Mountain Justice, Moonshine, and Murder: A Lineage

One fine autumn day, a few months after my father passed away, my mother and I sat at the old cherrywood dining table and waxed nostalgic over old photographs. Like always, I soaked up every word and story, relishing even the stories I’ve heard over and over – about so and so who married that woman or such and such that happened in this place. Anyone born in these mountains understands the value placed on oral history. Either as a result of these oral histories or due to some innate connection, we feel our ancestors deep inside our bones. Their stories follow us and we draw confidence from their strengths or we learn from their mistakes or we repeat that history, good or bad.

Visual images always bring a realness to oral history. We look at an old tintype and our imagination unfolds a story, complete with rabbit holes and Wonderland questions. We look at our ancestors’ eyes and try to find something of ourselves there. Sometimes we see a spark – a sadness, an illness, a defiance, a smile, a smirk, a kindness, an intelligence. And we might grasp from where we received a certain character trait, a style, or a stance. Sometimes, however, a picture haunts a person, even in dreams.

On this particular autumn day, my mother nonchalantly tossed an image in front of me and it slid softly across the cherrywood. She raised an eyebrow and said,

“Them’s your people.”

I gazed down at the picture and all the blood drained from my face. My eyes popped wide and my neck craned closer to the following image:

My mother continued,

“They’re all Daughertys. The man in the middle’s Byrd Daugherty. He was a lawman. His sons are on either side of ‘im. They were ambushed and shot by their own Daugherty kin.”

“What for?” I asked.

“Hit was durin’ Prohibition . . .”

She and I gave one another that “knowing” look.

I am not one to just assume anything. I didn’t assume the perpetrators had done this deed for no reason, or to keep some sort of stranglehold on the moonshine business during Prohibition. I didn’t assume the victims were asking for it in some kind of way. The image nagged at me, tugged at my brain strings, poked at my mind’s recesses. Eventually, I bit into the old research apple. Let me tell you, that image provided the impetus for a years-long journey into my Daugherty kindred.

I’m inviting you to come along with me, to journey into the shadows of these beautiful mountains at a time when mountain justice prevailed, and rivalry, bad-blood, and bitterness were settled by a loaded gun. These are my people. I’m proud to call them so. Of course, not everyone in my family solved problems with violence. Some were peaceable, kind, and compassionate souls. Yet, as Appalachia Bare declares, if we peel back the layers and lay everything bare, we may realize that even ugly, scandalous histories manage to create something and/or someone beautiful.

My goal is to present these accounts on Appalachia Bare in a monthly “Daugherty Series.” Some histories are more in-depth, however, and may warrant a bi-monthly piece. I’ve painstakingly gathered information from secondhand sources — newspapers, public records, personal stories, etc. — over a period of about five or six years. I’ve confirmed and matched-up and linked information until my eyes swam in documents. Any varying accounts I found will be noted. Some evidence is waiting for state and or federal sources, and that information may be published at a later date. You’ll also notice the Lowe surname, which, in some of these accounts, is very much connected (The Lowes are also my people.).

For a little preview, the following persons (along with a little information about what piqued my interest) will make appearances in the series:

Barzilla Daugherty Armes Bunch

  • In 1921, she tried to escape from her husband and he shot her in the back and killed her. He was tried, convicted, and subsequently became one of the first men to die by electric chair in the state of Tennessee.

Byrd Daugherty

  • Byrd Daugherty and his sons, William and Fisher, were shot and killed somewhere between Petros and New River, Tennessee, in 1922.
  • The perpetrators were Daniel Britton Daugherty and Robert Lowe. Daniel and Robert were both convicted and sentenced to life in prison, hard labor.

Daniel Britton Daugherty

  • Daniel Britton Daugherty was alleged to have killed a man in 1913, but was never convicted.
  • After serving about seven years of a life sentence for the murders of Byrd, Fisher, and William Daugherty, DBD was released from prison.
  • Daniel’s own sons, Walton and Watson, were men who lived by the gun and met untimely shooting deaths.

Robert Lowe 

  • Robert Lowe was pardoned by the governor of Tennessee after serving only seven or eight years for the murders of Byrd, Fisher, and William.
  • In 1940, he was murdered outside his Roadhouse establishment by four to five Anderson County, Tennessee, deputies, some of whom allegedly spent time in prison for the killing.

Cleve Daugherty

  • Cleve was sheriff of Anderson County, Tennessee, in the 1930s. A few weeks before the end of Tennessee’s Prohibition in 1933, Cleve staked out and moved to arrest some rum runners and was shot and killed. His sister was the aforementioned Barzilla.

Please join me in unfolding these interesting lives. I’ll divulge my own connections and endeavor to honor them and present their histories fairly with integrity and dignity.


Featured Image from Pxhere


  1. I wonder if our Lowes are connected…

    Mine originally spelled it Low though, and the e was added sometime before 1920. They hail from the same exact region though.

    Definitely gonna read up on this more.

    1. Author

      Hello Dara. I wouldn’t doubt that your Lows and my Lowes are related if they were/are in the same region. I have seen the original surname as Lau or Laugh. Some people pronounce it that way as well. Most of my Lowe ancestors are from Scott County, TN.

      1. My grandpa angle odas lowe made moonshine till he died from smokey in Scott county tn

    2. Originally it was Lau…Sally Lowe Bunch was my great grandmother.
      In her Bible is say Lowe to be pronounced like Cow…Phillip Jr Lowe & Jemima Hembree dau.

  2. Ah ok! Most of mine originate in the Bledsoe and Marion County although I’m able to trace one back to Halifax county of North Carolina

  3. I haven’t read your complete serries . Daniel B. Daugherty was my grandfather and my grandfather was Wade Daugherty . My Grandfather told me this story when I was 6 years old . The difference was as follows . Byrd and has sons were trying to control whiskey sales in the region sort of like the mafia so the would arrest the competition . They were all basically coal miners and moonshiners and coal miners except Byrd . If you didn’t pay Byrd you would be arrested. Byrds sons backed him up in this enterprise one was a deserter from the US Army and was protected by Byrd from being arrested . The constantly attempted to extort money other moonshiners. One would not be extorted and that was the Daniel B Daugherty family. This is what I was told by my grand father Wade in 1968 and great uncle Wayne Daugherty said the same thing 5 years later . They were Daniels two youngest sons . I cant prove any of this but is what I was told on two separate occasions years apart.

    1. Daniel was my great grand father . Not Grand Father .. Correction

    2. Author

      Hello Kenneth. Thank you so much for sharing family lore! Some things I found suggested Byrd was himself a moonshiner at one point, which I found a bit odd, considering he was in law enforcement. I have also read that he was a little too zealous in his arrests. From what I understand, Byrd and his sons just about beat Daniel’s son, Watson, too death in an arrest. But your comment puts everything into better perspective. I kind of figured there were mafia-like Daughertys during these moonshine days, especially given that an entire mountain (Fork Mountain) was called Daugherty Mountain. (If I’m right here —) Your great-great-grandfather (Daniel Britton’s father, Noah) and my fifth great grandfather (Ell) were brothers. My great grandmother was Zora Daugherty Goodman (whose father was Abraham, whose father was Powell, whose father was Daniel, whose father was Ell). Thank you again for sharing. If you’d like to talk further, please let me know. I’d love that.

      1. I would love to talk more about this . These were all very proud men , who put family first .Times were very hard most worked in the coal mines for company script that could only be used in the company store . To take care of their family’s the made and sold moonshine .

        1. Hard working and how! My dad Ramsey Bunch sr. born Feb. 15 1882 worked coal mining walking thru the woods 2-3-4 hrs just to get to where he worked for 15 cents a day in coal so low he had to lay on his side to get to the coal!!! and fathered 17 boys and 4 girls,,,

    3. Hey Ken Parton, I am Victor Bunch, Daniel is my Grand father also, His Daughter Lectic is my mother, I would love to meet you and get to know more of my kin folk! This story is pretty close to what i have heard except the ambush they met on petros mt. and had a gun fight and Byrd and son’s lost!!!

  4. Wow! I am speechless. I just stumbled across this. I actually have almost original photos of this picture, as well as Byrd holding a gun. I’m the grand daughter of R. L. Daugherty, son of J.R. who’s father was Byrd Daugherty. I have heard this (and others) story so many times since I was little. I grew up every day with R.L. I grew up every day in Clinton going to the Daugherty building (if you’re familiar). He had an intense appreciation for family background, history, etc. and was amazing at cataloging photos and making sure they were not forgotten. I must’ve been the only one to inherit that trait from listening to his stories forever, but I have almost all of the family pictures. All of it is in my bones. So deep it hurts lately as I grow older and have lost them. I’d love to know exactly who you are! Have a good day 🙂

    1. Author

      Hello Chelsea. I’m so glad you found the article! If you are related to Byrd, you and I are distant relations. My great-grandmother was Zora Daugherty. She married Lawrence Goodman. Their first child was Pauline, who was my lovely grandmother. She married Hope Shown (my maiden name). She talked a lot about her Daugherty heritage. My connections to Byrd and Daniel Britton are through my fifth great-grandparent, Ell Daugherty. Ell’s brother was Noah (Daniel’s father) and Ell’s son was William (Byrd’s father). I was born in Campbell County. I would love to meet you and talk about our family. If you’d like to write any stories, we’d be glad to publish them here. The Daugherty history goes back so far. I’ve written an article on the Daugherty origin, too.

  5. This is just awesome, I would love to meet we might ought to have some kinda reunion!!! lol

  6. Hello, I am the granddaughter of Fisher, great grand of Byrd.
    I have the transcripts of the trails for Byrd, and Willie.
    There was no trail for Fisher.
    My dad was 6 years old when this happened on April 9th 1922, A rainy Sunday morning.
    My grandmother was at home in bed with a 2-day old newborn son. He would be named Fisher.
    In 1913 my husband’s grandfather, Howard White was also murdered by Daniel Britton Daugherty.

  7. Those trail transcripts reads as you are a part of the story.
    I know every story has 2 sides, but our Daugherty side still hurt when my daddy died.
    My grandmother kept a bloody shirt of Fisher’s in her trunk for years on years. Wish I knew what became of it.
    Those were hard times back then, and even tougher on a woman with 3 small kids she is trying to raise.
    Proud of my Daugherty side.

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