In 1882 Sheriff William T. Cate had been elected to replace Sheriff Hiram "Jack" Springfield in Hamilton County. Before being elected to the high office, Cate had served as the local mail agent and magistrate. He was well-liked and respected throughout the county and easily won the race against his opponent, James E. Conner.
During the prior administration of Sheriff Springfield, a ship carpenter, John Taylor, had killed a steamboat captain. He was convicted of voluntary manslaughter and sentenced to 10 years imprisonment in the State penitentiary. He won an appeal and the case was sent back to Chattanooga for re-trial.
Deputy John J. Conway, 30, was assisting Sheriff Cate in transporting three prisoners and Taylor to Knoxville, Tennessee aboard the Southern Railway System. The lawmen sat in seats opposite their handcuffed prisoners in the passenger car. Two men had boarded the train in Sweetwater, Tennessee and sat directly behind Deputy Conway.
When the train reached Philadelphia, Sheriff Cate foolishly walked out on the platform to see if some of his relatives had come to visit him, leaving Conway alone with the prisoners and the two strangers at his back.
Bob Taylor, brother of John, shot Conway in the back of the head killing him instantly. The shooter of Deputy Conway took the keys from the dead deputy’s pocket and unlocked his brother and the two other prisoners. When Sheriff Cate heard the gunfire he rushed back into the car and the third Taylor brother, Andy, shot him without warning.
The two Taylor brothers approached the injured lawman lying on the floor of the train and shot him three more times. As Cate lay dying the killers ordered the conductor to “pull the bell” in order that they could get off at the Lenoir City, Tennessee depot. They then went into the engine car and ordered the motorman operating the train to get it moving.
The train went through three towns without stopping before the four suspects jumped from the train in Lenoir City and fled towards their home in Kingston. Andy, the shooter, was later re-captured and finally executed on November 23, 1883. John Taylor, who had been wounded by Sheriff Cate before he died, would later die from the injury.
Sheriff Cate had only been in office 14 days when he was killed on September 14, 1882.
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