A Kentucky Family War
Steele Scrapbook - 1885


The Turners and Howards Make the Town of Harlan a Battleground on Court Day.

From a citizen of Harlan county, who arrived in the city yesterday, the particulars of a bloody affray which took place last week between two families, of the county, between whom a feud has for a long time existed, were learned. The families involved are headed by George B. Turner, Sr., and Henderson Howard. The former lives with his family in the town of Harlan, and the Hendersons live about three miles below the county seat. The two factions were until late years the wealthiest people in that part of
the country. The two heads were looked upon by every one as the representative leaders of the opposite political parties. Their trouble has no political significance, but arose about five years ago in consequence of a difficulty between Wickliffe Howard, son of Henderson Howard, and Robert Turner, son of George B. Turner. They had been fast friends and boon companions, and were out on a lark together. Both had been drinking, and a quarrel ensued over a trivial matter. They separated and left for their homes. Howard procured a musket and went into town with the avowed intention of making Turner bite the dust before returning. He came across
Turner on the street, called to him, and, as he turned and faced him, presented his musket and shot him dead. For this crime Wickliffe Howard was tried for his life. Large sums of money were spent by both sides, trying to gain their point. The Howards were finally triumphant, and mountain justice acquitted the slayer.

The dispute had in the meantime drawn the members of each family into the feud, and as both were largely connected nearly one-half of the community was arrayed against the other. Last winter Wm. Turner, Jr., swore to avenge his brother's death. Wickliffe Howard had in the mean time married, and was living alone with his wife. In the dead of night, some time in December, Wm. Turner stealthily approached his house, and forced an entrance into his sleeping room with the intention of killing Howard. Howard, fortunately, had been aroused a short time before by a disturbance among his stock, and had gone out to see what was the matter. Turner's presence in the room awoke Mrs. Howard, and she saw him standing in the middle of the room in his stocking feet, his pistol cocked in his hand. Notwithstanding Turner's threats, she screamed to her husband not to come in, that Turner was there and would kill him. Howard, however, came to the door. There was no light in the room, except a glow made by embers in the fireplace. It was enough to show Turner standing in the centre of the room, and between Howard and the place where he kept his pistol.

As soon as Howard stepped into the room Turner began to shoot. He emptied his revolver without effect, and then tried to grapple with his enemy. In the darkness Howard eluded him, secured his pistol and shot him in the shoulder. Turner escaped from the house, and went home. As soon as he recovered from the effect of his wound he fled to Texas. Both sides seemed satisfied to permit things to remain as they were during William Turner's absence, but on the night of the Fourth of July he returned. The Howards
claim that on his return the Turners sent word to them, now that he was here, they were ready to renew the conflict. This, however, the Turners deny, and say that they wanted no further trouble. Sunday, July 5, intervening, all was quiet between the two factions, as far as outside appearances went, although it is said that both sides busied themselves in preparations and plans for what was regarded as inevitable.

Monday was court day, and early in the day the Howards came into town. They soon learned that Will Turner was on the street, and posted themselves in several places so as to get the drop on him. Wilson Howard, a cousin, of James Howard, a brother of Wickliffe, went into the second story of the Court House and stood by the side of an open window overlooking the yard. They had not long to wait. Very soon William Turner came along the graded walk leading into the Court House. As soon as he got within rage [sic] the
two Howards, who were above him, opened fire, and one of the shots struck him in the breast near the nipple and went clear through his body. He staggered and turned and ran about twenty yards. The first shots were a signal for the rest of the Howards, and by this time a regular fusilade had opened on Turner. He drew a 45-caliber pistol and returned the shots, retreating as he fired into a cornfield near by.

Two of Turner's brothers heard of the attack, and hastened to the rescue in time to take part in the affair, and soon brought the matter to a halt. They formed a guard for their brother, and he was taken home, his wounds properly dressed, and he is now doing as well as could be expected. Five of the Howards surrendered themselves to the Sheriff, and were each put under $1,000 bonds to appear at the fall term. Sentiment is about equally divided between the two families. Thus far their sanguinary troubles have not involved any of their friends who are not related, but it is feared by the conservative, law-abiding people of Harlan that the feud will be continued
until one or the other of the two factions is exterminated or driven out of the country.

Deviously Plundered From Alf

Dreadful Sentiments...