The Bullitt County History Museum

A Brief Encounter on Plum Street

The following article by Charles Hartley was originally published in The Pioneer News on 9 May 2024.

County Surveyor Bill Herps was called upon in 1898 to do an unusual kind of drawing. We discovered this drawing while perusing the hundreds of plats and other records located in the T. C. Carroll cabinets in the County Clerk's office, and now available online beginning on another page.

It appears that two local citizens, Dr. J. A. Hoffman and Jack Rickerson, had a dispute that led to bloodshed in February of that year, and Herps had been called upon to make a drawing of the scene where the altercation took place; kind of like a crime scene investigator would do.

It's unclear who required the drawing to be made, as we have found no indication that neither the County Court nor the Circuit Court took up the matter; and we've found only brief comments in newspapers regarding the altercation.

Herps' original drawing (cleaned up a bit) is shown below. It can be viewed enlarged by visiting our T. C. Carroll plats, going to this page, and searching for the link to 419-284 next to J. A. Hoffman's name.

As Herps' original drawing would not reproduce well in the newspaper, we have re-created it to view there, and show it further down this page. The scene lay along the stretch of Plum Street in Shepherdsville between Second and Third Streets.

Jack Rickerson owned the entire west side of the street, while Dr. Hoffman owned the northern half of the east side, and the drawing describes the location of the conflict between the two men. Keep in mind that the streets were not paved at that time, as evidenced by the thorn trees growing in the street near the intersection of Second and Plumb Streets next to Tucker's stable.

Jack Rickerson was a carpenter and cabinet maker by trade, as had been his father before him. His family lived in the same house formerly occupied by his parents, a place that had been in the family for nearly fifty years. Jack's father, John Rickerson had quietly bought up a number of town lots over the years, and Jack would continue the practice.

Jack had been too young to serve in the Civil War, just approaching his 20th birthday as the war came to an end in 1865, and he was unaware that in just four years he would marry Lizzie Caldwell.

Lizzie had already experienced violence in her young life. Her older brother, Edward Caldwell was a sergeant in the Union army when his mother Margaret Caldwell telegraphed, telling him that his father was dying. Edward was granted a 30-day furlough to return home, but his father died just as Edward came within sight of the house.

Edward was still home, tending to his father's burial, when a group of Civil War outlaws led by Henry Magruder arrived at the Caldwell home and demanded money and horses. Apparently not satisfied with that, they shot and killed Edward in the barn while Lizzie, who had just passed her 13th birthday, huddled in the house with her mother.

Margaret Caldwell and her daughter left the farm and moved to Shepherdsville where the Rickersons and Caldwells would become better acquainted. Jack and Lizzie were married in February 1869 in Bullitt County, and their daughter Olivia Pearl was born a bit more than two years later.

Much of what we know about Jack Rickerson as a person comes from his obituary published in The Pioneer News at his death in 1925. The editor wrote, "He was born and lived his entire life in Shepherdsville. For many years, he was a contractor and builder, and a powerful man. At one time, he was Master of Bullitt Lodge and was town trustee for several terms. He was also a school trustee. He was a kindly hearted man, very fond of children and in his earlier life, he spent much of his spare time in making toys for them. They were very fond of 'Uncle Jack' as they called him. During his early life, Mr. Rickerson was a fine shot. He was also a great fisherman. He was a great lover of history."

While the Rickersons had been local residents for some time, Dr. Hoffman was a relatively new member of the community. We know that he was here by 1891 as that was when he bought the lot along Plum Street as well as a lot just south of the Maraman Bros store on Main Street where he had his home and office.

His earlier life began in Montgomery County, Kentucky where he was born in 1849 to William and Elvira (Anderson) Hoffman. Tragically, his mother died shortly after his birth, and the 1850 census found him living with his grandfather James Anderson's family. We lose track of him until 1872 when he married Emma Anderson. They had a son, Roger in 1875, but were divorced by the 1880 census. In that census record he is listed as "reading medicine" which likely meant he was studying in a doctor's office.

He moved to Louisville where he graduated from the Louisville Medical College in 1890, just before arriving in Shepherdsville. He would have been 41 at the time.

J. R. Zimmerman briefly wrote about Dr. Hoffman in one of his "Prepared by the Devil's Devil" articles for the local paper in 1931 in which he described the town's people and places as he remembered them when he first arrived here. Zimmerman seldom said anything bad about a person, if he could avoid it, so I'll just quote here what he had to say about Dr. Hoffman.

"The next house was the home of that queer genius and fine physician, James Anderson Hoffman, born and reared near Mt. Sterling, Ky. School teacher, Doctor and Electrician, he was a bright man, loyal to his friends and always 'riding' his enemies. It may be said with perfect safety that he would do anything for his friends and wanted his friends to do anything for him. I mean anything honorable and lawful. As we shall have more to say about Dr. Hoffman later, we shall pass on to the other houses on the square."

It seems that Zimmerman never got around to saying anymore than this about the doctor.

It also seems that "riding his enemies" was a frequent thing with Dr. Hoffman. For example, when the Troutman brothers purchased much of the lots on the southeast corner of Main and Second Streets in 1894 as a location for their new store from the Rickersons, they also bought that part of the Courthouse Square adjoining it from the town trustees. The good doctor decided that this latter purchase from the town trustees interfered with his going and coming to his office and home, so he sued to block that purchase.

When he lost his suit in the local court, he appealed to the Court of Appeals, and we have that record and it shows that he claimed that the Troutmans were building their new store partly on Main Street, and thus partially blocking his access.

The court ruled that since the part of the Courthouse Square deeded to Troutmans did not include any part of Main Street, it followed that none of their new building would be built on the street, and thus would not interfere with Hoffman's coming and going, so he lost again.

While this case was proceeding through the court system, Dr. Hoffman had taken a fancy to Myra Belle Kendall, daughter of Sarah O'Brien who ran one of the town's hotels. Myra Belle had married James Kendall in 1881, and had a daughter by him they named Kathryn. Kendall had disappeared and was assumed to be dead.

Hoffman and Myra Belle wanted to get married, but since there was no proof that Kendall was dead, Hoffman encouraged her to apply for a divorce. They were then married in January 1895, traveling to Clark County, Indiana to tie the knot.

Then two months later, Hoffman had a change of heart and filed a petition for a divorce. Myra Belle, who was by then pregnant, opposed the action.

In his motion, Hoffman alleged that the marriage was void because Myra Belle already had a living husband. She refuted this claim, pointing out that Hoffman had aided her in applying for a divorce from Kendall, that the divorce had become final three days after her marriage to Hoffman, and that Kendall was now known to have been dead at the time.

The evidence presented in the suit showed that in the fall of 1895, Myra Belle's daughter Esselle was born, and that in the following February Myra returned to her husband's home with the child, and they lived there together, apparently as husband and wife, from that time until the March term of the court.

According to court records, at that March term, the order was given as follows. "This day came the defendant, by counsel, and moved the court to dismiss this cause, which motion, by agreement of plaintiff, is sustained, and this cause is dismissed, at the cost of the plaintiff."

According to evidence reported when this case was heard by the Court of Appeals, Hoffman had told his attorney "not to call the case up." Then Myra Belle's attorney moved the court to dismiss the suit as "the parties were living together as husband and wife." As Hoffman's attorney knew this as well, the order was given to dismiss the case.

Hoffman declared that he had given his attorney no order to dismiss the suit, and took his case to the Court of Appeals. Here he lost again, as the court ruled that the lower court had acted properly, given that the two were living together at the time. That court suggested that, although this suit had been dismissed, Hoffman could file another suit if he wished.

I've found no evidence so far that he did so.

By now Hoffman appears to have been very bitter, for he sat down and in his own hand wrote out a will in which he specified a list of relatives who were to get only a single cent of his estate, obviously folks that had disappointed him at some point.

Turning to his estranged wife, he wrote, "to my wife (illegal I hold her to be and never agreed with her nor any other person to have the suit against her dismissed, nor gave my consent to have it dismissed, but told my attorney F. P. Straus not to have it dismissed), Myra Belle Hoffman, one cent."

He also questioned whether the baby girl was his, and made elaborate arrangement for someone he trusted to later determine if she bore any resemblance to him. He also wrote that for the child to receive any part of his estate, Myra Belle would have to give her up to the care of someone he trusted.

He signed this will on 11 May 1896 with H. H. Glenn, C. L. Samuels and John H. Shafer as his witnesses.

Now we return to the shooting on Plum Street that occurred in February 1898. Dr. Hoffman had been sworn in as an elected Shepherdsville town trustee in December 1897, showing that he was still a respected member of the community, as was Jack Rickerson.

The only other description we have of what happened comes from a Mt. Sterling Advocate newspaper article dated the previous February 8th. We quote it here.

"On last Sunday Dr. J. A. Hoffman, formerly of this city, now of Shepherdsville, Ky., was shot by J. I. Rickerson with a shot gun and mortally wounded. Attending physicians say he cannot recover. Bad blood had existed for two years. The difficulty arose over a dog and some chickens. Rickerson's chickens had been going to Hoffman's stable where they had been killed by the dog. The dog had been poisoned by Rickerson, but had recovered and was kept stalled. On day of the shooting he was turned loose. Rickerson threatened Hoffman, who hearing this, armed himself. They met both armed. Rickerson fired first."

The article continued, "Mr. Hoffman is a nephew of George W. Anderson of this county, who left yesterday to attend him. Roger Hoffman of this city is a son of the wounded man."

A week later, the same newspaper reported, "Mr. G. W. Anderson returned from Shepherdsville Saturday where he went to see his nephew, Dr. J. A. Hoffman, who had been seriously shot. He brought him to a hospital at Louisville, and present indications are he will recover."

It is impossible at this time to know how this conflict was resolved, as we have found no evidence of a court case as yet.

We do know that in his remaining years, Dr. Hoffman was not well. He never reconciled with Myra Belle or her daughter. Indeed, in 1903, he added a codicil to his will limiting Esselle to one cent from his estate. And this time he won, but not until after his death in 1907. In 1919, she challenged parts of the will, and the suit reached the Court of Appeals where the court ruled against her.

As for Jack and Lizzie Rickerson, their daughter Pearl married George Clement Lee and they had two children, Frazier and Elizabeth, before George died in 1897. The grandchildren were the delight of their lives, and Jack was heart-broken when Elizabeth died of "malarial fever" while away from home at college in 1911. Pearl would live to see the death of her son in 1953 in a car accident.

Lizzie Rickerson died in 1916, and Jack followed her in 1925, a couple well liked and respected in the town where they had spent their forty-seven year marriage.

So there you have it; all we know about Dr. Hoffman and Jack Rickerson, and about their brief encounter on Plum Street.

Copyright 2024 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 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Saturday appointments are available by calling 502-921-0161 during our regular weekday hours. 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: 17 May 2024 . Page URL: