Yesterday's News

Murder trial captivated Morganfield

By Frank Boyett, Gleaner Boyett
December 26, 2004

The Morganfield town marshal was shot in the head 120 years ago, setting off "one of the most hotly contested trials that ever occurred in Union County," according to an 1886 history of the county.

Marshal Harlan Taylor, 21, was killed by Samuel Holeman on Dec. 23, 1884. The Henderson Reporter called it "the Morganfield tragedy" and gave the following account:

"The slayer was in the town and is said to have been quite drunk and rough and was making a good deal of disturbance when Taylor went up to arrest him. The man was on horseback and just as Taylor seized the bridal rein, shot him in the head. He died almost instantly and the murderer made his escape, but a reward was soon offered and a party of young men put out in pursuit of him."

There were "many failures made in the attempt to capture Holeman," however, who was described as "a rowdy, rough young country fellow," according to the 1886 history, which was published by the Evansville Courier. The case did not come to trial until the end of August 1885, and took almost two weeks to complete.

"The great difficulty in securing a jury has never been equaled," with the regular Union County jury panel exhausted without a single juror being seated. That prompted another 200 men to be called, out of which only one juror was found acceptable to both sides.

Authorities then called 175 men from Crittenden County, out of which nine men were seated. They then resorted to calling 50 men from Henderson County, which finally filled the jury box after looking at hundreds of men, more than 425, to pick a jury of 12.

Prosecutor N. Taylor Powell of Henderson opened his case by explaining "the series of threats and conspiracies entered into by the defendant and his associates in crime." Powell's theory was that Holeman and three other men conspired to kill Taylor because he had arrested one of them earlier. Witnesses for the commonwealth numbered about 130 and there were about 105 for the defense, although not all of them were called to the stand.

John Young Brown, the Henderson attorney who later became governor, led the defense team and his opening statement demonstrated his "well earned reputation for eloquence and legal knowledge." He argued that "Holeman thought Taylor was trying to arrest him for the purpose of killing him, and fired in self-defense."

The end of the trial saw the three members of the defense team giving closing arguments that lasted a total of seven hours. The prosecutor countered by closing "with a speech three hours and a half long, in which he alternately had his audience laughing and weeping."

The jury deliberated little more than an hour before the first ballot, at which time they were split five for a murder verdict and seven for manslaughter. One of the Henderson County men, A.F. Blake, was one of the strongest proponents for a murder verdict, while the other, M.H. Spivey of Corydon, was one of those who most favored a manslaughter verdict.

Spivey "said he wanted to go home that evening and declared he would hang the jury if they waited until the next morning to render a verdict."

Consequently, the jury voted for manslaughter with a prison term of 10 years, which was the most Blake could convince the manslaughter proponents to vote for.

In wrapping up this story, I should note the Reporter reprinted a story that first appeared in the Owensboro Monitor. The slain man's sister, E. Bell Taylor, was a music teacher in Owensboro at the time, and the day of the shooting she had a strong "presentiment of some terrible calamity."

Late that same afternoon the school received a telegram telling the dire news. As the telegram was brought to her, she sprang up and said, "I know you have come to tell me that my father is dead."

"It is not your father," was the reply. "Then it is my brother," she said.

"Her grief on learning the truth was pitiful beyond description and the ministrations of her friends were powerless to allay her anguish of mind."

140 years ago

The new Henderson Mail Line steamboat Morning Star was captured at Lewisport by a notorious guerrilla band known as Davidson's Hyenas, according to an 1864 story in the Reporter.

At least four people on the boat were murdered and about $3,000 worth of gold and jewelry were stolen. The Morning Star survived, however, to enjoy a long life in the river trade.

75 years ago

The new Henderson city government headed by Mayor William T. Barret and Commissioners Harry E. Jones and James E. Manion, appointed 24 men to the "city plum tree," according to a 1929 article in The Gleaner.

Among the new appointees were city Assessor W. Irving LaRue, City Engineer Newton Neel, and Fire Chief Herschel Maynard.

50 years ago

Ferlin Huskey, "noted mountain music singer," appeared at the Henderson County High School auditorium as a benefit for the police and firefighters pension fund, according to a 1954 article in The Gleaner.

Huskey, who later dropped the "e" from his last name, had had a No. 1 country record the previous year with Jean Shepard called "A Dear John Letter."

25 years ago

An outbreak of scabies was reported in the Henderson County School District, according to a 1979 article in The Gleaner.

Eighteen cases were reported to school nurses in the last two months of 1979. Scabies is a skin condition caused by a parasitic mite.



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