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An Adair CO, KY war: The Burton-Harmon Feud

By Jason Harmon
An admirer and servant of Adair County History
Many famous family feuds were fought in Kentucky. The most notable was of course the Hatfield's and McCoy's in eastern Kentucky. In southeastern Kentucky the Bakers and the Whites spilled a lot of blood in the Clay County War.

Adair County had several feuds

Adair County had several of its own feuds. One of the memorable ones happened in the Snake Creek area. The dispute was between the families of Dudley Harmon and John Britt Burton.

John Britt Burton and Dudley Harmon were in-laws. Dudley was married to Sarah Ellen Bryant and the couple had 4 sons sons who included, Charles White Harmon, Jesse Washington Harmon, Franze Harmon and Gordon Walter Harmon.

John was married to Dudley's sister in-law, Sallie Bryant and had nine children and their elder sons included, Leo Burton, Oliver Burton and Milton Burton. Dudley was a blacksmith by trade. He suffered a heart attack and died in 1921. Sarah Ellen was now a widow and had to take care of her young family on her own. Sallie Burton became ill not long after the birth of her youngest son and died in the fall of 1923.

He struck it rich in Indiana in Real Estate

John left Adair County shortly after his wife's death and went to Indiana and struck it rich in the Real Estate business, leaving the kids behind in the care of his wife's family in Adair County. John would often return to Adair County to visit, but he maintained his home in Edinburgh, Indiana. After some time has passed it was becoming apparent that John Britt wasn't willing to take his younger children to Indiana. This began a strong anomisty between the two families.

Toad Harmon had disrespect for John Britt Burton

Charles White Harmon, who was more commonly know as "Toad Harmon," had a distinctive disrespect for his Uncle John Britt Burton and his older first cousins.

In about 1925 Toad Harmon followed his first cousin, Leo Burton, into a barn and hoped he would easily be able to whip Leo Burton in a fight. Leo had seen Toad Harmon following him and led him into an ambush in his own blacksmith shop.

Toad was caught in own trap

Toad Harmon locked the doors after entering the barn and was ready for a showdown between the cousins.Toad had know way of knowing that Leo's brothers, Oliver and Milton Burton were waiting for him and the barn and It was Toad Harmon that actually suffered an extreme beating.

Syrenius Burton was a sympathiser and cousin of the John Britt Family. In about 1927, he was ready for retribution against the Harmon Clan.

Syrenius Burton caught Toad Harmon on Square

He caught Toad Harmon celebrating a festival on the Adair County Square. he was sitting behind Toad Harmon and noticed that Toad was attempting to lift a wallet from the person sitting in front of him. Syrenius picked up a rock and shattered the skull of Toad Harmon.

Toad's younger brother had even less love for John Britt Burton and he sought revenge for the beating that his brother took at the families blacksmith shop.

In the late 20's Jesse Harmon caught John Britt Burton on one of his visits to Adair County and he decided to confront him about his brother's beating. Their conversation quickly turned to the animosity between the two families. Many hateful words were exchanged between the two men and John Britt Burton eventually dishonored the name of the Harmon family by using some very harsh words and it was all that Jesse Harmon was willing to stand for. Jesse Harmon raised the barrell of his shotgun and shot John Britt Burton in the face.

John Britt Burton raised two bricks

John Britt Burton was fortunate enough to have enough time to raise two bricks in front of his face and save himself from being permanently disfigured. This was a frightening awakening for John Britt Burton and he urged his children to stop this foolish quarrel.

Many lives lost in feud

Like many of the senseless and famous families squables, both sides lost lives of their children and grandchildren over time. In the years to come John Britt Burton would lose his grandson, Milton Burton Jr. in a knife fight in Edinburgh, Indiana. Dudley Harmon's son, Gordon Harmon would die bitter and tragically of the dispute in 1966. Franze Harmon died young and still full of his life in 1952. There was never a clear winner in all of the fighting and both sides lost more than they gained.

We've now buried the hatchet

By our current generation, I am happy to report that both sides has buried the hatchet. John Britt Burton and Dudley Harmon's family both now attend church together and only a few remember their past aggressions.

They have all been gracious enough to admit that the long feud was an act of senseless violence and should have never happened. They may have buried the proverbial hatchet, but both sides keep one eye open when they see one of the opposing family members in the room.

I am a great grandson of Charles White Harmon.

This story was posted on 2006-01-01 10:23:46
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Burton-Harmon Feud: Charles White Harmon & Clara Harmon

2006-01-28 - Adair County, KY - Photo from the collection of Murrell & Karen Burton. Charles White (Toad) Harmon was a major player in the Burton-Harmon feud. This photo is of Mr. Harmon and his wife, Clara in a warm, family scene. In one encounter, Jason Harmon, the historian who wrote the account of the feud says,Toad Harmon suffered an extreme beating. Charles White Harmon was the great grandfather of Jason Harmon. Though some ill-feelings smouldered into the 1960s, Jason Harmon says the Burtons and Harmons have long since buried the hatchett.
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