The Kentucky Kuklux
Official Report of the Owen County Outrages
The Deputy United States Marshal's Detailed
Account of Them and of his Own Peril
Gen. E. H. Murray, United States Marshall for Kentucky, has forwarded to the District Attorney the report, given below, of the troubles in Owen County, that State, which his deputy, Willis Russell, has prepared, and has indorsed it as follows: “I appointed Willis Russell Deputy United States Marshal upon information that he was a reliable man, and charged him with the duty of which he speaks. An examination into the facts, aside from his report, made by me in person in the region of country named, convinces me that he is a reliable man; that his report is worthy of every consideration; that he has done his duty and no more. Violations of the laws to begin with, an evasion of arrest by those charged with crime before the courts, and a systematized resistance to the officers of the law, is the cause of these disturbances.” The following is the report:
Monterey, Ky., Sept. 1.
Gen. Eli J. Murray, United States Marshal, Louisville, Ky.:
Dear Sir: In obedience to your request for a detailed statement of the late difficulties in Owen, Henry, and Franklin Counties, and also of my actions as a Deputy United States Marshal, I have the honor to submit the following report:
I live at Monterey, in Owen County, Ky., and was born and reared near that place. About the year 1870 bands of armed men, disguised and masked, began committing depredations in the vicinity of Monterey and Gistville, two small villages, the former being in Owen and the latter immediately opposite, in Henry County. They were known as Kuklux, and were in the habit of visiting the houses of citizens, disguised as stated, in the night-time, and inflicting summary punishment, without charge, reason, or excuse. The parties thus visited by them were mostly poor colored men, living in humble cabins, but they would sometimes attack a white citizen of the poorer class. Sometimes they would kill the parties whom they visited. Sometimes they would whip their victims severely, and occasionally burn the houses in which they lived. They would give no reasons for their conduct, but contented themselves with these summary proceedings without explanation. About the commencement of these difficulties, four men, George Hoover, John Robinson, ----- Lockart, and Benjamin Moreland, came to me and told me that they belonged to the Kuklux, and solicited me to join their party. I asked them what their object was, and they told me that they had organized for the purpose of driving the negroes from the State. They proposed to give me an office if I would join them, saying that, as I had been four years in the Southern army during the late war, I would make a good officer, and they therefore desired my services. They also stated that they had made a similar proposition to a Mr. Wash. Jones, who lived in the same locality. They said their organization was composed of good, reliable men, and that their object was not only to drive the negroes from Kentucky, but also all Radicals who were in favor of negroes. I told them that I did not want to engage in anything unlawful; that I had just returned from the army, and I wanted to try and make some money honestly and get a start in the world; that I did not believe their organization was either lawful or meritorious. I advised them to withdraw from the Klan, and told one of them especially that he had a family to provide for, and he could employ his time more profitably than in Kuklux raids. At this time I was acting as clerk in a country store in the upper end of Owen County. They requested me not to say anything about their proposition to me. They would occasionally visit the store and purchase material from me, telling me that they were getting the goods for the purpose of making gowns and masks. A short time afterward the Kuklux made a raid in the neighborhood above me in Scott County. It was made against the negroes who live in and about the village of Stamping Ground. They ordered all the negroes they saw to leave the country within ten days; if nor, they would kill them all and burn their houses. They shot and killed an old negro man and wounded several others. The negroes at one place returned the fire, killing one of their party, who was left by them on the road. When the mask was removed from his face, the next morning, he was ascertained to be a man named Foree, a school teacher near Harper's Ferry, in Henry County. This raid created quite an excitement throughout the community, especially in the immediate vicinity where it occurred. Many persons approved of the raid, while others, myself being one of the latter, denounced it as cruel and uncalled for. I remarked that I thought Foree deserved no pity, and that if the negroes had killed the entire party it would have been perfectly right; that the negroes had been attacked without any reason, and it was their right and duty to defend themselves. I soon found that my remarks had given offense, especially to those who I knew belonged to the Kuklux Klan. Some of them advised me to be careful about what I said. Some tried to convince me that it was a good thing, and said they would not have supposed that a reel soldier like I had been, would be opposed to it. I continued, however, to denounce it in severe terms, and I soon found that I had gained the enmity of the Kuklux. Men who were really opposed to the organization began to be afraid to talk about them, not knowing at what moment they might be attacked themselves. Learning that Gov. Stevenson was distributing arms to the malitia for the purpose of suppressing outlaws in Kentucky, at the suggestion of several reliable citizens I wrote to the Governor asking permission to raise a company of militia, to be ready in case of an emergency. The Governor answered immediately, and authorized me to organize the company, stating that he would send an enrolling officer to muster them in. The company was partly formed when I received intelligence from Frankfort that we could not get any arms, and consequently it was disbanded.
Shortly after this I went to Gratz to reside. Gratz is a small village in the lower portion of Owen County, on the Kentucky River. I think it was in the Spring of 1872 that I went there to reside. During all this time the Kuklux continued their depredations, and I continued to denounce them. I found that they were mainly composed of trifling, ignorant, depraved men and thoughtless youths, who had been induced to join by the persuasion of the leaders. These youths are, many of them, of good families; hence such terrible efforts to shield them. I finally began to hear that these men had threatened me; and if the Fall or Winter of 1872, about 11 o'clock one night, a squad of them, armed, mounted, and disguised, rode up to the house where I was boarding in Gratz, and called for me. I looked at them through the window, and saw that they were armed and disguised, and refused to come out. I knew one of the men by his voice, I refer to John Onan. When they found that I would not come out to them they rode out a short distance to the edge of a little wood near the house, and halted. Several citizens of the town having come up at this time, the squad of Kuklux commenced firing on them. They then rode away. Fortunately no one was shot by them in the difficulty. Not very long after this a party of them went to a cabin on the farm of W. M. Bourne, in Henry County, where an old negro man named Jordan Mosby and his family resided. They shot and wounded his son, who was about eighteen years of age, and he is consequently paralyzed for life. None of his assailants have been punished, although he recognized the men who shot him, and some of them were arrested. Shortly after this they attacked an old man named Williams, who resided near Guestville, in Henry County. Williams was sixty-five or seventy years of age. He had borne an excellent character all his life, and what they could have had against him no mortal can tell. They wounded him terribly in the arm. He was a brave man, and returned their fire, and, it is said, wounded Bill Smoot, who was, no doubt, the leader of the party. Smoot has never denied it. This Bill Smoot is considered the leader of the Kuklux Klan. He is a terror to the community. Several years ago he killed a man named John B. Roberts at Gratz. This constituted him a hero in his own opinion, and ever since then he seems to take great pride in being considered a desperado. Hence he became a prominent character in this organization, whose name is a terror throughout the State.
After Williams sufficiently recovered, he went to Frankfort and applied to Gov. Leslie. The Governor promptly offered rewards for the apprehension of Williams' assailants, and sent them to me through the hands of W. H. Walker at Monterey. One of the parties implicated by Williams was Harvie Grubbs. On the Monday following the Governor's proclamation I arrested Grubbs at Guestville. Bill Smoot was there at the time and ordered Grubbs not to go with me. I got between Smoot and Grubbs, and drew my pistol and forced Grubbs to go. Smoot that night gathered together a band of fifteen or twenty men, armed with shot-guns and pistols, and followed me all the way to Newcastle, intending as they afterward said, to kill me, together with two young men whom I had with me as guards. I got to Newcastle, however, before they could catch me, and placed the prisoner in jail. I then went to Eminence, expecting to take the first train for Frankfort. I had not been in Eminence, however, but a few minutes when Smoot and his party came in after me. They stated there that they intended to kill me. I was in the hotel with the two young men when Smoot and his men came up. I remained in the hotel at the request of the Town Marshal, as he said it was our only means of escape. The Marshal sent our horses out on the Frankfort Road, and after dark we slipped out, got our horses, and rode them to Frankfort that night. The next morning I called on Gov. Leslie and told him all the circumstances of the case, and asked him if something could not be done with Smoot and his party. The Governor replied that it was certainly an outrage, but under the existing circumstances he could do nothing, as the Legislature had virtually tied his hands. He told me, however, to return home, and I should not be molested for making the arrest. Grubbs was shortly afterward released from jail, I know not for what reason. I don't know whether he has ever been tried yet.
After leaving Frankfort, and while on my road to Monterey, Smoot and his party came out on the road a few minutes after I had passed, expecting to catch me. They came down the road and stopped at a house near Monterey, and stated that they intended to kill me, and both of the men who were with me, in retaliation for the arrest of Grubbs, who was then in jail.
In July, 1873, the Kuklux murdered a colored man named Lewis Wilson. Wilson was a peaceable, inoffensive negro, and resided on the farm of Mrs. Mason Brown, in Owen County. They went to his house in the night, broke open his door, and immediately shot him dead. There were seventeen men in this gang. It was about two miles from Gratz, and I could hear the report of their guns while they were shooting him. After murdering Wilson they set fire to his house and burned it to the ground. Wilson, in his dying declarations, mentioned the names of several of the party whom he recognized. I am confident that Wilson was killed simply because he had offered to lend me a horse to assist me in taking Grubbs to Newcastle.
After the murder of Wilson, the Governor offered a reward of $500 each for the apprehension and conviction of the seventeen men engaged. A correspondent of the Courier-Journal was sent to Owen County, who informed me that he had had a conversation with the Governor, and that the Governor desired me to catch those men, if possible. One of the parties engaged in this raid, a boy about eighteen years of age, confessed that he was one of the gang, and gave the names of nearly all the parties engaged. I then arrested one of the parties mentioned by the boy, when he also made a confession. I took him before Judge Roberts, the County Judge of Owen, where he hade affidavit to all except four of the party. On the following day I arrested three of them and took them to Owenton and placed them in jail. The others, hearing of this, went into the woods, and three of them were shortly afterward taken out to Indiana by Bill Smoot. A short time afterward the Governor of Kentucky gave me a requisition and sent me to Indiana after them. I caught one of them, John Onan, who was at the time with Bill. I took Onan before Judge Roberts, and he confessed that he was in the gang who killed F. Wilson, and made oath to three more. The following day after I returned with Onan I arrested Henry Triplett, who likewise confessed and gave the same names as Onan. One of these men was admitted to bail, and two were sent to the Louisville Jail for safe-keeping (having previously escaped from the Owenton Jail.) Onan was tried in November and acquitted. He did not introduce any proof in his own behalf. Two of this accomplices turned State's evidence, and two witnesses were also introduced who proved his confession. Yet he was acquitted. He was, however, held to bail for burning the house after being acquitted of the murder.
About this time I was appointed by you as United States Deputy Marshal, and have been acting in that capacity ever since.
A short time after the murder of Wilson a man came to me and told me that he belonged to the Kuklux, but said he was tired of them, and said if I would promise not to molest him that he would expose their proceedings and their objects to me. I promised him that if he would keep me posted in regard to their movements that I would not molest him. He then told me that there was a gang of fifty organized on Twin Creek, whose object was to drive the negroes out of the country. He stated that their regular meetings were on every second Saturday night in each month. On one Tuesday he came to me and told me that they had called a meeting for the following Thursday night, for the purpose of going to the house of Wm. Plasters and killing him that night and burning his house, and that they were then to come on to Gratz and kill me and burn Gratz, and then go down to Brown's Bottom and kill all the negroes. I notified Plasters of the danger, and he got out of the way and came to Gratz that night. The Klan went to Plasters', and not finding him at home, tore up nearly everything in his house. Finding that the citizens of Gratz were prepared for them, they did not come to that place, but went on to Owenton, and stopping at Walker's Hotel, called for me, and told Walker to tell me if I did not stop arresting Kuklux they would hang me to the highest tree in the woods, and then left. I then sent word to the leader of this gang if they did not disband I would have every one of them arrested. After that they kept themselves and their meetings quite secret.
In February you sent a squad of soldiers to Owen to act in conjunction with me. Since then I have made several arrests. I arrested Jim Oskins, John Onan, Billy Walston, Wm. Razor, Fielding Douthitt, Reuben Clements, Joseph Hoskins, and Wm. Smoot. On the way to Louisville Wm. Smoot made his escape. The other prisoners were all held to bond for their appearance at the October Term of the United States Court at Louisville.
About this time Bluford Woods, one of the men who had turned State's evidence at the trial of Onan, was either run off or killed. I think he was murdered, as he has not been seen or heard of since.
Last May James M. Walker was shot and cruelly murdered by Wm. Smoot and John C. Smoot in the Town of Owenton He was quietly walking down the street, anticipating no trouble whatever, when the two Smoots commenced firing at him out of Hill's Hotel. The detachment of soldiers had been removed from Owen County the day previous, as everything was quiet at the time and it was thought they would no longer be needed. The next day these two Smoots, for whom I had writs of arrest, came into Owenton and inquired of a little boy from Monterey if the soldiers were gone. Being informed that they had gone, the Smoots then replied that they had some work to do. They said that there were writs against them from the Federal court for shooting a ----- negro, and that they expected to leave the country, but before they left that they intended to fix some ---- white men who had been instrumental in having the writs issued. They carried this threat into execution by killing Walker that same evening. While the Smoots were firing at Walker, at least forty of their klan were yelling all over town, and several of them fired at Walker from the court-house yard. He was literally riddled with bullets. After this murder they reloaded their pistols and leisurely walked out of town, remarking that they had killed one of the ----- Radical dogs, and that the balance had better look out. The Sheriff of Owen County was in town with three Deputies, and could easily have summoned a sufficient posse to have arrested them, but made no effort whatever. The Town Marshal did attempt to make the arrest, but the Smoots and their klan drew their pistols and forbade him making the arrest, saying if he attempted it they would kill him. Seeing that the civil officers did not intend to molest them, and fearing that some of them would waylay the road and shoot me, I dispatched to you for a squad of soldiers, which was immediately sent. Having writs against those men I scoured the hills in search of them, but the country being mountainous and rough, and they having so many allies to carry them news, I found it impossible to arrest them. The soldiers were withdrawn about the 1st of July. As soon as they had been again withdrawn, the Kuklux became more boisterous than ever. They made a raid on an old man named Hayden, living on Elkhorn, and threatened to come into Monterey and burn the town. At a Masonic barbecue given at Monterey some two months since, one of the party (Green Barr) slipped up behind Charles Walker and attempted to shoot him in the back, and, but for the timely interference of a friend, would have murdered Charles Walker, as they did his brother, a few weeks before, at Owenton. On election day this same man, Green Barr, came into Monterey and fired out of a small piece of woods at Henry Triplett. Triplett had no intimation of it until Barr commenced firing at him, and the only reason that can be assigned is that Triplett is a witness against the Kuklux who are indicted in the United States Court. After the shooting, Barr immediately galloped away. Ever since then Barr has been living around in the woods with the Smoots, making threats that they intended to kill Triplett and myself, and all others who had rendered me assistance. I could hear of them mustering their forces, riding the road with double-barreled shotguns, and I was advised to leave Monterey by nearly all my friends, but there were some who desired me to stay, saying that they had given me assistance--that if I left the Kuklux would kill them. I summoned a few young men to stay with me, expecting every day to be attacked by the Klan. On Saturday, Aug. 22, the day set for the trial of Barr and Triplett, Barr sent me word by the Constable that he was coming to town with a hundred men.
I could hear them firing their guns around Monterey that morning, and believed from the signs that they were coming. About 1 o'clock, five or six men rode into town armed with pistols, all of whom were well-known Kuklux. They were led by County Attorney Perry, who also was armed with two pistols. Perry is said to be one of their leaders. He has been known to say in his public speeches that he did not like to prosecute them, as he had nothing against them, but his oath compelled him to prosecute them. George T. Mefford, one of the men who helped to murder James M. Walker, was also in the crowd. He is a noted Kuklux, and has been known to command them. When these men came into town a boy came running in and said that there were fifteen or twenty men out on the road, with shot-guns, among whom were Green Barr, one of the Smoots, and Sim. Margoyles, another notorious Kuklux. I then believed that they meant to kill me, and went over to Tucker's Hotel, where Tom and Charles Walker were, and then started to go over to the house where the balance of my guards were. We had to pass Hardin's store, where this man Mefford was standing. We noticed him with his hand on his pistol, and just as we got to the corner of the store he made an effort to draw it, when both of the Walker boys fired. Mefford then ran up the street in the direction of my quarters, and we followed him. During this time William Hall, one of the gang, fired at me with his pistol. After the shooting Mefford mounted his horse, behind some one, and left town. He went in the direction of his friends, who were all along the road between Monterey and Owenton. There were two citizens who started to leave town when the shooting commenced. They went over the hill, expecting to get rid of this party on the road, but they say they ran into quite a number of armed men in the bushes.
The whole thing seemed to me to be a deliberate plan to murder me. Else why so many armed men known to be Kuklux of the severest stripe! Mr. Perry has given a version of the affair, in which he says that he was shot at by some one in Monterey. I append the affidavit of several citizens of that town, marked Note A, to show the falsity of his assertion. I also append the statement of the two magistrates before whom the cause was pending, showing that although the case was set for tr5ial against us for shooting at Barr, at 10 o'clock A.M., and we had a right then to have demanded a trial, that we consented to postpone it till 2 o'clock, for the prosecuting witnesses to come in, which they failed to do. Said statement is marked Note B.
On his return to Owenton, Mr. Perry swore out writs for myself and the two Walker boys. The Police Judge of Owenton who issued those writs has acknowledged that he himself was a Kuklux. The Sheriff then came to Monterey, and stopping at the edge of the town, told a citizen that he had writs for myself and Tom Walker, and that he was coming to take us. This citizen said that he did not think we would surrender, as the road was lined with Kuklux, and remarked that some men who were then with the Sheriff, and acting as his posse, had been spotted as Kuklux for the last year. He said he thought we would be foolish to surrender to such men.
When the Sheriff came into town I showed him my authority as Deputy United States Marshal, and told him all the circumstances. He replied that he did not doubt my authority, but said he could not recognize it. I then refused to surrender; and, although I was perfectly willing to have undergone a fair trial, it would have been death for me to have surrendered at that time. The next day the Sheriff came with a posse of over thirty men, most of whom, without any authority, had volunteered their services to arrest me. At least twenty-five of those men were notorious Kuklux, and known to be such by the Sheriff. The notorious Mose Webster, with six men, was also operating against us on his own responsibility, without any authority whatever. William and Jim Hoskins were also operating against us with sixteen men, without any authority whatever. Jim Hoskins and five or six of his men were under indictment in the Federal Court for Kukluxing. Bill Smoot was also operating against us with eighteen or twenty men, without any authority. Smoot was under indictment in the Federal Court for Kukluxing, and also in the Owen Circuit Court for the murder of James M. Walker. The Sheriff at the time had a search-warrant in his pocket for the arrest of Smoot. Dick New also had twenty men acting without orders. Some of these men had been dodging the officers of the law, and had not been seen before that time for more than a year.
About this time the State troops arrived; they said they had come to arrest all parties concerned. A young man told them that if they wanted to catch Smoot and his men they were only a few hundred yards off; but they made no effort to arrest them. They also had an opportunity to have arrested Hoskins and his men, but they failed to do so. I think they were acting under instructions of the Sheriff. There were over a hundred men besides the State troops after us, and had you not opportunely arrived with your forces they would doubtless have murdered us all.
About two months since Henry Triplett, an important witness against them, was taken by force out of the field where he was at work, and taken by the Klan into the bushes, where they kept him for several days. One of the party who helped to take him was under indictment in the United States Court. His half-brother, Monroe Christopher, heard of it and went and recaptured his brother. A short time after this I sent Monroe Christopher and my brother, Wm. Russell, to Lockport with written authority to ascertain if any of the parties for whom I had writs were in that vicinity, and to arrest them. Jim Hoskins, who was under bond, in the Federal Court for Kukluxing, went before a magistrate and obtained a writ for their arrest for carrying concealed deadly weapons. After this writ was issued, they were set upon by a band of Kuklux, with Hoskins at their head, under the pretext of arresting them. Monroe Christopher was badly wounded by a shot from Jim Hoskins, and William Russell had his skull fractured by a stone thrown by William Hoskins; they were both left for dead on the streets. They were afterward picked up and taken to Gratz, where they are now both lying in a very critical condition. The Kuklux knew full well that Christopher and Russell were sent to Lockport by me, and all this was done to prevent them from making any arrests or effecting any discoveries.
So far as the last difficulty between Barr and others is concerned, I desire to say that I never contemplated making any resistance whatever to the civil authorities. I never contemplated injuring Mr. County Attorney Perry in any manner whatever. His charge that I had threatened him is entirely false. If he had come to Monterey quietly and done his duty, without bringing an armed body of Kuklux who were bent on my destruction, I do not believe there would have been any difficulty whatever. Instead of that, he came armed to the teeth with a band of cruel outlaws who had repeatedly threatened my life, and even then we only acted on the defensive.
More than 100 men have been killed, wounded, or driven away from that portion of Owen and Henry Counties lying on the Kentucky River by the Kuklux in the last three years. These have been mostly colored people, although some white men are included. Among the number I will mention Sam Crew (colored) and family, James Bourne (colored) and family, John Dickerson (colored) and family, Wallace Dickerson (colored), Jordan Mosby (colored) and family, one of his boys being shot; Levi Fishback (colored), Al. Towles (colored) and his brothers and mother, Thornton Dunlap (colored). They killed four colored people on Sand Ripple in Henry County. They have also driven away several white men, among whom are Richard E. Williams (also wounded), William Plasters, C. M. Lindall, W. H. Walker, and all his brothers except James M. Walker, whom they murdered. They also drove away an old man named Hiles and his family.
The majority of the people are all good citizens, and are at heart violently opposed to those Kuklux, but they are under a reign of terror, and are really afraid to express their opinions, not knowing what moment they will have to pay the penalty. Whenever the country is ridden of these pests it will be as flourishing a community as it was before the kuklux organization. In conclusion, I would respectfully state that ever since my appointment I have tried to do my duty fearlessly, faithfully, and impartially. Under your instructions I have been careful to keep entirely in the bounds of my duty, and feel confident that I have done so.
The foregoing is a reliable statement of the difficulties and their origin, although many minor incidents have been omitte4d which I deem immaterial. Hoping that the time may soon arrive when the country will be entirely relieved from these annoyances and troubles, I remain, with great respect,
Deputy United States Marshal.
[The above report appeared in the New York Times of
September 10, 1874, page 8.
The follow up item below is from Covington's newspaper The Ticket (“Always Independent, Rarely Indifferent”), of November 16, 1875:]
On Saturday [11/13/1875] Judge Emmons sentenced the three Ku-Klux, Smoot, Onan, and Meffert, who has [sic] been found guilty of "conspiracy to injure Willis Russell while engaged in the lawful discharge of his duty as U. S. Marshall, and endeavoring to execute this conspiracy by pursuing him with armed bands of men bent upon his death." Smoot was sentenced to five years in the penitentiary, Onan to three years, and Meffert, who was recommended mercy was not sentenced, the Judge stating that he would bear in mind his present physical condition caused by severe wounds, and sentence him as lightly as possible, in a short time. A. W. Hall, who was indicted with the other three, was found not guilty. Counsel for the defense asked court not to send the prisoners to Frankfort penitentiary, on account of family, etc., but the request was overruled.