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The Wilson-Potter Feud

The Wilson-Potter Feud is more widely known in and around Ashe County than the Hatfields and McCoys. Following is the context of a letter written by W.A. Wilson, posted at 2205 Ashe County, Durham, NC February 27 1941 and addressed to his brother, R.B. Wilson at Creston, NC.

Mary Wilson Heath was one of the daughters of John and Sarah Boone Wilson and with her husband moved from near Lexington, NC to what is now Johnson County, TN. They settled on Forge Creek, not far from the Ashe County, NC boundary. The place is now known as Heaths' School House. This was not far from where her sister, Mrs. McBride, her brothers, John, Alexander, and Hiram lived, and still nearer to where her nephew, Lemuel, a son of Isaac Wilson, Sr., lived. I do not know the order of their ages, but she may have been older than Mrs. McBride.

It happened that a daughter of hers married Andy Potter, which marriage was bitterly opposed by Mrs. and Mr. Heath and their disappointment was so great that they left Tennessee and moved to Missouri. The family breach was complete. The numerous Wilsons seem to have had little association with Mrs. Potter. She was a first cousin of my father, Isaac Wilson, son of Hiram Wilson. Her home was six or seven miles from my mother's home but I never heard of my mother having paid her a visit.

I have no record further of the Heath family after they went to Missouri, but due to the Civil War and the hate it stirred up, the Andy Potter family turned against the Wilson family resulting in the killing of my father Lieutenant Isaac Wilson, the wounding of "Big" Isaac Wilson, who had married a sister of my father. Her name was Lucretia. Isaac's brother Alexander, was imprisoned at Mountain City, had a military trial, was sentenced to be hanged, but the night before the date set for the hanging he was released. It was said his sister, Malinda Thomas paid money to the guards resulting in his release.

The Wilsons I have mentioned and most of the other members of the family who went from Lexington to the Western part of the state were loyal Confederates and held out to the end, but the occupation of Tennessee by the Federal Army gave the slackers, who called themselves "scouters" an opportunity to secure arms and uniforms and while they never joined the Union forces they organized themselves and terrorized the region for miles. The Home Guard on the North Carolina side was strengthened and became very active. They conscripted all they could arrest and when they attempted to resist, were shot. A band of the Home Guard set out to arrest some of the Potters and Arnolds and clashed with a number of "Bushwackers" one of their number, Jack Potter was killed. He was a son of Andy Potter who had married Mrs Levi Wilson Heath's daughter. At that time three of Lemuel Wilson's sons were members of the Home Guard: Marion Wilson, Alexander Wilson and "Big" Ike Wilson. The news reached Andy Potter that the Wilsons had shot his son and he and his sons, Rube and young Andy, began plotting revenge. It happened that my father, Lt. Isaac Wilson was home from the Army on furlough for only a few days. The Potters thought that my father was responsible for Jack's death. About this time, on Roans Creek, near the mouth of Forge Creek, this same desperate band had arrested Sam McQueen and while marching him up Forge Creek, and while he was walking across a foot bridge over the creek, they shot him in the back and he fell dead into the stream. A day or two later Will Waugh was killed at Shouns and Mr. Wagner, who married a daughter of David Worth at Creston in Ashe County, was killed in Mountain City. It was then called Taylorsville. My mother was alarmed over my father's safety and urged him to cut short his furlough thinking he would be safer in the service than at home.

At this time a singular incident occurred. Mrs. Sarah Heath Potter, the daughter of Mrs ? Wilson Heath, a first cousin of my father, sent him a message by Tom Stout that she had heard he would soon be going back to the army and that she was anxious to see him once more before he went away. He was preparing to go but my mother urged him not to do so, telling him that they were laying a trap for him and would be sure to kill him, just as they had killed Waug and McQueen. My father decided to return to his post in the Army but said he would plow a field of corn early next morning and told all the elder children to arise early so as to hoe after his plough. He went to his blacksmith shop early the next morning and sharpened his plow and as soon as his breakfast was over, followed by my sisters Frankie and Jane, he went to the field. My oldest sister Emma was to go after she had milked the cows and several of the neighbors were to help with the hoeing. It was not long after sunrise when he reached the field and began plowing. He had not ploughed many rows of the corn when he was fired on from the thick woods adjoining the field. Just after turning and starting from the end he was shot in the back, two shots almost at the same instant, took affect. He tried to hold the horse which started running and even after falling was dragged for some distance. The horse ran for the house or barn and came to a gate at the bottom of the field. My grandfather, Jesse Greer, had refuged from his home near Trade, Tennessee and was living in one of my father's houses. He and his family realized what had happened. They could hear my sisters screaming and calling out that father had been killed. The place where he had fallen was a steep hillside and my grandfather hitched another horse to a sled and put my wounded father on it and took him to his home. My mother's sister, Polly Greer Jones, riding the horse my father had been plowing, ran him to the Alfred Sutherland home, and on the way told my mother, father had been killed. As she crossed the river from our home into the highway, she met Lizzie Stout and Peggy Potter. The Stout woman lived only a few hundred yards on the highway down-stream. My aunt told them that Lt. Isaac Wilson had been killed and the Stout woman let out a terrible scream which my aunt thought expressed sorrow, but Mrs. Potter, who was a real friend of our family, afterwards said Lizzie Stout had uttered "Thank God" in a subdued tone. My aunt soon informed Alfred Sutherland and his family of the deed and two of the Sutherland boys, "Dock" and one other, went as rapidly as they could in the direction of Creston. Nathan Lewis lived in the vicinity of Ashland and Wiley Thomas, Jack Baker, and others were informed and before night they had come to our home. Alfred Thomas's family, as his wife, Malinda was a daughter of Lemuel Wilson, a first cousin of my father, were asked to let my grandfather, Hiram Wilson, know that my father had been killed and Riley Thomas carried the sad news. It was almost dark before my grandfather reached our home.

When my father was carried to the house and placed on a cot which had been moved to the middle of the room, he was still alive but not able to speak. I was youngest of seven children but as I remember, I even could see he was dying. My grandfather Greer was adept in caring for the sick and when my mother urged sending for Dr. Houston who lived at Shouns in Tennessee, he said it would avail nothing for my father could live only a few minutes. I think he lived less than an hour after he was laid out on the couch. I remember many of the things that took place while the corpse was being laid out. It was suggested that someone should shave him and Nathan Lewis offered to do it. Later Mr. Lewis, who was the father of Wilborn and Andy Lewis, and Mrs. James Cornett, and Mrs. Dave Osborne, moved to our community and we all remembered it and were very fond of him.

The Waugh and McQueen murders and the attempt to hang the elderly Landrine Eggers had convinced the people that something had to be done to check the outrages.

Some of my father's best friends accompanied my grandfather from Watauga and among them was Gill Norris. He was the first to act. Listening to the conversation of the women and children, he heard them accusing Tom Stout, our nearest neighbor, of being a scout for those who had killed my father. Neither Stout nor any member of his family had put in an appearance at our home the whole day, and taking Joe McQuire and Butler McBride, he went to Stout's house and arrested him. He was guarded at my grandfather Jesse Greer's house during the night and taken to our home and kept under strict guard all day while preparations were being made for father's burial, which took place the day following his murder.

John Baker, Wiley Thomas, and Dan Sheppard were determined men and decided to go into action at once. It was learned from a number of sources that old Andy Potter, Rube Potter, his oldest son and young Andy Potter had done the shooting. Amanda Snider, daughter of Adam Snider, who later became the wife of John Potter, a brave Confederate soldier, said she had seen Silvers Arnold guiding the Potters through the woods of their plantation late in the afternoon before the murder but that he had no gun.

It was thought that some successful raids might be made across the Tennessee line and as soon as dark. Wiley Thomas and some others and Uncle Wilborn Greer did not want to go to his old home at Trade, but told Wiley Thomas and his party that they might catch Hiram Mains at a Warren woman's house just below the Jesse Greer place. When they reached the house the door was barred and when they broke in, Wiley Thomas was attacked by Mains who was a powerful man and hurled to the floor, but while Wiley was being unmercifully beaten, he succeeded in getting hold of his pistol and fired a shot which instantly killed Mains. A Mr Dotson, who had married a daughter of widow Peggy Potter, had successfully escaped the conscription officers, fell into the hands of this raiding party and was captured. He tried to escape but was shot and killed while running away.

John Baker, Wilborn Greer and a few others who were with them watched the paths leading from Tennessee in the direction of our home all night but saw no one passing. Early the next morning while near a meadow belonging to Jehy Wilson, they saw coming up a ridge, a woman whom both Wilborn Greer and a boy named Horton Canter identified as Lizzie Stout. They hid in the tall grass and weeds, and Wil Greer, always up to mischief told his companions he was going to grab her by the leg when she came up but John Baker scolded him and they remained quite and let her pass. She frequently made sounds intended for someone whom she expected to be on the lookout for the conscript officers. All at once she turned back and they knew she had seen someone who was returning from the place where my father had been shot. They remained in hiding and soon saw Silvers Arnold climbing up the hillside. They let him come within forty steps of the path when the whole party fired and left Arnold dead. He fell just below a big wild cherry tree which has remained standing till the last few years. The stump may be there still.

Friends and members of the family of Lieut. Wilson's had come from all directions to attend the funeral and the situation was tense. Tom Stout was being closely guarded by Gill Norris, Jackson McBride and others. Jackson McBride here mentioned was a first cousin of my father, of the same age and they were much alike and had been inseparable companions from childhood. A grave was dug not far from our home and my father was the first to be buried there. The burial was over by one or two o'clock and the people began to disperse. One of the most exciting incidents was that Gill Norris made Tom Stout mount behind him and with a few other guards they all started off as fast as their horses could run. While none of the Stout family had been at the funeral, Lizzie Stout soon knew her husband, who had scouted for the Potters who had killed my father, would be hanged. They headed for Watauga by way of Trade, Tennessee and after reaching Zionville, turned to the left and followed the road along the Rich Mountain by Silverstone. Moving on some six or seven miles in the direction of Boone, they halted and hanged Tom Stout as he was thought to have done most of the planning of Lieut. Wilson's murder.

We have seen that prior to this that a certain Madron had been killed and that Bill Arnold had been wounded when a band of these bushwackers were attempting to rob the aged Landrine Eggers who was supposed to have a lot of gold. The bushwackers, thought they had been beaten off by the Home Guard, while his own family and some of his neighbors were the only defenders. Actually his daughter fired the shot that killed Madron. They were so sure that Eggers' home was strongly defended they did not try to recover Madron's body and afterwards sent a boy, Frank Grayson with a sled to haul the body back to Roans' Creek. Later, the conscription officers had tried to take Jack Potter and when he ran away was shot. Then followed the killing of Waugh at Shouns, Sam McQueen on Forge Creek and on the same and the following day, Lieut. Isaac Wilson, Hiram Mains, Dotson, Silvers Arnold and then the hanging of Tom Stout.

The Potters soon found out that my father had not been with the Home guard when Jack Potter was killed but that "Big" Ike Wilson was the one. This was Isaac Wilson, son of Lemuel Wilson who was a first cousin of my father. Big Ike had married Lucretia Wilson, a sister of Lieut. Wilson, a daughter of Hiram Wilson. Big Ike lived on the North Fork of Cove Creek at what is now called the Jasper Thomas place. An attack was made on Big Ike Wilson at his home and he was shot through the body and it was feared he would die. His wife and children placed him on a sled as the road to the Cove Creek Highway was too rough for a wagon. He was taken to George Younce's and there placed on a one-horse wagon and the decision was made to move him to the distant place of his ancestors in Davidson County near Lexington. He had a cousin, John Lemuel Wilson who lived where Jeff Wilson now lives near Tyro in Davidson County and lived in Boone till his death. His was the last house in the East End of Boone. Later John Hardin and others built east of him. I think the Methodist Church is on the Old Isaac Wilson home site.

In 1938, in company with my daughter, Mrs Haywood Smith of Farmville, NC, I visited the original Wilson settlement and was referred to John Wilson at Tyro. He has died since. He was pretty old and feeble and his daughter, Mrs. Davis, said she feared he could tell very little but he remembered the wounded refugee whose name was Isaac Wilson, and when I told him my father was Lieut. Isaac Wilson, he gave me a full account of "Big" Ike and his family. He said the wounded man was perfectly helpless when he reached his cousin's home but improved rapidly. John Wilson was the son of Henderson Wilson who was a Brother of John Lemuel so his father was first cousin of "Big" Ike Wilson. They could claim kinship and John told me, he and other children joined Nancy Wilson and Ellen Wilson, the little refugees in picking blackberries. He spoke of aunt Crissie whose real name was Lucretia.

"Big" Ike's home in Boone was not far from the famous old Daniel Boone cabin, the location of which is still marked. Ellen Wilson, as I remember, died about 1880 and Nancy was married to Tom Critcher who lived about six miles East of Boone. In 1900, when I was on leave of absence from my missionary work in Japan, I with my wife and four of our children, visited aunt Lucretia who was then living with the Tom Critchers. She was about eighty years old. Mrs Ida Finch whose mother was a Wilson and daughter of John Lemuel Wilson has in her possession a letter written to the family by aunt Lucretia Wilson on the death of her husband Isaac Wilson and mentioning the fact that she had gone to live with her daughter Mrs Critcher. This was something like twenty years after the war.

Alexander Wilson, an older brother of Isaac, was captured by the bushwackers and imprisoned in the Mountain City jail, tried and sentenced to be hanged. Landon Snider, whose sister Alex had married had become a Federal Soldier and helped him break out of jail and make his escape.

Albert Pinkney Wilson, a brother of Lucretia Wilson and an uncle of mine, lived only a few miles from the Critcher home and we visited him at the same time. He lived to be 103 years, a record, as far as I know in the Wilson family.

Note: Lucretia Wilson was a first cousin of her husband's father

Provided by Angel Graybeal

This page added 3 November 2006