Sam and John Campbell were born to Lavina Campbell and an unidentified father in Campbellsville, Kentucky in the early 1860s. Lavina was a housekeeper for a local farmer. Both Sam and John attended school, and were known to be literate. In the late 1870s, both brothers moved to Hart County, Kentucky. Sam, the older of the two, became a farmhand for John A. Gardner. John Campbell also became a farmhand for an unidentified farmer in the same community.
On December 23, 1880, John and Sam Campbell were hanged by a local mob. John was 19 or 20 years old, and Sam was 21 or 22; the newspaper accounts differ on the men’s ages. The news articles report that Sam and John Campbell had robbed Gardner when he was alone in the barn and then two men assaulted him. The Chicago Daily Tribune reported that Gardner’s wife heard the commotion between the three men, and left her home to search for help, while other newspapers suggest that she went directly to the police. Soon after, the Campbell brothers were captured and taken to Hart County jail, where they awaited their trial. At midnight, a mob of between 75 to 100 men entered the jail and kidnapped John and Sam Campbell. The mob took the men through the city, then down to the river. The mob then hung the men from a tree near the river. The local authorities, despite knowing of the impending hanging, did nothing to avert this, and the mob dispersed, unidentified, shortly after the lynching. Like many other lynchings of the day, the local papers hailed the mob as heroes bringing criminals to justice.