I grew up in Nancy (Shepola, Kentucky, and have lived here all my life. Growing up as an only child, I had a lot of older generation (Baby Boomers and the Greatest Generation) influences in my early life. I always was interested in family history; however, I was like most teenagers;
I only listened in passing and now wish I had paid more and more attention to the stories I was told.
I was always fascinated by the toughness of men in the 1800-1900s, and many times wondered what my ancestors were like. I also was interested in my father’s family, as they were all from Eastern Kentucky, particularly Breathitt, Clay, and Perry Counties. These counties were known for their lawlessness ranging from moonshining to feuding. So when I graduated from high school in 1989, that was the same year that the movie Next of Kin came out. Some of the home and opening scenes were filmed in Perry County, Kentucky coal camp of Hardburly. Others were done at the M.C. Napier High School gym in Hazard, Kentucky, and in Letcher County near Carbon Glow. Home to many families that I have never met. I was immediately fascinated by the movie and the concept of family. So I asked my mother if anything like that had ever happened with members of our family. I had heard family members speak of James (Jim) Todd at the reunion and about how he shot a man off the witness stand in Pulaski County, Kentucky, in the early 1920s. As my mother referred to him, Uncle Jim Todd apparently told a man, who was suspected of committing adultery with his wife (Ellen) to the man if he got on the witness stand and swore a lie, he would kill him. I was intrigued by this, but I never knew much more information until now, long after everyone who would have known are mostly long since passed. But based on some family research I was able to conduct, I had to learn a little bit more about the story.
The year was 1922, Warren Harding was President of the United States, and the Great Railroad Strike of 1922 began. The Hollywood Bowl opens. The Japanese Communist Party is established in Japan. The constitutional ban on creating Probation in the US passed in 1920 was in full force. Uncle Joe Cannon, the most picturesque figure in the US House of Representatives, announced he would leave in March of the following year. R.C. Tarter was Pulaski County Judge. Pulaski Co. Sheriff Deputies were recovering a still in the Eastern Part of Pulaski County near the mouth of the Rockcastle River. The Deputy Collector from the Internal Revenue Service, Robert H. Lucas, will be in Somerset. The Bond for Patrol S. L. West was approved by Somerset Mayor Norfleet, Reverend W.G. Montgomery of First Christian Church was granted a provision to visit the Holy Land, and the Somerset Basketball team lost to Sue Bennet College 24 to 20.
The local newspaper (The Commonwealth, The Official Newspaper of the Republic Party in Pulaski County) reported the events the next day on February 16, 1922,
In Kentucky, in the 1920s, there was not the no-fault divorce that is common in today’s world. During the time, the no-fault divorce that Kentucky now has was non-existent. In order to separate oneself from the person to whom they were married, one had to prove a divorceable offense, adultery being the most common (reason) cause. This required a process much like a trial would be today. In Pulaski County, Kentucky, this was usually conducted by attorneys and witnesses present in front of a Judge. This judge may have been a current or former judge, and legal knowledge may have been at great variance from one county to another. Many times the person who represented one party or another may have been a former or even current Judge. Judge William Catron represented Todd’s wife, and V. P Smith and H. L Wilson represented Todd. Wilson was on the witness stand, giving testimony in response to Judge Catron’s questions, at 11:20 am in Catron’s Law Office, located in the 1st National Bank Building that was on the corner just south of the courthouse where Goldenberg’s Furniture would later be built.
Gunshots rang out when Todd drew a Colt 38 Special Revolver from his waistband and shot Wilson four times: one striking him in the chin, one in the neck, and two in the chest near the heart. Wilson died on the scene. Todd was arrested by Pulaski County Deputy Sheriff W.T. Cox and Linville Denton and lodged in jail. The deputies were apparently present in the building when the killing took place.
The family tells me that Todd, after shooting Wilson, blew the smoke off the barrel of his revolver after the shooting.
Witnesses ran from the building; Todd remained in the building and did not attempt to flee. His family asked Todd years later if he got forgiveness for killing Wilson. He said he did not need forgiveness because he was “justified”. Todd was an avid reader of the Bible but went blind the last year of his life. He had a family member stay at night with him in his last days, as he never remarried. Their family described him as a very stern man who always looked mean. He apparently lived up to the expectation. Sadly, James died the year I was born, and I personally never got to meet or speak with him. Survivors at the time included one son, Zelmer of Somerset; two daughters, Mrs. Thelma Ard of Somerset and Mrs. Beatrice Thomas of Champaign, Ill.; four grandchildren; and 12 great-grandchildren. James is my great uncle on my mother’s side of the house and, like most of them, worked in carpentry most all his life. Uncle Jim was one of several brothers and one of his nephews Tommy Todd, who served several years as a member of the Kentucky General Assembly.
Albert Wilson was 43 years old at the time of his demise. He was the son of Riley and Cordelia (Hudson) Wilson. He himself was married to Luanna Wilson, and they had one daughter Albert Wilson. Nothing afterward mentions his wife or daughter in the historical papers. His wife moved away from Somerset, living in Lexington until her death on March 1, 1963, at the age of 85; it does not appear she remarried. His daughter married James M. Server and was a teacher at the University of Kentucky, and lived in Lexington until she passed away on July 4, 1986, at the age of 89.
Judge William Catron lived in Somerset, Kentucky, until his death in Pulaski County on April 1, 1947. He and his wife (Addie Belle Cundiff), who he married on June 14, 1888, had (6) six children. His wife Addie dies in Somerset on May 26, 1937. He lived in Pulaski, Kentucky, United States, for about 40 years. He died on 1 April 1947, in Somerset, Pulaski, Kentucky, United States, at the age of 90, and is buried in Somerset City Cemetery, Somerset, Kentucky.
The Wilson’s lived on Cracker Neck Road in western Pulaski County toward Nancy, Kentucky. This location today is the area between Sardis Road and Shepola Road of West Hwy 80, right before Nancy. The two men knew each other, and their land joined properties.
James Franklin Todd died at the age of 96 in Ferguson, Kentucky, on June 7, 1971; he is buried in Todd Cemetery in Nancy, KY, located off of West Hwy KY 80.
The inscription on this tombstone reads, “Remember Friend as you pass by, as you are now so once was I, As I am now so you must be, Prepare for death and follow me.”
Author's Private Collection- Family Photographs, (C) Michael R. Grigsby 2023
Pulaski County Library, Online record, http://pulaskilibrary.advantage-preservation.com/search?t=34361&i=t&d=01/01/1799-12/31/2009&bcn=1
Pulaski Circuit Court Criminal Records, Pulaski Co. Judicial Center, Somerset, KY