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Days of Darkness

Days of Darkness: The Feuds of Eastern Kentucky

Copyright Date: 1994
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    Days of Darkness
    Book Description:

    " Among the darkest corners of Kentucky's past are the grisly feuds that tore apart the hills of Eastern Kentucky from the late nineteenth century until well into the twentieth. Now, from the tangled threads of conflicting testimony, John Ed Pearce, Kentucky's best known journalist, weaves engrossing accounts of six of the most notorior accounts to uncover what really happened and why. His story of those days of darkness brings to light new evidence, questions commonly held beliefs about the feuds, and us and long-running feuds -- those in Breathitt, Clay Harlan, Perry, Pike, and Rowan counties. What caused the feuds that left Kentucky with its lingering reputation for violence? Who were the feudists, and what forces -- social, political, financial -- hurled them at each other? Did Big Jim Howard really kill Governor William Goebel? Did Joe Eversole die trying to protect small mountain landowners from ruthless Eastern mineral exploiters? Did the Hatfield-McCoy fight start over a hog? For years, Pearce has interviewed descendants of feuding families and examined skimpy court records and often fictional newspapeputs to rest some of the more popular legends.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-2640-1
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Maps
    (pp. vii-vii)
  4. What This Is All About
    (pp. 1-8)

    The feuds of Eastern Kentucky have always been the stuff of legend and folklore, in part because there is so little substantial evidence on which the writer can depend. Courthouse fires have destroyed many records relating to the feuds. Much of the feud violence never reached the courts, as the feudists, either distrusting the courts or dissatisfied with jury verdicts, preferred to settle matters themselves. In many cases all we have is word of mouth, handed down over the years like folk songs, with the facts bent to reflect the loyalties of the speaker. Probably for this reason, every tale,...

  5. Harlan County:: The Turners Meet the Howards

    • Choose Your Outlaw
      (pp. 11-14)

      Devil Jim Turner didn’t get his nickname by accident. Once, while hiding from the law, he got hungry, slipped up on a herd of dairy cows, knocked one unconscious, cut a hunk of meat off the cow’s hindquarter, ate it perhaps raw, and ran the cow, bleeding, limping, and bellowing, back with the others. Jim terrorized members of his own family as well as neighbors. After an argument with an aunt, he knocked her down and raped her.

      Jim was not the only free spirit in the clan. The Turners were often ready to resort to gunplay to get their...

    • The Turners Meet the Howards
      (pp. 15-24)
      Will Jennings and Wilson R. Howard

      The Howards had been a large, peaceful family, mostly storekeepers and farmers, whereas the Turners had often been the source of friction and outright crime. Yet when historians write of the feud, many tend to refer to the Howards as “outlaws.” This may be due to the hostility between the Howards and County Judge Wilson Lewis, who was suspected of conspiring against the Howards to control the whiskey business in Harlan County.

      The Turners were naturally indignant when the Howards helped to send a Turner to prison. But several years elapsed between the time Devil Jim and Francis Pace were...

    • The Trap that Didn’t Spring
      (pp. 25-28)

      Wilson Lewis should have felt fairly secure. The Turners owned much of Harlan Town, the county seat. Lewis was county judge, Mose Turner was sheriff. Furthermore, Lewis knew, though Wilse Howard did not, that the detective Imboden, who was trailing Wilse for the murder of the deaf-mute in Missouri, was closing in. Yet all Wilse Howard had to do was send word that he was going to burn down the town and Lewis fired off another letter to Governor Buckner, pleading for the protection of troops. Apparently Buckner finally got tired of the routine and on March 17, 1890, sent...

  6. Breathitt County:: A Talent for Violence

    • Almost a Romantic Journey
      (pp. 31-40)

      In the summer of 1780, while the Revolutionary War still raged along the American seaboard, a group of young Virginians walked and rode down the Shenandoah Valley, through southwest Virginia and the Pound Gap in the Cumberland Mountains into the wilderness of Kentucky. Though they were very serious in their search for a new life beyond the mountains, free of the strife between the restless colonists and the British crown, their journey had about it almost the air of a lark. They were very young—none was over twenty—and there was something youthful and romantic about their idealistic journey....

    • Illustrations
      (pp. None)
    • Captain Strong’s Last Ride
      (pp. 41-44)

      Big John Aikman was home from the penitentiary in little more than a year, having been given the pardon that seemed routine at the time. Obtaining pardons for men in prison was one of the strongest weapons of state legislators and officials; relatives did not forget at election time the official who had gotten their husband or brother pardoned, and governors were inclined to go along, especially with members of their own parties. As a result, a life sentence was often little more than an extended vacation away from home.

      Captain Bill Strong was still in command of his forces...

    • The Last and Bloodiest Feud
      (pp. 45-54)

      The worst feud to tear Breathitt County apart has come to be known as the Hargis-Cockrell feud, though it might as easily be called the Hargis-Cockrell-Marcum-Callahan War. It started, not surprisingly, over an election. And it involved friends and close relatives. Scratch a feud and you’ll find tragedy and heartbreak.

      As has happened many times in Breathitt County, the first signs of this trouble appeared in 1898 at a school board election. James B. Marcum, a prominent Republican attorney, accused James Hargis, a former school superintendent, of trying to vote a minor. Tempers flared and, as usual, pistols were drawn...

  7. Pike, Perry, and Rowan Counties:: Mayhem Everywhere

    • No Romeo, No Juliet, No Heroes
      (pp. 57-74)

      Of all the feuds that tore the mountains of Eastern Kentucky during the nineteenth century, the Hatfield-McCoy feud was surely the strangest. It didn’t amount to much—a dozen people killed over a period of eight or ten years—but mainly because of sensational coverage by press and magazine writers, it was blown out of all proportion. Today, thanks to folklore and legend, it is still thought of as a mountain bloodbath, a time of terror in the hills, or as the story of Romeo and Juliet in the mountains. It was none of these.

      Actually, were it not for...

    • The Woman in the Case
      (pp. 75-94)

      One story concerning the French-Eversole War in Perry County is about the woman who caused the trouble, or, more precisely, about the young man whose desire for this woman caused the streets of Hazard to run red with blood, to exercise hyperbole. The young man was a clerk in Fulton French’s general store when he met this woman. She drove him crazy. One night he came back to the store to get his hat, and there was this woman with his employer, French. Engorged with jealous rage, the young man decided to get rid of French, went one night to...

    • A Nice Little College Town
      (pp. 95-112)

      Driving through Morehead, Kentucky, with its imposing university and attractive medical center, it is hard to imagine that there was a time when a feud almost destroyed this town and its county. For the Rowan County War has been almost lost to memory. Few people write letters any more, or keep diaries. The telephone has made written records almost archaic. That is too bad, because time tends to erase the footprints we leave on earth, and we need our records.

      Recently the state built a bypass around Morehead that did, as intended, relieve downtown streets of traffic congestion. The trouble...

  8. Clay County:: The Hundred-Year War

    • The Incident at the Courthouse
      (pp. 115-128)

      The sun had pushed its way above the jagged hills of Clay County, melting the mists over the waters of the South Fork of the Kentucky River, sucking up the fog from the dark hollows when, on the morning of June 9, 1899, Bad Tom Baker and thirty of his mountain kinsmen and followers rode into the Clay County seat of Manchester, Kentucky. People along the road into town and along the steep street leading to the hilltop courthouse watched with uneasy glances as the silent men rode up Anderson Street, turned and stopped in front of the two-story courthouse...

    • Drawing the Lines
      (pp. 129-138)

      Because of the burst of bloodletting between the Bakers and Howards in 1898, many people accept that date as the beginning of the Clay County War. Actually, aside from the Cattle Wars of 1806-1850, the trouble started in 1844 when young Abner Baker Jr. married Susan White, James White’s daughter.

      The Whites objected strenuously, though at first glance it didn’t seem such a bad match. Abner Baker Sr. was a respected man, having been asked by a committee of citizens to move from Boyle to Clay County in 1806, when the county was formed, to be the county’s first court...

    • A Legacy of Violence
      (pp. 139-150)

      The years following the end of the Civil War were, not surprisingly, a time of violence in Clay County; it was a bloody time throughout Kentucky. Other states had debated the matter of slavery and had gone either free or slave. Kentucky had fought over the question for fifty years and finally tried to go both ways, tearing itself in two. The division and bitterness outlived the war.

      In the end Kentucky stuck with the Union and sent almost three times as many men to the North as to the South. But the postwar conduct of federal military commanders, who...

    • The Fatal Clash on Crane Creek
      (pp. 151-162)

      June 9, 1899. As Tom Baker sat in the Clay County courtroom, listening to the droning of lawyers arguing his fate, he found that he was listening without hearing, though the outcome of the talk could mean home or prison for him. More and more, as the morning ran on, he had found himself thinking back to Crane Creek and his home, how it had been to be a boy there, thinking of his mama and daddy, remembering days when he used to walk down the creek to the river. He remembered turning over the flat rocks in the shallows...

    • Trouble on the Burying Ground
      (pp. 163-171)

      At noon Judge Cook gaveled a recess, and Bad Tom, along with James, Wiley, and others who had ridden into town with him, filed out of the courtroom. Outside, Tom stood to one side, talking to General Garrard, while the others waited.

      “Well,” said Garrard, “I guess I’d better be getting back to the house.”

      Tom nodded. “Again, I’ve got to thank you,” he said.

      “Not at all,” said the general. “I’d stay, but I think they have things pretty well in hand. This is just going to be drawn out. I doubt you will get through before tomorrow sometime,...

    • The Best Men in the County
      (pp. 172-179)

      Early on the morning after John Baker and Frank Clark were killed, Tom Baker and twenty of his men rode into Manchester and, while the good people of the town were finishing breakfast, methodically and unhurriedly shot up the place. Galloping around the courthouse, they shot out practically all of the windows while prisoners in the jail hooted and cheered. Down the hill into the main part of town they rode, shooting as they went. They shot twenty times into the drygoods store of T.M. Hill, where Jim Howard worked. They shot the windows out of J. B. Marcum’s store....

    • The Turtle Calls for Bad Tom
      (pp. 180-186)

      The morning of June 10, 1899, dawned warm and humid under a gray overcast. Tom and Emily woke and dressed in the unfamiliar confines of the tent on the courthouse lawn. They were joined for breakfast by Wiley, Allen, and James, who had been quartered in an adjacent tent. Afterward, they sat on the hotel porch watching the soldiers going about their duties. After an hour or so the Baker followers who had not spent the night rode in, and after what seemed like an interminable wait Judge Cook rode up and went into the courthouse. He was followed by...

    • Bloody Time in Frankfort
      (pp. 187-195)

      The last year of the nineteenth century was a time of intense political ferment in Kentucky as the voters prepared to elect a new governor. Four years earlier they had chosen William O. Bradley, a decent, fairly progressive man and the first Republican governor in the state’s history. But Bradley’s efforts to improve roads and schools had been balked at every turn by the Democratic-controlled legislature, his record was chiefly one of failure and frustration, and the Republicans had faint hopes of electing a successor. When Attorney General W.S. Taylor, a plodding, unimpressive lawyer from Western Kentucky, sought the Republican...

    • The Feuds Wind Down
      (pp. 196-208)

      While Jim Howard was facing his tormentors in Frankfort, trouble continued at home. During the first week of September 1900, Chad Hall and Abe Gilbert were shot from ambush. Abe was killed; Chad was fatally wounded but lingered long enough for a remarkable deathbed confession.

      A note here. In 1984 James Pope Jr., editor of the Sunday Magazine of theLouisville Courier-Journal, received a letter from Colonel E.B. Allen of Totz, Harlan County, referring to the mountain feuds. It was an interesting, literate letter, and the man seemed to know what he was talking about. When the magazine was discontinued,...

  9. Surcease
    (pp. 209-210)
  10. Sources
    (pp. 211-214)
  11. Index
    (pp. 215-227)