Wolfe County Murder Story

Selection of Campton as County Seat Resulted in Death of Main Promoter

by Nevyle Shackelford

In the somewhat turbulent history of Wolfe County, there is one sanguine incident generally overlooked by chroniclers probing into its colorful genesis.

This incident had to do with the selection of Campton as the county seat and the story thereof is narrated by E.W. Bush of Torrent. Bush's grandfather, Louallen Bush, formerly of Clark County, was one of the main characters in what proved to be a drama of violence.

Kentucky histories list Wolfe County as being formed in 1860, which is true, but the story began two years earlier, in 1858, when Louallen Bush and John D. Spencer purchased 10,000 acres of land in this area from the Grigsby and Elkins heirs.

Immediately after taking possession of his new holdings, Bush, who was a man of considerable influence in state political affairs, started a movement which resulted in the formation of the county and the subsequent loss of his life.

As E.W. Bush recalls the story, immediately after the General Assembly of Kentucky authorized the county, a convention of citizens was called at the village of Campton to decide on the location of the county seat.

There were two factions present, one faction contending for Campton, another for Hazel Green, which was at the time a thriving little mountain metropolis. Considerable argument ensued but Louallen Bush, addressing the crowd, finally obtained an agreement that the question be settled by vote. To further simplify the matter, he told those who were for Campton to line up behind him and those who were for Hazel Green to line up behind another man whose name has been forgotten.

This was done and when the ranks were counted, Campton won by a considerable majority the honor of being the county seat of the new county.

Peacemaker Killed

Most of the exponents of Hazel Green accepted defeat graciously enough, but there was one man so embittered over the loss he started an argument with a supporter of Campton - an argument which led to a contest of fist and skull. Louallen Bush, acting in the role of peacemaker, rushed in to separate the two men. As he was endeavoring to get between the two combatants, a man named Hen Davis from Owsley County darted up and for no reason that anyone ever found out, plunged a long-bladed dirk up to the handle under Bush's shoulder blade. Then without pausing long enough to retrieve his knife, he slid away with the furtiveness of a weasel. Bush was mortally wounded and died a few minutes later, an unfortunate victim to the cause he had fostered and brought to a successful conclusion.

That is the story of Campton's initiation into the order of county seats but insofar as Davis is concerned, there is a lurid sequel. In the excitement that followed the stabbing of Bush, he easily escaped, hid out in the hills of Owsley, thus evaded capture and punishment for his senseless, cowardly act.

At the time there was a young man living near Booneville by the name of Caywood. Caywood was a prosperous manof more than usual affluence and soon after the guns of the Civil War started booming in 1861, he enlisted in the Army, leaving his wife, Nancy, to assume the responsibilities of the plantation.

Nancy had a large sum of money which she kept hidden in a trunk. Somehow Davis found out about it and one day, answering a knock at the door, Nancy found herself staring wide-eyed into the barrel of a pistol.

On the other end of the gun was Hen Davis who ordered her under threat of death to get him the money. He should have forced her to tell where it was hidden and secured it himself, because when he permitted this courageous young woman to turn to the trunk, he sealed his doom.

As it happened, he followed Nancy into the house and was close behind when she bent down, opened the trunk, and reached inside. She didn't, however, come up with money. She came up, instead, with a cap and ball revolver which she knew how to use and was not hesitant about using it. Before the whiskey-dulled reflexes of the murderous Davis could react to the critical occasion, he was floored by a .44-caliber ball right between his eyes.

Bush, who heard the story many times from his grandmother, the widow of Louallen Bush, continued that fearing vengeance at the hands of Davis' relatives, Nancy Caywood hastily arranged for someone to care for the plantation, mounted a horse, and alone rode to safety over the mountains to Virginia where her husband was stationed in the Army. Nevyle Shackelford, a resident of Lee County, is a noted author and tale spinner of exceptional ability.

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