The following article from the
Knott County Kentucky Website
Reference: BOOK, THE HANGING OF ďBAD TOMĒ SMITH
BY: CHARLES HAYES, 1969
Sponsored by Breathitt County Historical Society
Transcribed by J.B. Francis, 21 Nov 2006
TOM SMITH THE SONG WRITER
Thomas Bad Tom Smith was a songwriter. Since early childhood he had especially liked to write and sing his own song ballads. Often he was asked to sing before groups at social gatherings. His fame as a singer followed his infamous deeds as if the two belonged together.
Even on the day of his hanging Smith was harassed to sing for the masses gathered in Jackson. Sheriff Combs has much trouble in the jail all during Smithís last week. Scores of persons came hoping to persuade Smith to sing. Very seldom, however, in that, his last week did Smith sing. If the crowd was in the mood for songs, Smith certainly was not. This was his last week, songs came hard. But if in a rare occasion Smith rose to sing, all in the jail hurried to his calls. Standing near the bars, but not too close.
Not only did Smith sing for the crowds gathered in the jail, but usually he rang forth in his
own words. He nearly always sang his own songs. These same songs had been composed by Smith while he waited in dense forests hoping for a next victim to come along or while he spent countless hours in a jail cell, paying for his crimes.
Probably all of Smithís many songs have been lost or not recorded except one. This sole representative of Smithís works lives on only because Smith sang it to members of the press the day before he was hung. The slick duos from the Bluegrass were somewhat taken by surprise when Smithís clear voice began. The song, not written for his last occasion, was although very appropriate for Smithís last song sung.
Thus Smith sung the following:
DONíT GRIEVE AFTER ME
I). I am going to walk through the Valley in peace
I am going to walk through the Valley in peace;
Oh! when I am dead and buried
In my cold, silent tomb,
I donít want you to grieve after me.
II). I am going to lay down my life for the Lord
I am going to lay down my life for the Lord;
Oh! when I am dead and buried
In my cold, silent tomb,
I donít want you to grieve after me.
III). I am going to leave all my friends in peace
I am going to leave all my friends in peace;
Oh! Oh! when I am dead and buried
In my cold, silent tomb,
I donít want you to grieve after me.
IV). I donít want you to grieve after me
I donít want you to grieve after me;
Oh! when I am dead and buried
In my cold, silent tomb,
I donít want you to grieve after me
(The Louisville Courier-Journal article below is from This Site).
Confessed On The Scaffold
Six Murders Acknowledged By Bad Tom Smith
Jackson, Kentucky, June 28, 1895
Bad Tom" Smith is hanged. The terror of Eastern Kentucky
has paid the penalty of his last crime. The execution was a success and
everything went smoothly. There was no disorder. On the scaffold Smith
confessed some of his crimes, each of a nature that would have warranted
the death penalty.
When the bright sun rose above the hills of
Breathitt County's capital there was to be seen assembled in the
picturesque little village some 4,000 or 5,000 people, dirty and weary
from trudging through the mountains, citizens of Breathitt, Magoffin,
Wolfe, Lee, Knott, Floyd, Perry, Owsley, Letcher, and other mountain
These people had traveled miles, some on horseback, some in
wagons, some in buggies, and others on foot. Many of them were women and
children, in some cases the husband, wife, and several children came in
riding one mule. The men were in their shirt sleeves, while the women wore
sun bonnets and many were bare-footed.
The object of their curiosity or
interest was the execution of Tom Smith, than whom no man known to the
mountain counties of Kentucky has a bloodier history.
people were uncertain of the hour at which the execution would take place,
but one thing they knew was that Tom Smith would be hanged on Friday, and,
owing to Sheriff Combs various contradictory statements regarding the
hour, they came early in order that they might not be deprived of the
object of their visit to Jackson.
The sky was clear, and at sunrise there was hardly a sound
to be heard, except the cow bells on the mountain sides and the caw of the
crow as he flitted from one mountain peak to another unaware of the
sentence about to be carried out in his immediate vicinity.
people were sleeping or lying in watch near the banks of the river waiting
for the hour to arrive at which the execution would take place.
The death warrant had been read to Smith by
Sheriff Combs and the doomed man
for the first time gave up all hope of being saved by his friends. He
slept little last night.
He wanted to make a confession, but his brother,
Bill, and sister, Linnie, who were with him continually, pleaded with him
not to do so until he had taken his place on the scaffold.
Smith breakfasted about six o'clock, eating heartily of chicken, fresh meat,
bread, and vegetables. He drank both milk and coffee, remarking that he
enjoyed the meal better than any he had eaten in years.
About seven o'clock, Sheriff Combs and Jailer Centers, with
the entire guard which had been put around the jail, accompanied by the
Rev. Thomas Kelley, a Methodist divine, and cousin to the doomed man, and
the Rev. Stephen Carpenter, of the Jackson Baptist Church, besides the
Rev. J. J. Dickey, and other ministers, formed a line and conducted Smith
to the Kentucky River; which is about 400 yards from the jail.
The party walked silently and mournfully to the edge of the water, followed by
the thousands who had come to witness the events of the day. Before going
into the water Smith's relatives, of whom there seemed to be about 200
men, women, and children, knelt upon the ground and were led in prayer by
The minister prayed fervently, asking that the soul of
the condemned man be saved from hell and that he might put away from his
soul all secrets of bloody deeds, asking that God cleanse his soul, and,
although it was the 11th hour, take it up to rest in peace through
eternity. Smith wept bitterly at his words. The prayer lasted for 15
Hundreds of people joined in the baptismal hymn, and when
the ministers led Smith into the river he looked exceedingly pale. He was
supported on either side and caught his breath while being immersed in
such a manner that he was considerably strangled. He looked as though he
would faint upon being raised from the water, but made no demonstration.
He opened his eyes, clinched his teeth, and looked smilingly upon the
thousands assembled on the river banks. Upon reaching the shore his
friends gathered around and shook his hand.
The guards cleared the way and the baptismal party began its march back to
the jail. During all the while friends of Smith were passing near him,
shaking his hand and bidding him God speed.
The scene was the most affecting ever witnessed
at an execution in Eastern Kentucky, and Tom Smith, was the first man ever
hanged in Breathitt County.
Scene At The Scaffold
Smith Talked and Prayed and
Some Of His Crimes
Upon returning to the jail Smith
was dressed in a nice new suit of black. He sang several songs with his
spiritual advisors; his sister, Millie Smith; Jailer Centers; and others,
after which he delivered a long, fervent prayer, supplicating God to
forgive him for his many crimes.
As the hour for the execution drew near
Smith conceived the idea of trying to get a further lease on life. He told
his brother, Bill, to send the following telegram to
"Would like few days' time, as I am an orphan boy
and have no friends." This was signed Tom Smith.
In the meantime Smith gave out
that he could not find forgiveness for having killed Dr. Rader, and asked
Sheriff Combs for more time.
The crowd, which was composed of fully as
many women as men, was gathered around the scaffold to the number of 4,000
or 5,000. The scaffold being surrounded by slight hills on every side, the
people appeared as if they were in a vast amphitheater.
armed with rifles, shotguns, and the largest-size revolvers, formed a ring
around the gallows and prevented the crowd from approaching nearer than 50
When the sheriff decided to postpone the hanging it was
11:30 o'clock, and one of his deputies mounting the gallows exclaimed in a
loud tone of voice to the assembled multitude: "The execution is postponed
until one o'clock so that the condemned can save his soul." This
announcement caused the crowd to disperse for dinner.
reassembled around the scaffold long before one o'clock, and so many men
got on a shed roof that it broke down and about half a dozen were thrown
headlong to the ground, but no serious injuries were received.
At 12:30 o'clock, the following telegram addressed to Smith was received, it
being delivered to Sheriff Combs, who opened it in the presence of the
condemned man and read:
"I must decline to Interfere. John Young Brown."
When Smith heard this he turned pale and said in a low voice, "Well, I guess I
will have to go, but I want all the time on the scaffold you can give me,"
addressing Sheriff Combs.
The sheriff assured him that he should have all
the time he wanted and after another prayer with the preachers he
announced his readiness to go to his doom.
Smith began the march to the gallows promptly at one o'clock, and although the sun was pouring down
a flood of heat he remained on the scaffold three-quarters of an hour.
He was accompanied to the floor of the gallows by his sister, Millie, who
remained with him for half an hour.
He began by making a confession, which was taken down by the
representatives of the press present. He told of the men he had killed in
a manner which showed that he had but little feeling for the suffering he
The first man he sent into eternity, he said, was Joe Hurt,
who came to his house, above Hazard. Then he helped kill Joe Eversole and
He said Joe Adkins shot first with a shotgun and he shot at
them as they fell off their horses, and then robbed Eversole's body of
$30. Then John McKnight was shot by Smith in the Hazard battle. Jack Combs
and Smith killed Robin Cornett next, ambushing him while he was cutting
He acknowledged also having killed Dr. Rader, saying that
they had been drunk together and that Rader was very ugly that night and
Mrs. McQuinn told him that if he did not kill Rader, the latter would kill
"She told me to kill him," said Smith, "and she would take the blame.
Nobody told me to do it, except her. I did not do it for money. She took
what money Rader had out of his pocket, but I don't know how much it
After making this confession Smith had a long conversation
with his sister. She told him to tell nothing except that which was true,
and to try to meet his God like a man.
It seemed as if she was trying to
keep him from telling too much, but when she finished talking, Smith went
on to say that he was at the house of Jesse Fields when B. F. French, Boon
Frazier, and Joe Adkins made the plot to kill Judge Josiah Combs last
At the time Smith was suffering from a gunshot wound in the arm,
received while trying to evade arrest, and could not, therefore, go on the
raid to kill Combs.
He said French had never hired him to participate in
the French-Eversole feud, but that he had given him clothes, money, and
other things whenever he had asked for them.
Smith said he wished
to address the crowd, and stepping to the front of the scaffold, facing
south, he made the following speech:
"Friends, one and all, I want
to talk to you a little before I die. My last words on earth to you are to
take warning from my fate. Bad whiskey and bad women have brought me where
I am. I hope you ladies will take no umbrage at this, for I have told you
the God's truth.
To you, little children, who were the first to be blessed
by Jesus, I will give this warning: Don't drink whiskey and don't do as I
have Done. I want everybody in this vast crowd who does not wish to do the
things that I have done, and to put themselves in the place I now occupy,
to hold their hands."
As he said this the hand of every person in that great
audience was held aloft, and the doomed man continued in his clear,
"That is beautiful. It looks like what I shall see in
Heaven. Again I say to you, take warning from my fate and live better
lives than I have lived. I die with no hard feelings toward anybody. There
ain't a soul in the world that I hate. I love everybody. Farewell, until
we meet again."
He then kissed his sister goodbye, and she left the
scaffold and returned to the jail to await the coming of her brother's
dead body. Smith then knelt down on the trapdoor and prayed in a
hysterical way for ten minutes.
It was such a prayer as a religious-crazed
Negro would utter, and he showed by his manner and voice that he was being
buoyed up by religious fervor.
After this prayer he was allowed to walk
around on the scaffold for several minutes, the Rev. J. J. Dickey, editor
of The Jackson Hustler, supporting him on one side, and George Drake, the
detective, on the other. They made the circuit of the scaffold five or six
Then Smith knelt down and offered a short prayer, a song was
sung, and Sheriff Combs manacled Smith's legs, adjusted the noose, pulled
down the black cap, untied the rope that held the lever, pulled the lever
back, and "Bad" Tom Smith shot six feet downward and his neck was broken.
Just as the sheriff pulled the lever Smith cried out loudly in the most
agonizing voice the people present ever heard: "Save me, O God, save
In 17 minutes life was pronounced extinct, the body was cut
down and taken by relatives, who will bury it by the side of his mother
and father in Knott County.
Sheriff Combs and his guards preserved the best of order,
and the execution passed off without any further incident. About 100
gallons of whiskey was shipped into Jackson last night, but the Lexington
and Eastern Railroad authorities refused to deliver it and shipped it back
to Lexington. Had they not taken this precautionary step, a great deal of
drunkenness would have ensued and perhaps much shooting.
One of the
touching incidents of the execution was the action of the widow of Dr.
Rader, who was present with her three little children and Dr. Rader's
brother. Just before the drop fell she held her little ones up at arm's
length so they could look over the crowd and see the man who murdered
Smith's Bloody Record
Some Of The Crimes He Is
The history of Tom Smith's crimes,
those he is known to have committed and those charged to him, reads like a
chapter from the blood curdling border novel. He began his career of crime
when a boy, by stealing nearly everything he could get his hands on.
When only 20 years old, 11 years ago, he engaged in a terrible fight at Hazard,
the county seat of Perry County, one election day. Several of his friends
were being fired upon, and he rushed to their assistance with no weapon
Knocking down one of his adversaries, he took his gun away
from him and shot several of the parties, wounding them dangerously. Soon
after this he stole a horse from Joe Eversole's brother-in-law, and, as
the Eversoles prosecuted him for this crime, he became their bitter enemy
and joined the French faction. After getting cleared of horse stealing by
false swearing on the part of his friends, he held up James Davidson,
another Eversole man, and robbed him of his watch.
Davidson tried to bring him to justice, but failed, and
shortly afterward his mother's house was set on fire, and it burned down;
Tom Smith being regarded as the incendiary.
From this time on he was the
principal leader of the French faction in the noted Perry County feud. In
1887, he was accused of killing Joe Hurt, and a year later he and three
Confederates waylaid Joe Eversole and shot him to death.
Nicholas Combs, a
young man who was riding along with Eversole, was also struck by the
volley that came from the bushes and was fatally wounded.
Smith robbed the
dead body of Eversole, and was in the act of robbing Combs when the
latter, regaining consciousness, asked him why he shot them.
answered by shooting the boy through the temples, killing him instantly,
saying as he pulled the trigger that he could not afford to leave any
Smith was tried for these crimes before a magistrate,
but having threatened the witnesses with death should they appear against
him, there was no evidence to convict him, and he was released.
The next man to fall under Smith's unerring aim was Shade
Combs, who was killed while standing in his own yard, surrounded by his
little children. Smith was arrested, together with several accomplices,
but again justice miscarried and he went unpunished.
Some time after this
Tom and his brother, Bill, hid in a cellar of a house in Hindman, Knott
County, and in daylight shot Ambrose Amburgy, an Eversole man.
the grand jury returned a number of indictments against Smith for his
various crimes, but before they could be tried Smith and several friends
one dark night set fire to the Perry County courthouse, and it was burned
to the ground, destroying all official records of his crimes. He was
indicted for this crime, but was never tried.
After the courthouse was
burned Smith and his henchmen became a terror to the inhabitants of Perry
County, who were opposed to his lawlessness, and many of them who had been
outspoken against him were compelled to flee the county in order to save
their lives. The county judge, when at home, was obliged to disguise
himself as a woman to prevent the assassins from shooting him
Ira Davidson, brother-in-law of Joe Eversole, was the
circuit clerk, and he had to flee the county because Tom Smith threatened
to kill him.
Abner Eversole, the county school superintendent, had to
leave to avoid assassination. In fact, all the friends of Eversole were
driven out of the county by threats.
Robin Cornett paid no attention to
these threats, and one day, while cutting timber near his house, Tom Smith
and two companions shot him to death from the brush.
The grand jury indicted Smith for this murder, but the case was put off from court to
court, and Smith finally forfeited his bond, which proved to be a straw
In the fall of 1839, while the Perry County Circuit Court was in
session, the French and Eversole clans met at Hazard. For several days
each party watched the other, and there were no hostilities.
Finally Wesley Whitaker, one of the Eversole's followers, and Henry Davidson, one
of the French's men, became involved in a dispute. Davidson ran into Jesse
Field's house, from which he fired on Whitaker.
The fight then became general, and that night the French
forces were re-enforced, and for 18 hours the battle raged. Although,
nearly 2,000 shots in all were fired, the amount of carnage was very
small, only two men, "Jake" McKnight and "Ed" Campbell, being killed.
McKnight fell from a bullet fired by "Tom" Smith, as he afterward
confessed. In this long fight the French faction never lost a man, nor was
any of them wounded. Circuit Judge Hurst, who had been holding court, was
told by Smith and his men, that he would be killed if he did not leave
town within five minutes. The judge left.
The governor had to send militia
to Hazard in order that court might be held. For the part he took in this
fight, Smith was indicted, and the case removed to Pineville, where he was
found guilty of murder in the first degree and sentenced to the
penitentiary for life. The Courts of Appeals reversed the decision, and
the case was never tried again.
Smith then went to Breathitt County, where he became
acquainted with Mrs. Catherine McQuinn, whose husband is incarcerated in
the Eastern Kentucky Lunatic Asylum. Mrs. McQuinn also has a history. One
of Day Brothers' clerks at Jackson became infatuated with her and she with
him. Their love was discovered by McQuinn, and he became a raving maniac,
and had to be sent to the asylum. This so preyed on the mind of the young
man who destroyed McQuinn's home that he committed suicide.
spirits, Smith and Mrs. McQuinn were soon in love with each other, and he
lived with her as his wife, although he had a wife and two children in
Perry County. When asked why he left his wife, Smith said to me: "She took
up for the Eversoles and I had to leave her."
Early in last January, Smith
complained to Dr. Rader, who was the leading physician of Jackson, that he
was affected with something like fits.
He told the doctor that he wanted him to come to the McQuinn
house, some four miles from Jackson, and stay there all night, so that he
could watch his symptoms.
Rader finally agreed to go, and one night he
took a gallon jug of whiskey and went to the McQuinn house. Rader had not
touched a drop of liquor for many months, and he was soon very drunk after
arriving there that night. Smith also got drunk, and Mrs. McQuinn was
considerably under the influence of the liquor.
The next morning
Dr. Rader's body was found in the bed of the McQuinn house, with a bullet
hole through the heart. Smith and Mrs. McQuinn were arrested and tried for
the crime. Dr. Rader had a number of warm friends, and they prosecuted the
The speech of Commonwealth Attorney Col. Alfred Howard,
of Salyersville, was a powerful and scathing arraignment, and the jury
quickly brought in a verdict of guilty, and recommended that the
punishment should be death.
Mrs. McQuinn was tried immediately after, and,
as in Smith's case, the jury returned a verdict of guilty, and fixed her
punishment at imprisonment in the penitentiary for life.
Submitted by Laura Lewis in Guestbook 31 Jul 2008
Thomas Smith was hung for murder in Breathitt Co KY. His cousin, Sheriff Breck Combs, pulled
the lever that sent Thomas to his death by hanging which was witnessed by nearly 5000 people. Just before Breck Combs pulled the lever that dropped the trap door on which Thomas stood, Thomas sang in a beautiful clear voice a song written by his own hand. He called out as Breck Combs pulled the lever, Save me, Oh God, save me as he plunged six feet down through the trap door, his neck was broken. He was pronounced dead 17 minutes later. He was then cut down and his body was given to his family who buried Thomas by his mother and father in Knott County, Kentucky. It was the first and last hanging ever to take place in Breathitt County, Kentucky. His tombstone inscription reads; "Bad enough to be hung but not bad enough to be saved" (submitted by Laura Lewis in guestbook 31 Jul 2008)