- Historic Sites
The Rage Of The Aged Lion
Alone in his empty mansion, the venerable Cassius Clay took unto himself a scandalously youthful bride; when the posse came for him, they met more than their match
June 1960 | Volume 11, Issue 4
Nobody knows who fired first, but they got into a shooting match. At least sixteen bullet holes still remain in that piazza door and the columns and door frames. The old General fired his cannon and knocked down the tree that the sheriff was behind. He emptied his Winchester rifle and then charged down the steps with Lincoln’s revolver in one hand and his knife in the other. As to how that was viewed, consider the following copy of the report of the sheriff:
“Richmond, Kentucky—Wednesday, November 14, 1894. Judge John G. Chenault. Dear Judge: I am reporting about the posse, like you said I had to. Judge, we went out to White Hall, but we didn’t do no good. It was a mistake to go out there with only seven men. Judge, the old General was awful mad. He got to cussing and shooting and we had to shoot backl The old General sure did object to being arrested. Don’t let nobody tell you he didn’t, and we had to shoot! I thought we hit him two or three times, but don’t guess we did—he didn’t act like it.
“We come out right good, considering. I’m having some misery from two splinters of wood in my side. Dick Collier was hurt a little when his shirt-tail and britches were shot off by a piece of horseshoe and nails that come out of that old cannon. Have you seen Jack? He wrenched his neck and shoulder when his horse throwed him as we were getting away. Judge, I think you’ll have to go to Frankfort to see Brown. [That was John Young Brown, who was the governor.] If he could send Captain Longmeyer up here with two light fielders [field pieces] he could divide his men and send some with the cannon around to the front of the house—but not too close—and the others around through the cornfield and up around the cabins and the spring house to the back porch. I think this might do it. Respectfully, Josiah P. Simmons, High Sheriff.”
For two and one-half years, the Old Lion and his child bride lived quietly at White Hall. Then Dora grew homesick for her native Valley View, craved companions of her own age, and her venerable husband gently put her in his buggy and took her back to her humble birthplace—a little shack in a sawmill village on the Kentucky River. In further obedience to her wishes, he gave her a divorce.
The last romantic episode of the Old Lion’s long and tempestuous career was over. He was alone again at White Hall, reading the classics, tending his flowers and shrubs, feeding the birds, and watching the bats. Those who had known him in the bright noontide of his fame were dead. His children remained estranged. All that the countryside knew of him now, or cared to know, was that up there on the hill lived an eccentric old man who resisted fiercely any invasion of his rights.
One night, three denizens of the Kentucky River cliffs, seeking revenge and valuable silverware brought from Russia, broke into the mansion. The Old Lion was asleep, but he woke up and, with Lincoln’s revolver and his bowie knife, fought his last mortal combat. A terrified Negro boy from one of the cabins on the place galloped all the way to Richmond to report the violent “goings on” in the darkness up at the big house.
Law officers found the Old Lion sitting calmly, meditatively, before flickering embers in his library. Close gunfire had left him with a bullet-punctured bathrobe, scorched and smoking, and several body wounds, hardly more than skin deep but bleeding slightly. Two of the intruders were dead.
Some months later, the Old Lion—nearly ninety-three—took to his bed, suffering from the infirmities of age. A few days before his death, on July 22, 1903, he expressed deep chagrin that, by all signs, his earthly departure was to be so distressingly prosaic.