An American Family History

The Rowan County War

The Tolliver-Martin Feud

Kentucky was originally a Virginia county and included the lands west of the Appalachians. In 1780, it was divided into Fayette, Jefferson, and Lincoln counties. Kentucky officially became a state on June 1, 1792.

The Rowan County War was centered in Morehead, Rowan County, Kentucky. From August 1884 to June 1887 there were twenty murders.

July, 1884

Ben Rayburn was killed in July, 1884 and Craig Tolliver, Jeff Bowling, John Trumbo, Boone Day, Robert Messer, James Oxley, and H. M. Keeton were arrested for his murder. One of the magistrates was a Tolliver supporter and he declared that there was no cause for trial. They were all released.

Boone Logan's Letters to the Sentinel-Democrat (Mt. Sterling, Ky) Pertaining to the Rowan County Feud And Other Matters.
Morehead, Ky., Aug. 24. James Oxley, one of the parties tried for the murder of Rayburn before the examining court was on the Grand Jury, but was selected, as before stated, by the Jury Commissioners six months ago, and is a man against whom naught had ever been said until he was charged with the murder of Rayburn.

He (Oxley) was the only man on that Grand Jury that was charged with or tried for killing Ben Rayburn. He (Oxley) and T. J. Trumbo, father of John Trumbo, one of the men tried for killing Rayburn were excused from the Grand Jury on the 2d or 3d day of sitting on their own motion, and other men, unconnected with the trouble, put in their places. I defy, challenge and will pay a liberal reward to the author of the infamous article to show up any member of the Grand Jury in any other light than that of a law-abiding, peaceable, honest citizen.

August, 1884

The feud and lawlessness in Rowan County began in August, 1884 following the election of Sheriff Wesley Cook Humphrey.

On election day a fight started between William Trumbo and H. G. Price. Others joined in. John Martin said that acting sheriff, John C. Day and Floyd Tolliver attacked him. Guns were drawn and in the battle that followed, Solomon Bradley (1847-1884) was shot and killed. The Martins claimed that Day killed him and the Tollivers claimed that Martin did it.

The Martin faction, or Republican faction, included-Carey House Hotel

Baumgartner, Stewart, Deputy Sheriff (killed by Tolliver faction)
Carey, James
Carey, James Madison (Matt)
Humphrey, Wesley Cook (1853-1941)
Logan, Henry Shelton, Dr. (1818-1888)
Logan, John Houson (1869-1887, son of Dr.)
Logan, William H. Wadsworth (1862-1887, son of Dr.)
Martin, Benjamin Dr. (1823-1898, John's father)
Martin, David (1850-1930, John's brother)
Martin, John (killed by Tolliver faction)
Martin, Sue
Martin, William (1848-1930, John's brother)
Perce/Pierce, Ed (hired gun)
Rayburn (Raborn), Ben (1821

The Tolliver, or Democratic faction-The Cottage Hotel

Arksley, Jim
Bowling, Alvin (killed a marshall and imprisoned)
Bowling, Jeff (hung for killing his father-in-law)
Cooper, Hiram (1865-1887)
Day, Boone
Day, John C. B., Sheriff (1858-1886, son of Jedediah)
Day, Mitch (Mick)
Day, Tom Allen
Day, William (Bill) (1843-1910, son of Jedediah)
Gooden, Sam
Keeton, H. Mason
Manning, Burke
Manning, Jim
Messer, R. E. (Morehead constable)
Nester, Bob
Oxley, James
Rodgers, John
Tolliver, Andy
Tolliver, James Calvin (Cal, 1870 - 1898)
Tolliver, Craig Burton police judge (1851 -1887, son of Hugh)
Tolliver, Daniel Boone (1853 - 1911, son of Hugh)
Tolliver, Jacob Finley (Finn 1830-1901, son of James Tolliver, killed by Harvey Moore)
Tolliver, Jacob Finley (Jay, 1862 - 1887)
Tolliver, Rush Floyd (1855-1884, son of Hugh, killed by John Martin)
Tolliver, John Reed (Budd, 1857 - 1887)
Tolliver, Francis Marion (1857 - 1936)
Tolliver, Wiley Van Buren (1857-1887, son of Lightwell Tolliver)
Trumbo, John
Wilson, Jerry, Dr.

November, 1884

John G. Hughes was killed by a mob styling themselves "regulators" in November, 1884.

December, 1884

On December 2, 1884, Floyd Tolliver was killed in a barroom brawl by John Martin. Before he died he said

Boys, remember what you swore to do, you said you would kill him and you must keep your word.

On December 10, 1884, John Martin was killed by the Tolliver faction.


In 1885 county attorney, Zachary Taylor Young, was shot, but not killed, by Ben Rayburn and Ed Pierce of the Martin faction.

March, 1885

Stewart Baumgartner appointed by Cook Humphrey, was murdered on March 17, 1885 by the Tolliver faction. Several other killings occurred in the county that year.

April, 1885

In April, 1885 heavily armed Martin sympathizers, including Cook Humphrey and Ed Pierce were in Morehead at Carey House Hotel. Tolliver supporters including former Sheriff, John C. Day and Jeff Bowling were at the Cottage Hotel. A battle followed and the Carey House was abandoned and the Tollivers remained in undisputed control.

The Governor ordered General John B. Castleman to investigate and faction leaders were pressured into a peace accord. The agreement led to more discord. It prevented prosecution of either side for the Morehead riot. This leniency encouraged more lawlessness.

Ed Pierce was arrested and found guilty of robbery. While in jail, he admitted to participating in Young's murder and also implicated Ben Rayburn. In his confession, he claimed to have been employed to kill the county attorney, Z. T. Young, by John Martin's family along with Sheriff Humphrey and Deputy Baumgartner.

July, 1885

In July, 1885, fugitives, Rayburn and Humphrey took refuge in the Martin house which was seiged by the Tollivers and Days. The men Tolliver summoned to assist in making the arrest included R. E. Messer (constable of the Morehead precinct), Jeff Bowling, Thomas A. Day, John Trumbo, H. M. Keeton, Boon Day, Bill Day, "Mick' Day, James Oxley, and a young man named Collin. Ben Rayburn was killed.

A few months after that, Jeff and Alvin Bowling, two participants in these tragedies were tried in other courts. Jeff Bowling killed his father-in-law in Ohio and he was hung. His brother Alvin killed a marshall and he was sent to the penitentiary for 21 years. Whit Pelfry was killed at Hog Town by Thomas Goodan.

Cook Humphrey, Howard Logan, James Madison (Matt) Carey and two or three others of their friends were besieged in the Galt House in Morehead, several dozen shots were fired, but no one was killed.

After this, Craig Tolliver and Cook Humphrey signed an agreement to leave Rowan County and never return.

Tolliver returned and became a candidate for police judge. He canvassed for votes with a Winchester rifle causing all the other candidates to withdraw. On the day of the election, Boone Logan said he would rather vote for the most worthless man in town rather than Tolliver. Tolliver overheard.

Tolliver's election to the position of police judge gave him power to issue warrants. He issued a warrant charging two Logan boys with "kukluxing."

Marshal Manning, accompanied by a posse of 12 men including Craig Tolliver, went to Doctor Henry Logan's home and demanded the surrender of his sons, John H. Logan and William H. Logan. The sons surrendered and were immediately murdered.

After killing the two Logan sons, Craig Tolliver ordered their brother, Boone Logan, to leave the county. He consulted with Governor Knott who told him he could not help.

After that, Logan and a local merchant, Hiram Pigman, secured the active cooperation of Sheriff Hogg to bring the Tollivers to justice. Warrants were issued for Craig Tolliver, Jay Tolliver, Bud Tolliver, Andy Tolliver, Cal Tolliver, Burke Manning, Jim Manning, John Rodgers, Hiram Cooper, Boone Day, Bill Day, Tom Day and Sam Gooden.

January, 1886

Wiley Tolliver was killed by Mack Bentley during a drunken row in January, 1886.

June, 1887

On June 22, 1887 the Tollivers were defeated in a 2 ½ hour gun battle.

July 4, 1901

Hugh Davis was shot by James Flannery. Howard Moore "had words" with Finn Tolliver (Hugh's cousin). Tolliver stabbed Moore.

August 19, 1901

Jacob Finley (Finn) Tolliver was shot by Harvey Moore (Howard's brother)

The Men Who Died

Ben Rayburn - July
Solomon Bradley - Aug.
John G. Hughes - Nov.
John Martin - Dec.
Floyd Tolliver

Stewart Baumgardner - March
Stewart Caudill
Rayburn, Ben - July

John Marlow
John C. Day
William O. Logan
Isaac (Whit) Pelfrey

Wylie V. Tolliver - January
John H. Logan - June
William H. W. Logan - June
Hiram Cooper - June
Craig Tolliver - June
Jacob F. Tolliver - June
John R. Tolliver -June
John N. Witcher
H. Mason Keeton


Hugh Davis (a Tolliver cousin)
Jacob Finley Tolliver

Appalachia was the 18th century backcountry and many settlers were Scots-Irish. It includes southern New York, western Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Virginia, West Virginia, eastern Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee and northern Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia.




July 11, 1901 Sprout Spring Times

from Indianapolis News
November 13, 1901

Woman was a Witness of Three Murders
Mrs. Oxley Summoned by a Kentucky Court

Refused then Yielded
Cincinnati, November 13.-

Mrs. J. M. Oxley, of 751 West Seventh street, cited by telegraph to appear in court, had to grab an extra toilet, rush in her house gown to the train and travel all night to reach Morehead, Ky., in time to perhaps swear away a man's life or His lifelong liberty. She at first defied the law by telegraphing back that she positively would not again be a witness in the long-continued Tolliver-Moore murder case, but calmer Judgment prevailing, she made a record dash for the train.

She will be compelled to remain perhaps weeks near the scene that even yet, after three years, unnerves her to recall—the murder, in her presence, of seventy-two-year-old "Uncle” Fent [sic-should be Finn for Jacob Finley] Tolliver. Her family In Cincinnati and relatives elsewhere are in terror lest some one from the several factions existing there shoot her before the trial is over. She says she will not feel safe to be on the streets a minute in Morehead.

On the other hand. If she had not gone to the trial she had not only the court’s penalty to face, but the friends of the cliques who believe that her testimony may be useful to their side, might have proved dangerously troublesome.

Strenuous times has this matron seen. Of the many Kentucky shootings in which she has been so nearly a victim the most thrilling was a "parlor affair" some years ago. Mrs. Oxley and her husband and a half-dozen others, including Len [John Linville?] Martin, the sweetheart of the hostess, were visiting at the home of Miss Moate Stighall [Motie Click Christian, b. March, 1876] in Morehead, when Martin conceived the fascinating idea of doing a little shooting in the parlor. He shot five times. The girl whom he was to have married fell instantly into the arms of Mrs. Oxley, with whom she had been chatting merrily a moment before.

After a long trial, in which Oxley had to be in continual attendance as chief witness, Martin was technically acquitted and is now adrift in the United States army, trying to forget the dead face upon which he pressed despairing kisses immediately after he had shot her.

Mrs. Oxley’s accidental connection with the present difficulty dates from her stopping at Lytle’s little home restaurant one day three [months?] years ago [August 19, 1901] to get a bowl of soup. She was starting to a country district to visit relatives. "Uncle" Fent Tolliver whom she had known, and all his family, since her infancy, was eating lunch. While she was chatting to the old man Harvey Moore came in. Before the smoke of successive firing had cleared away seventy-two-year-old Fent Tolliver was fatally shot. It is to tell the exact nature of this tragedy that the law has called an unwilling witness from Cincinnai to the Morehead courts.

Murder at a Picnic.

A short time previous to the Tolliver murder Mrs. Oxley was attending a picnic [July 4, 1901] to meet her friends of girlhood days, when Hugh Davis, cousin of Fent Tolliver, was shot by James Flannery. Each had wanted a monopoly of a young lady’s attention. They quarreled. Davis has a crippled hand, and his custom of carrying this hand in his pocket when in company gave Flannery a pretext for ramming his own hand in his own pocket, after which Davis was near death for months from pistol shot wounds.

Davis lived, though, and is in evidence to help avenge the murder of his aged cousin, Fent Tolliver, and to see that Mrs. Oxley is on hand to give testimony. Fent Tolliver had been accused of cutting Howard Moore, brother of Harvey Moore, who is on trial for killing Tolliver.

"Kate" Tolliver, son of the murdered man, is pushing the trial for conviction of Harvey Moore. "Kate" is the last male member of the Tollivers. He has buried four brothers, several uncles and his father, all dying by tragedy, and all dying young except Fent, the only Tolliver spared by these tragedies to old age.

Mr. and Mrs. Pelfrey, estimable people living near Morehead, are the parents of Mrs. Oxley. The Oxleys have been living in this city for about a year. They came here as feud refugees. Oxley is now employed in the lumber yard of a West End furniture factory, together with a cousin named Trumbull, also a refugee from Morehead. They are typical Kentucky mountaineers.

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©Roberta Tuller 2019
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