Jackson, Ky., -- 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 but stones.
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
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
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. Smith 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 living witnesses.
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
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
That fall 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
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 down.
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 1889, 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.
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. Being kindred spirits, Smith and Mrs. McQuinn
were soon in love with each other, and he lived with her and 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
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
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,
while 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 case vigorously. 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.
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. Kentucky.
judge, when at home, was obliged to disguise himself as a woman to prevent
the assassins from shooting him down.