Whitesburg KY

‘Clell’ Adams was both lawman and killer; will grave be saved?

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the head of Elkhorn Creek was awash with blood.

There were so many killings in the area where Jenkins now stands that the Potter Cemetery near Camden became known as “Murdered Man Cemetery.” An estimated 25 murder victims are interred there.

Tempers were running so high that Henry Clay Adams stuck dynamite into the grave of moonshiner Ira Mullins, who was murdered a few months before during the Killing Rock Massacre, and blew him clean out of the ground.

Now the grandnephew of Henry and his brother George McClellan “Clell” Adams, a lawman, feudist and killer who was murdered himself, is afraid Clell Adams may be pushed out of the ground by construction of a new section of U.S. 119.

The Kentucky Department of Highways released a map of the proposed route for the road earlier this month that takes it north of the existing U.S. 119, and brings it back into the highway just before the in- tersection with U.S. 23. Jim Adams, 83, saw the map and began to wonder whether the grave a cousin showed him 30 years ago is in danger of being destroyed.

“It was near the gas station in that big curve where you started up the mountain to Virginia,” Adams said, referring to old U.S. 23.

Jim Adams grew up in Jenkins, but lived for 65 years in Montana, where he worked for the U.S. Forest Service for 16 years before going to Alaska to buy a boat and become a commercial fisherman for a while. With an eye for direction, Adams said Clell Adams’s grave was north of the highway, but he couldn’t place it any more closely than that.

Sara George, spokeswoman for District 12 of the Kentucky Highway Department, said graves are normally found during the design phase of a road, which US 119 is in now, but the person there who is responsible for that didn’t know anything about the Clell Adams grave.

“It’s pretty easy to find a cemetery, but if it’s just one grave, that’s a lot harder,” she said.

George said the department will start looking for the grave and try to determine whether it was already moved when U.S. 23 was rebuilt, or if it’s still in the area.

If they find it, George said, they’re not sure what the process will be. The person responsible for that said, “since he’s been doing this, we’ve never had to move a historic grave,” George said.

All Jim Adams could say for certain is that the grave was covered with a homemade concrete slab with the name scratched into the surface. There were no other graves in the vicinity, and that could have been because of the life Clell Adams led. By the time he was nearing his 21st birthday, sometime in the 1890s, Clell had killed seven men, possibly five to six more than his brother Henry, who spent years on the run after killing Devil John Wright’s son in a gunfight.

Jim Adams said Clell became a lawman while still in his teens, taking prisoners back and forth from Wise, Va., to Whitesburg, and would have a little fun with them on the way. His reputation as a killer meant it wasn’t much fun for the prisoners.

“He’d get them to the top of Pound Gap and ask them, ‘Do you want it running or standing?’” suggesting he would kill them whether they tried to get away or not.

“My dad said killing a man didn’t bother Clell any more than killing a fly,” Jim Adams said. “He’d go home and go to sleep like nothing had happened.”

Somewhere along the line, he killed the wrong person, and his short past caught up with him.

According to Jim Adams, Clell was in church when Ranse Smallwood called him outside, sat down on a stump with him, and earned $100 and a new Smith & Wesson revolver.

He put a bullet in George McClellan Adams, and another murdered man in the ground at the head of Elkhorn.

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