Born September 21, 1900 – MURDERED November 22, 1916
Son of W.L. and Nancy Kirkpatrick
When I first began researching my children’s father’s side of the family, the Tennessee Kirkpatricks, I heard about a stone in the Kirkpatrick cemetery that had MURDERED inscribed on it. But none of the present family had a clue as to what happened back in 1916.
A couple of years ago I was able to get a death certificate which listed as cause of death, “Falling beneath car wheels while attempting to board moving train.” As an interesting and somewhat sad notation about the death certificate, the doctor who prepared it was J. W. Kirkpatrick, Bruce’s older brother and my children’s great grandfather. The death certificate sure didn’t sound like Bruce was murdered.
So next I hunted up a newspaper article that might shed some light on it. Here’s what it said:
November 24, 1916, Bridgeport, Alabama
Bruce Kirkpatrick, son of Dick Kirkpatrick, a youth of 15, met a horrible death under the wheels of a freight train Wednesday p.m. at 7:30 near the father’s home at the State Line. If appears that Bruce and a chum were “hoping” the train and riding apiece just for fun. His companion caught the train ahead of him but had gotten off and was standing so near the train that Bruce struck him in the breast with his shoulder in passing, it being so dark the two could not see each other. The lick broke the hold of the unfortunate boy and he fell beneath the wheels, causing instant death. The crew of the train did not learn of the sad accident until they reached Bridgeport, but his companion made it known immediately. The face of the dead boy was crushed beyond recognition, his brains being scattered for some distance. Both his legs were cut practically in twain in two places, the rest of his body being unharmed. Interment was at the Kirkpatrick Graveyard Thursday
So who murdered him? As a genealogist I wanted to know. Something was missing. Why was it so inscribed on his tombstone.
In 1990, the Marion County, Tennessee Historical Society put out a County History book. In it was an article on Washington Lafayette Kirkpatrick, who went by the name of “Dick,” written by a Nancy J. Lawhorne, a sister of Bruce and only 6 years old when he was killed. She had the answer to the murder and luckily for us included it in the County History book. In January of 1917, Dick Kirkpatrick wrote a letter to the local newspaper, making some suggestions as to county laws that need to be put in place. One of his suggestions was as follows:
“Give all railroad employees police power to eject or arrest all trespassers on their trains or properties and appropriate penalties for failure to exercise this power. The foregoing is suggested to me from several standpoints. First on November 22 a boy was killed by train and proof shows that he was lured from his home at night by a section hand who was known by his foreman to ride trains unlawfully. Second, that on the night of the death of the boy, and in a few minutes, the railroad had a fence on ground and, in fact, before the boys body was cold. Third, though honest efforts have been made to determine the exact condition of the child’s death by questions to G. B. Cates, who was conductor, and others, no reply was forthcoming.
“The nearest answer to anything yet is indirect from J. M Doyle, a brakeman, who claims to have heard him and felt the wheels run over his foot, but thought it was a hog. Now you understand that I have no suit. It would not bring my boy back, but do you not really think that such a law would prevent in the future parents having to look from their humble home at the gate through which their son passed, never to return, and to view the place where his mangled body lay? While I have always contended that railroad should have fair play, yet I do not think they should have the right to murder indiscriminately….”
Aside from anything else, the story of why Bruce’s tombstone screams out “MURDERED” needs to be documented somewhere. Nancy Lawhorne has since died and I am afraid the story will be lost. I’m sending this blog to the South Pittsburg Historical Society, which is where the old Kirkpatrick family home is, hoping that it will go on their webpage and in their archives to keep the story alive.
Such interesting things we genealogists dig up!