Who Wants Hay?

By Stephen D. Bowling

At about 5:00 p.m. on Saturday, November 18, 1916, John Asberry Spurlock died in one of the “very worst murders ever recorded in this county of Breathitt and they have been many.” The shooting took place about a mile from the mouth of South Fork near the house where Tom Smith killed Dr. Rader in 1895. Spurlock, a well-known “logman” and a once-wealthy timber contractor, died after being hit by numerous bullets fired from ambush while driving his springboard home from a day’s work in the woods.

Wiley Miller’s World War II Draft Registration card indicated that he worked for the Blue Diamond Coal Company in Bonnie Blue, Virginia. In World War I, he was listed as a short man of a medium build with dark brown hair and “light eyes.” In 1917, he was listed as “in prison charged with murder.”

The Breathitt County Grand Jury indicted four men for their involvement in the murder. The scheduled trial garnered a great deal of attention. After several delays and continuations, Judge Crawford called the case on November 24, 1916, but postponed the trial until the next term. The Court did not hear the case until April 1917, and the result was a hung jury by a vote of 11-1.

Out of the trial and jury debate came a very interesting story that appeared in the June 22, 1917 edition of The Jackson Times. The short article showed the humor that could be found in a grave decision made by twelve men and highlighted the reason for the hung jury in the following description of a true event:

Who Was the Jackass. 
The Jury in the case against Miller charged with the killing of old man John Spurlock had been out for long hours and the Court, thinking it must be tired and hungry ordered Deputy Sheriff, Sam Cockrill to see what they wanted in the way of provender for the inner man.  

The deputy, knocking on the door, and the foreman sticking his head out, Sam said: "Shall I order twelve full meals?"  "No" answered the tired and sleepy foreman, "make it eleven meals and a bail of hay, we've got one Jackass in here."
The grave of John Asberry Spurlock is in the Sam Spurlock Cemetery on Beverly Heights near Quicksand.

Following the hung jury and the hay episode, a change of venue moved the case to Winchester but seated a Powell County Jury to hear the evidence. Wiley Miller was convicted of murder in July 1918 and received a life sentence in prison for killing John Spurlock.

He served his time in prison, was released, and spent his last years working in the coal mines around St. Charles, Virginia. On March 8, 1956, Miller died of a cerebral hemorrhage at the age of 63 in Lee County, Virginia.

The name of the hungry four-legged juror did not survive the whispers of history. His identity is known only to those men in the deliberation room and Deputy Sheriff Cockrell.

The story lives on as one another example of our ancestor’s wit and their ability to find humor in every situation regardless of the severity of the times and the pressures of the age.

© 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, Jackson, Murder and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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