The past is the present for future generations who do not know their history

John A Murrell Gang

The Nashville Daily American wrote about Murrell in 1876…

and provides some interesting facts.

Researched and Compiled by Jonathan Kennon Thompson Smith

January 12, 1876

Page 3:

        On our first page will be found an old document concerning John A. Murrell, who figured some years ago in this mountain country as a highwayman and horse thief. It is a fact not generally known, that Murrell reformed before his death, and lived for several years a member of the Methodist Church in good standing. He was a carpenter by trade and worked mostly in Bledsoe county, boarding usually at the house of John M. Billingsly, Esq., five miles above Pikeville, who now resides on Cane Creek, in Van Buren county. Murrell was a man of uncommonly good education and intelligence, and had one of the best libraries in the neighborhood. Several of his books are now in the library of President Carnes, of Barritt College. Murrell acknowledged his former crimes and with his intimates he talked freely but regretfully of them, but he denied to the last that he had ever committed murder. This declaration was repeated on his deathbed. Those who knew him best believed he was sincere. He died at Squire Billingsley’s and was buried in the graveyard near old Smyrna Church. A few nights after, the grave was violated and the head taken away, by whom was never known. The body was re-interred and has since remained undisturbed. To distinguish it, the grave was dug at an angle of forty-five degrees to the usual east and west line. It is still pointed out to curious strangers who visit the spot.


[For persons interested in the life of the notorious outlaw, John A. Murrell, they may read the biographical sketch about him in GENEALOGICAL ASIDES FROM SEVERAL WEST TENNESSEE SUPREME COURT CASES: 1830s, by Jonathan K. T. Smith, Jackson, 1997, pages 60-79.]


Outlaw Murrell…

did not have a happy ending awaiting him.

From the Florence Times, Saturday, February 28, 1895, p. 1.


An account of His Capture Near Florence.
His Imprisonment, Death and Mutilation.

          Mr. T. F. Simpson of Tuscumbia gives the following interesting account of the noted outlaw John A. Murrell in the Memphis Commercial Appeal of Sunday last:
          I take the liberty of correcting an inaccuracy which appeared in The Commercial Appeal of Monday last, in reference to that of an interesting review of the incidents in the life of the famous bandit and outlaw, John A. Murrell, furnished by John P. Clay, which says the outlaw was never once captured in the whole course of his career. Mr. Clay is evidently not well posted, in view of the above statement. Many of the citizens of this section have heard from their parents’ knees numerous thrilling incidents in the career of Murrell, as he was often through this section away back fifty years or more, and of his capture and service in the Nashville (Tenn,) penitentiary, where he remained an inmate until he was declared to be dying of consumption and was pardoned by the governor. Soon after he was given his liberty he died at Pikeville, Tenn. Several years ago a citizen of Tuscumbia, Col. A. H. Kellar [sic], while visiting at Pikeville, met Mrs. S. C. Norwood, whose father gave Murrell employment as a blacksmith on his farm where he worked as long as his health would permit. Murrell had learned the trade in the penitentiary. Mrs. Norwood also informed Col. Kellar [sic] that Murrell was a constant Bible reader before his death, but always maintained that he had never killed a human being.
          The arrest and capture of the notorious outlaw was made on the outskirts of Florence through a negro named Tom Brandon [sic], a bricklayer, who died in Tuscumbia a few years ago, having reached a ripe old age. Tom’s master was a contractor and assisted in building many business houses in Florence. Colored brick masons were worth several thousand dollars, and Murrell planned a scheme by which he hoped to secure Tom and sell him for what he would bring. He made known his plans to Tom, with whom he proposed to share the proceeds of the sale. Tom heard his plans but would give him no definite answer until a second interview was had with the bandit. In the meantime he notified his master of Murrell’s proposition, and the time and place of the interview. Tom’s master enlisted the services of an officer and when Murrell went to fulfill his engagement with Tom he was captured and tried and sent to the penitentiary. These are facts which can be substantially corroborated by numerous citizens of Tuscumbia.
          Murrell was buried at Pikev[i]lle, and a short time after the internment his headless body was found near the grave, partially devoured by hogs. It was never known by whom this terrible deed was committed. It was rumored that his sku[ll] was sold to a Philadelphia museum.
          Thus it will be seen that John A. Murrell, whose name will live through centuries as one of the most noted criminals of ante-bellum days, was arrested, tried and convicted and served in the Tennessee penitentiary until the governor pardoned him on account of ill health.