Joe P. Asher
The Harlan City Police Department is currently in possession of a true historical artifact from the city’s past.
Harlan Police Chief Mike Thomas has located a revolver used by former Harlan Police Chief James C. Pope in the final act of duty that resulted in Pope’s death.
Thomas related the events that led to Pope’s death.
“James C. Pope was police chief here in 1922,” said Thomas. “He responded to a call of bootlegging on Cumberland Avenue so he went down there to investigate that. They (the alleged bootleggers) were Balls (Loyd and James Ball) who lived on Cumberland Avenue. Both of them were shot and killed and in the process Chief Pope was also killed.”
“He (Pope) killed both of them, and he sustained wounds in the fight and died later,” said Thomas.
Thomas explains how the department came into possession of Pope’s weapon after all this time.
“I came across his story almost five years ago when I became chief. I noticed he was killed in the line of duty and wasn’t on the national wall or the state wall. So I got him on the national law enforcement memorial and the Kentucky memorial,” said Thomas.
Thomas explained while he was in the process of getting Pope placed on the memorial rolls, he attempted to “locate some descendants.”
“A couple of weeks ago Bill Robbins, a retired Pineville Fire Chief, who is the great nephew of Chief Pope…was driving through town and looked up and saw his picture on the side of the building. He stopped and talked to me and we struck up a friendship,” said Thomas.
According to Thomas, Robbins advised that he was in possession of Pope’s back up revolver.
“In the process of the shootout, this (the revolver) was found laying there with him. The story goes, his mother grabbed it and hid it, so his brothers wouldn’t get it and attempt retribution. She kept it for several years and passed it down to Bill (Robbins).”
The revolver is a pearl handled .32 long caliber, nickel plated Smith and Wesson. Thomas said he contacted Smith and Wesson and was told the gun was likely produced around 1914. While there are no definite plans at this time, the weapon could possibly be put on display at the Harlan City Police Department at a later date.
Reach Joe P. Asher at 606-573-4510 or firstname.lastname@example.org