The following article by Charles Hartley originally appeared in The Courier-Journal on 30 Oct 2013. It is archived here with additional information for your reading enjoyment.
With Halloween approaching, I thought I'd share a story that appeared in several 1870 newspapers, some as far away as Tennessee, Ohio, South Carolina, and California. I'm pretty sure it's just that - a story; but you will have to decide for yourself if it really happened. Here it is just as it was published the Louisville Courier on July 4, 1870.
The headline read,
"Last week there occurred in Bullitt County a strange affair, which is as yet unsolved in its particulars, but which was one of those very peculiar transactions which seem to have no motive. A widow lady, with a daughter some eighteen years of age, lived near Mt. Washington. They were without male protectors, and lived quietly and securely. One day the old lady received some five thousand dollars in payment of an old account, and locked it up in her trunk. The night following was dark and gloomy, and one that would cause people naturally to bar and lock doors and windows, and cause one to hesitate to open them to a stranger. Toward night an old, bent-up, decrepit man came to the door, and on it being opened, asked for shelter for the night. The widow told him she was alone, with no men folks about the house, and she disliked to take a stranger under her roof. The old man said he was a stranger, poor, decrepit, and destitute, and only asked for shelter from the approaching night.
"The lady acceded to his request, and in due time he was shown to his room up stairs. The night grew darker outside, and the widow and her daughter were preparing to retire, when a heavy knock came upon the door and voices of men outside were heard demanding admittance in threatening tones. Terrified, knowing the danger of possessing such a large sum of money, the widow concluded that the parties outside were confederates of the man to whom she had given shelter. Acting upon this suspicion, with trembling limbs she ran up stairs and locked the door of the suspicious stranger. Returning down stairs, she heard the blows of an axe on the door, and as she reached the foot of the stairs encountered the man she supposed she had locked safely in his room. No longer decrepit, bent and feeble, the stranger stood upright and assumed stalwart proportions. The gray hair and trembling voice had gone, and instead was a man of powerful and determined mien.
"Believing that all was lost, the widow exclaimed, 'You know what I've got; I'll give it up!'
"The stranger, instead of acceding to the terrified woman's offer, replied, 'Don't annoy me; go into your room and I'll protect you.' He held in his hands a rifle he had taken from the rack, and as the blows of the assailants' axe fell fast upon the door, pushed the widow into her room. The door gave way, and the first man that entered was shot by the stranger, who grasped the falling body and pulled it inside the door. He then pulled the door wide open, and fired again, killing another of the assailants. The party turned to fly, and another of their number received a shot from the valiant stranger.
"The attacking party having fled, the door was secured, and the afrighted inmates took occasion to examine the features of the dead robber, who proved to be the son-in-law and neighbor of the widow.
"In the morning, another man was found leaning over the fence, with his arms thrown over the rails, dead. Mortally wounded, his failing strength had carried him to the fence, where, in supporting himself, he had died. The stranger gave himself up to a magistrate, who examined into the case, the stranger refusing to give either his name, place of residence, or the nature of his business. The magistrate ordered his discharge, and the mysterious stranger departed. Who he was, or why he assumed the disguise he did on that night, what was the nature of his business, or whither he went, is a mystery not yet explained and comment would be superfluous."
So there you have it. What do you think? Did a local magistrate spin a tall tale for a gullible reporter? Or perhaps, did a bored reporter make up this tale to liven up the news?
Newspapers in the middle to late 1800's sometimes ran stories based on rumors or unsubstantiated reports; and were often openly biased toward one political group or another. So a story like this with all of its vague references might easily find its way into the newspaper.
Or did this really happen? I'll let you decide.
The story was also reprinted in The Fremont (Ohio) Weekly Journal on July 15, 1870, as shown below.
Copyright 2013 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.