Wednesday, May 26, 2021

The Killing of Joseph Beck

Around 9:00 a.m. on or about August 27, 1862, Champ Ferguson and his men returned to the home of my third great-grandfather, Elisha Koger, whom they had brutally murdered almost thirteen weeks earlier, on June 1st. Ferguson called out from beyond the fence that surrounded the home. No doubt, hearing his voice terrified Elisha's widow, Nancy. After all, Ferguson and his men had shot her husband more than thirty times. His body was a bloody mess by the time the shooting stopped. He took his last breath lying in the arms of his daughter, Sarah, who was covered in his blood.

Nancy sent her sister, Jane, to the door. Ferguson wanted to know if any other armed men had passed by that way that morning. Jane replied she had seen no one. As he turned to leave, Ferguson told her he and his band had killed a man near there. "I don't know him myself, but some of the men say it is Joe Beck," he said. Ferguson told her that Beck's hat and coat were lying in a little drain beside the road and his body was lying about thirty yards from there. He also said he had taken a Colt rifle from Beck after his death. The location was about a mile from the Koger home in the Oak Grove Community of Clinton County, Ky near the top of Poplar Mountain. Nancy, Jane and a young man who was at the Koger home, Marion Purcell, walked up the road and found the body just as Ferguson had described. Nancy would soon deliver the news to his wife, Elizabeth.

During Ferguson's trial at the end of the Civil War, both Nancy and Jane recounted what they saw when they found Beck's body, but no one outside the victim, Ferguson and his men witnessed the event. Even after his conviction, in interviews with reporters where he gave details about all of his killings, reporters forgot to ask about the killing of Joseph Beck, and Ferguson did not offer any details.

In his book, "Cumberland Blood: Champ Ferguson's Civil War" (2008), Thomas D. Mays claims that Beck had been a daring Union soldier who had dogged Colonel John Hunt Morgan's command and showed no fear of Ferguson or his men, who were part of the forces under Morgan, but that his luck had run out when he was surprised on the road that day. I wonder about that because there is nothing known about his military stance or activities (at least I haven't seen anything), except that the army ruled that Joseph was killed in the line of duty, which qualified his widow, Elizabeth, for a pension. Beck, who was born in Wayne County in 1817, had enlisted at Camp Hoskins in Pulaski County on Oct. 15, 1861 and was assigned to Capt. Payne's company G, 12th regiment of the Kentucky Infantry.

Joseph Beck's brother-in-law, Jesse Rector, and his wife, Nancy, were the parents of Daniel Webster Clay Rector, whose wife, Laura, was the sister of my great grandmother, Hettie Huffaker Frost.

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