One of the most interesting stories I have uncovered while doing family history research is the story of Champ Ferguson and Tinker Dave Beaty (also spelled Beatty). According to family tradition and oral history, these two men may have been friends before the Civil War. In court testimony Beaty — testifying against Ferguson — said he knew Champ for 18 to 20 years. Friends, or not, they definitely knew each other.
Both men lived in the Cumberland Plateau region of south central Kentucky and north central Tennessee. Ferguson was born and raised in Clinton County, Kentucky and Beaty lived across the state line in Overton County, Tennessee.
Once the Civil War commenced in 1861, it did not take long for conflict to begin in the region — and by the end of the War, hundreds of people in the regions died — under the guise of military action. But, a close look at the action of men on both sides of the conflicts shows that, in many ways, the War had been reduced to personal vendettas and thievery.
When the War ended and amnesty was offered to Confederate soldiers — it was not offered to Ferguson because of his guerilla warfare tactics. Instead, he was arrested, tried, convicted and hanged in Nashville. The indictment against Ferguson was for 53 murders, but by his own admission, the number of men he killed was closer to 100.
One of the key issues with the war in the region was the no quarters — or take no prisoners — approach to warfare. Both Beaty and Ferguson admnitted they executed captured men. Ferguson, in his trial, justified it by saying he only killed those trying to kill him.
The stories against both men include execution of unarmed private citizens as well — the only ‘crime’ of many of those killed was being on the wrong side of the conflict.
Yet, after the War ended Ferguson was executed and Beaty went on to become a politically influential man in the region. His son, Claiborne was even called upon by the Governor of Tennessee to help curb post-War KKK activity in the area.
In war, being on the winning side is everything.