Nelson Cooper was an African American man who lived in Greenville, Kentucky. Given the frequency of the name “Nelson Cooper” in the U.S. Census Records of 1860, 1870, and 1880, it was difficult to ascertain reliable, specific biographical information about him. Please check Ancestry Library for more information.
Similarly, given the commonness of Sam Bailey’s name, there is little specific information about him available in the 1870 and 1880 Census. There is, however, an 1880 Census entry for a 17-year old African American male named Sam Bailey who lived in Todd County, Kentucky, neighboring Logan County where the lynching of the two men occurred. This entry is included in the image collection below.
At the time of the lynching, the newspapers accounts agreed on just a few facts. On October 9 or 10, 1883, Cooper and Bailey were traveling by horseback on a highway near Russellville, Kentucky. They encountered Dick Winlock, a white man, and an argument ensued. Cooper allegedly shot and killed Winlock, and Cooper and Bailey men left the scene. The sheriff arrested the two men the next day, then brought them to the jail in Russellville. According to the Louisville Courier-Journal, word traveled fast through Russellville on the evening the men were arrested. A mob of about 60 men formed, some of whom were masked. On October 11, 1883 the mob attacked the jail and confronted the jailer, who refused to hand over the keys to the men’s jail cell. When the mob threatened to shoot the jailer, he surrendered the keys, and the mob charged in. The mob then kidnapped Cooper and Bailey, took them to the edge of Russellville, and hanged them.
Many of the white newspapers presumed the guilt of the lynching victims and supported the use of extra-legal racial, describing the lynching victims in racist language and labeling the mob as fair, quiet, and duty-bound. For example, the Muhlenberg Echo of Greenville, Kentucky, showed considerable racial bias in its description of Cooper and Bailey as “absolutely inhuman and fiendish,” while Winlock was portrayed as a harmless, inoffensive white man, who was intoxicated as he walked home from the circus. The Louisville Courier-Journal described Cooper and Bailer as “cruel murderers” who were “thirsty for human blood.” The Dansville Advocate and Owensboro Messenger wrote that “the mob was composed of good citizens.” And the Muhlenberg Echo boasted how the mob did “its work silently; rapidly, and well.”
No one was arrested or apprehended for the lynching of Nelson Cooper and Sam Bailey.