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Tacoma, Washington, United States

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Family Feud

Feuds are a part of the history and present in the Ozarks

The feud between the Hatfields and the McCoys is well known, but not unique.  Families in the Appalachian and Ozark Mountains have found things to disagree over and take to feuding in one form or another.  The book and movie "Winter's Bone" is a recent pop culture look at a violent feud, not over moonshine, but over methamphetamine which has replaced moonshining as a cottage industry in the Ozarks with far more devastating results.  Fortunately our family feud never evolved to anything like the Hatfields and the McCoys, but hard feelings lasted until all the principles were gone from this world.

I mentioned earlier that feuds have started over less than that old dog Hoover.  That is true.  These days a lot of people think that hill country feuds are just fables to sing about, like the Hatfields and the McCoys.  They are not fables.  We had a pretty good feud going right there around Bona in the early thirties.  As a matter of fact, because of the criss-crossing of families, we were related to both sides of the local feud.

That North Morgan township feud was between the Tygarts and the Asbells.  Coy Tygart had married my father’s sister Norma so he was my uncle and their children, two boys and three girls, were my cousins.  The oldest was Eldon, then there was Lee, Edna May, James Lowell (the same age as Richard), and Imogene who was a little younger than me.

On the other side of the feud was Henry Asbell.  Henry’s mother, Aunt Lizzie, was a sister of my grandmother, Josie Stanley (nee Blankenship) so that made Henry and Maud Asbell’s kids our first cousins once removed.  Evelyn Asbell was about Dick’s age and their son Gene was a year younger than me.

We stayed just about completely clear of the feud and as neutral as we could, although I’d reckon we favored the Tygarts a bit since they were closer relations than the Asbells.  Coy and Norma Tygart lived on the Frieze old home place where I had been born.  Henry and Maud Asbell lived on the next farm to the west just across a small valley and creek.  The two farms shared a fence line.

Coy Tygart was a proud and stubborn man.  Apparently he was a pretty good farmer as the Tygarts always had clothes a little better than some folks in those Depression days and a fairly good Model T Ford to drive to town.  I found out in later years that, actually, my father harbored a grudge against Coy because of the way he treated my Aunt Norma—keeping her in the kitchen most of the time, hardly ever letting her talk, and Coy practically never took her to town with him, or any of the girls either.

Coy Tygart was to outlive Norma.  He lived to be 92 years old and spent his last years in a little house in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  He was a tough old bird (like most Ozark men), lived by himself, and made a garden every spring right up to the time he died.  One morning in about 1985, James Lowell’s wife tried to call Uncle Coy and there was no answer.  She went to check on him and found him sitting upright in his chair at the dining table, but he was stone cold dead.

My father was then nearly 90, had been given up for being terminal a couple of times, and was pretty frail.  When I told him the news about Uncle Coy and how he died, Dad sat with his hands folded on his cane, thought about it, then simply said, “Just like Coy Tygart.  Too damn stubborn to lay down!”

To get back to that feud, Henry Asbell was quite a bit different from Coy Tygart.  Coy was a tall commanding figure.  Henry was a short little fellow with sometimes a weasely look about him.  He had the reputation for being a natural born thief and, according to some of the things my father told me in later years, the reputation was well-earned.  Henry was quite a woodsman and was always out hunting possum, skunks, raccoons for their hides.  He was not much of a farmer and I believe lived more by his wits than the sweat of his brow.

Henry Asbell also made moonshine both before and after Prohibition and used to keep some bottles of it in a gunny sack in the spring down the bluff below their house.  I know that because more than once we boys swiped a bottle or two to see what it was like.  I did not care much for it as it tasted bitter to me.

I also know from experience that Henry was a sneaky devil.  He could go through the woods in the night without making a sound.  One black night when we had gotten a little older, Richard and I were out possum hunting deep in the woods, quite a way form Henry’s house.  We thought we were pretty good at not making noise and were moving along quietly when Dick saw a shadow move and turned on the flashlight.  There stood old Henry grinning at us.  He just waved and vanished silently into the brush.

Well, I seem to keep getting off the subject of the feud.  I have never been too clear on exactly how the Tygart/Asbell feud got started, but it had to do with the fence line between the two farms.  One or the other of them was feeding turkeys at one time in a field near the fence and the other one’s pigs would get through the fence and eat shelled corn left for the turkeys.  Then a pig disappeared and nasty things started to happen.  I am fairly sure that Coy accused Henry of stealing a pig.

It never quite escalated into a shooting feud, thank goodness, and all in all it was really sort of funny, but they sure did some mean things to one another.  One night my father was in Greenfield with Coy Tygart and I reckon they had been drinking some.  It seems Coy spotted Henry Asbell’s Model T sitting on a street near the square, pulled out his pocket knife, and slashed a couple of Henry’s tires.  Henry saw them and got hold of the sheriff.  I do not know the details, but believe they may have spent a night in jail.

Even though my father had no part in slashing the tires, he was with Coy and that nearly drew us into the feud.  One night a trammel net (for catfish) that belonged to Dad disappeared.  He was pretty sure old Henry had snaffled it, but being slow to anger and a peaceable man, Dad did not accuse Henry.  Instead, that Saturday afternoon Dad was at the store in Bona and he told some people that were around about it and added, “I reckon I know who did it and, he don’t bring that trammel net back, I’m gonna go after him!”  The next morning the trammel net was in a gunny sack, hanging on the fence along our yard.

Not long after that, Henry decided that he would not share a fence line with Coy Tygart so he went to work and built a new fence all along his farm (a quarter of a mile of fence) three feet back from the old fence and forming what was known as a “Devil’s Lane.”  Being (as I said) a stubborn man, Coy Tygart allowed as how he would not use that line fence either and he built one three feet back on his side.   That Devil’s Lane, claimed by neither man, just few up in brush and made a dandy place for James Lowell to set his rabbit traps.

The Devil’s Lane was still there when I visited Bona not too long after WWII, but a few years later the Tygarts moved away, Henry Asbell bought the Frieze old home place and tore the fences down.  Unfortunately, Henry let that proud old farmhouse go to wreck and ruin and now my birthplace is falling down.

In researching the idea of a Devil's Lane I discovered that they were a method European settlers brought to the South and the Ozarks to settle land disputes.  A lot of those lanes have become actual streets and roads where houses have been built.  I don't think I would like Devil's Lane as an address.

I believe that the only time anyone actually got injured in that feud was in the late thirties after we had moved out to Vancouver, Washington again.  My brother Richard was in Missouri visiting not long before he joined the Navy.  He and James Lowell went to a baseball game at the Bona town ball field one hot Sunday afternoon.  Now I do not know if they had anything to drink and they would not admit it if they had, but during the ball game James spotted Henry Asbell crouching down over along the third base line watching the game.  James picked up a sizeable piece of sandrock and tucked it inside the bib of his blue overalls.  He and Richard moseyed around the ball field until they were right behind Henry then James whipped out the rock and broke it over Henry’s head.

I was not there, but I guess it really laid old Henry out and cut his scalp pretty bad.  I imagine that James and Dick lit out for the brush before anyone could catch them and I suspect that they may have hid out in a “secret” cave over to the west along Maze Creek that we knew about.  (I must remember to tell you about that cave and how we found it later on.)

I do not know how it all came out for James in the long run, but that was just about the last incident in the Tygart/Asbell feud.  Most of the time it had just been hard feelings between the two families so it really did not amount to all that much.

In these early chapters I have probably missed some of the places where we lived when I was small, but I guess that is not important.  The ones I have mentioned were the principal ones that I remember before we moved into the little three-room house just a quarter mile south of Bona which would be our last home in the Ozarks.
Last Missouri home of the Ernest Frieze family

My Grandpa Stanley bought a forty-acre farm there south of Bona and Dad moved us onto it to share crop.  That would have been in 1933 when I was eleven years old.  The great drought and dust bowl were in full swing, the Okies were heading down Route 66 to the promised land of California, and Hard Times seemed to go on and on.

When we all gathered in Vancouver for my grandparents’ 40th anniversary, my aunts and uncles sat with my grandparents around the kitchen table and counted up how many houses they have lived in by then.  After forty years of marriage they had lived in 42 houses.  I can’t remember which house that was in, but I think it was Minnehaha.  From there they would move to Whidbey Island, thence to Bolivar, MO, and to Greenfield before coming back to Washington for the third time and landing in Bellevue to be near my Aunt Sandra Hard.  So in the end, to the best of my knowledge, they shared about 45 homes in sixty-five years.

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