Days of Darkness: The Feuds of Eastern Kentucky

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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 notorious and long-running feuds - those in Breathitt, Clay, Harlan, Perry, Pike, and Rowan counties. Each of these feuds arose from distinctive circumstances and the clash of differing personalities, but all shared one trait - a determination to settle disputes by the gun rather than by the rule of law. Most began with petty grievances and ended only when most of the feudists were dead. Neither law enforcement officials nor the state militia occasionally sent in by an exasperated governor had much effect in stopping the bloodletting. What caused the feuds that left Kentucky with its lingering reputation for violence? Pearce asks. 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 newspaper 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 puts to rest some of the more popular legends.
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Editorial Reviews

A blow-by-blow historical account of the infamous and grisly feuds that tore apart the hill country of Eastern Kentucky from the late 19th to early 20th centuries. Pearce, a well-known Kentucky journalist, pieces together the social, political and financial forces which drove the feuds, through scanty court records, conflicting newspaper accounts and interviews with the descendents of the feuding families. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
From the Publisher

""A study of the feuds of Eastern Kentucky -- six in all -- and how the violence and brutality they were known for influenced the perception of the Appalachian region of Kentucky." -- Chevy Chaser Magazine" --

""Recounting shatters old myths -- feuds did not result from insignificant squabbles, and many feuders were not ignorant 'hillbillies,' but rather prominent businessmen and college graduates." -- Kentucky Monthly" --

""Pearce untangles the loose threads of conflicting testimony to present the reader with the real truth on six of the bloodiest and longest-running feuds in the history of Kentucky." -- Lone Star Book Review" --

""While the Hatfield-McCoy feud received the most notoriety, there were a number of other similar family conflicts going on in the mountains of eastern Kentucky during the period 1875 to 1920.... You can learn more about all these feuds and more."-- Modern Mountain Magazine" --

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780813118741
  • Publisher: University Press of Kentucky
  • Publication date: 11/15/1994
  • Pages: 240
  • Sales rank: 1,056,228
  • Product dimensions: 0.63 (w) x 6.14 (h) x 9.21 (d)

Meet the Author

John Ed Pearce worked on the staff of the Louisville Courier-Journal for forty years and was a widely published columnist. He was co-recipient of a Pulitzer Prize in 1967.

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Table of Contents

List of Maps
What This Is All About 1
Harlan County: The Turners Meet the Howards
Choose Your Outlaw 11
The Turners Meet the Howards 15
The Trap that Didn't Spring 25
Breathitt County: A Talent for Violence
Almost a Romantic Journey 31
Captain Strong's Last Ride 41
The Last and Bloodiest Feud 45
Pike, Perry, and Rowan Counties: Mayhem Everywhere
No Romeo, No Juliet, No Heroes 57
The Woman in the Case 75
A Nice Little College Town 95
Clay County: The Hundred-Year War
The Incident at the Courthouse 115
Drawing the Lines 129
A Legacy of Violence 139
The Fatal Clash on Crane Creek 151
Trouble on the Burying Ground 163
The Best Men in the County 172
The Turtle Calls for Bad Tom 180
Bloody Time in Frankfort 187
The Feuds Wind Down 196
Surcease 209
Sources 211
Index 215
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