CAMPBELL COUNTY SHERIFF, 1892-93: JOHN M BURNETT
Reprinted with Permission from Dallas Bogan. This article was
published in the Volunteer Times.
The following was
presented to the Campbell County Historical Society by Mary Archer McTeeter
from Morgantown, West Virginia, and submitted to the writer by the fine
personnel at the Campbell County Historical Society in LaFollette, Tennessee.
I will record as it was originally written. It tells the sad story of
the happenings of John M. Burnett, Sheriff of Campbell County, 1892-93
Several different versions
relating to the slaying of John Burnett have circulated among family
members down through the years. The following account of this tragedy
was written by Attorney James A. Fowler, who assisted Andrew J. Will
Taylor in prosecuting this case in the Campbell County courts. Mr. Fowler,
who later became Asst. U.S. Attorney General for East Tennessee, and
still later Mayor of Knoxville, published a volume which details many
of the cases he prosecuted. This publication is on file at the McClung
archives in Knoxville. Mr. Fowler writes:
"John Burnett was sheriff of
Campbell County, probably the most aggressive and diligent in the
enforcement of law of all the sheriffs the county ever had. He had
a deputy by the name of John Dail, who was about as active, aggressive
and diligent as the sheriff himself. Both were fearless, and the
terror of criminals did not enter their heads.
"One morning they boarded in
Jellico the passenger train which left there for Knoxville about
daylight. One of them had a Capias [warrant] issued by the Clerk
of the Circuit Court against either a Smith or Jones. Sometime after
the train started it was ascertained that the man was aboard. He
was placed under arrest, I think by Burnett. There were also on
the train three Smith brothers from Scott County; Albert, Will and
another I believe was named Roscoe. The man Jones, who was under
arrest, was also from Scott County and was a companion of the Smiths.
"Burnett was standing in the
aisle of the car and Dail was sitting on one seat facing the prisoner,
who was on another seat which had been turned to face the one occupied
by Dail. Suddenly a disturbance was started by the Smiths. One of
them shot Burnett in the head, killing him instantly. Dail shot
Roscoe Smith about the junction of the neck and breast, killing
him. Dail and Jones scuffled to the step and fell off the train.
Albert and Will Smith escaped. Jones, stunned by the fall, was captured
and taken to the jail at Jacksboro. That night a mob took him from
the jail and hanged him. Albert Smith was subsequently captured.
"I [James A. Fowler] was employed
to assist the Attorney General in prosecuting him. He was convicted
of second degree murder and sentenced to ten years. Albert Smith's
connection with the killing of Burnett was very doubtful. The real
culprit was Will Smith. The evidence left no doubt that he fired
the fatal shot when the melee began, and Roscoe Smith was attempting
to join in when Dail shot him. Now begins the second episode.
"The County Court elected 'Bud'
Burnett, a younger brother of John Burnett, to fill the vacancy
of the office of the sheriff. He, of course, was very anxious to
bring about the capture of Will Smith, and offered a substantial
reward for that purpose. After a while he received a communication
from a man by the name of Stoner, who was in Kentucky, representing
that he knew where Will Smith was. Some letters passed between them.
Stoner finally wrote that if Burnett would send him fifty dollars
in advance to bear expenses, he would secure the arrest of Smith
and hold him until Burnett could come for him. Burnett promptly
sent him fifty dollars. But Stoner wrote back right away, giving
a plausible excuse why he was not then able to have Smith placed
"A short time afterwards Burnett
received another letter from Stoner, this time from a mining town
in West Virginia, in which he again professed to have Will Smith
located, and asked that another fifty dollars be sent to procure
the arrest. Burnett did not yet suspect that Stoner was deliberately
lying, that he knew nothing about the whereabouts of Will Smith,
and that his representations were made for the sole purpose of swindling
Burnett out of some money. But Burnett wanted to be sure of Smith's
capture, so he at once took a train to the place from which Stoner's
letter was sent.
"Stoner did not know of Burnett's
coming. By accident, however, he was at the train station when Burnett
arrived. They had previously met and Burnett recognized him. He
went directly at him. Stoner represented that Smith was in a mining
village some distance from the station, and suggested that they
go there. In going they passed though a hollow with woods and undergrowth
on either side. As the place was strange to Burnett and they had
no light, he had to be guided by Stoner. When in the hollow, Stoner
made a pretext that they were being attacked, stepped behind Burnett,
shot him in the back and ran. He intended to kill Burnett, and thought
he had. His object was of course to avoid being caught by Burnett
in the scheme to defraud him. He thought it would be a simple matter
to concoct a story of an attack by moonshiners or other outlaws
which would satisfactorily explain the killing.
"However, Burnett was painfully,
but not seriously wounded. He fell, then wheeled out of the road
they were traveling and spent the night in the woods. He yet did
not suspect Stoner had shot him. The next day he ascertained the
truth. Burnett had lost his hat when he fell. Stoner returned to
the place in search of Burnett's body, found the hat, and was wearing
it when arrested. Stoner subsequently stood trial in Campbell County
and was sentenced to fifteen years. The case was appealed, and eventually
Stoner broke jail and was never recaptured.
"Whether Will Smith, the man
who most likely shot Sheriff John Burnett, was never captured is