Hometown Heroes: Marshal John C. Coomer

End of Watch: October 1, 1913

On August 18, 1913, an alleged moonshiner shot and killed a Burnside Councilman, John Fitzgerald, and wounded the town Marshall, John Coomer, in a pistol duel.


The shooter, Josh Tarter, had been to Somerset with a friend earlier that day and appeared to be drunk when he stepped off the train in Burnside. Marshal Coomer arrested Tarter and was about to take him to jail when the prisoner drew his pistol and shot Coomer in the neck, causing a severe flesh wound. After shooting the marshal, Tarter took off toward the Burnside ferry with a posse of citizens hot on his heels. Once on the ferry, Tarter held the ferryman at gunpoint and set off across the river. Once the ferryman pushed off the bank, Tarter turned his gun on the crowd, firing and killing Councilman John Fitzgerald instantly.


Some of the posse members were armed but did not dare shoot at Tarter for fear of accidentally hitting the ferryman. However, when the ferry reached the shore, and Tarter stepped on the bank, someone in the group of people on the opposite shore opened fire and hit Tarter as he was running away. Tarter was able to get away and go into hiding. Burnside authorities immediately sent word to officers in Somerset, and the search for Tarter began.


On August 24, 1913, six days after the shooting, a Burnside surgeon was called to a cave at the mouth of Pitman creek to attend to the wounded Josh Tarter. Tarter had severe wounds to his right leg and left arm. After leaving the cave, the surgeon alerted Police Chief H.G. Waddle to Tarter's whereabouts. When confronted, Tarter announced that he would not be taken alive. The Chief did not take immediate action due to Tartar's threats and the stock of ammunition that was said to be in the cave with Tarter.


On October 1, 1913, Marshall Coomer died as a result of the gunshot to his neck. However, his death certificate says his cause of death is "unknown". It was reported that Marshal Coomer made a deathbed request that Tarter not be charged with his murder.


In May 1914, a little more than 7 months after Marshal Coomer died, Tarter evaded all attempts of arrest and was still at large when Governor McCreary offered a $200 reward for his capture.


Eventually, Tarter was apprehended and convicted of killing the councilman and sentenced to five years in prison; however, he was not charged with murdering Marshal Coomer due to the reported request the marshal made before he died.


Marshal Coomer was 52 when he died, he served as city marshal for 18 years. In addition to serving as the city marshal, Coomer had taken a job working as a mate on a steamboat a few years before his death. When he died, he and his family were living on Valley Avenue in Burnside. His wife and eight children survived him.



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