White Shotwell Feud

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The White Shotwell Feud of Corbin Kentucky

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Location of the White Shotwell Feud of Corbin
White Shotwell Feud

The White Shotwell Feud of Corbin Kentucky

The last bit of today’s sunlight slowly crawls up the back wall of the living room as it gazes through the closed curtains. As night fast approaches, my mind wonders as to what the worst could bring after what happened all day today. The cracking of black powder pistols and rifles have only about an hour ago finally subsided. As the sunlight disappears, the night sky becomes deathly quiet. I can still smell the aroma of spent black powder as it burns my nostrils, reminding me of a burnt match. The sounds of frogs in the creek nearby can now be heard, chirping out their mating calls.

Twelve unrelenting hours of gunfire and chaos have come to a close, giving a false sense of hope and security. All the residents, who have decided to stay, have been closed into their homes hiding behind furniture trying to avoid the stray bullets that have been unleashed all day. As I lay here hidden, I begin to have hopes that maybe the onslaught is over. Out of the dead silence a terrific deafening explosion can be heard, shaking pictures off the walls and sending glass from the window flying across the room.

The Chaos

I raise my head in what seems like an eternity to see if I could figure out what has happened. As I peek out the window in the dusky dark the sun is leaving a faint orange glow as it disappears behind the horizon. I can now see the White’s Store, across the street, lying in a rubble of shattered wood and glass. A hail of bullets begin, coming from hidden gunman, taking aim at anything that moves or shows a shape of being someone. Gazing out dumbfounded, my mind wanders back to remember what had started all of this chaos. I chuckle to myself when I realize it had all started from a forbidden love affair.

A loud repeating beep and I am suddenly awakened by my alarm, letting me know it is time to get stirring, awakening me from my evening nap. As I think back on my dream, the details of this feud that told to me by my grandfather comes back in detail in my memory. This feud really did happen. It did involve the overpowering of the city by armed factions. Several people were killed, a store was blown up and it would end up with the Kentucky State Militia sending troops to the city, invoking martial law. It would also cause the militia to place Gatling guns at strategic points at each end of town. The feud would cause tension across several counties as family member factions became embroiled in the feud.

The Whites and the Shotwells

The beginning of this particular feud was started when Rolla White insisted on visiting the daughter of James Shotwell. Shotwell had no intentions of allowing this relationship to happen. Shotwell was a long-time resident of Corbin and his family roots were from Rockhold, just south of the city of Corbin. The disagreement started when James ordered Rolla White from his home and stated that Rolla was not to see his daughter again. This disagreement would fester and the fatal shot that would kill James Shotwell would occur on January 16th of 1901. The shooting would happen close to the old L&N Railroad Depot but closer to the Hagans Store (Hall Watson today).

Reports from the incident shows the short exchange of words before the shooting started close by the L&N Railroad depot. The depot at that time was not located where the newer depot is now. The depot in 1901 sat farther north past the railroad and 25 underpass that is there now. There were four railroad tracks that left town and very near where the new bridge is now the tracks split into two sets of double tracks with a space between them. The depot sat in this space between the tracks almost under where Master Street crosses over with a bridge. The saloons of Corbin sat on the east side of the tracks facing the depot.

The Participants

At the time of the shooting, Rolla White was twenty-three years old and fresh out of the army and the Spanish-American War in the Philippines. White had just recently been decorated from injuries he sustained in that war. White served as a member of the 22nd Infantry during his service. Although Rolla was not a resident of Corbin, his brother owned E.R. White’s Store which sat between the depot and Hagan Store.

James Shotwell, just prior to the incident, had a wife, three daughters and four sons. There were other cases in the past, and later on, with feuds and killings that involved the Shotwell family. Two of these cases involved the killing of Sheriff Henry Hartford and the City Police Judge Moffitt. It would not go so well in this feud for the Shotwell faction.

Once the exchange of words between Shotwell and White began, the incident escalated into the shooting. They moved closer to the Hagan store when White would pump five shots (balls) into Shotwell’s gut. Shotwell would die later from these injuries. Immediately after the shooting, White went to his brother’s store and contacted authorities by telegram of the incident. As Shotwell was carried home the Shotwell boys came back and began taking random shots aimed at the White store. At one point Rolla was in danger of being lynched had not his brother come to his defense and saved him from certain death.

Involvement of Authorities

After the sheriff of Whitley County was notified, he gathered a posse and proceeded from Williamsburg to Corbin with the intention of arresting White. Sheriff Sutton, who was the Whitley County Sheriff at the time, made the trip on horseback during January, one of the worst months of the year. The Sheriff was traveling along a road that was treacherous at best. It would take nearly a day to make the trip. When he arrived in Corbin he would witness a scene of chaos.

At Corbin, the White Store had been dynamited and was a wreck. Two people had been killed by a shot through the head, one woman and one man. The dead woman was a well-known in Corbin named Susan Cox. The dead man was identified as Sutton Farris, a painter by trade. The explosion from the dynamited store had also injured three other people who had been passing by the store during the explosion. The injured were Hadley Brady, Percy Cooper and an unidentified traveling man.

Governors Decision

Sheriff Sutton attempted to arrest White and he, along with his posse and the Whites, were threatened by members of the Shotwell faction. The threats posed such a threat to the sheriff, the posse and the Whites that the decision was made to contact Lexington and ask for troops. The sheriff knew they would not get out of there alive unless they asked for help. The Shotwells were also guarding the roadways, trains and buildings so escape was impossible.

Understanding the crisis, Governor Augustus E. Wilson immediately ordered troops to Corbin. Sheriff Sutton felt it wise to wait for the troops to arrive before attempting to remove his prisoner.

Colonel Roger Williams from the Kentucky Second Regiment and eighty hand-picked men from the Lexington Infantry along with Lieutenant Henry Hutchinson and ten men from the A Battalion equipped with Gatling Guns were dispatched to Corbin on a C&O train. The infantry’s orders were to enact martial law, bring the city back to order and arrest all parties involved with the uprising. By then the faction had also grown to include some of the McHargue family. The McHargues had also backed the Shotwells in previous altercations in the past.

State Militia

When the state militia arrived at Corbin, martial law was declared immediately, Gatling Guns were positioned and manned at strategic points of the city and armed infantry took control of the streets. Sutton and Rolla White were to begin their exodus to Williamsburg in order for White to stand trial for the shooting of Mr. Shotwell. Along the route to Williamsburg, while on the train, the prisoner would have been seized and lynched had the sheriff quick thinking and his removal from the train prior to the attempt by the Shotwell members.

Arrested the next day were, John Shotwell, Charles Shotwell, Paris Shotwell, Robert Shotwell, Wes McHargue, Sam McHargue, Rich McHargue and Bee Shotwell. From the list of those arrested, only two men would be sentenced. The rest would receive mistrial except White. Rolla White would be acquitted in his involvement in the shooting.

The Shotwells who were arrested in the feud were allowed to attend their father’s funeral under the guard of the militia and deputies. James Shotwell was buried in Rockhold. After the funeral the detainees were put on a train to be taken back to jail. The remaining Shotwell faction threatened the militia, the deputies and the posse.

The Aftermath

Once Rolla White was released he went to Middlesboro in Bell County and then on to Whitesburg in Letcher County. A feud gathering of over one hundred people gathered at the Gray Depot, (Gray Ky today). Plans were made to go to Whitesburg to capture the released prisoner and enact justice on White. The group traveled to Letcher County but Rolla White was never found and would live out the rest of his life and retire and die in Tennessee. He worked at a home for veterans before his death.

Charles and John Shotwell both received life sentences after having three separate trials for their part in the White/Shotwell feud. They would serve their sentences in the State Penitentiary in Frankfort. The case would be appealed by the brothers shortly after they arrived but the appeals court judged the original sentence to be proper and legal. Charles Shotwell’s sentence was commuted early due to his contraction of “Consumption” (what is known today as tuberculosis).

Paris Shotwell would receive a life sentence in 1902 for the killing of Hiram Baker on Christmas Eve of 1901. Paris was pardoned of this crime in 1909 and was released from prison. After his release, Paris killed Deputy Sheriff Jones a few weeks after his release. It was a unique situation that the then Governor Wilson had to issue a reward for the capture of a man who he had pardoned only a few weeks prior.


John Shotwell would be pardoned on April 26th of 1906 but was charged with violation of his parole shortly afterwards and an arrest warrant was issued for his arrest. Governor Wilson would also offer a five hundred-dollar reward for his capture after the suggestion came from Whitley County Judge Browning.

During the first attempt to arrest John he was found eight miles from Corbin. John shot Sheriff W. B. Croley and deputy Zeb Ward and vowed never to be caught alive. Shotwell then fled to Tennessee and killed three more deputies in Tennessee when they attempted to arrest him. He received five gunshot wounds in a successful arrest and he was placed in the penitentiary. He died in the penitentiary after vowing to never return.

The White/Shotwell Feud would carry on later for some time as the Earls/Curd Feud before it finally died away into history.

Note of Corbin

Author Marty Wyatt

{Did you know? The Nibroc Festival of Corbin is the name “Corbin” spelled backwards?} Rumor has it the mayor was trying to find a good name for the festival and was discussing it while getting a haircut. The Corbin calendar was showing in the mirror and Nibroc was created.