruce, and his friends, it seems, were on the alert, and gave the raiders a warm reception. Several volleys were fired by both sides. Fortunately, it is supposed, no one was hurt. Bridgewater's crowd soon broke and fled from the town. [2]


[June 11, 1867] -

Card From Mr. Stephen Burch.

CRAB ORCHARD, KY. June 9, 1867.

To the Editor of the Louisville Courier:

In your issue of the 8th ultimo I observed a piece titled "A disturbance at Crab Orchard" in which I was accused of being the ring-leader of a band of regulators, lynchers, or desperadoes, located in this (Lincoln) county, a reputation no law-abiding citizen would wish to gain; therefore, I wish in this way to deny the above as a base and slanderous fabrication, calculated to injure me in the eyes of those unacquainted with the truth.

Now, after the above, I wish to make a statement of the facts as they are. Something over two months since Jas. Bridgewater was arrested in this place on the charge of robbery, I being one of the number summoned to assist in the arrest. Since then he has repeatedly threatened my life, saying he would kill me on sight. A short time after he stated publicly that a party of men, among whom I was numbered by him, went to lynch him, but were driven off by himself and party.

As to my being one of the party after him--if any party was after him--I could settle satisfactorily and decisively if necessary, but it is not necessary in this.

Now to the statement in Saturday's paper. I have the Courier now before me. The first clause is altogether untrue. The second and third I pass; the remainder I untrue except the fact of his entering Crab  Orchard with a band of armed men,  ostensibly for the purpose of arresting me; but why did he not do it? I am satisfied he knew where I was at the time.

After leaving town he went to my home, about one-half mile from town, saying he was going to search the house for me, and was only restrained by the belief that he would meet with resistance, or some other cause known only to himself.

After talking very roughly to my aged mother, he spoke of my having been with the party to lynch him, saying he had been informed so by three respectable men in this county, when my brother, being present, said he had been told by at least six men just as respectable that the party spoken of was led by his brother John, for some purpose or his own--which was the general opinion in this party of the county--when my brother was struck in the face by Jim Bridgewater. My brother was just recovering from a severe blow over the head, from which he was suffering at the time.

I now, in conclusion, have to say that after the above acts of violence I was instrumental in procuring a writ for his arrest, but the authorities dropped it, as they could not raise at the time a posse sufficient to make the arrest.


P.S.-- By publishing the above you will confer a favor upon a maligned citizen. I will have through you to request that the Journal and Democrat publish it also.  S. B.

Correction of a False Report.

CRAB ORCHARD, June 9, 1867.

To the Editor of the Louisville Courier: Your account of a fight at this place between one Major Bridgewater and the regulators on the 6th inst., is erroneous, and you have certainly been misinformed, as no firing or any disturbance took place here during the visit [of?] Bridgewater, on that day. As for the "Regulators," we have none here, nor have had [any?] knowledge. The Mr. Burch named [in] your account is one of our most peaceable [young] men, and though some of the [?] young men around town talked of [arresting] Bridgewater & Co. for breach, [?] yet, there being no breach [?] place to kick, and so "all is quiet [? ?]" There is a not a more orderly or [?] in the State than this, as we hope to [?] to famous springs this summer.  [3] 


[June 12, 1867] -

Stephen Burch assumes to be commander of a gang of regulators in the Crab Orchard region, in Kentucky. He and his party entered that town the other day in search of a man named Bridgewater, an ex-officer of the army, whom they accused of horse stealing. Bridgewater gathered some of his friends to resist the regulator, and at last accounts a battle between the opposing parties was expected. [4]


[June 15, 1867] -

A band of armed men shot one freedman in the leg, and whipped several others in the vicinity of Stanford, on Wednesday night. The wounded man was shot for attempting to escape. The reason given for the outrage was, that the negroes refused to work, and were suspected of being engaged in horse stealing. [5]


[July 20, 1867] -



Full Particulars of the Affair.

[Special Dispatch of the Louisville Courier.]


A tragedy occurred in Stanford, Ky., to-day which has created intense excitement there. It seems that a party of men, well armed, left Crab Orchard this morning for no other purpose than to kill Capt. Bridgewater, a resident of Stanford. He had a party of followers, and between the two parties there existed an intense hatred. The party from Crab Orchard this morning went to Stanford, and seeing Bridgewater in a bar-room opposite the Myers House, they commenced firing upon him, and did not cease until they had fired sixteen balls into his head, body and limbs. When taken up he was dead, having been killing almost instantly by the first fire. The party from Crab Orchard went back and delivered themselves up to the authorities, and are now out on bail. [6]


[July 20, 1867] -


The Notorious Bridgewater Killed.

Stanford, KY., July 18 — 8 p.m.

To the Editor of the Louisville Courier:

James Bridgewater was killed at 6 1/2 o’clock this evening. A party of eight men entered town by the Somerset road, hitched their horses on Water street back of Main, passed up to Main street and went into Davis’ saloon, where they found and killed Bridgewater before he had time to make any resistance. Bridgewater was playing at “checkers” when his slayers came upon him, and was shot before he could rise from his chair.  Some fifteen pistol balls were fired into his body and his life was extinct before any one went to look after him.

Most of Bridgewater’s party who have stood by and supported him in his recent difficulties left the country about a week ago.The party who killed him mounted their horses immediately after and left town, going in the direction of Crab Orchard. Several of Bridgewater’s friends drew and flourished their pistols after the other party had gone some three hundred yards from the scene of the tragedy, but no shots were interchanged.

Bridgewater was a bad, desperate character, and has been the terror of good citizens in this and the adjoining counties for years past, but the manner of his death should be condemned by all law-abiding men. It is said that he had threatened the lives of the men by whom he was slain. Here of late, however, he had become alarmed, had sold his property and was preparing to leave the country. The party who killed him was composed of young men of high social respectability. I most sincerely hope that this is to be the end of the numerous troubles that we have had in our county for months past, and that the reputation of our county abroad will once more become law-abiding.

When an investigation is had of the affair I will write you further about it.


HARRY. [7]


[July 31, 1867] -


The Bridgewater Murder--Reliable Particulars.

From the Lexington (Ky.) Statesman.

We have received the following version of the killing of Major Bridgewater, from a reliable gentleman who resides in Stanford. It will be seen that there is another side to the affair and some facts which bear upon it that the rebel versions have not given. They have endeavored to make the impression that Bridgewater was a bad man, a vicious, blood-thirsty man. We knew him, and never looked into the face a more amiable one. He was cool, brave and determined--was a successful hunter of guerrilla bands during the last years of the war--was a good soldier and an unflinching Union man. It will be seen from the following letter that he was assassinated in cold blood, and the deed was hastened for fear the victim would escape. They did not want him to leave the State, but his life was demanded. The charge that he threatened the life of his murderers is disposed of in the letter. He is but another victim to the fell spirit of rebellion and pro-slavery fanaticism. Men, if in their right minds, would not commit such deeds. But their passions are played upon  by causes that excite them to madness, and lead them into crimes revolting to human nature. These causes are the overthrow of the rebellion and the loss of slavery. These things have engendered the bad passions that are making the State a by-word and a hissing. The writer says:

In the first place, about two months since a band of armed men, sixteen or more in number, came from Crab Orchard, about one o'clock at night, for the purpose, it is supposed, of assassinating Major Bridgewater then, but he being apprised of their approach, having six of his protectors with him, met them, gave them battle, and put them to flight. And again, on the Tuesday after the third Monday in June, the day on which Judge Fox commenced holding a called term of the Lincoln Circuit Court, the same party, increased to the number of twenty-four, came in a body into Stanford for the purpose of assassinating him on that day, but Major Bridgewater, with about eight of his protectors, took their position quietly on one of the sidewalks on Main street, with their Spencer rifles, and when the mob saw that he was prepared for them, their hearts failed them, and they left without making any assault. General Runkle and Maj. Bourne, of Danville, were both present and saw the mob, and also witnessed the cool and gentlemanly deportment of Maj. Bridgewater on that occasion. Afterward Maj. Bridgewater was assured by Isaac Cook, County Judge for Lincoln county, and others, that the mob would not come to Stanford to molest him if he would not come to Crab Orchard to molest them, and Maj. Bridgewater, confiding in those assurances, ceased to carry his gun with him, and is brother, Capt. John Bridgewater, his two brothers-in-law, Samuel Daws and Labron Daws, and his two nephews, Sam'l Polloch and William Polloch, who stayed with him day and night as protectors, left this county, as it is believed, for the State of Misouri; and Maj. Bridgwater sold his residence, and the land attached to it, to Robert Blain, for the sum of $3,500, for the purpose of leaving this section of the country. This mob, finding that they had thrown him off his guard, kept spies watching his movements in order that they might assassinate him before he made his escape; and for that purpose, after having laid in wait for him several days between Stanford and Waynesburg--a road frequently traveled by him--they induced one of their spies, by the name of George Hays, to come to Stanford on Thursday last, who professed friendship for Maj. Bridgewater, was frequently in his company, taking toddy at the expense of the Major, and at about seven o'clock, the time that the citizens usually take supper, Walter Sanders, Carrol Hunber, James G. Collier, Mack Adams and James H. Tucker, entered the town secretly, and was piloted by Hays to the public room of a hotel where Maj. Bridgwater was seated engaged in a game of checkers, or some similar game, with a gentleman by the name of Barnett, and before the Major saw either of them, this same man Hays shot him in the head and then the balance commenced shooting, making six distinct wounds in the head and several shots in the body. The first shot, however, killed him, but either of the other five would have proved mortal. They then left for Crab Orchard, in defiance of the town, the County Judge and Sheriff both being present. Afterward the County Judge issued a warrant for their arrest, and the surrendered themselves to the Sheriff for trial at Crab Orchard, on Monday last. The Sheriff placed those men, all well armed, in the care of two wounded men to guard them, and on Monday last the farce came off, and they were acquitted. The witnesses for the Commonwealth, being afraid to go to Crab Orchard among that mob, positively refused to attend the trial, and so they had it all their own way. Thus the matter now stands. Union men were much more secure in their positions when Bragg's army had possession of Lincoln county than they are at this time. I would greatly prefer an invading army to the present condition of affairs in this part of Kentucky. In fact, I have never heard of a rebel being brought to justice and punished for killing a Union man in the Seventh Congressional District since Lee surrendered to Grant, notwithstanding scores of Union men having been brutally murdered by them. 

This mob is composed, I believe, entirely of rebel sympathizers and returned rebel soldiers. [8]


[August 3, 1867] -

Correspondence of the Cincinnati Commercial.



LEXINGTON, KY., July 22, 1867.

A gentleman who witnessed the killing of Major Bridewater, gives this account of the affair: The Major had been assisting his brother to move and was returning home, when he stopped in Stanford and sat down to play a game of checquers with a friend. While the game was progressing and Major Bridgewater sitting in a store with his back to the door, a number of mounted men entered the town and approached the store. -- Six of the Regulators dismounted, and running up to the door fired upon Bridgewater, killing him instantly. The first shot, it is said, was fired by a man named Sanders, who is Captain of the band, and as Bridgewater raised up in his chair the rest of the assassins discharged their revolvers. Some thirty shots in all were fired, eight entering his head and ten passing through his body. -- One of the balls fired by the regulators hit a man in the leg who was standing behind the counter in the store, and another ball wounded a gentleman in the arm. Immediately after firing the party mounted their horses and rode out of Stanford at full speed. -- They were eleven of them in all, and no resistance was offered or attempt made to arrest them. They are reported to have come from Crab Orchard, and had evidently been watching Bridgewater, who they attacked some three weeks ago when he, with a party of friends, drove them off, wounding two of their number. Major Bridgewater leaves a wife and several small children to mourn his loss. He was personally one of the bravest men in the State, and had they given him a fair fight more than one Regulator would have bit the dust; but he was shot in the back by a pack of cowards who did not dare meet him face to face.

Some idea of the lawless condition of affairs in parts of Kentucky may be inferred from the fact that this one band has whipped or hung over thirty men.

Some of the most noticeable of their acts are the the following: Hanging of John Taylor until he was almost dead; hanging of William Taylor, his brother, until he was dead; attack on the negro population of Lebanon, gutting stores and shooting at terror-stricken and fleeting citizens; hanging of William Goode, Clem Crowds, and Tom Stevens; hanging, in a graveyard, of a negro named Al McRoberts; attempting to capture Edward Brown, the Regulators being driven off, one of their number killed and two wounded; the next night they burned Brown's house; in April last they hung Jerry Trowbridge, at Danville, and Alfred Jennings, in Washington County; Thomas Carrier was taken from the jail and hung in Danville, and an attempt made to hang Lewis Halligan, but he escaped. The same night the Regulators fired on a negro, but he got away, and then they took out Thomas Carrier, mentioned above, and hung him in sight of his agonized family. They next attempted to hang William Bennington, near Perryville, but he hid away. On May 7 they took Thomas Gabeheart from the jail at Campbellsville and hung him. On the 3rd of June they captured John Devine, who in attempting to escape, was shot in the back and then hung to a tree. Capt. William Shively, for speaking against the mob, was shot at, but escaped. The same mob drove from their homes Gen. Fry, Capt. Goodloe and Hon. John Harlin, and hung two negroes in Jessamine County. Attempts were made to seize Davis and White, citizens of Mercer County, and J. D. Hale was compelled to flee for his life. David Warren, a colored man, was killed, and Thomas Beggarly, John Crowdus, Rineheart (white,) and three negroes whipped. Mr. Goode and family, Henry Crowdus, William Wilson, Crosby Elliott, James Crowdus, J. J. Nash, Hutchison Speed, Riley Crowdus, Eddie Brown, Thomas Beggarly, George Elliott, and several other citizens whose names we do not know, have been driven from their homes. 

On the 22d of June the Regulators visited Willisburgh for the purpose of capturing Capt. J. M. Fiddler and Col. Hays, Union candidates; but the meeting was postponed, and neither of the gentlemen fell into their hands. Of the political character of theme who have been shot, hung or maltreated we can only say that, so far as we know they were all Union men except two, who were bad characters.

It is said that the men who hung the negroes at Nicholasville, and who resisted the United States troops and shot Col. Rice, belonged to the same band, and that eleven members of it live in Lexington, Ky.

We have endeavored to give a faithful account of one of the bands of Regulators now infesting Kentucky, and have only to add that several civil officers are known to be members of the band. Little or no information can be got from the citizens as to who the lawless men are or what they do, for to inform is to incur the displeasure of the mob and jeopardize life and property.

Major Carpenter, who a few days ago, was attacked by three men in Lancaster, Ky., is reported to have bee killed on Friday night, but we cannot trace the report to any reliable source, and it is hoped to be false. A few days ago both Bridgewater and Carpenter were in this city and said they expected to be killed. One is already dead, and if the other is not yet killed it is likely he will be unless he seeks safety in flight from his home and family. [9]


[August 6, 1867] -


August 5th, 1867.

To the Editor of the Louisville Courier:


The Bridgewater party which was organized for the extermination of the murderers of Major Jim. Bridgewater, left on the cars last Saturday morning. They got on at Stanford, fifteen in number. It is said that they were induced to take this step by the information they had received of the organization in this county of a force large enough to exterminate them. They were advised to go by some of the best citizens of the county. There is no doubt that if they had remained a few days longer, that a bloody tragedy would have been the result. It is thought by many that the affair is not ended yet. Bridgewater has two brothers living, both brave and determined men, and it is feared that when least expected, they will wreak a terrible vengeance upon the slayers of their brother. The other party are watchful, and report says they have reliable spies who keep a constant watch upon the movements of the Bridgewater party. [10]


[August 28, 1867] -

LOUISVILLE, August 27.

The body of a man named Hicks was found this morning hanging in the woods, near South Danville.

A man charged with the rape of a young girl, was taken from Harrodsburg jail Sunday night, by a party of regulators, and hanged.

An Anti-Lynch Society, organized in Marion county, captured and paroled several persons not to return to their homes. They hung a man near Haysville, named Parker, to-day.

It is reported that one of the murderers of Major Bridgewater was hung near Crab Orchard to-day. [11]


[November 26, 1867] -


The Mountain Regions--Desperadoes--Apple Jack--Sunday Among the Reconstructed.

From the New Albany Commercial.

A gentleman, a New Albanian, who has just returned, from a trip to the mountain regions of Kentucky, gives some rich accounts of the natives. It is a wild, uncultivated region, where the secure fastnesses are infected, with gang of robbers as ferocious as thrive among the defiles of the Abruzzi. The mountain sides are sometimes very steep, and the little cabin of the mountaineer, with its round logs and clap-board roof, is perched upon their sides like an eyrie.

The common beverage of the country is applejack, which is manufactured all over the country, and is drunk just as it comes from the still. After is is three or four days old, it is considered of the first quality, and fit to tickle the most fastidious palate. It is manufactured among the mountains, and generally manages to escape the revenue officers. Twenty barrels is the largest quantity made by any one man, and upon the appearance of the agent of the Treasury Department, the distiller, still and all, makes off into the fastnesses of the mountains.

As a sample of the lawlessness of the inhabitants of that region, he mentioned the circumstances of an affair which occurred only a few weeks ago, in the neighborhood of Crab Orchard. A man by the name of Bridgewater became obnoxious to some desperate characters. A party of them collected together, rode into the town of Stanford, surrounded his house, and found their victim playing a game of checkers. He was at once shot down, each one discharging his pistol at the body so that all might equally share in the guilt. The perpetrators of the deed were taken up, tried in a neighboring town and cleared, as a matter of course.

The matter was, however, taken in hand by Gen. Thomas, and a body of troops sent out to effect their arrest. Most of them escaped to the mountains, but some remained and depended upon their shrewdness to elude the military. A fellow by the name of Collier, one of the ringleaders, was tracked to his house early one morning by the sergeant add his squad of men. The house was searched, all but the garret, and Collier was nowhere to be found. At length they ascended to the garret, where he really was concealed. While they were getting up, the woman hauled him down a trap-door in the floor above, and tucked him strongly away under a feather bed occupied by his old mother and his children.

After the squad left he quietly came out, and mounting his horse, rode on to town, getting into the place a few minutes after the soldiers had left. Our informant met with him on the road a few minutes after the occurrence, and he conversed freely about the affair, appearing to feel no concern whatsoever. He said they had killed Bridgewater because he had threatened to kill some of them. Life in their estimation has the worth of a feather.

A few miles from Crab Orchard, in one of the mountains, a brother of Bridgewater, "Big Bridge," as he is called, has fortified a place and openly defies the authorities. Several attempts have been made to secure his arrest but without success. He has about a dozen followers who stand picket and resist any attempt to dislodge them. They sally out into the surrounding country, committing depredations of all kinds, stealing hogs, horses and chickens, or robbing upon the highway. It is said that the Governor is raising a company of State troops to hunt them out of their dens.

He gave a picture of a Sunday at Mt. Vernon, Rockcastle county, which quite exceeds anything we had ever imagined. The tavern looked out upon the public square, with its Court House in the center. The business houses, as in most country towns of Kentucky, are all ranged around the four sides of the public square. The bell rang for church, and two grave ministers of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, wended their way to the halls of justice, the only place of worship in nearly all the mountain counties. Presently singing and praying were heard, but no one else was observed to enter. The services were over, our two worthy "embassadors for Christ" came a way as quiet as they went.

Within sight were a least half a dozen whisky shops in full blast, crowded with people, averaging at least twenty-five at a place. He counted nineteen drunken men on the streets at one time, some of whom were wallowing in the gutters. Every store in the place was in full operation. The only sign that it was Sunday was the large attendance upon the saloons, and the consequent increase of the number of drunken men. Mt. Vernon was not an exceptional place, and a Sunday there would give a good idea of it throughout that whole region. [12]


[June 25, 1875] -

A young fellow calling himself Simmons, came to this place on Saturday morning with two horses, which he proposed selling in a way that excited the suspicion that all was not right. He said that he was from Richmond, and inquired for one Stevens, which he said lived somewhere in the vicinity. The incoherence of his several statements led to his arrest, and telegrams were sent to the Marshals of Richmond and Winchester. It was soon ascertained that the horses were stolen in the vicinity of Richmond. The owner came over, identified his stock, and after an examining trial before Judge Pollard, Mr. Simmons, whose real name turned out to be Sams, was ordered to Castle Buford, of your city, to await the sitting of the next Circuit Court.  We take Mr. Sams to be a raw recruit of the Bridgewater clan. [13] 

[which is to say, 8 years after his murder, Bridgewater's name was still a local byword for 'horse-thief.']


[1] "Lynch Law in Lincoln County." The Courier Journal, Louisville, KY. June 8, 1867. Page 2.

[2] Excerpt from "News of the Day." Nashville Union and Dispatch, Nashville, TN. June 9, 1867. Page 2. LOC.

[3] "Card From Mr. Stephen Burch." Louisville Daily Courier, Louisville, KY. June 11, 1867. Page 1.

[4] Column 3. Memphis Daily Avalanche, Memphis, TN. June 12, 1867. Page 2.

[5] Excerpt “From Louisville.” Cincinnati Daily Gazette, Cincinnati, OH. June 15, 1867. Page 3.

[6] "The Killing of Bridgewater." Louisville Daily Courier, Louisville, KY. July 20, 1867. Page 1.

[7] "Murderous Affair in Lincoln County." Louisville Daily Courier, Louisville, KY. July 20, 1867. Page 1.

[8] "The Last Kentucky Outrage." Cincinnati Daily Gazette, Cincinnati, OH. July 31, 1867. Page 2.

[9] "Kentucky Regulators." The Tri-Weekly Standard, Raleigh, NC. August 3, 1867. Page 2. LOC.

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

[11] Excerpt from "From Louisville." Cincinnati Daily Gazette, Cincinnati, OH. August 28, 1867. Page 4.

[12] Excerpt from "Pictures of Eastern Kentucky." Cincinnati Daily Gazette, Cincinnati, OH. November 26, 1867. Page 1.

[13] Excerpt from "Lincoln County News." The Interior Journal, Stanford, KY. June 25, 1875. Page 3. LOC.


1 comment:

Eric F. James said...

The wife of James Bridgewater belonged to the same Pence family as Bud & Donnie Pence of the James gang. When Quantrill and the James gang arrived in Bridgewater's neighborhood, he took pursuit, resulting in the death of Quantrill and the surrender of Frank James. Not long thereafter, Bridgewater was assassinated. In the story below of Bridgewater's pursuit, the Pence family was left asking why.

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