|The New York Times wrote about the Turner-Howard feud in 1889.|
To illustrate how centuries-old cultural traits shape people to this day, Gladwell talks about one of my favorite subjects, the Scotch-Irish immigrants whose proud, violent culture was shaped by their experience on the border of England and Scotland. A good half of my ancestry is Scotch-Irish, and some of the stories I've told on this blog reflect that culture of feuding hill-country clans. (Remember how Silas Jones fled Arkansas? The story is here, here, and here.) Gladwell uses as an example a feud between the Howard and Turner families in Harlan County, Kentucky, after the Civil War.
The feud he recounts—between the descendants of William Turner and those of Samuel Howard—went on for years and cost at least a dozen lives. (One account is here; you can read Gladwell's summary on Google Books here.) It started with a dispute over a poker game and escalated with each successive insult to Scotch-Irish honor. At one point, the governor sent troops to the area to protect the courthouse in the midst of the feud, and in 1889, the New York Times published an article about the feud, calling it "a faction war that has cost many lives and still disgraces the state of Kentucky." The main characters on the Turner side were grandsons of the patriarch William Turner: Will, George, and "Devil Jim." As Gladwell puts it succinctly, "These were not pleasant people."
When I saw the name Turner and Harlan County, though, I had to reach for my family history files. And sure enough, the same William Turner described as the patriarch of the feuding family was an ancestor. Born in 1770 in Virginia, William married Susannah Bailey and moved to Harlan County, where he owned a tavern and two general stores. Their daughter Mary Turner married Bales Shumate. They had at least one son, William Shumate, before Mary drowned in the Clover Fork River in 1828. (The family story is that she was going to her sister's house to care for someone who was sick.) A few years later, their son William moved to Arkansas with his wife Sarah and her Ball family; Bales moved to Arkansas at about the same time. William and Sarah were the parents of Bennett Shumate, who fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War and was Cal Jones's grandfather. (I wrote about the Joneses and Shumates in the Civil War here.)
So although my direct ancestors had moved west some 30 years before the feud began, they were very closely related to the feuding Turners. I hope to learn more about the particulars of the feud and report in future blog posts.