Murder in Butler

Pendleton County, October 8, 1877.  Butler and vicinity—for the news spread with great rapidity—was thrown into a state of excitement and confusion on the evening of the 5th inst. by the sad intelligence that John B. Kidwell had shot and killed M.D. Sorrell, at seven o’clock, at W. Holt’s saloon, near the depot. The homicide was committed in one of those bar-room brawls, which have become so common and disgraceful in Butler of late years. It appears that Sorrell and others were engaged in a game of euchre, and Kidwell, being present only as a spectator, accused Sorrell of dishonesty, which resulted in a fuss, and eventually, in Kidwell’s killing Sorrell. The latter spoke but once after he was shot. Then he said to Kidwell: “There, you have shot me!” The lamps were extinguished in a mysterious manner, and, after they were relighted, Sorrell was found, lying in front of the saloon, where he had fallen on attempting to leave the place, it is supposed. 

He was gathered up and carried back and laid down on the floor of the saloon, after which he only gasped once or twice. The ball had entered the left side between the third and fourth ribs, just under the heart. Kidwell passed out through the back part of the saloon into Holt’s stable lot, and threw his weapon—a Derringer, over into Mrs. M. M. Taylor’s yard. From thence he went to Shaw’s store porch, where he was arrested by Constable David Bolling, who told him he had killed Sorrell, when he said: “I don’t care a G—d d—n if I have.” He was closely guarded all night in the Town Hall, and on waiving examination next morning, was sent to Falmouth jail, in charge of a Deputy Sheriff and David Bolling. He did not appear to realize the great crime that he had committed against man and God, but familiarly hallood to one and another, whom he met on the streets, as though nothing very serious had happened. When the morning train came, he went to the depot, laughing and shaking hands with those who came in his way. None of his relative went near him, or had anything to do with him.

 The same night of the tragical event, an inquest was held over the remains of Sorrell, which developed proof enough to sustain the following decision: “That M. D. Sorrell came to his death by a pistol-shot wound inflicted by J. B. Kidwell.” The witnesses were Lot Hobbs, Wm. Holt, John Marshall, John McMillan and one Bolds, who were in the room at the time of the shooting. The proofs are of the most severe and dangerous character against Kidwell, going to show that the murder was cold and unprovoked. It is the general supposition that Kidwell went to the saloon to Sorrell that night, and picked a fuss with him for that purpose. They had a fuss some time before, about the building of a jail in Butler. Both put in bids for the job, and Sorrell was the successful bidder, to the chagrin and disadvantage of Kidwell.

 There is a universal feeling of indignation against, and contempt for the homicide. The people here take no stock in such conduct. Their faces are set hard against all such infernal doings. This is the first murder that ever happened here, and we hope most sincerely that it may be the last one. Our people have learned a lesson by this, though the instruction was hard and disgraceful. They have learned that there are certain people in the community whom they must get rid of if they don'’ want such disgraceful proceedings in their midst. As long as certain institutions are recognized and patronized among them, they must look for and prepare for the visitation of crime and disgrace. Kidwell has not a friend in this community, out-side of his family relations, and I do not know that any of them sympathize with him in his trouble. Those of his relatives who have expressed themselves, are in sympathy with the murdered man, and would be glad to see Kidwell punished to the full extent of the law.

 Sorrell was about thirty-five years old, and leaves a wife and four small children in most destitute circumstances. He labored by days work to support his family. Kidwell is a man of very respectable family, being the black sheep of the flock. He is about fifty years old, and leaves a wife to mourn an awful deed and its consequences. He on divers occasion has proved himself to be a man of bad heart and evil designs—a man whom none liked, and none cared to cross, as he was of a desperate character. He gloried in intimidating and terrorizing those he could. He has frequently chased persons around our town with shot gun or revolver, swearing he’d shoot them, if they did not leave the town. It was generally thought that he would not shoot—that he was too great a coward to do the like. He was always getting into trouble himself and causing others much trouble. On this occasion he only escaped death by a hair’s breadth, being one time shot and the other time struck with a stone, which wound he is hardly well of.



from the Kentucky Commonwealth, October 9, 1877