History Of The Clinton TN Murder Of Hugh Bonham


In the 1800s, most high-profile criminal cases were only spoken of on a local level. Thanks to the Internet, such news today will attract attention from people around the world. On July 12, 1879, the city of Clinton, Tennessee would be pulled into a murder trial, with some citizens favoring the victim and others favoring the suspects.

On January 22, 1880, bookkeeper Samuel B. Ault, who was born on September 12, 1829, was chosen from 491 citizens to sit on a jury of a murder trial, along with Reese Thomas, John Gayham, David Huddleston, Mark Reynolds, James Wilson, John Lagston, John Parks, J.W. Prichet, George Hill and John Disnery. Their case would have a lasting impact on the cities of Clinton and Knoxville, Tennessee.

In 1879, a verbal altercation between three prominent men during a Sunday church service would escalate with one being killed and two others injured. Samuel O. Shipe, a university student, and A. J. Queener, an Anderson County court clerk, purportedly insulted Hugh M. Bonham, an attorney, that Sunday, leading to an encounter between Samuel O. Shipe and Bonham two to three months later. According to some reports, the incident become physical and Bonham got the better of Samuel Shipe.

It is also alleged that Bonham made inflammatory statements against Mr. Shipe while appearing before a Justice of Peace in defense of Lee Hall. Bonham said he would be willing to make amends for any wrongs he had inflected, but the conflict spiraled out of control and became fatal.

After word got around that Samuel O. Shipe and Queener planned to attack Bonham, he did his best to avoid them. The night before Bonham was killed, he told his friend that he would only fight to defend himself and quote “would not take any words for an assault” end quote.

Approximately 8 a.m. July 12, 1879, John L. Shipe, a R. Y. mail clerk, his son, Samuel O. Shipe, and Queener attacked Bonham outside a shoe shop in Clinton. The three beat Bonham with clubs and rocks, hitting him in the head and knocking him to the ground. The fight came to an end after about 22 shots were fired, including four from Bonham’s pistol and about 18 from the Shipes’ weapons.

Samuel O. and John L. Shipe shot Bonham as he fell to the ground the last time. Samuel O. Shipe ended the assault with two heavy blows to Bonham’s head.

An examination by several physicians revealed that Bonham had been shot by “three different sized balls,” which discredits the claims that Queener was not armed at the time of the attack. According to eyewitnesses, the shooting was believed to have started simultaneously.

The Shipes and Queener were transported to the Knoxville Jail, where they remained until their trial began on January 19, 1880. The trial came to an end after two weeks of opening statements, presenting evidence and closing arguments, leaving the jury to decide the fate of the defendants.

Approximately 7 a.m. February 3, 1880, the jury returned a verdict of acquittal as to Queener, guilty of assault and batter as to Samuel O. Shipe and guilty of assault as to J. L. Shipe. All defendants were ordered to pay a $50 fine, before being released from custody.

Bonham enlisted the army at the age of 16, serving as a Private in the Union Army in the First Regiment Company E Tennessee Mounted Infantry. He was a Superintendent of Public Instruction of Anderson County, a lawyer and spent much time traveling on the Western border.

Later, Hugh Bonham’s brother, James, ran into trouble of his own. On August 20th, 1881, he got into an altercation with Marion Cooper in Jacksboro. The incident left Bonham with a broken arm. Samuel O. Shipe was born in 1857 and died in 1923 from complications of diabetes.

Samuel Ault and his fellow jurors were forced to weigh the evidence and make a judgment in the defendants’ case. They undoubtedly did the best they could with what they were provided. Would you have ruled the same? Samuel Ault died on June 4, 1907 of cerebral softening. He has since been laid to rest in the Old Gray Cemetery in Knoxville, Tennessee.

December 2, 2017 |

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