Yesterday's News

Death of a myth

Guerrilla's legend grew before hanging

By FRANK BOYETT, Gleaner staff
February 13, 2005

Sue Mundy's relatively brief career as the scourge of Kentucky was yanked short by the knot of a hangman's noose.

Prior to being executed March 15, 1865, Mundy was the most notorious guerrilla in Kentucky. And 140 years ago this week there were reports of members of Mundy's gang operating in the Smith Mills area.

Mundy, however, was mostly a myth. She was the creation of George Prentice, editor of the Louisville Courier, who had an on-going feud with the Union Army commander in Louisville.

So, at this point, I'm sure you're wondering, how does one go about hanging a myth? Well, first you've got to have a neck to loop the rope around. The neck belonged to Marcellus Jerome Clark, a smooth-faced man -- barely more than a boy -- who wore his hair long.

Clark was a member of John Hunt Morgan's Confederate raiders until Morgan was killed, at which point Clark gathered some of the remnants of the command and began his career as a guerrilla in the fall of 1864.

At that time Gen. Stephen G. Burbridge was commander of Union forces in Louisville, and his draconian tactics got him crossways with Prentice at the Courier. In retaliation, the newspaper brazenly turned Clark into Sue Mundy -- a wily female guerrilla that the allegedly incompetent Burbridge could not catch. Prentice even had the gall to use a name that matched that of Louisville's most notorious brothel madam.

The federal army eventually captured Sue Mundy in Meade County on March 12, 1865, and he was hanged in Louisville three days later.

But during his six-month career as a guerrilla, Mundy was pretty famous in Kentucky. So much so that perhaps other guerrillas traded on Mundy's notoriety, saying they were part Mundy's gang in order to terrorize their victims. That could very well have been what happened in the Smith Mills vicinity this week in 1865. But, then again, maybe they really were part of Mundy's gang. It's certainly within the realm of possibility.

At any rate, the Henderson Reporter noted that some "thieving gentry ... representing themselves as belonging to Sue Mundy's gang of plundering cut-throats were scattered through the Smith's Mills neighborhood. They said the upper and central portion of the state had become too hot for them." One of the guerrillas, incidentally, was a black man.

They played pirate with the steamboat General Anderson and robbed the home of Ben Williams near Smith Mills, where they took more than $300 in greenbacks.

"They met Sam'l and Delaney Williams in the road and robbed one of his overcoat and pistol and the other of $5 in money. The negro bandit robbed one of the neighborhood negroes."

Citizens in the vicinity armed themselves and arranged to rendezvous at a bridge, but went to the meeting place two or three at a time. That allowed the guerrillas to catch them by surprise and disarm the first pair, whereupon "the other citizen soldiers retired to their homes."

The captured citizens were relieved of their guns and released, but later a group of Confederates commanded by Oliver Steele made the guerrillas return the guns.

"Mr. Williams did not, however, recover his money, although he pointed out the scamp who robbed him -- the thief all the time protesting that he had not taken the money."

The Reporter expressed hope that local militia organized to defend against guerrillas "will soon be mounted and commence the work of ridding this portion of the state of the robber bands that infest it."

120 years ago

Henderson's first librarian, Susan Starling Towles, had just begun her teaching career, which garnered her notice in the Reporter in 1885. The paper noted she "will receive pupils for a private class in French, Latin and Mathematics. Those desiring to study those branches, will do well to go and see her."

75 years ago

The Henderson City Commission, which had begun buying the city's gas supply the previous December instead of manufacturing it from coal, learned in 1930 that 45 percent of the purchased gas had escaped.

The city began installing new gas meters because the old ones were considered the culprit, The Gleaner reported. About 100 were installed by early March of 1930, and a railroad car-load of new ones were ordered.

50 years ago

A Rotary Club badge with the name of Stephen S. Soaper on it was returned to Henderson in 1955 after being discovered in an automobile in Pittsburgh, according to The Gleaner.

Soaper had traded in his car a couple of months earlier and inadvertently left his Rotary badge in it. Joe Lombard of the Braddock, Pa., Rotary Club bought the car and returned the badge.

25 years ago

Operation Community Pride began what appears to be one of the first recycling programs in this vicinity, according to a 1980 article in The Gleaner. OCP began paying 25 cents a pound for aluminum soft drink cans and scrap aluminum, which were collected at Old Orchard Cinema the first and third Wednesdays of every month.


Contributed by Netta Mullin, HCH&GS
Copyright 2005 HCH&GS