James McCoy: Notorious Desperado

A THRILLING CAPTURE

How Marshal Ira Campbell Caught McCoy, the Notorious Desperado.

AN EXCITING HAND-TO-HAND FIGHT

McCoy Had Murdered Marshal Kellet and Was a Terror to Lookout Mountain.

Campbell’s Plucky Fight.

The death of Deputy Marshal Ira Campbell, which occurred in Royston, Wednesday, recalls one of the most exciting and sensational captures known in the revenue annals of the Northern district.

The capture was made in 1886 — just eight years ago, when Marshal Campbell, in a hand-to-hand encounter with McCoy, the desperado of Lookout mountain, finally succeeded in slapping the handcuffs on the criminal and delivering him over to the law.

For a number of years McCoy had been a terror to the regions about Lookout. His feats of reckless daring and notorious temerity caused the people up there to look upon him with fear and trembling; but the climax of his criminal record was the murder of Deputy Marshal W.D. Kellet.

McCoy had treasured his hatred against Kellet for a number of years. He had sworn revenge against the marshal for making a raid upon a still with which he was connected, and he bided his time in quiet determination. In December, 1885, Marshal Kellet left Atlanta for Lookout to arrest a moonshiner named Young, little dreaming the fearful fate awaiting him. While making his way to the house of Young at a precipitous turn in the road, McCoy stepped out and offered to assist in making the arrest. Kellet thought that something was up and rode on, refusing his aid.

Upon his return down the mountain with the prisoner in charge, the marshal stopped at a stream to water his horse. As he was leaning over to unhitch the bridle rein, two rifle shots rang out from the cliff overhead and at the same time he fell from his horse fatally shot.

Young, the moonshiner, was suspected and arrested for the murder. He stoutly declared his innocence, however, and said that he recognized the face of McCoy just as the gun flashed.

Search then was made in every direction for McCoy, but he had fled and nothing was heard of him until February, when word reached Captain Nelms, who, at that time was United States marshal, that he had been seen in Cherokee country.

Captain Nelms at once organized a posse of his best men and commanding it in person, he started out for Cherokee. The place was reached at night and the posse divided, Captain Nelms heading one squad and Captain Chapman, Marshals Colquitt Campbell and Scott composing the other. Captain Nelm’s squad went over to the house where McCoy’s brother lived, while the other crowd started for the house of old man Simmons, where McCoy was supposed to be hiding. In some way the men got scattered, Marshal Campbell had gone to the rear of the house. He heard a noise at his back and turned around quickly, cocking his gun at the same time. Before he could realize it, a pistol was shoved in his face and he recognized his opponent as McCoy. With the fearlessness which always characterized his actions, Marshal Campbell dashed the pistol to the ground and grappled. In some way the pistol went off, shattering Campbell’s hand. But he held on to McCoy and for some minutes there was waged a furious and desperate fight.

Campbell had succeeded in getting McCoy on his back and was choking his tongue out when the rest of the deputies ran up to the rescue.

In telling of the event yesterday afternoon, Captain W.H. Chapman said:

“That was the only time I ever saw Campbell mad. Naturally, he was always cool, deliberate and self-collected — especially in dangerous places. But it seemed as if a demon was in him that night. He would have choked the desperado to death, I think, if we had not came up so soon. Campbell was one of the best and bravest officers in the service and his death is a sad, sad thing.”

The Constitution (Atlanta, Georgia) Feb 24, 1894.

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DEPUTY KELLETT’S MURDERER CAGED.

ATLANTA, Ga., Feb. 23. — Last night, 12 miles from Canton, James McCoy, the murderer of Deputy Kellett, was captured. Since the deed was committed Marshal Nelms has been working on the case, and when McCoy came into Georgia the Marshal knew it. Last night he organized a posse and started for the home of McCoy.

When he arrived there he found that the man he wanted was at home. McCoy was prepared for intruders, and when his door opened he and his three brothers and a man named Chumly met the posse with pistol shots, and but for the coolness with which Marshal Nelms and his deputies acted, a fatal fight would have taken place. Deputy Ira Campbell was nearest McCoy, and instead of killing, he only knocked him down with his gun. The others, seeing their leader captured, gave up without resistance.

Kellett had been a lifelong companion of McCoy. Ten years ago the two men quarreled, when Kellett shot McCoy. The latter secured the bullet, and declared that he could never part with it until he sent it into Kellett’s body. Of late years McCoy has been an illicit distiller. When Marshal Nelms came into office he made Kellett one of his deputies.

The first work assigned to him was the capture of his old adversary. When in a secluded spot near McCoy’s den in Chattooga County, Kellett was shot down by two men, one of whom was McCoy. Since that time the other man has not been heard from, and the rumor is that he, too, was killed by McCoy, so as to be out of the way.

The New York Times (New York, New York) Feb 24, 1886

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THE M’COY CASE.

The Jury at Ringgold Returns a Verdict of Not Guilty.

THE HISTORY OF THE MURDER.

How the Verdict Was Received in Atlanta — McCoy Again Arrested, This Time Upon a Different Charge.

Yesterday morning, Captain J.W. Nelms, United States marshal, received a telegram from Ringgold, Georgia, from Hon. George R. Brown, announcing in a laconic way the termination of an important murder trial in Walker county. “The jury finds McCoy not guilty.”

HISTORY OF THE CASE.

On the 6th of December, 1885, Deputy Marshall W.D. Kellett, was killed on Lookout mountain, while having under arrest one Calvin Young. Kellett was found partly in a creek. At the coroner’s inquest Calvin Young swore that he did not know who fired the shot, but when afterwards arrested for being accessory to the murder, and while under arrest, admitted that James McCoy had made him promise on the night of the killing that he would not tell who killed Kellett threatening to kill him if he did tell.

Young said he saw McCoy and the smoke of his gun. McCoy was arrested and tried in Walker superior court in April, 1886, convicted and sentenced to be hanged. The case was carried to the supreme court, and the court below was reversed on the ground of error in the charge of the presiding judge.

On Monday last the second trial commenced, with an able array of counsel on both sides. For the state appeared Hon. C.T. Clements, solicitor general; Colonel I.E. Shumate, of Dalton; Judge J.M. Bella, of Summerville; and Mr. T.W. Copeland, of LaFayette. Hon. George R. Brown, of Cherokee; Hon. William C. Glenn of Dalton, and Mr. C.T. Ladson, of Atlanta, represented McCoy. The trial lasted until Friday. Every inch of ground was stoutly contested on both sides, and those present compliment the ability of counsel on both sides.

On the second trial Calvin Young testified that he was under duress, by reason of the threats of McCoy at the coroner’s inquest. Andy Young, one of the witnesses, since the first trial had moved to Arkansas, and was not present. The defense proved by several witnesses that at the time of the murder McCoy was four and a half miles from the place where the murder occurred.

The counsel for the defense advanced the theory that the murder was committed by Calvin Young, his father and Young’s brother, and charged the crime on McCoy to shield themselves. They stressed the point that while Calvin Young testified that the killing was done by a single rifle shot, that the testimony of others was that Kellett’s had was riddled with buckshot when it was found.

The jury returned a verdict of not guilty, and McCoy was discharged.

OPINIONS ON THE VERDICT.

Captain J.W. Nelms, United States marshal, in commenting on the verdict, said to a reporter of THE CONSTITUTION, “You can say for me, that I consider the verdict a gross outrage, there is no disputing the fact that Kellett was waylaid, shot and murdered by McCoy.”

Mr. C.T. Ladson, remarked to a representative of THE CONSTITUTION, “In my opinion, McCoy is innocent. The evidence showed that the Youngs decoyed Kellett that day for the purpose of killing him. The jury was composed of very intelligent men, and their verdict is right.”

McCoy Again Arrested.

Later in the day Captain Nelms received the following telegram from Tryon factory.
McCoy was acquitted and rearrested on the charge of attempt to rape. (Signed) G.B. MYERS

Captain Nelms said he knew nothing about this last charge except that the offense is said to have been committed in Cherokee county some years ago.

Mr. C.T. Ladson remarked that in his opinion it was an old charge revamped to hold McCoy until papers could be served on him for obstructing an officer of the federal government in the discharge of his duty.

The Atlanta Constitution (Atlanta, Georgia) Dec 18, 1887

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McCOY’S TROUBLES INCREASING.

His Confinement at Canton — Captain Nelm’s Experiences There.

A few days ago THE CONSTITUTION chronicled the fact that immediately after being acquitted of the murder of Deputy Marshal Kellett  Mr. James McCoy was arrested on a warrant charging him with rape committed in Cherokee county in 1881. The sheriff of Waller county carried McCoy to Canton, where the prisoner was lodged in jail.

On Monday Captain J.W. Nelms United States marshal went to Canton with a warrant charging McCoy with obstructing a United States officer in the discharge of duty by shooting Deputy Marshal Ira C. Campbell on the night that he (McCoy) was arrested for the murder of Deputy Marshal Kellett. Captain Nelms said yesterday that McCoy’s brothers were all assembled in Canton on Monday making arrangements to give a bond for McCoy but on learning that Captain Nelms was expected at ? o’clock they changed their idea. Knowing that their brother would be detained in jail there by the process of the state courts, they prefer that he should stay there to coming to Atlanta.

Captain Nelms says that previous to his arrival the McCoys were very boisterous, and made threats as to what they should do to Captain Nelms if he came in person, but he passed through them, and they made no demonstrations. From the number gathered in Canton, the marshal feared that an attempt might be made on Monday night to rescue McCoy. So he and his deputy T.W. Kellogg, slept in the jail with the sheriff of Cherokee county. No effort was, however, made during the night.

Yesterday Captain Nelms left the warrant with the sheriff of Cherokee county to execute the moment McCoy gave bond in the other case.

Captain Nelms said, “You can say that I was surprised to see the statement made by Mr. C.T. Ladson that the state warrant was a trumped up charge, leaving the inference that it was done by the federal authorities in order to give time for the serving of the warrant for the shooting of Deputy Marshal Campbell. The fact is that this state case is for an offense committed in 1881, four years before the murder of Deputy Marshal Kellett, and nearly five years before the shooting of Deputy Marshal Campbell. This action on the part of Mr. Ladson is in keeping with his maneuvers in the trial for the murder of Kellett, attempting to prejudice the public mind in favor of his client and depreciating the efforts of the federal officers in aiding the state to convict a man who had murdered a citizen.”

Mr. C.T. Ladson stated in a conversation with a CONSTITUTION man that he believed that there was nothing in the state warrant, as the father of the girl had been a friend of McCoy’s for years, and he did not believe that the federal authorities could convict McCoy under their warrant for shooting at Deputy Marshal Campbell.

The Atlanta Constitution (Atlanta, Georgia) Dec 21, 1887

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The following image was of poor quality, so there are parts I couldn’t read well enough to transcribe:

JIM M’COY SET FREE.

A MAN THAT CARRIES A RABBIT_FOOT WITH HIM IN COURT.

His Usual Luck was with Him Yesterday —

The History of the Last Murder Trial and His Subsequent Troubles.

The luckiest man that ever stood a trial in the courts of —– was acquitted yesterday. That man is James McCoy of Cherokee county.

The charge of which he was acquitted was “re—ing an officer of the United States in the —- of his duty.”

THE STORY

Deputy Marshal William D. Kellet was killed in Walker county, at the corner of three states, Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee.

He had in charge at the time a revenue prisoner named Andy Young. Kellett was on horseback and his prisoner afoot, going to Summerville.

About ? miles from Summerville, in the heart of — and sparsely settled country, he —- —- known as Snake Dam creek. At the time there was a foot log for pedestrians and the prisoner started across this, while Kellett led his horse into the water beside him.

Suddenly — was a rifle shot from a clump of —- rear and Kellett threw up his —- and fell from his horse into the …

[Skipped a large part, hard to read the poor image.]

MORE STATE CASES.

McCoy had been under sentence of death nearly twelve months.

As soon as he was acquitted in Walker county he was immediately rearrested upon two warrants sworn out in Cherokee.

One charged him with attempted rape and the other with carrying concealed weapons.

Of —- after the other, he was acquitted.

THEN THIS CASE.

Then this last case came on for resisting Deputy Campbell in the discharge of his duty — the time Campbell was shot.

And — yesterday, McCoy was acquitted.

THE OTHER MURDER CASE.

About eighteen? years ago McCoy was tried in ?artow county for the murder of a negro.

He was acquitted.
But ——- there have been a number — against him for violations of the revenue law.

But yesterday afternoon he stepped out of the court room a free man, no charge against him.

JOHN COFFEE CONGRATULATES HIM.

One of the most deeply interested spectators in court yesterday was John Coffee.

The two men are close friends, and Coffee was the first man to congratulate McCoy on his acquittal. The two walked out of court and —— street arm in arm.

Coffee will be remembered as the man recently acquitted of the murder of Deputy Marshal M—– and his case and that of McCoy  —–….

Both  men were tried twice for murder, the second trial in each case resulting in acquittal.

THE TWO JUDGES

While McCoy has been miraculously lucky in securing acquittals, one after another, it seems that a peculiar ill-fortune has attended others interested.

Judge Branham’s conduct in the case is said to have aroused some unlooked for opposition to his re-election, and this was a factor in defeating him in one of the closest elections ever held in the legislature.

Judge Fain, on the other hand, acquitted McCoy, and his conduct of the case aroused opposition from the other side, and this contributed largely towards his defeat for re-election..

The feeling aroused in each case was purely personal, but was very bitter.

And after all — McCoy is a free man.

The Atlanta Constitution (Atlanta, Georgia) Apr 9, 1890

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The following are PDF links to related New York Times Articles:

MURDERED BY MOONSHINERS

HE PROVED AN ALIBI

APPOINTMENTS TO OFFICE

GEORGIA’S NEW GOVERNOR

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One Response to “James McCoy: Notorious Desperado”

  1. The Fourth Notch: A Tale of Moonshiners and a Revenue Officer « YesterYear Once More Says:

    […] I first ran across this story, I was searching for news articles about the murder of Marshal William D. Kellett, and seeing his name mentioned, I figured this would be a news article of some sort.  It turns out […]

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