John William Shumate Was Active In Rowan Co. Election Trouble
By James D. Reeder – 2016
Sometime early in 1912, John William Shumate, president of the Olive Hill National Bank, who was 47 years old, handsome, well-spoken, and of good reputation, boarded an east-bound train and vanished into the night. No one in the Carter County town would admit to ever seeing him again. The bank he headed there had gone into receivership just over a year before, angering its shareholders and depositors, but Shumate had hastily formed another bank, apparently to relieve the crisis, but it was an ill-fated and short-lived operation that quickly failed as well. Shortly after that, he was forced into bankruptcy. As pressure mounted for Shumate to meet his financial obligations, he simply ran away, leaving behind his wife, Alice, and their ten-year-old son, Willard.
As word spread from Olive Hill to nearby communities such as Enterprise, Lawton, Hayward, and Soldier, where Shumate lived, his neighbors and friends were stunned at the news. Although John Shumate had fallen on hard times in business, he was still highly regarded by most.
Ten years earlier, before his personal standing was ruined by this banking scandal, he seemed to be a completely different man. He came from a good family with an excellent reputation. His father, Daniel Harrison Shumate (1844-1928), was born in Carter County and served honorably in the Union Army in the Civil War. After the war, Harrison Shumate farmed, and he and his wife, Selena Hankins (1844-1929), reared a family of seven children, of whom John was the firstborn on February 11, 1865. The Shumates were highly respected by their neighbors, and throughout the area, they were honored and loved for their kindness and generosity. When their oldest daughter, Mary Ellen, died suddenly in 1895 at age 29, leaving two little girls, only five and three years of age, their grandparents took them in and reared them as their own, while their father married again and started another family in Texas. Harrison Shumate was a trustee at the Pine Grove School, near his farm, and he frequently served on juries and as an election officer, where he was looked up to as an honest and upright citizen.
As a young man, John W. Shumate seemed to be cut from the same cloth as his respected father. The specific details of his education are not known, but he wrote a fine Spencerian hand, handled language well, and had a good head for figures. He was also a skilled horseman, and among the families in northern Rowan County, where his father moved after the war, he was considered a good catch.
On October 25, 1888, when he was 23, he married Maggie Alice White, the pretty 21-year-old, who was the daughter of William A. White and Melvina Gilkison, both from families with long histories in the area. They were a handsome couple and were admired by all. Their first child, a daughter named Clara, was born two days after her father’s birthday in 1891. A son, Sherman O’Connell Shumate, would follow on June 28, 1892. In all, there would be eight children, four more sons and two more daughters, but only three of them would live to adulthood. The loss of five children to early death was surely a terrible emotional burden for John and Alice Shumate and doubtlessly put a strain on their marriage.
By the time he was 30 in 1895, John Shumate was the father of three, had a successful farm, and was expanding his interests to include timber. His lumber yard supplied tanbark for leather manufacturers, furnished crossties for the railroad and spokes for wheelwrights, and shipped staves to the coopers who made barrels for bourbon whiskey. He also made wooden hoops for hogsheads, the oversized casks used to ship tobacco and other commodities. His business interests were augmented by his service as postmaster at the tiny hamlet of Triplett, located near the mouth of Holly Fork in Rowan County, a position he had held since 1892. Within a few years his expanding commercial interests would lead to important business contacts with firms from Ashland (Boyd County) to Lexington (Fayette County).
His prestige in the area grew, and he often participated in debates with a local literary society. In one such contest, he argued successfully that war represented a greater menace to society than whiskey. In 1898 flushed with business success and popular esteem, he sought membership in the nearest Masonic Lodge, the one at Soldier, which had been organized just over a year before. There he served on the finance committee and held office from time to time. Moreover, he was able to form important friendships with other successful men like himself.
Like his father before him, he worked hard at building his good name, often serving on juries and working as an election officer in the Pine Grove precinct. His assignment there as clerk in the November election in 1901 would land him squarely in the middle of a shooting spree that would make headlines throughout the region and would be picked up by newspapers as far away as Canton, Ohio, and Charlotte, North Carolina.
Election-day violence was once such a common occurrence in Kentucky, that it was news when an election day passed without reports of rowdy drunks hurling rocks and bottles at each other, assorted fistfights, and outright killings, often at polling places or on the courthouse square. Such an election-day brouhaha on August 4, 1884, gave rise to the Tolliver-Martin Feud in Rowan County, which lasted nearly three years and resulted in at least 20 killings.
The election-day mayhem in Rowan County in which John W. Shumate was an active participant resulted in three deaths, two additional woundings, a serious, near-fatal stabbing, and two trials. Fifty years later, an eye witness named William Taylor Masters recalled that he was barely 21 and casting his first vote at the Pine Grove schoolhouse near his home. The election officers in charge that day included Republicans John W. Shumate and Fletcher Ingram, both farmers, and former Rowan County Deputy Sheriff George W. Hogge and his son, Ray, also farmers, who were Democrats.
While Masters was marking his ballot, an argument began between Shumate and George Hogge about the number of people who were allowed inside the polling place at any given time. Shumate insisted the limit was three, one voting, one signing in to vote, and one waiting. One of Hogge’s other sons, Charley or Tilden, was already in the room, when the other entered, making a total of four. Shumate demanded that one of them leave. Hogge hotly disputed Shumate’s ruling and drew a knife.
Immediately, there was a muddle of shoving and swearing, and guns were drawn. Ray Hogge, who had brought a new Smith & Wesson .38 revolver with him, pointed it straight at the center of John Shumate’s chest and pulled the trigger. Unaccountably, the weapon jammed or misfired. Shumate, who was also armed, with a borrowed .32 caliber Iver Johnson “Owl Head” pistol, aimed at Ray Hogge’s head, from a distance of less than four feet, and blasted away. Ray went down, fatally wounded. At the same time, George Hogge approached Shumate from the back and stabbed him multiple times, the last blow with such force that the knife was deeply imbedded in his shoulder blade. Shumate continued to fire, hitting George Hogge and his other two sons, inflicting serious wounds on all three, but not before Charley Hogge also had a go at Shumate with his knife as well. Fletcher Ingram shot Charley, too, in an effort to help Shumate and escaped unscathed and unindicted.
It was all over in a minute or so, and Taylor Masters said later that somehow he managed to get out of the building unharmed. All of the fighting was between him and the door, so, he reasoned later, he must have gone out a window. The last thing he remembered seeing was John Shumate on his knees in the schoolhouse yard, trying to reload his borrowed pistol. Unlike the Hogges’ .38, his borrowed “Owl Head” .32 was a cheap little gun that could be bought for less than $4 in those days. It had not been cleaned in so long that the cartridge casings had corroded, and he couldn’t eject them from the cylinder. He resorted to trying to force them out with a nail he found in the schoolyard, while Ingram and others tried to wrench the knife from his back. His injuries were so serious that initial newspaper accounts reported him to be fatally wounded.
At nearly the same time, in another part of Rowan County, at the Pearce precinct, south of Morehead, another election-day row was in progress….
Finish this story and more in our June 2016 issue!
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