Part I(Jump to Part II or Part III )
Larkin Liles, a legendary figure of Lewis County history, was indeed a man with a colorful personality, and he has been the subject of several articles written in the last century. He spent most of his life on Kinniconick near what is now known as Camp Dix. Much of what has been written about him has come from stories passed down through many decades by members of the Liles and related families as well as by other persons who had heard their families speak of him. What has been passed down by word of mouth is far more colorful than what we can actually prove about him through family documents and court records. Nevertheless, in this article, we shall try to give a "fair hearing" equally to legend and documentary evidence.
This account of Larkin will begin with an incident that took place in Vanceburg in the summer of 1836, involving himself and two other persons: Edward Campbell and a sheriff named William Beverly (Red Buck) Parker. We shall then recount some of the stories about Liles that have been passed down to us for over a century and a half. And finally we shall give documented evidence about all three persons and some events in Larkin's life.
The Fight and the Trials
In the 1830s, a tavern owned by James Carr stood at the foot of Main Street in Vanceburg on the river bank where the present Veteran's Park is located. The actual site of this tavern slipped into the river in 1862, but as late as ten years ago there remained an old well on the Old Mill lot which had been in the back yard of Carr's Tavern. We believe that at the time of our story the tavern was actually operated by James Redden.
While in this tavern, on June 2, 1836, Larkin Liles became engaged in a controversy with one Edward Campbell, and when their argument became heated the tavern keeper ordered them outside where a rough-and-tumble, bite-and-gouge fight ensued. The actual fight took place in the middle of Main Street almost opposite the entrance to the driveway of Crawford's Florist.
In an earlier story, composed principally by the late William C. Dugan, first in 1940 and later in 1962, he described the fight as follows: "In those days, such an encounter was the delight of the village idler, and he ran to witness it and to participate in its excitement, without the fear of a stray bullet or an accidental thrust of a knife between his ribs. A crowd quickly gathered and made a ring about the fighters as they went at it man to man in manly fashion, no holds barred, until the fight became so fast, fierce, and furious and the uproar so great that deputy sheriff, Harry Parker, was called upon to command the peace. This he did, and forthwith arrested both belligerents and hailed them before Squires Thomas Parker and W.S. Parker, justices of the peace."
In the course of the fight, Larkin had managed to bite off Campbell's lower lip. This probably explains why Larkin was charged but Campbell was not - at least, there is no evidence of a charge placed against Campbell. At a preliminary hearing, he was held in the sum of $1,000 bail for his appearance before the grand jury at Clarksburg (the county seat at the time). Larkin furnished the bond with Nelson Plummer (his father-in-law), Benjamin Shepherd, William Sparks, John Thomas, Jim Williams, William McEldowney, and Pleasant M. Savage as securities. The witnesses summoned were deputy sheriff Harry Parker, Richard Pell, and Stephen Bliss.
The following week, on June 8, 1836, with Walker Reid as circuit judge; Thomas G. Paine as commonwealth attorney; and Horatio Bruce as Larkin's attorney, a true bill of indictment was returned against Larkin, charging him with mayhem "committed on the body of Edward Campbell". This time his bail was fixed at $500 and the case was continued till the following day.
It is believed that this trial raised several problems for the court. First and foremost was the fact that Larkin Liles was greatly liked and admired by many people, the law enforcement officers included, and they found it difficult to be unbiased. Larkin pleaded "not guilty" and the case was continued on June 9, 1836, before a jury composed of Sylvester Veach, Solmon Davis, Job Parks, John McClain, Jonathan Lusk, Samuel Ruppolee, William Wade, Burr Harrison, Israel Thomas, John Munford, Alexander Irvine and Elijah Hendrickson. The jury did not reach a verdict and the trial was continued till the following day. On this third day of the trial, the case was laid over till the next term, and Larkin's bond was reduced to $200, with two prominent persons, Chauncey B. Shepard (of Concord) and Charles C. Marshall (of Forman's Bottom), acting as securities.
Finally, on the 28th day of September 1836, the trial continued at Clarksburg, with a new jury made up of Dudly Calvert, William Kendrick, Joseph Hampton, John McDaniel, Thomas J. Walker, Andrew Henderson, William Wilson, William Barkley, James Wilson, Augustine C. Owens, Andrew Thompson and Benjamin Fitch. Larkin was found guilty of mayhem as charged in the indictment. Judge Reid sentenced him with these words: "Ascertain and determine that he undergo a confinement in the jail and penitentiary of this state for the term of one year and thereupon said prisoner was ordered back to jail, and the jury discharged until tomorrow at nine o'clock." This is where the legend starts.
Part II, The Legend
It is said that Larkin never went back to jail because the High Sheriff, William Beverly "Red Buck" Parker, stood responsible for his appearance and made an agreement with him regarding the trip to the penitentiary at Frankfort.
"Red Buck" had planned to take Larkin to Frankfort within a few days. However, Larkin asked the sheriff if he would permit him to go home for a week or ten days to try to harvest some crops, cut sufficient wood for his wife for the winter months, and make preparations for his year's absence. They agreed upon a date to meet at Clarksburg and Larkin went back to his home on Kinniconick.
At the end of the agreed time, Larkin appeared at the sheriff's house and announced he was ready to go. The sheriff explained to him that they would go to Vanceburg, catch a steamer to Maysville, and go on to Frankfort by stagecoach. At this point, Larkin suggested that he be allowed to make the journey on foot "as the crow flies" and hunt game on his way. "Red Buck" agreed to this arrangement and told him to be in Frankfort by a certain date.
On the day that was set, Larkin appeared at the residence of the governor in Frankfort. (The governor at the time was James Clark.) He announced to the servant that he had come over to Frankfort to go into the penitentiary, and an animated discussion with the servant followed. The governor overheard part of his discussion with the servant and, when he saw Larkin, he was astonished at his backwoods appearance, but invited him inside, having already heard the story. The governor then dispatched a servant to the stagecoach inn where the sheriff was staying with instructions for him to come to the governor's home.
When the sheriff arrived, the governor conducted him to his private office and verified every part of Larkin's story. Of course, as the story goes, the governor wanted to know why a sheriff would permit a convicted felon to have such privileged treatment. It is said that the sheriff explained: "Because when Larkin told me he would be here this morning, I knew that if he was alive he would be here. He's just that kind of a man."
It was then, according to the legend, that the governor called in a secretary and talked to him in hushed conversation, and the secretary dismissed himself. In a short time, he returned, bearing a rolled up official looking document. It was a full pardon.
Handing it to Larkin, the governor said: "A man honest as you has no business in the penitentiary. Go back to Lewis County and behave yourself."
The story concludes that Larkin walked back to Lewis County and arrived in Vanceburg before the sheriff.
It seems that prior to the fight in Vanceburg, Larkin had always been a fairly peaceful man who loved hunting, but after he returned from Frankfort he took on another style of character. Some attribute this change to domestic problems. Stories passed down by family members say that as soon as Larkin left to go to the penitentiary, his father-in-law tried to persuade his wife, Mary (Plummer) Liles, to sue him for divorce. Larkin was absent for only a few days and, of course, he learned about this from his wife upon his return.
A very bitter feeling developed between the two men, which ultimately resulted in Larkin's death. Court records seem to validate the story that Larkin's personality and character changed greatly after he came back from Frankfort. However, there is other evidence that he was not quite as peaceful as some of the folk-tales have made him out to be.
Three years before the fight, at the March, 1833, term of court, he and John M. Coker were tried in Lewis County Court for fighting together "to the great terror and disturbance of the good citizens of the Commonwealth" on Sept. 20, 1832. They were fined one cent each.
During the summer, while he was awaiting his final trial for fighting with Edward Campbell, he and his wife, Mary, filed a charge against John Wallingford for slander in August 1836. They claimed that Wallingford had spread a rumor that Mary Liles had committed adultery. That case was dismissed.
But it is true that after Larkin returned from Frankfort, life became more tempestuous. In 1848, he was twice charged with committing adultery with two different women. Then, in February 1849, the Commonwealth brought charges against a number of people, his father, brother, and father-in-law included, for "threatening to beat, wound, and kill and burn up the said Larkin Liles." No information is given as to why these people wished to harm Larkin, but all 13 of them were placed under peace bond.
The pace of events quickened. In April 1849, Larkin was charged with "breach of the Sabbath, selling spirituous liquor, shooting, and playing cards." That same month he was charged with committing fornication and adultery with two other women.
When he died, there was still an outstanding charge against him for operating a tippling house (illegal sale of liquor).
As we said previously, Larkin did not get along well with his father-in-law after the penitentiary episode. Supposedly, one day when Larkin was hunting on a hillside, he saw his father-in-law some distance below him and on the spur of the moment had taken a "pot shot" at him with his squirrel rifle. The bullet struck Mr. Plummer, but distance had so spent its force that it merely knocked him down. Plummer made nothing of the incident, but he knew who had done it, and from that day on he knew it was now a question of his life or Larkin's life.
Murder of Larkin Liles
We have no evidence at all to document the remainder of the story, but this part of the legend says that Plummer was very unhappy with the way Larkin was treating his wife (Plummer's daughter), and Plummer agreed to settle it in what was in those days called "A Fist-and-Skull-Court." But Larkin suggested that they would shoot it out, and they agreed to meet in the woods near the mouth of Mosby Creek.
This they did, dodging from tree to tree, taking shots at each other until Larkin made a lucky shot, hitting Plummer in the hip, thereby winning the contest. They had agreed that neither would hold a grudge about the final turn-out. However, that was not what happened.
The story continues that Plummer made a deal with one Peola Stillwell to assassinate Liles from ambush.
Biding his time, the assailant finally caught Larkin sitting on the creek bank fishing, about one half mile upstream from Blankenship Crossing and, slipping up behind him, shot Larkin in the back. That location is known to this day as Larkin's Riffle.
Larkin did not die on the spot. Someone found him and carried him to a small cabin where he was laid on the floor, and shortly afterwards died.
According to the late Amos Howard, this cabin was standing as late as 1924 and was then owned by Robert Strother who had a drug store in Vanceburg. The cabin was eventually destroyed by fire.
Larkin was buried in the Arkanall Cemetery just above the banks of Kinniconick near Camp Dix. In the early 1960s, Amos Howard erected a monument of native stone at the grave, where a copper plaque now memorializes one of the historical characters of Lewis County. The plaque was dedicated by William C. Dugan, Amos Howard, and this author about 1962.
No charges were ever brought against anyone for Larkin's murder. We don't know the exact date of his death, but the court records show that his estate was settled in the month of August 1849. He had very little property, and it is interesting to note that Darius McKinney bought his rifle for $10. The remainder of his estate (evaluated at $88.49) consisted of one shovel plough, one man's saddle, and 13 acres of corn he had planted on his own, and one-third partnership in another eight acres of corn.
The final sale was on August 31, 1849, and altogether his property sold for only $67.39 and one-half cents, which was $21.10 less than the appraisers had evaluated it. The fact that Larkin was tending such large fields of corn would contradict the idea that he was a lazy, shiftless man. In those days of primitive cultivation, it would have taken a great deal of labor to tend such large crops. Apparently, he was a rowdy sort of backwoodsman, but not a lazy one! The two cases pending against him in Lewis County Court were dismissed after his death.
Larkin Liles, the Man
Frequently, Larkin Liles has been called "Jay-Bird" Liles, but this is completely erroneous because it was his brother, Henry Liles Jr., who married Elizabeth Burris, in 1824, who was given that nickname.
Supposedly, "Jay-Bird" had protruding heel bones, which made him the object of jokes by his friends who said his feet looked like bird's feet. They made up a ditty, something to the effect of: "Jay-Bird, Jay-Bird, sitting on a limb, I cocked my bow and split his shin."
We are not sure of the name of Larkin's parents. The late Amos Howard said that his father's name was Henry and that he died shortly after the family emigrated from South Carolina to Lewis County. Larkin's grave is beside a Henry Liles, whom we believe is his father.
We do not know the name of Larkin's mother, but family legends say that she was of Native American (Indian) descent, and this could very well be true since the family would have been close to some Indian tribes in South Carolina when they lived there in the 1790s.
As to the brothers and sisters of Larkin, we believe that he had three brothers and two sisters: William T., Henry Jr., James, Harriett, and Elizabeth. However, we have no documented proof of these relationships, and furthermore it has been a persistent legend that William T. Harriett, and Elizabeth were actually children who came with the family to Lewis County but did not have a blood relationship.
Larkin Liles married Mary "Polly" Plummer, daughter of Nelson Plummer, in Lewis County, on Janunary 31, 1829. They settled on a farm opposite the mouth of Straight Fork on Kinniconick, known once as the Uncle Bud Cooper place and later the Lloyd Kiser place. They had no children. Three years after Larkin's death, his widow married Allen Yates, on March 15, 1852, by whom she had children. She is buried in the Liles Cemetery near Camp Dix, where Amos Howard erected a native stone marker to her memory. (Mary Liles Yates actually had two nicknames, "Polly" and "Pop".)
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of Larkin's life is the fact that he had been a close hunting companion with the High Sheriff, "Red Buck" Parker. In the early days of the county, Parker built a hunting lodge on the site of the Pollitt home opposite the present-day intersection of Shelton Drive and the AA Highway. The lodge overlooked the salt licks and plenty of game frequented the site. Parker was joined there by many hunters, among them being Larkin Liles, and thus a close friendship grew between them. This, no doubt, was the reason for the complete trust that "Red Buck" put in Larkin when he permitted him to go to Frankfort unescorted.
The Sheriff, "Red Buck" Parker
The sheriff, "Red Buck" Parker was a highly esteemed man. In his obituary, which appeared in the December 5, 1868, issue of the Maysville Eagle, the editor gives the following comments: "The name of 'Uncle Buck' Parker has been to us as familiar as a household word since the earliest of our recollections. He was among the oldest of our citizens, was celebrated as a hunter in his younger days, and known far and wide as a publican. His friends were legion, and as to enemies he had none. But all that was earthly of uncle Buck has passed away. He has been gathered to his fathers, full of honors and full of years; but his good name lives after him and many who have been the recipients of his kindness mourn with the family who have been thus afflicted."
"Red Buck" Parker, who died in Maysville at the age of 80, was the son of Capt. Winslow Parker and Mary (Thomas) Parker, natives of Orange County, Virginia, who settled around Clarksburg in the 1790s. Winslow Parker died in 1824 and is buried at Clarksburg. "Red Buck" married a cousin, Mary Parker, and they had ten children. As early as 1813, "Red Buck" operated a tavern at Clarksburg, but he moved to Maysville in 1848. It is unfortunate that "Red Buck" and his wife, Mary, are buried in an unmarked grave in the Maysville Cemetery.
Who Was Edward Campbell?
None of the published stories of Larkin Liles' life has identified Edward Campbell who lost his lip in that fierce encounter on Vanceburg's Main Street in 1836. We have come up with the following information about him.
Edward Campbell was of Scottish origin and was born May 22, 1801. He married Mary Lewis, daughter of Stephen and Julia (Griffith) Lewis. We have speculated that he might have been the son of a Revolutionary War veteran named John Campbell, who lived near the Forks of Salt Lick, but we have been unable to prove it.
Campbell stated in a court deposition in 1837 that he once lived near the mouth of Kinniconick (Garrison) on a farm which belonged to George W. Bruce. He built the house he lived in on Bruce's farm and the house was later sold to David Lewis, who probably was his brother-in-law.
Some time around 1840, Edward Campbell moved with his children to Fleming County. His wife, Julia, had died in 1837, and it was difficult for Campbell to care for all seven of his children, so the Fleming County court ordered that his youngest children be "bound out", which meant that they were to be apprenticed to a trade.
The names of his seven children were: James E., Jemima, David, John A., Rebecca, Lee L. and Stephen R. (who was a wagon maker by trade). Some time between 1837, when his first wife died, and 1844, when he himself died, Campbell married for a second time in Mason County.
To put things in perspective, it may be of interest to make the following observations. We do not know the year of Larkin's birth but believe that it was around 1806-1808. On the day of the Liles-Campbell fight, we have calculated that Larkin was about 29 or so years old and Campbell was almost 35. The difference in age may have given Larkin the advantage.
We find that "Red Buck" was 48 years of age and Larkin was approximately 30 at the time of their sojourn to Frankfort in 1836. Larkin died around the age of 40 or 42 and Campbell died at the age of 43. "Red Buck" Parker, who lived to the ripe old age of 80, outlived both of these two younger combatants.
Larkin sleeps in a grave on the bank of his beloved Kinniconick Creek, "Red Buck" lies in an unmarked grave in Maysville, and we have no idea where Campbell is buried. Both Parker and Campbell have many, many descendants, but Larkin had no children, and thus has no blood descendants. We have reason to believe, in view of his life history, that he may have been sterile. And so ends the story.
REFERENCES: The Larkin Liles Saga, by W.C. Dugan, W. M. Talley, and Amos Howard, published in the Lewis County Herald, October 18, 1962; History of Lewis County, by W.C. Dugan, published in the Cincinnati Times-Star, April 1940; History of Bourbon, Scott, Harrison, & Nicholas Counties, by W.H. Perrin, page 738; Lewis County Marriage Book A; Maysville Eagle, Dec. 5, 1868; Lewis County Order Book B, page 42; Lewis County Will Book D, page 328; Fleming County Order Book G, page 69; U. S. Federal Census of Lewis County, 1850; Lewis County Circuit Court Order Book I, pp. 533-534 and Book J, pp. 37, 45-46, 59, 85, 102, and 103; Lewis County Circuit Court Records: Files 1548, 1920, 2065, 2665, 3248, 3252, 3274, 3312, 3314, and 345?; conversations with the late Amos Howard and William C. Dugan; private correspondence with the late Mrs. Lula Reed Boss, of Maysville, and Mrs. Charlotte Allison, May's Lick, Ky.
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