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Murder of Levi Starkey

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Murder of Levi Starkey

Judy Kimble Barrow (View posts)
Posted: 21 Mar 2001 5:00AM GMT
Classification: Biography
The following article is taken from a book on short stories from Wetzel County that Judy is writing. It is copyrighted so please get her permission to use it. Thanks Judy for submitting it to the Wetzel County Genealogy Home Page.

THE MURDER OF LEVI STARKEY

Levi Starkey and his wife, Sarah Price, were highly respected citizens of Wetzel County Mr.Starkey was the son of Levi and Rebecca Merrick. Sarah Price was a daughter of John Price and Mary Jane Wilson. The community of Pricetown was named for this John Price.

Levi and Sarah lived on a large farm near Robinson Mill. They were the parents of ten children, and they worked hard as a family to wrest a living from the steep hills and fertile valleys of West Virginia. In the spring of 1877 Levi had sold at market some cattle and other livestock, amounting to $2,000. Aware of numerous thefts and hijackings being perpetrated in the County at the time, he exercised the same caution, which all members of the community did when traveling with a large amount of money.

Sarah was less apprehensive than Levi. Her family was the oldest in the area; they knew all their neighbors well and treated them with kindness. It was difficult for her to imagine that any of their friends or acquaintances would ever want to cause them harm.

About four o'clock on the afternoon of March 23, 1877, George M. Ice was visiting at the Kendall residence. Sitting on the front porch, Ice and Kendall were "jawboning" as a sudden shower of rain fell. Their attention was diverted to the road as the sound of horses reached their ears. Three men hurried through the rain to the porch, where they dismounted to seek shelter. The men were Carl Cartwright, John Freeland and a Mr. Reynolds.

Carl Cartwright handed a revolver to Mr. Kendall, asking if a bullet from it would kill a man. Examining the weapon, Kendall replied, "Yes, I suppose it would if it hit in the right place."

As the rain subsided and the visitors rose to leave, Ice inquired if they were going hunting.
"No," was the reply. "Just going over to Pricetown on business."

Later that evening, under the cover of darkness, six horsemen rode up to the Starkey farm. Three remained in the yard with the horses while the other three went to the door. Once inside, Carl Cartwright demanded from Levi the $2000 he had received from the sale of his live stock. Levi refused to turn over the money or to reveal its location in the house. Frustrated with their inability to intimidate Starkey, Cartwright and his buddies, John Freeland and Jack Robinson began to physically "rough up" the older man. This changed nothing at all.

Cartwright then pulled out the revolver he had displayed earlier at the Kendall house and threatened to shoot Starkey if he didn't produce the money. Starkey adamantly continued his refusal, and picked up a chair to defend himself against the would-be robber. True to his word, Cartwright pulled the trigger and discovered that Mr. Kendall had been correct in saying that a bullet from that gun would kill a man. Freeman and Robinson had asked Cartwright not to shoot, but he would not be deterred.

Now the three turned their attention to Mrs. Starkey. She professed not to know the location of the money. They began torturing her, and then threatened to shot her if she did not tell. She assured them that she could not tell for she did not know. John Freeland again asked Cartwright not to shoot. "She has give me bread and butter many times," he said.

Once more, Cartwright was unmoved and again, the crack of the pistol resounded in the room. The gun, which could kill a man, fortunately, did not kill a woman and the bullet lodged in the arm of Mrs. Starkey. The men who were waiting outside now entered the house, and began turning it upside down searching for the money. Bed covers were torn off and cushions slit open, but in vain. No money was found. At the urging of his comrades, Cartwright finally gave up and left.

Mrs. Starkey was able to tell her story with great clarity and identified the five men who had been in the house. They were all placed under arrest to await trial.

At the trial, all the men in the courtroom were lined up and paraded in front of Mrs. Starkey. In this crowd were the men charged with the crime. She identified them all!

As the men shuffled in front of Mrs. Starkey, she suddenly reached out her hand and stopped one gentleman. "This is him," she said. "This is the man who shot Mr. Levi Starkey, my husband".

The man she indicated was none other than Carl Cartwright. At this, his face turned white as a sheet and his legs nearly collapsed beneath him. He would not, however, be without a defense. Under oath he swore that it was Freeman, and not he, who had done the shooting.

Freeland's testimony disputed the claim. "Cartwright entered the house first," he said, "and Starkey defended himself with a chair. Cartwright shot Starkey while I was standing in the door." I said, "Don't shoot". After the shooting the others came into the house and began to search. Cartwright still had the revolver in his hand. All of us told him he had made a terrible mistake."

After Mrs. Starkey had pinned the murder on Cartwright, the judge permitted the lawyers for all the defendants to confer. A plan was hatched whereby everyone, including Cartwright, would swear that they saw Freeland do the shooting. Freeland was not to deny it, under penalty of death. If the jury found Cartwright guilty despite these claims, they would be bumped off too.

The plan worked. The jury was terrified, the judge smiled, and Freeland was sent up for life! This caused a great cry among the public about the miscarriage of justice through fear of retaliation. The cattle men and men of wealth became very agitated, saying, "Our turn to be murdered will come next." Secret meetings suddenly began to transpire throughout the area. An "invitation only" shooting match was called to take place for a half days practice. The gun salesman was to be the instructor. A big box was delivered and opened and eighteen men, lined up on each side, were handed fine Winchester repeating rifles loaded with 16 cartridges. This made a certain number of folks sit up and take notice that "the pot had biled over". This was the beginning of the vigilante group called "The Red Men" who vowed to take the law into their own hands and chase the criminals out of the state.

At least three men who rode in the country after dark were shot at. None were hit, but the incidents served as a warning and men quickly left town. Others stayed.

On May 2, 1881, eighty one year old John Baker was murdered and robbed of about $1200. Baker lived for several hours after the shooting and was able to tell exactly what happened and who shot him. Mrs. Baker corroborated his story, and John Cartwright was charged with murder.

Again, a plan was hatched whereby certain persons swore that they saw a man at Baker's funeral with a black eye; a few days later this man committed suicide and his body was found in the woods and that must have been the man who killed Baker. None of the hundreds of others attending the funeral saw any such man, but again, the plan was successful. Cartwright was acquitted of the crime.

John Cartwright was a Sunday School Superintendent at Brink, not far from his home. Saturday afternoons he spent pitching horseshoes; teams from both Marion and Wetzel Counties competed. George Snodgrass from Seven Pines was on his way to such a competition one afternoon when he was handed a letter to deliver to John Cartwright. The letter charged Cartwright with certain crimes and ordered him to leave the state and remain away if he wanted to live. Some of his friends advised him to comply as others were doing, and relocate to the west. They pointed out that it would be impossible for him to defend himself if someone wanted to shoot him.

Cartwright disagreed. He had many friends and allies who would keep him appraised of what was happening. Plus, he always traveled with one or more persons when he was away from home.

Cartwright received a second and then a third note with similar messages. The last one gave him a specific time to get out of the state. Still he refused.

Shortly thereafter, Cartwright was returning from Mannington in the company of several other men. Raymar Cunningham was riding by his side. Dave Linzx and Christopher Toothman preceded them, while George Ice, James Shaver and others traveled some distance to the rear. The road passed through woods along Buffalo Creek. There was a cut along the hillside, which made a big bank above the road. At the mouth of Bartholomew Creek a "wet weather hollow" came down the hill to the top of the road bank.

Just as Cartwright and the others approached the mouth of this hollow someone discharged a high powered gun with a thunderous roar. The bullet missed Cunningham and passed through the upper part of Cartwright's body. The horses were thrown into turmoil and Cartwright fell off his horse on the lower side of the road. A man rose from behind the weeds and bushes and looked for a moment at Cartwright, then turned and disappeared into the woods. None in the group professed to recognize the assailant. Cartwright was taken to a doctor who gave him absolutely no chance to live. Cartwright lived anyway!

When he was once more able to get about, Cartwright armed himself with a high powered gun and took up residence in the Clayton home. On August 22, 1881, he arose early and went into the yard to wash up for breakfast. Judge B. F. Clayton happened along the road about this time and the two struck up a conversation. A high powered gun roared once again, this time putting a bullet through Cartwright's heart.

As for the men involved in the Levi Starkey slaying, descendants say they met a similar fate. Carl Cartwright was shot while leaning against a tree talking to a neighbor and John Freeland (who was released from jail) was shot as he stood on a front porch in Mannington. Both men were killed and their assailants never identified.

* Levi Starkey had hidden his money in a sack of meal.

SubjectAuthorDate Posted
Judy Kimble Barrow 21 Mar 2001 12:00PM GMT 
Marsha Hickman 24 Mar 2001 12:00PM GMT 
John W. Pegg 25 Mar 2001 12:00PM GMT 
NancyBrady72 27 Mar 2001 12:00PM GMT 
btbclement 14 Apr 2001 12:00PM GMT 
Judy Barrow 23 Apr 2001 12:00PM GMT 
btbclement 24 Apr 2001 12:00PM GMT 
kay 6 Dec 2001 5:43AM GMT 
barowner 9 Jan 2002 5:56PM GMT 
HHill2811 20 Oct 2002 12:59AM GMT 
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