William S. Wright
The Noah Reynolds and William S. Wright Feud
Noah Reynolds, was the oldest son of William Henry and Matilda (Baker) Reynolds.
He married Mary Jane, a daughter of Stephen Sergent.
William S. Wright was born July 9, 1855 in Scott County, Virginia, a son of Sidney Wright.
William S. Wright married April 12, 1872 Lettishia "Lettie" Bates.
Noah Reynolds was a brick mason. William S. Wright and his son-in-law, James Johnson, were involved in the
lumber business. Wright bought a farm at the mouth of Big Branch and Reynolds set up housekeeping farther up
the hollow. Trouble came when the Wright's began cutting timber just below the Reynolds's farm. It was the
ownership of a poplar tree that brought about the first of their many troubles.
The tree in question stood near the land line between the two farms. Wright sent word for Reynolds to come down
where he was working and asked if claimed the poplar tree. Reynolds said it was not his, but his father owned it
and Wright would have to settle with him.
William S. Wright told Reynolds, "So far I don't think there is much man in you, anyway."
Noah answered, "I am smaller than you in size, but more man than you."
William S. held a large knife in his hands as he walked toward Noah, saying, "You are a liar and I can whip you in
Reynolds backed off, jumped the fence and went back up the road. Later Reynolds began cutting some rail timber
near the line between their land. Wright split the timber into rails and laid them into his fence. Noah went to see
William S., and asked him why he had taken his timber. Wright denied taking it.
Noah said, "I'll see to that. I'll just law you. I didn't think you would steal. I thought you hired someone and that they
had gotten them by mistake."
Wright replied, "Go on home. I'll be up some of these days and settle with you about it."
"No," Noah said, "if we settle it, it will be today. We'll be up this evening and we will settle."
When Wright came to see him that evening, Reynolds went out to meet him, but dropped a small gun into his side
coat pocket as protection. But Wright agreed it was Reynolds timber and paid him for it. He said he had hired one of
the Potters who had made the mistake of thinking it was his.
When Wright gave him the money, he said, "You are all the time giving me trouble. I guess I had as well give you a
good whipping, you little sorry thing. And then you will let me alone."
Wright came at Reynolds but Noah stepped back and drew his pistol, pointing it at Wright. Since Reynolds now had
the advantage, Wright put up his hands and said, "Don't shoot me, I'll not hurt you."
The advantage quickly changed hands as George Vance, a friend of Wright, stepped out from a clump of bushes
holding a revolver. Reynolds jumped behind a poplar stump and said, "You two rascals leave this place or I will kill
They left, but as they did Reynolds heard Wright tell Vance, "That little devil would have killed me if you had not
Later, as Reynolds was passing the Wright home, William S. stopped him to say he had been wrong. The situation
between the families cooled for a while. For a time it appeared the trouble might be at an end.
In the fall of 1897, William S. Wright needed some brick work done and asked the Reynolds if he could hire them to
do the work for him. Noah agreed and set up his brick kiln. Reynolds made brick and built a chimney for Wright
then went to the lower end of the county to work. When he returned, his brick kiln had been hauled away and he
accused Wright of taking it. He went to Wright, asking what he had done with his brick. Wright stepped into his house
and brought out a Winchester rifle. He invited Reynolds to get up the road and Reynolds accepted the invitation.
Reynolds went to Whitesburg and took a warrant to recover his brick. He thought it would be an open and close case,
so he made no special preparations for the proceedings. He merely waited for court to convene. When the case came
to court, Wright took the stand to swear he had bought the brick from Noah. Noah lost his whole brick kiln.
Later that same year Reynolds accused Wright, his wife and their boys of killing his geese and hogs. A few days
later the Reynolds brothers were repairing fences when Noah's son came to tell them Wright was killing his big sow.
Noah Reynolds and his brother John took their guns and went to Wrights. They found William S. Wright's sons, Joseph and
Johnny, dodging his hog with dogs. John Reynolds took aim and killed three of Wright's dogs.
Another day Noah Reynolds was passing William S. Wright's and had to go through a gate just in front of Wright's
house. Wright's oldest son, Tilden, grabbed Noah's gun, a 73 model 44 Winchester rifle. They began to struggle,
with Reynolds first having Wright down and then Tilden being on top of Noah. Wright managed to wrench the gun
from Reynolds. Noah made one last desperate effort to retrieve his rifle and almost succeeded, getting enough
control of the gun to turn the muzzle toward Wright. The gun fired and the bullet grazed the side of Tilden
Wright's head. Jim Bates, a nephew of William S. was in Wright's yard. He grabbed the gun as both men went down
to the ground in a heap. Bates made an attempt to use the gun and Noah made a run for his life. He was sure he
had killed Tilden Wright, but Tilden was only slightly wounded.
Soon after Wright placed a gate across the road coming out of the hollow. This road had been the passageway out
of the hollow for many years and there was no other way to get to or from the Reynolds farm. When Wright refused to
take down the gate, Reynolds appealed to the court to prohibit Wright from fastening them up. The court gave
Reynolds a right of way through his land, but allowed Wright to keep the gate across the road.
In April of 1898 as Noah was getting his fields ready to plant corn, William S. Wright's boys and Jim Bates were
plowing an adjoining field. Noah was standing at his door when Bates called out, "What are you going to do this
Noah realized the name was in reference to the feudist Clabe Jones, but decided to ignore the insult, "I'm going to
plow, but I don't know what it is to you."
Bates said, "You will see what it is to me. You won't plow this evening. I'll see to that."
Noah had bought a .44 caliber revolver and seeing trouble was brewing, went home to get it. He also made a stop by
his mother's house and had his brother John H. Reynolds to come and help him plow. When they brought their teams
to the field, Noah Reynolds had buckled on his pistol and John Reynolds carried a pistol in his pocket. After several
rounds were plowed, the Reynolds brothers stopped to rest at the fence that separated the two fields. Nothing was
said between them until the Wrights took the opportunity to take their rest on the other side of the same fence.
Jim Bates walked over to the fence, "Clabe, what are you going to do with that big pistol? You won't use it. I guess I
had better just come over and take it and knock your damned brains out with it."
Bates had gotten to the top of the fence. Reynolds was facing him as he pulled out his pistol. "Me and my pistol is
tending to our own business and you had better tend to yours. Don't you get inside of my field. If you do, I'll shoot
Bates had two rocks in his hands as he jumped the fence into Reynold's field. Noah fired his pistol as he straightened
Bates had just cleared the fence when Reynolds' bullet hit him in his left shoulder. Blood spurted from the wound as
he fell. Reynolds turned, expecting to shoot William S. Wright's son, Tilden, but Wright put up his hands and yelled,
"Don't shoot me. We haven't got any guns."
By this time Bates, taking a new notion, had jumped back over the fence. William S. and Lettie Wright had heard the
gun shot and came to see what had happened. Wright asked if anyone was hurt and told Reynolds he shouldn't be
bothered by them anymore. Oddly enough, the Wrights filed no warrants against Reynolds for shooting Bates.
Noah's brother, John Reynolds, had to pass the Wright house on his way to school. As he returned one evening,
William Wright, Jr., a son of William S., met him on the road. Wright said, "Hold up. I'm going to whip you!"
Wright was holding rocks in his hands and he called Reynolds an ugly name. John said, "William, if you all don't let
us alone some of you will get killed."
Wright made a dash for him, but Reynolds drew his pistol and fired, glancing a shot off Wright's head. John Reynolds
went home, but Wright went to the justice of the peace, where he procured a warrant for John. John gave himself up
to the law, a trial date was set, witnesses were summoned, but Wright didn't appear. John waived his trial to court,
awaiting the decision of the grand jury.
Noah Reynolds was sick in bed with mumps and couldn't go to court with John, but his brother William and mother
went. As they were returning home, they were met by Wright and about fifteen men at Millstone Gap. On seeing the
gang, John Reynolds left the road and took shelter behind a large oak tree. Sam Wright, a relative of William S., was
in the front ranks. When Wright saw Reynolds position behind the tree he called out, "Don't shoot. We only want to
talk to you."
Reynolds said, "I have no talk for you. If you don't mean to hurt me go on and let me alone."
The Wright men rode on.
When court came up, the grand jury investigating Johns' case found no charge against him. John Reynolds was
released. In the winter of 1899 Noah went to his barn to discover his mule was missing. He went to his brothers,
John and William, to assist him in locating the mule. They went to William S. Wrights' house, and as they had
surmised the mule was found hitched in the yard. After a consultation, the Reynolds boys decided to let their brother
William get the mule since he had never had a particular plight with them. There was no one insight, so Noah started
to go in and get the mule. But Lettie Wright appeared, saying, "Don't you come into my yard. I don't allow dogs in my
yard. I'll turn it out to you, but don't you come in my yard."
She brought the mule to the gate. Noah caught the mule and put his bridle on. Suddenly Tilden Wright stepped out
from behind a shop house holding a gun and it was pointed directly at Noah. But John Reynolds had leveled his gun
at the same time. Believing they were at a stalemate, William Reynolds took the mule. But then Jim Bates came out
from behind the house with a shot gun in his hands. The Reynolds boys began to back over a bank into the road.
The Wright's followed the Reynolds with guns presented. All guns were cocked and leveled but all parties were afraid
to shoot for fear it would cause the others to fire and be killed. They continued to back up the road until they were
nearing a bank which would have given Noah some advantage. Unfortunately there was a cow laying in the road. The
cow was getting up and her head came between the two forces. Wright chose that instant to shoot, putting forty
buckshot in her head. Noah went to the ground, using the cow as a breastworks, and he fired three shots in quick
succession. At the same time John Reynolds was shooting at Jim Bates. Wright and Bates ran behind a bank for
safety and the Reynolds went on up the road to their home. Noah took aim and fired, shooting William S. Wright
through the nose. When William S. fell to the ground, the shooting ceased.
The noise of the guns had excited Noah's horse and it began jumping back and forth. William Wright had been
holding the bridle but when he fell he let loose of the bridle and the horse took off running at full speed. A short
distance down the road, some ivy bushes shook and Noah fired at them. A mule reared and fell. He stopped at the
foot of the hill to examine his horse, finding two bullets had hit his saddle, then made his way to his way to Abraham
Potter's where he knew his brother John and other of his family were. They began to search for bullet holes and
found several in his overcoat.
Morton Potter asked, "What has become of your mustache?"
Noah said, "I lost it on the ridge, below Wiley Webb's."
They decided a raid on the Widow Lettie Wright's house was called for. Noah added, "We'll make it damned hot for
them between now and this time tomorrow!"
Noah and John assembled a band of men and located themselves on a ridge, watching the Wright house until about
nine the next morning. John Reynolds looked down to the small meadow below and said, "Do you see those three
cows standing down there? Let's fire at them and that will start it."
They fired and the three cows fell dead, but instantly bullets began flying past their heads. For the next hour the
Reynolds put bullets through doors and windows of the house. They went to their mothers home for dinner, then
returned in the evening to fire a few more rounds into the Wright home.
January 30, 1900, Noah Reynolds and his brother John started to where Morgan T. Reynolds was teaching school.
They had decided to borrow money from him to leave the country. When they came to Boone Creek, they met
William S. Wright riding toward them. There was a curve in the road so the men did not see each other at first. Noah
later said William S. was riding toward him pretty fast and drawing his 45 Colts. Noah raised his Winchester and John
Reynolds did the same. With both men firing at the same time, Wright reeled and fell from his horse. William S.
Wright was dead and the Reynolds gave themselves up to the authorities.
The jury was impaneled when the regular term of Bell County Court came up. Noah's trial lasted fourteen days and
the jury returned a verdict of guilty, giving him a life sentence. On April 2, 1902, Noah Reynolds began his sentence.
But on January 1, 1909, he was pardoned by Governor Beckham.
William S. Wright's widow, Lettie, died May 12, 1934. She was buried beside her husband at Thornton, Letcher
Noah Reynolds moved to Knott County, Kentucky, where he bought a farm on Little Betty Troublesome Creek.
In 1914 he joined the Regular Baptist Church and soon after was authorized to preach. Tilden Wright, son of William
S. and Lettie (Bates) Wright joined the Thornton Regular Baptist Church on the same day as Noah Reynolds. He was
also authorized to preach. Both being of the Indian Bottom Association and of the same faith and order, their
churches had fellowship with each other. The two men often met and preached together.
John Reynolds was pardoned some time earlier than Noah for the killing of William Wright, Jr. He returned home from
prison and went for a while to live in Virginia. He married Carrie, a daughter of Philmore Addington and they moved to
Virginia. He was appointed a prohibition agent for the eastern part of Kentucky. On a moonshiner raid in Johnson
County, he came in contact with a band of the McKenzie's, headed by Joseph Patton McKenzie. John Reynolds was
killed August 21, 1921. Six members of the McKenzie family served life terms for his murder.
It may be interesting to note that two of Noah Reynolds's sister's married into the Wright family. Martha Jane married
Samuel J. Wright, September 4, 1880. Sam was the son of Joel E. and Eliza (Bates) Wright. Mary Chaney married
John P. Wright, December 1890. John P. was the son of "Devil John" Wright.
material on this website is copyrighted © 2001 by Nancy Wright Bays, Patty May
Brashear and Willard Mack Wright.
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