The Slicker War of Benton
In the old fashioned tradition of a Hatfield
and McCoy type feud, was the "Slicker War” of Benton and Polk Counties in
the 1840s. The feud was between Hiram Turk and his three sons against Andy
Jones and his four sons. What started out as a family affair eventually
drew more people in the "war” that would last over the next several
Migrating from Tennessee around 1839, Colonel
Hiram Turk and his family set up a store and a saloon south of
Though the family was described as well-educated and courteous, they were
also known to never back down from a fight. Also moving to
the 1830s was the Andy Jones family from Kentucky. The Jones family
settled along the Pomme de Terre River and before long, their gambling and
horse racing habits were well known. They were also suspected of
The whole affair
began on Election Day of 1840 when Turk’s store was serving as one of
the local polling places. When Andy Jones came in, he and one of
Hiram’s sons, Jim, got into an argument. The dispute soon escalated
into a fight that included Hiram Turk and his other sons, one of whom,
named Tom, pulled out a knife. Though no one was seriously injured in
the scuffle, the Turks were charged with assault and starting a riot.
A shooting, 1901, by W.T. Smedley.
Witnessing the entire
skirmish was a neighbor named Abraham Newell. However, on the day that
the Turks were to face a judge, Jim Turk threatened Newell with a
six-shooter if he were to testify against them. When gun play erupted,
Jim Turk lay dead on the ground and Abraham Newell soon disappeared from
A relative of Andy
Jones, named James Morton, also lived in the area. Morton was an
Alabama fugitive and when a bounty hunter came looking for him, the
Turk family was only too happy to help. They soon abducted Morton,
delivering him over to the bounty hunter, who returned with the
fugitive to Alabama. However, Morton was acquitted and soon returned
to Missouri. In
the meantime, Hiram Turk was charged with kidnapping, but the charge
was later dropped.
Infuriated, the Jones
family, along with Morton, and their friends swore revenge upon the
Turks. On July 17, 1841, Andy Jones shot and killed Hiram Turk when he
was returning to his home from the post office. Though Jones was
charged with murder, he was later acquitted. With the elder Turk’s
death and Jones’ acquittal, the war began in full force.
action, Turk’s sons publicly announced that they and their allies were
going drive out the seedier elements of the area, including thieves,
counterfeiters, and murderers. This obviously included the Joneses.
Area residents of Benton and Polk Counties (Hickory County was later
formed from southern Benton and northern Polk County) began to ally
themselves with the two factions.
The Turk "Posse” was quick to make
unwelcome visits on virtually anyone allied with the Joneses, often
tying them to trees and whipping them with hickory switches. These
beatings were known at the time as "slickings," hence the "Slicker
bad were these whippings that a couple of the targets later died from
their wounds. The Jones faction retaliated with other violent actions. In
no time, the revenge-driven acts of frontier justice spread across much of
In April, 1842, Abraham Newell made the
mistake of returning to Benton County. He was quickly arrested for the
murder of Jim Turk, but was later acquitted. But this was obviously not
"ok" with the Turk faction, who shot and killed Newell in October. The
then went after Andy Jones, nearly killing an innocent farmer by the name
of Samuel Yates.
In the meantime, Benton
County’s Justice of the Peace, a man named DeWitt Ballou, had made efforts
to return the "peace” to the county, with very little success. Commanding
a military-like force, he tried to restore law and order, but when his
efforts failed, the Missouri
Governor was called in to help.
Before the reign of
terror was over, the Governor was forced to call out the state militia to
control the violence in Benton County. In the end, 38 of the Turk men were
charged with almost killing the innocent farmer, Samuel Yates, but the
case never went to trial.
Later, Tom Turk was
killed by one of his own "posse” members. Andy Jones fled to Texas and was
followed by Nathan Turk. When Jones was arrested for stealing horses,
Nathan testified against him and Jones was found guilty and hanged.
Sometime later, Nathan
Turk would be killed in a Louisiana gunfight. Mrs. Turk, with her one
surviving son, returned to Tennessee. The rest of the Jones clan also
moved from the area. Though the family feud was finally over, vigilante
violence continued in the area for more than a decade.
Interestingly, Benton and
Polk Counties weren’t the only areas to have a "Slicker War.” From 1843 to
1845, Lincoln County in the eastern portion of the state, borrowed the
term and had their own
motivated chaos. When Lincoln County residents also began to suffer the
depredations of horse thieves and counterfeiters, they too organized to
protect their property.
however, were more organized. Electing a "captain” and instituting a
constitution and by-laws, the group counted some of the most influential
men in the county as its members. When area residents were found guilty by
the organized group, the offender was either "slicked,” ordered to leave
the county, or both. If the offender refused to leave or continued with
his illegal ways, he was threatened with death. Over the three year period
of the "war,” a number of men were killed or wounded, but when the
group felt it had achieved its goal and subdued or driven out the seedier
elements of the county, the group disbanded.
Slicker organizations also operated in St. Charles and McDonald Counties
in Missouri, as
well as several other areas throughout the state. Though most began with
the intention of punishing or ridding themselves of outlaws, in some
instances the "bad men” became members of the societies, maliciously using
the groups for their own agendas. This often led to the organization of
opposing groups called the "Anti-Slickers.” All across the state, men were
killed and wounded in numerous small and large "Slicker Wars.”
© Kathy Weiser,
Legends of America,
updated April, 2017.
Missouri Bald Knobbers
Warsaw - Rich
History on the Osage River
An area south of
today, October, 2007, Kathy Weiser.
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