John C. Coomer
City Marshall
Burnside, Kentucky
by James Edward Fitzgerald, 07 Jan 1999

Contributed by John Carter, with permission of the author
"This story was written by my cousin, James Edward "Jim Ed" Fitzgerald... He wrote about his grandfather, John C. Coomer. John was the City Marshall in Burnside at the turn of last century. He was shot on 2 different occasions while performing duties of that position.

John Coomer (b.February 23, 1861) was married to Charity E. Noe. They had 9 children, all born and raised in Burnside. He was the son of James Matthew 'Matt' Coomer (b. 1835) and Sarah Elisabeth 'Lizzie' Hardwick (b.1846). Charity (b.January 1864) was the daughter of Shadwell Noe (b.Abt. 1845) and Sarah F. Hunt (b.Abt. 1838)." --John Carter, Apr 2000

John C. Coomer
City Marshall
Burnside, Kentucky

by James Edward Fitzgerald, 07 Jan 1999

The account of this and other incidents in the life and death of John C. Coomer and John Fitzgerald was obtained from notes made by a former Burnside resident and local historian, Bernice Mitchell. Information was also obtained from my mother, Edna Coomer Fitzgerald, and an article from the Burnside Republic, dated Oct. 7, 1971. Ms. Mitchell was an excellent source of information and documented the history of Burnside. Edna Fitzgerald was in possession ot the shirt collar that had a bullet hole in the back center.

John C. Coomer was born on Feb. 23, 1861 and died Oct. 1, 1913. He was City Marshall at Burnside for 18 years. He also worked the steamboats that hauled freight and passengers on the Cumberland River from Burnside to Nashville, TN. Coomer had three sons and two son-in-laws that worked the boats.

During his tenure as Marshall of Burnside, Coomer was shot on two occasions. The first shooting occured when he heard a shot at Tom Smith's Barber Shop. Marshall Coomer went to investigate and found Tom Smith lying dead in the floor of his establishment. John Satterfield was standing over Smith with a pistol in his hand. Marshall Coomer told Satterfield to throw down the gun and come with him, Satterfield shot Coomer in the stomach and ran. Marshall Coomer returned the fire and killed Satterfield.

After recovering from this injury, John Coomer resigned as City Marshall and returned to the river. He spent the next two years working on the steamboat, City of Burnside.

With some reluctance, he was finally urged to return to the position of City Marshall. One of the duties as Marshall was to meet the trains and see that there were no troublemakers coming to town. One day, as the train pulled into the station, Josh Tarter, a friend of Coomer's, staggered off the train. He was obviously drunk and Coomer told him he would have to go to the jail for a while to sober up. They walked peacefully from the depot to the jail. Upon arriving at the jail, Tarter pulled a small pistol from his pocket and shot Coomer in the back of the neck. Relatives of Coomer stated that when he resumed the position of Marshall, he decided not to carry a weapon. This decision was due to the previous shooting that he was involved in. They also state that Coomer's wife, Charity [Charity Noe Coomer, ed.], was a witness to the shooting and after being shot Coomer requested she bring a weapon from the house. He was so injured that he was unable to pursue Tarter.

A posse was formed to capture Tarter. This group consisted of Louis Ramsey, Lum Evans, Fred Purdue, John Fitzgerald, and Loge Hamm.

Tarter had gone from the jail to the Cumberland River ferry and asked Ben Brown to set him across. Brown was not aware of the earlier shooting and proceeded across the river with Tarter. When the posse arrived on the Burnside bank of the river, they called for Brown to return Tarter to their side of the river. Tarter supposedly told Brown, "I am closer to you than they are", and pulled his weapon. Brown continued across the river and the shooting began. Tarter was wounded in the right arm. John Fitzgerald was fatally struck by a bullet from Tarter's weapon and died at the scene.

John Coomer lived about six weeks and died on Oct. 1, 1913. While lying on his deathbed, he asked the family, which was gathered around, not to prosecute Tarter if he was found because he was afraid his older sons would get mixed up in the shooting and get killed. He was worried that there would be no one to take care of the family of eight children. His wishes were apparently granted as evidenced by the death certificate issued and signed by Dr. N.D. Stigall on Oct. 2, 1913.

Tarter was later apprehended by law enforcement officials and returned to Pulaski County. The Coomer family never pressed charges. Josh Tarter was prosecuted for killing John Fitzgerald and served about five years.

John Coomer was the father of my mother, Edna Coomer Fitzgerald and John Fitzgerald was the uncle of my father, Joe D. Fitzgerald. The profession of law enforcement continued on into my generation as I served over 25 years with the Kentucky State Police, retiring in 1984.

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