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The Underwood-Stamper Feud
by Laverne Galeener-Moore

 

George Washington UNDERWOOD.

The one who was in a heap of trouble in and near Carter Co., KY was b. ca 1814, probably in either Nicholas Co., VA (now WV) or in Greenbrier Co., VA (now WV). He was the son of James Underwood.

"George W. Underwood moved to Carter Co., KY, probably from Nicholas Co., VA (now WV), just about the time that Carter County was formed from Greenup County. George's older brother, Willis, had been in Greenup County since at least 1823 and may have encouraged other family members to make the move from VA. George's other two known brothers would be making the area their home at about the same time as George."

Fort Underwood

"About 1842, George built what was in that time considered to be a rather impressive home, later called "Fort Underwood" by the local residents and still standing today. One of the top logs, visible in the rear of the home, is a 12-inch thick, one piece 49-foot long poplar. This would seem to indicate that, at the time the home was built, the area may have been covered by a dense forest of very large, sturdy trees.

Today, the old home is nearly invisible from Dry Branch Road, hiding in a thick grove of paw-paws, other trees and vegetation. The logs were roughly squared and heavily chinked with local shale rocks and mud. At a much later date, sometime before the present owner, Dr. Charles J. Pelfrey's parents purchased it, the outside was covered with horizontal clapboard, which is presently falling off, exposing the old logs and chinking underneath. Originally the building was designed to provide one fairly large room on each side of a central "dog trot", with a fireplace on each end of the building and an additional central fireplace, quite an impressive structure for its time period and place."

"A description of "Old George", as he came to be called, is provided by Harold Wilson Coates, who says he was 'more than 6 feet in height, raw boned, square shouldered, deep chested, with keen, clear and sometimes fierce blue eyes, a ready tongue and simple but polite address, he was a man who had many friends though he was inclined to be a bully and indulge in skull fights when election times rolled around.' Coates claims that in the early days "Fort Underwood" was a welcome stop-over and resting place for weary travelers, including many prominent men of the time, who were offered Old Virginia hospitality by its gregarious owner."

"It is difficult, from this distance in time, to say when the troubles, which later escalated into what became known as 'The Underwood War', began. Coates and Dr. Pelfrey seem inclined to blame the Civil War for Old George's transformation from a peace-loving, back-slapping, happy host sort of fellow into a wild outlaw who inspired fear in folks within a wide area of eastern Kentucky, where citizens, on more than one occasion, had to call on the Governor for help with the 'Underwood Gang'."

"This compiler believes, based upon what she has found in the county records, that while the Civil War may have exacerbated the Underwood problems, they began before that historic event. Dr. Pelfrey states that, "Before the Civil War, George Underwood and his family lived at peace in their neighborhood." Yet Carter Co., KY Circuit Court records contain a Nov 1846 item, 'Commonwealth vs George and Elbertson (Elverton) Underwood.'

Said item was 'A True Bill For Force Riot.' In Nov 1847 there was an indictment against George and James Underwood and some of their friends and relatives. In May 1848 Old George must have convinced a Carter County jury that whatever he did, he didn't do. Among other charges during this time period (all pre-Civil War) was one in May 1850 against 'good old peaceful' George for a stabbing, but because no one appeared against him, he walked out of the courthouse, probably with a smile on his lips and perhaps sharpening his knife for the next encounter."

"The Underwood women proved just as 'peaceful' during this time period as their male family members. One of George's sisters, Lucretia, had to cool her heels in jail back in Nicholas Co., VA (now WV) for running amok in church, a charge she would later beat with a more friendly jury in an appeal trial. George's brother, Stephen, out on bail from a case pending in the same Virginia county, seems to have rather quickly decided to make Kentucky his new home. Furthermore, there was another Nicholas County indictment, this one against Alamander Underwood for apparently trying to liven up a church assembly a little more than the law considered necessary (which seemed to be a favorite family pasttime), a charge which prompted yet another Underwood to hastily depart Virginia for Carter Co., Kentucky."

"By about 1851 some of the Underwoods had taken up legal killing, by aiming mostly at wild cats, which undertaking paid a bounty of $1 per cat. Unfortunately, in May 1854 Stephen had to post bail for using his knife on something other than a wild cat, but a sympathetic jury, which seems to have included some distant kin, brough in a 'not gilty' verdict and Stephen subsequently sheathed his knife, apparently for good, and shortly afterward began a very long career of suing folks.

By 1859, with the Underwoods still pot-shotting at a few stray wild cats, there were also more indictments for other, non-social behavior, including a trial by jury for Old George, two of his sons, Alfred and David, his first-cousin Gideon Underwood and one of the HAM kinfolk, in which the jury, this time not so friendly, found them 'gilty'."

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