Night Comes to the Cumberlands: A Biography of a Depressed Area

By Harry M. Caudill | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FOUR
The Wars

THE KENTUCKY mountain feuds commenced a few years after the Civil War and continued with unchecked ferocity, until about 1915, an interval of nearly half a century. These dreadful interfamily wars constitute a truly astounding chapter in American history. A few statistics from the region will reveal the stark outline of their horror. During the half-century mentioned, the nineteen counties of the plateau achieved a maximum average population of about fifteen thousand people. Careful research in the files of the Circuit Court Clerk's office in one of the counties disclosed that between 1865 and 1915 nearly one thousand murder indictments were returned by the local grand juries. Thus we know that twenty homicides per year occurred, and inevitably many killings must have taken place in which for one reason or another no indictments were made.

Some of the feuds involved whole armies. A wandering Presbyterian preacher arrived in Hazard, the county seat of Perry County, to find the town in the midst of a roaring battle. This feud, then called the "French-Eversole War," eventually caused an almost complete suspension of the law courts within the county. The preacher arrived at a time when the two factions were locked in mortal combat for the courthouse and its records. The Eversole clan had holed up in the structure, while the more numerous French faction fired at them from doors and windows of neighboring buildings. This siege lasted until the approach of a company of militiamen forced the besiegers to flee.

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