2. William Goebel was gunned down before he could be sworn in as Governor
Most history fans can easily name all the American Presidents to have been assassinated. Few, however, would be able to name the only state governor to have been assassinated while in office. That sad honor goes to William Justus Goebel. He served as governor of the State of Kentucky at the very start of the 20th century. But his time in office was short-lived. Very short-lived, in fact; he lasted just four days before succumbing to bullet wounds.
Goebel was born to a family of German immigrants in Pennsylvania in 1856. Following the Civil War, his father moved the family down to Kentucky, where he went to school and then into a career in law. In 1887, Goebel became lieutenant governor. During his time in office, his abrasive nature made him many political enemies. So much so, in fact, he even shot and killed a rival in a duel. However, his policies, most notably his fight on the side of the common man and against the railroad lobby, earned him popular support.
The 1899 Kentucky gubernatorial election was fiercely-contested, but Goebel – controversially – came out on top. He headed to the Old State Capitol to be sworn in. Rumors of a plot to assassinate him ensured he travelled with two bodyguards, but they could do nothing to stop the assassin. Six shots were fired from the nearby State Building. Goebel was hit full-on in the chest. He was taken to hospital and was lucid enough to be sworn-in there the following day. Just four days later, however, he died. According to legend, Goebel’s last words were: “Tell my friends to be brave, fearless, and loyal to the common people.”
Goebel’s only act as Governor was to dissolve a militia formed by the Republican William S. Taylor in the immediate aftermath of the shooting. Taylor himself was implicated in the assassination, as were several of his key staff. Only one, however, was jailed, and even he was eventually paroled and then pardoned. Despite a wealth of research into the event, historians generally agree that the man who pulled the trigger and assassinated William Goebel, sitting Governor of Kentucky, will never be identified.