1890s feuds kept Manchester in the national spotlight

The area between Laurel and Crane Creeks (no. 6 on the Virtual Tour Map) was the scene of one of the most notorious of Clay County’s feuds: the Baker-Howard feud, which was often mis-referred to as the White-Garrard feud. No other county in Kentucky - a state known for its feuds - was as infamous for its blood feuds as Clay County. In fact, it was an extended feud called the “Cattle War” that is thought to have been the reason for the county in the first place. In 1806 the legislature created the county in order to have more jurisdiction over the area of the “war,” the headwaters of the three forks of the Kentucky River.

Clay County’s original border shrunk as time went by; its reputation for feuding didn’t. In 1844 people of the county found themselves divided, often bitterly, over whether Dr. Abner Baker should hang for the killing of his brother-in-law, saltman Daniel Bates. Baker had been declared a “monomaniac” - not for killing Bates, but for his charges against Baker’s wife’s family, the powerful Whites of saltmaking fame. Since the Bakers were allied with the Garrards, as powerful as the Whites in the salt trade, it set the stage for generations of quarrelling between the Whites and Garrards to come.

There were scores of incidents, and dozens of killings over the next several decades, for which the county received its share of negative publicity in the national press. Not all the feuding was between Garrard and White factions, but since they were the two most powerful families in the county, their names were often associated with the quarrelling by the press.

Things got so bad that the governor sent the state militia to Manchester for the 1898 trial of Tom Baker, who was accused of all manner of misdeeds down there on Crane Creek. The troops set up their tents on  the courthouse lawn in Manchester (see photo). While Baker was posing for a photo for a Courier-Journal photographer (see at right) he was shot and killed by a sniper from Sheriff Bev White’s home, across the street from the courthouse.

Baker’s nemesis, Big Jim Howard, had his own troubles growing out of the feud, as he was charged with the assassination of newly-elected Governor William Goebel as a way to curry favor with Republicans Howard hoped would help him get a pardon for killing Tom Baker’s father, George. Tom Baker died at the scene, Jim Howard went to prison (for killing Goebel, though he was later pardoned by a Republican governor) and the feud gradually died down, though not before the New York Times, among other national papers, wrote dozens of stories about it, thereby insuring Manchester’s and Clay County’s reputation for violence would continue as the Twentieth Century got underway.

The Clay County Courthouse in 1898 with tents of the state militia set up around it housing troops sent to protect Tom Baker, below, who was to stand trial for a killing in the infamous Baker / Howard feud. Moments after this photo was taken of Baker standing by a soldier he was shot and killed by a sniper who fired from Sheriff Bev White's home across the street from the court house. No one was ever arrested for the killing.