Bloody Ground An account of the Altizer-Whitaker feud.

Excerpted from "THE ALTIZER FAMILY - So ns and Daughters Of The Old Dominion", by William E. Payne & Berdine E. Warden P ayne Bloody Ground By William E. Payne Extracted from The Altizer Family Sons and Daughters of the Old Dominion Dividing Ridge, a name not often heard, was for many years a virtual battlegroun d. Today the area is shown on maps as Sandy Ridge, Smith Ridge, and State Line R idge and is located on the crest of the Appalachian Mountains that divides the V irginia counties of Buchanan and Tazewell, and McDowell County, West Virginia. C olorful place names like Jewell Ridge, Chicken Ridge, Whitaker Ridge, Peapatch, and Bearwallow as well as numerous creeks and hollows make up this mountain top region that was called "Dividing Ridge" during the mid to late 1800's and early 1900's. William "Billie" Altizer was the eldest son of David Riley and Susan Altizer, th e progenitors of the Dividing Ridge Altizer clan. Billie was married three times and fathered several children including at least one illegitimate son. He was a Confederate Veteran of the War Between the States and a tough, mountain grown c haracter that did not abide with much nonsense. In his book 22nd Virginia Cavalr y, Jeffery C. Weaver quotes a grandson, "He liked to fight and on one occasion h e had been in a fight and ended up with a severe gash in his face. His wife was too squeamish to dress the wound so he took a needle and sewed it up in front of a shaving mirror." Billie's tough nature was inherited by his sons, grandsons, and great grandsons and for almost 70 years after his death in 1892 the family w as involved in disputes with their neighbors and other relatives. In addition to the Altizer clan the Dividing Ridge area was home to many families including th e Beavers', Christian's, Mitchell s, Nelson s, Sparks', Steele s, and Whitaker's and m ost families were related, by either blood, marriage or both. Over the years fam ily squabbles were no doubt part of their daily lives and no one thought to give the disagreements a colorful name. An article titled Feud written by Staff Writ er Paul Dellinger of the Southwest Bureau appeared in the Roanoke Times circa 19 89 in which he makes reference to the Altizer-Whitaker feud. On a beautiful Easter Sunday morning in late Spring 1904 a shootout erupted duri ng an outdoors religious service on Whitaker Ridge. Bill Whitaker shot and kille d his brother-in-law, Noah Altizer who was married to Bill's sister Mollie. Noah was the son of James B. and Sarah Christian Altizer and Bill and Mollie were th e children of Hiram and Eimly Jane Whitaker. Hiram and Eimly Jane Whitaker also had a son Doc F. Whitaker that was married to Rutha Altizer, daughter of Adam an d Elizabeth Stephenson Altizer. When Noah came to the Whitaker home and persuade d young Mollie to leave with him, her grandfather saw them leaving and took a sh ot at them, not aiming to hit them but to convey that he did not approve. Tradit ion is that Noah's sister, Rosa was apparently taken with one of the Whitaker bo ys and become pregnant and this did not improve the touchy situation that existe d between the two families, even though they were intermarried. There were other incidents after that of fences being broken down, livestock scattered and other types of harassment that culminated in the Easter morning shootout. Men of both families apparently never traveled far without their guns, even to church, and during periods of extreme tension family members would stand guard to insure the safety of the women and children.

Bill Whitaker accompanied by Lee Whitaker and Tom Whitaker opened fire on the Al tizer's and Noah Altizer was apparently killed immediately and his brother Grove r was wounded, possibly in the stomach. Tradition is that Grover Altizer, althou gh wounded, gave chase to Bill Whitaker who was wounded in the eye and Tom Whita ker who may have suffered an arm wound. Bill Whitaker made it home and was tende d by his sister and his wife. Grover Altizer hid in the woods waiting for a clea r shot at Whitaker but was never able to shoot due to family members working on his wounds. Another family member rode a horse to Tazewell and returned with a d octor to tend the wounded Whitaker boys when the home-remedies did not heal the gunshot wounds. Several months later the Tazewell County Sheriff arrested Bill W hitaker and he served nine months of a one-year prison term for killing Noah Alt izer. Bill survived his wounds and the jail term and was still living in Cedar B luff, Virginia and operating a fruit stand in the 1950's. Cecil Rose, a local historian interviewed for the Roanoke Times article reported the Altizer-Whitaker feud was also known as the "moonshine" feud because of the whiskey-making activities that went on in the mountains at the time. Rose said that more people were killed, and it lasted longer, than the legendary HatfieldMcCoy feud. Rose also reported that he had documented the names of nearly 40 peo ple, including seven women killed in shootings during the first 30 years of this century, although all of them are probably not related to the Altizer-Whitaker dispute. Fewer than half the deaths occurred near Whitaker Ridge but combined wi th the other wounds that were not fatal the area gained a reputation as a danger ous place. One Bluefield newspaper referred to that part of Tazewell County thro ugh which the Clinch River flows as "Bloody Clinch" One incident of which very little is known involved Joseph Altizer, son of Willi am Billie Altizer and his second wife Lavisa Vicie Asbury Sparks, and Thomas William Big Foot Sparks, son of Joseph B. Sparks and Lavica Vicie Asbury. Thomas William wa s the husband of Nancy Jane Altizer, sister of Joseph Altizer. Joseph Sparks had died during the Civil War and Vicie married Billie Altizer and their children, Thomas and Nancy had also married. Apparently there was no love lost between the half-brothers and brothers-in law, Joseph and Thomas. Tradition is that Joseph killed Thomas with a club in March 1919 when they argued over the proper placeme nt of a fence line. This was an incident where only family members were involved and cannot be attributed to the so-called feud. No other information could be l ocated on this incident. The Buchanan County Virginia Centennial History printed originally in 1958 and r eprinted in 1979 contains a story by Hannibal Albert Compton about William Riley Altizer, son of Adam Altizer, and grandson of William "Billie" Altizer. It was reported that he was a hospitable man, strong, and robust, with red hair and a f lorid face and a happy-go-lucky disposition. About 1920 or 1921 William Riley an d his two sons, Anson and Eugene, became involved in a shooting scrape with Loui e Sparks, a son of William Altizer Sparks, in which the Sparks boy was killed. W illiam Altizer Sparks was the son of Nancy Jane Altizer and Thomas William Spark s and was married to Lydia Jane Beavers. Nancy Jane was the daughter of Billie A ltizer and Lavicy Harman, Billie's first wife and the sister of Adam Altizer, Wi lliam Riley s father. W.A. Daugherty was employed as council to defend the three. The boys had their trial first, while the old man went into hiding. Eugene recei ved a six years sentence and Anson, who had fired the shot, got eight years. Whi le the trial was going on, Laura Ward Altizer, the boys' mother, stayed at the h ome of Hannibal Compton. Always a jolly good-natured woman, she showed little wo rry but there was something in her eyes, something deep down in her heart that s he could not hide. She betrayed a vague agonizing unease lurking behind her supe rficial gayety. After the boys had gone William Riley came in and gave himself u p and was placed on trial. He slept at the Compton house the night the jury had his case. He showed not a trace of worry, but said that he was expecting a sente nce. He snored so loudly that night that he kept others awake most of the time. The next morning he dressed and washed and made the room ring with his hearty mi

rth. The jury gave him a year for his part in the trouble, which he did not seem to mind in the least. After he came back he said that every man, whether he had done anything wrong or not, ought to be sent to the penitentiary for at least a year. Jesse James Altizer, son of John Henry and Amanda Davidson Altizer, grandson of Adam Altizer and Betsy Stephenson and great grandson of William Billie Altizer an d Lavicy Harman was a man long on family loyalty and short on temper as were man y of the Altizer s before and after him. Jesse was married to his first cousin, Jo sie Altizer, daughter of James B. and Sarah Christian Altizer and sister of Noah and Grover. In the early 1930 s Bird Crockett, who is believed to be a descendant of Davy Crockett, and Grat Beavers, a relative of the Jesse and Josie Altizer f amily were walking at night on the only dirt road past a Whitaker family house w hen words were exchanged and a gunfight began. Grat ran and jumped over a steep bank and at the same time was hit in the back by a shotgun blast fired by Lee Wh itaker. Grat hid in the woods while making his way to Jesse and Josie s house. Whi le they picked the buckshot from his Grat s back, Bird Crockett also made his way to their house. The sound of his footsteps on the porch and setting his gun behi nd the door let the Altizer s know it was either Bird or at least a family friend. They always set their guns behind the door when coming in the house. When Bird came in he reportedly said, Lee Whitaker will never shoot anyone again. Later it w as learned that Bird Crockett had hid against a dark bank and shot Lee when he r an through the woods. A few days later the sheriff came looking for the unknown killer who he believed to be wounded. Jesse had been suffering from a bad tootha che and wrapped a big towel around his jaw to keep out the cold. The sheriff arr ested Jesse thinking he was wounded but the family finally convinced the sheriff that he was wrong and he was released and the actual killer was never officiall y identified. The sheriff reportedly told the Altizer s that when he went to retri eve Lee Whitaker s body it had frozen to the flat rock he fell on and his flesh pu lled loose when he was removed. One day probably in the late 1930 s one of the Altizer boys was driving his old ca r along the rough, unpaved road on Whitaker Ridge. It either got stuck in the mu d or broke down and one of the Whitaker s that was hiding in the woods threw a roc k at them and broke Birdie Altizer's arm. She was only a small child. Birdie's M other, Josie Altizer took her gun and proceeded to the home of Mertyle Whitaker, where she confronted the old woman at the very edge of her porch. Josie told he r what her sons had done and vowed to shoot anyone who moved while giving them a piece of her mind. In 1940 another family moved into the area and befriended th e Whitaker family and along with the Whitaker's they harassed and throw stones a t the Altizer children as they walked to and from school. One afternoon Corbin A ltizer was driving his old truck to see a girlfriend when Ed Norris, the father of the family that had befriended the Whitakers, lined several young people, inc luding some Whitakers, across the road and refused to let Corbin pass. Corbin ju mped from his truck and across the fence onto a piece of property owned by his f ather, Jesse Altizer. Word reached Jesse quickly about the unfolding, potentiall y deadly situation; he loaded his double barrel shotgun and went to help his son . As he arrived at the impasse he saw Ed Norris with a gun pointed at Corbin. Je sse raised his shotgun and fired hitting Ed in the lower right stomach. Ed turne d to face Jesse who fired again, this time hitting Ed in the middle of the stoma ch. Ed s top half fell forward, his legs crumbled, and he was dead. All the people gathered around scattered and ran and Jesse went home, shaved and put on clean clothes, and waited for the sheriff. At the trial some of the witnesses who were Ed's friends, testified that the gun Ed was carrying was not loaded and that he was only "fun-n" with Corbin. Jesse was found guilty of manslaughter and he ser ved four years in prison. As Jesse was getting his farm and his life back togeth er after he returned home from jail, he happened upon two thieves stealing his h ome brew. Jesse was reported to have said, "I didn't go to jail for protecting w hat was mine that time, there were no witnesses."

On a nice September day in 1955, Corbin Altizer was driving his old 1940 model c ar along a country road when he noticed his twin nephews, Blacky and Tuffy Altiz er walking so he stopped and gave them a ride. Corbin himself had twins as did h is father and two of his sisters. Soon after that time, during an argument with his cousin Kelly Christian over a woman, Corbin was killed by a shotgun blast in the stomach. The shooting took place at the old Hunt cabin on the West Virginia side of the mountain, only a couple of miles from where his father had saved hi s life fifteen years earlier. James Paul Jay Altizer, Jr. relates that Corbin was living with the woman at the time and he was jailed for some unknown reason. Upo n returning home he found her living with his cousin Kelly and the ensuing argum ent resulted in another death. Kelly also died as the result of violence. He los t his legs to gangrene and died after being shot in the legs while running moons hine with his cousin James Paul Altizer, Jay Altizer's father and another son of Jesse and Josie Altizer. Both men were shot in the legs but James escaped, hid, and recovered from his wounds. With most of the Whitaker clan either dead or moved away from Whitaker Ridge the legacy of violence was about to close. In 1959, Millie the daughter of Jesse an d Josie Altizer shot and killed her husband, Roy Fields, the father of her twin sons Blacky and Tuffy during a family argument and after repeated physical abuse . As he lay drunk and dying he looked up at her and asked, "Why?" then dropped h is head and died. Mille ran in the snow to her father's house and told him what happened. Jesse walked to Millie's house and found the story to be true; the man lay dead with a hammer in his hand. Although Millie knew her life was in danger she never realized the man she killed had a hammer in his hand. Her twin sons w ere raised as Altizers. Jesse James Altizer died in 1963, survived by six childr en and forty grandchildren. Dividing Ridge is quiet now. The coal mines are gone and so are most of the peop le except for a few of the older ones that refuse to leave and will be buried th ere in one of the many small family graveyards that dot the hillsides. Making mo onshine is no longer profitable because of the availability of legal whiskey and none of the younger generations are interested in learning how it was done. Jay Altizer relates that when he was growing up on Whitaker Ridge in the 1940 s and 1 950 s, all the houses had telephones but none of them worked because the lines wer e constantly being cut by the squabbling families and finally the telephone comp any refused to repair the lines. The telephones work now but much secrecy still hangs over the area and any stranger who enters there will get few if any questi ons answered about the old days. Maybe there was a feud between two prominent fami lies that inhabited Dividing Ridge and maybe it was just a series of unrelated i ncidents that occurred during a time when the law was scarce and men and women s ettled their own disputes.

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