When the Talliaferro families changed their abode from Old Virginia to settle in Morgan
County, Kentucky, it wasn't long until their name also was changed. Their neighbors found
the name Talliaferro difficult to speak and they began to shorten the syllables to something
that sounded like Tolliver. So Tolliver it was from then on.
Craig Tolliver's father became a prosperous farmer but with his prosperity came quarrels
with a neighbor and finally a lawsuit. Tolliver was successful in the litigation, which incensed
his neighbors. One night as he lay asleep in his bed the irate neighbors stealthily entered
the house and shot him dead before the eyes of his fourteen-year-old son, Craig. This
early sight of high-handed murder embittered the boy who at once began to carry a gun
and drink and lead a life of lawlessness.
Martins and Tollivers. Craig was the leader of his side. Gaunt and wiry, he stood six feet inhis boots. His long drooping
charming a bird. In appearance Craig was a typical desperado. He swaggered about with gun at belt, a whiskey bottle on his
Troubles brewed around elections and courts. At this time the secret ballot had not yet been instituted. Not only was the name
of the voter called out but his choice as well. With the open ballot a man who bought votes knew how they were cast. Bribery
and whiskey, both of which were plentiful and freely dispensed at voting time, went hand-in-hand with fights and corruption.
The stage was set for bloody feud in Rowan County by the time Cook Humphrey in 1884 ran for sheriff of the county on the
Republican ticket against S. B. Gooden, Democrat. That election day in August a group of men gathered in the courthouse
yard at Morehead, the county seat, discussing the returns in heated tones. Gooden lived in the town while his opponent lived
about seven miles away on his father's farm.
"Cook Humphrey won by twelve votes," someone called out. At that a quarrel started. Fists were flying in the air. William
Trumbo, kin of John Martin's wife who was Lucy Trumbo, made a remark to a man by the name of Price. And the next thing
they were in a wrangle. There were Tollivers and Martins present as well as friends of both families and soon all of them were
engaged in the controversy. Someone struck John Martin, supposedly with the butt of a gun, knocking out a front tooth and
badly cutting his head. His blood stained the courthouse steps. As he scrambled to his feet cursing vengeance against John
Day and Floyd Tolliver for wounding him, he drew his pistol and others did likewise. The next moment Sol Bradley, the father
of seven children, lay dead with a bullet through his brain. Young Ad Sizemore caught a bullet in the neck.
There was a dispute as to whether John Martin or Floyd Tolliver had killed Sol Bradley, who was a friend and partisan of Cook
Humphrey. It was never decided who did the killing. But it started the Martin-Tolliver troubles. The wounding of Ad Sizemore
Sizemores, and Humphrey on one side, Days and Tollivers on the other side. John Martin, the son of Ben, lived not far from
his father on Christy Creek, a few miles from Morehead. His brothers, Will and Dave, resided nearby. They had a sister, Sue,
who was as fearless as the menfolks of her family. She resented bitterly the treatment of the Martins by the other side. Sue
lived at home with her father and mother.
The Tollivers were more widely scattered. Floyd lived in Rowan, Marion and Craig in Morgan County, their cousins Bud, Jay,
and Wiley lived in Elliott County. Their clansmen, all Democrats, including Tom Allen Day and his brothers Mitch, Boone, and
John, also Mace Keeton, Jeff and Alvin Bowling, James Oxley, and Bob Messer lived in Rowan County.
The Martins, Logans, and Matt Carey, the county clerk, all Republicans and friends of Cook Humphrey, newly elected sheriff,
resented the killing of Sol Bradley, an innocent bystander. There had been whisperings of threats laid to both sides. "As soon
as the leaves put out good, I aim to get Floyd," Martin is reported to have said. Similar mutterings were reported to have been
uttered by Tolliver. "I'll bide my time till the brush gets green; then I aim to have a reckoning. That Logan outfit, well-wishers of
the Martins, are getting too uppity."
It was Fentley Muse who told a tale-bearer that no good could come of such things and urged that all keep peace. But peace
bonds were violated as fast as they were made. Pledges by Craig Tolliver to leave the county for good and all were broken.
There was more tale-bearing. There were those who, according to John Martin's son Ben, later a World War hero, made the
bullets for others to shoot, including one, a doctor, whom I knew well in later years. Ben Martin said of him angrily, "He filled
more graves than any other man in Rowan County and yet he himself never fired a shot." Ben's aged mother, Mrs. Lucy
Trumbo Martin, reiterated this often to me when I sat beside her on the porch of the old Cottage Hotel on Railroad Street in
Morehead where much of the shooting took place. Indeed the old hostelry had been the scene of one of the fiercest gun
battles between the Martins and Tollivers. It faced the Central Hotel across the tracks. The Galt House, the name by which the
Carey combined boarding house and grocery-saloon was known during the Rowan County troubles, stood some distance
away across the road from the courthouse.
It was a bleak day in December, 1884, following the August election in Rowan County when John Martin was struck on the
head, that he and his wife Lucy and two of their small children climbed into their jolt wagon out on Christy Creek and rode into
town. While his wife and the children went to do some trading at a general store down the road, John met Sam Gooden, John
Day, and Floyd Tolliver. Words passed between Martin and Tolliver after which John went into Carey's saloon. As he stood at
the bar Floyd Tolliver came up and repeated what he had said to Martin outside something to the effect that Martin had been
wanting to bulldoze him. Martin denied the charge but Tolliver repeated, "Yes, by God, you have, and I am not going to permit
it." To which Martin answered, "If you must have a fight, I am ready for you." At this Floyd put his hand in his pocket. Martin,
thinking, so his wife and son told me, that Floyd Tolliver was about to draw his gun, drew his own in self-defense. Though
Martin was quicker on the trigger than Tolliver, who now had his gun out of the holster, Martin did not have time to get his
weapon completely out of his pocket. He shot through it, killing Floyd Tolliver almost instantly. "Boys," Floyd managed to gasp,
turning his eyes toward friends who rushed into the bar, "remember what you swore to do. You said you would kill him and you
must keep your word."
Martin gave himself up to the law. By this time a mob, friends of both sides, had gathered around and Martin was hurried, half
dragged, across the road to the jail behind the courthouse. In order to protect the prisoner from violence he was taken to the
Winchester, Kentucky, jail next day. But he had been there only six days when a band of five men presented themselves to
the jailer with an order, apparently signed by the proper authorities, commanding Martin's return to Rowan County. He
pleaded with the jailer not to surrender him. "It is only a plot to kill me," he cried. That day Martin's wife had been to see him in
his cell. She took him some cornbread and a clean shirt and socks. Little did she dream when she got on the train to return to
Morehead that night that her husband sat handcuffed in the baggage coach ahead. Around the prisoner stood his five
captors: Alvin Bowling, Edward and Milt Evans, a man named Hall, and another by the name of Eastman.
When the train was within five miles of the county seat of Rowan, at a village called Farmers, it was boarded by several
masked men who rushed into the baggage car and shot John Martin, helpless and handcuffed, to death. "They've killed him!"
Lucy Trumbo Martin screamed at the sound of the first shot, though until that moment she had not known her husband was
on the train. "I knew they had killed John," she told her friends at the time and often afterward.
When the train bearing John Martin's bullet-torn body reached Morehead he was carried, still breathing, into the old Central
Hotel where he died that night. In the meantime his distracted wife had sent for their children and her mother who was staying
with the family on the farm on Christy Creek. An old darky who had long lived at the county seat mounted his half-blind mule
and rode out along the lonely creek that cold winter night to carry the sad tidings to the Martin household. He also rode ahead
of them on the journey back with the corpse of John Martin later that same night.
"Hesh!" Granny Trumbo warned the children huddled in the bed of the wagon as it rumbled along the creek bed road, "Hesh!
no telling who's hid in the bresh to kill us." The children sobbed fearfully. Ben, the older of the two small boys, sat dry-eyed.
His small hands sought those of his father cold in death and still in irons. "Pa, they didn't give you no chance," he murmured
bitterly. "You were helpless as a trapped deer. They didn't give you no chance." It wasn't a cry of revenge but of heartbreak,
one that the mother and the other children would remember always. And Granny Tumbo, sitting bravely erect on the board
seat of the wagon beside her widowed daughter, gripped the reins and urged the weary team onward along the frozen road,
keeping close behind the silent horseman ahead.
In March of the following year another of the Martin side, Stewart Bumgartner, a deputy sheriff of Cook Humphrey, was shot
from ambush as he rode along the road some six miles from Morehead. A month later Taylor Young, county attorney of
Rowan, was shot in the shoulder as he rode along another lonely road in the county. Though Young heartily disclaimed any
connection with either side, he was accused by the Martins of being a well-wisher of the Tollivers. Again, as in the Bumgartner
case, no arrests were made. However, when Ed Pierce was convicted some time later of highway robbery and jailed in
Montgomery County, he confessed to waylaying Taylor Young but put the blame of the actual shooting on Ben Rayburn.
Pierce said it was plotted by Sheriff Humphrey who assured him and Rayburn of all the whiskey they could drink and two
dollars a day while they were watching for Young; when they had killed him they were to receive two hundred and fifty dollars.
After that, one Sunday morning, Craig Tolliver, who was town marshal of Morehead, accompanied by a half dozen men, went
to the home of old Ben Martin, father of John. Craig told Mrs. Martin that he had warrants for the arrest of Cook Humphrey
and Ben Rayburn. At first she said the two were not there, that only her daughters, Sue, Annie, little Rena, and a married
daughter, Mrs. Richmond Tussey, were in the house. It was a fact; her husband and her two sons, Will and Dave, whose lives
had been threatened, had gone to Kansas. The Tollivers, however, were not to be deceived. They had seen Cook Humphrey,
carrying his gun, enter the Martin house the evening before.
The Martin house, a two-story frame with the old part of logs stood at the foot of a hill about thirty feet from the road. Tolliver's
band, including Mark Keeton, Jeff Bowling, Tom Allen Day, John and Boone Day, Mitch and Jim Oxley, and Bob Messer, were
well armed. They demanded that Humphrey and Rayburn surrender, saying they had warrants for their arrest for the
attempted assassination of Taylor Young. The two men asked to see the warrants and when the documents of arrest were not
forthcoming they flatly refused to surrender. Then Craig Tolliver stationed his crew in the bushes all around the Martin house.
Watching his chance he finally slipped inside and up the narrow stairway. Humphrey spied him, rushed forward and striking
his gun discharged it in Craig's face. Craig fell backward. Wiping the blood from forehead and cheeks he hurried out into the
Sue Martin dashed past him headed toward town for help. But no sooner did she reach the county seat than she was arrested
and put in jail. Craig and his crew were still surrounding the Martin house, and finally one of them called out that if Rayburn
and Humphrey did not surrender they would burn the place down. It was known that Tom Allen Day was one of the best
marksmen in the county, so Mrs. Martin, in an effort to help Rayburn and Humphrey escape, ran toward the barn where Day
was ambushed. He had his gun uplifted and leveled at the fleeing men. Mrs. Martin struck the gun upward and the shots went
wild. But the rest of the Tolliver crew poured lead toward the two men. Rayburn was slain but Humphrey escaped. Knowing he
still held on to his Winchester the Tollivers feared to go into the brush after him. The body of Rayburn lay all night where it
fell. Friends feared to approach it. The next day, however, they piled fence rails about the corpse to keep hogs from
At dusk that day the Tolliver crew set fire to the Martin house and burned it to the ground. The women escaped, seeking
shelter under a tree. Mrs. Martin's married daughter, Mrs. Tussey, was carried out with her young babe. Another of the Martin
girls went to Morehead to see Sue, and she too was arrested and put in jail. The militia was called out, arriving on the
following day. The Martin girls were promptly released. Sue had revenge in her heart for the insult and humiliation of false
Later while the Tollivers were barricaded in a hotel down near the railroad tracks in Morehead a plump roast turkey was sent
in for their dinner. They wondered whose generosity had prompted the act. But on sniffing the well-roasted fowl they began to
suspect a trick. Upon examination it was found that the turkey contained enough arsenic to kill a dozen men. Sue Martin was
suspected but nothing was done about it. There was not sufficient evidence to warrant arrest.
No sooner had the militia been removed from Morehead than the Tollivers set upon the Galt House where Cook Humphrey,
Howard Logan, Mat Carey, and others were staying. There wasn't a windowpane left in the place when they finished. The
doors were splintered to smithereens. In the midst of the fusillade of bullets Cook Humphrey grabbed up a hymn book from
the organ in the musty parlor, held it over his heart, and thereby saved his life. A bullet lodged in the thick leather cover of the
Things quieted down for some months and Craig Tolliver vowed he was through with the trouble. "I'm a quiet, peaceable
man," he went about saying, "and the citizens ought to encourage my good behavior by electing me police judge." But when
he set out canvassing for votes he carried a Winchester. The other candidates forthwith dropped out of the race, leaving
Craig the only one on the ticket. When Boone Logan stepped up to the voting booth Craig was close enough to hear what
was said. The election officer told Boone who was running and the latter expressed himself in no uncertain terms. He said
he'd rather vote for the worst man in the county than for Craig Tolliver. Boone Logan was a well-educated, peaceable citizen
and practiced law in Morehead.
Not long after Craig Tolliver was elected police judge he contrived to have two younger brothers of Boone Logan arrested on
a charge of kukluxing. Marshal Manning and twelve men repaired to the Logan home two miles from Morehead. The father,
Dr. Logan, prevailed upon his young sons to surrender and Tolliver agreed that the boys would be taken to town and given a
fair trial. But they had walked scarcely ten feet from the house when the Tolliver posse shot the boys to death and trampled
the bullet-torn faces into the earth and rode on to town. The motive behind the murder of the innocent Logan boys was that
Craig Tolliver knew they would be chief witnesses for their father, who was charged by Tolliver with having conspired to kill
Judge Cole. Craig decided that the best way out was to end the lives of Dr. Logan's sons. No sooner had this been
accomplished than Tolliver sent word to Boone Logan to get out of the county.
Boone got out of the county. He went to Frankfort to seek aid and counsel of the governor. But Governor Knott said that the
state had done all it could for the relief of the citizens of Rowan County. Logan then turned to Hiram Pigman, who had had
trouble with Craig Tolliver, and together they solicited the support of Sheriff Hogg in securing the aid of one hundred and fifty
of the county's best citizens in bringing the Tollivers to justice. As a means to that end Boone Logan went to Cincinnati where
he purchased a supply of Winchester rifles. Those who didn't have a Winchester shouldered muskets, shotguns, and other
firearms. Warrants of arrest against the Tollivers on charges of murder, arson, and various other crimes and misdemeanors
were issued and the date set for the arrest of the men was June 22, 1887. Early that morning before daybreak more than one
hundred armed men in the posse were stationed in groups at seven different points outside of Morehead. Craig Tolliver was
apprehensive so he walked out of his saloon, he operated two at the time, and called his clan together at the American Hotel.
There they lay in wait and presently one of the crew saw a man named Byron going down the street. They knew Byron to be a
member of the posse. They fired on him and he took to his heels with the Tollivers in pursuit. One of their number, Bud
Tolliver, fell with a bullet in his knee. He crept off in the weeds for safety.
The Logan posse, in order to identify themselves and avoid their own bullets, were fighting bareheaded. The Tollivers seeing
this threw away their hats which helped a couple of their number to escape. "The two Mannings never did stop running until
they got entirely out of the state," so the story went. So quickly did the posse increase they seemed fairly to spring out of the
ground. The Tollivers now retreated to the Central Hotel but they soon fled the place when the posse pelted the old hostelry
with bullets. Jay Tolliver was killed a short distance away, on the hill beyond Triplett Creek, and Craig was dropped by a bullet
in the leg when he was crossing the railroad. The tracks separated the Cottage Hotel and the Central Hotel both of which
were in sight of the Galt House, also known as the Carey House, where Floyd Tolliver had been killed by John Martin during
the preceding December.
As marksmen the posse surpassed the Tollivers in this street battle for only one of their number was wounded and that was
Bud Madden. He was shot by "Kate" Tolliver, a boy scarcely fourteen years old. Young "Kate," or Cal, as he was sometimes
called, was as fearless as a mountain lion. Never once did he run for shelter during the shooting.
And when his uncle Craig lay dying of seventeen bullet wounds the boy went to him, removed his watch and pocketbook, then
crawled away under the Central Hotel where he remained until darkness when he made his way to the woods. The battle was
waged for more than two hours. The posse was determined to clear the scene of Tollivers.
They found Bud unable to crawl out from his hiding place in the weeds. He asked no mercy, nor was mercy granted. A gun
was placed close to Bud's head. His brains were blown out. Another of the Tolliver clan, Hiram Cooper, thought to conceal
himself in a wardrobe in Allie Young's room in the Central Hotel. (Allie was the son of Taylor Young whose life had been
attempted.) But Cooper, like Bud, was shown no mercy. He was dragged out into the middle of the floor to meet Bud's fate.
The bodies of the Tollivers were gathered up, Jay's from the hillside beyond Triplett Creek, Bud's from the weeds where he
had crawled to hide, Craig's from where it lay near the railroad tracks, and that of their confederate, Hiram Cooper, from
beside the wardrobe wherein he had tried to hide. The bullet-riddled bodies were washed and laid out in a row in the musty
sitting room of the old American House. This last office for the dead was performed by members of the posse. While the
corpses still lay cold in the quiet sitting room, a short distance away in the courthouse there was a spirited gathering of stern
and earnest men. Their leader, Boone Logan, whose young brothers had been brutally slain by the Tollivers, arose and
addressed the crowd. When the last word of his grave speech had been uttered the men silently drew up a resolution which
read in part as follows: "If anyone is arrested for this day's work we will reassemble and punish to the death any man who
offers the molestation."
Coffins for the four bodies that lay in shrouds in the old hotel were brought from Lexington. The remains of the Tollivers,
Craig, Jay, and Bud, were hauled to Elliott County for burial, while that of Hiram Cooper was removed by his friends to the
family burying ground in the outskirts of Rowan County. The death of these four men brought the total number slain in the
Martin-Tolliver feud to twenty-one.
Tragedy stalked two of the crew who had been connected with the killing of John Martin while he sat handcuffed in the
baggage coach: Jeff Bowling killed his father-in-law in Ohio and was hanged for the crime; Alvin killed the town marshal of Mt.
Sterling, not many miles from Morehead, and was sent to the penitentiary for twenty-one years.
Although Craig Tolliver lived by the sword and died by it, there was no record to be found that he ever actually killed a man.
Rather he was credited with plotting the deeds, molding the bullets for others to fire. The life of Allie Young, the son of the
prosecuting attorney, Taylor Young, whose life had been attempted, was saved because on the day of the street battle he
was in Mt. Sterling in an adjoining county. One old woman who witnessed the open battle that day on Railroad Street became
raving insane. And Liza, Jay Tolliver's wife, fled in dismay across the mountain never to return. Marion, brother of Craig, had
no hand whatever in the trouble. He lived his days in peace within sight of the county seat of Rowan tending his farm and
looking after his household. If his kinfolk had heeded him there never would have been a Rowan County war which put a blot
upon the community that took years to erase.
HISTORY - STORIES - LEGENDS