Birth: 24 Nov 1843, West Virginia2,18
Death: 23 Feb 1885, age: 41
Death Memo: Murdered
Occ: Lawyer, Newspaper Editor
Elbert Fowler served in the cavalry during the Civil War. He was captured at Moorefield, Virginia in September 1864, imprisoned at Camp Chase, Ohio for nine months until after the surrender. He was a prominent lawyer of Hinton, Summers Co., West Virginia and also an Editor of The Bristol News of Bristol, Virginia and Tennessee and a paper called the Border Watchman.
Mr. E. Fowler of the Border Watchman has also been on a visit to his friends here, looking none the worse for his Editorial labors. (Pearisburg Gazette, 27 April 1872 )
On 27 April 1870, the Supreme Court of Virginia was about to render a decision on the constitutionality of the election of Richmond’s mayor, H. K. Ellyson. The verdict, causing great interest, drew such a large crowd that the overcrowded second floor of the supreme court in the capitol building crashed down atop those below, killing fifty people and wounding several others. Mr Fowler of the Bristol News was reported as among the injured..
On Friday, the 15th day of July, 1870, an article written by Elbert Fowler editor of The Bristol News appeared in the paper. The article apparently reflected severely on the character of Col. John N. Clarkson of Virginia. It is reported that Col Clarkson and his friend Mr. R. W. Hughes, boarded the train and arrived in Bristol the following day, waited for Fowler, and demanded a retraction which was refused. After the refusal, Clarkson challenged Fowler to a duel which was also refused on religious grounds. Clarkson then responded by informing Fowler of his intention to post him which he did. Posting apparently meant to publish an account in the newspaper in an attempt to publicly humiliate him..
On 26 July 1870, The Petersburg Index published the personal correspondence between Elbert Fowler and Col. John N. Clarkson.
“The following correspondence is published in the Bristol News of Friday:
Sir – My friend Col. R. W. Hughes will confer with you on the subject of your insulting allusions to me, in your paper of this date, and is authorized to act for me in the affair. Respectfully, Jno N. Clarkson July 15, 1870. To Mr. Fowler
Bristol, Tenn., July 15, 1870.
Col. Jno. N. Clarkson – Your note of this date has been handed me by Col. R. W. Hughes, and in reply I have to request you to state for which of the Fowlers it was intended, and state the objectionable language referred to, with your desire in regard to the same. This note will be handed you by my friend, M. E. Blackley, to whom you can deliver your reply.
Respectfully, Elbert Fowler
July 15th, 1870.
Sir – Your note of this date has been handed me by your friend Mr. M L Blackley.
In reply to your first question: To ‘which of the Fowlers my note was addressed?’ I answer that it was to the one who is responsible for the article in the News, to which I alluded. My answer to your second question is: That the entire article is offensive in its allusion to me. My reply to your last question is: That I require that reparation due under such circumstances, so well understood by all. Jno. N. Clarkson
Bristol, Tennessee, July 15th, 9 P.M., 1870
Col. Jno. N. Clarkson – In reply to your second note I will say that I am responsible for the article in the Bristol News of this morning, which you decline to quote, but to which you refer. I have no apology to render.
Respectfully, Elbert Fowler
July 16, 1870.
Sir, – Your note of last night declining any other reparation for your wanton insult, leaves me no other alternative than to ask a meeting; for which my friend Colonel Hughes is authorized to arrange. Respectfully, Jno N. Clarkson
Mr. Elbert Fowler
Bristol, Tenn., July 16th, 1870.
Col. Jno. N. Clarkson – Your note of this date has been handed to me. The laws of my State, my Church and my God, and my respect for civilization forbid me granting you the preposed meeting. I will be found at my office on Main street, daily, from 10 o’clock A.M., until 5 o’clock P.M.
Respectfully, Elbert Fowler
In connection with the above the Bristol News contains a long card from Mr. Fowler, in which it is stated that Mr. F, after the reception of the last note from Clarkson, walked to the vicinity of the hotel where Clarkson was staying, and stopped within a few feet of the latter, giving him ample opportunity to take redress for any insult which Fowler might have given him. And further, while Fowler was in this position, Clarkson’s attention was called to him by his second, Col. Hughes. But Clarkson, charging him with crimes which rendered him amenable to the severest penalties of the law, and whose punishment he evaded in a manner peculiarly dishonorable.”
It is interesting to read of the methods and wording of the communication between the two men and the allusions to a duel. Although the posting of this correspondence was meant to bestow dishonor upon Fowler, it was ultimately used to disqualify Clarkson as a gubernatorial candidate for the State of Virginia in 1873.
Additional mentioning of Elbert and Thomas Fowler in the 1877 issues of the Border Watchman:
1877 Sep 14 p 2 col 2 Fowler, Elbert
1877 Oct 19 p3 col 2 Fowler, Elbert; Esq
1877 Oct 12 p 1 col 3 Fowler, Tom
1877 Aug 17 p4 col 4 Fowler, Elbert
15286 1877 May 18 p 3 col 3 Fowler, Elbert; Esq
15287 1877 Jun 15 p2 col 1 Fowler; Mr
1880 Federal Census, Forest Hill, Summers, West Virginia, page 145B
Elbert FOWLER Self Married, 35, W. V., Lawyer , TN, VA
Amanda L. PEARIS Sister Widowed, 42, W. V.
Chas. Fowler PEARIS Nephew 22, CA, At School , VA, W.V
Louise PEARIS Niece, F, 18, CA
Sydney JOHNSTON Nephew Male, 6, VA, VA, W.V.
Elbert Fowler, coincidentally, was killed in March of 1884 by J. Speed Thompson in a street duel in Hinton, West Virginia. A much “celebrated” trial followed in Lewisburg, Virginia in 1886.
Spouse: Mary Susan Bauley
Fleming Bailey Fowler
Elbert Fowler Jr.
Copied from “The History of Summer County From the Earliest Settlement to the Present Time”, published 1908, pages 482 -488
Hon. Elbert Fowler was a native of Summers County, son of Dr. Thomas Fowler, born at the mouth of Indian Creek, “Indian,” in Monroe County, on the 24th of November, 1843, and was of a family of two sisters, Mrs. Mary Johnson and Mrs. Amanda L. Pearis ; and two brothers, Hon. I. C. Fowler and Dr. Allen Fowler.
Hon. I. C. Fowler was a Confederate soldier and made his home in Virginia after the war, he and Elbert Fowler founding the “Bristol News,” and later, he was Speaker of the House of Delegates of Virginia for five terms, and afterward appointed clerk of the United States Court, and resided at Abingdon, which position he held until near the date of his death within the last twelve months. Dr. Allen Fowler was also a Confederate soldier, who immediately after the war emigrated to Salt Lake City, Utah, and became one of the most celebrated physicians of that country, and died but recently, a wealthy man.
Elbert Fowler joined the Confederate Army when a boy about eighteen years of age. He was educated partly at Emory and Henry Colleges, and after the war he went to McGill University, Montreal, Canada, where he graduated. Returning, he and his brother, I. C., founded the “Bristol News” at Bristol, Tennessee and Virginia. Later, in the year 1871 or 1872, he founded the “Border Watchman” at Union, Monroe County, West Virginia, which is still existing, and is owned and edited at this time by the Hon. Albert Sidney Johnston, as the “Monroe Watchman,” which is one of the ablest edited papers and one of the most reliable in the State or any other State, Mr. Johnston being one of the most chivalrous and truehearted citizens of any commonwealth.
Elbert Fowler received from Andrew Johnson a pardon for his transgressions as a Confederate soldier. After disposing of the “Border Watchman,” he took up the practice of law, which he pursued until his death, on March 21, 1885, making his home at the mouth of Indian Creek on the old Fowler homestead. At the date of his death he and James H. Miller were partners in the law. Mr. Fowler was one of the brightest lawyers and most loyal of men it has ever been my good fortune to be associated with or to know. A comparatively small portion of his time was spent at the mouth of Indian after he applied himself to his profession, being counsel for the Norfolk & Western Railway Company for the last several years of his life, and much of his time was spent in Virginia looking after the interests of that corporation.
He was elected prosecuting attorney of this county in 1874, and served four years ; was a candidate for re-election against the Hon. W. R. Thompson at the election held in 1878. Mr. Thompson, on the face of the returns, had a majority of votes. Mr. Fowler, believing that the election had not been fairly conducted and that irregularities existed, instituted a contest in the courts, which was fought through the county and Supreme Courts for some time, when the differences were compromised, and Mr. Thompson was permitted to retain the office for the full term.
A law partnership was formed between Mr. Fowler and James H. Miller on the first day of October, 1883. The latter was elected prosecuting attorney at the election held in 1884, and Mr. Fowler qualified as his assistant, which position he continued to hold until his death.
On the 12th day of March, 1885, Mr. Fowler came to Hinton, from his farm at Indian, a distance of sixteen miles up New River from Hinton, stopping at the office of the firm at the court house for some time, and then went to his hotel for dinner (the old brick Central Hotel, which was afterwards burned) after which he started to return to the court house, when he met J. S. Thompson, an attorney, at the crossing of the alley on Second Street, just below the new hotel of the Hinton Hotel Company, which is now under construction. When Fowler was at the middle of the crossing and Thompson about twenty feet above on the sidewalk, they coming towards each other, Mr. Fowler having a bundle of law books under his arm, Mr. Thompson drew a revolver and began shooting at him. Some four or five shots were fired by him, two of which took effect in Mr. Fowler’s leg between the knee and ankle, breaking the bones in two places and shattering that part of his leg, the breaks of the bones being about four inches apart. Fowler drew a small derringer, about four inches long, from his pocket, and shot as he fell, but missed his mark. Fowler fell to the ground, and was carried to his room at the Central Hotel, where he was attended by a number of the most skilled surgeons in the country, including Doctors S. P. Peck, of Hinton ; Dr. Isaiah Bee, of Princeton, and Dr. McDonald, of Union.
It was not thought at the time that the wounds would prove fatal, and Mr. Fowler would not consent to having an amputation performed, but after four or five days it was apparent that the only hope of saving his life was to amputate the foot. This was done two or three days before his death, but it was too late; blood poisoning had set in. the bones of the leg having been shattered, and on the 21st he died from the result of the wound. A day or so before his death a mistake was made in the administering of his medicine, by wrongfully administering a poison called aconite, which mistake was shortly afterwards discovered and the effects counteracted, but resulted in weakening the patient. This mistake was made by an attendant, an old gentleman, Wm. B. Wiggins, who was greatly distressed by reason of his unintentional carelessness. Mr. Wiggins being an earnest friend and admirer of Mr. Fowler. It was claimed at the trial of Thompson, later, that this mistake aided in producing the death, and was set up as a part of the defense. Mr. Wiggins was deeply pained over his mistake, and at the trial as a witness he was subjected to a very bitter attack by the attorneys for the defense, especially Captain R. F. Dennis, in argument to the jury, the character of which will be well remembered at the time by those who heard it, and a part of which is of a nature not to be preserved in print, which language was regretted by Captain Dennis in cooler moments.
A coroner’s jury was held after the death of Mr. Fowler, and Mr. Thompson was charged with his murder, and indicted and tried. The feeling of a very large portion of the county was much aroused against him , the prominence and connections of the parties naturally made strong partisans. Bail in the penalty of $25,000.00 was granted by Judge Holt, the circuit judge at the time, which was easily given, the bondsmen being C. L. Thompson, Col. J. G. Crockett and A. B. Perkins.
At the first calling of the case Judge Holt vacated the bench, and the hearing came on before Judge Frank Guthrie, of the Kanawha Circuit. A motion was made for a change of venue by the defendant, which was vigorously op-posed by the State. Affidavits were filed by the accused to show that the prejudice of the people was so strong against him in the county that he could not get a fair and impartial trial ; counter affidavits were filed by the State to the contrary, but the court held that the case should be removed to another county for trial, which was accordingly done, and the case was removed to Lewisburg, the county seat of Green brier County, the place of former residence of Mr. Thompson, and where a number of his relatives resided, who were prominent citizens in the community. A great many witnesses were summoned for each side, some twenty or twenty-five, and great interest was manifested in the trial throughout this section. The defense claimed by Mr. Thompson was principally on the grounds of self-defense, threats by the deceased against Thompson being proven, the principals in the tragedy having been on unfriendly terms for a number of years, and not having spoken for some four or five years.
At the trial the State was represented by Hon. John W. Arbuckle, of Lewis-burg, appointed by the court to prosecute, as the prosecuting attorney of that county. Mr. John A. Preston was a relative of Mr. Thompson, and had been engaged for his defense after the removal of the case to that county. Gen. Frank P. Blair, of Wytheville, Va., who had been a former attorney-general of that commonwealth, and James H. Miller, the then prosecuting attorney of Summers County.
The defendant was ably represented by United States Senator John E. Kenna, Gen. J. W. St. Clair, of Fayetteville ; Col. James M. French, of Princeton ; Col. J*. W. Davis, Capt. R. F. Dennis, Hon. John A. Preston and Capt. A. F. Mathews, of Lewisburg, one of the ablest array of attorneys that ever defended any man in this State or in any other State.
There were two trials. The first occupied two weeks, resulting in a hung jury. A second trial was afterwards had and occupied a similar length of time, which resulted in the acquittal of Mr. Thompson, the jury being out only a few minutes. Mr. Arbuckle occupied in his argument for the State two hours and a half : Gen. Blair, five hours at the first trial. The attorneys arguing the case for the defendant were Senator Kenna, Captain Dennis, Colonel Davis, General St. Clair, Colonel French and Mr. Preston. Jas. H. Miller did not argue the case, being a witness examined for the State.
Mr. Thompson was crippled in one limb from a natural deformity, from which he had suffered all his life. Mr. Fowler weighed about 140 pounds, had been badly crippled in the capital disaster at Richmond, Virginia, at the time of that catastrophe, by having one leg shattered and his scalp torn off. This was about the year 1870.
Mr. Thompson continued to reside in Hinton until about the year 1903 or 1904, when he located at Beckley for the practice of his profession, but soon afterwards died at his father’s residence in Huntington, West Virginia.
Mr. Fowler was a most excellent and enterprising citizen, and at the time of his death was engaged in a number of enterprises for the development of this region of his State, one of which was for a construction of a branch of the Norfolk & Western Railway from the mouth of East River, in Giles County, down New River to Hinton, for which a large part of the right of way had been secured and paid for. He was a promoter of the New River Rail road and Mining Company, and proposed a railroad up New River. These enterprises lapsed after his death. He was one of the promoters of the Hinton Steamboat Company, which proposed to navigate New River from Hinton east.
The Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad Company had become very antagonistic to him, and in his last race for prosecuting attorney fought him at the polls, and did its utmost to encompass his defeat, by reason of his independence of corporate influence and faithfulness to his constituents, and to the great mass of the common people. This antagonism also grew out of the fact that Mr. Fowler had been largely instrumental in compelling the arching of the Big Ben Tunnel, near Talcott. When first constructed, this tunnel was arched with wooden timber, which after a few years became decayed and began to fall in and endanger the lives of passengers and employees. A short time before he retired from the office of prosecuting attorney a crew on a freight train had been caught in the tunnel by falling rotten timbers from the arch, and a number killed and crippled. Fowler as prosecuting attorney had a coroner’s inquest held, the tunnel condemned and the railroad company held responsible. Soon after this the arching of this great tunnel was begun, and continued for a number of years until completed. and to Mr. Elbert Fowler is due the honor of changing that hole from a death-trap into safety.
As a prosecutor he was vigorous and determined. He was a man of high and honest aspirations and instinct, a true and loyal friend, an excellent and faithful lawyer, and an open enemy. His great misfortune was that of a violent temper and strong prejudices. His death was a great loss and most keenly felt, not only by the public, the county and State, but personally by the author of this book, who had enjoyed his friendship and assistance at a time when it was most valuable, and it is with pleasure an honor and a duty for him to pay some tribute to his character and man hood.
On the 28th of November, 1878, he married a Miss Bailey, of Griffin. Georgia, and left surviving him two boys, Elbert and Bailey, who are now grown men, but have never made this State their residence, being reared in the State of Georgia, at their mother’s home. Just before his death Mr. Fowler executed his last will and testament, which is a matter of record in the clerk’s office of this county. He made a dying statement. At the trial Mr. Thompson did not take the stand as a witness in his own behalf.
Sleep on, brave soldier, in the endless battle of man ! If immortality be the crown of lofty aims and noble work, Then thou hast immortality.
That the killing of Mr. Fowler was in cold blood is borne out by his slayer, who told to a number of people from his own lips that he shot Fowler to kill him, and detailed his actions and the manner of the killing, saying that he “shot too high the first time, and the second shot he aimed at his heart ; but that his crutch slipped and he hit him in the leg.” It was a killing without legal justification.
Last will and testament of Elbert Fowler:
I, Elbert Fowler, desire that all my just debts be promptly paid as possible, and first among my debts I desire that a debt I owe to my sister, Mrs. A. L. Pearis. be paid, and to that end I direct that my executrix shall sell at public or private sale, as she may deem proper, both my personal and real estate.
I bequeath to my beloved wife, Mrs. Mary Bailey Fowler, all my real estate and personal, wherever located, whether in the State of West Virginia or Virginia: some mineral lands in the counties of Pulaski and Montgomery, Virginia. I desire that my wife shall associate with her in the settlement of my estate James D. Johnson, a lawyer and my brother-in-law, in the county of Giles, Virginia.
I desire that the executrix of my estate shall give no bond as such executrix.
I desire that J. H. Miller, my law partner, shall close up any business of mine that he has in hands, and that he shall give no bond. In testimony whereof I here set my hand, this March 22, 1885.
J. C. M’DONALD, W. F. M’CLUNG, A. G. FLANAGAN, JAS. H. MILLER.
The photo (original) attached is from the collection of his great grand niece – 92 years old residing in Anniston, Alabama. Elbert enlisted at about 17 as a private but ended up as a 2nd Lt. The picture shows him at about 17.”