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NATIVE KENTUCKY BALLADS / 082
The Lynching of Kid Shannon

clippings transcribed by Steve Green


Back in 1996, Bruce Baker sent me a tip about a ballad called "The Lynching of Kid Shannon" that he saw mentioned in a book called "Coal Camp Kids: Coming Up Hard and Making It," by Barbara Ford Ritch (Tallahassee: Father & Son Publishing, 1991, 162-164). I have yet to get hold of the book or see a copy of the ballad, but I have managed to find a few clippings about the event commemorated in the song.

It is worth noting that the articles all report that Shannon was taken from jail by a mob and shot and that he died later from his wounds. He was not hanged as is implied by the repeated references to his having been lynched.


Louisville KY Courier Journal ~ October 28, 1924

Mob Storms Jail and Kills Negro Slayer

200 Armed and Masked Men Lynch Prisoner In Floyd County.

18 Bullets in Body

Black Accused of Slaying Miner In Row Over Moonshine.

Special to the Courier-Journal.

Paintsville, Ky., Oct. 27.—Marching to the jail at Wayland, Ky., late Sunday night, a mob composed of about 200 residents of Floyd County, with sledge hammer and drills, battered down the jail door, released “Kid” Shannon, negro, 28 years old, accused of the murder of a white man, and mortally shot him when he reached the street. The accused negro died en route to the jail at Prestonburg [sic].

Members of the mob, masked and armed, informed Shannon of their mission and gave him thirty minutes in which to pray, and to answer questions.

Instead he pleaded for his life and they poured a fusillade of shots into his body and left him for dead. Eighteen bullets riddled him.

So quietly did the mob carry out its purpose and so quickly did it disperse that Floyd County authorities announced they had no clews concerning the identity of any of its participants.

Because Lock Hitchcock, 38, a miner for the Elkhorn Coal Corporation accused him of the theft of $5, Shannon is said to have shot him dead Sunday afternoon. Hitchcock gave the negro $5 for him to purchase moonshine for him, it is alleged.

Shannon left but later returned with neither whiskey nor money, it is alleged. An angry debate ensued, after which Hitchcock turned and walked away. Three shots were heard and Hitchcock was found dead with three bullets in his back.

A sheriff’s posse found Shannon in the hills and brought him to the jail at Wayland. He was to have faced preliminary hearing yesterday morning and then was to have been taken to Prestonburg [sic].

On the same train and in the same coach that he rode, the body of his victim, Hitchcock, was also. It was being taken to the home of his brother at Paintsville for burial, which will be held today. Just as Shannon was being detrained, he succumbed to his wounds.

Although having but one arm, Shannon was a musician.


Alexandria IN Times-Tribune ~ October 29, 1924

MOB LYNCHES COLORED MAN IN KENTUCKY

Prestonburg, Ky., Oct. 29.—Kid Shannon, negro, twenty-eight years old, was shot eighteen times by a mob estimated at 200 mean Sunday night at Wayland and died of his wounds late Monday, according to information reaching here. Tuesday, Shannon was charged with having killed a white man. Fifteen men were guarding the jail at the time Shannon was seized, Chief of Police Vernon Castle said. All the lights in the town were out and a cloudy sky prevented peace officers apprehending members of the mob, the police chief said.


Altoona PA Tribune ~ October 29, 1924

SHOT EIGHTEEN TIMES

PRESTONBURG, Ky., Oct. 28.—(A.P.)—“Kid” Shannon, Negro, 28, was shot 18 times by a mob estimated at 200 men Sunday night at Wayland and died from his wounds late yesterday, according to information reaching here today. Shannon was charged with having killed a white man.


Bridgeport CT Telegram ~ October 29, 1924

SHOT 18 TIMES BY MOB, NEGRO DIES

PRESTONBURG, Ky., Oct. 28.—“Kid” Shannon, negro, 28, was shot 18 times by a mob estimated at 200 men Sunday night at Wayland, and died from his wounds late yesterday. Shannon was charged with having killed a white man. Fifteen men were guarding the jail at the time the negro was seized, Chief of Police Vernon Castle said.


Louisville KY Courier Journal ~ October 29, 1924

CHIEF NEARBY AS MOB KILLS NEGRO

Police Head and 15 Aids On Guard As 200 Break Into Wayland Jail.

VICTIM HAD SLAIN MINER

Special to the Courier-Journal.

Prestonsburg, Ky., Oct. 28.—Fifteen men stood guard about the city jail at Wayland, near here, in Floyd County Sunday night, when a negro, charged with killing a white man, was taken from it and killed by a mob of 200 men, Chief of Police Vernon Castle said today.

“All the lights in the town were off and the cloudy sky prevented us from seeing anything going on,” said Chief Castle.

“We knew that the negro was being removed, but could do nothing because there were about 200 men in the mob,” the Chief declared.

The negro was “Kid” Shannon, 28 years old. He was shot eighteen times by the mob and died at Prestonsburg at 5 o’clock Monday afternoon.

Shot Miner to Death.

Shannon had been placed in the jail alone on a charge of shooting to death Lock Hitchcock, 38, a miner for the Elkhorn Coal Corporation, at 5 o’clock Sunday afternoon here.

Chief Castle said he was investigating the affair.

Sheriff W. V. Allen said he was making no investigation and that the matter was up to the County Judge. Judge Ed Hill, Floyd County judge, said he was making an investigation of the mob’s action, but that he expected little success.

“We have made no arrests and I doubt if we do, for we have no way of learning who were members of the mob,” said Judge Hill. “There has been no reward offered and I have received no orders from Gov. William J. Fields.”

Shannon was placed in the jail shortly after the shooting by Chief Castle.

“I was sitting on an office porch about fifty feet away from the jail at midnight,” said the chief. “I had three deputies and twelve other men at various places near the jail, guarding it and the prisoner, for we feared trouble. We had received information that an attempt might be made to remove the negro.

“The lights were off in the town and I was told that members of the mob had cut the wires leading from the substation. It was very cloudy and we could see nothing.

“At midnight we heard men about the jail. We knew there were a great many, about 200, and as we could not see, we could do nothing. We recognized no one. The men were masked and armed.

Broke Through Wall.

“The mob used a sledgehammer to break through the brick wall of the jail and the lock on the prisoner’s cell was broken.

“Shannon was taken down the street about thirty yards and several shots were fired. I found the negro about 2 o’clock in the morning and returned him to jail. He was wounded in numerous places and a physician advised that he be taken to the hospital at Prestonsburg.”

Shannon was placed on a train Monday morning and died as he was being taken from it at Prestonsburg Monday afternoon. He had been shot eighteen times. On the same train was the body of Shannon’s victim.

Shannon shot Hitchcock because the latter accused him of keeping $5 which Hitchcock had given him to buy whiskey, according to Chief Castle.

The negro was to have been given a preliminary hearing at Wayland Monday morning.


Portsmouth OH Daily Times ~ October 29, 1924

NEGRO WHO KILLED WHITE MAN RIDDLED WITH BULLETS

PRESTONBURG, Ky., Oct. 29—“Kid” Shannon, negro, 20 years old, was shot 18 times by a mob estimated at 200 last night at Wayland and died today from his wounds, according to information reaching here. Shannon was charged with having killed a white man. Fifteen men were guarding the jail at the time the negro was seized, Chief of Police Vernon Castle said.


Scranton PA Republican ~ October 29, 1924

MOB SLAYS NEGRO

PRESTONBURG, Ky., Oct. 28.—“Kid” Shannon, negro, 28, was shot eighteen times by a mob estimated at 200 men Sunday night at Wayland and died from his wounds late yesterday, according to information reaching here today. Shannon was charged with having killed a white man.


Uniontown PA Morning Herald ~ October 29, 1924

EIGHTEEN WOUNDS SHOT WOUNDS IN HIS BODY [sic]

PRESTONBURG, Ky., Oct. 28.—“Kid” Shannon, negro, 28, was shot 18 times by a mob estimated at 200 men, Sunday night at Wayland and died from his wounds late yesterday, according to information reaching here today. Shannon was charged with having killed a white man. Fifteen men were guarding the jail at the time the negro was seized, Chief of Police Vernon Castle said.


Louisville KY Courier Journal ~ December 2, 1924

JAILER MAY LOSE POST IN LYNCHING

Fields Expects to Act Today In Killing of Prestonsburg Negro By Mob.

By DONALD MCWAIN.

The Courier-Journal Lexington Bureau.

Frankfort, Ky., Dec. 1.—Removal of the jailer or other peace officers of Floyd County Tuesday, by Governor William J. Fields is possible in connection with the lynching of Kid Shannon, negro, at Prestonsburg on October 26.

Asked tonight what he intended to do about the law covering removal of county officers after lynching of prisoners in their custody, Governor Fields said “I have been investigating the case, and when I have been fully advised, I shall do whatever is my duty under the law.”

Governor Fields said he had been informed by officials of Floyd County, in a communication received today, that there had been a lynching and that they were doing their best to apprehend the guilty parties. Information received today was the first official word Governor Fields had of the lynching, although he had ordered an investigation of a press report of a lynching. He said he would decide on his course of action tomorrow.

Regarding the duty of the Governor in lynchings, Section 1151-a-3 of the 1920 Kentucky Statutes, says:

If any person, being a prisoner, or lawfully in custody, shall be taken from the hands of any sheriff, deputy sheriff, constable, or any other peace officers, or from the hands or custody of any jailer, and shall be lynched, killed, maimed or injured, it shall be prima facie evidence of failure to perform his duty and shall be prima facie evidence of neglect of duty on the part of such officer, and when such failure in or neglect of duty, or such lynching or injury, is made to appear to the Governor, he shall at once publish a proclamation declaring the office or offices of the officer or officers vacant, at the same time mailing a copy of the proclamation to such officer or officers, whereupon the office shall be immediately vacated.

Another section of the 1920 Statutes provides that the Coroner shall fill the office of sheriff and the county clerk shall be given charge of the jail, in place of the jailer, until the County Judge can appoint successors.

Within ten days after the removal, the ousted officers may file a petition with the Governor for a hearing on reinstatement. If the Governor, after hearing arguments is convinced the officer did his duty, he may reinstate him, and that reinstatement is final. If he does not order reinstatement, after hearing arguments, the original order of removal shall be final, under this section of the Statutes.

Fields Ignored Request.

A press dispatch from Floyd County, October 28, reported that “Kid” Shannon, negro, had been taken from the jail at Prestonsburg by a mob of 200 and lynched the previous Sunday night. Fifteen men were reported to have stood guard at the jail, but to have done nothing that would prevent the removal or lynching of the prisoner. On the day of the report, Governor Fields was asked at Harrodsburg by The Courier-Journal what he intended to do about the case, and he said it was none of The Courier-Journal’s business. He added that The Courier-Journal was the only newspaper in Kentucky that had the gall to ask what was going to be done about State business before it happened.

On November 11 the Inter-racial Commission inquired of the Governor what he was going to do about the lynching. He said he was investigating it in a reply dated November 18.

He received no reply to his inquiries in Floyd County until today, but in that reply officials said that they were trying to apprehend persons guilty of lynching the prisoner.


Louisville KY Courier Journal ~ December 3, 1924

GOVERNOR SEEKS DATA IN LYNCHING

Asks County Officials for Names of Men In Charge When Mob Killed Negro.

The Courier-Journal Frankfort Bureau.

Frankfort, Ky., Dec. 2.—Under the law the Governor does not seem to have any option in the matter of vacating the offices of peace officers who allow unauthorized persons to take a prisoner from their custody, according to Governor William J. Fields. Governor Fields today wrote Floyd County officials and asked for the names of the peace officers who had charge of Kid Shannon, negro, when a mob of 200 persons lynched Shannon Sunday, October 26.

When the law, requiring the Chief Executive to remove officials from whom a mob takes a prisoner, was called to Governor Fields’ attention by The Courier-Journal, he said:

“I have been investigating the case, and when I have been fully advised, I shall do whatever is my duty under the law.”

Governor Fields said he did not wish to remove a jailer, if the sheriff were at fault, and did not wish to remove the sheriff if the jailer were at fault, and would not remove either if some other peace officer were at fault. In order that no innocent official may done an injustice, Governor Fields said he would wait to find out who was in charge of the prisoner at the time of the break into jail, before he used his power under the law.

A report from Prestonsburg, October 28, indicated that Shannon was taken from a jail in Floyd County by a mob of 200 persons, who used clubs and hammers to break into the jail, while fifteen guards stood by without interfering.


Louisville KY Courier Journal ~ December 9, 1924

Floyd Officials Silent In Probe

Governor Has Not Received Information In Lynching of Negro By Mob.

The Courier-Journal Frankfort Bureau.

Frankfort, Ky., Dec. 8.—Officials of Floyd County today had not reported to Gov. William J. Fields the names of the peace officers in charge of Kid Shannon, negro, lynched by a mob of approximately 200 persons on October 26.

Governor Fields, acting under a law passed in 1920, which requires the Chief Executive to remove from office immediately any sheriff, jailer or other peace officers from whom a prisoner is taken and lynched, requested the names of the peace officers who had Shannon in custody.

The Governor said he seemed to have no option in the matter of removing such officials. He declared that he would do whatever was his duty under the law.


Louisville KY Courier Journal ~ December 11, 1924

CASTLE OUSTED BY GOV. FIELDS

Wayland Marshal Removed From Office As Result of Negro Lynching.

The Courier-Journal Frankfort Bureau.

Frankfort, Ky., Dec. 10.—Vern Castle, marshal of Wayland, Floyd County, today was removed from office by Gov. William J. Fields, as a result of the lynching of Kid Shannon, negro, Sunday, October 26. Action resulted, after the Governor’s attention had been called by The Courier-Journal, to a 1920 statute requiring the Chief Executive to remove immediately any peace officer from whom a prisoner is taken by a mob and lynched. Castle may petition the Governor for a hearing on reinstatement within the next ten days.

Shannon was taken from custody by a mob of 200 persons, while guards stood by without interfering, first dispatches reported. On October 28 a correspondent asked Governor Fields what action, if any, he had taken regarding the lynching. The Governor replied that it was not the business of The Courier-Journal and that The Courier-Journal was the only newspaper in the State that had the gall to ask about State business before it happened.

The Inter-Racial Commission interrogated Governor Fields about the lynching in a letter dated November 11. Their communication was answered November 18 by the Governor who said he was having the case investigated.

Governor Fields announced, December 1, that Floyd County officials were still investigating, hoping to apprehend persons who took part in the lynching. At this time the law regarding removal of peace officers was called to his attention, and he said he would do whatever was his duty under the law.

The next day the Governor said he seemed to have no option in the matter of removing peace officers, and he wrote to Floyd County for names of officials in charge of Shannon the day he was lynched. Upon receiving that information today, he issued a proclamation for Castle’s removal from office.

The proclamation follows:

Whereas, it has been made to appear to me that on the night of the 26th of October, 1924, one Kid Shannon, charged with murder, who having been arrested for said crime, and being in the custody of one Vern Castle, Town Marshal of the Town of Wayland, Floyd County, Kentucky, was removed from the jail in which he was confined and from the custody of said Vern Castle, Town Marshal of Wayland, Kentucky, and there by a mob riddled with bullets and killed.

I, therefore, as Governor of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, and by the authority vested in me by the law as set forth in Section 1151-A-3, Carroll’s Kentucky Statutes, the Laws of Kentucky, do hereby declare the office of Town Marshal of the Town of Wayland, Kentucky, vacant, and said Vern Castle, Town Marshal of the said Town of Wayland, is hereby removed from office, and of this action and proclamation all persons will take notice, and I have caused copy of this proclamation to be mailed to said Vern Castle, and said office shall be immediately vacated by said Vern Castle.

 

 


Last Update: March 19, 2016