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Andrew J. Conn in Wild Kentucky

Andrew J. Conn was my husband's 2nd great great uncle. To simplify, he was the son of my husband's 3rd great grandparents, George William Conn and Margaret Holmes. This Conn family lived in Garrard County, Kentucky, outside of Lancaster in a town called Paint Lick.

Andrew, or Andy as he was known, was born about 1843 in Kentucky. Sometime before 1869, he married Argatha Stigall, and they had five children. Andy caused a lot of trouble in life, or trouble found him. Even after his death, he had some family and community support.

Andy was a drinker and a fighter. He was also quick to pull his weapon.

In February, 1873, the story of one such fight was published in the Interior Journal (Stanford, KY):

A Bloody Fight

In the streets of Lancaster, to-day, and that again our usually quiet and peaceful town has witnessed one of those disgraceful and bloody encounters that should be felt as a stigma even by the savage Indian or pagan African. The facts, as near as we can gather them, are these: A Mr. Andy Conn and Jno. Broadus, from the East end of the county, having become surcharged with rot-gut, busthead, rifle whisky, determined, as we may suppose, to show their contempt for all law and the loathsome depravity of their nature, drew their pistols and commenced shooting at each other on the street. At the first fire an innocent by-stander was shot below the knee-joint, and the bone was badly fractured. Mr. Broadus was shot twice in the body, and it is supposed fatally. Mr. Conn, who sheltered himself behind a post, escaped unhurt. Our good citizens of Lancaster sincerely deplore the recurrence of such scenes. Our town has been remarkably orderly for two years past, and it was hoped that these scenes of ignorance and barbarism had gone to recur no more. It is well on occasions like this for every good citizen to enquire why it is that these things occur so frequently and become such a fearful curse to society. We know that there are very many communities and towns in our land where such lawless scenes are unknown; but we know too that in those places there is moral courage to enforce rigidly the law, and that the red-handed murderer is hailed by no respectable person as a champion; and the rumseller, tipler, and sot, find no place in decent society; and the man who attempts to carry his concealed weapon, is not only severely punished by law, but is at once marked as a cowardly bully and ruffian. And especially, Mr. Editor, is it the duty of our public journals to take a high moral stand in these things, and aid to elevate the general moral tone of society, that we may be rid of these curses.

Also in 1873:

Extensive Fire.

About five o'clock yesterday (Sunday) morning our citizens were aroused from their slumbers by the alarm-bells and cry of "Fire," and it was soon perceived that this pitiless monster held in his devouring grasp one of the handsomest business structures in town. . . As usual after a fire, Young America and Africa, not content to have the outer man warmed, must heat the inner man with rifle, whisky, whereby several bloody noses and black eyes were caused. Owing to the fact that the chivalry were so hastily aroused that they forgot to buckle on their revolvers, we have no killed or wounded to report this week.

The Wounded.

We are glad to be able to report that the wounded in the battle of the 24th altimo are doing well, with a fair chance of living to fight another day. It is thought that the leg of Broadus, Sr., will have to be amputated, while Broadus, Jr., who was supposed to be mortally wounded, will probably recover. We understand that, in accords with Garrard justice, Mr. Conn was not required to enter into any bond or recognizance, but roams his native hills a free man and a champion of the first magnitude.

And more from 1873:

Interior Journal (Stanford, KY)

Mr. Andy Conn was tried on Saturday for shooting young Broadus in an affray some time since, and acquitted.

In 1874, Andy Conn was accused of murdering the local postmaster:

Interior Journal (Stanford, KY)

Horrible Murder in Lancaster! Postmaster Wm. Hedger, Assaulted and Killed by Nese Best and Andy Conn.

On Monday afternoon, last, Wm. Hedger, Postmaster at Lancaster, a quiet, inoffensive citizen, and an efficient officer, was assaulted in his office in Lancaster, and instantly killed by Nese Best and Andy Conn, citizens of the Paint Lick section of Garrard county, and notoriously dangerous characters.

We were in Lancaster on Tuesday, and found the citizens, as a general thing, afraid to speak of, or express an opinion about the awful tragedy, above a whisper; however, we gathered the following particulars of the killing, from reliable sources. We record the terrible crime, but refrain from commenting upon it, for the reason that it is not always safe for a Journalist to undertake to condemn in adequate terms the perpetrators of a crime, when the people in the locality in which it is perpetrated have not the boldness and true bravery to rise up in their might and protect themselves and their neighbors, officers and advisers, and maintain, at all hazards, the majesty of the law. Without making a diagnosis, or furnishing a prescription for the present case, we will venture to suggest that "desperate cases require heroic and desperate treatment."

Several months ago, Hedger, the deceased, married the sister of his deceased wife, who was also a sister to the wife of Best. Best forbade, without the shadow of authority, this marriage, and after its consummation, threatened the life of Hedger. Best being a dangerous character, having taken the lives of some four or five men within the past few years, Hedger has lived in continual dread of his carrying the threat into execution.

On last Monday, Best, in company with Conn, visited Lancaster, and during the day became intoxicated. Hedger, fearing an assault, locked his office and remained concealed sometime, but a few minutes before the arrival of the Louisville mail, he returned to his office to attend to his imperative duties, and just as he entered the door, Conn and Best approached it from different directions and commenced firing. Hedger fell, mortally wounded, if not killed, from the first fire. Other shots were fired after he fell, and four shots took effect. His wife heard the firing and instinctively devined the cause, and she was the first to go to the dead body of her husband. The scene which then ensued begs description. She was carried away from the scene of the shocking tragedy heart-broken and insensible; while the perpetrators of it walked leisurely away, brandishing their weapons and boasting of the cruel deed.

Writs for the arrest of Best and Conn were immediately placed in the hands of officers Miller and Singleton. As they approached the men, determined to arrest them at all hazards, they were met by the sheriff of the county, Mr. W. M. Kerby, who informed them that Conn and Best had placed themselves in his custody, and he was responsible for their detention. So far, so good; but the sequel shows that these men who had but a moment before shot down in cold blood, a defenceless and inoffensive citizen, were suffered to go from the very clutches of an offended and outraged law, upon the mere promise that they would return the next day for trial! We simply record this ugly circumstance connected with an awful tragedy that blackens the blood-stained annals of crime in Kentucky, with the hope that it is a mistake. It is a grave charge to make against an officer of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, and we disclaim its authorship.

Later - and more trouble.- We learn from a gentleman who came ever from Lancaster on Wednesday morning, that Best and Conn had not been arrested, tho' the Sheriff and his deputy went in quest of them Tuesday. We also learn that Best and Conn state that Hedger fired upon them first. A small loaded Derrenger was found in Mr. Hedger's pocket. No other weapons were found upon his person or in his office. Best promises to surrender for trial as soon as the excitement subsides.

In 1875, all from Interior Journal (Stanford, KY):

-Best and Conn have not been arrested. It is probable that Best will come to trial, in course of time, but it is announced that Conn has fled the country.

-An Indictment for murder, has been brought in by the Grand Jury at this term of the Court, against E. Best and Andy Conn, for the killing of Postmaster Hedger, at this place, some time since.

-Conn, who with Eben Best, shot and killed Hedger, also, came in and gave himself up for trial, and was admitted to bail in the sum of $5,000.

-Circuit Court is still in session - not a great amount of business doing. The cases of the Commonwealth vs. E. Best and Andy Conn, charged with killing Post Master Hedger, were reached last week, and defendant's announced themselves ready for trial, the cases were continued at the request of the Commonwealth's Attorney. The Grand Jury have adjourned, they returned 78 indictments less than was returned at the last them. The Court will extend through next week, and perhaps longer.

Later that year, Andy Conn killed another man:

Inerior Journal (Stanford, KY)

We learn that Andy Conn shot John Arnold on Monday last, at Ed Todd's grocery, in Madison county. It is said that Conn shot Arnold because Arnold slapped an old man named Smith in the face. This is all we can learn in the case. It is said that this is the third man that Conn has shot. We have heard of no arrests, so far. It is a little strange that Conn can go on in his killing - from time to time - and yet escape punishment. The blood of his victims cry out from the ground, for his punishment.

1875 - The Trial for the killing of Arnold:

Interior Journal (Stanford, KY)

Mr. Andy Conn's trial for the killing of Arnold, on the 11 inst, was held at - Chapel, in Madison county, Saturday, Oct. 16th, resulted in his acquittal from the evidence of the Commonwealth's witnesses, (the defence introducing none) the following facts were adduced - That Conn and Arnold came to Ed Todds grocery together, - Arnold riding one of Conn's horses. After their arrival at the grocery, Mr. Smith, who was there, asked Arnold where his mother-in-law was at, and on Arnold telling him she was at home, Smith said he was going over to see her, that he was out of a house-keeper, and wanted one. It seems as if Arnold took this as an insult, and he and Smith had some words - Smith apologizing, and saying he meant no insult. - Smith left the grocery and went up to Todds house, about fifty yards from the grocery, and Arnold followed him there, and as the lady of the house opened the door for the latter to enter, Smith attempted to pass out but Arnold stopped him, said something to him and slapped him in the face. Smith came back to the grocery and asked for a pistol saying that Arnold had followed him to the house and slapped him in the face. No one giving him a pistol, he reached Andy Conns coat and jerked his pistol out of the scabbard. Several then stopped Smith and took the pistol from him, and gave it back to Conn, who put it back in his scabbard. Conn then told Smith to remain there in the grocery and he would go and get John (Arnold), and take him home. Conn then started from the grocery and met Arnold about ten or twenty steps from the grocery - coming from the house - as he met him said to him-"what is the matter with you and old man Smith; you ought to let that old man alone and get on your horse and let's go home," whereupon, Arnold said -"Damn you, do you take it up," and at the same time commenced drawing and did draw his pistol - Conn grasped at Arnold's pistol and succeeded in catching hold of it and turned the muzzle from the direction of his body - both parties still hold of the pistol and trying to wrench it from the others hands. Conn then with his other hand drew his own pistol and fired, the ball taking effect in the abdomen. Arnold fell, and his pistol dropped at his feet. Conn helped remove him home. - These are the facts as detailed by the Commonwealth's witnesses and on which facts the Court found their verdict of "not guilty" and discharged the defendant. Mrs. Arnold, mother of the dec'd, said that Andy stayed with John and waited on him until he died, and then had him nicely buried at his (Conn's) own expense.

Andy Conn's reign of terror ended in 1876. First there was a false report of his death, but he was killed shortly thereafter:

Interior Journal (Stanford, KY)

A report was circulated last week, that Andy Conn was shot and killed by a man he once shot. The report was false, and arose from the fact that a man named Conn had shot a negro man who was trying to make him, (Conn), kiss a dog.

1876 Transcription of Kentucky Death Register:

Name of Deceased: A.J.T. Conn

Color: White

Age: 32

Sex: male

Condition: married

Occupation: Farmer

Date of Death: Mar 22 1876

Cause of Death: Shot

Place of Birth: Garrard Cn. Ky

Residence: Garrard Cn Ky

Name of Parents: Gwo. W. & Margaret F. Conn

Birth-place of father: Ky

Birth-place of mother: Ky

Remarks: [blank]

1876 Article: Kentucky Advocate (Danville, KY)

Last Wednesday night, 23d inst., about 8 o'clock, Andrew Conn, who resides in the upper portion of Garrard county, about seven miles from this place, while intoxicated, in company with one of his friends, went to the house of old man Arnold, an humble, quiet old man, (the father of the young man that Conn killed only a few months ago), and demanded entrance - with that threat that he came to kill the old man and his wife. On being refused Conn broke the door in, and, with pistol in hand, shot at the old man as soon as he entered. Arnold's wife and daughter rushed towards Conn to prevent him shooting the second time, but in that attempt Conn choked the old lady and struck her over the head several times with his pistol. During this struggle Conn shot at Arnold the second time, but both shots missed their aim. About this time Conn's friend had taken a rifle out of Arnold's hands, (who was trying to shoot Conn), and threw it out of the door, and went to the assistance of the two women. In the meantime, Arnold seized an old army musket, went out of a door opposite the one Conn entered, and hastening around to the other door, placed the muzzle of the gun against Conn's neck and fired. Conn fell to the floor and rolled out of the door, expiring without a struggle. Arnold then fled to the woods, bare-footed, remaining several hours before returning to his house, where he found Conn dead, his friend gone, and his wife suffering intensely from fright and the wounds she had received. She is quite feeble, and being between 60 and 70 years old, it is doubtful whether she will survive the terrible shock. Arnold, fearing Conn's friends would come and attack him, left immediately, and walked through the snow, waded the river and two creeks, and reached this place Thursday morning, tired, weary, hungry and sick, and gave himself up to Deputy Sheriff Myers. He fears an attack from Conn's friends, as he saw three of them Thursday morning going in the direction of his house. Mr. Arnold has the sympathy of this entire community, as what he did was purely in self defense. Conn has killed several men, and has lived in defiance of law in the neighborhood where he was killed all his life. In justice to the man who was with him, it is proper to say that he seemed trying to prevent any trouble, but nevertheless he went with him. Conn was said to be a very clever and honorable man when not drinking, but whisky seemed to instill in him the most revengeful and blood-thirsty spirit.

1876 from the Interior Journal (Stanford, KY):

Andy Arnold, who killed Andy Conn, in Garrard county, was tried last week and acquitted, as it was clearly proven to be a case of killing in self-defense. Arnold has removed to a place near Crab Orchard, in this county, as he fears to reside on his little place. We trust that this terrible tragedy is at an end, and that the people in our neighboring county, will have peace in the future.

Andy Conn's family felt there was another side of the story that needed to be told. They had this published in the Kentucky Advocate in April, 1876:


The Arnold Conn Tragedy

We publish by request the following [?] of the tragedy in Garrard, made by the friends of the late Andrew Conn. We have already printed an account of the [?], and talked to a [?] by old man Arnold. It is fair that both sides should be heard. - Ed. Advocate

Much has been said and written about the late tragedy resulting in the death of Andrew J. Conn; and the various reports having been, in many instances, inaccurate. We thought that the cause of truth and justice demands that a correct version of the affair should be given.

In the early part of last Fall, Conn shot and killed John Arnold, in Madison county, this State. For this he manifested real sorrow and begged the father and mother of the deceased to forgive him his having deprived them of their son. The mother responded, "We forgive you as he forgave you on his dying bed, for he said, "you was bound to do what you did." Conn, after this, furnished the old people with meal, and they visited back and forth, and it was supposed that the whole matter had been duly reconciled. In the mean time, Conn was tried and acquitted on the evidence of the Commonwealth.

Nothing more was heard of the matter and until the night of the killing. On that day, Conn passed the home of the old people on his way to Berea to attend to a suit pending before one of the Justices of that precinct, and while there he was told by the Sheriff of Madison that an attempt was then being made to indict him in the Madison Circuit Court for the killing of John Arnold. He ascertained that Ed. Todd had been summoned before the Grand Jury. Upon learning this fact, he asked John Burnam and Pat McMahan to accompany him to Todd's house, to which they agreed, and all started, leaving Conn's brother and cousin, (who would have accompanied him home, or near there), behind. After they reached Todd's and had talked with him, Conn insisted upon McMahan to accompany him home, which, after much persuasion, he consented to do. On their road nothing was said about the Arnold affair, but Conn was telling jokes which occurred while he was in the army. After going some distance Conn turned off to one side of the road and started to a house unknown to McMahan at that time, and reaching the fence, dismounting and hitching their horses advanced to the door. When they reached the door Conn commenced to kick the snow from his feet, and some one from within asked, "Who's there?" Conn responded, "It's me." "Who is me?" was the next question, to which Conn responded, "Andy Conn." The old lady then said that "he must not come in; she was afraid he would kill them." Conn responded, "Why, I have been here before and have not killed you. I only want to come in and warm my feet and talk to the old man about going to Richmond Monday." The daughter, (Miss Arnold), then said: "Mother, let him come in. He will not hurt us." Conn then pushed the door open and walked in. As he stepped in the house the old lady was standing by the side of the door, with something in her hand. (the witness could not tell what), at which Conn grabbed and missed, pushing or slapping the old woman aside. She and the girl then grabbed Conn and threw him to the floor, the old gentleman springing to his rifle, but was caught by McMahan. While they were struggling over the gun, Conn called to McMahan to get his pistol, which was lying on the floor. McMahan saw the pistol upon the floor, but was unable to pick it up, on account of the struggle for the rifle, and he kicked it towards Conn who picked it up. McMahan and the old man, in their scuffle, got out of the house when the gun was taken from the old man and thrown down the hill. He ran after it and returned with it, when McMahan drew his pistol and compelled him to drop it, again picking the gun up and throwing it down the hill. The old man then ran around to the back of the house, McMahan returning around the back side also, but in the opposite way, and found Conn, the old lady and the girl struggling over an ax. He asked the old lady "to let go," and she responded, "if she did Conn would kill her." McMahan then remarked that "Conn would do no such thing; that he could have killed her long ago with his pistol if he had wanted to." (Conn had hold of the ax with his left hand, and held his pistol in the right.) She then gave up the ax, and McMahan threw it to one side, and started off with Conn to their horses, when the old lady again got the ax, and the girl the corn-knife. Conn was walking with McMahan, who had said, "Let's leave here," to which Conn consented to and was then doing. He was looking back over his shoulder, telling the old lady and the girl that he did not come there for a difficulty, but only to see the old man on business, when a gun was fired from behind them, powder-burning the neck of McMahan, and at the crack of which Conn jumped up as it struck. McMahan then ran, half-bent, until he reached his mule and mounting it rode around to the front part of the house, and asked for his hat, which, after some trouble he got. He asked where Conn was, and the old lady replied, "He shot me and ran off down the hill." The girl said, "No, stranger, he is lying around there dead."

We forgot to mention that when Conn first entered the house, he saw McCoy sitting by the fire and asked him what he was doing there, to which he made some common-place reply, and quickly walked out of the back door.

After the affair had ended as detailed, McMahan went after some neighbors, among whom was Conn's brother, and they all returned in about an hour after the killing. When they reached there they found the house deserted, the door taken off the hinges, but the hinges not broken, and Conn lying dead upon the ground near the spot where the shot had been fired. His pistol was near him, and also a musket with the barrel bent, and the stock broken off. Near by, also, lay the ax, corn-knife and a large stick of wood. The barrel and stock of the musket, the ax, and the stick of wood were covered with human brains, hair and blood, and the head of the deceased was beaten almost to a jelly, some large pieces of the skull lying near. There was also some cuts on his legs, from which no blood had flowed, having evidently been made after the crimson life tide had ceased to run.

The old gentleman and McCoy reached Crab Orchard the next morning, and the old man surrendered himself to the Deputy Sheriff. Mrs. Arnold and daughter were arrested near home. They were all subsequently brought to Lancaster, and a trial had, upon which the Commonwealth elicited substantially the foregoing testimony. The gun, ax, and corn-knife were exhibited on the trial. McMahan, the chief Commonwealth's witness, was an acquaintance of Conn's, but they were not intimate, and is said to be as truthful and honorable gentleman as lives in Madison county.

It was proven that the musket had been borrowed on the day Conn went to Berea, McCoy stating that he wanted to go rabbit hunting. Upon the testimony stated, on motion of Defendants, McCoy was released and placed upon the stand. His testimony was very unsatisfactory and contradictory. He stated, however, that in the evening of the day he borrowed the gun and loaded it with buck-shot that old Mrs. Arnold gave him, telling him to load the gun to go coon hunting with the next day. That Arnold's house was about seventy yards from the road, and that night about eight o'clock he said: "I think I hear somebody talking." He went to the door, saw men on the road, and afterwards returned. He stated that he saw the whole fight, and that he did not see the gun broken, or Conn struck in any way with the ax, corn-knife or stick of wood. He also stated that Conn, when he first came in the house, shot at old man Arnold, who was sitting on the bed, and that Conn was standing at the foot of the bed; that the old man was near hit. Defendants proved, by one witness, that Conn, when drunk, was a dangerous man. Upon this testimony, after argument of counsel, Defendants were discharged.

We have no comments to make upon the matter, but have simply given the facts to the reading public as they occurred in the trial. McMahan stated that there was but one shot fired in the fight, and that was the shot near his neck; and that Conn was not drunk.


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