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.

  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

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