The Ross, Huff, Shelton, Ball & Boggs Killings of December 1862

Submitted by Marlitta H. Perkins

'Eat hearty, men, for this will be the last meal you will ever eat.' 
During the fall of 1862, James Ross, Hiram Huff, Wash Shelton, Mint Ball and a man named Boggs (plus several others) were said to be members of a Lawrence Co. Home Guard unit which hailed mainly from the Caines Creek area in Lawrence Co. KY. On or shortly before December 15, 1862, Ross and his men went to Carter County (present-day Elliott Co.) to raid the homes of John Barker, Azzle Lyons (Ross' brother-in-law) and Preston Fields. John Barker was targeted first who lived on Wallow Hole Creek, a tributary of the Little Fork of Sandy River. It was almost night when they arrived at Barker's house who was at home at the time, but luckily for him Ross' and his men had 'confiscated' (stolen) a yoke of oxen along the way, and the sound of the yoke ring, as they approached, gave the alarm and Barker fled to the willows along the nearby creek and escaped. Next, Ross and his men went to the homes of Azzle Lyons and Preston Fields who were both on leave from the Confederate service at the time. Both were captured. The prisoners were marched several miles. It was said that James Ross marched behind Azzle Lyon and punched his ears almost off with his bayonet along the way. There was no doubt in the minds of Azzle Lyon and Preston Fields that they were facing imprisonment, or worse, death. Late at night the party lodged in the second story of a farm house, with James Ross as guard. According to sources, this was Sink Roberts' farm on Catt Fork of Blaine Creek.

Sink Roberts' House on Catt Fork

Meanwhile, Preston Fields' wife Minerva "Nerva" Green Fields had saddled a horse as soon as Ross and his men had left their farm with the prisoners, and rode several miles to find Captain Jack Marcum and helped him round up a few men who began searching for Ross and his prisoners. Incidently, Captain Marcum was Sink Roberts' son-in-law. They found the raiders, surrounded the house and captured them before daylight without firing a single shot. James Ross tried to break out through the roof - without success. They were disarmed and placed under guard of their former prisoners. Capt. Marcum had breakfast prepared for his men and the prisoners. When they sat down at the table he said, 'Eat hearty, men, for this will be the last meal you will ever eat.' James Ross reportedly pushed back from the table and ate nothing. After breakfast, Captain Marcum set out with his prisoners by way of Dry Fork to Bruin, a tributary of Little Sandy. When the little column reached the head of Wells Branch, a narrow hollow near the place where Lawrence, Carter, and Elliott Counties come together, Ross, Ball, Shelton and Huff were shot to death and stripped naked. Their bodies were placed in a shallow mass grave and covered with flat rocks.

View of Wells Branch

Several days later, on December 30, 1862, the bodies were discovered. Robert Ross found the body of his brother James and brought it back to Caines Creek to have it layed to rest in the Boggs Cemetery. James Ross' grave is marked but the stone has become nearly illegible over time. The remaining bodies were reburied on Wells Branch in unmarked graves. One of the graves was located near the road going to Shine Gambill's grist mill. The story doesn't end here... On April 30, 1863, James Ross' son David, enlisted in Co. B, 14th KY to avenge his father's death, as is surmized by some. In February of 1865, his chance finally came. According to fellow comrade Dr. Nelson T. Rice [formerly Co. B, 14th KY] Ross shot and killed Hugh S. Sparks, a member of Field's Rangers [CS] and later of Captain William Horton's Co. M, 10th KY Cavalry [CS]. Although it isn't clear that Hugh S. Sparks actually participated in the killing of James Ross and his men, he certainly had knowledge of the grizzly deed. Shortly after the murders, Sparks and his little son Colby were passing the graves on Wells Branch. Sparks sang, `Ha! Ha! Ha! Don't you see me now crying to free the niggers, when the Rebels pulled the triggers, and sent you on your way to the happy land of Canaan.' Colby Sparks recalled that, 'While father sang, he had me dance on their graves.' As to some of the other involved Confederates - Azzle Lyon hurriedly left Eastern Kentucky after the killings and moved to MO, presumably to avoid capture and/or the wrath of his nephew David Ross and local Union militia. He drowned in Randolph Co., Missouri about 1883. Preston Fields also left Kentucky and moved to Ozark, Christian Co., MO, where he died on March 09, 1877, only 37 years of age. Background Information Union It was said that these men were responsible for the arrest and imprisonment of some of their neighbors. At least one of the men was known as a thief and for his "general cussidness." All four, according Colby Sparks, were "noted characters." James Mintens [Mint] Ball: Son of James Ballard Ball and Nancy Breeding. Wife Cynthia "Syntha" Lewis. Rev. Elza Ball (great-grandson of Mint Ball) stated that Mint and the others were on their way to Louisa to enlist when they were captured and killed (also stated by Dr. Sparks). Boggs: Not identified; may have been Hugh Boggs who was killed by John L. Sparks (a first cousin to Hugh S. Sparks) on April 24, 1865. Son of William Boggs Sr. and Anna Johnson. Hiram Huff: Listed with his brother Washington Huff in the 1850 Morgan Co. KY Census. (Washington Huff was killed November 1861 at Brammer Gap in an ambush by men who had been recruited by Jack Marcum and Jerry Riffe. Hiram Huff and Wash Shelton were supposedly part of this Union patrol that was attacked). Son of James and Arian Huff; Married to Celia Dyer; Former member of the 14th KY Inf., Co. H. Hiram Huff enlisted on Oct. 25, 1861 at Louisa, Law. KY and was discharged March 12, 1862 at Paintsville, Johnson Co. KY for poor eyesight. He later was wanted in Johnson Co. KY for counterfeiting. Constant companion of Wash Shelton from about 1861 until their deaths in 1862. James Ross: May have been member of a Lawrence Co. Home Guard unit (as stated by Polly Lyons). It was said that James Ross (with Mint Ball) was on his way to enlist in the army when killed (as stated by Rev. Ball and Dr. Sparks). His wife was Sarah Lyon, sister to Azzle, Lewis and Jesse Lyons. Sarah Lyon Ross stated in her pension application in 1880, that Ross had just enlisted in Co B, 14th Ky Inf. at Louisa and was guarding prisoners (rebels) when he and his companions were in turn captured and killed. Service Records of the 14th Ky Infantry do not substantiate this claim. Wash Shelton Shelton was listed in 1860 in the Magoffin County Census. His profession was given as doctor. Was indicted and fined in Lawrence Co. KY as living in dishonorable circumstances with a woman. Listed in Magoffin County in 1860 as a married man. Was with Hiram Huff when his brother Washington Huff, member of the 14th KY, Co. B, was shot at Brammer Gap on November 25, 1861, during a scout. It is said that Hiram Huff and Wash Shelton were constant companions until their death in 1862. On December 30, 1861, CS General Humphrey Marshall reported from Johnson Co. KY to General S. Cooper that he had arrested Dr. Shelton ("Chilton") and had sent him off to Pound Gap. "He ought to have been shot, for he is one of the very worst men in this country and has been a scourge to our friends." Confederate John (Albert) Barker: Brother-in law of Preston Fields. Barker married Frances Fields on October 30, 1845 in Lawrence County, Kentucky. Preston Fields: Son of William Jason Fields and Anna Creech. B. January 11, 1840; d. March 09, 1877, Ozark, Christian Co., MO. On January 15, 1860, Preston married Minerva "Nerva" Jane Green [dau. of William Green and Sally Hutchinson; her sister Elizabeth was married to Union soldier Nelson T. Boggs (Co. B, 14th KY Inf.)] Preston Fields was a first cousin to Jason Fields, commander of Fields' Rangers (CS). His sister Mary Fields was married to Henderson Boggs, a brother of Nelson T. Boggs. Azzle/Azel Lyons: Son of Louis [Lewis] Lyon, Sr. and Linna Grizzell of Law. Co., KY; He married Lucinda Lyons on May 15, 1856. Captain A. J. "Jack" Marcum : B. ca. 1822 in Kentucky. Son of James Marcum & Dicey Chapman. Married Marinda Roberts, d/o St. Clair Roberts & Anna Stambaugh. Enumerated in the 1860 Lawrence Co. KY census. Enlisted in Co. C, 5th KY Inf. (CS) on Dec. 27, 1861, at Camp Hager near Paintsville, KY. Discharged due to a skull injury, June 13, 1862. He apparently continued to serve in the Confederate army as he was indicted by the Lawrence Co. Court for "invading the State" in April 1863. In April 1864, Marcum, William Wright and others were indicted for "arson and grand larceny". Hugh S. Sparks: Son of George G. and Nancy (Short) Sparks; born on May 21, 1829, in Lawrence County, Kentucky. He lived in Carter Co. KY; Enlisted in Co. C, 5th KY Inf. (CS). Captured by Union forces, September 1, 1862, in Lawrence County, and sent to Camp Chase, Ohio. Exchanged at Vicksburg on November 1, 1862. Sparks joined Field's Company of Partisan Rangers in Lawrence County on March 16, 1863. In January 1865, Field's Company of Partisan Rangers was reorganized as Company M, 10th Regiment Kentucky Cavalry, Confederate States Army, at which time the regiment was furloughed and many of the men returned to their homes. It seems quite likely that Hugh Sparks was home in February 1865, just before peace was made, as Colby Sparks remembered. Sparks left home again in February 1865 to re-join his unit and never returned. It is reasonable to assume that he was killed about that time by David Ross. Other "Sink" Sinclare (St. Clair) Roberts: Migrated from Tazewell County, VA to Lawrence County, KY and settled on a land grant in the Little Catt section. Became a prosperous farmer and business man who traded livestock and owned race horses. Served two terms as representative in the KY Legislature. Roberts was a controversial figure, noted for his outgoing personality and unusual sense of humor. Southern sympathizer during the Civil War. Granted land for the McDaniel School on Little Catt, as well as several other schools. Later removed to Carter County, KY where he died at the age of 93. Edison "Shine" Gambill:Husband of Matilda Boggs (dau. of Hugh Boggs and Hannah Blevins). For years he had owned and operated the grist mill and carding mill at Blaine. Died July 1927, 94 years old. Article compiled and researched by Marlitta H. Perkins