The Tragic Elopement – 22 February 1848

This next tale of lovers came to a terrible end near the small community of Lecta, about 2 miles east of Glasgow. In the 1960s, the Edmonton Road (Hwy 68/80) was moved several hundred yards south to its present location so the road could be widened. This left a two mile stretch of road running from Coral Hill Road to Mayfield Mill Road, through the community of Lecta. In those days, the teenagers simply called this stretch the Haunted Row, as the majority of old houses and stores along its way were reputed to be haunted.

One such place has been gone all those years now, but was in the early times the location of a tragic murder.  This was one of the most publicized murders to ever take place in Barren County, probably because of the parties involved.  William Daniel Tolle, whose pen name was ELLOT, probably wrote the most extensively on it, and left it for posterity.  The trial was of deep interest to the public because of the circumstances involved, and so notes were taken on the evidence given in this case.  I will try to follow along the best I can.  I have no intention of slighting any individuals involved, I will only give my best interpretation as events unfolded from testimony.

Mr. Burwell Lawless at the time of the incident lived about 2 miles east of Glasgow in a house that was later occupied by John McFerran.  Lawless was a lawyer by trade, a member of Glasgow and Barren County’s School Board, and was the father of several children.  This story revolves around his daughter Elizabeth, who was between 15 and 16 at the time of the occurrence.

She was boarding in town while attending the Academy of Dr. Ring as a pupil.  During that time she was frequently in company with Mr. William E. Musgrove, a gentleman of Glasgow, and they formed an attachment.  They feared objection from Mr. Lawless if they asked him to allow them to marry, so they decided to elope to the State of Tennessee.

They left Glasgow on Wednesday night, 17 February 1848, at about 9 p.m.  It was raining when they left, and they were accompanied by Miss Emma Musgrove and Travis Cockrill, a young lawyer from Glasgow.  They arrived at Scottsville, 25 miles on the Nashville Pike, by breakfast the next morning, and after taking refreshments, rode 8 or 10 miles south of Scottsville, to the residence of Mr. Holmes, a magistrate of Macon Co., TN.

Once the marriage was performed, the group got back on their horses and returned to Scottsville, where they arrived sometime after dinner.  Mr. Lawless had heard that morning they had eloped, and hastened to Scottsville and took a room at Mulligan’s Inn to await their return from Tn.  When the party arrived at the inn, the landlady took the ladies to the room where Mr. lawless was waiting.  After conversing with his daughter, Mr. Lawless was satisfied the marriage was not legally performed.

Mr. Musgrove and Mr. Cockrill were then sent for.  Mr. Musgrove came into the room once he  was assured no violence would come from Mr. Lawless’ objection to the legality of the marriage.  Mr. Lawless proposed he would take his daughter home, and after 2 or 3 weeks, if she still wished to marry Musgrove, they should marry at the Lawless home and he would treat them as daughter and son-in-law.  This was agreed to by Musgrove, and Miss Lawless went with her father to the home of Dr. Evans, where they remained until returning to Glasgow the next morning.

Mr. Musgrove returned to TN the next morning to consult with the magistrate and perhaps a lawyer.  He obtained copies of the marriage record from the Clerk and returned to Glasgow on Sunday evening.  He determined to go to Mr. Lawless the next morning, accompanied by friends.

The Barren Co. Sheriff at the time was RB Hall, whose wife was Musgrove’s aunt.  He had an appointment in Lafayette, which is now the town of Center in present day Metcalfe Co., later that day, and he agreed to ride with the party as far as the Lawless place as it was on his way.  Mr. Crouch, the Constable, also rode with Hall, Musgrove, and Travis Cockrill.

On that fateful Monday morning, Sheriff Hall, Mr. Crouch, Mr. Cockrill, and Mr. Musgrove left town together.  When they got within 200 yards of the Lawless place, Lawless was standing in the door watching.  He turned and went back into the house.  Hall, Cockrill, and Musgrove were riding 3 abreast, and when they neared the division fence between the yard and garden, 15 or 20 steps from the gate, Lawless came out on the porch holding a gun in both hands, and his son Ben following him with another.  Hall halted a little beyond the division fence, Cockrill a little further, and Musgrove near the gate.

Lawless fired at Musgrove, and immediately took the other gun from his son.  The horses started jumping about, and when Hall’s attention came back to the parties, he distinctly heard two shots fired.  Cockrill dismounted and ran to Musgrove, then called to Hall that Musgrove was killed.  Hall dismounted, hitched his horse and ran to Musgrove, who was lying upon his cloak.  Hall called to Lawless to bring the camphor if he had any in the house, believing Musgrove was dying.  Lawless told Hall he was unarmed and if no further hostilities were intended, he would come.

Lawless then came into the road with Hall’s assurances.  The road was muddy and wet, and Hall asked Lawless if they better remove Musgrove to the house.  Mr. Lawless appeared excited and said he would go speak with his wife.  He came back saying Mrs. Lawless was crazy and did not know what she was about.  Hall asked Lawless if there was a dry place in the barn on the opposite side of the road to take Musgrove, but Lawless told them to take him in the house.  Lawless assisted in taking Musgrove into the house, where he died one or two hours later.

Local Historian, Mrs. Vivian Rousseau wrote an article for the 1965 Glasgow Times 100th Anniversary Edition, entitled “Early Home, Complete With Ghost, is Victim of Progress.”  This article was on the John McFerran home, and she speaks of the Lawless Musgrove affair.

“Musgrove was taken into the house and a doctor called.  He belonged to no church but lived long enough to profess faith.  He was buried in the Presbyterian Church yard.  In 1929, his remains were exhumed to make room for church extensions.  So little was found in the grave but a few buttons and bone fragments, they were placed in a cigar box and reburied in the Oddfellows Cemetery (present day Glasgow Municipal).

“It is said that a dark shadow always returned where his blood dripped away on the floor of the old house, no matter how many times it was scrubbed.   On the window, where his bride stood watching, many residents declared there was a shadow of her silhouette, more clearly seen when the sun filtered through at dawn.”

Lawless was acquitted.

The Court instructed the jury that if they believed from the testimony that Lawless killed Musgrove in self defense, or that if, from the testimony on the part of the Commonwealth, they entertained a reasonable doubt on that subject, they ought to acquit him.   That if they believed from that testimony that Lawless had been informed that Musgrove would be at his home on that morning with an armed force to take off his daughter, Lawless had a right to resist, and was justifiable in preparing to resist such an attempt.

If they believed from the same that Musgrove armed himself, and with an armed force went to the Lawless house determined to kill Lawless if necessary to effect his object in taking off the daughter, and that he did so go, and drawing his pistol presented it at Lawless with intent to kill him, Lawless had a right to repel by force, and to kill Musgrove in self defense.

In making out the grounds for self defense, it is not important that the proof on the part of the prisoner should support it.  When deciding on the guilt or innocence of the prisoner, they ought not to weigh the evidence to ascertain on which side it predominates, as they would in a civil case, because to warrant a conviction the proof against the prisoner should not merely preponderate but be fully satisfactory, and that if it is proper for them to regard the character of the prisoner in making up their verdict.

Miss Eliza Lawless married William E. Wade, of Barren Co. on 28 June 1849.  Quoting again from Mrs. Rousseau:  “…she married Wm. E. Wade and they moved to Louisville.  But the cloud of tragedy never left her.  She committed suicide as the Civil War was closing in 1865.”

Mr. Burwell Lawless is buried in the Glasgow Municipal Cemetery according to Mr. Tolle, but his grave is not marked there.  In section B4, in the back corner of the oldest part of the cemetery is the stone of Achilles B. Lawless, son of Burwell and Sophia.  There is enough room between the stone and the cemetery fence for Burwell and wife Sophia to be interred.

Shortly after he was acquitted, Burwell Lawless moved his family to a house on West Washington Street, near the Square.  Ironically, the 1850 Census shows Lawless as  next-door neighbors with Travis Cockrill, who had married Eliza Maupin, daughter of Colonel RD Maupin, who ran a hotel on the corner of the Square, where the present Beulah Nunn Park and the Veterans Memorial Wall now stands.

There will be more on John McFerran’s residence in the next story

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About Gclee

I am a long time genealogy and local history hunter from Barren Co., KY. I have many stories to share that may be of interest to other local genealogists and history buffs. I enjoy this as a hobby and hope I can be of encouragement to others. I also hope everyone enjoys my stories as much as I have enjoyed learning about them.
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