May 13, 2013

Laurel family honors slain U.S. Marshal

By Nita Johnson
Staff Writer

LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — A memorial service honoring slain law enforcement officers in Richmond included a Laurel County man who died in the line of duty.

Family members of Walter Releigh Killion were among those gathered for Tuesday’s service to add names of officers killed in the line of duty.

Killion, a native of the Lily community, was killed on May 24, 1884 during an argument with James Sparks, the work leader for a railroad project in the southern end of the county. Killion was a U.S. Marshal who was checking on the progress of the railroad construction, according to his great-granddaughter, Carolyn Smith.

“We always heard the story that he (Killion) was checking on the railroad in Lily,” she said. “The work was not getting done.”

Smith said the family story was that Killion and Sparks, who was overseeing the railroad construction project, had argued all day.

“He (Killion) went down there because he thought the men were staying at the saloon rather than doing the work,” Smith added. “But another story we heard was that they were arguing over the price of a quart of whiskey, and my great-grandfather was shot.”

The shooting occurred around 7 p.m., according to what Smith said she had been told.

“The trial was moved to Whitley County from Laurel County,” Smith explained, “but the trial was postponed repeatedly. Once, the judge was sick and couldn’t come. They wound up never doing anything.”

Over the past three generations, however, family members continued to honor Killion, who is buried at the Campground Cemetery. In 2010, he was added to the National Law Enforcement register, and Tuesday’s ceremony put his name on the memorial.

But that acknowledgement came after a lot of research by Smith’s brother, Clarence Killion, and retired police officer Bob Combs.

“My brother worked on it for years until he died in 2005,” Smith said. “He worked with Bob Combs to get (Killion) on the register.”

Smith said part of the problem was due to destruction of records kept in the courthouse when it burned in 1918. But family history prevailed, with Smith citing the family’s origin back to some of the county’s founding families.

“My great-grandfather (Killion) was married to Rachel Stansbury, who was the great-granddaughter of Ira and Sarah Stansbury McHargue. Their son, William McHargue, is the one the mill in (Levi Jackson Wilderness Road State Park) is named after,” Smith said.

Seeing her ancestor recognized for his efforts has special meaning to Smith, especially after all these years.

“He was born March 7, 1847 and died May 24, 1884,” she said. “He was never recognized. My great-grandmother said all she got was his gun and his bloody clothes.

Smith and several others attended Tuesday’s ceremony, including her brother Clarence’s wife, Lola Killion, and approximately seven other family members.

“We are very thankful and appreciative that his name was added on the list,” Smith added. “We feel really blessed because he was most deserving.”