Archive for July 23rd, 2009

Kentucky Feuds

July 23, 2009

Bourbon State Feuds 1

FEUDS IN THE BOURBON STATE.

As Sicily is the country of the vendetta in Europe, so Kentucky is the home of the feud in our own country. There have been almost innumerable quarrels of this description in the Blue Grass State. Just now these family shooting bees are attracting attention owing to the recent outbreak between the Bakers and Whites, who are killing each other off as fast as they can.

The story of the feud is a long one and to one unacquainted with the ties of kinship which nowhere else bind so tightly as in old Kentucky, it seems ridiculous that people should go gunning for one another over such a simple cause. To the Kentucky mountaineer, born and bred as he is with an exaggerated sense of family rights, it is terribly real. First, last and all the time he will fight with his family if it becomes embroiled with any other. For good or ill and for life or for death he obeys the call to arms whether sounded by a dying relative or by one craving for vengeance. The Gallic adage “Look for the woman” applies to this quarrel. Whoever would find her, however, must go back 56 years, and it is said that something like 3,000 graves for the filling of which she is more or less directly accountable will be crossed on the way. The feud that cost Tom Baker his life the other day began in 1842, when another Tom Baker, a promising young doctor, moved with his wife from Virginia to Kentucky and settled in Clay county. Soon after his arrival he had, or thought he had — nobody knows or cares which now — reason to be jealous of one John Bates, a neighbor. So Dr. Baker used a shotgun or a rifle — nobody is sure about that, either — on John Bates, and the result was that as Bates lay dying on the ground he cursed Baker and called upon the Whites to avenge the murder. The doctor fled to parts unrevealed, but he left behind a baby son, who was the father of the Tom Baker just killed. From the crime of the jealous husband there grew up a widespread feud. At first involving only two families and one town, it spread through the mountains until now it has many names and fills with implacable enmity the members of scores of families. In Perry and Leslie counties it is known as the French-Eversole feud, in Harlan county as the Howard-Turner feud, in Letcher county as the Lee-Taylor feud, and in Clay county as the Howard-Baker feud. They are all branches of the same evil tree, and every one of them is green and vigorous. Occasionally there is a truce between this or that pair of factions, but most of the time it is bloody war.

The original reason has been forgotten in most cases and the different feuds have no connection at this late day as far as the present antagonists are concerned.

The famous Hatfield-McCoy feud was more the product of West Virginia than of Kentucky, but some of the participants lived on the Kentucky side of the line, and, in spite of the effort of Governor Wilson of West Virginia to reclaim them for trial, were held by the Kentucky authorities. Pike county was not good ground for a feud, a fast over which three of the Hatfields are brooding while serving life sentences at Frankfort. Another of the gang ??? in jail before trial. The McCoys were almost exterminated, and as the Hatfields are out of the way there is something like peace on the waters of ?ug Fork.

Bourbon State Feuds 2

The Rowan county feud was one of the bloodiest, most brutal and most stubborn. Unlike most of these feuds, it flourished in a county penetrated by a railroad, and most of its battles took place within sight of that agent of civilization. Beginning with an election quarrel between two striplings of the Tolliver and Martin families, in 1884, it raged during three years of terror. Craig Tolliver, a young, blue eyed giant, led the Tolliver faction. The Martins had friends, but lacked leadership, and were almost exterminated. The Youngs were drawn into the quarrel as friends of the Tollivers, and the Logans were marked for destruction as friends of the Martins. That was Craig Tolliver’s blunder, and led to his overthrow. As usual, the forms of law assisted rather than hindered the crimes.

The Harlan county, or Lee-Taylor feud, which has been a source of trouble to more than one governor of Kentucky, and which has cost the lives of at least six men, has been recently settled, and without the aid of the state militia. For the first time in many years the citizens of that county are resting easy and without fear of being killed. On June 17 the Lee and Taylor factions of the feud, which includes a large part of the population of that county, marched to Harlan courthouse and surrendered their arms and agreed to return to their homes once more as peaceful citizens.

Bourbon State Feuds 3

This is the logical result of the work of the law abiding and respectable people of that section. Some days before they organized at the county seat and marched in a body to the homes of the leaders of the factions. Here they pleaded with both the Lees and Taylors to return to peaceful pursuits and to bury their differences with their dead.

They were told what a reputation they were giving the county, and what the inevitable result would be should the governor be forced to send troops to quell the disturbances.

After much persuasion both sides agreed to surrender their arms. When the factions met at Harlan courthouse, the county seat, there were stirring scenes. Men who have been trying to kill one another for years grasped hands. Tears of joy could be seen trickling down the faces of many of the rough mountaineers.

An unmerited atmosphere of romance has been thrown about these feuds by fanciful writers. The plain truth is that they were remarkable only for brutality. Most of the killing was done from ambush. All sorts of treachery was practiced. Open fights rarely occurred, unless one side had big odds and the other side couldn’t get away. Human life simply had no value, and there were hundreds of men in the mountains ready to accept employment as retainers for any man who was able to pay them for committing murder and to put up money to protect them afterward.

The North Adams Evening Transcript (North Adams, Mass.) July 13, 1899