Wheeling Newspapers Gave Extensive Coverage to Famous Feud

Wheeling newspapers provided the most accurate and extensive coverage of the Lincoln County Feud in the 1880s, according to the author of a new book on the subject.

Brandon Kirk appeared at Lunch With Books at the Ohio County Public Library in Wheeling Tuesday, June 2, and spoke on his book, “Blood in West Virginia: Brumfield vs. McCoy.” He is a descendant of the Brumfield family and lives in Harts, W.Va., the community where the feud occurred.

“The Wheeling Intelligencer and the Wheeling Register provided large coverage of the feud and were instrumental in my writing of the book,” said Kirk, who spent nearly 20 years researching the story before writing his book. He is an assistant professor of American history at Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College.

Despite the distance, the Wheeling newspapers provided excellent coverage of the feud and corrected inaccuracies reported by big-city newspapers, Kirk said. The two papers’ accounts were accurate and not sensationalized.

“Feuds are a touchy subject, even today,” he said. Interest remains high, but the issue is a delicate matter because of concern over stereotypes and negative images for the state.

While most people have heard of the Hatfield-McCoy Feud, “a lot of folks are just rediscovering the Lincoln County Feud,” he said.

Examining causes of feuds, he said a “culture of violence model” was popular in the 1880s, when it was thought that ethnic determinism and geographic determinism (the isolation of Appalachia) spawned fighting. Neither theory is popular today.

A “capitalist disruption model” of feuding has been “a very popular model among scholars since the 1960s,” he said. Some also blame Civil War grudges and gun culture for causing feuds.

The Wheeling Intelligencer stated in an Oct. 29, 1881 article: “Most of the serious trouble in [Lincoln] County has originated in the Harts Creek district, more by force of peculiar circumstances than the natural tendency of the people to outlawry.”

The Harts Creek community, known now as Harts, is located in the Guyandotte River Valley, 44 miles from Huntington and 24 miles from Logan. Lower Harts Creek is part of Lincoln County, while Upper Harts Creek is in Logan County.

Contrary to the contention of capitalist disruption, “social stratification existed from the time of the earliest settlement,” Kirk said.

In addition, he said, “The feud doesn’t appear to have arisen out of any Civil War-related grudges.” The war, however, probably did contribute to the community’s gun culture, he acknowledged.

The Lincoln County Feud involved many factions, with a lot of characters and several families, he said. Mini-feuds were components of the larger struggle, with the first being the Brumfield-Adkins mini-feud.

Paris Brumfield, Kirk’s direct ancestor, was patriarch of his clan and became “the most deviant person in the community,” the historian said. Brumfield was a timber man, an occupation that required a rough character, and a distiller. He also was obsessive about acquiring land.

By contrast, his nemesis, Cain Adkins, was “a pillar of the community,” serving as a country doctor, school teacher, United Baptist preacher and justice of the peace, Kirk said.

The first killing in the mini-feud occurred in 1882, when Brumfield shot Boney Lucas. A story of bitterness over that incident was handed down in the Lucas family, he said.

Without divulging all of the details, Kirk said, “There are many, many interesting characters in the book.”

He has written more than 50 Appalachian-themed articles, contributed to the PBS mini-series, “West Virginia,” and acted as a consultant to the History Channel’s mini-series, “Hatfields and McCoys.” A Marshall University graduate, he has served on the West Virginia Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission.