Version of the Turner Sowders Feud
.By Taylor Reed in The Ties That Bind and Family Mysteries
I have posted two different versions of the Turner/Sowder Feud. Members of our Rains family married into the Turner line. Each family seems to have a different version as to how this started. Over the years many people lost their lives as a result of this feud. I will post what information David Rains shared before he passed away last fall of 2011.
From theKnoxville Journal, Sunday, August 19, 1956, word for word, but correcting some misspelled words. The article was sent to me by Sue Jones of HarlanCo. Due to the length of the article, I'll post it in two parts---PartIKENTUCKIAN 102, RECALLS MOUNTAIN FEUD BETWEEN TURNER, SOWDERS IN EARLY1870'S"Uncle Joe" (Pet) Marsee of Middlesboro, who was 102 years old on Aug. 6,is the only living person who can recall the events leading up to, and who knew all the participants in the notorious mountain feud between theTurners and Sowders on along the Kentucky-Tennessee border during the early 1870's.Marsee, who lives alone with his wife in a secluded spot near the WhiteBridge in Noetown in suburban Middlesboro, vividly recalls the violent interfamily war in which many lives were lost and scores were seriously injured before the peace was restored. Bell County's oldest male resident, and widely regarded as an authority on the early history of Yellow Creek Valley and its people, "Uncle Joe" was kin to both families."I was kin to the Turners through my aunt, Betsy Marsee, who married aTurner, and related to the Sowders through my grandmother, Nancy Sowders,sister of Jacob Sowders, who was the father of General Sowder, the key figure in the bloody feud," Marsee explained."I saw the fightin' and lived through it all, but I took no part what so ever in the battles," he related, adding, "I reckon, though, I could name all the persons who were killed as well as those who did the shootin"."Uncle Joe" crossed his legs, flicked at a fly that was bothering him, and went on. "The Turners were honest and respectable people, but high strung and easily angered, fierce in their loyalty to kinfolk and quickto resent any insult or injury.""General Sowder's father, old Jake Sowders, owned a farm on Stoney Fork,adjoining that of 'Pussy Joe' Turner. General married Joe's daughter, Elizabeth. General and Elizabeth seemed devoted to one another. No oneever heard of any trouble between them, but somehow, during a playfulscuffle, one of Elizabeth's thumbs was broken."Tongues began to waggin' and someone told Elizabeth's brothers, Gordon and Harve Turner, that General was mistreating their sister. Lee immediately sent word to General that he intended to kill him on sight.""Knowing this to be no idle threat, and seeing as how the Turners far out numbered his own kin, General lost no time in arranging a number of hideouts.""While staying at the home of a friend on Tackett's Creek in Tennessee,he was awakened late one night by someone pounding on the door of the room in which he was sleeping. Startled, and thinking that the Turners had finally tracked him down, General hastily grabbed up his rifle, and as the door was pushed violently from the outside, blazed away at the intruders, killing them instantly. Too late, he discovered that theywere not enemies but two of his friends, Rube Carroll and Chad Massey
On January 27, 1954 my great grandfather Thomas Nelson Sowder, son of Jacob Harvey Sowder and Mary Jane Wilson wrote, by request, his memories. The document is 7 1/2 pages and seems to be unfinished. He either never finished it or later pages were separated somewhere in the long journey it made until it reached me a few months ago via a connection over the internet. He gives an account of the beginning of the Sowder-Turner feud that is different from Mr. Turner's.
Thomas Nelson was born March 19 1978 in Tennessee on top of Log Mountain, which he says is on the state line. Thomas Nelson's mother died when he was five years old. His father remarried a young woman who was his mother's double cousin, Mollie Harp. Jacob Harvey moved his children and new wife off the mountain to the valley to a farm belonging to his Uncle Jake Sowder. He writes that the house was considered one of the best at that time made of hewn poplar logs and a wood floor. It was three large rooms and a porch the full length of the house. There were outbuildings such as a loom house for weaving and a smoke house for curing meats. Jacob Harvey later moved his family to Whitley County,Kentucky and later then to Pulaski Co. Jacob Harvey is buried at Mill Springs National Cemetary as he was a veteran of the Civil War - 49th Kentucky Infantry. He outlived three wives and left the fourth a widow.
Thomas Nelson died September 14, 1972 in Pulaski County, Kentucky and is buried at Lee Cemetary.
This is what he wrote about the Sowder Turner feud which began he says at Jake Sowder's farm.
"Now at that time this was a Sowder settlement where nearly everybody was kin to the Sowder—either by name or by marriage. So as soon as we moved in here come the kin folks, neighbors and all. And as was customary in those days no one needed to go away hungry. Dad has plenty of hog and hominy, dried apples, dried blackberries, pork, beef, coon and squirrel, For all those who were not too lazy to go around the new ground fence on the woods side and take their own cap lock rifle along, there was plenty of game to be had. We had to be careful and not miss a shot for ammunition was scarce. Everyone had to melt bars of lead and mold their own bullets. It was along about this period that there was a store set up in the valley where almost any necessity could be bought.
Now it was at this gathering at Uncle Jack’s place that some trouble got started. I have often thought how foolish for two young men of good standing and sound mind to fall out with each other so foolishly over a cross bow. I do remember this as well as if it had been recently and it actually happened seventy years ago. This bow and arrow belonged to Ben, my oldest brother, who was then around nine years old. This contraption was made by boring a hole through one end of a poplar piece of wood and fitting the bow through that hole, the wooden piece being fashioned in the shape of a gun with a trench being mortised on the top side to lay the arrow in, then, pull on the bow string and latch it in a notch on the stock of the gun and when you got ready to shoot you just flipped the bow string with the thumb and there goes the arrow. With a good strong bow, a good straight arrow, they good shoot deceivingly hard. But one of those young men, one General Sowder and the other a Mr. Turner. Anyway one shot the other on the shin, but the arrow had no spike on it so the one that got hit got mad and wanted to fight. In respect to the family, and others present, those two men agreed to go to the barn and get the barn between them and the house and there find out which was the best man, just fist and skull. It turned out that General being a quick and strong man soon knocked Turner out. But Turner swore vengeance on Sowder. He went out and bought a Winchester rifle so that he might shoot General on sight. When General found out that Turner was gunning for him, he also purchased a Winchester so he would have an even chance with his sworn enemy. It happened on day while General was working in the woods, he heard a sound and looked and saw a man’s head protruding from behind a tree, also a rifle barrel pointing his way. So being a very quick man and also a very good shot, he grabbed his gun that he had close by, threw it up and fired and so he shot Turner through the head. This started a feud that lasted for years. Turner’s brother-in-law also tried to kill General but General got him and matter went from bad to worse until nearly the whole population was into the feud. The coal companies came in and bought the land, mountains and valleys that were rich in coal, timber and so the feud seemed to ease up from that time on.
My father’s Uncle Jake Sowder had moved just before and father just lived at the Uncle Jack place a short time, then he moved to Maple Creek in Whitley County, Kentucky not far from London on upper Cumberland River. So we were never in any way mixed up in their feud. But this writer did have two uncles left then. One uncle who lived at grandfather Pruden’s old homestead at Pruden, Tennessee. And another some ten miles down the valley. Also one aunt who lived at the old home and a host of cousins that will come in for a worth mention later."
Jennifer Sears Gilbert
I WONDER HOW THIS FEUD COMPARES WITH THE HATFIELDS AND MCCOYS?