Read CHAPTER I - A BLOOD FEUD IN OLD KENTUCKY of The Boy With the U.S. Census, free online book, by Francis Rolt-Wheeler, on

“Uncle Eli,” said Hamilton suddenly, “since I’m going to be a census-taker, I think I’d like to apply for this district.”

The old Kentucky mountaineer, who had been steadily working his way through the weekly paper, lowered it so that he could look over the top of the page, and eyed the boy steadfastly.

“What for?” he queried.

“I think I could do it better than almost anybody else in this section,” was the ready, if not modest, reply.

“Wa’al, perhaps yo’ might,” the other assented and took up the paper again. Hamilton waited. He had spent but little time in the mountains but he had learned the value of allowing topics to develop slowly, even though his host was better informed than most of the people in the region. Although not an actual relative, Hamilton always called him “Uncle” because he had fought with distinguished honor in the regiment that Hamilton’s father commanded during the Civil War, and the two men ever since had been friends.

“I don’t quite see why any one sh’d elect to take a hand in any such doin’s unless he has to,” the Kentuckian resumed, after a pause; “that census business seems kind of inquisitive some way to me.”

“But it seems to me that it’s the right kind of ‘inquisitive.’”

“I reckon I hadn’t thought o’ there bein’ more’n one kind of inquisitiveness,” the mountaineer said, with a smile, “but if you say so, I s’pose it’s all right.”

“But don’t you think the questions are easy enough?” asked the boy.

“They may be easy, but thar’s no denyin’ that some of ’em are mighty unpleasant to answer.”

“But if they are necessary?”

“Thar’s a-plenty o’ folks hyeh in the mount’ns that yo’ c’n never make see how knowin’ their private affairs does the gov’nment any good.”

“But you don’t feel that way, Uncle Eli, surely?”

“Wa’al, I don’ know. Settin’ here talkin’ about it, I know it’s all right, an’ I’m willin’ to tell all I know. But I jes’ feel as sure as c’n be, that befo’ the census-taker gets through hyeh, I’m goin’ to be heated up clar through.”

“But why?” queried the lad again. “The questions are plain enough, and there was practically no trouble at the last census. I think it’s a fine thing, and every one ought to be glad to help. And it’s so important, too!”

“Important!” protested the old man. “Did yo’ ever see any one that ever sat down an’ read those tables an’ tables o’ figures?”

“Not for fun, perhaps,” the boy admitted. “But it isn’t done for the sake of getting interesting reading matter; it’s because those figures really are necessary. Why there’s hardly a thing that you can think of that the census isn’t at the back of.”

“I don’t see how that is. They don’t ask about a man’s politics, I notice,” the mountaineer remarked.

“No,” answered Hamilton promptly, “but the number of members a State sends to Congress depends on the figures of the population that the census-takers gather, and the only claim that any legislator has to his seat is based on their information.”

“I suppose you’d say the same about schools, too.”

“Of course,” the boy answered.

“But I hear the Census Bureau this year wants all sorts of information about the crops an’ the number of pigs kept an’ all that sort o’ stuff.”

“Don’t you think the food of all the people of the United States is important enough, Uncle Eli? And then the railroads, too, they depend on the figures about the crops and all sorts of other things which go as freight.”

“You seem to know a lot about it,” the mountaineer said, looking thoughtfully at the boy.

“I ought to,” Hamilton said, “because I’m going to be an assistant special agent in the Census of Manufactures right away. I applied last October and took the exam a couple of weeks before coming here on this visit.”

“What makes yo’ so cocksure that you’ve passed the examination?” he was asked.

“I didn’t find it so hard,” Hamilton replied, “figures have always been easy for me, and when my brother was studying for that chartered accountant business I learned a lot from him.”

“Your dad, he was a great hand fo’ figures, so I s’pose yo’ come by it naturally enough. An’ you’re jes’ sure you’ve passed?”

“I haven’t heard one way or the other,” said Hamilton, “but I’m pretty sure.”

“Wa’al, thar’s no use sayin’ anythin’ if you’re all sot, but it’s the business of the gov’nment, an’ I’d let them do it.”

“But I’m hoping to work right with the government all the time, Uncle Eli,” the boy explained “either with the Census Bureau or the Bureau of Statistics or some work like that. And anyway, if it’s the government’s business, I’m an American and it’s my business.”

“Yo’ have the right spirit, boy,” the old man said, “an’ I like to see it, but you’re huntin’ trouble sure’s you’re born. S’posin’ yo’ asked the questions of some ol’ sorehead that wouldn’ answer?”

“He’d have to answer,” replied Hamilton stoutly, “there’s a law to make him.”

“I don’t believe that law’s used much,” hazarded the old man.

“It isn’t,” Hamilton found himself forced to admit. “I believe there were not very many arrests all over the country last census. But the law’s there, just the same.”

“It wouldn’ be a law on the Ridge,” the mountaineer said, “an’ I don’ believe it would do yo’ any good anywhar else. On the mount’ns, I know, courtesy is a whole lot bigger word than constitution. Up hyeh, we follow the law when we’re made to, follow an idée backed up by a rifle-barrel because we have to, but there’s not many men hyeh that won’ do anythin’ yo’ ask if yo’ jes’ ask the right way.”

“But there are always some that give trouble,” Hamilton protested, trying to defend his position.

The old Kentuckian slowly shook his head from side to side.

“If yo’ don’ win out by courtesy,” he said, “it’s jes’ because yo’ haven’ been courteous enough, because yo’ haven’ taken yo’ man jes’ right. Thar isn’t any such thing as bein’ too gracious. An’ anyway, a census-taker with any other idée up hyeh would be runnin’ chances right along.”

“You mean they would shoot him up?” asked Hamilton.

“I think if he threatened some folks up hyeh an’ in the gullies thar might be trouble.”

“But the fact that he represented the government would insure him from harm, I should think.”

“I don’t think much of that insurance idée,” the old man said. “I can’t remember that it helped the revenue men sech a great deal. The only insurance I ever had was a quick ear, an’ even now, I c’n hear a twig snap near a quarter of a mile away. An’ that used to be good insurance in the ol’ days when, if yo’ weren’t gunnin’ for somebody, thar was somebody gunnin’ fo’ you.”

“But there’s no one ‘gunning’ for you now, is there, Uncle Eli?” asked the boy amusedly.

“I haven’t b’n lookin’ out especially,” the Kentuckian responded, with an answering slow smile, “an’ I reckon sometimes that I might jes’ as well leave the ol’ rifle in the house when I go out.”

“But you never do,” put in Hamilton quickly.

“I reckon that’s jes’ a feelin’,” rejoined the mountaineer, “jes’ one o’ these habits that yo’ hate to give up. I’d sort o’ be lost without it now, after all these years. Thar’s no one to worry about, anyway, savin’ Jake Howkle, an’ I don’ believe he’s hankerin’ for blood-lettin’.”

“Jake? Oh, never,” Hamilton replied with assurance; “why, he’s only about my age.”

“That’s only partly why,” the old man said, “not only because he’s your age, but because he’s b’n at school. Shootin’ an’ schoolin’ don’ seem to hit it off. I reckon thar would have b’n a sight less trouble in the mount’ns if thar had b’n mo’ schools.”

“There are plenty of schools in the mountains now, aren’t there?” asked Hamilton. “It must be very different here, Uncle Eli, from what it was when you were a boy.”

“Thar has been quite a change, an’ the change is comin’ faster now. But thar’s still a lot o’ folk who a’nt altered a bit sence the war. You city people call us slow-movin’ up hyeh, an’ as long as thar’s any o’ the ol’ spirit abroad thar’s a chance o’ trouble. If yo’ really are goin’ in for this census-takin’, I’d keep clar o’ the mount’ns.”

“You really would?” queried the boy thoughtfully.

“An’ what’s more,” continued his Uncle, “I would jes’ as soon that yo’ didn’ have anythin’ to do with it near hyeh. I don’ want to see any little differences between families, such as census-takin’ is likely to provoke.”

“Why, Uncle Eli!” cried Hamilton in amazement, “you talk as though the days of the feuds were not over.”

“Are yo’ sure they’re all over?” the Kentuckian said.

“I had supposed so,” the boy replied. “I thought the Kentucky ‘killings’ had stopped ten or fifteen years ago.”

“It’s a little queer yo’ sh’d bring that up today,” the old man said, “for I was jes’ readin’ in the paper some figures on that very thing. Yo’ like figures, this will jes’ suit you. Where was it now?” he continued, rustling the paper; then, a moment later, “Oh, yes, I have it.”

“‘During the terms of the last three Kentucky governors,’” he read, “’over thirteen hundred criminals have been pardoned, five hundred of them being for murder or manslaughter.’ It says fu’ther on,” the old man added, “that pardonin’ is jes’ as frequent now as it ever was. I don’ believe it is, myself, but if thar is such a lot o’ pardonin’ goin’ on for shootin’, thar must have been a powerful lot o’ shootin’.”

“But that’s for all the State,” objected the boy, “not for the mountains only. That must be for crimes in the cities and all sorts of things. You can’t make the feuds responsible for those.”

“Not altogether,” the mountaineer agreed, “the real ol’-time feud is peterin’ out, an’ it’s mainly due to the schoolin’. The young folks ain’t ready fo’ revenge now, an’ that sort o’ swings the women around. An’ up hyeh in the mount’ns, same as everywhar else, I reckon, the idées o’ the women make a pile o’ difference.”

“But I should have thought the women would always have been against the feuds,” said Hamilton.

“Yo’d think so, but they weren’t. They helped to keep up the grudges a whole lot.”

“Aunt Ab hasn’t changed much,” volunteered the lad.

“She hasn’t for a fact. Ab is powerful sot. She holds the grudge against the Howkles in the ol’ style. But the feelin’ is dyin’ out fast, an’ soon it’ll be like history, only jes’ read of in books.”

“What I never could see,” remarked Hamilton, “was what started it all. It isn’t as if the people in the mountains had come from some part of the world where vendettas and that sort of thing had been going on for generations. There must have been some kind of reason for it in this section of the country. Feuds don’t spring up just for nothing.”

“Thar was a while once we had a powerful clever talker up hyeh,” the Kentuckian answered, “actin’ as schoolmaster for a few weeks. I reckon he’d offered to substitute jes’ to get a chance to see for himself what life in the mount’ns was like. He was writin’ a book about it. We got right frien’ly, an’ he knew he was always welcome hyeh, an’ one day I asked him jes’ that question. It was shortly befo’ he lef’ an’ I wanted to know what he thought about us all up hyeh.”

The mountaineer leaned back in his chair and chuckled with evident enjoyment of the recollection.

“I jes’ put the question to him,” he said, “in the mildes’ way, an’ he started right in to talk. Thar was no stoppin’ him, an’ I couldn’ remember one-half o’ what he said. But I reckon he had it about right.”

“How did he explain the feuds, Uncle Eli?” asked the boy.

“Wa’al,” said the mountaineer, with a short laugh, “he begun by sayin’ we were savages.”


“Not jes’ with war-paint an’ tomahawk, yo’ understan’,” continued the old man, enjoying the boy’s astonishment, “but uncivilized an’ wild. Thar an’t any finer stock in the world, he said, than the mount’neers o’ the Ridge, clar down to Tennessee, an’ he said, too, that they were o’ the good old English breed, not foreigners like are comin’ in now.”

“That’s right enough,” Hamilton agreed, “and, what’s more, they were gentlemen of good birth, most of them; there was not much of the peasant in the early colonists.”

“So this author chap said. But he explained that was the very reason they got so wild.”

“I don’t see that,” objected Hamilton, “and I certainly don’t see where the ‘savage’ idea comes in.”

“Wa’al, he said that when you slid down from a high place it was harder to climb back than if the fall had b’n small. An’ that’s why it’s so hard for those who have gone down, they can see the depth o’ the fall.”

Hamilton, who was of an argumentative turn of mind, would have protested at this, but the old mountaineer proceeded.

“When the pioneers settled in the mount’ns they kind o’ stuck. Those that went on, down into the Blue Grass region, went boomin’ right ahead, but those that stayed in the mount’ns had no chance.”

“I don’t see why not?” objected the boy.

“They were jes’ cut off from everywhar. We are to-day, for that matter. When a place gets settled, an’ starts to try an’ raise somethin’ to sell, the product has got to be taken to market. But thar was no railroad up in the mount’ns. Children were easy to raise, an’ a population grew up in a hurry, but the land was too poor for good farmin’, the roads were too bad for takin’ corn to market, an’ thar was no way o’ gettin’ to a town.”

“You are pretty well cut off,” said Hamilton.

“We were more so then,” the mountaineer said. “An’ so, while all the country ‘round was advancin’ up in the mount’ns, fifty years ago, we were livin’ jes’ like pioneers. An’ some, not bein’ able to keep up the strain, fell back.”

“So it really isn’t the fault of the mountaineers at all,” cried the boy, “but because they were sort of marooned.”

“It was unfortunate,” replied the old man, “but it really was our own fault. If the mount’n country was worth developin’, we should have developed it; if not, we should have left.”

“I’ve often wondered why you didn’t, Uncle Eli,” said Hamilton.

“Yo’ must remember,” the Kentuckian said, “that the mount’neers are a most independent lot. They want to be independent, an’ up hyeh, every man is his own master. But, thar bein’ no available market if they did work hard, what was the use o’ workin’? Some o’ them, ’specially down in the gullies, got lazy an’ shif’less. But they hung on all the harder to the idées o’ the old times, honor an’ hospitality.”

“I’ve always understood,” said Hamilton, “that there was more hospitality to be found up here in the mountains than in almost any place on the globe.”

“As yo’ said,” the old man continued, “we’re jes’ like a crew o’ shipwrecked sailors marooned on an island without a boat, without any means o’ gettin’ away. If some o’ the families high up in the gullies are ignorant, it’s because they’ve had no schoolin’, not because they haven’ got the makin’s o’ good citizens; if they’re a bit careless about religion, it’s because they’ve had no churchin’, an’ if they don’ pay much heed to law, it’s because the law has never done much for them. The ocean o’ progress,” went on the mountaineer, with a flourish, “has rolled all ‘roun’ the mount’ns, but of all the fleets o’ commerce in all these years, thar has not been one to send out a boat to help the marooned mount’neer.”

“Didn’t they ever try to get help?” queried the boy.

“We’re not askin’ help,” the Kentuckian said, “thar’s no whinin’ on the mount’ns. I jes’ tell yo’ that when the time comes for the mount’neers o’ Kentucky an’ Virginia an’ Tennessee an’ Carolina to get a fair chance, they’ll show yo’ as fine a race o’ men an’ women as the Stars an’ Stripes flies over.”

“They are mighty fine right now, I think,” the boy said.

“They have their good points,” the Kentuckian agreed; “thar’s nothin’ sneakin’ in the men up hyeh, an’ thar an’t any lengths to which a man won’t go, to do what he thinks is the squar thing. You’ve heard about the Beaupoints?”

“No,” the boy answered, “what was that?”

“It was jes’ an incident in one o’ these feuds that you were talkin’ of, an’ I’m goin’ to tell yo’ about it, to show yo’ what a mount’neer’s idée o’ honor is like. Thar was a family livin’ on the other side o’ the Ridge, not a great ways from hyeh, by the name o’ Calvern, an’ in some way or other I never heard the rights of it they took to shootin’ up the Beaupoints every chance that come along. One day Dandie Beaupoint found a little girl that had hurt herself, an’ he picked her up in his arms an’ was carryin’ her home when one o’ the Calvern boys shot him in his tracks. One o’ the Beaupoint brothers was away at the time, but the others felt that the Calverns hadn’t b’n playin’ fair, an’ they reckoned to lay them all out. They did, too, all but one, an’, although they had a chance to nail him, they let him alone.”

“Why was he let off?” queried Hamilton.

“I reckon it was because he had a young wife an’ a little child,” the old man answered. “Now Jim Beaupoint, the one that had been away, he come home after a while, an’ hadn’t happened to hear about the wipin’ out o’ the Calverns. On his way home, he had to pass the Calvern place, an’ so he made a wide cast aroun’ the hill to keep out o’ sight, when suddenly, up a gully, he saw this Hez Calvern standin’ there with his rifle on his arm, an’, quick as he could move, Jim grabbed his gun an’ fired. It was a long shot an’ a sure one.”

“Was it ” the boy began, but the old man waved the interruption aside and proceeded.

“Reloadin’ his rifle, Jim Beaupoint rode slowly to whar Hez Calvern was lyin’, when suddenly, from a clump o’ bushes close by, there come a rifle shot, an’ the rider got the bullet in his chest. Befo’ fallin’ from the saddle, however, the young fellow fired at the bushes from which smoke was driftin’, an’ a shrill scream told him that the sharpshooter was a woman.”

“Some one who had been with Hez Calvern?” asked Hamilton.

“His wife. Well, although Jim was mortally hurt an’ sufferin’ as the tracks showed afterwards he tried to drag himself to the bushes in order to help the woman who had shot him an’ who he had shot unknowin’; but he was too badly hurt, an’ he died twenty yards from the place whar he fell.”

“Was the woman dead, too?” asked Hamilton.

“No, but terrible badly hurt. What I was wantin’ to tell yo’, though, was the result of all this. Wa’al, the Beaupoints took the woman to their home an’ nursed her night an’ day for five long years. She was helpless, only for her tongue, an’ she lashed an’ abused them till the day she died, an’ never once, in all those years, did any one o’ the Beaupoints reproach her in return.”

“And the youngster?”

“They took the boy, too, an’ reared him the bes’ they knew how, jes’ the same as one o’ their own. One o’ the Beaupoint boys went an’ lived on the Calvern place, an’ worked it, worked it fair an’ squar’, an’ put aside every cent that come out o’ the farm. For thirteen years the Beaupoints looked after the farm an’ reared the boy. On the day he was fourteen year old, Jed Beaupoint that was the father called the lad, told him the whole story, give him a new rifle an’ a powder horn, an’ handed over the little bag o’ coin that represented thirteen years o’ work on the Calvern holdin’.”

“There certainly couldn’t be anything squarer than that!” exclaimed Hamilton. “And he gave the boy the farm, too?”

“Every inch of it. Jed Beaupoint was a squar’ man, cl’ar through. An’ he said to the boy he tol’ me the story himself ’Johnny Calvern, thar’s yo’ farm an’ yo’ rifle. Now, if yo’re willin’, I’ll see that thar’s no trouble until yo’re twenty-one, an’ then yo’ c’n go huntin’ revenge if yo’ve a mind to, or, if you’re willin’, we’ll call the trouble off now, an’ thar won’t be any need o’ rakin’ it up again.’”

“He made it up on the spot, of course?” questioned Hamilton.

The Kentuckian shook his head.

“He did not,” he replied. “The boy thought a minute or two an’ then said he’d wait until he was grown up, an’ let him know then.”

“Although he had been brought up by the Beaupoints!” exclaimed the boy in surprise. “But surely it never came up again.”

“Well, not exac’ly. When Johnny Calvern was about nineteen he got married, an’ a few days befo’ the time when he would be twenty-one, he rode up to the Beaupoint place, an’ tol’ the ol’ man that he was willin’ to let the feud rest another ten years, because of his wife an’ little baby, but that he would be ready to resume shootin’ at that time.”

“But he had no real grudge against the Beaupoints had he, Uncle Eli? They had always been kind to him, you said.”

“Not a bit o’ grudge,” the mountaineer answered, “they were good friends. An’ I reckon it wasn’t Johnny that wanted the trouble to begin again, but thar’s always a lot o’ hotheads pryin’ into other folks’ business. However, ol’ Jed Beaupoint didn’t mind; he agreed to another ten years’ truce, an’ all went on peacefully as befo’. Durin’ those ten years, however, Johnny’s wife died, an’ he got married again, this time to the sister o’ a wanderin’ preacher, a girl who had once lived in cities, an’ she soon showed him that the ol’ feud business must be forgotten. But it is a mite unusual, even hyeh, to farm a man’s land an’ bring up his child fo’ thirteen years, an’ then give him everythin’ yo’ can with the privilege o’ shootin’ yo’ at sight for all the favors done.”

“It doesn’t sound a bit like the usual feud story,” said Hamilton, “one always thinks of those as being cold-blooded and cruel.”

“Thar an’t a mite o’ intentional cruelty in them; it’s jes’ that life is held cheap. Most o’ them begun over some small thing like an election.”

“There were quite a number of them, Uncle Eli, weren’t there?”

“One ran into the other so easily that one feud would often look like half a dozen, an’ trouble would be goin’ on in various places. But there were really seven of them, all big ones.”

“What were they, Uncle Eli?”

“Wa’al, thar was the McCoy-Hatfield feud in Pike County, that started over the ownership o’ two plain razorback hogs, but afterwards got very bitter, owin’ to the friendship o’ one o’ the McCoy girls with the son o’ Bad Anse Hatfield. Then thar was the Howard-Turner feud in Harlan County. An’ then ”

“What started the Howard-Turner feud?” interrupted the boy.

“That was over a game o’ cards. One o’ the Howards had been winnin’, an’ Jim Turner, with a pistol, forced him to give back the money he had won. That affair raged a long time. The Logan-Tolliver feud in Rowan County was over an election fo’ sheriff. The Logans elected their candidate, an’ so the Tollivers killed one o’ the Logans at the polls and wounded three others.”

“That’s expressing dissatisfaction with an election with some spirit,” Hamilton remarked.

“Then thar was the French-Eversole feud in Perry County,” continued the Kentuckian, reminiscently. “Öl’ Joe Eversole was a merchant in a town called Hazard, an’ he helped Fulton French to start a little store. In time French almos’ drove Eversole out o’ business. That was a strange fight, because neither French nor Eversole ever got into the shootin’, indeed they remained frien’ly even when their supporters were most bitter.”

“Who carried on the feud, then?” asked Hamilton in surprise, “if the principals didn’t?”

“Wa’al, I guess the worst was a minister, the Rev. Bill Gambrill. Ho ran the French side an’ kep’ the trouble stirred up all the time.”

“I think I’ve heard of the Turner war, too,” said the boy. “Was that the same as the Howard-Turner fighting?”

“All of them were mixed up in each other’s feuds in that Turner family,” the Kentuckian replied, “but the ‘Turner War’ or the ‘Hell’s Half-Acre’ feud was in Bell County, an’ it started over some question o’ water rights in Yellow Creek. It was a sayin’ down in Bell County that it couldn’t rain often enough to keep Hell’s Half-Acre free from stains o’ blood.”

“It is a fearful record, Uncle Eli, when you put them together that way,” the boy said.

“An’ I haven’t even mentioned the worst o’ them, the Hargis-Cockrill feud in Breathitt County. That lasted for generations, an’ started over some election for a county judge. I don’ know that any one rightly remembers the time when Breathitt County wasn’t the scene of some such goin’s on.”

“But they are all over now, aren’t they?”

“I was jes’ goin’ to tell yo’. They’re all over but one, an’ that one is sometimes called the Baker-Howard or the Garrard-White feud, for all four families were mixed up in it. Not so very long ago I was talkin’ to the widow o’ one o’ the men slain in that fightin’, an’ sayin’ to her how good it was that the feelin’ had all died out, an’ she said thar was a lot of us thar at the time ’I have twelve sons. Each day I tell them who shot their father. I’m not goin’ to die till one o’ them shoots him.’ I’m reckonin’ to hear o’ trouble in Clay County mos’ any time, but I really think that is the last o’ them.”

“What started that?”

“An argument over a twenty-five dollar note,” was the response. “But you don’t want to think these were the real causes; they were usually jes’ firebrands that made things worse. Most o’ these hyeh feuds date back to enmities made in the Civil War an’ in moonshinin’.”

“But why the war?” asked Hamilton. “I thought nearly all the mountaineers in Kentucky fought for the North I know you were with Lee, of course, but I thought that was exceptional.”

“None o’ them fought for the No’th!” exclaimed the old Confederate soldier indignantly.

“Why, Uncle Eli!” said Hamilton, in surprise, “I was sure that most of them went into the Union army.”

“So they did, boy, so they did, but those who did it thought they were fightin’ for the nation, not for the No’th. An’ the slavery question didn’ matter much hyeh. Don’ yo’ let any one tell yo’ that the Union army was made up o’ abolitionists, because it wasn’t. It was made up o’ bigger men than that. It was made up o’ patriots. I thought them wrong then, I do yet; but thar ain’t no denyin’ that they were fightin’ for what they thought was right.”

“But why did you join the South, Uncle Eli?” asked the boy. “I can understand father doing it, because he was a South Carolinian.”

“I was workin’ fo’ peace,” the mountaineer rejoined “When No’th and South was talkin’ war, Kentucky, as yo’ will remember havin’ read, decided to remain neutral, an’ organized the State Guards to preserve that neutrality. I was willin’ to let well enough alone, but when the No’th come down an’ tried to force the State Guards to join their cause, I went with the rest to Dixie. I don’ believe,” added the old man solemnly, “that thar ever was a war like that befo’, where every man on both sides fought for a principle, an’ where there was no selfish motive anywhere.”

“The Howkles were with the Federals, weren’t they?” prompted Hamilton, fearing lest the old man should drift into war reminiscences, when he wanted to hear about feuds.

“Öl’ Isaac Howkle was,” the mountaineer replied “an’ that was how the little trouble we had begun. At least, it had a good deal to do with it. Isaac an’ I had never got along, an’ jes’ befo’ the war, we had some words about the Kentucky State Guards. But I wasn’t bearin’ any grudge, an’ I never supposed Isaac was. However, in a skirmish near Cumberland Gap, I saw that he was jes’ achin’ to get me, an’ the way he tried was jes’ about the meanes’ thing I ever heard o’ any one doin’ on the Ridge.”

“How was it, do tell me?” pleaded Hamilton, his eyes shining with interest.

“Howkle was with Wolford’s cavalry, an’ I was under ‘Fightin’’ Zollicoffer, as they called him,” the old man began. “Thar had been a little skirmish, one o’ these that never get into the dispatches that don’ do any good, but after which thar’s always good men lef’ lyin’ on the ground. We had driven ’em back a bit, an’ I was comin’ in when I saw a lad he didn’t look more’n about fifteen lyin’ in a heap an’ groanin’. Knowin’ a drink would do him more good than an’thin’ else, I reached for my canteen, an’ stooped down. Jes’ about then, a horseman dashed out o’ the scrub an’, almos’ befo’ I could think o’ what was comin’, he struck at me with his sabre.”

“When you were giving drink to a wounded soldier!” cried Hamilton indignantly. “What a cowardly trick!”

“It was ol’ Isaac Howkle,” nodded his uncle, “an’ I s’pose he reckoned this was a chance to get even on the ol’ grudge. But I rolled over on the grass jes’ out o’ reach o’ his stroke, an’ he missed. I grabbed my rifle an’ blazed at him as soon as I could get on my feet, but he had reached the shelter of the trees again an’ I missed him.”

“That’s about the meanest thing I ever heard,” said the boy.

“So I thought,” the Kentuckian answered, “an’ so the poor lad seemed to think too. I saw he was tryin’ to speak, an’ I put my ear close to his lips, thinkin’ he might have some message he wanted to give. But, tryin’ to look in the direction where Howkle had gone, he whispered, ’Don’t blame the Union.’ He was thinkin’ more o’ the credit o’ his side than of his own sufferin’s.”

“That was grit,” said Hamilton approvingly. “Did he die, Uncle Eli?”

“Not a bit of it. We got him back into our lines an’ he was exchanged, I believe. Anyway, I know he was livin’ after the war, fo’ I saw his name once on a list o’ veterans. But most o’ the boys were like that mostly young, too an’ men o’ the stripe of Isaac Howkle were very few.”

“But you got him in the end, didn’t you?”

The old mountaineer looked intently at the boy’s excited face.

“I didn’t,” he said, “an’ I don’ rightly know that it’s good for yo’ to be hearin’ all these things. Yo’ might hold it against Jake Howkle.”

“That I wouldn’t,” protested Hamilton. “Jake isn’t to blame for his father’s meanness.”

“That’s the right way to talk,” the old soldier agreed. “Wa’al, if yo’ feel that way about it, I reckon thar’s no harm in my tellin’ yo’ the rest of it, now that I’ve got started. When the war was all over an’ I got back hyeh, I remembered what had happened, an’ I sent word to Isaac Howkle that I didn’ trust him, an’ after what he had done I was reckonin’ that he was waitin’ his chance to get me, an’ that he’d better keep his own side o’ the mountain.”

“But, Uncle Eli,” said the boy, “that didn’t make a feud surely; that was only a warning.”

“I wasn’t reckonin’ to start a feud at all,” said the old man thoughtfully, “an’ it really never was one. It was jes’ a personal difference between Isaac Howkle an’ me. Thar was lots o’ times that I could have picked off either o’ his two brothers, but I was jes’ guardin’ myself against Isaac.”

“But you said he got there first!” said the boy. “Did he shoot some one in your family?”

“Wa’al, yes, he did,” the mountaineer admitted “Yo’ never knew the one. He was my brother-in-law, Ab’s younges’ sister’s first husband. He had been married jes’ two months, an’ was only a hundred yards from this house when Isaac shot him.”

“How did you know for sure that it was Howkle who had done the shooting?” asked Hamilton.

“We didn’t know for sure, at first. A week or two after, a boy from the Wilshes’ place come up with a message sayin’ that Isaac Howkle had tol’ him to say that he’d get the ol’ man nex’ time.”

“I shouldn’t have thought a boy would have had the nerve to bring such a message,” said Hamilton thoughtfully. “Wouldn’t bringing word like that look like taking sides, and wouldn’t it bring his own family into the trouble!”

The old man shook his head in instant denial.

“Po’ white trash from the gullies,” he said, “no, they don’t count one way or the other.”

“What happened after you got that message?” asked the boy.

“Nothin’ much, for a while, though I was snoopin’ aroun’ the mount’ns consid’rable. I met the brothers sev’ral times, an’ I know they could have had me. But I had nothin’ against them, nor they me, an’ so it was jes’ left to Isaac an’ me. Once I found him over near our pasture, but he saw me an’ got into cover. At last I found him in the open near our house again, an’ in easy range.”

“Did you fire right away?” asked Hamilton excitedly.

“I didn’t shoot. I got a lead on him, sure, but I jes’ couldn’t shoot without warnin’ him. It seemed kind o’ mean to shoot him unawares, an’ as I didn’t want to take an unfair advantage, I shouted to him. It was pretty far off to be heard, but I could see that he recognized me. I was only waitin’ long enough to let him get his gun to his shoulder when some one fired jes’ behin’ me. Howkle’s bullet went through my arm, but he dropped in his tracks. He thought I had shot him but my gun was never fired off.”

“Who was it that fired, Uncle Eli!”

“The brother o’ the young fellow he had shot befo’.”

“Was he dead?” asked the boy.

“Wa’al,” said the mountaineer, a little grimly, “I didn’ go down to see an’ wait aroun’ ’till all his friends gathered. But I reckon he was dead when they found him later.”

“And the brothers?”

“They never came into the story at all. I’m jes’ mentionin’ this to yo’ to show yo’ that thar’s reason in my advisin’ yo’ to keep clar o’ this district. If you’re reckonin’ on doin’ census work, yo’ go somewhar that you’re not known to any one. Thar’s trouble enough even for a stranger in the mount’ns, an’ a stranger would find it easier than any one else.”

“Why is that, Uncle Eli?” asked the boy.

“In the first place, yo’ can’t show discourtesy to a stranger, an’ yo’ know that if he doesn’ do things jes’ the way yo’ like to have ’em done, it’s because he doesn’ know, an’ so he’s not to blame. I like your spirit about the census, Hamilton,” the old mountaineer continued, “an’ if yo’ can give the gov’nment any service, I reckon yo’d better try, but leave the mount’n districts either to popular favorites or to a stranger.”