The Courier-Journal, February 26, 1883



An Authentic Review of the Reign of Murder and Rapine

Enjoyed For Years by the Sullivan-Campbell Gang in Caldwell County.

The Terrible Retribution That Swept Them from the Face of the Earth.
Mary Sullivan's Tragic Death Ended a Career Not Equaled in History.

[Correspondence of the Courier-Journal.]

PRINCETON, Feb. 25.--Not long since the whole State was startled and horrified by a succession of outrages committed in this county, and certain sensational articles, largely mythical and wholly inaccurate, which appeared soon thereafter in various papers, served to mystify the public and cast a shadow upon the horizon of a peace-loving and law-abiding community, while, indeed, there was only a question of strength between a lawless band of desperadoes--who persisted in taking the lion's share of their neighbors' earnings--and the honest portion of a community. The long-continued depredations had become intolerable, and even life was unsafe, in a section ruled by a well-organized band of fearless men, bent upon rapine and murder. The citizens got the best of the fight, and though possible going from one extreme to another, only succeeded in ridding the county of a despotic clan. Learning that the riddance was at last complete, and the long-feared band gone for good--some to a reckoning in a world to us unknown, others northward across the Ohio, your correspondent obtained an interview with three of the chief citizens, regulators or rectifiers, whatever name may best suit them, one of whom was a Justice of the Peace before whom the offenders were repeatedly arraigned. After assuring them that no harm was intended them, I succeeded in getting a sworn statement of the facts which have caused such a commotion in this end of the State. The men were implicated in the affair, but seemed to feel no twangs of conscience; on the contrary, expressing satisfaction at the completion of their work, with regrets only that it could not be done without blood-letting. It may not be amiss to give the readers of the COURIER-JOURNAL a correct and brief sketch of the misdeeds of


ever organized in a civilized community, and the terrible retribution that overtook them.

About eighty years ago, when the panther and the bear preyed upon the more timid inhabitants of the dense forests along the banks of the Tradewater and the Donaldson, a branch of the former, in this county and Hopkins, unmolested by man; when civilization was yet afar with its harmony of discord and the instruments of progress, a few families ventured to the fertile bottoms on the Donaldson and squatted, pitching their tents for weal or woe. Soon a happy little community sprang up with bright hopes and well-omened surroundings. This little colony, which, though rough and untutored, possessed many facilities and bid fair to build up a prosperous community speedily, and continued to flourish for thirty years or more, from time to time receiving immigrants and extending its bounds of civilization. Among the newcomers who had selected the Donaldson as a choice spot for squatting, was a family whose name was Campbell. The Campbells joined fortunes with the rest, and proceeded to clear a farm and follow agricultural pursuits for a livelihood, and for several years continued to keep up, at least, the appearances of honest, industrious citizenship, until a member, J. T. Campbell, became the head of the family. This man was a brother to Jane Sullivan, and kin to the three boys who later became so notorious, and two of whom were killed.

This man continued to work industriously, but soon became recognized as an expert thief. Assisted by his sister Jane, and her lovers--of whom she had many--Campbell became


and the scourge of the settlement, and their reputation extended from county to county, all through the section. They continued to rob the neighborhood, from time to time, but with such crafty secrecy and perfect plotting, that, although known to be robbers, no one could catch them, and the bar of justice avoided no more than a bar of sand on the chameleon shores of the Donaldson. The law could not punish them until their guilt was proven, and with regular relay posts, and omnipresent witnesses ever ready to establish an alibi, it was no easy matter to fasten guilt upon the craftiest and most expert woodsmen in the whole settlement.

The Campbells, feeling that suspicion rested upon the, emigrated several times, leaving the unsuspected members to watch opportunities. But each time they returned and resumed their calling of theft and robbery. On one of these emigrating tours Jane Campbell met one Sullivan, who fell in love with her, and, as the Campbells had the appearances of being rather of the better class of settlers, followed her to her home on the Donaldson and made his headquarters at old man Campbell's. He soon began to live with Jane as husband and wife, all the rest of her lovers being outstripped in her affections by the handsome stranger, and built for themselves a cabin near the one owned by J. T. Campbell. For several years they lived thus, Sullivan becoming one of the leaders in the Campbell clan, assisting in the lawless work which extended to the neighboring settlements in the three counties of Caldwell, Hopkins and Webster. The band increased in numbers and cunning from year to year, until Sullivan, tiring of his amazonian paramour, abandoned her and her three children and left the State. She followed him, and for a short time the robberies were confined to petty thieving; but,


Jane Sullivan, as she called herself, returned, and, calling her former lovers around her, soon exceeded anything in the way of outlawry before committed. The three children, two of whom, Mary and Nancy, figured prominently in the late outrages, were, together with the three Campbell boys, trained in all the arts known to the sneak thief, the highwayman, the burglar and the horse-thief, and at the same time were taught to carry their lives in their hands and fear no man. And now commenced a series of robberies, that for lawlessness and bloody intent would make the hair of a veritable Robin Hood rise in holy horror. Jane Sullivan made her cabin the chief rendezvous for consultation, and, assisted by quite a number of young women, she managed to locate whatever plunder they could dispose of, and also to keep the men well informed as to when and where to expect officers or vigilants. From her cabin the band sallied forth to prey upon any and everything, and, ere they returned, the plunder would be started on its way out of the neighborhood to find a market. But it was not until the sons of J. T. Campbell and Mary Sullivan reached man and womanhood that the band was thoroughly organized in all of its strength and completeness, and all of its daring and impudence allowed to show itself. Old man Campbell had ever been a meek, hard-working citizen, making no threats and drawing no blood, leaving that part for the Sullivans, and even they were not very quick to attempt life. Feeling their influence too weak to admit of open avowal, they had always proclaimed their innocence and wormed out of trouble. But when the younger generation were grown, they scorned the weakness of the elder robbers, and


Riley, Buck and Bud Campbell and Mary Sullivan became the formidable leaders of the band, and the long pent-up viciousness and bravado of their ancestors, augmented by assurance of numbers, cunning and successful baffling of the law, broke forth in open declarations and defiance. The Sullivan woman attracted unwary men to their den, and when caught spun around them a web of guilt that ever afterward identified them with the band and forced them to act with the robbers or be pointed out as the robbers themselves, and with the three daring riders to lead and the Sullivan woman to goad, a formidable organization was kept up, which insured success and security from the clutches of the law, and at the same time was numerous enough to place their stolen goods upon the market at a distance, without the absence of a single member of the suspected portion of the band. From this time on, for a period of about six years, the raids were complete and nothing were secure. Old man Campbell became wealthy, and the numerous younger members were flush all the time. The men practiced with all kinds of fire-arms until they asked no better mark than the eye of a man at full range, and when they ventured abroad, which they did constantly, they resembled animated arsenals more than citizens of a civilized community.


with their weapons, handled them with as much swagger, and exercised as much cunning as ever female private did in times of yore. A house visited by the officers upon on occasion when the masculine portion of the household was absent was found to contain more than a score of breech-loaders and pistols, all kept in the best possible order. The room had the appearance of an armory. Upon two other occasions, Mary Sullivan, when escorted by officers and warned to leave the county, drew her pistol and dared them to do battle with her, plainly telling them that she feared no man. They appropriated everything from a shoestring to a cow's hide, with the respected bovine inside of it from a pocket-handkerchief to a stock of dry goods, from a potato to a corn-bin, from a kitten to a race-horse. But after having spirited away the plunder, some of the members would throw themselves in the way of arrest and then produce their ever-ready witnesses to clear them, and in the meantime those to whose custody the plunder was consigned would get beyond reach of detection. The various members, often the leaders themselves, were repeatedly arraigned before the tribunals of the county, ranging from a Justice of the Peace to the Circuit Court, but always with like result. Not one was ever convicted, although well known at the bar of every Justice in the north end of the county. However vigilant the officers, however earnest the efforts of law and its ministers, they all failed, and when the law was abandoned as utterly futile, the citizens determined to make an effort. Accordingly officers were directed to go the Campbells and others and direct them to leave or take the consequences. About this time the band


that could not convict, and as for the indignation of the citizens, they held it in contempt; and instead of running off with all of the stolen plunder, they opened a grocery, which was kept by Riley and Bud Campbell in person, and which served as a rendezvous for the band and the double purpose of a gambling-hell[hall] and storage point. They organized a circle of communication through several neighborhoods, and joined forces in one extended body.

As an instance of the insolence of this band, it is related that upon one occasion, having stolen the meat from a farmer's smoke-house, it was left in an adjacent wood for convenient removal, where it was found and recovered by the owner. Over the meat was a robe, which he also took, and shortly afterward received a note, signed by one of the Campbells, demanding the robe, and forbidding him to disclose the name of the robber. Again, upon the occasion of the arrest of a member, one of their witnesses, an old woman, did not swear as strongly as they deemed necessary, and that night she was taken out and brutally beaten. Once more, when a recruit was to be supplied with lodging, they visited a neighbor's house in the day, while the family were out, and took a bed with all of its furniture.

During the winter of 1881-82 their deeds became so bold and of such frequent occurrence that 100 men, among whom were found the best, wealthiest and most peaceable citizens, including peace officers, Justices, etc., met, and after consultation, determined to adopt some method of protection, deciding to first apprise the Campbell-Sullivan clan of their intent and


within a definite time; but the Campbell boys heard of the meeting through their emissaries and sent dares to the various leaders of the regulators, offering to count heads and also to try strength, saying: "Come on, and we will see who can raise the most men and who has the strongest party." The citizens, astounded and timid, made no further demonstrations for several weeks, and the band, thinking the regulators intimidated, held high carnival and reveled in boldest crimes of almost every description. They kept themselves well posted as to the movements of the officers and regulators, and issued a command that no citizen should dare to accuse them of crime, threatening those as should with death.

In the summer of 1882 the band was more scattered, as they pretended to be farmers and live by the sweat of their brow; for, although defying detection and punishment as a band, individually they preferred to be law-abiding citizens. But Riley and Bud Campbell continued to run the grocery and boarded with McNeely, who lived within a few feet of the grocery, and Mary Sullivan with one or two men occupied the other rendezvous. About the middle of July the regulators met once more, and planned out a course which was to be followed until the band should be driven from the State. Accordingly, written notices delivered by 100 armed men to each of the leaders informed them of the decree, but the Campbells laughed and answered as before: "Come on when you are ready to die," and commenced getting ready to defend themselves against the regulators.

On election day, August 7, 1882, the Campbells sent runners to each voting precinct in the three counties, and the regulators did the same, but no open violence was attempted by either party until after 8 o'clock in the evening. About that hour, as a party of the regulators were riding over the road leading from Princeton to Donaldson, and which passes the Campbell grocery, while passing through a ravine just before reaching the grocery,


was fired at them, but fortunately the darkness disconcerted the aim of the assassins and the bullets passed harmlessly over their heads. The regulators galloped away, and before the assassins could reload were beyond range, and they proceeded directly to the appointed rendezvous. Before the night was half over the regulators were collected in full force, determined to act, and, marching to the McNeely house, surrounded it. Ten men were stationed in front of the door with cocked guns, and, when in obedience to an order the door was opened, ten ominous muzzles met the gaze of the inmates. The regulators demanded an unconditional surrender of the Campbells, who, instead, presented arms and immediately a fight began. Riley Campbell, grappling with the men who were trying to enter, seized one of the guns and sought to wrench it from the hands of the owner. The rest fired at him, when Bud stepped forward, and, pointing his gun over the falling body of his brother, shot Hise Johnson, an estimable young man, through the chest, making a wound from which he died shortly afterward. As soon as Johnson fell the regulators turned their attention to him, and the Campbells retreated up the stairway. When Johnson had been cared for the house was again surrounded and the Campbells ordered out, and when they refused to come out McNeely and his family, consisting of his wife, two grown daughters and other children, came out, and the roof of the house was ignited, the Campbells remaining upstairs until the roof began to fall in, when they descended with cocked weapons, Riley, who was seriously wounded, surrendered and was disarmed, but Bud hesitated, and the enraged regulators, tired of being deprived of vengeance,


and he fell weltering in his own heart's gore. He was dragged from the burning house and carried across the street and left lying the door of his own store, where he was found at daylight. Riley was then mounted behind one of the regulators and carried about two miles from the scene of the conflict, and, after confessing the names of his accomplices, was hung to the nearest limb and left for the first wayfarer to find after daylight. The list of accomplices contained many names before unsuspected, and number among them esteemed men, several of whom were recognized as having mingled with the regulators. The regulators disbanded, and in their characters of citizens, paid every attention to their fellow comrade, Johnson. The remains were brought to Princeton for interment, and the ceremony was performed in the presence of an extraordinary large crowd, among whom were the best citizens of Princeton and surrounding vicinity, who, though not indorsing the application of mob law, could but regret the sacrifice of an estimable citizen in effecting what the law was powerless to accomplish.

The regulators, without further violence, notified the chief remaining bandits to depart, allowing them time, however, to arrange all business matters and dispose of their farms, etc. Old man Campbell, upon whom the responsibility of leadership once more fell, agreed to leave, and, accordingly, his family, the Sullivans and several other chief men and women of the band were sent forward to await his coming at Shawneetown, Ill., the wrath of the riders not permitting them to halt on this side of the Ohio. Campbell remained a few days to make the necessary arrangements for a perpetual stay. Many of the gang refused to leave, disclaiming all connection with the Campbells, and did remain.


of the band when the Campbell boys were killed, and then commenced a series of deeds such as only an utterly depraved woman can contrive, and so great was the fear of her daring that the regulators dare not disband, but kept vigilant watch, and the old man Campbell, finding himself the recognized leader, did not feel safe to stand responsible for the deeds of Mary Sullivan and her followers, and persuaded Mary to leave. Finding her band outnumbered she consented, and accompanied the emigrants as far as Shawneetown, but left Jenkins and many others behind. When the wagon upon which the women were carried away returned, Mary mounted it and returned to her old haunts, but kept her presence as secret as possible. Gathering the remnant of the band around her, a plot was laid to kill the chief men who had been instrumental in driving the band out, then burn certain residences, make a grand rally and then depart by the light of burning roofs. But one of the gang, who had found his place in Mary's affections usurped by another, revealed their plans in spite, and a watch was set upon their movements. Every ear and every eye was on the alert, and Jenkins now became the "spotted" man.

On the 8th of September Jenkins attended the burial of a brother-in-law at Shady Grove, some distance south of Donaldson, but left before the ceremony was completed and started in the direction of the rendezvous. He was seen by two riders at Smith's ford, on the road, and recognizing the men, he turned and crossed the river into Hopkins county. The next morning he was found


not far from the ford, but in the direction of the rendezvous in this county. It was reported immediately that he was suspected of treachery by the band, and had met his fate at the hands of his own men--an example and warning to deserters. The Sullivan women were sent for and tried by the county authorities, but there was no evidence against them, and they were set at liberty. Since that time all doubt as to the authors of his death has been dissipated, as the regulators have taken no particular pains to hide the truth, and Jenkins certainly met death at the hands of the same parties who administered the rope to the other fated members of the gang. The death of Jenkins quieted things for a short time; but Mary Sullivan had now the death of a favored lover to avenge, in addition to the murder of the Campbells, and the threatened annihilation of the band and her known character for bravery, daring and cunning made her a formidable enemy to be fostered in the midst of a community that had outlawed her and her band. Her strength and influence were not known, and, though probably great, were undoubtedly much exaggerated.

On the night of the 29th of September the regulators collected and traced her to a house over in Hopkins county, where they found her stopping for the night, unsuspecting and secure. But to capture her without bloodshed was not an easy matter, and experience taught them that she would kill one or more of their number if they attempted to take her when on her guard. So, professing to be searching for men, they withdrew, and returning later were admitted by the owner of the house, and, before she knew that danger was near, Mary Sullivan was


She was spirited across the line, and when under the tree from which Jenkins was suspended she was told to make her peace with heaven and unburden her mind by confessing her misdeeds, but with a stoicism and firmness worthy a better cause she refused to weaken, and died as she had lived, fearless and defiant. The morning's dew found her hanging from the same limb that had borne her lover's corpse but a few days before. In the meantime the elder Campbell had gotten clear of the country, and from time to time, as the connection of each with the bandit became known they have left the country. The leaders dead or gone and the most of the members removed, the band, so long a scourge and a terror, is heard of no more, and there is no more quiet and peaceable place in that State than the fertile valley of the Donaldson. Law is respected and peace supreme, and the sorely-tried, as well as much-abused community is happy and contented. The regulators have disappeared with the outlaws, and the vicinity is now as safe as the well-guarded thoroughfares of a city. As the last wagon had crossed the Ohio the citizens, no longer fearing for their lives, recount the dark deeds of a few years since, and for the first time the world is made acquainted with the history of the Campbell-Sullivan band's work. The above is the true history of the whole affair, as it came from the sworn lips of reliable men. The world may read and judge for itself.


Source: The Courier-Journal. Louisville, Kentucky. February 26, 1883. Page 2.