While John Fleming was away serving a term of imprisonment at the West Virginia state penitentiary, his wife Lizzie returned home to live with her father, John Henan Fry, at Fourteen. “Aunt Lizzie ran away from John and came home to Fourteen,” said Willard Frye, nephew to Lizzie, in a 2003 interview. She secured a divorce from Fleming and began an affair with Charley McCoy, a man who newspapers later dubbed a “bitter enemy” to Fleming. Fleming didn’t take the news well. He swore that he would have her back after his release.
On Saturday, March 13, 1909, Fleming was freed from prison. On his way home from Moundsville, he made preparations to recapture Lizzie from McCoy. “When John Fleming returned home from the penitentiary, on his way back, at Huntington, he proceeded to supply himself with the necessary guns and ammunition to start a young war in Harts Creek district,” reported the Lincoln Republican of Hamlin, West Virginia. “It is said he stated to parties on the G.V. train that he would go to John Henan Fry’s home, where his former wife was staying and have her or kill every man on Fourteen.”
“When the intrepid John got back to his native haunts,” reported the Republican, “he got his brother Bob Fleming and together they proceeded to the home of their cousin, Herf Fleming, who was a merchant and a very good citizen and persuaded him to go with them to go to the home of John Henan Fry on their desperate mission.”
Hariff, born illigitimately in August 1878 to Lucinda Fleming, was a first cousin to John and Bob. He had settled in West Virginia around the same time as the other Flemings where, in 1896, he married Delphia Workman. In the summer of 1899, after killing a local bully in self-defense, he had moved with his wife and children to Clintwood, Virginia. Not long before cousin John’s release from prison, however, Hariff had returned to Harts Creek. At the time of John’s visit, he lived at Workman Fork with his family.
“The good wife of Herif’s — Delphia by name, pursued her husband with tears in her eyes to stay at home saying that Bob and John had just been in trouble and was going to get into it again,” reported the Republican. “But as vengeance rankled in the bosom of John for the man who wooed and won his wife in his absence to the pen, he plead with his relatives and companions to pursue their journey.”
Hariff told his worrying wife that he would use the trip downriver as an opportunity to get back a yoke of cattle he sold to a man on Ten Mile Creek.
Before making the trip to Fourteen, Fleming reunited with his familiar confederates, including Charley and Bill Brumfield. These men, like Fleming, had only lately been released from prison for their role in the Adkins conspiracy case. All together, they constituted some of the more mischievous outlaws in the community — men who newspapers claimed had “terrorized Harts Creek.”
“John sent word that he was coming to get his wife, but Aunt Lizzie’s family sent word back to not try it,” said Mr. Frye.”They came with the Charley Brumfield gang.”
The Fry clan was ready for them.
“My dad was there,” said Mr. Frye. “He was Aunt Lizzie’s brother. His brothers were there, too. Uncle Caleb and Albert and Anthony. Poppy was 19 years old. The Fryes and Headleys and Neaces gathered in ambush in barns and behind trees.”
Upon reaching the vicinity of the Frye home, “John Fleming called for his former wife” to leave with him, the Republican reported, “which she refused to do whereupon the trouble started, and John Henan Fry, who was a small, weakly man, started down the branch at about a 2-40 gait.”
At that juncture, someone began firing.
“The guns became much in evidence,” reported the Republican, “and a general shooting affray took place. Herf Fleming was killed by a bullet from a Winchester said to have been fired by Charley McCoy the new lover of the recent Mrs. Fleming who had secreted himself on the hillside in the woodland near the home of his lady lover. He shot into the bunch and shot John Fleming through the arm, and then it is said, sought safety in flight.
“It is useless to state that Mrs. John Henan Fry and children were scared so Mrs. Fry went under the bed after her husband had run off and left the home; but she had a son there and a young man by the name of Caleb Headley who went out at the rear door of the little home and came out to see the result of the battle whereupon John Fleming leveled his pistol on them and maliciously attempted to murder these two unarmed and helpless boys, his aim was so accurate that he cut a lock of hair from Caleb Headley’s head.”
This Caleb Headley was the 19-year-old nephew to John Henan Fry.
“The former Mrs. Fleming,” wrote the Republican, “seeing that she had no further protection against this desperate criminal capitulated, not for any love or affection she had for him but by being put in fear of her life, started to leave with him, and after going a short distance, being stung from his wounds, and remembering his cousin, Herf Fleming having been killed, sent her back to see after him; and she returned to the bullet riddled little home to tell her mother and brothers and sisters that the battle was over for the present, at least.”
“Grandpa Hariff was shot through the shoulder and down through the stomach,” said one grandson, in a 2003 interview. “He lived a while. A little child, maybe named John, came and told Grandma Delph about it. Samp Davis took a wagon with a mattress and bedsprings on it to get him. Ene Adkins and Bud Workman went too. Grandma killed a chicken to make Grandpa a dinner but he was already dead when the wagon got there for him.”
Regional newspapers carried the story. On March 17, 1909, the Marion Daily Mirror of Marion, Ohio, offered a piece titled “Desperate Men Shot.” That same day, the Times Dispatch of Richmond, Virginia printed a story titled: “Shot From Ambush: Members of Feud Gang in West Virginia Waylaid.” On March 20, the Watchman and Southron of Sumter, South Carolina gave one account (“Feudist Shot from Ambush.”) On April 16, the Times Dispatch reported this: “FREELING, Va., April 15 — Hariff Bryant, formerly of this county, was killed on Hart’s Creek, in Logan county, W.Va., according to a late dispatch. He was engaged in an altercation with one John McCoy, a member of the old Hatfield-McCoy feud, when the latter fired the fatal shot. Bryant was about thirty years old and married.”
By that time, county authorities had initiated proceedings against the belligerent parties.
“The next grand jury after the shooting John Fleming was indicted and charged with the shooting at Caleb Headley with intent to kill, and Chas. McCoy was indicted and charged with the murder of Herf Fleming,” the Republican reported.
Unfortunately, many participants in the case had fled West Virginia to avoid possible legal entanglements.
“Poppy and Jesse Headley went to Virginia for a while,” said Mr. Frye. “There were no indictments brought against them.”
John Fleming was also gone. It was later learned that he left West Virginia and traveled to Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee. A capias was issued for him on January 4, 1910, March 16, 1910, March 30, 1910, June 30, 1910, October 8, 1910, January 9, 1911 and February 8, 1912.
“Grandma Delph put out a reward of $500 or $1,000,” said a Fleming descendant.