27 September 2011

The Williams House, Catlettsburg, Kentucky

compiled by Teresa Martin Klaiber
September 2011

Much has been written about Mordecai Williams of Catlettsburg, Kentucky.  Williams was born 20 December 1835 in Greenup [now Boyd] County, Kentucky, the son of Marcus Lindsey and Elizabeth Williams.  A lengthy biography can be read in History of Kentucky and Kentuckians by E. Polk Johnson [1912], Volume III pp 1206-8.  The biography has been copied at several url's.  The original volume contains the following photograph:

Portrait from History of Kentucky & Kentuckians, Vol. III

His biography mentions  a "narrow escape from losing his life."  The biography tells of two burglars who entered his home, shooting him twice and escaping.  They were later captured and sent the penitentiary.

Articles of the incident appeared across the country in September 1903.   Most say there was only one burglar.  The Emporia Gazette in Kansas ran an article "Kentuckians Hot After a Man who Shot Up a colonel Contrary to Law."  The Atlanta, Georgia paper headline read: "Shot Down By A Burglar. Kentucky Colonel Is Desperately Wounded by Night Prowler.  But the most descriptive and closest article I found to home was in the Portsmouth Times several days after the incident on September 12th.

"USED SABRE - Honorable Mordecai Williams Chases a Bold Burglar - And is Shot Down by the Thief - Ashland Man in a Thrilling Midnight Encounter.
Mordecai Williams, one of the most prominent citizens of Eastern Kentucky, was shot through the chest by a burglar at his home in Normal, just north of Catlettsburg, Monday night. Mr. Williams was defending himself with an old sword, valued as a relic, when the burglar fired the shot.

Mr. Williams was awakened by his wife, who heard the burglar in the room.  He saw the intruder, and as there was no other weapon in the room he secured the sword and struck the intruder with it.  the burglar then fired, the bullet striking Mr. Williams near the heart and passing entirely through his body.

After he was shot, Mr. Williams did not fall but continued his pursuit of the burglar, wielding the old sword, and the latter was finally forced to jump from a second story window, without securing any booty.  A search was made for him after the alarm was given but he had disappeared.

Although the bullet passed entirely through Mr. Williams' body, coming out near the spine, no vital organs were hit and he may recover.  

Mordecai Williams is one of the most prominent and best known citizens of Northeastern Kentucky."

For the record Mordecai Williams did survive and lived twenty more years.  He died 17 May 1923 and is buried in what today is Williams Section of Golden Oaks in Boyd County, Kentucky.  It was known as Williams Cemetery and was up the hill behind the home referenced in the attack.  

His wife at the time of the attack was Penelope, "Neppie" the daughter of John P. Savage and Margaret Frizzell.   The Williams married 25 August 1875 after they were both widowed. Neppie died 23 January 1920 and is also in Williams Section of Golden Oaks. 

I chuckled a bit at a mis-spelling in the Atlanta paper.  That article stated that Sheriff John "Henne", with a posse was hunting a burglar.  It did go on to say that  Sheriff "Henne" was the son-in-law of Colonel Williams.    "Henne" is John Fisher Haney who married Ann Dickinson Williams.  The Haney family lived right next door to the Williams family.

The marriage of Haney to the colonel's daughter caused commotion.  The news reached Ironton and was posted in the paper there.  Haney was born February 1870 in Ohio.
"Ironton Weekly Register, August 26, 1893
Runaway Marriage. - An event occurred yesterday in Catlettsburg that has created considerable stir in social circles, being no less than the marriage of Miss Anna D. Williams to John Haney, of Normal. It is said that the young couple have been attached to each other for some time, but their marriage was opposed by the grandmother of the bride. The father accompanied them yesterday and the marriage was solemnized at Catlettsburg, by Rev. Mr. Carnahan. Mr. and Mrs. Haney left for Chicago after the ceremony and are now enjoying the sights at the World's Fair. - Ashland Signal"
Annie Williams Haney died in October 1901 of typhoid fever.  on 14 January 1904 John Fisher Haney married Gertrude Minor.

The Williams home was full of laughter  in June 1903 when the Haney's daughter Anna Williams Haney celebrated her 9th birthday at her grandparents.  It was such a big social event that the Catlettsburg Daily Press made note calling Mordecai's home simply the "Williams House."

Even as late as the 1990's when I first learned of the Klaiber connection to the home it was simply referred to as the "Williams House."

Three years before Mordecai's death, John Fisher Haney's father Joseph, who had been living with the Haney family at Normal, died in Boyd County.  John Fisher Haney died in August 1925 and was buried in Woodland Cemetery, Ironton, Lawrence County, Ohio.

During the early 1930's as people struggled with the Depression the James Matthew Klaiber family rented their own farm out on Big Garner and moved into the Williams home, renting from Gertrude Minor Haney.

The Klaiber family could make more money with this move during hard times.  James Matthew Klaiber plowed all the ground that now consists of Golden Oaks.    Son John Henry Klaiber drove a truck for the local feed company and helped his father farm.  In February 1931 they got a Federal Crop Mortgage for "all crops...now planted and growing...Boyd County...the farm of Mrs. John Haney located on the east end of Ashland near Catlettsburg...bounded on the north by school property...175 acres."  The Mortgage was filed by John Henry's sister Martha who worked as clerk at the Boyd County Courthouse in Catlettsburg.   The Klaiber family were able to return to their own farm by 1935.

John Fisher Haney's widow, Gertrude continued to live until 21 March 1970.  She also is resting in Woodland Cemetery, Ironton, Lawrence County, Ohio.

The William's House was still standing in October 1974 when Evelyn Jackson wrote an article in the Press Observer [vol. 1 #35, 31 Oct.] on the Williams genealogy. Today nothing of the home stands except a set of cement steps going up the side of the hill.


  1. Is the Margaret Frizell above, the daughter of Josephus and Mary (Savage) Frizell and the twin of Dr. W. A. Frizell? While not related to the Frizells their name keeps coming up in documents about my great-grand parents.

    Don Woodworth

  2. Is this the same Williams family as mine? If so, then Jim and I are related?

    Where are the Steel Wheels you bought ( on the gate )?

    Love Roger