The Hanging of Pud Marcum




The following excerpts of information pertain to the hanging of James H. "Pud" Marcum. Pud was born about 1862 in KY to James Harrison Marcum and Lydia Belcher. He married Elizabeth Delilia Carter on February 19, 1883 in Lawrence County, Kentucky. Together they had two known children: Gideon and Margaret. Pud is buried in the Fallsburg Cemetery, Lawrence County, Kentucky.

It should be noted that even though many family stories and these accounts refer to Fisher Marcum as Pud's Uncle, he was in fact his second cousin. Henry Fisher Marcum was born about 1848 in Wayne County, Virginia (now West Virginia) to Stephen S. Marcum and Sarah Hampton. Fisher is buried in the Peter Marcum Cemetery in Lawrence County, Kentucky.


BIG SANDY NEWS. July 22, 1886 - Jas. H. Marcum (Pud) sentenced to death for murder of Fisher Marcum.

BIG SANDY NEWS. July 29, 1886 - Motion for new trial overruled in Marcum case and Friday, Oct. 22 fixed for the day of execution.


The following is an exact transcript from, "Lawrence County-a pictorial history," by George Wolfford, WWW Company, Ashland, KY, 1972, pp 110-112. The picture of Pud Marcum comes from page 110.

"But for Lawrence Countians, the thought of a noose conjures up tales of 'Pud' Marcum, whose 1887 execution for bushwhackin a relative has become traditional. It was a social decision with wide-reaching effect, for men backed away from violence for many years to come if they heard the gentle admonition 'Remember Pud Marcum!' One factor which kept it vivid before the community was the huge attendance at the hanging and the word-of-mouth publicity it received. Another was that the jury did not simply set down its verdict in court records; it wrote them on the wall, for coming generations to see and ponder, and there they stayed, penciled on plaster, until the 1962 remodeling of the courthouse. The event happened too late in 1887 to make Ely's book, but young editor Conley turned out his paper a day late to record his personal account of the hanging, and it is recorded here in full:

Late on the afternoon of February. 10th, 1886, Fisher Marcum, all unsuspicious of any danger, was walking alone in a field near Morgan's Creek, the house of his mother. It was a cold, bleak day, with two or three inches of snow on the ground. No one was in his sight when the crack of a rifle disturbed the chill air and the unfortunate man fell to the earth, pierced with a ball. A brother heard the report of the gun and ran out to learn the cause, only to find his kinsman writhing in his agony. He was asked "Who did it?" "Pud shot me" was the answer, and to this statement, he adhered when his physician told him his wound was mortal and again asked who fired the fatal shot. He died about nine o'clock that night. Search was made for the tracks in the snow when it was discovered that two men had been in ambush and that the tracks were made by a man or men wearing peculiar shoes. Suspicion fell upon James H. Marcum, better known as Pud Marcum, and search was made for him. He was found at the house of Frank Burton, distant some nine miles from the scene of the tragedy. His wife's brother, Tom Carter, was also arrested, and upon him were found the shoes bearing the notable mark. Both men were brought to Louisa and lodged in jail. At the June term of the Lawrence Criminal Tis not necessary now to say anything of the evidence. It was in a measure circumstantial, but no link in the chain was missing. The prosecution was conducted by Commonwealth's Attorney S. G. Kinner, ably assisted by K. F. Prichard and G. W. Castle. The defense was ably managed by Alexander Lackey and Jerry Riffe.

The jury was composed of the following gentlemen: Wm. Taylor, Wm. Howe, Geo. Wooten, John Burgess, Elijah Gambill, John Ramy, Lewe Small, Marion Stone, Jesse Gartin, Absalom Ruggles, Thomas Kise, and Aug Snyder. Their verdict was guilty, and Pud was sentenced to be hanged on the 22nd of the following October. From this judgment the defense appealed, but the Court of Appeals saw fit not to disturb the verdict and the Governor sentenced him to be hanged on the 29th of April, 1887. Up to last Tuesday Pud stoutly maintained his innocence, adhering to his own testimony given on his trial. But on that day he placed in the hands of his spiritual advisors a full and complete confession of his awful crime.

For this crime he today died upon the scaffold in the presence of nearly three thousand people - men, women, and children. Tom Carter is now serving a life sentence in the penitentiary, not having dared risk the uncertainty of another trial.

During Marcum's last days on earth he had the benefit of the advice and ministrations of Revs. Suddith, Cook, Lauck, Stratton, and Snead, and there is every reason to believe that the poor wretch sought and obtained forgiveness for his crimes. He evidently entertained some hope of commutation or respite, but this was blighted when he received the following letter from Governor Knott:

. . .while I sympathize with you most profoundly, I regret I have been unable to find anything that would sufficiently justify my interfering with the verdict of the jury. ..I can, therefore, only commend you to the mercy of the Divine Being before whom we must both appear, trusting that you have availed yourself of His blessed promises to our poor fallen race."

His mother and sister bade him farewell yesterday afternoon, but his wife remained with him until this morning. Their mingled cries and prayers could be heard all around the public square, strangely mixed with the noise made by strolling musicians, peddlers, and venders of patent medicines. Our reporter visited Pud in his cell early this morning and found him all broken up. He was unable to eat any breakfast, and it was as dollars to cents he would have to be carried to the gallows. But a wonderful change came over him and soon he was as calm and collected as any man ever was under such awful circumstances. He dressed himself with care in the neat black suit furnished him, spoke with resignation of his rapidly approaching and ignominious death, named the hymns he desired sung, and was a minute in this directions regarding the disposition of his effects."

Sink Fugitt, there at age 20, recalled late in life: 'On the day of the hanging a lot of us boys started to town long before daylight. When we got to town we did not go into the town, we just stopped on the town hill at the colored school house which was about 50 yards above the scaffold. By this time it was daylight and the people had begun to gather. About the time the sun was up Doc Cease came riding up to the scaffold, went up the steps, and took a large bottle from his pocket and began oiling that rope.

When he got it oiled he and a colored man hung a sack of sand to test its strength. By the time this had been done the two hillsides were covered with people up to the pines. The trees were full of men and boys.

At twenty minutes past twelve he was placed in a two-horse spring wagon attended by Sheriff Shannon, Deputy Davis Wellman, Rev. L. H. Suddith, and Dr. Wroten, who had been summoned by the Sheriff to attend in his professional capacity. Surrounded by well-armed guards and an immense crowd of people, the wagon was driven to the gallows, which had been erected in the hollow this side of Pine Hill. Along the route, Pud conversed cheerfully with his attendants, betraying not the slightest emotion when the horrible machinery of death met his gaze. He ascended the steps firmly, seated himself in a chair, and composedly waited while the solemn ceremonies began. On the scaffold were Sheriff Shannon, Revs. Cook, Lauck, Suddith, Rice, and Stratton. Drs. Cease and Wroten and Jerry Riffe. "Dark is the Night" was sung, after which Rev. Suddith offered a touching and eloquent prayer. After prayer, "The Crowning Day is Coming" was sung. The criminal heartily joined singing in a clear, strong voice. He then stepped forward and in distinct tones spoke the following words to the crowd:

'Gentlemen, I appear before you today for the first time in my life and for the last time. I have sinned against God, but I feel he has forgiven me and that I am going to rest. To those who are growing up, let this be a warning. I want my clothing given to Milt Burns and want him to give them to my wife.' He then said goodbye to all on the scaffold, many others coming up to say farewell to him. The Sheriff then pinioned his arms and legs, adjusted the rope around his neck, and pulled down the hideous black cap which forever shut out from his gaze the light of this earth. At six minutes past one, Andy Shannon pulled the fatal lever, and like a lump of lead the body of Pud Marcum fell six feet and hung, motionless, between the heavens and the earth. Not the slightest contraction or tremor could be seen in the body. The pulse beat thirteen minutes, when he was pronounced dead by the physicians--Drs. Wroten, Bussey, and York--but he was allowed to remain nine minutes longer. The body was then placed in a neat coffin and turned over to his friends. By them it was taken to the Falls of Blaine, where, according to his request, it will be buried beside his father next Monday. An examination revealed the fact that the fall had broken his neck. The features were very much distorted.

The crowd began to come yesterday. They came all night, and by 10 o'clock fully three thousand people were here. Until after the execution there was no disorder. Late in the afternoon, however, whisky got in its devilish work and the lock-up was soon full. An efficient special police force had been sworn in and they did much to preserve order. As we write tonight, the town is quiet, nearly every body having gone home.

Thus has ended the second legal hanging which ever occurred in Lawrence County and, let us hope that there may never be cause for the third."

Marcum had made a confession which the enterprising NEWS printed and sold on the day of the hanging. Also hawked to the crowd were handkerchiefs with a simple comic-decorated border and Marcum's picture in the center. The killer, who had been kept at Catlettsburg for his own protection, said in his confession: 'John Adkins made me think if I didn't kill Fisher he would kill me. It is true I am sorry, but I will kill any man to defend my own life. Yes, I'll do it every time, and no man blames me for it. As he did not kill me, I am better satisfied to die than if he had killed me.' Contemporary accounts indicated Fisher had publicly goaded Pud earlier, and punished his young brother-in-law."


The following are additional facts excerpted from, "Last Man To Be Hanged In Eastern Kentucky Was For Morgan Creek Murder 1886," by J. Gay Bradley, THE BIG SANDY NEWS, April 9, 1986, pg. 7:

"The murder occurred in February 1886, on a ridge between Morgan Creek, and an area of 'Big Catt' Creek known as the 'Green Valley' area, in Lawrence County, or not far from what is known as Jerry Riffe Hill above Yatesville, KY.

In the middle of the Eighties, there developed a faction, on a feud between the Marcum's, his wife's relatives, and several other of that neighborhood.

It seems that certain individuals had a dislike, or a fear of Fisher Marcum, the man who was murdered, and connived various schemes to get rid of him, and chief one was to develop a hatred between Pud Marcum and his Uncle Fisher Marcum. They did many acts to accomplish this purpose.

The chief one according to the information given was shooting into Pud's yard and premises, and blaming their acts on his Uncle Fisher. So finally Pud became convinced through these devious means that his uncle was conspiring to injure him, or take vengeance on his life.

So, the plot was planned to kill Fisher, his uncle. The plot was to conceal himself in a fence corner, and to ambush his uncle as he came along a ridge from work. Another conspirator was to conceal himself in a tree, and to shake the tree, when he saw Fisher Marcum coming along the ridge, so he would not get too close to Pud, but this man lost his courage and jumped down and fled before Fisher appeared in view. So when Fisher appeared in site of 'Pud,' it was very close. When Fisher was shot down, he looked and saw Pud running out the ridge with a gun in his hand, and gave this evidence before he died. This and other supporting evidence gave an indictment that charged Pud Marcum with a planned and premeditated murder, which had the penalty of punishment by death.

After the shooting, Pud slipped back over the hill to his home, that was at the head of a branch leading to Morgan Creek, that is now the Hobert Carter farm. He led a horse up and down the hill to try to obliterate his tracks, as there was a light snow on at that time.

The night after the murder, Pud went to church on 'Twin Branch' and sang in the choir that night, as though nothing had happened. He came back that with Will Bradley, a young man that lived in the same community. So the killing came up in a conversation, and Pud remarked,'I bet they lay that killing on me.' Pud stopped on the ridge at a home of a relative that night and did not go home. In a few days, he was arrested at a home near Blaine.

So, Marcum secured the services of a country lawyer to defend him in the murder, by the name of Jerry Riffe. Riffe was a very aggressive, self-read lawyer, who handled many legal cases in that area. He had Marcum to plead not guilty in this case, which probably was a mistake. If he had made a plea of guilty, and secured all the evidence that led to the murder, he would probably not have been executed by the gallows. The evidence against Pud was too strong. The evidence by his uncle on his death bed, that it was Pud, led to a verdict of death by hanging by the jury, which was the penalty at that time. At the present time, the penalty is death by the electric chair.

After the verdict was given, Pud acknowledged his guilt, and wrote out his 'confession of the murder,' and also two other conspirators that played a part in the murder were sentenced to served terms in the penitentiary.

A very interesting story was related of an incident while Marcum was confined in the county jail in Louisa. His wife was permitted to see him in jail, and while visiting, he donned his wife's clothes as a woman and departed from the jail as his wife. He got about half-way across the courthouse yard, when he was detected, and put back in jail.

The day of the execution arrived in April, 1887. Marcum was taken from the jail and climbed into a wagon containing his coffin, driven by Reece Matney from the John Jeems livery stable at Louisa.

Marcum took his seat on the coffin, while riding to Town Hill, to the site of the execution.

When they arrived at the gallows, Marcum requested to sing a song, as he was a very good singer, and here is a verse of it.

'Dark is the night and cold the wind is blowing,
Near and nearer comes the breakers roar,
Where shall I go, or where shall I fly for refuge?
Hide me, my Father, till the storm is o'er.'

After the song, Sheriff Andy Shannon pulled the lever that let Marcum hang by the noose. The sheriff walked off up the branch and never looked back.

In a short while, Marcum was removed by authorities and pronounced dead by a physician.

The hillside above the execution was lined with people, and many tears were shed as it appeared a very sorrowful scene.

It was remarkable the courage and fortitude that Marcum displayed on the day. One story was that a certain minister had given a belief to Marcum that he could revive him after the execution, but this did not succeed and in a few days was interred in a cemetery, not so very far from where the murder occurred."


The following additional facts are excerpted from, "Lawrence Countian Was Last Man To Be Hanged In Eastern Kentucky," by Jay Gay Bradley, THE BIG SANDY NEWS, April 16, 1986:

"The last man to be hanged in Eastern Kentucky, Pud Marcum, has many relatives in Lawrence and Boyd counties. His mother was Belcher. Many of the Belcher's lived a very long life. 'Aunt Lydia,' as she was known, was a remarkable woman. She lived to be 103 years old. She died in latter Twenties at the home of her daughter, Rachel Adkins, on Morgan Creek. She had gained what we call her 'second eye-sight,' much sewing, making of quilts, and dress apparel for many people. She did this work until near her death.

In the early Twenties, Aunt Lydia's son Lafe Marcum came to Morgan Creek to be with his mother, and help take care of her. Lafe was a skillful gun and watch repairman. He had operated a shop in Catlettsburg for several years. He set up a shop on Morgan Creek, and did very much repair work for people from a wide area. In his latter years he developed an ailment that affected him so that he could not do fine and tedious work, and had to quit. Lafe was one of the most honest and upright citizens of the community.

Many of the descendants of Fisher Marcum live in Boyd County. Dave Marcum, a brother to Pud, and a sister, Biddle Rose, lived at Catlettsburg, and died there just a few years ago at a very advanced age.

Two of Pud's sisters married and lived in the Morgan Creek area of Lawrence County most of their live. They and their descendants as a whole were good honest neighbors, and upright people."


NOTES (source Harry Marcum):

1. March 10, 1887--Governor Knott has set the date of Friday, April 28, for hanging of Pud Marcum.

2. July 15, 1886--The Trial of James Pud Marcum for murder of Fisher Marcum began.

3. Date unclear, funeral of Fisher Marcum was preached at Hickory Gap last Sunday.


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