|The Story of a Hill Feud in Ohio in 1929.
A Page Plucked out of History
20 miles and 100 years from Portsmouth
| Below, held in a prescient hush, lay what had been a lonely and lovely valley, it's rim now spilling somber shadows across the mottled green slopes down toward the winding creek. As far as human eye could reach from the 'point' near the head of the notch, hills marched away with the hours and the ages onto eternity. There was an uneasy rustle only there upon that summer, where men, women, and children lolled under the scrub trees or sat in the clearing on the very top, where there was a little mound of dirt and rock. In the pine box beside that mound lay Clate, King of the Cooper Clan, and beside him within it was his 'squirrel rifle.' Clate Cooper had been a 'right good sort' as Twin Creek folk go, so others were there besides his own family: the Blevins clan, the Holsingers, the McGraws, and the Lewis's - the other families that had ruled this little section of Scioto and Adams Counties Ohio for generations.
After a brief internal, a 'banjo-picker and fiddler', as requested by the head of the Cooper clan when he took down with his last complaint, set up an old hill tune, Well, Boys, the Fun's All Over. Then there was the sound of rock and soil going back into the hole that had been blasted out of gravity because Clate Cooper wished to lie there. A woman was crying. The Cooper boys eyed each other, and their glances strayed unconsciously down the hill to the homestead, and back into the woods rather than to the little cleared field that surrounded the house. It was theirs now, theirs and the 'old womans.' It was she who was crying. One drew out a bottle of clear, white whiskey and took a long pull at it. "Well, the old man's planted" he said. "Yeah, right well" another agreed, after he, too, had taken a drink.
The 'Rig', as stills are known there, from which their moonshine came, was back in the hills a bit. Just a sporting proposition, a 'rig' was, back in those days. A couple of them headed in that direction as the gathering broke up and left Clate in the place where he had wished to lie. From that occasion dates the modern phase of the 'Cooper feud' that recently has put two brothers - sons of Clate Cooper - in Ohio Penitentiary, charged of shooting to kill each other. It has put, also, three Coopers underground with cold lead for ballast. Up and down Twin Creek Valley, for it is the famous Twin Creek here this has taken place, smolders, flares, and rages the hatred of brother for brother, and as there is no other love like brother for brother, neither is there elsewhere such hatred.
Just now there is a truce, it is said optimistically and doubted privately, with two of the four surviving brothers in prison. But the other two are there to maintain the lines of cleavage that divided the family, and on one side are the Lewis, on the other the Holsingers cousins and in-laws, these allies. And in the homes of the fuedists are the next generations of the Cooper clan - for the family is two clans now. All this entered its current phase when Clate Cooper went back into the hills to stay. But it has been going on for much, much longer than that.
Clate Cooper resided during all his life in the Southern Ohio hills, as a child, young man in Adams County just a few miles from where he died, and for the last 35 years until October 29, 1913, for up toward the head of Twin Creek Upper Twin - to be exact, since there are two Twins But when one said "Twin Creek" around Portsmouth, the speaker means Upper Twin. Lower Twin is just part of Southern Ohio, Upper Twin a community all by itself. The Coopers, the Holsingers, The Lewis's Blevins, McGraws, the families that resides there rule their domain in their own peculiar ways. They did not bother an outsider neither; it was known not an outsider to bother them. Then 30 odd years ago, a Cooper, that was [out] on a Saturday night killed Frank Brown, who had married a Cooper girl, and the Cooper tradition runs [that he] ambushed Brown. The body lay out in the sunshine the next day until Coroner was called, for the Twin Creekers are sticklers for such formalities. It's the law.
That was the precedent for the family feud that has been up, but the modern phase has nothing to do with that case. It is cited only as evidence that the Twin Creekers settle their own difficulties in their own peculiar way. The 'old woman' continued to reside at the Cooper homestead and the sons at their own shack that protects rough, one room affairs, these shacks rough as the Southern Ohio hill country; No better word has been said about that district than by one of its natives: "Hits a right hard country; hits got a right hard name." The mystery of a great distance of time surrounds the first shooting in the immediate family, for that took place all of 14 years ago. Kenny Cooper, who was 17 years old then and next to the youngest of the sons who now survive, was accused of the deed by Fred Cooper, the victim and the eldest of the group. Fred "warn't shot bad - not bad enough, or he wouldn't have been up to so much meanness since then." The words are those of his youngest surviving brother, Jonas, the new king of Twin Creek. But Fred "never held it against Kenney none" the family says and apparently nothing came directly of that incident.
Subsequently, Grant Cooper, another cousin, was killed by a Holsinger. That too, appears from this distance of time to have been just a personal difference. The first all Cooper killing in this generation took place seven years ago, at a county dance out beyond the opening of Twin Creek Valley into the wider reaches and friendless course of the Ohio. Lawrence was one of Clates Cooper's son and Lawrence went out in approved feud fashion, shot by Robert Cooper, "a fifth cousin or so, I reckon" as his brothers compute it. Robert shot his pistol through his pocket. He was only 16 or 17 years old, and "went up" for 1 year. At last report, he was working in a steel mill.
That year wasn't the only penalty, however, Fred Cooper, now the head of one of the Cooper clans, shot him through the leg as he ran. One by one the brothers married, and a new generation of Coopers began to arrive on the scene, still grouped around the old homestead. Then came Prohibition and a 'rig' ceased to be a sporting proposition and became a business and brother who didn't like brother found new reason for the line between them, across which none stepped. Kenny insists the older two brothers - Fred and Ed - didn't like him "Cuz I took care of mother", and it is true enough that the 'old woman' had much to do with the genesis of the case. She was, according to Coroner Virgil Fowler who knows these Scioto County hill people probably more thoroughly than any man who has seen them with an outsiders eyes the most remarkable personality and character in any of the clans - a higher type, a woman who kept herself neatly and tried to rear her children to be "gentlemen." Kenny and Jonas clung to their mother and saw to her wants after Clate Cooper's death. And with perhaps the same quaint conception of the law that would leave a body where it fell till the coroner came, they didn't wish moonshine stills on their mother's property. "Continued on the Next Page..."