James M. Walker

Sometimes you can’t stand the bullying and the murder of little children. Sometimes you have to make a stand and do what you can to resist evil.

That is what James M. Walker of Owen Co., KY did. When State courts would not convict, he went to the federal court in Louisville and got warrants for the arrests of five Ku Klux Klansmen. He didn’t know it but he also got a death warrant for himself.

The local sheriff stuffed the warrants in his pocket and refused to serve them. He was a member of the Klan.

James was warned at least twice by night riders to leave the Klan alone. But he kept on trying to stop the killing. Then on a rainy Monday afternoon , May 4, 1874 when Jim and his brother were walking up the main street of Owenton, Bill Smoot and his brother John stepped out of a tavern and began shooting at the pair. The brother was shot in the arm, but a bullet went through the side of James, stopping his heart. He fell dead in front of the county courthouse. Smoot was normally a back shooter.

It was James’ eighth wedding anniversary. He was thirty-one years old and left a grieving widow, two daughters and a son. The youngest, Stella, was only a year and a half old.

The Klan took the opportunity, since momentum was on their side, to chase out of town the Deputy U.S. Marshal and all the men who had been against the Klan. The sheriff was leading the way with a posse, the Kentucky militia, and the Klan. Bill Smoot, the leader of the Klan, was actually in charge.

Somehow the Deputy U.S. Marshal got a message out to Louisville to his boss, the Marshal of Kentucky. He charged into Owen County with troops. Although Bill Smoot had stolen the army’s rifles (they had been sent ahead of the army), the Marshal threatened to throw the sheriff in jail and generally made enough noise to back down the Klan and the Militia.

But James was dead and Alice, his widow, had to pick up the pieces of her life and move on. Some Klan members left the area, deathly afraid of the federal troops. People who testified against the Klan or were slated to testify were terrified, but they did their duty. Klansmen were acquitted in state court, but were taken to Louisville to stand trial in a federal court. After the second trial, more people fled the State. Bill Smoot got five years but was given a pardon by President Grant for some strange reason.

The death of James M. Walker, a brave man, was the beginning of the end for the powerful Klan in that area.

More of the story can be found in the novel The Courage Place which is sold by Amazon and all dot com book stores.

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