Millard Allen died in an automobile accident in 1930 and was buried in the Downey Cemetery (Stop 8). Florence continued to live on the place and died in 1959. Her other children married and moved away, except for Mollie, who never married. After Mollie passed away in 1999, her estate sold the small farm to the Clark County Fiscal Court to be incorporated into the newly formed Lower Howard’s Creek Nature and Heritage Preserve. The “Mollie Allen Tract” now forms the entrance area of thePreserve.
Sometime after Lucy died, Major Downey moved to Ohio with their four sons—Andrew, Ansel, Charles and David. This was during the Great Depression and the sons all found work in the Middletown steel mills. The old Hieronymus cabin—known for years afterwards as the Major Downey house—was rented out.
On January 3, 1939, the Downey house was the scene of a triple murder that shocked the community. With bold headlines, the Lexington Herald reported, “Three men were shot to death late this afternoon during a bloody gun battle staged in a ramshackle three-room cabin on the side of a hill near the Kentucky river in Southern Clark county.” The victims were William Henry “Buck” Sowers, a sometime game warden, fisherman and farm hand, Sampson Estepp, farm worker, and John Martin, who was employed at the now-abandoned Boonesboro Rock Quarry.
The following sequence of events was reconstructed from newspaper accounts and court proceedings. Buck Sowers resided in the front room of the cabin, while Sampson Estepp, his wife Mary and stepson Herbert lived in the back room, the two rooms being separated by a hallway. Sowers reportedly “had been awful drunk since about Christmas Day.” On the day of the slaying, Robert Martin was visiting Sowers and, after the pair finished off three pints of whiskey, they began arguing. It was late in the afternoon when Sowers fired a shotgun at Martin, who fled the cabin with a buckshot wound to his face. Mrs. Estepp testified that her husband had just returned to the cabin with a load of firewood, “I heard a shot. I said, ‘Buck has shot Bob.’” Estepp started to the front room to investigate and as he came into the room, Sowers shot him at pointblank range with a 12-gauge shotgun.
Mary Estepp ran out of the house screaming, alarming John Martin who was living in a house on the other side of the creek (Stop 1). Martin rushed to the cabin to see what was the matter and just as he was coming in the door, Sowers shot him. Martin died instantly. Next to arrive was Stanley Martin. He described what happened at his examining trial. “When I stepped inside of the house, I saw my brother lying dead on the floor, and when Buck pointed his gun at me, I let him have it. It was him or me.” Sowers died from ten .22-caliber bullet wounds. Stanley then proceeded to pound Sowers’ head with the butt of two shotguns, destroying each in the process. “I beat him until I got tired.”
Judge Joe Lindsay, who presided over the trial, described the gun battle as “the bloodiest in Clark County history.” Stanley Martin’s murder charge was dismissed on the grounds of self defense and temporary insanity. Stanley took in John Martin’s children—Arthur, Homer and Jean—and eventually married John’s widow, Ardella. The three Martin brothers involved in the fray—Robert, John and Stanley—were sons of William Martin and Derenza Sowers. William was a son of the Robert Martin who built the house at Stop 1 and who was the grandson of William Martin, the Revolutionary War veteran. The Martin family resided on Lower Howard’s Creek for nearly 200 years, from the time of their arrival in 1786 from Fluvanna County, Virginia, until the last of William’s descendants left the valley in the early 1980s.