19th century lynch mob justice

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By Brad Bowman

The Henry and Owen County and Kentucky River Marauders terrorized residents in Owen and Henry County for a reported 16 years before a lynch mob took justice into their own hands and four suspects from New Castle Jail.

The marauders have been credited with the lawless activity in the Kentucky River area spanning Owen, Henry and Carroll Counties, which caused federal troops to be called in to restore peace during the late 1800s.  A telegraphed story from Campbellsburg recounts a tale after the Civil War of a band of roughriders forcing African Americans from Henry County.

The main source of the group’s exploits came from the questionable confession of Richard Shuck the night before his execution.

Richard Shuck was a member of the gang consisting of leader ‘King Jim’ Simmons, his son-in-law Bob Goodrich and his brothers Joe and Sam. Shuck had been charged with the murder of father-in-law Nelson Parish in Gratz. Witnesses saw Shuck with Parish in his father-in-law’s tobacco patch.

Shuck later came back to Parish’s house alone telling Parish’s wife that, “The old man will never come back. He has gone to Henry County. I have bought his tobacco crop. Don’t keep dinner, for we won’t be on hand.”

Residents discovered Parish’s body after putting out a fire at the schoolhouse near Parish’ s tobacco crop in Brown’s Bottom in Owen County. A written account by Alan Trout of the Courier-Journal in 1939 stated that Shuck as a resident was obligated to respond to the fire and acted strangely when neighbors identified Parish’s body by a pocketknife left on the body. Several bits of circumstantial evidence also aided in the conviction of Richard Shuck. He possessed a counterfeit bill that had belonged to Parish as well. While drinking in a tavern, Shuck bragged about buying Parish’s tobacco crop and tried to pay off a debt with the counterfeit bill.

With the aid of Jesse Fears, Shuck wrote a confession admitting he and the group’s involvement in crimes consisting of murder and robbery. The marauders’ modus operandi usually involved tying rope around a victim’s neck and a heavy rock before tossing them into the Kentucky River sometimes while they were still alive. This was the case for the murder of John O’Nan.

According to Shuck’s confession, 10 to 12 marauders deliberated near Harper’s Ferry about how to dispose of O’Nan’s body.

“…The shot was not aimed right, and struck him on the arm and broke it,” Shuck confessed. “He begged that if we could not spare his life to give him time to pray.”

One of the marauders told O’Nan that time did not allow it.

Shuck names Jackson Simmons and David Carter as gang members who helped him put O’Nan in the river.

The following Saturday night in 1871, Shuck and several members of what Shuck called the ‘Ku-Klux’ in Lockport whipped a man that lived in the Six-Mile hills for “…being indolent and addicted to drunkenness, giving his family but little of his attend, and of which they greatly stood in need.” Shuck concluded the event had a good effect, “…causing him to quit the tippling-shops and give himself to industry, which was means of causing him to prosper.”

Shuck, Simmons, Bob Goodrich and David Carter were in Louisville when they ‘fell into the company’ of a man conducting business for a recently widowed sister. The motley crew convinced the man to wait until daylight when they all could take the train back to Pleasureville.  The man’s home was six to eight miles away and with darkness approaching, the band shared some of their whiskey with him.

Upon reaching a cave near Six Mile Creek, they told the gentlemen they heard a sound. When he sought out the source inside the cave, they all accompanied him. Shuck credited Simmons with shooting the man with a pistol in the head. They emptied his pockets and tossed his body into the cave.

“…It fell with a crash that echoed back, and inspired an awe that would have made the run chill of any but such as had had their consciences seared by the repetition of crime,” Shuck said.

Six miles between Hardin’s Bottom and Lockport, the group murdered the son of John James who stole $14.75 from his father’s bureau. His son initially confided to the group his father hid $56 in his bureau, but decided to not to take it all. Carter, Simmons, Goodrich and Shuck threw his body into a sinkhole after finding the lesser amount with much disappointment.

Shuck confessed to two robberies involving a peddler and a wool trader from Madison, Ind. In 1874. He would implicate the gang in killing a man near Pot Ripple named Galligan.

Shuck denied killing his father-in-law and named the rest in his band as being responsible. The group lead by Simmons was rumored to be operating near Scott County and hiding out near Stamping Ground Road in a two-story log house known as Simmon’s Inn. Shuck gave the location of a peddler’s body where a skeleton was found, but the man would soon arrive back in town after authorities hung Shuck.

Outrage infected residents in both Owen and Henry County. On the afternoon of Sept. 3, 1877 it was reported that an informant warned County Judge Jacob Smith that King Jim and the Goodrich brothers, recently captured and held in the New Castle jail, would be mobbed. The judge dismissed the threat as he had heard it before. After midnight a group of masked men rode into to town and took the men. A smaller group was reported to have gone to William O’Brien’s home and forced him to give them rope.  The mob took the men to the single arched bridge over Drennon Creek near New Castle city limits where they were hanged. Witnesses claimed that the rope around Bob Goodrich’s neck broke and he hit his head on a creek rock. The mob hanged Goodrich again with a tighter noose.

There are many conflicting accounts to whether Shuck acted alone in some of his exploits and confessed to escape his hanging. Authorities never determined the identity of the skeleton found in the sinkhole. ‘King’ Jim’s body was buried in the cemetery, which is now a ball field next to the Henry County Board of Education.


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