This photo of the Sam Whitson family from about 1908 is from the collection of J.D. Whitson.  In the front row are Lizzie, Sam, Calvin, Martha, and Ora, with sons Carr, Jefferson, and Taylor standing behind them.

Samuel Whitson was born April 30,1865 on Whitson Branch in the Red Hill community of Mitchell Count/y, the son of Matilda Garland Whitson.  Matilda’s husband John had died in 1862; Samuel’s father was Sam McInturff, who was killed by Union raiders before his son’s birth.  No record of a marriage has been located, and the child of Sam McInturff and Matilda was always known as Samuel Whitson.  In the 1910 Mitchell County census, Sam Whitson reported that his father was born in Tennessee. The years following the Civil War were difficult, and Sam helped his widowed mother, according the 1880 census, by working on the farm.  He later said he had no opportunity to attend school, and in the 1910 Mitchell County census, he indicated he could not write, but could read, perhaps thanks to his wife. In 1887 Sam married Martha Garland (1868-1914), and they were the parents of at least 15 children; according to the 1910 census, Martha was the mother of 14 children, 7 living.  Children’s names known to this researcher were Jefferson, Taylor, Carr, Lizzie, Calvin, Ora, Darcy, Darlie, and Martha.  The last child, Martha, was born 3 September 1914, and mother Martha died on the 13th of that month, the cause likely related to the recent delivery.


He married his second wife, Minerva Bowman (1892-1985) a few months after Martha’s death, in January 1915; likely, he had begun to look for a mother to his brood.  Sam and “Nervy” had 10 children, the last born 1938, when Sam was 63.  The children were Samuel, Maggie, Polly, McCoy, Hettie, Johnson, Guy, Etta, Ethel, and Ruth Opal.


Whitson’s obituary following his death on 3/7/1961 identified him as a retired farmer and a Mitchell County Commissioner for 12 years.  He was a member of the Baptist Church on Beans Creek, where he had moved early in his first marriage.  He and both wives are buried in the Whitson Cemetery on Beans Creek.


Sam’s older brothers, Will, Stephen “Dick,” and Tom Whitson, were often in trouble with the law; most of their early offenses involved either “affray” or manufacturing and selling non-taxed liquor.  Years later, Sam himself was charged with bootlegging, but the charges were dismissed.


On Sunday, 11/5/1882, when Sam was just 17, Will, Dick, and Tom Whitson killed Christopher “Kit’ Byrd, a partner in their grocery store “front” for alcohol sales and reputedly involved with one of the brothers’ wife.  An article about the incident by Rob Neufeld in the Asheville Citizen Times 10/8/2008 titled “Good boys turn murderers growing up in post-Civil war WNC” suggested that the “killer’s identity may never be known.”  After the killing, the brothers escaped to various locales in Kentucky and Virginia and even as far as the Pacific Northwest.  For a time, their young brother accompanied them, but Sam returned to Mitchell County within a few years.


The three wanted men continued to live under assumed names, married again, and carried on with their extra-legal activities.  Dick Whitson died a violent death in 1890 in Virginia, but the other 2 brothers were apprehended in 1891 and returned to Mitchell County for trial.  They were found guilty and sentenced to hang, but their sentence was commuted to 30 years in prison.  Will was pardoned by the governor in 1896; he died in 1927 in Yancey County.  Tom escaped the penitentiary in 1896, was recaptured in 1911, but pardoned in 1912 and went back to Kentucky, where he died in 1937.


For more of the story of the killing of Kit Byrd and the exploits of the Whitson brothers, read the well-researched and fascinating book by sisters K.B. and S.R. Whitson entitled Red Hill:  The Untold Story of the Whitson Brothers and the Murder of Kit Byrd (2007).




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