Murder on Puncheon Creek

By Stephen D. Bowling

So many stories, legends, and folklore of our heritage have been lost to time and apathy.  The stories of our lives are recorded mainly in our minds and memories.  Very seldom do these stories run headlong into pen and ink. As a result, many of these stories passed to their graves with us, never to be repeated, and never to be retold.

For nearly five generations following the Civil War, the stories of the great atrocities that occurred in our county have been told, embellished, and even fictionalized.  The knowledge of human nature to “tell things a little bigger than life” seems to be universal in many ways, but rarely are we able to verify the correctness of the stories that were told.

For once, we have been able to verify a portion of the story of the death of Alexander Herald, Jr. and Edwin Combs. Many generations of the Combs and Herald families have passed along the tragic stories of how their grandfathers met a tragic end during the War of the States. Until now, little or no verification has been found of these sad events.

Family legends tell that Herald and Combs were sitting together in front of a fire at Combs’ home between Shoulderblade and Puncheon Creek. The story goes that several men burst into the room and took both men outside and attempted to arrest them.  Herald refused to go and was shot in the head.  Combs was tied to a fence post and had his life threatened until he agreed to go along with the men peacefully.  While traveling across the Shoulderblade Hill toward the Middle Fork, Combs attempted to run away and was shot several times. He lingered in pain and died a few days later.

The events as related by the Combs family always had a degree of truth and personal knowledge to them, but there were no printed sources for the details. No details were known that is until the following article was found on page 1 of The Louisville Daily Journal dated April 28, 1862:

Assassination in Breathitt County
On the 11th inst., The Richmond Messenger says, two men living on Puncheon Creek, a tributary of the Middle Fork of the Kentucky River, were taken out of their homes and killed. 

Their names were Alexander Herald, Jr. and Edwin Combs.  They were tied and Herald was killed on the spot; Combs got loose at one time, broke to run, but was shot three times and died two days afterwards. 

He charged the murder of himself and Herald on three men named Rose, Bailey, and McIntosh, who have since been arrested. 

The parties killed and these charged with murder were all bad men, thieves, and marauders.  Rose, it is said, pretends that certain prominent citizens of the county, heretofore deemed respectable, connived at the tragedy.  No politics involved in the affair, all being secessionists.

The stories of the Herald and Combs families are basically proven.  Edwin Combs was shot and on April 11 and died on April 13 at the age of 33.  Alexander Herald, Jr. was killed instantly on April 11, 1862, at the age of 32. Both men were buried in the Alexander Herald Cemetery (also known as the Turner Cemetery) on Puncheon Creek.

A view of the Alex Herald Cemetery (also known as the Turner Cemetery) at Twin Gap on Puncheon Creek.

The validation of these old family stories makes the genealogists and historians stop and ask: “How many of the stories that are often dismissed by researchers are based in fact?” I would venture to say far more than we realize.

© 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, Civil War, Feuds, Murder and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Murder on Puncheon Creek

  1. Betty Estep says:

    Stephen, were these two men brother in laws? Edwin’s wife Sylvania was a sister to Alexander Herald, Jr. They were the children of Alexander and Elizabeth Turner Herald. Wonderful story.


  2. Reinke says:

    Stephen, Thank you for a great history lesson. I always enjoy the stories.


  3. Donnie W. Combs says:

    Edwin and Sylvania are my 3rd Great Grandfather and Grandmother. Since this was deemed a murder, is there any followup to the outcome of any trials for Rose, Bailey and McIntosh.


  4. Jenny Marsh says:

    I too am related to Alexander Herald and Edwin Combs. I just wonder why they were deemed “bad” men. The problem is that the older generation did not want to talk about things like this, and nothing was ever written down.
    Jenny Marsh (Herald)


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