Saturday, June 17, 2017

World War I Letters of Russell County, August 30, 1918

This letter originally appeared in the August 30th, 1918 issue of the Lebanon News.

"A. E. F. France, July 1918.

Dear Folks at Home:

Will try and drop you a few lines this morning as I am feeling fine and getting along splendidly.

Well how are things there now, very lonesome at home, I guess, since all the boys have left. I hope I will meet Steve and Silas over here sometime. We are at a different place now, but we are going to leave very soon. We get plenty of fresh air for we are sleeping in tents and it is very cool at night but very pleasant during the day. The wind got to blowing the other night and thought my tent was going and I had to get out and pin it down. It is fine to be over here, plenty of excitement and a continual roar of guns. We are going to get the Huns then come home, and I don't think it is going to take long to do it. Don't worry about me for I am doing my duty and I am going to continue to do it for I would rather be called anything but a slacker. Do you know the difference between a slacker and a custard pie? I don't guess you do so I will tell you. Both have a yellow streak but neither has crust enough to go over the top. But folks at home, you can say say you have a son that has crust enough to go over the top and I am going to keep that crust.

Do you hear from Silas and Steve very often? I haven't heard from them for some time. Tell them I want to meet them on the battlefield some day. Did you get the present I sent to my mother and sister? I guess you have, as I sent them about two months ago.

Your son,

Monday, June 5, 2017

Those Fabulously Unlucky Baker Boys

     James C. Baker was a well-to-do farmer in Russell County who married Highly Johnson sometime around the year 1838. They had at least seven children, including five sons: Joseph C. (b. 1839), Nathaniel D. (b. 1843), John (b. 1845), George (b. 1847), and William (b. 1851).

    Oldest son Joseph C. Baker joined the Union army on January 15th, 1863, enlisting in the 39th Kentucky Infantry. Twenty of Russell County's 38 Union soldiers served in the 39th Kentucky. At the time of his enlistment, Baker was 28 years old, six feet and a half inch in height, with a dark complexion and black hair and eyes. Two months later, on March 25th, he deserted the company in Russell County.

     Joseph Baker remained in Russell County and on November 4th, 1865, he married Martha Kilgore in Scott County. They had at least eight children together. While he was married to Martha, he apparently took up with Mary Louisa Deen, a woman 20 years younger than Baker. He maintained two families, having children by both women, for over 5 years, until Martha's death in 1880. He then married Mary Deen, eventually having at least 11 children with her.

     In the 1880 Census, Jame C. and Highly Baker are living next door to Joseph C. and his family by Martha Kilgore. Next door to them is the Deen family, with Mary, age 22, and four children, the oldest age 6. In the 1900 Census, children of both mothers are listed as Joseph's.

     Baker farmed and raised his family, living on Baker Ridge until 1919. On April 3rd of that year, Joseph's 40 year old son Joseph Hopkins Baker (called "Hop") killed his father with two shots to the chest.

     No explanation was given for Hop's action, although there was said to be a disagreement between Hop and his father about money, and there were rumors of "liquor habits" which "led them to wreck and ruin."

    On that fateful day, Hop and Joseph had argued, Joseph was disagreeable and had threatened to kill Hop, and had even drawn his gun on Hop. Hop, enraged, first attempted to kill his mother, missing her by so little that her dress was scorched. She dodged behind a mule and ran for the house, where she hid herself under the floorboards. Two other shots missed her. Hop then shot his father twice, and also fired at two other women who were at the house, missing them. Hop then made his escape.

     Hop made his way to Kentucky, where he bought a farm and lived until the summer of 1926, when deputy sheriff W. P. Horn, N. C. Meade, and Chas. Moneyhun captured him and returned him to Russell County for trial. The first trial resulted in a hung jury, with 10 for acquittal and two for conviction. Hop returned to Kentucky. A second trial later that year resulted in a conviction for manslaughter and a sentence of five years.

     Joseph C. Baker was not the only son of James and Highly to die an unnatural death. Brother John was stabbed to death. Brother William was "shot by a man by the name of Minton" in 1894. Brother Nathaniel suffered the same fate as Joseph C., being shot to death by his son, Bob Baker.

     Other family members also died young, brother George died at the age of 6 years of fever. Sister Sarah died at the age of 24. Robert J., a son of Joseph C. and Martha Baker, died at the age of two in 1877. Two other sons, by Mary Deen, George and Jasper, died in 1888 of flux.

     Hop lived until the age of 86, dying on Christmas Eve, 1960.