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HomeFeaturesLocal HistoryUncle Jack Fultz's Memories of Carter County: Capturing the national imagination

Uncle Jack Fultz’s Memories of Carter County: Capturing the national imagination

By: Jeremy D. Wells
Carter County Times

If you don’t know who George Underwood is, you should. Underwood and his clan are integral not only to Carter County’s and Kentucky’s Civil War story, they captured national imaginations after the war with stories of their feud with their former allies, the Holbrooks, spreading in newspapers across the country, feeding a post-war America eager for distraction and drama.

Like any good drama there was a setting, a story, even an aptly named “Fort” to house the Underwood clan through the heavy fighting.

According to a story in the Sycamore True Republican, preserved by Morehead State University and available online, the younger Underwood boys, sons of Home Guard commander George Underwood, ran into their first real trouble picking fights with secessionists sympathizers following the war. After picking a fight in Bath County with a man named Samuel Crane over his choice of whiskey – Crane ordered a Jeff Davis – Jesse Underwood accidentally shot a man named George Trumbo who stepped in to break up the quarrel. He and his brother David escaped to Carter County, but Trumbo’s family was well-to-do and connected. The governor issued a proclamation offering a reward for his capture, but Jesse eluded capture for more than five years, often sending his pursuers home bloodied, if they escaped with their lives at all. During this time he was reportedly shot by Squire Holbrook, a war time comrade of his father, who claimed that Jesse was trying to steal his horses. After this, with continued strife from the warrant on his head, Jesse left for Iowa.

But, he didn’t stay long. After his father bailed out some friends accused of horse theft in 1877 tensions escalated, with a series of attacks on George Underwood and his friend Alex Penlam, that cost Underwood his eye and Penlam his life. Penlam’s death probably led to the killing of the Holbrook clan’s Robert Glover, who was shot through the heart as he tended his fields.

Glover’s death was followed by the shooting of Jesse’s beloved baby brother Lewis. Lewis was struck by a rifle while gathering firewood. It’s reported that this shooting led Jesse to return – and rejoin the feud.  

He was eventually able to “sue for peace” and planned to leave again for Iowa, with a new bride. But in Lewis County he was ambushed by the sheriff, looking to collect on the old reward for the Trumbo murder. He was wounded, and his wife murdered, but he was able to escape and return to Carter County, and his family.

The peace between the Holbrooks and Underwoods was tenuous though, and the shooting of Elverton Underwood, and the death of Lewis, finally succumbing to his wound “after two years of great suffering,” led Jesse to rejoin the fighting.

And Squire Holbrook was his target. Jesse claimed he had tracked Elverton’s assassins to Squire the year before, and it was the old man who originally accused Jesse of horse theft, setting the whole feud into motion.

Lewis died on September 1. On September 5, Squire and his son Millard were catching up horses in their pasture when a “rifle ball passed through the old Squire’s brain, and he fell dead.”

The feud was back on, and after a series of shootings and another wounding of patriarch George, the second siege of Fort Underwood was about to begin. Though George was able to send for help from the Judge in Grayson, the sheriff was unable to raise a posse and – after an extended siege in which the Holbrooks threatened even women and children should they try to leave – Jesse died of his wounds and George finally admitted his own executioners on promise that the women and children would be unharmed.

No adult Underwood men survived. The war was over. But not before making news as far away as St. Louis, at least, where a May, 1979 edition of the St. Louis Globe-Democrat gave an update on the resumption of the feud just before it would come to its bloody end, closing one of the bloodiest and drama filled chapters in eastern Kentucky history.

To view source articles related to the Underwood War click here.

Contact the writer at editor@cartercountytimes.com

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