Note: The article below, from the November 26, 1899 issue of the New York Times, and the one at right from the October 28 1986 issue of the Wall Street Journal are the first of many articles we plan to publish in the web site. The stories in the “Articles” section differ from those in the “History” section in that they may or may not be all that historic but are felt to be of interest to genealogy researchers as well as history buffs.
Where Feuds Flourish
Clay County, Ky., and the Homes
of Its Residents
A DIFFICULT PLACE TO REACH
No Disposition to Prevent Investigation
Spirits in the Minority
The New York Times
MANCHESTER, Ky., Nov. 23, 1899.—“Go to Clay County? Well, not just now; or, at all events, if you go, go quietly, on some business pretext, and if convenient go provided with an introduction to some man not identified with any of the factions recently engaged in the feuds that have made the county notorious.”
“If I were you, I would not venture into Clay County. Nice people. Oh yes! But there are two kinds of people they do not like out there—detectives and newspapermen. Detectives go at the risk of their lives, and they have run newspapermen out and will do it again.
I wouldn’t advise you to go.”
This is the sort of advice extended to your correspondent at Frankfort, along the Louisville and Nashville Railroad, on the way down to London, and at London itself. A very prominent Kentuckian at Frankfort, a man not at all disposed to give his own people a bad name, uttered substantially the language quoted at the beginning of this letter. A United States revenue officer, who travels through this country in search of material for taxation, and who had been in Clay County very recently, gave the second admonition, and apparently believed it. Several London men who were unquestionably inspired by good will, dwelt upon the turbulent condition of the county, the resentment felt against the press in consequence of the lurid accounts published concerning the feuds that have attracted the attention and criticism of the country, the local aversion of the press, and the imminence of new disorders, and kindly suggested postponement of a personal visitation to the county seat.
To an investigator who had traversed the State to find, if possible, some of the grounds for the reputation of Kentucky for turbulence, the advise to shun Manchester and Clay County was difficult to accept without admitting that the apparent opportunity was to be abandoned simply because it promised to furnish proof that the locality was one in which it was a capital offense to be a newspaper man or a detective. Manchester is twenty-four miles away from London. There is no railroad nearer to the place than London. There is no stage line between the county seat and the railroad. The mail carrier sometimes uses a rickety wagon in his business. But at other times carries the mail flung across the back of a mule or horse. Persons who by practice have become endured to “doing” fifty miles of horseback riding in two days without being thereafter obliged to take meals standing for a week, go a-horse-back.
Your correspondent chose to reach this place by buggy, drawn by a team that ran most of the distance, a good deal of it up side hills or down opposite side hills, in about six hours. It is pretty nearly twenty-four miles of jolt and bump to get here, with some short stretches of fairly good road. In very wet weather, or in the Spring, it can be nothing short of a tribulation to scramble over the clay mud of the bottoms, the overflowed branches, the swollen fords, and the hidden boulders. It is not long a picturesque ride. The horizon juts outside of London, with ranges of hills all about, sometimes rising into conical knobs, each with its own crown of woodland in the horizon most of the way. Now and then the view opens a little, with compactness in the bottoms, and a new range of pointed hills across a rugged valley, seamed and scored with ruts carved by time and the rains, but nothing that even Kentucky pride would call impressive, at least in a brown and very dry November, when the moisture has disappeared in the lowlands, even from the wells.
But the land is not desolate. There are people living along the road, not crowded together, but at intervals of about a mile, on the average, with other houses in sight away from the narrow lane and its interminable double line of worm fences. Most of these roadside dwellings are “chinked” log huts, and many of them are lighted only by the two doors, one at the front and the other at the back. A new story-and-a-half house just half way between Manchester and London, painted white, and trimmed with deep blue at the corners and along the molding and at the ends of the roof, and another painted white without any contrasting ornamentation, were exceptionally luxurious dwellings. Log shacks and timber shacks, now and then a log building inclosed in weather boarding, all devoid of paint, are the houses of the country-folk of Laurel and Clay Counties.
There is travel, too. Most of it by horse or mule back riders. The men ride slouchily, with flapping of stiff brimmed soft hats over browned faces; The women favor the sunbonnet for headgear, never wearing skirts without compulsion, and are confident, if not stylish. Now and then you will meet a man with ample whiskers urging his horse along with a boy before him and a girl hanging behind. Not a few churchgoers ride into London in this fashion on Sundays. No one passes anyone else on the road without a salutation. It is either “How d’ye” or “Good morning” or “Good evenin,” and all the voices have a cooing, affectionate quality that suggests anything except hostility or turbulence. The urchins, even of the apparently most shiftless parents, observe this civility invariably. It is a habit of universal prevalence. Now and then heavy teams are met, hauling goods out from Clay or in from the railroad, the wagon jolting painfully where logs bedded in the road are too prominent, or tipping threateningly where one side of the clay lane has been cut down three or four feet lower than its opposite. Whatever Manchester needs, and all that it sends away, must come or go by wagons, painfully, slowly, and expensively.
Starting from London after breakfast, the traveler usually stops halfway out here at a road house, to refresh himself and his team. Mr. Yates, who keeps one of these places, and a variety store of the common Kentucky type alongside of it, usually closed, but ready to be opened upon call, dwells in a house built by his grandfather, a log cabin, boarded over and “sealed” inside with pine, very neatly joined, but as guiltless of paint as the outer weather boards. There are big rooms, big fireplaces, windows with glass, rag carpet on the best room, which is also a bedroom, and some lithographic portraits of “The Friend of the People,” J.C.S. Blackburn, Bryan, Goebel, and Hardin on the walls.
This seemed to be a good place to stop for a man who was looking for trouble. It was not in Clay County, to be sure, but very near the borders of Clay and Laurel. Lest there should be any misapprehension on the part of the head of the house, his visitor made known his occupation and destination. Yet Mr. Yates fed his caller and his team and then pumped him for political news with an eagerness and friendliness that were reassuring. The way to Manchester began to look safer. The charge for baiting horses and riders was absurdly low, although “Charley,” who drove the team was not quite sure that fifteen ears of corn for each of the horses was quite enough for such deserving beasts. Further on, perched at the top of a bald knob and on short birch posts, was a schoolhouse, in which a serious young woman was teaching some twenty shy-looking children. Nothing could be more severely plain than the one room in which these juvenile Kentuckians were picking up their letters, a little knowledge about putting them together in words, a little arithmetic, a little grammar and geography, and possibly some history. There was nothing in sight to suggest that any child’s imagination was appealed to by the use of objective methods of illustration. It was a very fair example of the schools upon which must depend the children of the mass of the rural population of Kentucky.
A few miles outside of Manchester, and in Clay County, a house of the unpainted and undecorated sort is pointed out on the roadside as the home of Stephen Brown, of whom I had read in a Louisville newspaper of Saturday that his house had been fired into on the previous night and that he and his family fleeing from the wrath of a supposed foe, had narrowly escaped with their lives. Brown was in front of his house which bore no visible signs of the reported fusillade. He said, “Good evenin’ " quite amiably. About the story of the shooting he was absolutely ignorant. He could not quite get it through his head. “Ef there were any shootin’, I didn’t get to hear it,” he drawled, most calmly and musically.
You scramble down the rockiest of roads, in the valley of Goose Creek, to reach Manchester, behind its encompassing walls of pointed hills. When the bottom of the gulch is reached, there is a grand old hotel before you with a bell swinging on a crane above the roof-crest. This old house, with its porch stretching half-way across its low front is against a hillside, perched upon a rock shelf, with rude rock steps leading from right and let and to the gateway. The bell is ringing, and while the jangling keeps on the proprietor, a young gentleman of graceful speech and manner, extends welcome, supported by his father, whose fashion of greeting is racy of the olden time, full of the flavor of the period long before he took up his residence in this out of the way pocket in the mountains. A glance around disclosed no signs of menace among the log, brick and weather-boarded buildings that appear to have been dropped down without conformity to any street plan. In the peaceful afternoon, just come to a close Manchester is as serene as a sleeping child. It not only let a newspaper man arrive, knowing him to be a newspaper man, but in the very heart of the county made notorious by the reports of the Baker-Howard and Philpot-Griffin feuds, it becomes evident that newspaper men may venture with perfect liberty to ask questions on what had appeared to be a very delicate subject, and quite safe to go abroad without danger of molestation.
“Manchester has been very unfortunate,” said dr. Hill, one of its most prominent and loyal citizens, a resident for thirty years, “in having been misrepresented by writers more enterprising and sensational than they were truthful. We are a people not rich, but independent. We are peacable and law-abiding, and we also are law-enforcing people. A few persons in Clay County have quarreled, and some of them have been killed. Writers of lurid dispatches have represented the whole people as affected by the passions that moved the few men who engaged in fatal quarrels. We do not object to the truth about the matter, deplorable as it is, and injurious though it may be to the reputation and prosperity of Kentucky. Look about and you will find us to be about as good a lot of folks as are gathered in any rural county of 12,000 or 15,000 population. Nobody has been “run out” of Clay, but one persistent falsifier has learned that he is no longer welcome, and the resentment against other falsifiers, some of them Kentucky newspaper writers, I regret to say, has found expression in prosecution of the offenders for slander and libel.
This comes out in the course of the evening in the sitting room of the hotel, where men of prominence in Manchester sit before the blazing lignite and discuss the feuds, the clumsy executive action based upon exaggerated reports; the indictment, trial, and sentence of offenders; the reversal of the verdict by the highest court, and the subsidence of all disorder. It is a strange, bloody story, this of Clay County’s two recent feuds. Its ferocity, barbarity, and cruelty are appalling. The efforts of the courts to repress the disorders were more effectual than those of the Governor and the Court of Appeals. The extent of the disorder was small. It was not encouraged, but resented, by the action of the local Grand Juries. E.G.D.
Clay, County, Kentucky
The Wall Street journal
October 28, 1986
by: Bryan Burrough
MANCHESTER, KY - "You can't get away from us," says Autho Sizemore, holding court at a dusty coal tipple here. "If you're not a Sizemore, then you're married into a Sizemore family. Oh, we're everywhere.'
Gnawing at a toothpick, the elderly coal operator adds: "The Sizemores just run Clay County. It's as simple as that."
Meet the powerful Sizemore clan, whose grip on this isolated mountain county is surpassed only by the violence that clings to its name. Bombings, murders, alleged jury tampering, bootlegging - the saga of the Sizemores weaves together all the strange and troublesome themes of politics in Appalachia's hamlets.
There is Sheriff Harold Sizemore, whose father and predecessor as sheriff was killed in a backwoods hollow by a sniper's bullets in 1969. There is County Judge Carl 'Crawdad' Sizemore. There is Constable 'Black Jack' Sizemore, whose father was shot in the back by a county sheriff in 1922. And the tax assessor is James Sizemore, called a 'double Sizemore' because his parents were both Sizemores.
Don't forget Willie Sizemore, the school superintendent, whose front yard was the scene of a still unsolved bombing one night four years ago. "Willie is the most powerful Sizemore and the most powerful man in the county," declares T.C. Sizemore, himself in former sheriff. "He controls all the teachers, you know.'
Indeed, with control over the two largest sources of jobs - the schools and the county payroll - the Sizemores hold sway over much of Clay County's populace.. Few folks hereabouts, including the Sizemores" Political opponents, will criticize them. 'With the kind of power the Sizemores have, they're hard to beat," says Ledford Jackson, who lost a recent county judge race to Crawdad Sizemore. "But we all get along, you know.'
Not always, according to others. "You come here and be nice. And folks will be as nice as anything," says B. Robert Stivers, a prominent local attorney. 'But stick your nose in someone's family business and they'll blow your head off.
To understand Clay County's contradictions, one must first understand the Sizemores - which isn't easy since many Sizemores can't untangle their own family tree. 'There are about four or five sets of us, but as long as your a Sizemore, you're a Sizemore, no matter what,' says Black Jack Sizemore, the constable. 'Above all, we stick together."
The family's heritage in these hills goes back at least as far as Chief Redbird Sizemore, a full blooded Cherokee said to be Clay County's first sheriff in 1808. But they first come into prominence hereabout: because of what is now known as the Great Sizemore Feud of 1931.
It was a peculiar scrap, even by Kentucky, standards. While most feuds involve at least two families, like the celebrated Hatfields versus McCoys, the Sizemores shot one another. And before the killing stopped, family members recall, nine Sizemores were dead, including a deputy sheriff ambushed by his two first cousins in an ,argument over election results.
Even today, their critics say, the Sizemores preserve their special brand of justice in Clay County. Consider the murder trial of Stevie Sizemore, a wealthy coal operator arrested in 1980 for gunning down two union organizers on a back road before a crowd of witnesses. 'If you ever picked a case that represents the worst of eastern Kentucky," says Julle Goodman, the state prosecutor on the case, 'it was Stevie Sizemore's."
From the first pound of the gavel in the cramped mountain courtroom, the Sizemores were as thick as the fog here on a spring morning. Escorting the jurors was Sheriff Harold Sizemore. Handling the records was a county clerk who was married to a Sizemore. Judge Bishop excused himself from the case, citing his ties to the family. Another departure occurred when a state prosecutor discovered he was a distant Sizemore cousin.
That apparently wasn't enough for some clan members. According to investigators and affidavits filed with trial testimony, some family members waged a campaign to influence jurors. One potential juror, for example, told investigators she was called by Stevie Sizemore's mother (now deceased), who told her: "You know who your friends are. Will you stick with your friends?"
Looking about the courtroom, state prosecutors knew they were in trouble. So when the jury deadlocked with only a single guilty vote, despite four eyewitnesses who identified Mr. sizemore as the killer, Ms. Goodman, the prosecutor, says she considered the single guilty vote a victory. A second trial in another county brought a quick conviction of Mr. sizemore, who is in (a Kentucky prison.
No member of the Sizemore clan admits to jury tampering, but one senior family member, Granvill Sizemore, acknowledges the practice isn't unknown in Clay County. "It’s what we down here call, 'knowing the jury," he says.
Even before his trials for gunning down the union organizer's, Stevie Sizemore was no stranger to courtrooms. In 1974, he was arrested for the murder of two alleged bootleggers at a service station and, despite being identified as the killer by an eyewitness, was acquitted after a jury deliberated less than 15 minutes, law enforcement officials recall.
Louise Hensley, whose family owned the service station, believes her father (now deceased) also saw the shooting but kept quiet for fear of reprisals. If so, it apparently didn't help; less that a year after the murders, the station was destroyed in a still unsolved bombing. The message, Mrs. Hensley says, was, "Keep your mouth shut."
Then there was the 1961 trial of sheriff 'T.C. Sizemore. Judge Bishop, who prosecuted the case, recalls that after he had won indictments against Mr. Sizemore and a deputy on charges of taking bribes from local bootleggers, his barn and a nearby house mysteriously went up in flames. On a subsequent night, he discovered 12 sticks of dynamite attached to a 135 foot fuse on his front lawn.
'There was a heavy rain and the fuse died 13 feet short of the dynamite,' he recalls with a wry grin. "Oh, yes, they gave me a rough time."
Mr. Bishop's troubles didn't end there. Autho Sizemore recalls telling Mr. Bishop, in a bid to stop the trial. "All I have to do is walk in that courthouse door of yours and I know what would hcippen." Mr. Bishop was unmoved, Mr. Sizemore walked in the door and the trial ended, for whatever reason, in a hung jury.
"I just don't know who we're not related to,' Autho Sizemore says. 'That's why it’s so hard to convict a Sizemore in Clay County.
Like many mountain families, the Sizemores seem never to forget a slight. Granville Sizemore, for one, discusses the 1969 sniping murder of his brother, Sheriff Matt Sizemore, as if it happened yesterday.
'It's the only time the killing of a Sizemore in Clay County has never been avenged," he says, adding: "There's a lot of underground news about it here lately. Everything's pointing to the same killer.'
Later, after he has spent several hours driving a visitor around back roads in his pickup truck, something appears to be gnawing at Mr. Sizemore. 'You know,' he says, "If we'd shot everyone that was rumored to be involved in Matt's killing, we would have killed half of Clay County. You can't do that. But if we could kill three people right now, I know one of them would be guilty. This one old man I know, he's going to brought to justice."
Mr. Sizemore pauses. "If he's not why, we'll have to do something about it." he says. 'It's the code of the mountains."
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