The Hillbilly Wars


The term “red neck” originated from the red bandanas worn around the necks of laborers to absorb the sweat from working in the hot sun.  There’s nothing wrong with honest work, of course, but people who regard themselves as better than everyone else like to use such terms to describe “lower-class” white men.  They also use such terms as “cracker,” generally applied to working class Texans, Georgians, and Floridians.  Originally, “cracker” was the term used to describe Florida and Georgia cowboys who cracked whips above the heads of cattle to herd them from one pasture to another.  Other terms include “hillbilly” for those living in Appalachia.

More recently, America’s so-called social elite have demonstrated a penchant for lumping all these honest, hard-working folks together as “simple people who prefer their bibles and guns.” This term originated with former President Barack Obama.

Word associations are interesting things.  Mention the words Kentucky Hillbilly to most people, and they immediately think of feuding mountain folk.  Who hasn’t heard of the Hatfield-McCoy feud?  It has been the subject of stories and songs handed down for well over one-hundred years and fictionally recounted in Hollywood films and television series.

Early Kentucky

The original territory of Virginia was never quite as large as the Roman Empire, but it may have seemed that way to those who began their westward migration along the Wilderness Road.  At one time, Virginia consisted of portions of present-day Illinois, Southern Indiana, and Kentucky.

James Harrod founded the first European settlement in Kentucky in 1774 at the present-day site of Harrodsburg.  On 31 December 1776, an act of the Virginia General Assembly created the county of Kentucky from what was then termed the Ken-tuck-ee Territory.  The county seat was established at Oldtown (also, Harrod’s Town).  Additional counties were established after 1780, but each of these were centrally governed as Virginia’s District of Kentucky.  Between 1784 and 1792, people living in Kentucky held ten constitutional conventions, each one ending with a petition addressed to the either the Virginia General Assembly or the Confederation Congress for separation from Virginia and statehood.  One petition that had finally received the assent of the Virginia General Assembly was unfortunately introduced at about the same time the United States was attempting to secure ratification of the new Constitution, which delayed consideration for Kentucky statehood.

On 18 December 1789, Virginia once more gave its consent for Kentucky statehood; the US Congress gave its approval on 4 February 1791, and Kentucky became the fifteenth state of the Union on 1 June 1792.  Virginian Isaac Shelby became Kentucky’s first Governor.

Ranked as the United States’ 37th largest state in total area, a significant portion of the state is located in Appalachia, also known as the Cumberland Plateau.  It is into this region that many of Kentucky’s earliest migrants settled.  If any part of early America could be called a wilderness, Appalachia is that place.  It is rugged, isolated, and in the 1770s, a thoroughly dangerous place for white settlers.  According to one government report in 1790, Kentucky Indians killed fifteen-hundred settlers between 1783 and 1789.  Hostilities increased dramatically as hundreds of settlers made their westward journey over the Wilderness Road.

Generally, the term Appalachia refers to a geographical area that extends from the southern tier of New York to northern Alabama and Georgia.  The mountain region, however, stretches from Belle Isle, Canada to Cheaha Mountain in Alabama and includes the Blue Ridge and Great Smokey mountains.  Whenever we think of this region, we are likely to imagine a self-sufficient pioneer with a full beard, long scraggly hair, dressed in buckskin clothing, wearing a coonskin hat, and carrying a long rifle.  What we know of Daniel Boone fits this image, but he was but one of thousands who pioneered early America’s western frontier.


Appalachia is a vast area that is defined geographically and culturally.  As a region of the United States, the Appalachian Mountains separated early western settlements from well-established eastern civilizations.  The high mountains, craggy ridges, and deep valleys not only separated early settlers from their “eastern betters,” they also had the effect of isolating Appalachian settlements from one another.  The people who settled this region were tough hombres; it was either that, or they were soon dead — noting that not all of the sturdiest of folks survived, either.

Once known as the “back country,” settlers developed their own unique culture.  They were independent, stubborn to a fault, prone to violence, and steadfast in their desire to be left alone to pursue life as they saw fit.  Used to the hard life with few amenities, they were fighters who recognized native populations as “the enemy.”  They were the sort of people who never hesitated helping George Rogers Clark eradicate the British and their Indian allies during the Revolutionary War.  They were also the kind of people who participated in the Whiskey Rebellion.

Between 1790 and 1810, deep animosities developed that pitted mountain folk and yeoman farmers against the wealthy low-landers.  It was, after all, the people from the low lands who controlled the legislature, who had the power to impose what seemed to the mountain folk as arbitrary taxes, which they steadfastly ignored.  There could not be a greater difference in these two groups.  The low-landers expected to make money from the land; mountain folk simply wanted to live on it — and be left alone to find their own way.

Before 1861, the primary industry in eastern Kentucky came from the production of salt.  After 1865, the quest for land literally exploded as timber companies, miners, and railroads worked their way into Appalachia.  Lumber operations and mines demanded far more labor than was available, so thousands of new immigrants to the United States found their way into eastern Kentucky.  The railroads not only offered job opportunities to migrants, but they also helped to transport them into the emerging west.

None of the foregoing activities made the mountain folk very happy, of course, but then, it would be difficult to describe the mountaineers as a cheerful lot.  They were more obstinate and quarrelsome than almost everyone else — which over time prompted outsiders to label them as “simple folks.”

About those feuds

There are some historians and sociologists who blame the Civil War for the Kentucky feuds, and while this may be partly true, it doesn’t explain hostilities that were ongoing long before the Civil War.  Nor can we make the argument that the feuds were carry-overs from the old country.  I rather think that it was a different time, when men were honor-bound to seek justice by their own hand rather than within a fledgling and largely ineffective legal system in the emerging United States.  Mountain folk lived according to rules handed down to them through many generations.

The early frontier Americans living in the western sections of Virginia, the Carolinas, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, and Texas were extremely poor people who worked hard to put simple meals on their family’s table — and about all they had to call their own was their land and their sense of family honor.  Since most business arrangements were sealed with a handshake, violating such protocols were likely to result in violent behavior.  If a man was found to be a liar, a thief, or a coward, frontier society shunned him.  To question a man’s honesty, to cast aspersions on his character or that of any member of his family was an invitation to swift retribution.  A life taken demanded Old Testament reprisals and no man was respected who would not stand up for himself or his family.

Between 1820 and 1932, deadly feuds erupted in the hills of Eastern Kentucky and spread like a wild fire.  They were so bad that local government became ineffective and the enforcement of laws all but impossible.  Governors were called upon to send state troops to protect lives and allow jurisdictional courts to do their work.  A border dispute between Kentucky and West Virginia nearly erupted in a state war.  The challenge for historians is separating fact from fiction, but for almost everyone else, it’s pure entertainment — including an American rendition of the Romeo-Juliet relationship that developed between the Hatfield and McCoy families.  In any case, while the eastern press and social highbrows described this particular feud as having taken the lives of one-hundred men, the number of men killed was closer to about a dozen.[1]  In addition to those losses, nine of the Hatfield’s were imprisoned, seven of them for life, and one Hatfield was executed.

The Hatfield-McCoy feud lasted from 1863 to 1891, but there were other feuds that never received the interest of the press (selective journalism always rules in the newspaper business), and several of these were much worse.  Many — but not all, were part of the aftermath of the American Civil War, which, when one thinks about it for a while, wasn’t very civil.

The Hill-Evans Feud began around 1824 and ended with the shooting death of Hezekiah Evans in 1862.  According to historian Sandra Norris, bad feelings developed between two medical doctors — one, Dr. Hezekiah Evans, and the other Dr. Oliver P. Hill — we simply aren’t sure why bad feelings developed.  There are several accounts of the feud, written by individuals with family connections to the combatants, but a reasonable person must question the accuracy of subjectively written family histories.

The Tobacco Barn fight of 1854 began with the Hill family.  The Hills were in the process of relocating the family of John Brown from Nina to Scotts Fork in Garrard County.  Later in the day, the Hill group returned from William Teaters’ tavern where they spent the afternoon drinking Kentucky whisky.  On the way back to wherever they started from, they passed by the Evans Tobacco Barn, and they thought it would be fun to shoot into the barn.  The problem was that John Sellars, James Alverson (John’s uncle), Sam Sellars (John’s brother), and William Chrisman were working inside the barn at the time.

In the opening salvo, a bullet struck William Chrisman in the abdomen.  Alverson received a bullet wound to his wrist.  Both Chrisman and Alverson were unarmed.  John Sellars returned fire and killed Russ and Fred Hill.  Sellars then ran down Isaiah Hill and killed him, too.  Isaiah’s son Samuel shot Sellars six times, and to make sure he was dead, John Brown ran over to his body and thrust a knife into his chest.

After dispatching Sellars, William Hill assaulted the wounded Chrisman and finished him off by shooting him at close range.  William then returned to Sellars’ remains and mutilated them.  Despite the depravity of the assault, no one was ever stood trial for the Tobacco Barn murders.

The Cattle War

Brothers James and Hugh White settled in Manchester, Kentucky between 1802-1804.  They purchased the Collins/Outlaw Salt Works and started up a successful mercantile store.  The Whites had been involved in the manufacture of salt in Virginia, having moved there from Pennsylvania.  After the Kentucky legislature created Clay County, they appointed Hugh White to serve as a circuit judge.  James and Hugh, along with salt man John Amis, donated ten acres of land for the new county seat, which they named Greenville (later, Manchester).  The Kentucky legislature later appointed Hugh White to serve as a brigadier general of state militia (1810).  Hugh White built his home along Goose Creek on the East Fork.  These facts illustrate the prominence of the White family in early Kentucky.  

John Amis was born on 5 April 1773 in Bladen, North Carolina.  In 1792, he married Katherine Bolling, from Rogersville, Tennessee.  Amis served as a volunteer soldier during the Indian removal campaigns, eventually achieving the rank of captain.  In 1806, Amis was living along the Kentucky River’s Middle Fork.  He owned a quarter share in the Goose Creek Salt Works, with John White retaining control over 75% of the salt works.

While hunting for elk on his property, in an area where his cattle were wintering, Amis discovered some cattle from North Fork farms grazing on his land.  Irate, Amis proceeded to stab twenty or so head of cattle and drive them into the water where they eventually died.  It was not a very prudent course of action, but I did mention that John was in a foul mood that day.

One of the cattle owners was William Strong.  Upon learning about the destruction of his property, William sent a letter to Judge Hugh White of the newly created Clay County Court asking for lawmen to deal with the problem.  Judge White’s reply was brief: “You have got yourself into trouble, get out of it if you can, for I will not come to your assistance or send a single man.”

With no interest from the government in helping to settle this matter, North Fork cattlemen decided to take matters into their own hands.  Strong organized twelve men from the Stacey, Davidson, Lewis, Bolling, Eversole, Callahan, Cornett, Lewis, and Begley clans, who along with Joel Elkins, went to the Amis homestead to address the matter.

John Amis wasn’t at home when the men arrived, but they informed his wife “Kate” that they intended to make good on their losses.  The Strong group then proceeded to shoot Amis’ horse, set his hay barn on fire, and helped themselves to twenty head of Amis’ cattle.  Then, as a further demonstration of their indignation, Peter Stacey smacked Kate in the face with the butt of his rifle as the men were leaving the Amis property.

If Peter and his friends were angry, it was nothing compared to Kate Amis’ rage.  She called for one of her Negro men to follow the assailants, gave him a rifle, and instructed to shoot the bastards if he got a chance.  Along the way back to North Fork, Peter Stacey became aware that someone was following the Strong Posse.  At a turn in the road, Stacey concealed himself alongside the road and as the slave came in sight, shot him dead.

When John Amis returned home, he and his brother-in-law John Gilbert, organized a company of thirty men to go to North Fork and put things right.  Since no one in Appalachia can keep a secret, William Callahan learned that Amis was leading a party to North Fork.  Strong recalled his men and set them in at the mouth of the Lick Branch, where they concealed themselves.  As Amis’ party began to cross the river, the Strong group opened fire, killing a couple of horses and wounding two of Amis’ men.  In the melee that followed, John Gilbert was captured.  Some of Strong’s men wanted to kill Gilbert, but Strong would not allow it on account of the fact that he was a preacher.

Eventually, Amis and Strong agreed to end the fighting and settle the matter in court.  On the first day of the trial, 15 August 1807, Joel Elkins entered the court room while Amis was giving testimony and shot him dead.  In addition to being affiliated with William Strong, Joel Elkins was an employee of the Goose Creek Salt Works.  When Amis was killed, Hugh White paid Kate for her husband’s share of the Goose Creek Salt Works.

Baker/Garrard-White/Howard Feud

The Cattle War of Clay County set into motion the blood feud that eventually involved the Baker and Garrard families against the White and Howard families.  It was one of the deadliest and longest-lasting feuds in United States History.

The salt works industry began in earnest after Colonel Daniel Garrard[2] migrated to Goose Creek in 1806 and established the Buffalo Lick Salt Works.  Competition among the owners and operators of the salt works companies evolved into differences in local and state politics, which was, more often than not, contentious, angry, and vindictive.  Because of the Cattle War, Manchester, Kentucky was already a lively town — by which I mean to suggest volatile.  Amateur historians in Kentucky claim that the state legislature created Clay County because the region was already a disaster in the making and it was believed that a strong county government would be necessary to control the animosity that existed among the town’s founding members.

Abner Baker, Jr., was the son of Captain Abner Baker.  Baker Sr. was a long-term resident of Clay County with service as a captain of the militia and clerk of the county court.  Baker Jr., was the youngest of several siblings, noted from a young age as having a good intellect, and was always popular among his peers.  After a few years’ service in the United States Navy, around 1834, Baker Jr., returned home to serve as Clerk of the Clay County Court and Clerk of the Judicial Circuit Court.  In 1836, he decided to pursue medical training and received his physician’s certification in 1839 … the year in which Dr. Abner Baker, Jr., began to display bizarre, unexplained, and unprovoked violent behavior.  Beyond threatening students at the medical college, he seemed to have developed paranoia.  For example, he would awaken during the night and search his home with lit candles looking for intruders — even in closets and cupboards.

Abner practiced medicine in Knoxville, Tennessee but eventually returned to Manchester.  Soon after, Dr. Baker married Miss Susan White, the daughter of James White.  According to more than a few observers, “It was with his marriage and connection to the White family that he established a relationship with people whose associates, character and disposition were the antitheses of his own manner of life.”  Dr. Baker’s father formed the opinion that in his son’s decision to marry Susan White, he must “clearly be deranged.”   

Dr. Baker married Susan White in 1844 — at a time when most people in Manchester believed that Dr. Baker was a few bubbles off plumb.  He in fact did behave erratically, displayed a bad temper, and his paranoia was ever-present.  Not long after their marriage, Baker began making accusations against Susan, calling her promiscuous, alleging that Daniel Bates, the husband of Susan’s sister, had carried out an  illicit affair with Susan, and that Bates conspired with her to kill him.  During one of his incoherent confrontations, Dr. Baker took out his pistol and mortally wounded Bates.  While Daniel Bates lay on his death bed, he directed his son to take revenge on Baker and see that he was either prosecuted or killed.

Afterward, Baker surrendered to the Garrard family, who escorted him to the justice of the peace.  Witnesses from both sides testified that they believed Baker was insane at the time of the shooting.  His custody was transferred to both of his brothers, both of whom were physicians.  Abner was quickly sent to Cuba for “recovery.”  Meanwhile, the Bates family persuaded the commonwealth attorney to seek an indictment of murder, which was rendered, and Governor William Owsley offered a reward for the arrest and return of Dr. Baker for trial.  Abner’s brothers knew none of this, so that when Abner was brought back from Cuba, he was arrested and held for trial.

The trial began in early July 1845, and it was nothing if not salacious.  That Baker shot Bates was never in question.  The White family claimed that Baker’s marriage to Susan was contrived so that he could access their family’s wealth.  Some witnesses claimed he was clearly crazy; others testified that he was as sane as anyone.  Witnesses for Baker claimed that Daniel Bates had threatened Baker with his life.  A team of alienists claimed that Baker was, in fact, mentally disturbed.  After a short deliberation, the jury found Baker guilty of murder.  The Bates-White families gathered more than two-hundred armed men to surround the jail to ensure that Baker-Garrard sympathizers did not try to break Dr. Baker out of jail.  On 3 October 1845, the State of Kentucky hanged Dr. Abner Baker.

The implications of the Baker trial were significant.  The Baker-Garrard families and their allies claimed that if Governor Owsley allowed the sentence carried out, then he would be guilty of murdering an insane man.  They also claimed that Bates/White/Howard conspired with Governor Owsley to deny Baker a stay of execution so that he could be examined by a lunacy board.  Whether true, Owsley did refuse to pardon Baker.

In 1849, William Baker, the son of Sarah and Boston B. Baker, was accused of murdering Frank Prewitt, a local shoe-maker.  William went to trial in Manchester with the support of the Garrard family, who hired big name lawyers from outside Kentucky.  For all that effort, William was sent to the gallows on 15 January 1850.  Before his execution, the serene William asked those gathered to watch him die not to forget Job Allen, Adonriam Baker, and Robert Hays for giving false testimony against him.  He also said, “And remember, James White has too much money for a man like me to live.”  Five years later, on her deathbed, Matilda Prewitt, Frank’s wife, admitted to killing her husband.

In 1856, the Garrard family backed Mr. John Bowling for the office of county jailer, and he won the election.  But six months later, Bowling was found shot to death.  The evidence in this case pointed to Edward White.  White was taken into custody, went to trial, and a jury composed mostly of members of the White Clan found him not guilty.

The Civil War and Beyond

During the Civil War, foragers from both sides interrupted life in Manchester.  The Confederates were interested in the salt, and the Union was interested in keeping it away from them.  To achieve that, the Union Army destroyed Clay County’s salt works in 1862 and did so even though one of the Union’s more celebrated generals owned the Union Salt Works, Brigadier General T. T. Garrard, a grandson of former Governor James Garrard.

Theophilus Garrard recruited men from Manchester in 1861 to organize the 3rd Kentucky Volunteer Infantry Regiment (later renamed the 7th Kentucky Volunteers) and led them in battles outside of Kentucky.  While these men served away from home, the Confederate Army gained the upper hand in Clay County, adding disorder to the usual chaos.  Resentments developed toward the Confederates, of course, but also long-term anger directed toward the White-Howard families, who some claimed supported the Confederate cause.

In 1866, the Clay County Judge was Beverly White.  The Commissioner of Schools was John E. White.  Will White served as the County Clerk.  John G. White served as the County Sheriff.  One afternoon, an argument erupted between Jack Hacker, Dale Lyttle, and Sheriff White.  Hacker and Lyttle were angry because of Sheriff White’s bullying.  Will and Daugh White soon joined the argument on the side of John.  Someone pulled out a pistol and when the smoke cleared, Jack and Dale lay dead on the floor.  Sheriff White, County Clerk White, and Daugh White surrendered to the County Judge Beverly White, who released all three men before sundown.  The Baker-Garrard clans were furious because Dale Lyttle was a family member.  Tom Baker, reputed to be the best rifle shot in Clay County, had married Dale’s sister, Emily.

Some citizens had tired of the White family’s control over the Clay County government.  Granville Philpot, who was part of the Baker-Garrard faction, was able to win election to the state assembly in 1896.  Whether he accomplished this fete through popular election or popular intimidation is unclear.  T. T. Garrard called the clan together for a strategy session and discussions about how to “take back” the county offices.  The meeting included the patriarchs of the Baker, Webb, McCollum, and Philpot clans.

But Bev White had no intention of giving up his office.  He also called a meeting, attended by the Howard, Hall, Benge, and Griffin families.  The Griffin family had its own feud going on with the Philpot family.  In the county elections that followed, Judge White won re-election, Jim Howard became sheriff, and George Baker, Tom Baker’s father, was elected as County Attorney.  The White-Howard faction managed to retain control of the courthouse.

Judge White scheduled another clan meeting for the afternoon of 7 August 1897.  That morning, deputy sheriff George Hall and former revenue officer Holland Campbell met Charles Wooten on the road near Manchester.  Wooten was riding with John and Anse Baker.  Hall assumed that Wooten and Baker were traveling en route to the courthouse to disrupt Judge White’s meeting.  Shooting erupted when one of the men pulled a gun.  In this melee, Anse Baker received a gunshot wound and his horse was killed.  The following night, unidentified men set fire to George Hall’s home and Holland Campbell’s store in Pin Hook.

Soon after, Sheriff Howard named Anse and Tom Baker as suspects in the arson and had them arrested.  Tom swore that he was miles away from the Pin Hook area and had witnesses to back his story.  T. T. Garrard bailed Tom and Anse Baker out of jail.  A trial was held in February 1898 and both men were acquitted of the charges.  Judge White, who was unhappy about the acquittal, started an argument with John Baker, and this devolved into a fistfight that worked its way out of the courthouse into the street.  The Bakers mounted their horses and headed out for Crane Creek.

According to the journal of T. T. Garrard, in April 1898, Bal Howard had suffered a financial collapse which forced him to sell his timberland property.  At the time, Garrard’s son James was serving as the auditor’s agent and the state placed a bid on the Howard property.  The problem was that the Baker family laid claim to some of the timber.  Jim Howard indicated that he could solve the problem by killing James Garrard.[3]  Tom Baker rode his horse over to the river one morning where Bal Howard was working on a raft and suggested that the matter could be solved easily enough if Bal Howard simply paid him the money owed — a sum of about $15.00.  Howard claimed that he didn’t owe Baker any money.  The fight started when someone in the Howard group pulled out a weapon.  Tom Baker threw an auger (hand drill) at Bal Howard, missed, and then clubbed him with his sidearm.  Israel Howard fired his weapon at Tom, which inflicted a flesh wound.  Corbin Howard and Jesse Barrett jumped in to defuse the situation, but tempers were already flaring.  Tom then departed from the scene of the incident without further injuries.

Later, after hearing about this incident, Jim Howard went to see George Baker (Tom’s father) to propose a truce and the two men reached an agreement and shook hands on it.  No one on Crane Creek knew about this agreement, however, so the next day, as members of the Baker and Howard families were on opposite sides of the river preparing logs for transportation downstream, gunfire erupted from the Baker side of the river.  Burch Stores was shot in the head, Wilson Howard fell mortally wounded, and Bal Howard was shot in the chest while astride his horse and was able to escape further injury.  Before succumbing to his wounds, Wilson Howard identified the shooters as Charlie Wooten, Jesse Barrett, and Wiley Baker.

Although badly wounded, Bal Howard escaped the fight, along with the Shackleford brothers and John Lewis.  When Jim Howard had learned of this shooting, he was furious because of his earlier agreement with George Baker to stop the fighting.  Jim Howard mounted his horse and went looking for George.  Finding him on the road to Manchester, Howard ordered Baker to dismount.  As George slid off his horse, Jim Howard fired his rifle, the bullet at close range went through Baker’s horse and struck him in the abdomen.  George died the next day.[4]

Jim Howard rode over to Burning Springs and surrendered to sheriff’s deputy Will White.  Howard spent the night with the White family and the next morning Will took him to Judge Brown, who released Howard without bail with orders to return to his home on Crane Creek.  To ensure Howard’s safety, Judge Brown assigned forty deputized men to guard the Howard home while awaiting the initial hearing.  Brown’s plan didn’t prevent snipers from shooting into the Howard home, however, so Brown ordered Howard escorted to Harlan County for safekeeping at the home of Barry Howard.

Meanwhile, the situation in Manchester was getting worse.  The Garrard family demanded the immediate trial of Jim Howard for killing George Baker, and the White-Howard factions demanded the trial of Tom Baker for the river killings.  George Baker had fifteen sons; Tom Baker had 13 sons.  The threat was ever-present, but of course, not every Garrard-Baker/Howard-White man was involved.

When the Howard family attempted to bury their dead, concealed snipers began shooting at them in the cemetery.  None of George Baker’s sons appeared at his funeral — probably on account of the fact that they were all over at the cemetery trying to shoot the Howard family.  No one knows for certain who the shooters were, though.

Sometime later, while engaged in his tax collection duties, sheriff’s deputy Will White came upon Tom Baker and Jim Helton near the mouth of Jim’s Branch.  It was where Will White met his end as the recipient of one of Tom’s bullets.  George and Lucretia Goforth heard the shots and hurried down the road to see what was going on.  They found Will White laying along the side of the trail and as Lucretia tried to aid Will, he told her that Tom Baker had killed him.

Will White was not a popular man in Clay County.  Beyond the fact that he was a tax collector, he was also a mean-tempered drunk and a bully — but he was one of the White’s and people remembered when he jumped on old Tish Philpot and beat him up.  It wasn’t long before more than a hundred men were walking around inside Manchester with their rifles in hand.  On 24 June 1898, a sniper shot and killed John Howard.  On 1 July, Tom Baker was acquitted for the river murders; witnesses testified he was nowhere near the river on that day.  Two days later, Gilbert Garrard (T. T. Garrard’s son) and his wife were fired upon while on the way to church.  The couple soon moved to Pineville to get out of the way, but not without incident.  Both of the men he hired as armed guards were killed in a second assassination attempt.

On 8 July, T. T. Garrard, bailed John Baker out of jail over in Barbourville.  Wagging tongues thought it was so that John could help kill members of the Howard clan.  Both John Baker and Jesse Barrett were acquitted of murder charges in Clark County.

Tom Baker didn’t fare quite as well in the murder trial of Will White.  A jury found Baker guilty as charged and the judge sentenced him to life in prison.  Baker’s lawyers immediately appealed the conviction, and it was overturned.  After Baker’s release, he was re-arrested pending a second trial.  T. T. Garrard arranged for bail and Baker was released.  The Court Clerk set Baker’s second trial for June 1899.[5]

On 20 July 1898, law officers Felix Davidson and Daugh White detained John Baker and Frank Clark as they were en route to meet with T. T. Garrard.  A coroner later reported that John had been shot 32 times, and Frank eleven times.

A final “battle” occurred in 1901 when the two clans fought a hellacious gunfight in front of the Manchester court house.  When everyone ran out of bullets, the two sides signed a peace treaty, and the Clay County War came to an end … almost.  The last murder relating to the Baker-White feud occurred in 1932.  In total, 150 men died in hostilities that lasted more than 90 years.


  1. House, C.  Clay County: Highlights of the 18th and 19th Centuries.  Online publication, Clay Families Organization.
  2. Logan, S.  The Strange Case of Dr. Abner Baker, Jr.  Kentucky Historic Institute Organization, 2019.
  3. Tabler, D.  Appalachian History: John Amis and the Kenturcky River’s South Fork.  Online Publication, history network.


[1] If the feuds seem worse than they actually were, there is no one to blame more than the press, who embellished events for the purpose of selling newspapers.  Journalism was never a respected profession — and still isn’t.

[2] Daniel Garrard was the older brother (by thirteen years) of James Garrard, who served two terms as Kentucky’s second governor.

[3] The logic of this escapes me.

[4] Clay County Sheriff Jim Howard was arrested and convicted of Baker’s murder.  One persistent rumor was that Jim Howard was offered a pardon in the Baker murder if he would also assassinate Governor William Goebel.  The only evidence that Jim White accepted the offer is that Governor Goebel was assassinated, and Jim Howard eventually received a governor’s pardon.

[5] On the order of Governor Will Bradley, a company of state militia (with a Gatling gun), went to Manchester where Baker’s second trial was to be held.  Baker was placed inside a guard-tent just outside the courthouse where he was surrounded by a squad of soldiers.  A hundred yards or so from this tent, at the foot of a wooded outcrop, stood the unoccupied “official residence” of the County Sheriff.  A sniper hidden inside the house shot and killed Tom Baker and then made good his escape.  Shortly after Baker’s death, four members of the Griffin family, also aligned with the White-Howard faction, ambushed “Big John” Philpots and his cousin, severely wounding the former and killing the latter.  Despite his wounds, John fought them from behind a log and killed all four assailants.

About Mustang

Retired Marine, historian, writer.
This entry was posted in CIVIL WAR, HISTORY, POLITICIANS. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to The Hillbilly Wars

  1. When you wrote “Between 1820 and 1932, deadly feuds erupted “, I thought “Surely that’s a typo.”.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mustang says:

      No, not a typo. I guess that in the long run, everything worked out okay. Today, a handshake doesn’t mean anything. Today, we need contracts running several pages in small print with lawyers in the middle of every deal.


  2. Pingback: The Hillbilly Wars — Old West Tales | Vermont Folk Troth

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