Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Malicious Stabbing of George Mukes

To learn about the troublesome atmosphere that pervaded Kentucky during the Reconstruction years, one does not have to look much beyond period newspapers. The following story ran in the February 25, 1870, edition of the Frankfort Commonwealth:

Malicious Stabbing
"On Wednesday evening last, while the colored convention was in session, a Negro named George Mukes was stabbed by Robert L. Henderson, a white citizen of this city, under the following circumstances: Henderson had been drinking and went to the Hall where the convention was being held, and ascending the steps and taking his stand at the door, he stabbed the first colored man who came out, which was Mukes. The stabbing was unprovoked, without cause and cruel. The wound inflicted was in the breast near the heart and is severe, if not a fatal one. Mukes was an industrious, inoffensive boy, and his attempted murder cannot call too loudly for the interposition of justice. Henderson was promptly arrested by the police and lodged in jail. This is not the first, but the second or third offense of the kind of which he has been guilty. 

In this connection we subjoin, an illustration of local journalism, the following innocent account of the affair as given in yesterday's Yeoman. The reporters of the Yeoman were probably absent from the city and unable to procure accurate particulars of the affair:

'Yesterday afternoon, about half past 4 o'clock, a Negro, whose name we could not learn, was cut with a pocket knife in the hands of a white man, named Bob Henderson, under the following circumstances: Henderson, who had been drinking, was in front of Major Hall, and had out his knife, swinging his hand around, when the Negro came by, and was struck with it in the side, the blade inflicting quite a serious cut. Henderson was promptly arrested, and placed in jail'" 

The incident, as the story mentions, happened at Major Hall, so named for Frankfort prominent citizen and leader, S.I.M. Major. The auditorium, sometimes called the Opera House seated 1500 and opened in 1869. It burned in 1882. The above picture shows the location on the south side of West Main Street where Major Hall once stood.

The story related that Mukes was industrious and inoffensive. Insensitively, it also called him a "boy," although he was about 30 years old in 1870. In that year's census Mukes is listed as a "laborer" and is in the household of Moses White. Mukes' wife Martha is listed as a domestic servant and is shown owning $800 real estate and personal property worth $150. In 1880 Mukes is listed as a "farm hand" and Martha is shown as a "washer woman."

Obviously, Mukes survived since he was listed on the 1870 census, which was taken in July; five months after the stabbing incident. And, since he was in the 1880 census, there must have not been long-term effects from the stabbing. It appears that Mukes lived on Hill Street in Frankfort (now gone due to urban renewal) and did not pass away until 1889. 

So what was George Mukes' story before the stabbing. Of the records I could find, it appears that he was just as "industrious" as a slave and as a United States Colored Troops soldier as he was as a free man.

The enlistment and service papers for Mukes give a picture of the man. They show that he was 24 years old when he enlisted at Camp Nelson in Company E of 5th United States Colored Cavalry, on September 9, 1864. He was from Anderson County, and is shown as a "farmer," which I am sure is accurate, albeit a slave farmer. He was owned by Mr. Marion Lillard and apparently ran away as his service records do not indicate he signed up with the permission of his owner. Lillard is listed in the 1860 census as a 40 year old farmer and had $6000 in personal property. I was unable to locate Lillard on the 1860 slave schedule census, but I would guess he owned several slaves with such a large personal property worth. Lillard was located in the 1850 slave schedules. He owned 15 slaves at that time.

Mukes is described in his service records as "black," with black eyes and black hair. He is listed as five feet four inches tall. He is shown as "present" in every account, and was owed bounty money on some of the records. Mukes remained with the 5th USCC until the unit was mustered out of the service in Helena, Arkansas, on March 16, 1866.

Apparently, Mukes was buried in Frankfort's Greenhill Cemetery, where a number of his USCT comrades also rest. I made a search through the cemetery a couple of weeks ago looking for his marker but was unable to locate it. However, his name is proudly inscribed on the monument to Franklin County's African American Civil War soldiers. It is the 13th name from the bottom in the image below, which I took a couple of years ago on Memorial Day.

I was unable to find out the legal fate of Mukes' attacker, Robert Henderson. It appears though that if he served any time it was short, because he, too, is listed in the 1870 census, which was taken that July following the stabbing. Henderson is listed as a 27 year old laborer. It does not appear the he served in the Civil War, as although he is shown in Franklin County's draft registry as a 20 year old clerk, there was no indication that he ever enlisted.

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