Bullitt County History

Murder or Not?

In January 2012, I published this non-fiction book about a murder trial that took place in Bullitt County more than a century earlier. We have decided to serialize the book here on the museum web site. Links to each part of it will be added to its table of contents here. You may also use this link to go back to the previous episode.

Violence Erupts - February 14, 1903

Saturday was a dreary, wet day at Huber's Station. It rained much of the day, and the rain grew harder as the evening wore on. Before the night was done, John Barbour's horse would be dead, and Barbour would be wounded slightly by one or more shotgun blasts.

The day before, Barbour purchased a new pistol, a Smith and Wesson 38 special, and planned to target practice with it that morning. Before he could begin, he discovered one of Francis Hagan's hogs that had strayed onto his land. He and his farm hands drove the hog into a pen, and Barbour rode into Shepherdsville to inform the sheriff that he had Hagan's hog penned up. It is perhaps a sign of the deterioration of their relationship that Barbour chose to tell the sheriff rather than telling Hagan to come get his hog.

Later that afternoon, Barbour rode back into Shepherdsville to file a suit against Hagan for damages caused by the wayward hog. It was near nine o'clock that evening that Barbour left Shepherdsville for home.

We don't know if this was a recurring problem, or if Barbour was making an issue out of it without good reason. We do know that J. H. Linn, another neighbor of Hagan's, was having similar issues with him. The previous fall, Linn killed and butchered two of Hagan's hogs that had strayed onto his land. Perhaps it was because he was tired of dealing with the problem of stray animals; or perhaps because he too was feuding with Hagan. At any rate, Hagan sued him, and Linn ended up paying for both hogs, plus a fine.

While Barbour was dealing with Hagan's stray hog, on that same day, Linn found between twenty-five and thirty head of Hagan's cattle that had strayed onto his land. He penned them up, saying that they were trespassing on his land and injuring his property.

By this time, things were so bad between Barbour and Hagan that Barbour said he feared an attack. In the days following, the story of the shooting was covered in considerable detail in The Courier-Journal. In Monday's paper, Barbour was quoted as follows:

"I left Shepherdsville about 9 o'clock at night and had three miles to ride to get to my home. I had reason to expect an attack and as soon as I left Shepherdsville I took my pistol out of my pocket and carried it in my right ungloved hand, using it as a switch by patting my horse's neck with it. I carried the reins in my left hand and it was gloved. I watched his head intently, believing that that was my best safeguard and would prove the first signal of danger. I was unused to riding horseback and to keep from tiring myself was standing in my stirrups.

"Just as I reached Hagan's gate, Martin, my horse, threw back his ears and turned his eyes toward the gate. We were trotting at a steady gait and I had got about a foot past the big tree beside the gate.

"When I saw that my horse sniffed danger I threw my pistol backwards over my left arm. As I looked around a man stepped from behind the tree. I recognized him. He had a shotgun leveled at my head and let both barrels go. The first charge swished by my head. The next charge struck my horse in the left shoulder and he went to the ground for an instant, but recovered himself and I hurried him forward. A third shotgun charge apparently from behind the tree, was fired at me, and I thought at first that it had struck my horse in the back, but I suppose spend itself behind us entirely.

"Pistol shots rang out from the clump of trees in front of me but they all went wide of the mark. I judge that from the loads of buckshot fired at me from behind the tree there were two men standing there, and it appeared from the sound that there were three distinct pistols used by the men in front of me. At the first sign of fire from their side I had my revolver leveled over my left arm and fired six shots in quick succession. I did not have time to take aim, but it is probable that one of the shots at least took effect.

"My return fire was evidently unexpected by them, for as soon as I began firing, they turned and ran. As they ran I heard them breech their shotgun, and I knew they were reloading. I had emptied my pistol and spurred my horse on to get out of range if possible before they could get another shot at me and to get time to reload. I had gone fifty feet up the hill when my horse gave down again and I knew he was done for. I climbed over the fence on the right side of the road, and for the first time realized that I was shot. I then reloaded my pistol and walked home."

The newspaper described the wounds Barbour received. "The gum coat worn by Mr. Barbour showed that one shot went through the front of it without cutting the flesh. One shot went through the fatty portion of his thumb. Another shot went through his fore-thumb and a third cut the skin on the middle knuckle of his big finger. One shot plowed through the pommel of his saddle."

After Barbour reached his home, Dave Stone, a farm hand, was sent to Barbour's two brothers-in-law for help. J. J. Blankenship, who was the railroad station agent and had access to the telephone there, called doctors from Brooks and Shepherdsville who arrived about an hour later to dress Barbour's wounds.

When they could not connect by telephone with the sheriff, Richard Lewis mounted his horse and rode to Shepherdsville. There he aroused De Moville Jones, the county jailer, who returned with him in the capacity of deputy sheriff. By the time they got back to Hagan's gate several neighbors in the community had been aroused and met them to assist in the investigation. The posse discovered footprints behind the gate. Mr. Lewis, who was in the party, said they traced the footprints for several yards away from the road, but the downpour of rain had so obscured them that the posse gave up hope of following them further and dispersed for the night, arriving at their homes about two o'clock in the morning.

Martin, Barbour's family horse, was found in the road, dead, the next morning. Sixteen buckshot were found in his left shoulder.

The newspaper later described the scene where the attack took place. "Mr. Barbour had just reached the rear gate of the Hagan or Huber estate. Behind him lay a deep gulch through which ran a turbid branch of water. A bridge furnished passageway over the stream. The road in front of him was a steep incline, rocky and not easy to traverse. A stream of water ran down the middle of the road. The left side of the road for several hundred feet behind and in front of him were banked by a heavy growth of maiden cedars and other trees and an embankment of earth. The right side of the road was more or less free from underbrush. The gate leading into the Hagan farm is supported on one side by a giant oak."

The residents of only two nearby houses heard the shooting. The first was at the Lewis home where Mrs. John Murphy, the widowed sister of Mr. Barbour, heard the shots. She paid little heed to the shots at the time and no one else in the house heard them. She occupied the upstairs corner room facing the direction from which the shots came.

The second household to report hearing the shooting was the Hagan residence. There, Edward Huber, a nephew of Mary Hagan, gave the following statement:

"I arrived at Huber station at 9 o'clock last night from Louisville to spend Sunday. My uncle, Frank Hagan, had been to Shepherdsville, but had gotten back when I arrived. We were all sitting in the room when we were attracted by the volley of bullets. Mr. Hagan, Kintz Jones, a farmhand, and myself went out on the brow of the hill to see what was going on. We did not see anything and returned to the house. We did not hear anyone running and had no idea that an attack had been made on Mr. Barbour until I heard it at the post office this morning. We heard Mr. Barbour's dog barking, and about fifteen minutes after the volley we heard the shots of Barbour's house, but did not investigate."

The drawing below is taken from a plat drawn by W. C. Herps a month after the shooting. It shows where the county road from Shepherdsville crosses a small stream. Near this spot is where the attack took place.

However, Tuesday morning's newspaper reported that "neither John R. T. Barbour nor Frank J. Hagan, who exchanged a volley of shots at each other in the rear of the latter's farm at Huber Station Saturday night, has been arrested and no warrants have been sworn out." By this time Hagan had come forward to admit his part in the shooting incident. The newspaper further reported that "Mr. Hagan protests that the shooting was an open fight and that Mr. Barbour opened fire on him first and that it was by accident that he had the shotgun with which to return the fire. Mr. Barbour still declares that he was ambushed and that Mr. Hagan attempted to assassinate him."

Both men were in Shepherdsville on Monday, consulting their lawyers about swearing out warrants for the arrest of the other one. Hagan was also there to sue Linn for a writ of delivery to get his cattle back. The writ was later served on Linn, and the cattle returned to Hagan. Linn then came to Shepherdsville to institute proceedings against Hagan for damages caused by his wayward livestock.

Wednesday's paper reported that "Barbour swore out a warrant against Kintz Jones, a farm hand employed by Mr. Hagan, charging him with shooting and wounding with intent to kill."

"Jones" he said, "is the man whom I saw standing behind a tree with his gun leveled at me when my horse warned me of my impending danger by pricking up his ears. The only warrant I have sworn out so far was the one against Kintz Jones. I am not prepared to say just now what my future course will be, but it is very likely that other warrants will be sworn out in the next few days."

Hagan stated that Jones had nothing to do with the shooting and knew nothing about it. He again said that he and Barbour engaged in an impromptu duel in which they alone were the principals, and that Barbour first opened fire on him without warning.

The newspaper further reported that "Ed Huber, nephew of Mr. Hagan, also said Jones was in the house when the shooting was going on. Mr. Huber also said the same thing about Mr. Hagan. Mr. Hagan says, however, that he was in the fight." Here the paper made a point of pointing out the contradiction in Ed Huber's statements.

The next day's paper reported that Barbour filed the following affidavit: "J. R. T. Barbour states that in Bullitt County, Ky., on the 14th day of February, 1903, Kincheloe Jones and F. J. Hagan did unlawfully shoot at him with a shotgun or shotguns or other deadly weapons, loaded with powder and leaden balls, or other hard substance, and wounded him." Based on that statement, warrants were issued for the arrest of Hagan and Jones.

Regarding Jones, the paper reported, "Kincheloe Jones is twenty-five years of age, and is unmarried. He has worked for Mr. Hagan as a farm hand for the past two years. He is a native of Bullitt County. This is the second time he has been in the courts. About four months ago he pleaded guilty to a charge of shooting a pistol in another man's house, and was fined $10."

The same paper provided a statement by Robert J. Hagan, Frank Hagan's brother, which follows:

"The facts in the case, so far as I have been able to gather from conversations with several persons, are these: On Saturday, my brother's fences had been taken down and his cattle had been driven away. It was about 10 o'clock that night when my brother was returning from a search for his stolen cattle. He heard someone coming out of his place and crossing the bridge nearby. He yelled for the man to stop and asked who it was. The answer was a pistol shot, and Mr. Hagan responded with shots. A number of other shots were exchanged. My brother only fired twice because they were all the shells he had in his gun. My brother didn't know at that time who he had been shooting at, and didn't know who it was until the next morning what he saw in the paper that Mr. Barbour claimed he had been attacked. No one was present at the time except my brother and Mr. Barbour. The night was very dark and the question of ambush is out of the question. My brother can kill a quail on the wing nine times out of ten, and if he wanted to he evidently could have hit a man on horseback. The cattle, valued at over $3000, were found two days later on Mr. J. H. Linn's place.

"Mr. Linn claims he found the cattle on his land and impounded them. Mr. Hagan swore out a writ of delivery Monday and secured his cattle, and has since filed suit against Mr. Linn for $500 damages 'for wrongfully impounding his cattle.'"

Then, on February 20, the paper reported that arrest warrants had been served on Hagan, Jones, and also on John Barbour.

"John R. T. Barbour went to Shepherdsville yesterday morning and gave bond in answer to a warrant served on him at his home at Huber's station Wednesday night, charging willfully and maliciously shooting at without wounding Frank J Hagan. The warrant upon which Mr. Barbour was arrested was not known to be in existence either by Mr. Barbour or his attorney or the arresting officer until a few moments before the arrest or even by the County Attorney. It was made out by J. F. Zimmerman, attorney for Mr. Hagan and was issued by Judge Daniels. No one except these three knew of its existence, and they kept it a profound secret, evading the question that it had been issued. Judge Daniels denied Monday afternoon that it had been issued. The warrant was dated February 15. The warrant, though directed to the Sheriff of Bullitt County, was turned over to Mr. Hagan. When Jailer De Moville Jones went to Huber Station Wednesday night to serve the warrants on Messrs. Hagan and Kincheloe Jones, Mr. Hagan handed him the warrant for Barbour's arrest. Jailer Jones feared that if he took the three men in custody trouble might ensue, and he told Mr. Barbour to consider himself under arrest and appear at the Shepherdsville courthouse Thursday morning. Mr. Hagan did not object to this arrangement."

Barbour hired Nat W. Halstead, of Bardstown, and Ben Chapeze, of Chapeze Station to represent him. Hagan and Jones were represented by Hagan's brother, Robert J. Hagan, and their father, Frank Hagan, Sr.

The paper reported: "Kincheloe Jones says that he was sitting in a room in the Hagan home, where he lives, when he heard the volley of shots which marked the encounter between Messrs. Hagan and Barbour, and that he then went out of the house, but saw nothing. Mr. Hagan returned to the house, and he says he heard Mr. Hagan say he had exchanged shots with an unknown man. It was not until Sunday morning, he says, that he learned that the man was Mr. Barbour."

At Barbour's request, the offending hog was removed from his land and impounded by Sheriff Campbell who placed it back in Hagan's lot for the time being.

The trial of Hagan and Jones was scheduled for the August term of court.

Meanwhile, on April 1, 1903 the circuit court judge ruled in favor of the Hagans in the civil suit, and ordered that the property in question be sold at auction to compensate the Hagans. It appears that the court may have believed Hagan's contention that Clara Barbour could not have inherited sufficient funds from her mother's estate to allow them to make the payments they claimed.

The Barbours promptly asked that the case be appealed to the Kentucky Court of Appeals, and the appeal was granted.

According to a later newspaper report, "on August 27, 1903, while the cases were still pending, Hagan was returning to his home with his wife and his niece from the Bullitt County Fair's annual hop, so he claims, when he was ambushed at his gate. He says he recognized Barbour firing at him as he was opening the gate to let his wife and his niece drive through." It is not clear whether the grand jury indictment against Barbour in August was for the earlier episode or this one.

While we don't have a transcript of the Hagan-Jones trial, it appears from the witness lists that numerous character witnesses were called, as well as witnesses in support of each side in the ongoing feud. The trial of Hagan and Jones went to the jury at the end of August, and on the first day of September they reported that they were unable to agree on a verdict.

Nine of the jurors were for conviction, with the imposition of the heaviest sentence possible – five years in the state prison – while the other three were for acquittal. W. P. Magruder, John Bean, Pres Samuels, H. J. Massey, J. T. James, John T. Key, Alvin Vieres, James Cunningham, and Thomas Jenkins were for conviction. For acquittal were Charles Ryan, F. M. Hardy and Bev Brashear.

The newspaper described the case for the defense this way: "On the night of February 14 Barbour was shot and wounded by Hagan near a gate leading to the latter's farm. Hagan claimed that Barbour rode into his gate and that he thought the latter was one of a gang of cattle thieves who had stolen his cattle. On the same night several valuable cows were missed from a field on Hagan's farm, and, according to his own statement, it was thought that they had been driven off by the thieves, who had removed a panel of the fence to furnish an exit. Hagan with Kincheloe Jones, a farm hand, set out for Shepherdsville in search of the missing cattle, but found no trace of them. They then returned to the Hagan residence and gave up the search. A few minutes later, Hagan said he heard cows lowing on the road. He hastened in the direction from which the sound came and found four cows. He drove them inside and then returned to the road to repair a gap in the fence he had found while driving the cattle inside. He carried a double-barreled shotgun with him, and before he reached the gap and while he was still in the field he heard the hoof-beats of a horse coming up the driveway leading to his house. He rushed forward and commanded the intruder to halt. A bullet whistled over his head in reply. He returned the fire, and Barbour was wounded. This was the case presented by the defense."

Barbour's story all along had been that "he was riding along the road when he was fired on by Hagan and Jones and was wounded. He claimed that the shooting was a deliberate attempt to assassinate him."

A second trial for this case was placed on the March 1904 docket. The case against Barbour was also forwarded to that docket.

Meanwhile the Court of Appeals was considering Barbour's appeal, and a decision was given on February 10, 1904. As the decision gives a very good summary of the facts of this case, we will reproduce most of it below. [For reference, the appellant was Clara Barbour, and the appellee was Francis Hagan as executor of the estate of Henrietta D. Huber.]

"The relief sought by this action is to obtain a release of the lien retained in the deed which appellee's intestate, Henrietta D. Huber, executed and delivered to the appellant for 10¼ acres of land. The appellee resisted the relief sought upon the ground that the purchase money had not been paid.

"There was a sharp conflict between the testimony of Mary J. Hagan, a devisee under the will of testatrix [Henrietta D. Huber], and John R. T. Barbour. Much of this conflict relates to issues between these witnesses, not the issue here for consideration.

"The deed was acknowledged in the city of Louisville. Mrs. Hagan claims that her mother did not start to the city with the deed which she made to appellant for the land or the notes which the appellant and her husband executed for the balance of the purchase money. John R. T. Barbour testifies that the notes had been delivered through Mrs. Hagan to the testatrix before the deed was acknowledged. This Mrs. Hagan denies. The notary who took the acknowledgment to the deed testifies that the testatrix produced to him at the depot in Louisville (Barbour not being present) the deed to the appellant, and acknowledged it, and that she left it with him for the appellant. He also testifies that she had the two notes executed by appellant and her husband for the purchase money, endorsed them on the back, and left them with him to be delivered to John R. T. Barbour. Mrs. Huber's name is endorsed on the back of the notes.

Sketch of John R. T. Barbour
printed in The Courier-Journal.

"The notes were for $155 each. The weight of the testimony establishes the fact that the notes had been actually received by Mrs. Huber, and, after endorsement by her, were returned to appellant's husband. This statement becomes important in view of the fact that the notes were delivered to Mrs. M. B. Tucker for value. John R. T. Barbour testifies that the reason the notes were returned to him was that Mrs. Huber was starting to Texas, and she wanted him to use the proceeds to pay several debts for which she was liable. In this he is sustained by Mrs. Hagan, because she said the notes were to be discounted.

"So far as this record shows, there could be no purpose in discounting the notes, unless it was for that stated by Barbour, because it is not claimed that the proceeds of the notes were to be sent to Mrs. Huber. She certainly did not want to discount them, and thus deprive herself of the interest, simply to turn over the proceeds to the husband of appellant without any purpose. John R. T. Barbour and Mrs. Hagan lived near each other. In June following the execution of the notes Barbour sent Mrs. Huber a statement, and the record shows that she never made any complaint to him that he had applied the proceeds of the notes to the payment of any debts, or to any purpose not intended by her.

"We think the circumstances sustain the claim of Barbour. It is admitted that the notes were paid to Mrs. Tucker either by the appellant or her husband. It is immaterial which paid them, as the proceeds were applied as directed by the testatrix.

Earlier photo of Francis J. Hagan
printed in The Courier-Journal.

"It is claimed that the contract price of the land was $635. There were 10¼ acres in the boundary, and the plaintiff claims that it was sold to her at $40 an acre, and the amount recited in the deed in excess of that (except $30) was so stated to apparently keep up the price of land in the neighborhood. It was shown that Mrs. Huber did the same thing in a deed to other lands which she sold a short time before. It is recited in the deed that $325 is cash in hand paid, and for the balance of the purchase money the two notes for $155 were executed.

"The evidence shows that the land was not worth $40 an acre. Mrs. Hagan testifies that the contract price was $40 an acre, but that the improvements on the place were estimated at $225. Mrs. Hagan and Barbour contradict each other on this issue, but there is another witness whose testimony tends to support Barbour. In view of the recitation in the deed and the statement in the notes that they are for the balance of the purchase money, and the other evidence in the record, we conclude that all the purchase money, except that evidenced by the notes, had been paid before the delivery of the deed and the execution of the notes.

"The Judgment is reversed for proceedings consistent with this opinion."

It appears that the Appeals Court ignored the "he said, she said" testimony and concentrated on the apparent factual evidence and testimony of uninvolved witnesses.

This judgment, and the criminal charges still hanging over Hagan's head may have caused him to reconsider remaining in the Huber's Station area. It seems that a deal was made between the parties to end the criminal proceedings against one another, and both cases were dismissed at the end of March 1904.

Hagan announced that he was selling his land and moving to Montgomery, Alabama. Barbour's supporters said that this was a part of the deal to drop the criminal prosecution, although Hagan denied it.

Francis Hagan returned from Alabama on August 11, 1904 to close the sale of the last of his Kentucky property. His wife remained in Montgomery on their new farm. It would be the last time she saw him alive.

Copyright 2019 by Charles Hartley, Shepherdsville KY. All rights are reserved. No part of the content of this page may be included in any format in any place without the written permission of the copyright holder.

The Bullitt County History Museum, a service of the Bullitt County Genealogical Society, is located in the county courthouse at 300 South Buckman Street (Highway 61) in Shepherdsville, Kentucky. The museum, along with its research room, is open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday; and from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Thursday. Admission is free. The museum, as part of the Bullitt County Genealogical Society, is a 501(c)3 tax exempt organization and is classified as a 509(a)2 public charity. Contributions and bequests are deductible under section 2055, 2106, or 2522 of the Internal Revenue Code. Page last modified: 28 Jan 2021 . Page URL: bullittcountyhistory.org/bchistory/murder/murder-7.html