After the Civil War, life in many of the southern states was anything but civil. Kentucky in the late 1800s was particularly hard hit with lawlessness and violence that local authorities could not control. It was so bad that the citizenry banded together to take matters into their own hands. Calling themselves “Regulators,” they made it clear that lawlessness would not be tolerated… even if they had to break the law themselves in order to enforce it.
This form of vigilantism began in 1879 in Elliott County when two hundred regulators stormed the local jail, dragged two alleged outlaws outside and hung them in front of the courthouse. The movement then quickly spread to adjoining counties, spawning an outbreak of terror against suspected wrong-doers and undesirables, including those operating outside of the moral standards of the community.
In March of 1880, about a hundred regulators rode up to the house of James Binion, my daughter-in-law’s 5th great-grandfather, where they demanded to see John Boggs, a supposed nefarious character who was sheltered inside. Binion refused them access, instead opening fire upon them and allegedly killing one of the regulators. Although they had only come to notify Boggs to leave the county, once shots were fired, they broke down the door, fired a volley which instantly killed Binion, then took Boggs and lynched him. Binion’s wife suffered a broken leg in the melee and his son was whipped for participating in the exchange of gunfire.
The regulators’ reign of terror only lasted a few years. The movement was squashed when district Judge James Stewart called on Gov. Luke Blackburn to send state troops to restore order. That threat, along with the promise to pardon any regulator who voluntarily surrendered, effectively put an end to the organized vigilantism movement although isolated acts would occasionally occur until the twentieth century.
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