February 14, 2008
The Philpot-Benge feud
Originally published December 27, 2003
Everybody knows about the Hatfields and the McCoys having a good, old-fashioned mountain feud. Big deal. Theirs wasn't shit.
The Philpot-Benge feud lasted longer and killed a lot more people than the Hatfields and McCoys even thought about. It started at a house of ill repute, where some men were drinking moonshine and playing poker after sporting with some loose wimmen. Someone accused Newton Benge of cheating and pulled out a pistol. He shot Newt right between the eyes. Newt pulled out a pistol of his own and killed the man dead.
As my 91 year-old grandmother tells the story, Newt was walking around the sporting house wiping brains off the back of his head and saying, "We've got to get 'em, boys." As Mommie says, "He lived, with a bullet right through his head, until the moonshine wore off."
A lot of shooting and killing ensued thereafter. My mama still can remember men on horseback riding by the house and firing rifles through the walls when she was a little girl. Everybody ducked behind the cast-iron stove and hugged the floor when that happened. The first paying job my grandfather had as a woodworker was to build a coffin for somebody killed in the feud. That man was shot outside a school-house, and nobody could get to the body for days because of the snipers. He died in the summer, and the heat took a toll. His body swelled a bit.
"I had to knock the side off the coffin and add some more wood before we could fit him in there," my grandfather once told me.
One of the Philpots got arrested and sent to "the pen" for some crime, and a Benge got arrested ON PURPOSE, just so he could go to prison and kill the man. More than 100 people were killed in that feud before it finally ended.
It's a fascinating story. I've met Clyde Benge, who is Newts's son, and my mother's cousin. I've heard recollections about that fight all of my life. And as it all wrung out in the end, I am kin to both the Philpots and the Benges.
Romeo and Juliet, all over again.
All content © Rob Smith