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Assassination of a Governor

Death of Goebel

The election of state officers in 1899 was close and exciting.  The overwhelming interest was concentrated on the race for Governor.  The contest was between Attorney General WILLIAM SYLVESTER TAYLOR, the Republican and Senator WILLIAM GOEBEL, the Democratic candidate. During Senator Goebel's tenure in the State Senate he had made many enemies and the fight against him was a very bitter one.  The returns were in and General Taylor was elected by a small majority. Senator Goebel's friends persuaded him to make a contest, which was later filed.  In the month of January 1900, thousands of people from all sections of the State visited Frankfort,  Threats were openly made, if the contest was decided in favor of the Democrats, then Senator Goebel would be assassinated. Senator was warned of this danger,  Some of his personal friends elected themselves as body guards and went to and from the State House with him.

On the morning of January 30th, Colonel Jack Chinn from Mercer County and Colonel Eph Lillard, warden of the state penitentiary, from Franklin County walked with Goebel.  When they reached the front gate of the old capital grounds, it was remarked that the usual crowd was not in from of the capital building.  As they reached a point about fifty feet from the steps leading to the main building a shot  was fired from the window of the Secretary of State's office, which struck Senator Goebel in the right side and went entirely through him and lodged in a hackberry tree near the west entrance to the grounds. Senator Goebel was immediately taken to the Capital Hotel where he lingered until the 3rd of February. In the meantime he had been declared elected and had taken the oath of office.  For several weeks after Goebel's death the atmosphere in Frankfort was tense. Governor Taylor still claimed that he was Governor and Lieutenant Governor J. C. W. Beckham, who had taken the oath of office on the death of Governor Goebel claimed that he too, was Governor and he assumed the duties as such with his office in the Capital Hotel.  Each man was under State Guard as a confrontation between them was expected. The citizens of Frankfort had also taken sides.  The Republican claimed that it was a just retribution and the Democrats claimed that is was the greatest outrage.  After the flight of Governor Taylor, peace was restored. The grand jury convened and indictments were returned against Caleb Powers, who was the Republican Secretary of State and W. S. Taylor, who was the Republican Governor and W. H. Culton, F. W. Golden, Green Golden, John L. Powers, John Davis, Charles Finley, Henry Youtsey, James Howard, Berry Howard, Garnett D. Ripley, Harland Whittaker, Richard Combs, Zack Steele and Frank Cecil, charging that all of them were implicated in the murder.  The Republican charged that the defendants could not get a fair trial in Franklin County.  Caleb Powers and Henry Youtsey were granted a change of venue to Scott County. Captain Garnett D. Ripley was tried at the April term, 1901. He was the first one of the defendants to stand trail and the jury handed down a verdict of  "not guilty". HENRY YOUTSEY was convicted and sent to the penitentiary for life.  After his conviction Youtsey made a confession in which he claimed that Jim Howard fired the shot which killed Governor Goebel and that the other named defendants were in the conspiracy. Jim Howard was tired three times and convicted.  The Court of Appeals reversed the lower court's verdict twice, however he was finally sent to the penitentiary for life.  He was later pardoned by Governor A. E. Willson.  Caleb Powers also had three convictions and he too , with several other of the most prominent defendants, were pardoned by Governor Willson. The Goebel Case continued for about eight years.  The defendants made a strong case and only two of them ever spent time behind bars.  On April 23, 1909, Governor Wilson pardoned, W. S. Taylor, Charles Finley, John L. Powers, Harland Whittaker, John W. Davis and Zack Steele.

The facts of this case as are accepted as fact are that Goebel died from the effects of a rifle bullet fired from, or near, annex building. Other information depends entirely on what you chose to believe.  A case can be made for a conspiracy as well as a case of a lone assassin.  The evidence is too contradictory to conclude any definite conclusion and the assassination remains a mystery.

Information submitted by Norman L. Snider states, L. F. Johnson in his History of Franklin County, Kentucky was in error when stating Captain Garnett D. Ripley was the first defendant to be tried for the assassination of Goebel.  Snider claims, Ripley was the fourth to be tried after Caleb Powers, August 1900, James Howard, September 1900 and Youtsey, October 1900.

History of Franklin County, Kentucky, by L. F. Johnson
The Kentucky Encyclopedia, by Kleber


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