Journal-Times (Grayson, KY)

October 10, 2012

A drunk, an offended wife, and an angry husband

By Keith Kappes - Publisher
Journal-Times

Oct. 10, 2012 — Strange as it may seem, history says these three persons started a chain of events that led to the founding of what is now Morehead State University.

Those elements in 1884 later motivated the Women’s Christian Missionary Society of Kentucky to send two missionaries to Morehead to start a school in 1887.

The story reportedly began at a hotel on Main Street in Morehead where a raucous party was underway in the restaurant and saloon.

It seems a proper lady grew tired of the noise and drunkenness and accepted the hotel owner’s invitation to rest in a room upstairs.

Sometime later, one of the men at the party became too inebriated to continue so he went to his room to try to sleep it off.

History tells us that the drunk stumbled into the room and plopped down on the bed where the woman was sleeping in the dark. He supposedly tried to be affectionate and made some assumptions that were not flattering.

Shocked and outraged, the woman jumped from the bed and yelled for her husband to defend her virtue.

The angry husband accosted the drunk and attempted to reclaim his wife’s honor. A fight nearly broke out and deadly threats were uttered.

Later, the first shots of rage were fired and the infamous Tolliver-Martin Feud or Rowan County War erupted.

The incident at the hotel was part of a series of events that started the feud and kept it going for three years.

When the gun smoke finally cleared, about 20 members of the two warring families had been killed, making it deadlier than the more famous (or infamous) Hatfield-McCoy Feud in Pike County.

The state militia was sent here two times to restore order. The legislature was asked to consider dissolving the county and reattaching it to Morgan and Fleming counties.

Phebe Button, a widow, and her son, Frank, came here from Midway in response to a call for missionaries. They opened Morehead Normal School on Oct. 3, 1887.

That private institution evolved into Morehead State Normal School in 1922 and had two other names before becoming Morehead State University in 1966.

If you’re counting, that means MSU technically had its 125th birthday last Wednesday. For the record, a 125th anniversary is called a quasquicentennial.

MSU is winding up its year-long celebration later this month at Homecoming but it probably won’t be as exciting as that night long ago.

Happy Birthday, MSU.