famous for feuds, fights, scraps
Scrappin' Valley, a tiny settlement near the intersection of Newton, Sabine and Jasper counties, is by most accounts a quiet and peaceful area best known for the presence of a hunting lodge where guests hunt deer and quail.
But it wasn't always so.
Scrappin' Valley, as the name implies, lies in a valley watered by several creeks and branches flowing out of a long ridge of land that drops into the Sabine River bottom lands. The creeks and streams bear names like Rock, Big Sandy, Little Sandy, McKim, Dinkhorse, Hurricane, and Doc.
The valley was settled in the 1800s by Anglo-Saxons, families such as the Conners, the Weeks, the Lowes, Fergusons, Smiths and Easleys, whose isolation and independence enabled them to set their own rules.
Scrapping and fighting were normal ways of their lives and feuds among families were frequent.
The most famous feud was the Smith-Conner-Lowe feud, which began with a killing of Kit Smith and Eli Lowe in 1883 and ended with the deaths of Willis Conner, five of his six sons and one grandson, and the remaining son in prison.
A squad of Texas Rangers, who went into the valley to arrest the Conners, was soundedly defeated. One ranger was killed, the rest seriously wounded. They never finished their job and a posse led by Nacogdoches County Sheriff John Spradley, working with other feuding families, pursued the fight to its conclusion, ending in the deaths of Willis Conner and his grandson.
The bloody feud could have given Scrappin' Valley its name, but it likely originated from one of many stories.
One is that the brawling sawmill towns of that era led to the name. Another story is that a survey crew needed a name for the community of scrappers. As it made its way down a road, the crew noticed that three members of the Ferguson family were laid out beside the road, resting from a bloody fist fight. When asked what happened, Hardy Ferguson, simply said, "This is Scrappin' Valley."
A third story is that on a Sunday morning at Pine Grove Missionary Baptist Church, a young lady, for some real or imagined transgression, gave her finance such a thrashing that the entire valley was impressed with her "scrappin' ability."
While much of the violence occurring in Scrappin' Valley came from feuds over dogs, property lines and livestock, the fights and killings were usually fueled by illegal moonshine made by men during prohibition and after. In 1932, four people were murdered in a feud among distillers. The Newton County sheriff did not learn of the killings until 1936.
In those days, the "king of Scrapping Valley" was a widely-feared moonshiner, farmer and cattleman known for his temper and his skills with a shotgun. We'll call him Joe. In 1930, Joe operated an illicit whiskey distillery and ran carloads of moonshine daily. One of Joe's employees was a man we'll call Frank.
When Joe decided to put Frank to work plowing his fields, Frank felt it was a step-down in his employment and the men started arguing. As their tempers rose, so did their shotguns. Frank took the full blast of a shotgun loaded with buckshot, tearing away his chin and lower face.
The incident was witnessed by several of Joe's relatives and friends.
They helped Joe bury Frank in a wagon rut on a county road and vowed to keep quiet about the murder. For years, wagon drivers rolled unsuspectingly over Frank's body.
Eventually, Joe was arrested, but not for Frank's murder. Five years after the crime, he swiped a cow from a cattle drive on the Old Beef Trail, butchered it, and carried it to market in Jasper. As he left the town, a posse nabbed him without his shotgun.
He was in jail at Newton when he fell and cracked his skull. He died in a Jasper hospital at the age of 50.
With the sudden death of "the king of Scrapping Valley" several people who witnessed the 1930 murder came forth, signed statements and led lawmen to Frank's grave.
Frank's bones were found in a shallow grave clad in overalls and shoes. The skeleton was taken to Newton and laid out at the jail.
X-rays identified a broken arm Frank was known to have suffered before his death.
Newton County Sheriff Pete Hughes, a lawman known for his keen investigative mind, reportedly unraveled the murder with a tip. But he never revealed his source, although it was believed to be a woman close to Joe's family. Hughes said he also believed that more than one body was hidden in Scrapping Valley, the result of Joe's temper-fired shotgun.
One of Joe's sons signed a statement in which he said he didn't tell officers about the murder because he "didn't wish to become involved if he could help it, and figured it would all come out anyway."
Another of Joe's sons was arrested for his involvement. He said his father "told me I would go just like Frank if I ever talked about what happened, so I kept quiet." Another witness was also implicated in the murder.
Over the years, as the old settlers died off and new people moved into the community, the old Scrappin' Valley faded away and, in essence, became a ghost town.
But some people still remembers the murder in which a murdered moonshiner lay in a wagon rut for five years.
Bob Bowman, of Lufkin, is the author of more than
thirty-five books about East Texas and the author of a
forthcoming book, "The Forgotten Towns of East
Texas") He may be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
or Bob Bowman, Bob Bowman & Associates, Inc.