Friday, August 19, 2022

Face to Face With Champ Ferguson

John Garner had only been enrolled in school at Albany, Ky about six months when the civil war broke out, and had just recently left school and en­listed as a Union soldier the day he stood face to face with the infamous Champ Ferguson. It would be an encounter he would never forget.

After enlisting on New Years Day in 1863, two weeks shy of his 20th birthday, John had become concerned about his younger brother, Henderson, whom he had left behind in Clinton County, which was being terrorized by Confederate guerillas, including Ferguson, whom he described as a notorious human demon. Ferguson's killing spree lasted most of the war, from November 1861 to April 1865. Some of the killings were brutal and all were without mercy, with the victim usually face-to-face with him.

Determined to get his brother out of Clinton County, John dressed in civilian clothes and made his way on foot from Liberty to Somerset, and then to Albany, avoiding all public roads. His aunt, Betsy, lived in town, and his intention was to quietly slip into her home and stay hidden until she could fetch his brother for him. At the end of a wooded area in town, there was a cornfield which led up to his aunts garden. He could see her home from there, and noticed a few people were walking further down the street, but no one was near the home. Quietly, he ventured into the cornfield. Once he reached the garden, he stopped again to survey of the town. Seeing no danger, he crossed a fence and stepped into the back door of the house.

Upon seeing her nephew, Betsy threw up both hands and exclaimed, “The Lord have mercy, John what are you doing here?” He replied, "I am after Henderson. Where is he?” ‘'Gone and joined the army long ago,” she replied. “Which army?” he asked. “The Union Army,” she said. As Betsy John something to eat, suddenly there was gunfire and the clatter of horses feet, which seemed to be within very close range. John ran out on the porch, intending to get the house between him and town so he could make his getaway back into the cornfield. Suddenly, he was standing face to face with Champ Ferguson, whose pistol was drawn and pointed at him.

Champ: “What are you running for?"
John: ‘I am not run­ning, sir.”
Champ: “Where were you going?”
John: “I heard the clatter of horses feet and stepp­ed out here to see what was going on."
Champ: “Let me catch you running and you're a dead man."
John: “All right, if you catch me running, fire away.”

Betsy watched from inside the house as Ferguson whisked his horse and dashed back up the street. Both she and John were shaken up by what had just taken place, but now wasn't the time to talk about it. As Champ turned out of sight, John said goodbye to his aunt and began making his way through the tall green corn and into the woods. He remembered seeing at least a half dozen of Ferguson's men waiting in the street as he spoke to their captain. He realized any one of them might have recognized him as being a member of Col. Frank Wolford's Calvary had they come in­to the yard. He also realized how close he came to having his life taken from him, because he had heard that Ferguson took no prisoners, but cruelly murdered them.

After reaching the woods, John stopped and looked back toward town. He saw several people dashing about. Some were firing shots into the air. Feeling that he was now safe, he made his way to Rowena, where he boarded a steamboat bound for Burnside. A year later, John found his brother, Freeman, serving with the 6th Kentucky Cavalry.

When the war ended, John W. Garner became a minister in the Church of Christ faith and married Mary Freels of Wartburg, TN, a second cousin to Abraham Lincoln's mother, Nancy. They moved to Beloit, Kansas, but by 1895 were living in Perkins, Oklahoma, where John established a church and pastored there a few years before becoming an evangelist. John died in 1937 when he was 94 years old. His brother, Henderson, had also migrated west after the war. He died in Washington State in 1926. They were the sons of Freeman and Rachel Garner, who are buried at Tateville Baptist Church Cemetery in Pulaski County, Ky.

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