1897: A shootout at Junction City

Published 3:00 pm Thursday, February 15, 2024

By Bryan Bush, Contributing Writer

Jason Blackerty, aka Jasper Blacketer, was known as the local “bad man” in Junction City, Kentucky in the late 1800s. Blackerty was no stranger to shootouts before one fateful day in 1897.

Jason’s parents were Jeremiah Blacketer and Mary Ellen Durham. Jason was the only son, and he had two sisters, Rhoda Blacketer of Junction City, and Mrs. Mollie Scoggan of Indiana.

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Jason was born in 1864. His mother died in 1925 and his father died somewhere between 1870 and 1880. In October 1885, Blackerty shot and seriously wounded Micajah “Cage” Rowsey.

According to newspaper reports, Rowsey and Blacketer quarreled with each other several weeks before the shooting. On the day of the shooting, the argument between the two men was renewed and they began to yell at each other.

Rowsey picked up a chair and attempted to strike Blacketer saying that he would “knock his brains out.” Blacketer drew a pistol and fired.

Even though Rowsey was wounded, he made a motion as if to draw a pistol and Blacketer fired a second time. The bullet entered Rowsey’s right lung. The first bullet struck Rowsey in the mouth and lodged in the back of his neck. Rowsey’s wound was thought to be fatal, but he recovered. When the trial came before a circuit court, Blacketer was acquitted.

In August of 1888, Blackerty, a white man, cut John Simms’, an African American, throat from the back of the neck to the front of the throat, touching the windpipe and severing several arteries.

According to Simm’s testimony, he stepped out on 2nd Street, near Main Street in Danville. He knew Blackerty and approached him. Blackerty had a bottle of beer in his hand.  Simms spoke to Blackerty and said: “Are you going to drink that nasty stuff?”

Blackerty stated he was going to drink the beer. Simms stated that a “playful scuffle ensued for the possession of the bottle” and some of the beer spilled on the ground. Blackerty threw his left arm around Simms’ neck and inflicted the wound.

Blackerty mounted his horse and left town for his home in Junction City. Simms survived and stated he had no ill will towards Blackerty and stated that both of them “were drunk and were engaged in a drunken, good-humored scuffle” when the cutting occurred.

On December 24, 1888, at 2 a.m. “Cage” Rowsey appeared on the streets, where he met Blackerty. The feud between Blackerty and Rowsey reignited. Blackerty drew his pistol and fired three times and all three bullets hit Rowsey. Rowsey was taken to the Commercial Hotel where two of the bullets were removed, leaving two bullets inside the body.

On Christmas morning, Rowsey got up from his bed, mounted his horse, and rode off to his home, which was three miles away.

In January of 1894, John Drye assaulted Blackerty and tried to rob him while he was on his way home. Blackerty was unarmed and unable to defend himself. The two men met the next morning at the train depot in Junction City and a quarrel broke out between them.

Blackerty drew his pistol and Drye immediately ran in the depot and fought with Blackerty. Blackerty’s pistol was wrenched from his hand and when the two men separated Drye began shooting at Blackerty. Blackerty stepped back a few yards, drew another pistol, and began firing at Drye, until one of the bullets struck Drye, who was African American, in the forehead, killing him instantly.

Another version of the shoot-out stated that Drye drew his pistol first and Blackerty did not draw his pistol until after Drye had fired. Drye’s brother was Bill Drye, who was serving a sentence in the penitentiary for killing Hiram Cowan. Blackerty surrendered to Marshall Tuttle, of Junction City and was brought to Danville, where the grand jury convened.

Eyewitnesses for Blackerty stated that Drye was the aggressor, shooting two or three times before Blackerty attempted to fire. Blackery had a black eye from where Drye hit him in the face the night before the shooting.

Several months later, on September 20, 1894, Frank Ellis arrested Blackerty, but Blackerty escaped, while Ellis was getting in his vehicle to bring Blackerty to the Danville jail. The following evening, Ellis heard that Blackerty was in town and summoned Joe Wright to assist him in the arrest.

Ellis and Wright met Blackerty at the home of Ed Gaines and told Blackerty to throw up his hands. Blackerty refused and opened fire and one of the bullets went through Ellis’s brim of his hat. Ellis had a shotgun loaded with buckshot and fired at Blackerty.

Wright also fired his revolver. When the gun battle was over, Blackerty had been hit between eight or 10 times, depending on which account, but amazingly he was still alive. He had a serious wound in his neck. He lived and recovered in his home.

Several weeks later in October 1894, he was able to leave his home, arrested, and brought to jail by Sheriff Bailey. Blackerty made no effort to resist and stated that he was confident that he would be acquitted of the charges.

He was charged with murder, grand larceny, and malicious shooting at an officer. The grand jury charged Blackerty for murder in the case of Drye. Another grand jury refused to indict him, and another grand jury passed the case without investigation. Blackerty claimed that his enemies were at the bottom of the charges. The grand larceny case stemmed from Blackerty “allegedly” stealing cows and selling the meat at a butcher shop and the other charge was from the shooting with Ellis and Wright.

In April of 1895, after lying in jail for several months under two of the charges, the murder case of Drye was heard by Judge Robert Breckinridge. The counsel for the defense moved for a dismissal on account of the illegality of the indictment, stating that one grand jury had already investigated the murder and failed to indict and that a second grand jury has passed without returning an indictment.

The court sustained the motion and Blackerty was released. The court determined that the evidence against him in the larceny case, in which he was charged with stealing and killing a cow, was insufficient and gave instructions for the court to acquit and in the case against him for malicious shooting. The malicious shooting stemmed from the incident where he was shot eight or nine times by Ellis and Wright. The court determined that Blackerty had the right to shoot. Amazingly, Jason stated that “he has been persecuted and he is a bad man, there is liable to be more trouble.”

On November 2, 1897, Blackerty was drinking. At 1:30 pm, Wright was talking to a crowd of men between Tuttle’s business and Dunn & Surber’s Store in Junction City. Blackerty walked out of a small house or shed and made a remark about the election.

According to another story, during the conversation, Wright made a remark about Blackerty and Blackerty overheard the comment, stopped, and said: “What’s that you said about me?” As to what happened next, the story varies, but Wright and Blackerty drew their pistols about the same time and Blackerty fired first, missing Wright.

Wright’s first and only shot struck Blackerty in the lungs and he fell to the ground, mortally wounded. Blackerty still had his pistol in his hand when he fell to the ground. Wright walked up to Blackerty. Blackerty raised up and fired at Wright. The bullet hit Wright in the lower part of his abdomen and he fell backward.

Several of his friends caught him and carried him to the Commercial Hotel. After they had carried Wright several yards, someone remarked to Wright: “Jase is dead.” Wright feebly answered: “Yes, and he has killed me.” Soon after Wright died.

Ironically, the shooting happened during the election. Wright left a widow and one infant son. He had married Mamie M. Farmer, who was a widow. Wright ran a marble works in Junction City. Wright’s funeral was held in the Christian Church in Junction City, and he was buried in the Danville Cemetery.

The Interior Journal wrote that Wright was “a kind and indulgent husband and father and a gentleman under any and all circumstances and conditions.” As to the burial of Jason Blacketer, he may be buried in the Coyle-Blacketer cemetery in Boyle County, although his death date is listed as 1896.

Bryan Bush is the Park Manager at Perryville Battlefield State Historic Site. Information for this story was found in old issues of the Kentucky Advocate, the Interior Journal, and The Courier-Journal between the years of 1885 to 1897.