Hi, I hope to share some information with people about the life and times in Tazewell County, Virginia. This site is new and I will be making updates regularly, so stop back often. Please add questions and additional information to the blog or e-mail: Gary@WhitakerRidge.us
The picture is of my Great Aunt Myrtle Zarilda Whitaker. Mertie was pretty and spunky and not one to mess with. She was born January 1886 and married her cousin Thomas Whitaker. They lived on Whitaker Ridge. Tom's 1st wife was Mary Altizer (I think she died during childbirth). Tom ended up being a casualty of the feud in 1922. Tom was on trial for malicious assault in October of 1900. This is a trial I want to do some research on since it was not long after Noah broke jail and married Mollie Whitaker (See below). Henry Grover Altizer (Mary Altizer’s brother) had children with his niece, Nannie Whitaker (daughter of Mary Altizer and Tom Whitaker). This did not go over big with either side. Mertie took in two of their children; Curtis Henry Altizer and Ulysses Grant Altizer. Again the Whitaker's did not like the idea of the Altizer name living with Whitaker's and the Altizer's did not want the Altizer name being brought up as Whitaker's. When Mertie died in 1965 her estate was left to them. Grover was also the person who shot my grandfather in the back after he was fleeing the big religious shoot out (see below). If you are not confused by now, I am. Can you imagine being named Ulysses Grant, in Virginia no less?
My Grandfather was William (Bill) Riley Whitaker (Farmer and Moonshiner); was born 8/17/1876. He had a big role in the Whitaker - Altizer feud. Noah Altizer promised marriage to Bill's younger sister Mollie, got her pregnant in October 1899 and backed out of his promise. Noah avoided being arrested until June 1900 and a motion was made before Judge Stuart to bail Noah, but was refused for reasons satisfactory to his honor. He was charged with betrayal of a young women under promise of marriage. Noah then broke out of jail and went to where Mollie was living (her father Hiram’s house) and talked her into leaving with him to get married to avoid going back to jail. Well, Hiram as well as many others in the family were not very happy about it and this certainly had much to do with the hard feelings during the feud. It is believed that Hiram fired shots into the air as Noah and Mollie left to show his disgust and disapproval. Hiram and Noah’s father James Bliss Altizer were both somewhat short tempered people and some years earlier Hiram beat the daylights out of James, this was said to be the beginning of the feud.
In August 1904 the Altizer’s burned down the Whitaker’s church in Whitaker Ridge that was a one room school house as well. Later that week during a service that was being held outside, a gun battle broke out. Bill Whitaker shot and killed his brother-in-law Noah Altizer. Bill and Robert Lee Whitaker were shot as well, but survived. The Whitaker’s were Hardshell Baptists and the Altizer’s were Seventh Day Adventists. The Seventh Day Adventists thought that worshipping on Sunday was like worshipping Satan and it is likely they were taunting and firing their guns to disrupt the service. Throw in some moonshine wars and it must have been a tough place to live. Everyone had to bring their gun to church with them. That day Bill had started on his way to church and realized he had forgotten his gun so he went back and got it. That may have saved his life.
Bill escaped across the state line from Whitaker Ridge to McDowell County West Virginia. He had many friends there who were upset when he finally turned himself into the authorities. On September 21st, a little over 3 weeks after he was shot he was operated on in the County Jail by Dr. Painter without the use of anesthetics (ouch). The bullet entered near the left kidney and was cut out under the last floating rib, going nearly through the body. He was allowed to sleep in the jailors room on a cot because they thought he would be too weak to escape, he needed help just to sit up. When the guards awoke they saw that Bill was gone and had taken French leave. A $50 reward was offered for his arrest.
About a week later he walked back to jail and told the jailor that he simply wanted a week’s rest and some fresh air and that he never had any idea of trying to escape. What Bill did during this week is somewhat of a mystery. His older brother Dock was shot in the back around Sep 8th 1904 in West Liberty, KY by Nelson Bishop, a deputy constable, who was arresting him. It is believed by some that he was peddling moonshine for Bill. Did Bill have some business to tend to, to keep his business going? More on Dock’s story a bit later.
In the middle of November Bill was convicted of involuntary manslaughter for killing Noah Altizer, his brother in law. It is said that he served about 9 months in prison. I hope to find some court records on this trial. Bill was claiming self defense.
Noah’s widow Mollie (Bill’s sister), ended up with nothing from their estate. Henry Doak Altizer bought their property for $280 (43 acres) and the money was distributed to their debtors. Mollie had two small children and was pregnant with a 3rd. Both families shunned her and she had quite a time making a living. She had at least one child out of wedlock and in July of 1907 was listed on the paupers list. By 1910 her 3 children with Noah were living with his father (James Bliss). It is believed that Mollie died from typhoid fever.
In July of 1899 Dock Whitaker (Bill’s older Brother) married Rutha Altizer (James Bliss Altizer’s daughter). The marriage was held at JB's house. I assume that the relationship between the two families was not totally broken at this point. It was a few months later that Noah Altizer did wrong to Mollie Whitaker.
In April of 1901 Dock got into a fight with John and Harvey Anderson at a saw mill in Laurel Creek. In the fight Harvey was badly cut with a severe wound to his right jaw penetrating to the teeth. John took several shots at Dock, none of which took effect. According to the Tazewell Republican, no arrests were made.
On May 14th 1903 T.A. Altizer was arrested and charged with running a moonshine still on Indian Creek and gave bond to appear before the commissioner on the 23rd. On the morning of the 22nd Templeton (E.T.) Rose was waylaid and killed on the right hand fork of Indian Creek on his way to a grist mill. On the afternoon of the 21st deputy U.S. Marshall Geo. Harrison went to the home of Rose and summoned him as a witness before U. S. Commissioner T. A. Gillespie, at Cedar Bluff on the 23rd, against T. A. Altizer, who is charged with illicit distilling. It is thought by the neighbors of Rose that his being a witness in this case was the reason for his death. Rose was shot twice with a shotgun. The first shot struck him under the left shoulder and while he was on his horse. After he fell from his horse he was shot a second time, then in the head. The shots were evidently of small caliber and fired at short range, as one hundred and fifty shot holes were found in this body. The man who did the shooting bad concealed himself behind a tree which stood about fifteen steps from the road. The deceased was 62 or 63 years old and a sad feature of his death is that it leaves five orphan grandchildren he was raising without any one to care for them. It is not positively known who committed the homicide.
By looking at the evidence up to this point you would say T.A. Altizer must have done the deed, but let’s look into it a little further. The Washington Times said James Whitaker was a suspect and moonshiner that Rose was going to give information about as well. The Clinch Valley News said that Dock Whitaker was a suspect because it was well known that he had made threats to Rose because of his being so meddlesome and of his unkind comments about him. Also a few weeks earlier Rose had tried to get a warrant for Dock’s arrest for fighting with his grandson. It is said that Dock had some evidence that he was working on his farm at the time of the murder.
I know I would never ever get on the wrong side of so many people (especially the Whitaker’s and Altizer’s) and their livelihoods. There are too many possible suspects to figure this one out.
Less than 2 weeks after the big shootout that happened around August 28th 1904, Dock was at Lee Caskey’s house near Hazel Green in Morgan County Kentucky and was shot by deputy constable Nelson Bishop. I am not sure why he was there, but it has been said that he may have been bootlegging his Brother Bill’s moonshine. He was shot and wounded seriously in the back and died about a month later. Nelson Bishop was arrested and lodged in jail for murder with a $1,500 bond. This is a good size bond for the time. I want to get more details on the trial but here is what I think may have happened with the info I have so far:
Deputy constable Nelson Bishop said that Dock was trying to shoot him. There was not any evidence to this defense and besides Dock was shot in the back. It is almost impossible to shoot at someone with your back facing them. The deputy probably thought he could get away with shooting a moonshiner, especially one from out of state.
Well just so happens that Dock’s uncle (Alex Whiteaker) was a judge in Morgan County and was not going to allow his nephew’s murderer to get off so easy. This trial dragged on and on. It probably was because the statists were trying to protect one of their own.
The Hazel Green News said in July of 1905 that the trial was underway and it looked like Nelson would come clear. Well 3 years later in June of 1908 he was convicted to a term of 2 years for voluntary manslaughter. The State always likes to get the last word so after Nelson served 9 months Governor Wilson pardoned him around April fools day of 1909.