March 7, 2021

Pages 4075-4079
Whole Number 161


by Paul E. Sparks

The Hatfield-McCoy feud in eastern Kentucky is probably the best-known feud in that state; however, it was only one of perhaps a dozen vendettas which extended across the commonwealth during the latter part of the nineteenth century. Among these other feuds was one that has been termed "The Walker Smoot Feud," which began and ended in Owen County. The Walker faction in volved four sons of Delville and Lucinda (Sparks) Walker.

Details of the Walker-Smoot feud were first recorded in a 21-page booklet entitled "Horse, Foot and Artillery, How the Walker-Smoot Feud in Owen and Henry Counties Expanded Until It Enmeshed a Secret Order, State Troops and the Federal Regulars." This booklet, along with eleven others, was researched by Harold W. Coates, editor of a Cincinnati newspaper, and it was first published as one of a series of booklets in the early 1900s. These booklets became so popular that they were purchased by the Holmes-Darst Coal Corporation of Knoxville and were published as a 280-page book, Stories of Kentucky Feuds, in 1923.

The trouble leading up to the outbreak of this feud began during the early days of the Civil War. A young man named Roberts was preparing for his marriage when he was attacked and killed by a man named Salyers. Robert's father, John B. Roberts, became so overwrought by his son's death that when he saw Salyers entering a store at some later point in time, he took up a gun and shot Salyers dead. It is said that Salyers was then, also, preparing for his own marriage. Thereafter, first one and then another of these two families was killed until finally the senior Roberts was, himself, shot and killed at the village of Gratz in Owen County by a man named Bill Smoot.

The Coates narrative of the Walker-Smoot feud begins in 1870 with an imagi nary scene near a store in northern Owen County. Willis Russell, a former soldier in the Confederate States Army, was approached by four men who asked him to join an organization whose purpose it was to run all of the black people out of Owen and Henry Counties. The organization was the Ku Klux Klan, and the local unit was headed by Bill Smoot.

Russell refused to join, primarily because the organization had an unworthy purpose, but he also knew that Smoot had killed a man named John B. Roberts near the village of Gratz. He also knew that the kinfolks and friends of Roberts, including the Walker boys, were looking for an opportunity to take revenge on Smoot.

In the three years that followed, one event after another led to Willis Russell becoming an outstanding man in his community who was opposed to masked and organized outlawry. He raised a company of militia in the face of the threat of death. He defied Smoot and the other white-robed men who roamed Owen and Henry Counties. In doing so, he received so much help and sup port from the Walkers that their organization became known as the "Walker- Russell Party."

(The "Walker boys" were sons of Delville and Lucinda (Sparks) Walker. as noted above. They were William H. Walker, James M. Walker, Thomas F. Walker, and Charles C. Walker. In 1870, they ranged in age from twenty-two to twenty-nine years. Two other brothers, Benjamin Walker and Farmer Walker, do not appear to have been involved in the "Walker-Russell Party." Their mother, Lucinda Sparks, had been born ca. 1819 and was probably a daughter of William Sparks. Most certainly, she was a descendant of 21.1.5 Henry and Lucy (Clark) Sparks, natives of Virginia, who had settled near Monterey, Kentucky, ca. 1795.)

Bill Smoot, like Willis Russell, was a leader in his area of Kentucky and was popular with the local politicians. He traveled in disguise with his father, John Smoot, and his brother, John C. Smoot, and was quite successful in adding members to the Klan. This band of disguised desperados roamed Owen and Henry Counties at will, preying on the helpless.

Early in 1873, the Smoot gang attacked the home of a 70-year-old man named Williams and wounded him, but he was able to fight them off. After he re covered, Williams went to Kentucky's governor, Preston Leslie, in Frankfort and told him of the outlawry. Leslie was sympathetic and wrote a letter not only authorizing Russell to oppose the Klan, but he also promised that he would prosecute its members to the limit.

Russell's band proceeded to arrest a man named Grubbs and was taking him to the jail in Newcastle when the horse of a member of the band went lame. They then asked Lewis Wilson, a Negro, to loan them his horse which he did, thus sealing Wilson's doom. In July 1873, a band of fifteen men broke into Wilson's place, shot him, and burned his cabin. He was able to get to a neighbor's house where he died, but not before he identified several of his assailants.

Governor Leslie offered a reward for the capture of these men and sent word to Russell to find them and take them to jail for trial. Russell succeeded in find ing the names of thirteen of the men and arrested one of them, a man named Onan. Onan confessed that he was in the gang which killed Wilson, and Onan was indicted. He was tried at the November 1873 term of court. Through the connivance of the county judge and the county attorney, however, Onan was acquitted. This action convinced Russell that the local authorities were con trolled by Smoot's gang, and that he must get help from ouside Owen County.

Early in 1874, a large band of the Klan was organized on Twin Creek near Gratz, and Russell consulted with the United States marshal, General Eli Murray, in Louisville. Murray then appointed Russell as a deputy marshal, an action which prompted Smoot to vow publicly that he would not rest until he had run Russell and the Walkers out of Owen County. In the meantime, the local authorities did nothing to restrain Smoot and his gang.

Several events led to the end of this feud. First, a member of the Klan went to Russell and told him that the Smoot gang was going to burn the village of Monterey and kill all of the inhabitants. Russell was then able to station his men at appropriate places and turn the Klan away. Russell then called for help from General Murray, who dispatched troops immediately to Owen County. Smoot and seven members of his gang were arrested in February 1874 and placed in a boat to be taken to the Louisville jail. On the way down the river, Smoot es caped. He did not reappear until May 1874. by this time, the federal troops had left Owen County, believing that law and order had been restored there.

On May 8, 1874, James M. Walker, while walking down the main street of Owen- ton to meet his brother, William, at the Walker Hotel (which William owned), was shot down by two rifles fired from the upper windows of the Hill Hotel. He dropped in his tracks, and his body was then riddled by bullets from a score of rifles, guns, and pistols.

Again, the local authorities did nothing to try to find Walker's murderers, and for a second time, Russell appealed to General Murray. Murray again sent troops to Owen County where they searched for days, but were unable to find Smoot or any of his followers. Again, the federal troops departed.

The life of William H. Walker, brother of the slain James Walker, was threatened late in the summer of 1874, and he sold his hotel in Owenton in preparation to move away. About the same time his brother, Charles Walker, was the intended victim of a murderous attack which failed when Thomas Walker came to his brother's rescue. In the fracas, the life of Green Barr, a member of the Smoot party, was threatened, and he swore out a warrant against Russell. The Russell-Walker party refused to let Russell go to trial, and even the sheriff declined to bring him to court.

This "flauntng of the law," along with an order from Smoot, persuaded the Owen County attorney to ask Governor Leslie to send the state militia to Owen County to settle a "state of riot and rebellion." At the same time, Russell asked the federal marshal to send troops to see that he got a fair trial. The two sets of troops seemed on the verge of meeting head-on.

Fortunately, General Murray consulted with Governor Leslie before the two forces (state and federal militia) met. Order was restored, and Smoot and several of his followers were taken into custody. They were tried at a special term of court which began on September 23, 1874. The same men who had held the law in deflance for four years were finally caught by a federal net which reached out from Louisville. The feud was at an end.

Little has been learned by the present writer about the aftermath of this feud. Five of the Ku Klux Klan members were arrested, and four of them were put in jail. One member posted a $2,000 bond to appear for trial at the November term of court. Two were eventually sent to the Louisville jail for safe-keeping, and the others were admitted to a $1,000 bail. As one writer has observed:

"Trials and acquittals followed each act in this family feud and tragedy."

We turn now to the Sparks family connection with the Walker-Smoot feud. Lucinda Sparks was born ca. 1819 in Kentucky and was quite likely a daughter (and only child) of William and Catherine ["Kitty"] (Peel) Sparks. William had been born in Virginia on February 5, 1785, and had accompanied his parents, 21.1.5 Henry and Lucy (Clark) Sparks, to Kentucky ca. 1795 where they settled on the Kentucky River near the village of Monterey. It was there that William grew to manhood. He married Catherine Peel on December 6, 1813, in Franklin County, Kentucky. He died about January 1823, and the Owen County Court received an inventory of his estate on February 7, 1823. According to the 1820 census of Henry County, he and Catherine had one child, a daughter, born between 1810 and 1820. We feel certain that this daughter was Lucinda. (See

the June 1956 issue of the Quarterly, Whole No. 14,
June 1957 issue, Whole No. 18
December 1960 issue, Quarterly, Whole No. 32
, and
the December 1989 issue of the Quarterly, Whole No. 148,

for further information about this branch of the Sparks family.)

Lucinda Sparks was undoubtedly named for her paternal grandmother, Lucy (Clark) Sparks. She married Delville Walker on August 31, 1836, in Owen County. He had been born ca. 1807 and was a son of William and Elizabeth (MNU) Walker. He died in 1852 in Owen County, and the Owen County Court appointed Asa Porter Grover as the guardian of his children. Named were: Benjamin Walker, Eliza Walker, Henry Walker, James Walker, Thomas Walker, Charles Walker, and Farmer Walker.

Lucinda (Sparks) Walker died sometime after 1870.

Delville and Lucinda (Sparks) Walker had eight children, including a son named Homer who died when he was just a few months old. Records have been found of most of these children, and the information from them is now presented. In addition, Thomas S. Fiske, 1541 Marendale Lane, Arcadia, California, 91006, has prepared some notes which he has agreed to share. Benjamin J. Walker was born on August 5, 1837, in Owen County. He married Martha B. West ca. 1865. She had been born on October 26, 1845. Benjamin died on May 28, 1890, in Owen County. Martha died on March 17, 1920, at Concordia, Kansas. She and Benjamin had nine children.

Thomas Fiske has written this about Benjamin Walker: "He was not mentioned in the story of the feud. A relative, Martha Frost, believes that he was min ing for gold in California when the feud took place. My grandmother [Stella (Walker) Pryor, who was a daughter of James M. Walker] wrote to his [Benjamin J. Walker's] son, Leonard Walker, in 1936. At that time, Leonard was living in Kansas." (See #9, below.) Hugh B. Walker was born November 12, 1867. Louise Walker was born February 18, 1870. She married George M. Suter on October 2, 1890. Virgie Walker was born June 18, 1872. Oscar Walker was born May 27, 1874. He married Wilma Stringfellow. Henry Walker was born January 20, 1877. He died on February 9, 1883. Aura Peak Walker was born August 2, 1878. She married Lindsay Hicks on October 19, 1899. She died on April 16, 1971. Sarah Walker was born ca. 1879. Mary Virginia Walker was born March 8, 1883. She married Newell V. Short In 1910. Leonard Walker was born December 12, 1885. He married Verna Schockey. Eliza J. Walker was born ca. 1839. She was named as a child of Delville Walker in the guardian appointment after his death in 1852. We have found no further information. William Henry Walker was born ca. 1841 in Owen County. In 1870, he was a retail merchant in Monterey, and he also owned a hotel there. He married Aura Buckner Grover on August 25, 1869, in Owen County. She had been born on September 30, 1852, and was a daughter of Asa Porter and Martha A. (Vallandingham) Grover. William and Aura had one child, Porter Grover Walker, born on December 10, 1870. Porter moved to Kansas where he married May McCutcheon.

Thomas Fiske, quoted above, has this to say about this family. "I believe W. H. Walker was William Henry Walker, also called Henry at times. He and his brother, James, married sisters, daughters of their legal guardian, Asa Porter Grover. W. H. was one of the principals in the feud and was said to have sold his hotel and moved away after the feud ended. He apparently died ca. 1877, since his wife married again in 1878.

"W. H. had one son, Porter Grover Walker, who went to Kansas where he ran a ranch for his uncle, Thomas Walker, near Hoxie. He married, but appears to have had no children. He was not listed on the 1910 census of Kansas, and I believe he died between 1900 and 1910." James M. Walker, son of Delville and Lucinda (Sparks) Walker, was born ca. 1843. He married Alice Porter Grover on May 4, 1866, in Scott County, Kentucky. She had been born on September 8, 1847, in Owen County and was a daughter of Asa Porter and Martha A. (Vallandingham) Grover. She and James had three children before James was shot down on the main street of Owenton in May 1874.

Thomas Fiske has written the following about his great-grandfather: "My grandmother [Stella (Walker) Pryor] said her father was a sheriff or some thing. I believe he was an appointed deputy federal marshal lust like Willis Russell. Grandmother was only two years old when her father died. Her first-hand knowledge came in 1888 when a man told her that he had shot her father and would she forgive him. Her answer had been, "No. Only God can forgive!" (She was always sanctimonious.) Since the man was only one of about fifty who shot at her father, no one made any fuss about him. Anyway, she said he ran off and she did not recognize him. "There is also a family tradition that at the funeral of my great-grandfather [James W. Walker], the Walker brothers were told to leave the county or they, too, would be shot. It is alleged that some of the brothers were in the Panama (Central America) area in the business of receiving lumber on the Atlantic side and putting into vessels on the Pacific side, and then transporting it to California. It may be that Southern sympathizers fled to this area after the Civil War, and the Walkers knew them."

After the tragic death of her husband, Alice (Grover) Walker kept her little family together in Owen County. She was married twice more. Her second marriage was to Dr. James Munday, and her third was to H. P. Montgomery. She died ca. 1909. Grover Walker was born February 18, 1867. He married Nellie V. Graddy on October 14, 1891, in Owen County. They were in Sheridan, Kansas, when the 1900 census was taken. Grover died ca. 1907. Louise Walker was born April 22, 1870. She was married twice. Her first marriage was to FNU Rice, and her second was to FNU Berry. She died ca. 1907 Stella Walker was born March 2, 1872. She married Robert Pryor on October 15, 1896. Alice Walker Pryor, born on January 31, 1902. On October 17, 1925, Alice Pryor married George Walter Fiske, Jr. in Jefferson County, Kentucky. He had been born at Louisville, Kentucky, on July 21, 1900, and was a son of George Walter and Elizabeth (Sebastian) Fiske. George and Alice (Pryor) Fiske had three sons: Thomas S. Fiske who has been most helpful in the preparation of this article. James W. Fiske and Robert P. Fiske. Thomas H. Walker was born ca. 1845. He was said to have been quick with a pistol, and he may have irritated some members of the Klan. After the feud ended, he married Carrie MNU ca. 1882, perhaps in Illinois, since she was a native of that state. Apparently, they moved to Kansas shortly after their marriage where they were listed on the 1900 and 1910 censuses of Atchison County. He was the owner of a wholesale pharmaceutical business and was probably very well-to-do. He died sometime after 1910, and Carrie died ca. 1936. They had two children. Thomas S. Walker was born in December 1883. He died in 1936. Henrie O. Walker was born in 1887. She married Will ca. 1907. Homer Walker was born ca. 1846. He probably died in 1847. Charles C. Walker was born ca. 1848. He was rescued from a murderous attack in 1874 by his brother, Thomas Walker. Thomas Fiske suspects that Charles and his brother, Farmer Walker, left Owen County shortly after the feud ended. They may have gone to Central America, but more likely they went to Kansas. Farmer Walker was born ca. 1851 and was still a baby when his father died. He is said to have been married to Ethel Gordon, but we have no further information about him.