This week I will conclude the series on James Sparks by returning to the event which started the series. I began this series on July 3 with a Logan Ewell story about James Sparks killing a man. I was intrigued and decided to look in the newspapers to find more about the murder. I had no idea I would find all of these interesting stories I have shared the past three months. Since this may be the first time some people have read this column, I will give a brief review. In May 1884 James Sparks and W. C. Graves shot and killed Deputy U. S. Marshall Watt Killion. Apparently they had a disagreement over the price of liquor Graves and Sparks were legally selling at their establishment at Lily. In April 1885 both men were tried in Laurel Circuit Court, found guilty and sentenced to 21 years in the penitentiary. They appealed the decision and were granted a new trial in June 1885. The trial was moved to Whitley County and began a year later in July 1886.

Judy Krahenbuhl gave me a copy of the Whitley County Circuit Order Court records for that trial. Instead of transcribing the records I will give you a brief summary. Both James Sparks and W. C. Graves had been charged with the murder of Killion. James Sparks was tried first. The Court Orders do not name the witnesses in Spark’s trial or record any of their testimonies. However, at the end of each day of the trial, the records would name people who “acknowledged themselves severally indebted to the Commonwealth of Kentucky in the sum of one hundred dollars each to be void however if they shall severally appear in Court on the next Tuesday in the case against W. C. Graves and not depart without leave of the Court.” Thus I believe they had testified that day in the case against Sparks, so I am calling them witnesses in his trial. On the 13th the trial began at 9 a.m. The rest of the time it was scheduled to begin at 8.

The trial began on Tuesday, July 13, 1886, in a special term of the Circuit Court with Special Judge J. R. Martin presiding. The Commonwealth’s Attorney H. C. Eversole was absent so J. H. Tinsley was appointed Commonwealth Attorney Pro Tem. Sheriff J.M. Mahan was ordered to summon 60 men to appear the next day for jury duty.

On July 14 the case began with James Sparks announcing himself ready for trial and pleading not guilty. Then he was allowed to go free while the trial was pending based on the consent of W. B. Catching (a first cousin to Sparks who was a prominent business man in Laurel County), M. M. Barnett (a prominent Laurel County business man who would be elected County Judge in 1890), Calvin Sparks (his father) and Marion Walker. (The only information I have concerning Marion Walker is that Sparks sold his Lily property to him in August after the trial.) Next the Court chose the following men for the jury: G. W. Jones, Elias Moses, D. W. Carroll, Andrew Lawson, William Wilson, Tyrel Foley, M. E. White, E. B. Rose, Starlin Stanfill, Henry Creekmore, R. C. Lawson, and W. F. Lawson. They heard the testimony of the following witnesses for the Commonwealth: Rachel Killion, Richard McHargue, John Scott, John Harris, G. A. Morgan, Elizabeth Edwards, Malinda Miller and F. P. Elliott. The trial ended for the day due to the late hour.

On July 15 the trial continued with W. W. Johnson, Jesse V. Elliott and William Harris testifying on behalf of the Commonwealth. Then Rena Martin, William Harris, H. G. Owens, W. R. Hodge, Stephen Broughton, M. B. Hodge, E. H. Revel, N. R. Cummins, and J. W. Sams testified for the Defendant. Again the trial ended for the day due to the late hour.

On July 16 the case concluded with testimony. Witnesses for the Commonwealth were Gibson Weaver, G. P. Johnson, Hiram Edwards, Sam Black, J. C. Hilton, Green Owens, Alexander Hopkins, G. H. Brown, Standifer Elam, James Hilton, R. B. Sutton, John Scalf, John Champlin, Richard Paragin, W. G. Surber and Lee Bullard. Witnesses for the defendant were: Charles Day, W. R. Jones, Hugh Washam, J. S. Kerr and P. N. Tye.

On Saturday, July 17 the testimony concluded. Jury Foreman G. W. Jones returned the following verdict, “We the jury do agree, and find the Defendant not guilty.”

Then there were two pages of orders concerning payment. Each juror was paid $11 - $2 per day for 4 days and $1 per night for 3 nights. Interestingly, there was not enough money in the jury fund to pay the jurors, so Sheriff Mahan had to forward $132 (presumably from his tax money) to J. M. Adkins, Trustee of the Jury Fund. Jailer W. M. Leforce was paid $10 - $2 per day for 5 days service waiting on the Court. He was paid an additional $2 per day for furnishing fuel lights. Commonwealth’s Attorney Pro-tem J. H. Tinsley was paid $15 total. Payment for the Judge was not mentioned. If I did the math correctly the trial cost $167.

The case against W. C. Graves was then dismissed. The last order before adjournment was “The exhibits filed in this case consisting of clothes of deceased Killion and pistol are directed to be delivered to Mrs. Rachel Killion.”

Several readers have commented that they have enjoyed the drama in this series. One reader thought this would make a good book. I agree but that is not my cup of tea. The research I have done indicates Robert Boyd Sr. and Dr. Troutman, the son-in-law of James Sparks would also provide some juicy stories. Both would require more research than I want to do at this time and I want to return to my histories of the Colony schools. I also want to provide information about the jails and jailers of Laurel County since the new jail will soon be opening. Next week’s column may be a short one since I will be busy this week getting ready for our Open House.

Invitation to Our Open House

Our Open House at the Historical Society is this Saturday, October 12, from 1 p.m. until 3 p.m. We would love to have you visit to tour our library and museum and meet the members of our staff. We have genealogical and historical materials available for research. You can also view the pictures of scenes and people from Laurel County and many local items. Last year I did a series on Mabel Gill Johnson. Her nephew donated to the museum a school desk which belonged to his aunt and several pictures. The desk and some of those pictures will be on display. We have several pictures which other people have donated. Many of them have no identification. We will have some of those pictures on display with the hopes someone can help us identify the people and places. The time frame for these photos ranges from the late 1800s to the late 1900s. If you have never been to our library/museum, this would be a wonderful opportunity to visit. We look forward to seeing you.

The Laurel County Historical Society is located at Located 310 West 3rd Street in the old Health Department Building. We are open on Mondays and 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