Bitter Election Sparked Bloody Kentucky Feud

Edward “Ned” Callahan was elected sheriff of Breathitt County, Kentucky, in 1902. It was a hotly contested election that touched off a long and bloody family feud between the Hargis faction and the Cockrells. More than 100 men were killed in a 10-year period ending in 1912.

Callahan owned and operated a general merchandise store in Crockettsville, Kentucky. He was regarded by most people as a decent, well-respected citizen … as well as a dangerous man with a gun. He was closely tied in with Judge James Hargis and had been indicted for murder five times during the feud. The victims were all Cockrell men, but Callahan and Judge Hargis somehow managed to escape prosecution. To add insult to injury, Hargis was elected to the bench in the same election that placed Callahan in the sheriff’s office.

The widow of one of the murdered mountain men, James Marcum, secured a judgment against Callahan for $8,000, which was promptly paid in full. Marcum’s friends and relatives, however, swore to avenge his violent death. After an unsuccessful assassination attempt on May 3, 1910, the sheriff built a stockade around his property to protect his wife and children from vengeful Cockrell men, and to allow him to walk freely between his residence and his store under cover.

These precautions did not save him from the next assassin, who aimed at Callahan as he stood in his Crockettsville store on May 4, 1912. He was shot from ambush through the same window and from the same spot where the previous attempt was made. Callahan was wounded the first time. On the second attempt, two steel bullets pierced his chest and leg.

The bullets found in Callahan’s body were of different sizes, leading to the belief that he was shot by more than one person.

Callahan was taken to a hospital and lingered until May 13, when he died. His was 52 years old. He was accused of having many men killed during his career.

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