A Murder and a Hanging


A Murder and a Hanging


From the days of the Civil War comes a tale of horror about the murder of a Madison County man and the hanging of the convicted murder.

Lewis Eads was an old man who lived on the Kentucky River a short distance below the mouth of Muddy Creek. Although he was of advanced age, he had been an active farmer in that section of the county for many years. In those days when most men carried pistols or knives for self-protection, he usually went armed with a Bowie knife which he reportedly knew well how to use.

On a cold night in February, 1863, Eads and his wife went to bed about the usual hour after locking the doors. In another bed in the same room slept their grandson Lewis Baxter, a slave called Claibe slept on a pallet on the floor.

After they had been asleep for a short while, they were suddenly awakened by the appearance of prowlers in the room. Lewis Baxter jumped from his bed and reached for a gun, but he was struck by a bullet which grazed his head. As several of the men attacked Eads, Lewis Baxter, who was bleeding profusely from his head wound, and Mrs. Eads ran to the home of Jefferson Lantern, a nearby neighbor. Members of that household rendered aid to them and Lantern quickly rounded up several men who went armed to the Eads house.

The old man, his body grotesquely mutilated, was found dead on the bedroom floor with his Bowie knife lying nearby. Money and some other possessions were found to be missing.

As the news spread through the neighborhood, a sizable group of men gathered at the scene of the crime. Evidence pointed to the uninjured Claibe as an "inside man," and to Perry, a slave on a nearby farm who had several cuts on his body. The group was ready to lynch the slaves, but was stopped by Milo Baxter who saw to it that the suspects were brought to Richmond and lodged in the county jail. Perry later escaped trial by being taken from the jail and placed in the Union army.

Claibe’s trial was held in the June, 1863, term of the circuit court, with Judge William Goodloe presiding. Major S. Turner, who was appointed by the court to be the defense attorney, entered a plea of not guilty, but circumstantial evidence and the testimony of witnesses for the prosecution caused the jury to find the defendant guilty. A few days later Claibe was brought before the court and sentenced to hang on Aug. 1, 1863. He still had not admitted any guilt, and his lawyer said that they had "nothing of a legal nature" to say.

A gallows was built at the bend on Irvine Street at the intersection of Four Mile Road. Near noon-time on the day of execution a huge crowd gathered to watch as the sheriff arrived with the prisoner in a wagon. Without ceremony the prisoner was made to stand in the wagon as the noose was fixed around his neck. The wagon was driven out from under him, and, after the struggling ceased, he was cut down and pronounced dead. The body was put into a simple wooden coffin and immediately buried at the foot of the gallows.


Dr. Robert Grise




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Dr. Robert Grise, “A Murder and a Hanging,” Madison's Heritage Online, accessed August 19, 2018, https://madisonsheritage.omeka.net/items/show/811.