The Deadliest Feud in Kentucky
Rowan County, Kentucky
Kentucky feuds have long been celebrated in song and story, but no feud has ever been so expensive to the State, so demoralizing to the people, and so disastrous to life and Property as the terrible "Rowan Count Rowan War,” which had its beginning and its end in the little town of Morehead. Blood flowed almost as freely as water, and both the county and State Officials were powerless to prevent the great loss of life.
Edward T. Moran A.K.A. Cora Wilson Stewart (January 1, 1910) “The Rowan County War.”
During voting of a hotly contested Sheriff’s election, drunken brawl breaks out. Shots are fired and bystander Solomon Brady is killed, Ad Sizemore wounded. John Martin and Floyd Tolliver accuse each other and the grand jury indicts both for murder.Click to view photo(s) larger.
Out on bail, John Martin and Floyd Tolliver confront each other at the Gault House bar. Martin shoots and kills Tolliver. Martin is arrested and, to avoid a lynching, is housed in the Winchester jail.Click to view photo(s) larger.
Tolliver supporters, posing as deputies, present false papers and, despite protests by Martin, have Martin put on a train to Morehead, supposedly to stand trial. When the train arrives in Farmers Armed men stop the train, board and shoot John Martin multiple times. The train continues to Morehead where Martin dies the following morningClick to view photo(s) larger.
Mt Sterling train station
Deputy John Gill is shot and killed while trying to arrest Alvin Bowling for the murder of John Martin
March 7, 1885 Christy Creek
County Attorney Z.T. Young, believed by the Martins to
be in league with the Tollivers, is shot in the back by Martin supporters while returning to Morehead on horseback. He survives but moves family out of the county.
Mar. 17, 1885 Christy Creek
Deputy Sheriff Stewart Bumgardner is ambushed and killed by unknowns in retaliation for the shooting of County Attorney Young
April 1, 1885 Carey House
Sheriff Cook Humphrey and Martin supporters in the Carey Hotel engage in an hours long gun battle with Tolliver supporters. Fewer in number, Humphrey and his men retreat leaving the Tollivers in control. No one is killed, but Allie Young (unarmed) is wounded slightly. The building receives several hundred bullet holes and is left in shambles.
June 28, 1885 Martin Residence
Craig Tolliver (leader of the Tolliver faction) is wounded and Ben Rayburn (Martin Supporter) killed when a “posse” surrounds the Martin home and a gunfight ensues. The house is torched.
June 29, 1885 Courthouse square
Cook Humphrey resigns as sheriff. The state militia is summoned and remain in Morehead through August 19.
July 8-21, 1885 Courthouse
Morehead area Trial of Craig Tolliver, Jeff Bowling, John Trumbo,
Boone Day, Robert Messer, James Oxley, Mick Day and H.M. Keeton for the murder of Ben Rayburn. All go free when magistrates cannot agree on a verdict.
July-Dec 1885 Morehead Area
John G. Hughes is killed by a mob calling themselves “Regulators.” Wiley Tolliver is killed by Mack Bentley in a drunken brawl. Craig Tolliver is shot and wounded by
Ashley Crisp for “wooing” Crisp’s wife.
Feb. 1886 Elliottsville
Whit Pelfrey (Martin supporter) is killed in a knife fight by Tom Goodan (Tolliver supporter). Goodan is tried and acquitted.
July 2, 1886 A H.M. Logan store
A warrant is issued for Cook Humphrey. Sheriff William Ramey and his son are wounded, and Will Logan is killed when a gunfight erupts as Ramey is serving the
warrant. Humphrey and Tolliver each now command large numbers of “troops.”
Oct. 20, 1886 Morehead
H.M. Logan (Martin supporter) is shot from ambush and severely wounded.
Fall, 1886 Exchange Hotel/Carey Hotel
Hotels of H. C. Powers and H.M. Logan are “shot to pieces" by roaming Tollivers. Both families leave the county. The Tollivers now control both the local courts and law enforcement. Large numbers of families pack up and leave the county.
Constable H.M. Keeton is shot and killed by Bud Tolliver and W.N. Wicher is shot and killed by John Trumbo, a Tolliver supporter.
Spring/Summer 1887 Raines Hotel Tollivers, now in complete control of city and county, maintain headquarters at the Raines Hotel.
June 7, 1887 Oxley Branch
Tolliver “Posse” murders brothers William H. (25)and John B. Logan (18). The bodies are mutilated.
Craig Tolliver threatens D.B. Logan, cousin to the murdered boys, and his family. Logan gathers secret support from outraged citizens.
June 18, 1887 Frankfort
D.B. Logan gains audience with Governor Knott who is sympathetic but unwilling to supply arms or provide troops.
June 19-21 Cincinnati
Logan purchases several Winchester rifles,shotguns, pistols and ammunition and has them shipped to Gates, labeled “Sawmill Parts." A plan is hatched to surround the town and demand the surrender of Craig Tolliver and his confederates to stand trail for the murders of the Logan boys.
June 22, 1887 Railroad Street
The final gun battle of the Rowan County feud is fought on Railroad Street. In a two hour battle in which over 1500 rounds are fired, “Regulators” shoot, then execute Craig, Jay and Bud Tolliver and Hiram Cooper. Regulator Bud Madden is mortally wounded. The Tolliver reign ends.
Aug. 2, 1887 Court House
State militia arrives for the third time to keep order during court. Several regulators are indicted but never tried. Hiram Pigman and Apperson Perry are
tried but acquitted.
Aug. 3 1887 Railroad depot
Troops confiscate a large shipment of arms intended for the remaining Tollivers. The guns are impounded and sent to Frankfort.
Jan. 1888 Frankfort
An effort to abolish the county is rejected. No one is ever convicted for the acts of the “Regulators.”
Oct. 19 1889 Pine Springs
Grace Martin and Frank Tolliver, both from the feuding families, are married. The war ends.
During the late evening hours of July 4, 1939, a large portion of Eastern Kentucky were inundated with ﬂash floods. The wall of deadly water moved swiftly and was especially devastating in Rowan County because narrow Tripplett Creek was unable to accommodate such a volume of water. The water swept through Morehead taking buildings, animals and people with It. A carnival had set up in the area was swept.
In Morehead in Rowan County, it was reported that the water rose 10 to 15 feet in less than 30 minutes, and Triplett Creek crested at a record 21.34 feet. The official Red Cross report indicated 25 lives were lost in Rowan County. Water on Railroad Street in Morehead varied from 4 to 10 feet in depth at the height of the flood and it was reported 200 structures were damaged or destroyed in Morehead. https://www.weather.gov/jkl/frozenflood1939
Twenty-five people in Morehead died, and hundreds were left homeless. Morehead lost about 1.3% of the population, (Morehead’s population was 1,900 in 1940) If the 1.9% is compared to contemporaneity New York City, the city’s death toll there would be 104,000,
A plaque now resides on the corner of the C&O depot building (Chamber of Commerce) commemorating those lost, along with a line denoting the high-water mark of the flood.Click to view photo(s) larger.
Morehead native Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Edward Earhart of Morehead. Trained in meteorology, the sailor died at his post in the Pentagon. Trained in meteorology, he began his military career with basic training in Great Lakes, Illinois, before moving on to the Naval Reserve Center in Lexington, Kentucky, and the Naval Technical Training Unit at Keesler Air Force Base in Mississippi. Earhart spent three years in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, before coming to Washington last November.Click to view photo(s) larger.