The Murderous Belle of Powell Valley

Emma RogersEmma Rogers was the prettiest lady in Claiborne County, Tennessee. Her beauty and finery earned her the title, “The Belle of Powell Valley.” Edward Jackson was a relatively successful blacksmith in 1878. He was the son of William Jackson. Edward was also in a precarious relationship with Emma. Jackson was a mulatto, and Emma was not only white, she was wife of Jesse Rogers, clerk and master of Claiborne County’s Chancery Court. It was only a matter of time before the forbidden union had deadly consequences.

As with the majority of such relationships, they were eventually discovered. Rogers became suspicious of his wife and took steps to see if his concern was legitimate. His suspicions were confirmed when he caught them together. The confrontation ended with his shooting at Jackson as he fled the scene. Rogers promptly packed his wife’s bag and took her to her father’s house. He declared he wanted nothing more to do with her.



Jackson feared for his life. He was aware of Rogers’s political connections in the county. His first attempt to locate sanctuary was atop Bald Mountain. Hiding didn’t help, rumors eventually reached him that Rogers was organizing a hunting party. Jackson fled into Kentucky to escape the wrath he sensed coming.

Only a few days later, Rogers returned to his father-in-law’s house. Emma declared Jackson put a spell on her and she was unable to resist him. She swore, even when she found the strength to resist, he gave her some kind of sweet drink to drug her. Jesse declared he didn’t believe it in front of her relatives, but grudgingly took her back. It also inspired his belief that her family had several guns aimed at him, in case he didn’t take her back.

His bravado changed by the time he reached downtown Tazewell and faced the people. He declared everything she said was the truth. He gathered a group to go after Jackson. The members of the sinister party were believed to be Jesse Rogers, John Rogers, James Caywood, William Caywood, and an unknown cousin. James and William Caywood were Emma’s father and brother, respectively. John Rogers was Jesse’s brother.

The group first unleashed a slanderous campaign against Jackson that included the circulation of bogus flyers about many false crimes he’d committed in Claiborne County. Unfortunately, authorities in Lebanon County, Kentucky, had the libelous papers by the time Jackson arrived. They also considered them valid. Jackson was on his way to Ohio. The Lebanon County jailer locked him up to await the legal body that would retrieve him. O. H. Ellis, an associate of the Rogers family, was sent to Kentucky to see if Jackson had turned up in that portion of the country. He returned with the news of Jackson’s arrest and imprisonment.


A Fatal Extradition

When the Rogers posse arrived in Lebanon County, they portrayed themselves as officials. Rogers actually presented himself as Sheriff J. D. Mays, of Claiborne County. He had fabricated documentation that supported his alias. He offered another fictitious paper, allegedly from Governor Porter of Tennessee, for Jackson’s arrest.

Jackson protested and pleaded in every imaginable way, but no one listened. He told the jailer that the posse would kill him and Rogers was not who he pretended to be. Jackson knew everything was forged and attempted to persuade Lebanon authorities of that fact. He then added he would gladly return with the proper authorities, if they would send them. His words were in vain.

The posse tied Jackson up and forced him to walk the way back. The men were weary as they passed through London, Kentucky, and changed their captive’s position. This time, they noosed his neck and tied the rope around the donkey. He was forced to ride bareback until they approached Cumberland Gap.

They eventually took Jackson from the animal. They tied the rope on his neck around the rest of his body and secured it to one of the animals. They dragged Rogers for tens of miles. Sometimes, one in the party would fall back and beat his legs with hickory branches. On occasion, they would walk their animals on his calves and feet.


Mercies of Peace

Much of the flesh was gone from his calves and heels by the time they stopped. Jackson pleaded with the men to just kill him. The chaos of angry voices and pleas for mercy attracted another traveler. A Baptist minister, ironically named Mr. Peace, approached the group. He could see from a distance that something horrible was ongoing. Despite being a stranger and confronting a group of armed, angry men, Peace begged for Jackson’s life. He declared he lived in Whitley County, Kentucky, and would gladly take him off their hands. He just didn’t want to see any more suffering.

The group grew irate with older man and threatened to shoot him if he didn’t leave. Rev. Peace knew he was outnumbered, but he wasn’t about to let them get away. He cautiously followed the men and listened. They declared they weren’t going to kill Jackson until they’d reached the top of Pine Mountain.

Jackson tried every possible way to calm the situation. He declared they could take him back to the county and let him speak with Mrs. Rogers, in front of everyone, and she would admit the truth. Then, he would gladly die. The men said he would have no mercy.

The men dragged Jackson around 200 yards away from the road and created a fire. Peace remained behind them in the shadows, keeping an eye on their activities. They stuck Jackson’s hands into the fire and burned several fingers away. They then severed the muscles in his arms and legs. Peace estimated they tortured Jackson around 3 hours.


Justice Unrequited

When they tired of torture, they took a rope and pulled the top of a sapling down. They put another noose on what was left of Jackson, and tied it to the top of the tree. They let it go. The upward thrust broke his neck, but they still weren’t through. As his body was swinging, they fired five bullets into his face, neck, and body.

The men returned to Claiborne County. They stated they’d apprehended Jackson, but he got away from them somewhere around Pine Mountain. When daylight came, a group of men working on the Pine Mountain road discovered Jackson’s body. They summoned the Whitley County authorities. The Coroner summoned a jury and, after a 15-minute inquest, reached a verdict. “An unknown colored man burned, hanged, and shot by a party or parties unknown.” Peace heard of the verdict and came forward with what he knew.

A man named Squire King brought the news to Claiborne. Jackson’s family and friends went to retrieve his body. The group who made the sorrowful journey consisted of Jackson’s father William, John Hipshur, William Kelly, William Newly, and a number of others in a “mixed” crowd.

The workmen had already cut down Jackson’s body and placed it inside a rough pine box. The coffin sat directly beside the tree where he was hung. The men carted Jackson back to the courthouse at Claiborne County. The wagon carrying Jackson sat right across from the Rogers household. A massive group of mourners surrounded the wagon, including Jackson’s wife.

Despite his indiscretion, her mournful wailing resounded above everyone else. Jesse Rogers and James Caywood were in the courthouse, unaffected by the display outside. Emma Rogers was also witnessed from her house. The Belle was dressed in her finest clothing, wholly indifferent to the display outside her home.

Col. John Netherland was the attorney for the Jackson family. He applied for bench warrants against the Rogers and Caywoods who were in the party. Sheriff Robert Stone met the men on the street and notified them of their rights. The men replied they had to go home, but would be right down. The Sheriff returned to his office. Stone was renowned for simply telling suspects they needed to come to jail, and walking onward.


A Lack of Consequences

The men went home, but simply slipped out the backdoor and fled to the Caywood homeplace in Powell Valley. They returned to the county often enough, but no one had any interest in actually prosecuting them.

The group had no fear in Tennessee for good reason. The only fear they had was of Kentucky’s Governor, who was eager to prosecute them for fraud, forgery, and murder. On October 31, Halloween, the Grand Jury of Whitley County, Kentucky, indicted Jesse and John Rogers, as well as James and William Caywood, for the murder of Edward Jackson. Kentucky’s Governor McCreary raised the reward on their heads from $800 to $1,200. He also issued requisitions for the Governors of Tennessee and Virginia.

Jackson’s widow brought suit against the Rogers family for $25,000, but didn’t see any of it. Locals believed that the group would simply move to another state if they encountered any trouble. Rumor said they were landowners in Kansas.

Mrs. Rogers remained as happy and unaffected as she’d ever been, despite Jackson’s brutal death and the very real possibility her entire family would go to prison for something she did. Around a month later, the family was labeled fugitives.

Public sentiment had grown outraged and declared the authorities in Claiborne County had no rights to their position. They were cowardly and corrupt. It also emerged that Sheriff Stone had several dealings with the family over the course of the month and did nothing. Rogers boasted he could control all the officials in the county. The Sheriff and other parties connected to him were all also indicted by Kentucky courts for trying to bribe witnesses.

The men also confronted Jackson’s father, William, and threatened his life if he attempted to go to Kentucky. A Jackson family friend braved the trip, but even he wasn’t safe. The group abducted and held him until the Kentucky courts were closed. The final documents available said the Rogers and Caywood family flaunted their positions. They not only let it be known they returned to town, they behaved as outlaws when they arrived, shouting and guns blazing.

As far as can be ascertained, no justice was ever had. The only area newspapers to complain about the situation were soon silenced. Justice never came for Edward Jackson.


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