Posts Tagged ‘Tolliver-Martin Feud’

Kentucky Feuds

July 23, 2009

Bourbon State Feuds 1


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

Notable Kentucky Feuds

July 21, 2009

notable feuds 1899

In the mountains of Kentucky, where many years ago sturdy Scotch immigrants made themselves homes, the only law is the law of the clans, as strong today there as it was in the Highlands five hundred years ago. Let a man be killed in a dispute over a stolen shoat, a $20 buckboard or a paltry raft of logs — and they kill men there for just such things as these — his kinsmen kill his slayer, and thenceforth every ready rifles keep merrily popping until one or the other of the families is practically exterminated.

Such a feud is that now being waged  between the Bakers and the Howards, which, in fourteen months, has cost six lives and has caused the authorities to decide on sending into Clay county a special judge and prosecuting attorney, under a strong state guard, to bring the murderer of “Tom” Baker to a far different justice than that vowed by his widow, who, over his body, pledged her young sons to avenge their father’s death.


Bloody as has been the Baker-Howard feud, there are others still more bloody in Kentucky history, feuds that have numbered their victims by the dozens, says The New York Herald. A feud begun, in troops of two and threes, with rifles ready, the participants have scoured the mountains in search of their enemies, ready with murderous weapons as soon as some turn of the road brought their foes into view.

The first feud of importance in Kentucky was the Hill and Evans vendetta, which began in 1829 and continued for more than twenty years. The leaders were practicing physicians and they became enemies over a dispute over slaves. It was probably the most terrible feud ever known in the United States, for the members of the two families would fight wherever they met. Dr. Oliver P. Hill was the leader of one faction and Dr. Samuel Evans led the other. Their bloody battles terrorized the citizens of Garrand county. Altogether twenty-seven men were killed.

One of the first feuds to start after the war was the Strong-Amy feud, in Breathitt county, Capt. “Bill” Strong and John Amy being the respective leaders. This feud lasted thirty-five years, and one man a year was killed. The two forces met in a field one moonlight night, and when the firing was over there were five dead men and several badly wounded one.

The Howard-Turner feud in Harlan county was the next important feud. In this thirty men were killed and much valuable property was destroyed by fire. The feud ran for ten or twelve years, and no man was punished until Wilson Howard, one of the leaders, killed a man who did not belong to either faction, and was hanged for the crime. This broke up the feud.

More on the Harlan County, KY feuds can be found HERE.


Another feud that cost the state a great deal of money was the Martin-Tolliver feud, of Rowan county. Craig Tolliver was the most desperate man that ever led a feud, and he terrorized the people of Morehead and Rowan counties until they were afraid to call their souls their own. After the state had spent more than $1000,000 in efforts to put down lawlessness, Gov. J. Proctor Knott gave it up, and told Boone Logan, then a young lawyer of Morehead, that the people of the county would have to be all shot before he would do anything more. Logan mortgaged his home and bought $500? [hard to read] worth of rifles and ammunition and armed one hundred of the most determined men in Rowan county.

He then swore out warrants for the arrest of Tolliver and his men. They began shooting at the posse which had gone to serve the warrants. Logan had secreted his men around the hotel in which the Tollivers had taken refuge and had posted many of them along the road that Tolliver would be likely to take when he left the house. The firing became so heavy and bullets entered the plank hotel so rapidly that Tolliver and his men ran out and tried to escape only to be caught in a crossfire. Three Tollivers, including Craig, were killed and several others wounded. The rest left the country and the feud was ended., after twenty-three men had been killed.

Then came the French-Everitt feud of Perry county, with Fulton French at the head of one faction, and George Everitt, a brother of Judge H.C. Everitt of the Clay county circuit court, at the head of the other. This feud raged for ten years, and thirty-eight men died with their boots on.


The last, and in many respects, the worst feud Kentucky has experienced, is the Baker-Howard feud, which is now being waged so furiously. It has been stated that a feud between the Bakers and Whites existed over half a century ago, but this is untrue. The present vendetta began only a little more than a year ago. Three months ago only the county of Clay was affected. Now the counties of Perry, Jackson, Owsley, Laurel and Breathitt are involved, and there is no telling how far the war will spread unless vigorous measures are quickly taken.

The attempt to assassinate Jason W. Bowling, at Bogtown, last week, when the assassins mistook “Chris” Jackson, brother-in-law of “Tom” Baker, for him because he was riding Bowling’s horse, has aroused the largest and most powerful element of mountain fighters of any one incident of this feud. Jason Bowling is a leader among his people, and has always been opposed to the manner in which the White family has conducted the affairs of Clay county. He owns a farm near Bogtown, and last week received reliable information that he would be the next man killed by the Whites and Howards, and that one of their spies would call upon him in a few hours to find out just where he could be found. Sure enough that evening one of the White faction came to his house, ostensibly on other business, and then rode away. He had not gone more than 300 years before Bowling saddled his horse and rode away to London, some ten or twelve miles distant, where he stopped at the home of Christopher Jackson, whose young wife was Iby Baker, “Tom” Baker’s oldest sister. Here he was joined by his half-brother, “Andy” Baker of Jackson county, who was in the thirty-five-year war in Breathitt county between Capt. “Bill” Strong and “Wash” Amy. “Andy,” during that long war, was shot at twenty or thirty times, and carries a bullet in his leg, while a forty-five caliber ball went through his left lung.

From “Andy” Baker he received pledges of the support of all the Deatons, Burtons, Sandlings and Bakers in the upper counties. All the families named are closely related by blood and marriage to Bowling and have been for years known as expert fighters.

To give still greater strength to the brothers of “Tom” Baker, the powerful Philpot family is beginning to take sides against the Whites and Howards. The Philpots and Whites, while Republicans, belong to separate factions, and the Philpots have been the “outs” so far as county offices are concerned, for so long a time that there is much feeling between the followers of the two families. In one voting precinct in this county, every voter is either a Philpot or kin to one.

They are rich, and at the same time desperate men, having been engaged in numerous pistol and rifle battles. It is said of the Philpots that no man ever shot at one of them and lived to die a natural death if he remained in Clay county. The Philpots are friendly to Gen. T.T. Garrard and his sons, and this fact is not pleasing to the White and Howards. While General Howard has taken no part in the war, his sympathies are with the Bakers, and he may yet be dragged into the feud in a more active way.


On the other hand the Whites and Howards have not been idle. They have go more and better guns than they had last year, and have added to their stock of ammunition smokeless powder cartridges, which will render bushwhacking much safer than it was with the old-fashioned black powder. It was smokeless powder that was used in killing “Tom”Baker, and the same kind was used when the attempt to kill him on his own porch was made a month ago.

Not satisfied with the smokeless powder, the Whites and Bakers have secured a supply of explosive bullet cartridges, which, when fired into an enemy, produce such an ugly wound that it resists all surgery. Never before in the history of mountain feuds in Kentucky has a war been carried on with such terrible and scientific weapons, and to this fact is due the great loss of life already chronicled.

The men doing the principal fighting on the White and Howard side are those who have been sworn in as deputies of Sheriff “Bev” White. Among them are George, “Chad” and “Doc” Hall, who were the most reliable fighters on the French side in the noted French-Eversole feud of Perry county, which most the lives of seventeen Eversoles and nearly as many of the French faction. It is the presence of these three men, clothed with the authority of the law and armed to the teeth, which causes Judge H.C. Eversole to be afraid to hold court without a strong body of state troops present.


On of the saddest features of the feud is the desperate condition in which it left Mrs. “Tom” Baker and her eleven children. The oldest, “Jim,” is in jail at Barbourville, charged with the murder of Wilson Howard and Burch Stores, while the other ten boys, who range in age from fifteen years to one year, are at “Tom” Baker’s old home. Their mother received warning that the Whites and Howards have threatened to blow her house up with dynamite and to kill the children, and one of the opposing faction is said to have declared that “we won’t rest until we exterminate the whole Baker brood.”

It was the mother’s wish to have her children admitted to the Masonic Widows’ and Orphans’ Home in Louisville, but thus far no arrangements have been made.

Mrs. Iby Jackson, sister of “Tom” Baker, had to leave Clay county two months ago. She had carried a pistol to kill “Jim” Howard for killing her father in what she considered cold blood, and she was warned that she would be shot from ambush if she did not leave the county.

— Louisville Letter.

The Daily Northwestern (Oshkosh, Wisconsin)Jul 8, 1899


In THE BOY WITH THE U.S. CENSUS BY FRANCIS ROLT-WHEELER, which can be read online at the Project Gutenberg website, is a chapter entitled,  A BLOOD FEUD IN OLD KENTUCKY, which mentions the Baker-Howard feud.