Killing “Bad John” Akemon

Private, Company B, 5th Kentucky Infantry, Confederate States Army

By Stephen D. Bowling

A portrait of John “Bad John” Akemon. Source- Lowell G. Morris 1997

John Akemon, III was born on February 9, 1843, near Barwick in Breathitt Co., Kentucky, to John, Jr. and Jane (Little) Akeman. The second of eight children, he attended the Moore School occasionally but worked on several farms around the Strong Branch and Crockettsville areas.

When the Civil War started in 1861, John Akemon joined Company D of the 5th Kentucky Infantry of the Confederate States Army under Captain Archibald Calloway Cope. He walked from Strong’s Branch to Jackson and enlisted on September 29, 1862, on the Hargis Fields (the Breathitt High School football field). When the companies were reorganized, Private John Akemon transferred to Company B on June 1, 1863, under the command of Captain William Tyler Barry South.

Akemon served in Company B under Captain William T. B. South guarding the roadways and mountain passes in Breathitt and Perry County. Their primary opposition was Major John C. Eversole of the 14th Kentucky Cavalry, who lived near Lead Branch near modern-day Chavies, Kentucky. While Akemon and his company were in Hansonville, Virginia, on August 10, 1863, the 5th Kentucky was ordered to proceed south to join the Army of Tennessee for defensive operations again Sherman in Georgia. That evening, John Akemon and a large number of his company slipped away and returned home preferring to stay “close to home and defend their own hearths.” He was listed as a deserter and never returned to service.

Over the next few years, he and a small band of men traveled the hills and hollows of the Barwick/Strong’s Branch area avoiding Federal Patrols, Union deserters, and others looking to make money from rounding up former Confederate soldiers. When the news came that the Civil War was over in 1865, the war in Breathitt County to settle old scores started.

Described as a “tall, handsome man with many features”, Akemon spent a lot of time with the young women. While he was employed as a farmhand on the farm of George W. Belcher at Crockettsville, a child was born on May 2, 1874, to Belcher’s daughter, Polly Ann. She claimed that Akemon was the father. He never denied it, and Mary Akemon grew up with Akemon as her father. There is some debate about the claim by some family members that the couple was married. The clerk’s office fire in 1873 eliminated any records of their possible marriage before Mary’s birth.

John Akemon did marry Evoline Raleigh (or Spicer) on June 4, 1880, at Elias Moore’s near Wolfcoal in Breathitt County, Kentucky. The couple was married for thirty-one years, producing 12 children.  

John Akemon was listed in the May 11, 1897 edition of The Owensboro Messenger as one of the murderers of Captain Bill Strong. He was never arrested or charged with the murder but never denied involvement.

Following the Civil War, John Akemon was linked to several feud-era engagements and several murders. Most notably, the newspapers connected Akemon to the Ned Callahan faction.

In May 1897, rumors connected Akemon and several others to the assassination of Captain Bill Strong near Sulphur Gap at Whick. No arrests were made and Akemon was never called to justice if he was involved.

An August 3, 1903 article in The Lexington Herald presented information about the unusual circumstances and the outrage that Raleigh’s pardon caused after the Governor did not enter it in his ledger books and did not offer an explanation of why it was granted.

John Akemon’s name appeared in several national newspapers after a tragic incident in 1901. Samantha Akemon, John Akemon’s 14-year-old daughter, met Joseph Raleigh on a secluded Breathitt County road. As the evidence presented at trial indicated, he made inappropriate advances toward her, and she refused. As she screamed and started to run away, Raleigh shot her in the back of the head and fled the scene.

Raleigh was convicted in the June 1901 term of the Breathitt County Circuit Court. Joseph Raleigh was ordered to serve life in prison for the murder. Without warning or application, Governor John C. W. Beckham granted Raleigh a full pardon on November 26, 1901, based on a letter written to the Governor by John Akemon. The only problem was – Akemon never wrote the letter. Whoever wrote the letter misspelled Akemon’s name when they signed it.

Akemon continued to look for an opportunity to even the score. Over the next few years, he was “shot at” numerous times and reportedly fired a few shots of his own at members of the Raleigh family. For all the blood, tragedy, and violence in his life, he never recovered from the murder of his daughter.

On September 21, 1911, Willie Bowling, William Amis, and a group of men made their way to the Akemon home about two miles above the mouth of Bush’s Branch near Altro. A few minutes after 5:00 p.m., they eased their way up to the back door where John Akemon was sitting with his family at the dinner table.

William “Blue Bill” Bowling was known as the man who killed “Bad” John Akemon.

The men burst into the room and started firing at John Akemon. Akemon reached toward the fireplace, picked up a ball-pein hammer, and hit Amis in the head. Amis staggered backward and fell to the floor near the door. He grabbed a poker and started swinging wildly at the attackers.

Seconds later, Willie “Blue Bill” Bowling and Abe Griffith burst into the room and started firing. They hit John Akemon several times, and one of the bullets passed through the stomach and bowels of Akemon’s son, Martin Akemon.

One report, later printed in The Jackson Times, was that the entire group had been drinking when a fight broke out between Akemon and Amis and that Bowling got involved in defense of his friend. Later testimony by the Akemon family and others proved that this version was incorrect.

The announcement of John Akemon’s death in The Mount Sterling Advocate on October 4, 1911, on page 6.

Having been shot numerous times and bleeding profusely, John Akemon staggered back to the table and sat down. The family stated that he picked up his spoon to take one more bite and his head fell forward into his plate. He was dead before his head hit the table. People from around the community came quickly to the Akemon home. Those who saw the kitchen described it as one of the bloodiest scenes ever seen with blood spattered on the walls and ceiling and puddled on the floorboards.

The military stone was placed for John Akemon in the Bush Cemetery. Subsequent research indicated that he was actually buried in the Moore-White Cemetery at Barwick.

George Martin Akemon, John’s son, lived a few hours and died from blood loss just before midnight on September 22, 1911. He and his father were buried on September 24, 1911, at the Akemon-Moore Cemetery, Barwick, Breathitt County, Kentucky.

Abe Griffith and his son, James were later arrested for their parts in the killing of John and Mart Akemon. They posted bonds and were released.

John Akemon’s grave was unmarked until the 1990s when a military stone was placed in another cemetery. Current efforts are underway to move the stone to his actual grave.

When John Akemon died, it was reported that he was one of the largest landowners in Breathitt County and that he carried numerous scars with bullets still lodged in his body from more than 20 shootings.

The house where the murder took place burned on February 29, 1967. “Bad John” Akemon has been nearly forgotten by many today, but he was a formidable feudist and a terror to many in Breathitt and surrounding counties.

John Akemon’s actual grave is unmarked in the Akemon section of the White and Moore Cemetery at Barwick. His father and mother and several brothers are buried near him.

© 2022 Stephen D. Bowling


About sdbowling

Director of the Breathitt County Public Library and Heritage Center in Jackson, Kentucky.
This entry was posted in Breathitt County, Feuds, Murder and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Killing “Bad John” Akemon

  1. Danny Raleigh says:

    My Grandmother use to tell me stories about John Akemon , her great grandfather. Her christian name was Evoline , she and my Grandfather ‘ Woodrow Wilson Raleigh’, were from Breathitt , Co. My Dad was born in Breathitt ‘Virgil Raleigh’ , near Sand Trap.


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