The Howard-Baker Feud

This article originally appeared in Southern Exposure Vol. 5 No. 2, "Long Journey Home: Folklife in the South." Find more from that issue here.

Now little lady

you are a going back

almost 100 years in history

and you cannot imagine

the changes I have seen in that time

You must rip up this blacktop road

and tear three quarters of those houses down

and make a forest full of poplars all in that bottom

and plant corn along that hillside

And remember at all times

that this were Bal Howard’s land

all from Upper Crane down to the road

even the piece of earth my store is setting on

which he let me use for stabling his horse

when he journeyed by wagon into town

Now from the yon side of Big Creek down to Oneida

was George Baker’s land

and straddling these two farms

like a big running snake

ran Cane Creek

and that was the very water

that Bal Howard floated his timber down

And a fine log he did fell

150 foot long and straight as an arrow

and that was what he and his boys did from dawn to dark

Working them hills right behind you

full of tall pine now until they were none but stumps

and the fencing put up for pasture

Well George Baker was still trying to make a go of farming

and this red clay won’t grow a thing but weed

we all know

and Bal Howard was just getting fat

felling them trees

and his sons were growing tall

as many a man had to look up to

and Bal was teaching them law

and soon everyone knew

they’d be sheriff and judge too

And G. Baker’s boys was the only ones who could of stopped them

And so ’bout the spring of ’89

Tom Baker, George’s boy, decided to take this into his own hands

He waited til dusk when he figured all had gone to supper

and snuck down to the bank where Bal had his logs tethered

waiting til the water sank to ride them down river to market

Now Tom reckoned he could put a big dent in their pocket

and bulge his out a bit if he sold them logs

not in Manchester where everyone would know they belonged to Bal

but on down to Beautyville

And so he would fix those high and mighty Howards

Well with the sun not yet fully down

Tom Baker cut the rope that tied the log rafts to the bank

and like a flash

was jumped onto the back of one

and floating them Howard logs pretty as you please

right towards Beautyville

Like a king he stood up there

and did not notice a man on the hill

watching him in full view

carry out his devil’s work

And like a madman your grandpa

Israel ran down that hill

and was on the raft behind him

And you can believe Tom Baker

was not prepared for that

And Israel said “Pull your weapon Baker

for I aim for one of us to drop dead into this river’’

and Tom replied “Now Israel a man can’t shoot on water

Let us get onto the land’’

Now your Grandpa being a fair man

and not convinced that Tom was

said “you jump onto the bank first”

And by now the sun is down

and the moon is full shining like God’s own eye

at the two of them

pacing their steps

and holding their irons

So at Tom’s count

Israel snapped his Colt

quick as a snake’s striking tongue

but the poison did not hit

and again

it did not hit

And Tom’s gun was silent as a tomb

and he called out “Israel my gun is jammed -

the damn thing is jammed ”

and your grandpa being a fair man

said “Give me a look at it Tom ”

but they neither one could make it work quite right

So your grandpa said

“It looks as though the Lord means

for us to both walk upright

away from here tonight

but mark my words Tom Baker

I gave you one chance for a fair fight

but I cannot promise neither me nor the Lord

granting you the same chance tomorrow night”


So that’s the way it started

But 60 years and more dead

than two graveyards can hold later

little lady

that was not the way it finally stopped