An interesting history of the land suit by the South heirs in Breathitt County during the last century.


Hazel Green Herald - May 10, 1894

Suit By South Heirs

The famous and involved litigation surrounding the suit of N. C. Morse and others against the South heirs came up before Judge Barr, of the Federal circuit court, this morning on a remarkable motion made by Barry South, one of the defendants. He filed affidavits stating that it was dangerous to take depositions of certain witnesses at their homes in Breathitt County, and asked an order of court authorizing it to be done at Jackson, the county seat.

The case is a most remarkable one. Long before the (Civil) war the Hon. Jerry South, who for years was a king-bee in Kentucky politics and lessee of the Frankfort penitentiary, bought, along with Judge Breck, an immense tract of land in Breathitt County. The purchase price was trifling, as the land for years was considered practically valueless. No attention was paid to it by the owners, and it was taken possession of by squatters, who built houses and eked out a bare existence.

When Jerry South died the Breathitt County lands were a part of the large estate which he left his heirs. The land, it was later found, covered cannel coal fields, and as facilities for transportation improved the squatters not only operated mines, but felled the valuable timber.

In the meantime, Judge Breck had disposed of his part of the property, but the land was never divided and N. C. Morse and others who inherited it from the purchaser brought suit for a partition, the South heirs, of which there are several branches, became involved in litigation, and now it would be hard to accurately define the legal status of the many suits.

To bring the cases to trial in the Federal court at Frankfort, to which they were assigned, it is necessary to secure depositions of a number of squatters and other witnesses who reside on the land.

These people, it is represented by Barry South, are lawless and desperate and it would be as much as his life is worth to make the attempt to invade the neighborhood. The leader of the squatters is Bill Strong, one of the most notorious men in the state, so Mr. South says. Strong is a sort of feudal hero, exercising over his own neighbors a greater power than ever did landed baron in the days of night-errantry. He was one of the leading spirits in the noted feud between the Strong-Little faction on one side and the Burnett faction on the other, in which, it will be remembered, Judge Burnett was killed, and to suppress which the Louisville Legion was sent to the mountains. So much feared is Strong that on one occasion when his son was arrested for some offense nobody had temerity enough to try him. Bill has been a terror to government officers, and it was his followers who a few years ago planned to burn General Deputy Collector Spurrier alive for having made some seizures of illicit stills in the neighborhood.

Mr. South, in his statements to Judge Barr, said that the Souths had never for the past 20 years dared to visit the property, and that in order to have the property cared for a receiver had been asked for and had been appointed by the county court. This receiver was Prof. Goff, a prominent educator of Jackson.

Mr. South's statements as to the danger which attends the efforts to take depositions in Breathitt were supported by affidavits from several persons, among them Prof. Goff. Mr. J. B. Markham, United States Commissioner at Frankfort, and a representative of the Moss interests, contended that there would be no danger, and that no demonstration had ever been made by any of the witnesses. Each South and Markham was placed on the stand and catechized by the other, but the verbal passages at arms became so tart that Judge Barr took the examination into his own hands.

He finally granted Mr. South's motion taking occasion to say that he was exceedingly sorry to hear that there was any section of Kentucky in which depositions could not be taken without the risk of bodily harm. The depositions will be taken in the circuit court clerk's office at Jackson. An exception is made in the case of one of the witnesses, an old woman, whose physical infirmities will not permit a trip to Jackson. Her deposition will be taken in the vicinity of her home.

Mr. South, who made the motion before Judge Barr, was formerly warden of the Frankfort penitentiary and is a son of Jerry South. The motion was a most unusual one.