Editor’s Note: This story is the third and final in a multi-part series on the French-Eversole War of Perry County. The first two stories can be found online at hazard-herald.com.
Following the bloody French-Eversole War in the late 1800s, Hazard’s residents and the families involved in the feud had no choice but to rebuild and move on, though many of the scars of remain.
After the official end of the feud, the Eversole and Combs families that made up most of the Eversole faction had been badly ravaged by the killing, losing most of the influential members of the families. One of these family heads that was lost during the war at the hands of Bad Tom Smith was Shade Combs.
Combs had fought under Joseph Eversole, who met an untimely death when he was killed by Bad Tom and several of the French men in an ambush. Following this death, John Campbell took over the Eversole ranks, but he met a quick end at the hands of one of his own men in an accidental friendly fire incident.
Combs then took over, but unfortunately the string of bad luck for the leaders of the Eversoles continued.
Several stories exist about just exactly how Combs was killed, but they all have a few similarities. Combs had developed a strategy to end the war by killing all of the French men. When this information got back to the Frenches, they sent out their main henchman, Bad Tom, who happened to be a relative of Combs, to kill him.
Bad Tom shot Combs at his home, in front of his young family.
It was this killing among others that stuck with the Eversole and French families in the area for generations. One person who knows this well is Veronica French. While she is a French by marriage, she is a Combs by birth.
French is the great-granddaughter of Shade Combs and was raised with the stories of Bad Tom and feuding. When she told her family she planned on marrying a French, it didn’t go over well even nearly 100 years after the feud.
“When I was going to marry my husband, my father, Shade was his grandfather, said you can’t marry one of the Frenches because of the feud,” Veronica French recalled.
She was determined to marry the man she loved and got to work searching genealogy to prove that it was okay for her to marry a French.
“I checked out a book in the library and I read it and I showed him,” she said. “I said, ‘Dad, really they were all related.’”
As it turns out, French noted, many of the people in the feud were related to one another. Bad Tom was probably one of the most notorious for turning against his family members. In the ambush that killed Joseph Eversole, Bad Tom stopped and killed the last man that remained alive, Nick Combs. Nick was a young man who also happened to be Bad Tom’s cousin.
French said that her family held a grudge against Smith for years because of this killing. That was one story she often heard growing up, and it stuck with her.
For many years in Hazard, people would not claim to be related to Bad Tom, including French’s father. But as time went on and Bad Tom became infamous for his crimes, more people began to see him as a folk legend, and he again was claimed by his living relatives in Perry County.
Following the end of the feud, most of the Frenches left the area. Many of them reportedly moved to the Stanton and Winchester areas. Following this move they became a prominent Kentucky family. They even have several streets and towns named after them.
According to Veronica French, she also found out that the French family has several famous distant relatives, including the inventor of French’s Mustard, and former Miss America Heather French Henry. Frenchburg, Kentucky was also named for a member of the French family in 1869.
In the late 1980’s, she added, she heard that local officials were working on producing a play memorializing the fighting between these two families. French said it would not be a problem to do the play if it were to be historically accurate. The play, however, was never produced.
While nearly all of the Frenches left Perry County, the Combs and Eversole families remained prominent in the area. Many of the important people in Hazard’s history have been Combses and Eversoles.
Another lesser known family that fought in the French-Eversole War were the Morgans. While the Morgans were related to the Combses, it is unclear just which side they favored. However, one famous Morgan who was killed in the war, some believe wrongfully, was Elijah Morgan.
The spot where Elijah Morgan was killed has been memorialized with an old wives tale, and because of this can still be found today.
“They always told the tale that there was a bleeding rock down there and you could go by anytime, and especially after it rained,” said French. “There was blood on that rock and that was where he was shot and killed.”
This rock is supposedly in Lothair, and is called the overhanging rock.
French, who has a stake in all sides of this feud, said that she doesn’t understand all the fighting that went on between friends, neighbors and relatives during that time. “I think all of them were in the wrong.”