Thursday, October 31, 2019

Testimony in State vs. James Broyles --Death of George Barker

The subject of the post yesterday was the Russellville death of George Barker, allegedly killed by an ax handle.  The day after Barker died, Coroner Gabriel Graffham called the following jurors to determine how George Baker had died: H.W. Weyl was the Foreman, Thomas M. Funk, T. J. Funk, D. H. Osmon, Isaac T. Hull, Joseph Fish, G. W. Foreman, James C. Benson, J. B. Trumbley, John Bryans, B. H. Clegg and T. J. Cunningham.

 At the close of the Coroner’s Inquest, the coroner set a $200 bond on the witnesses to insure that they appeared before the Circuit Court on the first day at the next term of court to give evidence on behalf of the People against James Broyles for killing George Barker.  This included the grand jury and the Petit Jury. The witnesses could not depart the county without permission from the court.


This is the testimony as given by these witnesses at Russellville.
T. J. Ford, MD
On February 24, 1877, at 8 o’clock, I was called by the Coroner along with D. A. Wolf to examine the body of George Barker. I found a cut in the edge of the hair above the forehead about 2 ½ inches long and a bruise ½ or ¾ inch below the cut. I made an incision in the head commencing ½ inch above the eye brow and continued back to the temple, then down to the base of the nose. I found the skull cracked about 2 inches in zigzag form and a quantity of clotted blood on both lobes of the brain.  I think that the crack in the skull and the concussion caused the death of Barker.
 Frank Morgan
On the 23rd day of February, 1877, between the hours of 4-5 p.m., I saw Jack and George talking about Jack’s and James’ bull. I saw James Broyles strike George Barker the last lick. I did not see the first lick but I heard something that sounded like a lick. I heard no threats made by any one or either party, and I did not see anyone hold Barker when James Broyles struck him. I don’t think Barker was so drunk as to stagger. I don’t know in what condition he was in, but that Barker was a drinking and was more or less intoxicated.  
M. Thomas Conley 

On the 23rd of February, 1877, about 3 o’clock in the afternoon, I hollowed at James Broyles who went into the store of H. B. Broyles. I saw James Broyles pick up an ax handle off the counter and walk to the back of the store where the George Barker was engaged with Hiram B. Broyles and John Broyles. James Broyles struck George Barker two licks over-handed. The first lick was a glancing lick and the other lick was in the forehead.  George Barker struck at John Broyles with his fist before James Broyles got to Barker.  I did not see anyone hold Barker when James Broyles struck him. I never heard either of the parties make any threats prior to the row. The row commenced in the back of the house close to the stove.  W. Hanson said that this was the way to do it if you can’t back down, one way or another. Barker was drunk enough to stagger. He was knocked down the first lick. I heard no threats. I saw Barker after he was moved from Trombley’s porch, vomiting and bleeding and unconscious.  This was about 4 or 5 o’clock. I think an ax handle is sufficient to kill a man when used in that way. James Broyles was to all appearances in cool blood and not excited.  I did not hear Dr. Broyles or John Broyles order Barker out of their house.
Christopher Saulsberry (signed his name with ‘x’)


About 3 o’clock in the afternoon of February 23, 1877, I was in Dr. Broyles’ store and witnessed the affray between James Broyles and George Barker. Barker was drunk and struck at John Broyles. Hiram Broyles stepped between John Broyles and Barker.   Just at that time James Broyles came in, picked up an ax handle and struck the said Barker two licks on the front part of the head.  Hiram Broyles and John Broyles had Barker backed up against the counter where he was struck.  The row commenced in the back part of the house 30 or 35 feet from the south door. James Broyles used both hands and struck overhanded two licks.  Barker fell down with the second lick. There were no words passed between James Broyles and Barker previous to the difficulty. 
Frank S. Easton, Physician and Surgeon
About 5:30 p.m. in the town of Russellville on February 23, 1877, I was called to see George Barker and found him unconscious. I examined the wound and found the skull fractured.  The wound was the cause of his death. I administered drugs internally and externally. I was then called again at 1 o’clock in the night.  I stayed until 5 in the morning. I think that Barker died about 3 o’clock, February 24, 1877.
Eli Modgeline 
On the 23 of February 1877, between the hours of 4-5 o’clock, I saw George Barker and helped to take him home.  I heard Barker speak and call Dr. Broyles a “son of a bitch.” Barker said James Broyles struck him with a four pound weight. Barker was unconscious and did not know who struck him.  I saw Barker vomiting and bleeding. I think it was caused from the lump. The vomiting may have been caused by the drinking; I don’t know which. I was with Barker most of the time until Barker died which was about 3 o’clock February 24, 1877. I believe the wound that he got, killed him.
Thomas Harrington (Signed with his mark)
I was present at H. B. Broyles store/house between the hours of 3 and 5 o’clock in the afternoon of February 23, 1877, in Russellville.  George Barker was sitting on a box with his head resting on his hand on his knee bleeding smartly.  I heard Barker and Hiram Broyles disputing and heard Barker call Broyles a liar.  I don’t think Barker was conscious at this time. I was not with Barker all the time. I came downtown for Dr. Wolf to see Barker but Wolf did not come. I stopped on my return and got Mr. Modgeline. The next day when we reached Barker he was dead. I don’t think Barker was conscious at any time after he left the porch until he died. I think the wound on his head was the cause of his death.  
M. Andrew Huff
On February 23, 1877 on or about 3 o’clock in the afternoon I was at Dr Broyles’ store and saw James Broyles strike George Barker twice with an ax handle on the head. Hiram Broyles and John Broyles had a hold of Barker at the time he was struck.  I think that an ax handle is sufficient to kill a man with.  I am not in any way related to either party Barker or Broyles. The fuss or row commenced in the back part of the store room. The parties advanced toward the south door and Barker was 25-30 feet from south door when struck. Barker did not try to get loose from Broyles. Barker was under the influence of liquor so much as to reel as he walked. Barker did not strike at James Broyles.  I do not know of any misunderstanding between Barker and Broyles.  I witnessed the entire engagement.  Barker struck at Hiram Broyles with his fist and John Broyles stepped between Barker and Hiram Broyles.  At that moment James Broyles came in the door, picked up an ax handle and struck George Barker two licks on the head. 
William Abner Truit
On February 23, 1877, I was at Dr. Broyles store.  At the close of the row, I heard John Broyles say if George Barker had not been taken out, that the John Broyles would have put a ball through him.  

Presumably,  these witnesses would have given the same testimony at the trial as well.After hearing the witnesses, the jury decided James Broyles was not guilty of the crime of murder and he was acquitted. 

Readers:  What do you think?  Would you have found James Broyles guilty or not based on this testimony? 

Sources used in this article were: 
Coroner's Inquest  "George Barker" Feb. 25, 1877.
Vincennes Weekly Sun,“Brawlsome Broyles” Feb 27, 1877.
Robinson Constitution, May 10, 1877.
Vincennes Weekly Sun, May 12, 1877.
Vincennes Weekly Sun, May 18, 1877.
Robinson Constitution, February 20, 1879.

Western Sun,  February 22, 1879. 
Kevin Borden's Research