Where in the World? Chronicles of Lower Howard’s Creek

Published 9:50 am Friday, August 3, 2018

By Harry Enoch

After two decades of living on Lower Howard’s Creek, I continue to be fascinated by the settlement and subsequent development of this part of Clark County.

From tidbits of history collected over the years, I have started to work on a series of articles dealing with people and places on the creek.

The kernel of the story below — found in the history collections at the Clark County Public Library (more on that later) — appeared in the Winchester Democrat, Wednesday, May 13, 1891. The headline read, “A Rifle in the Hands of John Martin the Instrument of Death.” The article concerns the killing of Newt Ewing.

“On Monday evening Newton Ewing was killed near the mouth of West Fork on Lower Howard’s Creek by John Martin, the instrument of death being a rifle. Martin was seen by a representative of the Democrat yesterday, but refused to talk.

“The facts however, so far as can be learned, are as follows: The parties lived in the same house, the house being rented by Sam and Newt Ewing who were single men, and Martin and wife kept house for them. On Sunday morning Martin says the Ewing boys were drinking, and pulled him out of bed and choked him. They also uttered dire threats against his life. In fear he left home and was afraid to return, but stayed the night with Maj. Conkwright.

“Exactly what transpired at the time of the killing could not be learned, but this was the cause of it. Martin came to town yesterday and gave himself up. He is the son of the late Robert Martin and a quiet, harmless man.”

John Martin’s father Robert was a stonemason whose home site is a landmark on the John Holder Trail in the Lower Howard’s Creek Nature and Heritage Preserve.

Robert was a son of Hudson Martin. Hudson was one of two sons of William Martin, a Revolutionary War veteran. William was a son of the original John Martin of Fluvanna County, Virginia, who settled on Lower Howard’s Creek in about 1787. William’s descendants resided in the creek valley until the 1950s.

The Ewings were one of the most prominent early families of Bath County. The progenitor of the family there was Patrick Ewing (1737-1819), a Revolutionary War officer from Maryland.

Three of his sons — Robert, William and Putnam — settled in Bath County. Robert had a grandson, also named Robert, who married Belle Holland. They were the parents of Newt and Sam. The boys grew up on a farm in the Olympia area of that county. Both sons worked as farm hands.

At the time he was slain, Newt was about 30 years old and penniless. The county had to pay his burial expenses.

Surviving newspaper issues are too sparse for us to complete the story. From one tidbit in the Interior Journal of Stanford, we learn that “John Martin shot and instantly killed Newton Ewing, near Winchester. The trouble grew out of a quarrel on the day previous, when Ewing and his brother ran Martin off their place.”

John Martin (1858-1923) lived at home on Lower Howard’s Creek with his parents and farmed until he married Elizabeth Miller in 1884. The couple raised five children.

John, age 33 at the time of the slaying, may have gotten off with self-defense or else received a lenient verdict.

In 1900, he lived on East Sixth Street in Lexington and worked as a tile and mantel setter. He died there of tuberculosis.

There was a backstory to the shooting, which was alluded to in the 1891 Democrat article:

“A number of years ago [Newt] Ewing is said to have induced his mother to sell what property she had, and he got hold of the money. He skipped with it and caused a report to be spread that he had been murdered in another part of the State, and his body thrown into a pond. His people believed it, and knew no better until he turned up several years later after having spent the money.”

The following dispatch from Owingsville in 1889 throws additional light on this misadventure.

“About three weeks ago Newton Ewing came from his home in Clark county, Ky., to Peeled Oak, Bath county and rented a small farm he had there. At the same time he collected his last year’s rent for the land and as supposed, started home; but he failed to get there, and all efforts to discover his whereabouts were fruitless until yesterday afternoon, when, by an accident, his dead body was found in a pond on the edge of Montgomery county, with his throat cut from ear to ear. The fish had picked off the flesh from the man’s bones, and what remained was badly decomposed.

“Ewing was known to have had on his person from $50 to $80 when he started for home, and for this he was doubtless murdered, but by whom is a mystery.”

By whom, indeed. And who was the poor unfortunate found in the pond? Was he a victim of Newt Ewing? Apparently, this mystery was never solved.

There is an old adage that research often raises more questions than it answers. That certainly fits here.

The Reference Department at the Clark County Public Library has an outstanding collection of local history and genealogy resources. They have an entire room filled with books, periodicals, family files, newspaper and court records on microfilm, maps, photographs and much more. They also provide access to some of the most often-used internet resources, such as Ancestry.com for family history, Fold 3 for military records and GenealogyBank for newspapers.

The staff has begun uploading a series of county records painstakingly transcribed by super patron Bobby Bratton. At present, these include probate records from the county order books and newspaper obituaries which may be searched from your home computer. Marriage records will be coming soon.

The above story came from a search of the obituary database.

Harry Enoch, retired biochemist and history enthusiast, has been writing for the Sun since 2005.