March 13, 1852, one hundred and sixty-five years ago, what is known as the tobacco house fight occurred in north central Garrard County, Kentucky, near Sugar Creek. This was the climax of the Hill and Evans feud, the earliest of the Kentucky feuds. There were a couple of other skirmishes after this date, within the next year or two, but after such a deadly day the Hill families decided to move from Garrard County and leave all the blood shedding behind.
On this day, three Hill brothers, Isaiah, Frederick and Russell, were helping a neighbor move – loaded in the wagon was furniture and household goods, as well as the children and wife of Mr. Brown. Several sons of the three men and a few others were in the party. As they passed the tobacco house on Scotch Fork of Sugar Creek, bullets rang out, hitting Russell Hill. He fell from his horse, dead. As the shots continued Isaiah Hill tried to reach the door, was also shot and killed by John Sellars. Frederick Hill was fired upon but the gun misfired and was hit in the head with the barrel. Frederick killed William Chrisman, but was then struck with a knife. James, a son of Isaiah, shot and killed John Sellars, the man who killed his father, but was then shot himself. In all, four men were killed and three wounded – Frederick Hill, who died a few months later from his wounds; James Hill and a Mr. Alverson.
The feud began in the 1820’s between Dr. Hezekiah Evans and John Hill, Sr. They were neighbors – lived across the creek from each other. For some reason we will perhaps never know, a disagreement came about. They took each other to court several times on pretext of one keeping a promissory note of the other, or some such excuse. They were generally fined one cent. John Hill, Sr., died in 1839, and most of the feud involved his grandchildren and Dr. Evans.
In 1850 Dr. Evans shot and killed Jesse Hill, brother to the three who died in the tobacco house fight. It was also a day in March, two years previous. A huge crowd filled the town square in Lancaster. It was court day and everyone was there. It was rather hard to convince that Dr. Evans did not shoot him with so many spectators gathered around. But, as in all of the killings during the feud, no one was found guilty of the crime of murder.
After this shots rang out between the two families, but that was about all that occurred. In December 1850 the Hill and Evans families were brought to court and charged with keeping peace with each other, and for about a year that peace was kept. Until the tobacco house fight.
We have had an early spring this year. It reminds me of the visits Ritchey and I made, first in 1981, and then again in 1997, to the Hill family cemetery in Garrard County, Kentucky. It is a trek to get back to this cemetery, and hard to see, as it is in a copse of trees on the edge of a cornfield. There are perhaps thirty members of the family buried there. Most of the stones are unreadable, but we could make out three – Isaiah Hill, Lucy Hill and Alexander Hill.
Isaiah Hill, died March 13, 1852.
Isaiah Hill was my great-great-grandfather. When I first heard about the feud I was sure there was some mistake – this wasn’t my Hill family – but it was. Nothing was ever mentioned about the feud by any of my family members. And my grandfather, Jesse Hill, loved to tell stories about the family. My opinion is that when the move was made from Garrard County to Washington and Anderson counties, the family decided to put the feud behind them, make a fresh start. Perhaps they intentionally didn’t tell their children about the feud. But digging into the old records brought the old secrets to life. You never know what you will find in your family background.