Coroner's Inquest

The Tie That Binds

Coroner's Inquest

1 March 1859 Term of Circuit Court Hawesville, Hancock Co., KY

Cicero Maxwell Attorney for the Commonwealth was 'called out' by Thomas St. Clair Lowe. Apparently, Mr. Lowe felt he had somehow been insulted by Mr. Maxwell. Notes were exchanged in which Mr. Lowe challenged Mr. Maxwell. Apparently, John Aldridge was a friend of Mr. Lowe's and helped him. In the exchange of fire, John Aldridge was killed. Mr. Lowe was placed in a jail cell in the courthouse. Mr. Lowe was killed while in the jail cell by H. A. Davison and Thomas Withrow. The first row of pages is the coroner's inquest for John Aldridge's death. The second row contains the notes exchanged by Mr. Lowe and Mr. Maxwell; and the inquest into Mr. Lowe's death.



 Incident of 1 March 1859

Newspaper accounts of this gunfight made the papers from New York to the Carolinas and west as far as Detroit and down to New Orleans.

Newspaper accounts

"Bloody Affray at Hawesville, Ky." Evansville Daily Journal, issue 5 March 1859
"Desperate Affray at Hawyesville Kentucky" Franklin Repository, issue 9 March 1859
"Facts from Personal Witness" Louisville Daily Courier, issue 8 March 1859
"Killing of Lowe" Evening Star, issue 15 March 1859
"Something about Thomas S. Lowe" Detroit Free Press, issue 19 March 1859

Several months before the gunfight in Hawesville, at a political meeting in Cloverport, Kentucky, a dispute arose between Mr. Cicero Maxwell, of Hartford, Ky., Prosecuting Attorney for the District, and Mr. Thomas St. Clair Lowe, a merchant of Hawesville, Ky...

Below read an abstract of one of the newspaper accounts of this gunfight.

Kentucky Tragedy--Kentucky Chivalry

We have before briefly noted the horrible tragedy recently enacted at Hawesville, Ky., by murderous ruffians and a murdering mob.--The particulars are almost incredible, and show a blood-thirstiness and barbarity that should make fiends blush. Kentucky used to boast of her chivalry---it has culminated in assassination and mob-murder. The Hawesville tragedy is only the most revolting of a series of outrages which literally stamp Kentucky again as "the dark and bloody ground." The particulars are as follows:

Previous to the last August election a difficulty occurred between Thos. S. Lowe, a merchant of Hawesville, and Cicero Maxwell, candidate for Prosecuting Attorney. Lowe demanded an apology, or a duel. Both were declined. Lowe then threatened to horsewhip Maxwell at sight, but the difficulty was postponed, not settled. Last week the Court was in session at Hawesville. Maxwell was present. Lowe on Tuesday sent him a note on the subject of a challenge. Maxwell refused to communicate by note. Lowe's friend, as instructed, told Maxwell a street fight was the alternative, and asked if he would use long or short arms. Maxwell replied that he would appear when he pleased, and as it suited him; and would afford no other satisfaction.

Soon after Lowe appeared with three pistols in his left arm, and one in his right hand, approached the crowd which was near the Court House, and in a loud voice said:--"If Cicero Maxwell is in the crowd, or in the sound of my voice, let him come forth. He has stated that I am a political juggler. In return, I pronounce him a liar, a calumniator, and a coward." This he repeated several times. The Louisville Journal adds:

Maxwell, accompanied by Messrs. Harris and Morton, of Hartford; Thos. Withrow, of Hawesville, and Judge Mayhill, of Hawesville, left his room; Maxwell armed with a double-barreled shot gun, Mayhill with a rifle, and the two others with pistols. Maxwell, as soon as he got within shooting distance of Low, fired at him. The shot struck Lowe on the left breast, but he was protected by a coat of mail, which was given him by Judge Stuart, of Bradenburg. Lowe immediately returned fire, and then wheeled and fled. He ran into a crowd at the Court House, where Hon. J. H. McHenry, of Owensboro, made a speech, invoking the citizens to do no violence, but to let the law take its course.

Lowe afterwards took refuge in a widow's house, but Maxwell's friends pursued him, demanding him of the widow, and, threatening, in case of refusal, to demolish her house. She told them he was there, but entreated them not to injure her house, as she had no power to remove him. Three of Maxwell's friends went into the house, and assured Lowe that if he would go out with them he should not be hurt. Lowe, asking them to spare his life, left with them, but after his proceeding some distance, the crowd commenced firing. One of Maxwell's friends then said to Lowe that he could no longer risk his own life to save his. Lowe ran and called on Harris to follow him, pursued by the crowd, who continued firing.--

Aldridge, a friend of Lowe, ran with him and fired once or twice at the pursuing crowd. He was instantly killed by a shot through the head. Lowe was shot through the thigh, and  had a finger shot off, and his clothes were literally riddled, his life being saved by his coat of mail.-- He ran down to the bank of the Ohio, where he fell in a state of exhaustion, followed by the crowd. He fell on his face as if killed. Thomas Withrow had fired at him in the pursuit until his shots were exhausted, and after Low was run down, ran up to him and cut at him with a knife, but the coat of mail prevented the penetration of the weapon. This coat of mail, which was of steel, was so closely linked that a pigeon shot could scarcely penetrate it, and it extended up over the whole of the back part of his head, being concealed by a thick wig.-- Harris, Maxwell's friend, went to Lowe to protect him. One man presented a pistol, swearing that he would kill Lowe, but Harris knocked the pistol up, and it was discharged in the air. Maxwell then went up to Lowe and asked him if he would retract what he had said of him. Lowe replied that he retracted everything he had said, and that he was a coward and had disgraced himself. Thereupon Maxwell appealed to his friends not to hurt Lowe, stating that the latter had done all he could wish him to do. The appeal had its effect, and Lowe was conducted before Judge Stuart at the court house.

Judge Stuart made a speech to the crowd, telling them that they would have to walk over his dead body to do any further injury to Lowe-- that Lowe had surrendered himself to him and should be protected by him. A surgeon was sent for and Lowe's wounds were dressed at the court house. Judge Stuart then took him to the jail and remained with him till half past ten P.M. Nothing further occurred during the night. The next morning Lowe sent for Harris and thanked him for his protection. He was still afraid of the mob and begged Harris' influence in behalf of himself, his wife and his children. In the meantime a rumor became current in the streets that Lowe had threatened to kill the last man of the mob, at the risk of his own life, as soon as released. Thomas Withrow and Dr. Davidson went to Mr. Oldham, the jailor, and demanded the keys of the jail. He refused to comply with the demand, whereupon they pointed their pistols at his breast and said they would kill him if the keys were not surrendered. He surrendered them and the two men went to Lowe's cell and unlocked the door. The prisoner in the adjoining cell saw them enter. Lowe, who was lying upon his bed, begged for mercy, beseeching them to spare his life for the sake of his wife and children. The prisoner of the neighboring cell states the tall man [Withrow] shot first, and the short man [Davidson] next. The two then passed out of the cell, but immediately went back, and each fired two more shots. Any one of the six shots would have been mortal. Two balls were lodged in Lowe's body, and on in his head.

The jail assassins of Lowe were not even arrested, and the Grand Jury of Hopkins county refused to find a bill against them. It is stated that several citizens have left Hawesville, fearing violence from the outlaws. No wonder they should do so.

Later.--The Louisville Journal of the 7th publishes the report of the Grand Jury. Their theory for not finding an indictment against the assassins of Lowe is, that he had made threats that he would kill those who tried to kill him, and that therefore they murdered in self-defense! It was in testimony that Lowe was unsubdued in spirit in jail, and swore he would kill all who had taken part against him in the affray. It was also proved that he wore a coat of mail in the fight that resisted pistol shots, musket balls, and bowie knives.

Abstracted from The Cleveland Daily Leader, issue 9 March 1859

Updated 6 February 2020  Contact Virginia L. Aldridge