The Kentucky Crawdad War
During the Reconstruction era, which Southern apologists recall as horribly oppressive and objective historians describe as sort of a light spanking, vendetta violence swept across the more hillbilly sections of America. And that’s saying something because everything was way more hillbilly back then. You could die of cholera and shit.
Gateswood was a small town somewhere in Eastern Kentucky. Some towns are coal towns and some towns are lumber towns but Gateswood was a crawdad town. By that, I mean, they raised creek trash crustaceans in frontier fisheries and occasionally sacrificed the odd Yankee to the Crawdad King.
The two leading families of Gateswood were the Clayfields and the Marcums. They were technically interrelated but neither brood counted their mutual ancestor because he was one-quarter French and had licked both sides at the Battle of Blue Licks.
Later, during the Civil War, the Clayfields fought for the South because they were super goddamn racist, while the Marcums fought for the North because they were slightly less horribly racist.
Their feud began like most feuds begin — at a volleyball tournament. But this was an old-timey volleyball tournament, so they didn’t play with a volleyball, they played with a severed cat’s head.
The Marcums accused the Clayfields of cheating, mostly because the cat head seemed more deflated than usual, but also because Eliza Clayfield jumped surprisingly high for a woman in a jean dress.
A vicious brawl broke out. Many punches were thrown (and at least one fiddler). Then a shot was fired. Silas Clayfield, known centaur cosplayer and part-time railroad spike, became the first casualty of the feud.
Hattie Marcum had pulled the trigger. He was the eldest son of Cranky Clyde Marcum, he ran the General Grant vs. Lee Goods Store, and he had killed six southern horses during the war. Mostly on purpose.
Hattie Marcum was arrested for the murder of Silas Clayfield but he was soon released on bail. That happened a lot back then. That happens a lot today. That happens to be a core component of our justice system.
This did not sit well with Pete E. Clayfield. Pete E. had been a Confederate guerrilla fighter during the war (much like Jesse James but more dyslexic), he owned a pet crawdad named Jefferson Davis, and Hattie Marcum had killed his first cousin. Plus drank his root beer.
Gateswood was a small town in a former border state so perhaps it was inevitable that these two gentlemen would eventually run into each other at, what was the height of popular entertainment, a minstrel show.
Pete E. Clayfield sat quietly, apparently unnoticed, behind Hattie Marcum throughout the entire performance of Something Racist, I’m Sure. He later claimed the reason he did not take revenge instantly was that he loved both the theater and the blackface.
In due time, however, while the there’s-not-even-an-excuse-for-it-if-they-were-Jewish performers took their final bows, Pete E. Clayfield shot Hattie Marcum in the back of the head.
“Talk about a round of applause,” ad-libbed one of the minstrels, in a horrible misreading of the mood of the room. He was run out of town shortly thereafter, half for the gaff and half for the original martyr making incident.
Pete E. Clayfield was arrested for the murder of Hattie Marcum, but the authorities were worried about mob violence and so they sent him to jail in Mt. Sterling. Just like my uncle Darren.
However, unlike Hattie Marcum or my uncle Darren, Pete E. Clayfield actually did go to trial. A jury of his peers not only acquitted him of the murder of Hattie Marcum, they also gave him a key to the city. The key was in the shape of a crawdad, of course.
A series of reprisal killings quickly unfolded, like a child playing Texas hold ’em who just figured out how to cheat:
Less than a week later, Cranky Clyde Marcum stabbed Pete E. Clayfield with a whittling knife.
Two days after that, Wendell Clayfield, Jr. bashed Cranky Clyde Marcum with a clawhammer.
A fortnight passed before Ollie Marcum fatally confused Wendell Clayfield, Jr. with bad directions.
Upon discovering his brother’s pincer-stripped corpse, George Clayfield tied Ollie Marcum to the railroad tracks.
Neigh simultaneously, Mad Matt Marcum galloped over George Clayfield on his faithful steed Trigger Warning.
As soon as highly improbable circumstances allowed, Ed Clayfield dropped a piano on Mad Matt Marcum.
On the eve of the next full moon, while thirteen bobcats howled, Hiram Marcum ritually sacrificed Ed Clayfield.
And then, the next time he went to town to get a pack of cigarettes or whatever, Canada Clayfield rather unoriginally shot Hiram Marcum.
By this point in time, there were more Clayfields left than Marcums because the Marcums actually pulled out sometimes.
One of the few remaining Marcums was Daniel Boone Marcum. He was a lawyer with aspirations of becoming a playwright* and he felt that the cycle of violence had gone too far, as well as too fast, and without any kind of helmet on its head. Or even knee pads.
*D.B. Marcum’s unpublished work includes A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Revival and Death of a Slave Salesman.
After enlisting the support of the leading neutral citizens of Gateswood, Daniel Boone Marcum went to the state capital to beseech Governor Dudley Dumplins for assistance. However, the governor was too preoccupied with his own sexting scandal to help them, apart from offering to send everyone involved an etching of his schlong.
The citizenry of Gateswood realized they would have to take the law into their own hands, but their hands were all scaredy cat, so first they hired an outside contractor to be their own violent asshole.
Lefty Floghard, infamous gunfighter and notary public, was just the violent asshole they could afford. He once evaded an entire cavalry regiment by dressing a scarecrow in an officer’s uniform and pretending to fellate it. And he already had a bar showdown lined up in Lawrence County so he thought he might make a little tour of it.
On July 21st, 1885, a posse lead by Daniel Boone Marcum and Lefty Floghard surrounded the Clayfield Crawdad Fishery. The Clayfields refused to surrender. Patriarch Jeremiah Clayfield reputedly said, “Has anyone seen my bifocals?”
Ironically, they were on his head the entire time, at least until a vigilante’s stray bullet blew it off.
A real Sam Peckinpah-style gun battle ensued, minus the slow motion or the somewhat sympathetic characters. Many men died, as well as one mule and three innocent window panes. The Clayfields received the brunt of it.
Their crawdads are said to have feasted on their flesh.
The final fatality in the feud was sixteen-year-old Ezra Clayfield. He was shot while surrendering, but a jury later acquitted the man who shot him because Ezra happened to be wearing a hoodie that day. His dying words were, “I do believe I’ve tipped my last cow, ma.”
The feud was over. Like this article almost is.
Six months later, Lefty Floghard mysterious vanished while crossing the Ohio River on a whiskey barrel.
A year and a half after that, Governor Dudley Dumplins narrowly lost re-election due to what he claimed was Russian interference.
Then, as the nineteenth century turned ninety and rotted out its last tooth, Daniel Boone Marcum died when he was kicked in the head by a raccoon.
Gateswood is a ghost town today. But that is mostly because of the radioactive meteor that landed there in the 1950s and mutated the crawdads to gargantuan proportions. They were only defeated when the Crawdad King pulled an abrupt heel-face turn and tore off their pincers. He ate several Yankees, as well.