Murder of the Brumfield Family
Near this location on August 4, 1891 a laborer who had come to West Virginia to work on the N&W Railroad was shot and killed while trying to commit a robbery. According to police, a "Mr. Brumfield" who lived on Buffalo Creek shot and critically wounded the worker while he attempted to steal wheat from his barn. Days later, a group of workers went to Brumfield's home seeking revenge for Brumfield's disproportionate response to the attempted theft. They responded with even more violence, killing Brumfield and his wife and three of his daughters. Given the way many native-born residents viewed immigrants at this time, the fact that the railroad workers were Italian immigrants inflamed passion and led to a demand for vengeance. The event culminated in a violent shootout between the railroad workers and law enforcement. After a posse of local men under the command of Wayne County Sheriff Sanders Spurlock surrounded the worker's camp in Cattlesburg, Kentucky, the workers who had previously built barricades fired on the sheriff and his men. The shootout resulted in the death of eight railroad workers and serious wounds to two members of the Sheriff's posse.
Backstory and Context
In the late 19th century, foreign immigrants arrived in many of the rural areas of Appalachia seeking employment with railroads and the coal mines. These immigrant workers were often recruited from large cities. along with African Americans seeking an alternative to sharecropping in the Deep South. Many of the immigrants were from central Europe, including Italy, Hungry, Poland, Ireland, and the Slavic Nations. These peoples brought with them their culture and shared it with the peoples of Appalachia.
When the Norfolk and Western Railroad was constructed through Wayne County, West Virginia, the N&W contractors brought large numbers of African American workers from Virginia and the Carolinas, as well as Italian and Hungarian immigrants. During the construction of the railroad, over 110 African Americans were working alongside 300 Hungarians and 75 Italians in Wayne County (Dickinson 2005). Tensions often flared between these newcomers and the local people. On August 4, 1891, an incident occurred which sparked a violent shootout between Italian immigrants and the local law enforcement.
A few weeks prior to August 4, a Mr. Brumfield, who lived on Buffalo Creek near where the new railroad was being constructed, noticed that someone was stealing wheat from his barn. He kept watch for several nights and one night, he saw a man sneak into his barn. Brumfield took up his shotgun, confronted the thief, and shot him. The thief turned out to be an Italian immigrant who was working for the railroad. Despite bring severely wounded, the thief managed to retreat back to the Italian work camp. His fellow Italian workers sought vengeance for their wounded comrade. On August 4, a group of Italians approached Brumfield’s home and murdered Brumfield, his wife, and three of his daughters. Word of the brutal murders quickly spread and infuriated locals. Wayne County Sheriff Sanders Spurlock formed a posse and upon receiving word that the fugitives were headed north for Cincinnati, the posse set out in pursuit. They caught up to the murderers at the Italian work camp near Catlettsburg, Kentucky. To their surprise, the Italians had been warned and had fortified the camp with breastworks constructed of logs and stones. The sheriff’s posse were confronted by 25 to 30 armed Italians barricaded within the camp. When the posse charged the camp, the Italians opened fire. The shootout was brief but deadly. After the firing ceased, eight Italians were dead and two of the sheriff’s posse were wounded. Numerous arrests were made and it was determined that all of the men who participated in the murder of the Brumfield family had been killed in the conflict.