Invitation to Our Open House

I want to invite you to an Open House the Historical Society is having on Saturday, October 12, from 1 p.m. until 3 p.m. You can tour our library and museum, and meet the members of our staff. We would love to show you the genealogical and historical materials we have available for research. You can also view the pictures of scenes and people from Laurel County and many local items. If you have never been to our library/museum, this would be a wonderful opportunity to visit. We look forward to seeing you.

Robert Boyd Jr. and Rachel Sparks

I had hoped to find more information about Robert Boyd’s trial in the Courier Journal but I did not find any articles about it. If you have been following the story from the beginning you know he was acquitted. I had been told he moved to Tennessee. However, my search on indicates he returned to Whitley County. He may have moved to Tennessee for a short time or perhaps he lived near the Tennessee line. He is living in Whitley County in 1910. Find-A-Grave has a tombstone for Robert Boyd Jr. buried in Highland Cemetery in Whitley County. He was born February 12, 1868, and died December 2, 1918. The person who posted that information believes this is the same Robert Boyd because it includes some of the newspaper articles concerning the murder of Sparks. I had heard Boyd left Laurel County because he feared the Sparks family would take revenge on him. The following article supports that thought. I am quoting the article and I hope no one is offended by the language. This was written over a hundred years ago and the times were different.

The Courier-Journal

Sunday, March 6, 1908


London, Ky., - March 7, - Mrs. Rachel Sparks was arrested here on the statement of Felix Beatty, a negro, that she had given him a gold watch and a gallon of coal oil to burn the livery stable of Tip Sparks for his alleged friendship to Robert Boyd, Jr., who was acquitted of the murder of James Sparks, her husband.

Tip Sparks was a cousin of James Sparks but was not on good terms with him. The negro delivered the watch and coal oil to the County Attorney.

The negro also alleged that Mrs. Sparks agreed to give him $500 after the stable was burned.

Mrs. Sparks was arraigned in the Circuit Court this morning and released on $1000 bond. She denies the charge and says she does not know how Beatty obtained possession of the watch.

Beatty is employed in a barber-shop and bears a good reputation.


On I found the preceding story in newspapers across the nation. It appeared in nearby towns such as Knoxville, Tennessee and Fort Wayne, Indiana; and was also posted in distant places such as Pensacola, Florida; Fremont, Nebraska; and Washington D.C. Each article was written in a slightly different manner and some provided additional details. The Washington Post titled the article “LAWYWER’S WIDOW ARRESTED – Charged with Attempted Arson in Revenge on Husband’s Cousin.” It reported, “Mrs. Sparks accused ‘Tip’ Sparks of siding with Boyd in Boyd’s trial….”

The Fort Wayne Sentinel named the article “ KENTUCKY WOMAN IS ARRESTED AS A FIREBUG – Accused of Employing a Negro to Burn Livery Barn of Enemy.”


Unfortunately I do not know the outcome of that trial which took place almost a year later. The February 19, 1909, issue of the Interior Journal of Stanford, Kentucky reported, “In the London circuit court Judge Faulkner gave peremptory instructions in favor of Mrs. Sparks, who was charged with confederating with Felix Beatty, a Negro, to burn the livery barn and poison the horses of Tip Sparks.” I did not find any other information about the trial.

I did find these tidbits about her in The Interior Journal. Looking at the dates I speculate she may have needed money. “E. H. Johnson, a London lawyer, has bought Mrs. Rachel Sparks’ hotel at London for $6000.” (June 9, 1908)

“The fine residence of Mrs. Rachel Sparks in the suburbs of London was destroyed by fire. The fire was first discovered on the roof near the flue over the kitchen, in which a fire was burning. She had $3000 insurance on the dwelling and furniture.” (June 15, 1909, page 1) You may recall she lost a home to fire in 1904 when she was spring cleaning while James was away. Perhaps the Fort Wayne paper was correct in labeling her a “firebug.”

I do not know what happened to Rachel. She is not on the 1910 Laurel County census report. Her granddaughter Cora Troutman married T. C. Welch April 28, 1909. Neither they nor Cora’s mother Nannie is here in 1910. I do not subscribe to and I do not want to go to the library because of the Chicken Festival, so I have not checked it. Nannie’s son Stephen and his father Dr. Troutman, who is listed as divorced, are here in 1910.

Our London Cemetery book mentioned four small stones with initials S.P.; N.S.; C.T & S.T.; and R.S. near the grave of James Sparks. So I went to the cemetery to look at the plot. His grave is easy to find. If you enter the A. R. Dyche Cemetery through the old gates the first stone on the right belongs to James Sparks. This plot has 6 white plot markers around it. Each marker has a hole drilled in it. They probably held a chain link fence around the plot at one time. I am confident that a deed search would show Rachel purchased this plot. When James died the family had money and could afford a nice stone for him. I suspect legal battles and possibly other situations depleted the money. By the time Rachel and the other members died there may not have been enough money to erect a stone.

I want to give you my theory concerning the small white stones with initials. I think these stones were all erected in the plot at the same time by a family member who was unsure of the exact locations of the graves or as a memorial to people who may have been buried in a different or unknown location. The book is in error about S. P. The transcriber looked at it upside down. It is J. S. and is a footstone for James. R. S. is to the right of James and probably marks the grave of Rachel Sparks. N. S. is his daughter Nannie Sparks Troutman. C.T. is her daughter Cora Troutman and S. T. is her son Stephen Troutman. The last two stones are leaning

If anyone can provide additional information please contact me. The Laurel County Historical Society is located at Located 310 West 3rd Street in the old Health Department Building. We are open on Mondays & Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. We will open on other days by appointment. Please contact us far enough in advance to schedule a volunteer to open the library. You may contact the Laurel County Historical Society by calling 606-864-0607 or e-mail us at (The first character is a lower case L as in Laurel.)

React to this story:


Recommended for you