|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
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
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
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
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.