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4 Bloody Family Feuds in American History

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If you have a disagreement with your neighbor today, you might head to small-claims court to settle the dispute. But in rural parts of 19th-century America, such disagreements were often solved with the business end of a gun. Here are four bloody family feuds that could have used some mediation.

1. Grahams–Tewksburys: The Pleasant Valley War

Before their feud started in the 1880s, the Grahams and Tewksburys, both livestock ranchers in Pleasant Valley, Arizona, were actually friends and business partners. Granted, their business was stealing cattle from another rancher. So neither family was a pillar of the community from the start. Their falling out occurred around 1882, probably over the stolen cattle, though the over-grazing of land by the Tewksburys' sheep was also a point of contention. At the time, the feud resulted in the occasional fistfight or bout of name-calling, but little more.

Things got more violent in February 1887, when Thomas Graham shot a Tewksbury hired hand who had been herding sheep on contested grazing land. In retaliation, Graham was shot by Ed Tewksbury, who immediately went on the lam. Shortly after, the Grahams and their sympathizers laid siege to the Tewksbury cabin, engaging in a shootout that lasted for hours. The only cease fire was granted to Mrs. Tewksbury—so she could dig shallow graves for her son, John, and his friend, William Jacobs, who had been killed in the melee.

Over the next few years, between 20 and 50 men from both sides were killed, often by bands of masked men, which made arrests a rarity. However, the feud finally came to an end in 1892, when Tom Graham, Jr., the last surviving member of his family, was shot and killed in Tempe by the fugitive Ed Tewksbury, the last of his clan. Tewksbury was tried and convicted, but due to a legal technicality, his case was dismissed in 1895. Tewksbury died of natural causes in 1904 as the sole survivor of The Pleasant Valley War.

It wasn’t just the two families that were affected by the feud. For many years before the War started, Arizona had been vying for statehood. But since the feud remained unresolved for so long, many legislators in Washington saw it as proof that Arizona was not yet civilized enough to be a part of the Union. Some historians believe the War might have set back Arizona statehood for decades.

2. Turks-Joneses: The Slicker War of the Ozarks

The feud between the Turks and the Joneses, both of Benton County, Missouri, in the Ozark Mountain region, started like so many others at the time – on Election Day. Most men were given the day off from work so they could visit the polls, which meant they also spent a lot of time in the local saloon after casting their votes. A combination of whiskey and politics inevitably resulted in fistfights, such as the one in 1840 when Andy Jones and Jim Turk got into a scuffle that was soon joined by other members of their clans.

Later, a bounty hunter came into the region looking for a relative of the Joneses named James Morton. The County Sheriff wasn’t willing to help, but the Turks saw an opportunity to get back at their rivals, so they nabbed Morton and turned him over. Because of their actions, patriarch Hiram Turk was arrested for kidnapping, but the charges were later dropped. Feeling they’d been wronged, the Jones family got their revenge when Andy Jones allegedly shot and killed Hiram on July 17, 1841. Jones went to trial, but he was acquitted.

Feeling the justice system had failed them, the Turks publicly announced their intention to form a vigilante group to rid the area of counterfeiters, robbers, and murderers. Under the guise of public welfare, they rounded up people from the community, and went after these unwanted elements, which naturally included their enemies, the Joneses and their allies.

The group soon earned the nickname “Slickers,” based upon their usual mode of punishment, called “slicking”, which involved tying a person to a tree and whipping them with a hickory switch. In retaliation, the Joneses started “The Anti-Slickers,” who guarded their allies, and occasionally went after Slickers as well. The battle raged until the Slickers mistakenly went after an innocent farmer and nearly killed him, after which the Missouri government charged 38 of the Slickers with the crime. The arrests diminished the Slicker numbers significantly and led to the feud dissolving over the next few years.

Unfortunately, the Slickers' form of justice caught on with the people of Missouri, as more Slicker groups sprang up that had nothing to do with the Turk-Jones feud. Much like the Turks' Slickers, these groups were easily influenced by leaders with less-than-honest intentions, so many innocent people were accused, beaten, and even killed for crimes they did not commit.

3. The Lee-Peacock Feud

In August 1861, Bob Lee joined the Ninth Texas Cavalry of the Confederate Army, leaving behind his family in northeast Texas. While he was away, the Union League, a civil group created to promote loyalty to the Union and to protect blacks and Union sympathizers, set up a local chapter headed by Lewis Peacock. After the War, Lee returned home to find the League using their political weight to force the area to adopt what the community saw as unfair Reconstruction initiatives. Many of Lee's neighbors looked to him—a former Confederate—as the leader in the push back against this new form of Northern oppression.

To quash his new rival, Peacock rounded up his men and arrested Lee on trumped up charges of war crimes. Knowing he would be exonerated in court, Lee and his brother, who acted as a chaperone, went peacefully. But instead of taking Lee to the authorities, Peacock's men took the brothers into the wilderness and robbed them. They also forced both Lee brothers to sign a $2000 promissory note before setting them free. Alive but angry, Lee and his brother sued the leaders of the Union League and won. But instead of settling the matter, the 1867 judgment only escalated the bitterness between the two sides. When a relative of Peacock's later shot and wounded Lee, the first blood had been spilled in what would become a small-scale Civil War in Texas.


In the summer of 1868, after a year of ambushes and shootouts that resulted in the death of about 50 men, Peacock requested help from the Federal Government. Peacock's political allies arranged for a $1000 reward to be posted for Bob Lee—Dead or Alive. However, Lee had friends and family who helped him move safely about the countryside, allowing him to fight for another year before the Fourth United States Cavalry was sent in to settle the feud. With the pressure on, Lee decided to run to Mexico, but was shot and killed en route by the military. Lee's plan was betrayed by a former supporter, Henry Boren, who met his maker the next day at the hands of his own nephew, who saw his uncle as a traitor.

Even though Lee was dead, the battle wasn't over. His men scattered, but they continued to come back into the area for years to take shots at Peacock and his men. In fact, it was June 1871 before Lee sympathizers killed Peacock, finally ending the feud once and for all.

4. The Hatfields and The McCoys

While the most famous family feud, between the McCoys of Kentucky and the Hatfields of West Virginia, dates back to 1865, the feud's most deadly era began on Election Day in 1882. Three McCoy men killed Ellison Hatfield, stabbing him 26 times before finishing him off with a bullet to the chest. The next day, as the three young men were escorted to Pikeville, Kentucky, for arraignment, the Hatfield clan intercepted them, tied them up, and shot them in cold blood.

Twenty arrest warrants were issued for Hatfields, but no law enforcement bothered to serve them. Oddly, the McCoys didn’t seek immediate revenge, as it was understood that, in terms of social justice, the three boys got what they deserved. Still, animosity ran high, and minor skirmishes occurred in the ensuing years, showing that the feud was quiet, but not dead.

However, when business investors balked at putting money into a community that had a reputation for vendetta violence, the government decided it was time to step in. The State of Kentucky began serving the 20 outstanding Hatfield warrants, arresting two men within a matter of weeks. In order to stop the arrests, a small faction of the Hatfields decided to kill the head of the opposing family, Old Ranel McCoy, so that he couldn't testify in court against them.

So, early on the morning of January 1, 1888, nine members of the Hatfields set fire to Ranel McCoy’s cabin. As he and his family fled the flames, shots rang out, killing two adult McCoy children. When Mrs. McCoy ran to check on them, she was severely beaten, but survived. The Hatfields’ target, Ranel, escaped harm entirely by hiding in a pigpen. The attack was condemned by most members of the Hatfield clan, and, although there were two more deaths and the occasional scuffles for years to come, the majority of the feud fighters had decided that enough was enough.

In all, around a dozen people died during the feud. However, the two families eventually put aside their differences and now see their shared family history with a sense of humor. For example, in 1979, both clans made a week-long appearance on the nightly gameshow, Family Feud, where both sides took shots at each other with pistols loaded with blanks. In this feud, the McCoys were declared the winners, three games out of five.

In 2000, the clans shared the first of what has become an annual joint family reunion, now called the Hatfield and McCoy Reunion Festival, in a weekend full of events that take place in both Kentucky and West Virginia.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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iStock

Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.

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