"Good Morning Earlington:
Duel killed Bystander"
As many readers seem to enjoy tales of yesteryear, I thought I would share a few stories in turn shared with me by Mattie Martin Francis, retired postal clerk. Mattie’s father Walter Norwood Martin owned a printing shop in Earlington and wrote for the Earlington BEE. Mattie still has a number of articles written by her father who was perhaps best known for his "Martin’s Musings" and his down-home style of the "goings-on" in Earlington. However, my favorites from his columns are a series entitled "Tales of Old Earlington" in which he tried to familiarize his modern generation (of the ‘30s) with their heritage. Mr. Martin, please pardon my summaries of your most entertaining Musings.
In April 1909, a story was printed in the Bee about a "fine and respectable gentleman" known as Pete Miles. He drove an oil wagon pulled by a splendid team of horses for Isaac Davis, manager of the Standard Oil Company for many years. Mr. Davis lived in the brick residence owned by Miss Effie Teague, a niece of Mrs. Davis and who made her home with them. Although it is now the home of Robert Cook, at that time it was known as "the house on East Main Street which was next to the West Kentucky Apartments." I can remember that when the Apartments burned it drew one of the largest crowds assembled in Earlington. There were people in attendance who I had not seen in years. This area is now the parking lot for Trover Clinic. Mr. Martin said the residence on the other side was at that time occupied by Leslie Smith and is the old Whalen home. Actually, according to the census records in 1880, Isaac Davis (30 years of age and born in England) was a saloon keeper and a boarder with Patrick Whalen on East Main. The Whalen home is now owned by Mary Ann Poteet and many of us still refer to the corner of East Main and Robinson as Whalen’s Corner a name by which it was known as for many years.
In the early 1900’s Mr. Davis was a great moving picture fan, and it is said never missed a night at the picture show. That was back in the day of the old "flickers" (and that word is the proper description of the screen pictures) when the faster the actors could move, the better the story. Florence Lawrence was the foremost star of her day and an animated jumping jack. She actually received the unheard of salary of $10,000 a year.
But let me get back to the story of Pete Miles—the front page story that day on April 15, 1909, was the death of Mr. Miles. He was killed by a stray shot in a pistol duel between Henry Jones and John Wilson. This duel took place in the old livery stable that stood on the vacant lot on the alley just west of the home of Robert Choate on West Main Street. This was between the Choate house and Garrett’s Restaurant. One of the shots struck John Wilson in the wrist. The other shot struck Pete Miles. The article added that "under no circumstance would either have intentionally hurt Mr. Miles." Neither Mr. Jones nor Mr. Wilson was fatally wounded. When Mr. Martin wrote his article in March of ’35, Mr. Jones had been dead for a number of years, and Mr. Wilson had passed in June of 1933.
Personally, I had never heard the story of the fatal duel although Earlington was known for a number of similar happenings. As tragic as the story is, I found myself visualizing the layout of the town at that time with its dirt and perhaps muddy streets as this occurred during a month known for showers. I have often heard of the livery stable where the duel occurred which is on the lot occupied by the old American Legion building and now known as the Loch Mary Building. The stable was used at one time to house the horses which pulled the fire wagon. We are also not told at what time of day the duel occurred, and I wondered what else was occurring in the busy, crowded village on that fateful day. My curiosity also makes me wonder what the reason could have been for two otherwise reasonable men calling each other out in a deadly duel. I wonder if they fought again in a future duel and how they felt when they learned their anger had caused the death of the innocent Mr. Miles. And what of the family of Pete Miles? His age at his death? I found no mention of a Pete Miles in the 1880 census. The only Miles even mentioned in Earlington Village was a Thomas Miles, age 25, who worked in the mines and was a boarder with John Webb. No males with the surname of Miles were included in the Hopkins County Marriage Registry from 1869 to 1900. So, who was Pete Miles? Did he have any family here? If so, did they, as many bereaved of that day, send out engraved funeral notices on parchment edged in black?
Mr. Martin, you only whetted my curiosity! Now I shall have to continue to research to see what I can find concerning each of these men. For me, the history contained in the pages of old scrapbooks is never the end of the story. It is only the beginning of many unanswered questions. Perhaps, I will learn some of the answers and share my gleanings with you. Meanwhile, I hope your curiosity was aroused by the Musings of Mr. Martin. He was certainly a prolific writer and one whose work I have surely enjoyed. Thanks, Mattie!
I would be amiss if I did not mention the fact that Mr. Martin’s article helped me understand the continuing reason for the phrase each of Kentucky’s officials have to swear to. That is that of not having fought a duel or been a second either in Kentucky or any surrounding state. It is often a laughing matter to those attending swearing in ceremonies. However, it is obvious after reading Mr. Martin’s column that even in the early 20th century, men continued to participate in duels. Dueling was no laughing matter in 1909. It was real, and it was serious…deadly serious. And such is our history.
Ann Gipson 12-16-2001