William Goebel Was Assassinated 100 Years Ago

Kentucky Author Irvin Cobb Saw Shooting Of William Goebel


Author Unknown - 1928

The passing at the age of 74 of Taylor, who had been a voluntary exile in Indiana since 1900, removed one of the central figures in the drama of the assassination of Governor William Goebel, of Kentucky, on January 30, 1900.

The murder of Governor Goebel, the turbulent days that followed, the trials of the conspirators, were reported by Mr. Cobb, at that time a cub reporter of The Louisville Post.


The political drama which held the center of the stage in Kentucky and Indiana 28 years ago was vividly recalled to Irvin S. Cobb, author and humorist, through the death of William S. Taylor in Indianapolis last Thursday.

At his summer home here, Mr. Cobb graphically described the events leading up to and following the assassination of Governor Goebel.

In brief, the election of William S. Taylor as Governor of Kentucky on the Republican ticket in 1899, an unexpected turn of events, did not prevent the supporters of William Goebel, his Democratic opponent, from contesting his election.

Mountaineers Held Capital

Supporters of Goebel started proceedings before a packed Democratic legislative committee to unseat Taylor. It was apparent to Taylor's adherents that the committee would decide in favor of Goebel, and on January 19, 1900, a force of more than 1,500 armed mountaineers arrived in Frankfort, the capital, and took possession of the town.

"Taylor, known as Hog-Jaw Taylor because of a protruding jaw, had been inaugurated governor, but had not received his commission from the Legislature," said Mr. Cobb. "For two weeks or more Frankfort was in a turmoil. Business was practically at a standstill.

"On January 30, 1900, at 11:16 o'clock in the morning, Goebel, accompanied by two guards, walked up St. Clair Street and entered the gate leading up to the Capitol. He was walking toward the center building on the Capitol grounds.


Even though he was mortally wounded by an ambusher's bullet, William Goebel, a day later was sworn in as Governor of Kentucky. Soon after deposed Governor-elect Taylor fled Kentucky to Indiana, where he died in 1928.

"Half way on the grounds to the Capitol building was a small fountain. It had been cold, and the water from the fountain was frozen.

"As Goebel and the guards neared the fountain they passed a little to one side to avoid stepping into the half frozen mud. As they made the turn five shots were fired from a window on the lower floor of the executive building. I was in the Capitol building near one of the windows when the shots were fired. I had noticed Goebel and his guards toward the building.

"As I looked out the window I saw Goebel drop. It afterward developed that had Goebel not turned as he neared the fountain he probably would have been shot through the heart and been killed instantly instead of living four days and being sworn in as governor in place of Taylor.

"As soon as I saw Goebel drop I ran out of the building, made my way across the lawn, and caught up with the two guards who were carrying Goebel. One of the guards asked me to help support the wounded man, and the three of us carried him into the hotel."


Policeman Shot At Cobb


Old sketch from 1900, below, shows a dying William Goebel taking the oath of office as governor on January 31, 1900. He died on February 3, 1900.


"I had wired a brief bulletin to my paper that Goebel had been shot. I did not learn until a week or so later that, while I was running from the Capitol building to intercept Goebel and his guards, a policeman standing on the steps of the building and seeing me running mistook me for the one who fired at Goebel.

"The policeman pulled his revolver and fired several shots at me. Someone, standing near him who had seen me leave the building threw up his arm and prevented one or more of the bullets from hitting me.

"As soon as news of Goebel's shooting became known Governor Taylor called out the militia. The Capitol grounds were cleared. The town was put under martial law.

"Governor Taylor refused to permit the Legislature to meet. Everything was in an upheaval.

"Goebel was shot on Tuesday morning. The decision of the packed legislative committee that Goebel and not Taylor was the duly elected Governor of Kentucky resulted in the Legislature issuing the commission to Goebel. On Thursday, several state documents were signed by Goebel as Governor of Kentucky, and on Saturday he died.

"It was the fact that Goebel had exercised his function as governor after receiving his commission that the courts afterward decided that he and not Taylor had been Governor of Kentucky. If Goebel had been instantly killed when the assassins fired, it is probable that Taylor would have remained as the Chief Executive of Kentucky.

"Immediately after Goebel's death two sets of state officials functioned in Kentucky. One group was headed by Taylor, who insisted he was the governor. The other was headed by J. C. W. Beckham, running mate of Goebel, who was sworn in when the latter died."


Cases In Courts For Years


Mr. Cobb then explained the most sensational series of murder trials ever held in Kentucky followed the ousting of Taylor and his group by the courts. It was more than eight years before the last of the trials was decided. Those indicted included Taylor, Secretary of State Caleb Powers, and many other state officials.

The individual charged with the actual shooting was Henry Youtsey, who was private secretary to the State Auditor. He shammed insanity and, thus, delayed his trial. When finally tried, he was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment.

At Youtsey's trial several witnesses testified that Secretary of State Powers and Taylor were the master minds of the plot to kill Goebel. One witness said he organized "an army of mountaineers at the request of Secretary Powers." Another said Taylor offered him $2,500 if he would fire the shot at Goebel.


A huge crowd gathered at the Covington train station to receive Governor Goebel's remains in his hometown.

Youtsey was one of the chief witnesses against Powers when the latter stood trial. He said he left Powers' office, where James B. Howard, an assessor of Clay County, was waiting with a rifle over his knee. Youtsey swore as he left the room he heard the shots fired.

Powers was convicted and sentenced to death after two convictions had been set aside by the Court of Appeals. He appealed a third time. While this appeal was pending he was pardoned by Governor Augustus E. Wilson, a Republican, who was elected in 1907. It was rather interesting to note that Mr. Cobb spent the last hour with Taylor before the latter escaped into Indiana.

"It was late in May 1900," said Mr. Cobb. "I was told that Governor Taylor had gone to the Federal Building in Louisville. The decision of the United States Supreme Court was expected that day, which would definitely clear the issue as to who was Governor of Kentucky.

"Mr. Taylor was in the office of the United States Attorney in the Louisville Post Office. He was dressed in the usual Kentucky statesmanship fashion. Long, black frock coat; string tie; and a large, soft, black hat. He was pacing up and down the room. He was very nervous, and if he lit his unsmoked cigar once he lit it a hundred times.

"'If the courts want to make a sacrifice of me they can do so. I don't see how the courts can decide against me. If they do, I will stay here and fight. I will not run away.'"


Taylor Dashed Out Of State


"Two detectives were waiting outside the Federal Building. They were ready to seize Taylor the moment he stepped out.

"A few minutes before news of the decision was received Taylor turned to me and said, 'I must go to my home in Butler County.' He seemed very agitated. He ran from the room, passed out through a rear door in the building, jumped into a carriage, and drove across the bridge into Indiana, where he remained until his death. He did not carry out his threat to remain and face the music."


Amid a heavy rain, thousands followed the governor's body to the Frankfort Cemetery, its final resting place.

Mr. Cobb then said that Taylor, who had been indicted as one of the conspirators in the murder, remained in Indiana, and attempts to extradite him failed. Governor Wilson finally pardoned him, but Taylor never ventured into Kentucky, expressing the fear he would be killed if he went back. Several attempts were made to kidnap Taylor, but they failed. He remained in Indianapolis, where he practiced law and was somewhat of an obscure figure during the 28 years he lived in Indiana.