I have been awarded three trials, two of which have been reversed by the supreme court. . . . I am now preparing an appeal at a considerable cost. . . . I am now forced to call on my friends for means with which to fight this case. . . . I am absolutely innocent of the charge they have so unjustly imposed upon me.
Similar declarations issue from high-profile defendants involved in notorious civil or criminal cases, but this appeal arose in connection with the only assassination of a sitting state governor, Kentucky’s William J. Goebel, shot near the Old State Capitol on January 30, 1900.
The investigation into Goebel’s murder eventually resulted in trials that were as controversial as the governor himself. Among the accused were Caleb Powers, secretary of state to Republican William S. Taylor, Goebel’s electoral rival, and James B. Howard, who some believed had fired the fatal shot. Though both men were eventually pardoned, their lengthy and expensive legal battles prompted appeals for contributions to their defense funds. Howard’s letter, excerpted above, went out to postmasters in Kentucky urging them to “have some of our friends make a house to house canvass” for donations. In Simpson County, Republicans responded to Powers’ appeal with 50-cent to five-dollar donations ($15-$130 today), eliciting “warmest gratitude” from the jailed Powers. In a note to supporter Edwin L. Richards (the father of longtime WKU faculty member Frances Richards), Powers alluded to the hostile prison (and perhaps political) landscape he inhabited. “I am glad,” he wrote Richards, “you were at Frankfort and know of the conditions there.”
The letters of James Howard and Caleb Powers are part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives collections of WKU’s Special Collections Library. Click here to access a finding aid. For more collections involving Kentucky crime and politics, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.