Principal W. J. Barnes – One Week Later


Mr. Wesley James Barnes was born in Pulaski County Kentucky in 1874. He had served as teacher and superintendent in Pulaski County in 1914 and other systems over twenty five years. He arrived in Middlesboro to take over as principal at MHS around 1920.

Several national and regional newspapers reported a tragic incident that occurred in downtown Middlesboro in late October 1920. The copy below is from the November 6th Madison Register.

There were two different reports concerning Barnes condition.

The Appelton-Post Crescent reported on the same day the following story:


By United Press Released Wire Middlesboro, Ky.-Middlesboro High school was closed today as a result of a tradgedy which may cost the life of the principal, W.J. Barnes, 45, of Louisville. Barnes was shot over the heart by Adolphius Oaks, brother of the girl pupil whom the principal is alleged to have whipped last week. Oaks surrendered and was held in jail. Following general criticism of the punishment of the girl, Barnes had resigned.

One month later, Barnes was miraculously able to write to friends in Pulaski County as proved in the following transcribed newspaper article.

W.J. Barnes Writes To Let His Friends Know of Unfortunate Shooting Affair. Middlesboro, Ky., Dec. 3, 1920.

Somerset Journal, Somerset, Ky.,

Dear Sir: I get so many letters and telegrams from friends in Pulaski County that I thought I would ask you to put a short statement in the paper for me concerning my recent misfortune. I am principal of Middlesboro High School with an enrollment of one hundred and thirty pupils. About five weeks ago in enforcing a rule against talking I had some girls upon the carpet. It seems about a week after this a young man who belonged to a tough element and whom I had never seen, accosted me on the principle street one evening about dark and beat me over the head with his pistol and shot me through the lungs just above the heart, and since that time I have been struggling between life and death with chances at present in my favor of getting well. The good people of this town are standing by me loyally. They had a mass meeting at which they collected $2,000 to prosecute the assassin and pay all my hospital and operating expenses. My left hand had to be amputated at the wrist, but I am willing to give it freely for the great common school cause for which I have given the best part of my life of twenty-seven years service. Thanking you and my many friends in Pulaski County who have been so vitally interested in my welfare. I remain as ever, your friend, W.J. Barnes.

To help honor W. J. Barnes