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Some of the Famous Vendettas of the Feud States
THE killing of James B. Marcum, the prominent young lawyer and politician of Breathitt county, Ky., has once more focused attention on the “feud states” of the Union. Whatever the reason, the fact remains that in the border counties of Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina and West Virginia men are today to be found imbued with the same spirit that prompted the Scotch border raids, the spurt of repaying real or fancied wrongs by declaring war to the death upon all connected in any way with those who they deem have injured them and of bequeathing to their sons generation after generation a hereditary animosity which can only be appeased by the extermination of their enemies.
The story of the feudists is a ghastly narrative of murder and rapine, of arson and ambuscades, of cruelty beyond description. As in the Marcum case, assassination by the bullet is the feudists’ favorite method of procedure. So widely recognized is this that when a feud county factionist is riding through a piece of woods or a mountain d???? he will drop the reins and with a revolver in each hand be on the alert for a possible attack.
Undoubtedly the most sensational feud in the history of the country has been that of the McCoys and the Hatfields, an interstate affair involving Kentucky and West Virginia. Like most feuds it originated in a very trivial dispute, a quarrel between old Randall McCoy and Anse Hatfield, better known as “Devil Anse,” over the ownership of a pair of razorback hogs that could not have brought $3 in the open market. The dispute finally got into the courts and after the trial a Hatfield witness was mysteriously slain, presumably by one of the McCoy boys. Three of them were arrested, tried and acquitted.
War then began at a rate that promised the speedy extermination of both families. From 1882 to 1887, when the two states were aroused to a realization of the situation, killing and mourning went on unchecked.
The culminating outrages were two raids on McCoy’s home by parties of Hatfield henchmen. In the first raid McCoy’s son Calvin and his daughter Alifair were killed, and in the second McCoy’s wife and five of their children met death. On both occasions the house was set on fire and the inmates slaughtered as they fled from the flames. After the last raid McCoy started on the warpath, and as a result of his efforts a number of the Hatfields were captured and sent to state prison for terms varying from eight to ten years. During that period there was comparative peace in the mountains. In 1897, however when the convicts times was up “Devil Anse,” who had been in hiding, reappeared and once more placed himself at their head. It was not long before he fell into the hands of the authorities and was clapped into jail, with three indictments for murder pending against him. He managed to cut his way to freedom and took to the cave that had been his refuge during the preceding nine years. Randall McCoy learned where this hole in the mountains was located and led the pursuers to it. The place was a natural fortress and was not stormed until a liberal supply of dynamite had been used. In the confusion old Anse escaped once more. By this time he had had enough of feud fighting, but no one suspected it until last year when he sent a message to Randall McCoy expressing his desire for peace. Jim McCoy, answering for his father, replied that there could be no compromise between the Hatfields and the McCoys. It is thus evident that the end is not yet.
One of the curious features of the feuds is the way in which one family after another is drawn into the trouble until a man may ultimately have five or feuds on his hands at the same time. “Blood is thicker than water” is a popular cry in the mountains, and the feudists consequently take up the vendettas of their relatives and friends with the ardor they display in settling personal accounts. The natural results of this multifarious feudism are pitched battles in the mountains and terrorizing out of state troops, with Gatling guns and loaded rifles, to restore order. The celebrated Baker-Howard feud is a case in point, because though of independent origin it was fomented and intensified by the participation of its principals in the White-Garrard affair, which raged for over sixty years. The latter trouble was caused by the ambition of the White and Garrard families to surpass each other in wealth and political power, and it was the bitterness of their struggle and its subsequent complications that earned for Clay county the sobriquet “Bloody Clay.” Of late years the most sensational episode in this feud was the killing of Tom Baker, a Garrard sympathizer, while awaiting trial for the murder of Will White.
Baker had been captured in the mountains by a squad of militiamen and taken under guard to Manchester, where he was confined in a tent in the courthouse yard, surrounded by troops. Half an hour before his case was to be called he stepped to the tent entrance, a shot rang out from the house of Sheriff White, across the way, and Baker fell back dead in the arms of his wife, who, before his body was cold, gathered her ten children about it and made them swear to avenge their father’s death. Since then the feud has been raging intermittently, the latest incident being the killing of Sid Baker a little over a month ago in a roadside battle with William McCollum. At one time the various factions hired a number of men to fight for them, paying each man $1 a day and supplying him with food and ammunition. One of the leaders in this notorious imbroglio was Jim Howard, now under sentence of life imprisonment for the murder of Governor William Goebel. The Howards have always supported the Whites, while the Bakers have been identified with the Garrards.
Probably the most expensive feud Kentucky has ever known was the French-Eversole affair, another instance of a feud within a feud. It began with the killing of the head of the Confederate family of Gambrills by the Union Eversoles during the civil war, and fighting went on in a desultory way until 1884, when Fulton French came from Virginia to Hazard, Ky., and opened a store in opposition to Joseph C. Eversole. Trouble soon followed. The Gambrills sided with French, and the feud was on again in deadly earnest. It is said that French and Eversole have spent about $150,000 to carry on their warfare, thirty-eight lives being the cost in human blood. One of the feud’s many brutal features was the unprovoked killing in 1894 of aged Judge Joshua Combs, who was shot from behind a fence. His only connection with the trouble, it is said, was that he was the father-in-law of an Eversole.
The French-Eversole dispute was largely tinged with politics, and it was owing to a political feud that Lawyer Marcum lost his life. In fact, politics has always played a prominent part in the Kentucky vendettas. Marcum, a member of the Cockrill faction of the Hargis-Cockrill feud, was shot down while standing in the doorway of the Breathitt county courthouse at Jackson, Ky. He had filed a motion for the reopening of certain contested election cases in which the Hargises were vitally interested, and it is asserted that this was the direct cause of his assassination. Although a number of men were near him at the time of the killing the slayer had little difficulty in escaping.
A practical joke was responsible for another feud of long standing — the Howard-Turner — when a lighted match held to the face of a sleeping man started an enmity which stirred up all Harlan county, Ky., and resulted in the loss of at least fifty lives. Yet another sanguinary feud in the Blue Grass State was started last year between the Bentleys and the Rameys, two large and influential families. Politics, moonshine whisky and women were mixed up in this feud as they have been in so many others. The Martin-Tolliver feud, with its death roll of twenty-three, was chiefly remarkable because one of its chiefs, Craig Tolliver, was undoubtedly the most desperate man who ever led feudists. Also worthy of mention as being the first feud of importance in the state was the Hill-Evans vendetta, which began in 1829 as the result of a dispute over the ownership of some slaves. This lasted for twenty years.
Some notorious feuds of other states have been the Chadwell-Morgan in Tennessee, the Malone-Tyler in Georgia, and the Barnard-Sutton in Tennessee. The first two were strikingly similar in that both were accompanied by murders committed in churches. In the Chadwell-Morgan trouble forty Chadwells and thirty Morgans have been killed, the crowning horror occurring in 1901, when a Chadwell party attacked the Union Baptist church at Big Springs, Tenn., where the Morgans were attending services. In the pitched battle that followed both sides lost heavily.
WALTER Q. TAVISTOCK.
Mansfield News (Mansfield, Ohio) May 29, 1903
Tags: 1903, Baker-Howard, Chadwell-Morgan, Feuds, French-Eversole, Gambrill, Hargis-Cockrill, Hatfield-McCoy, Howard-Turner, Kentucky, Kentucky Feuds, Martin-Tolliver, Tennessee, Tennessee Feuds, White-Garrard