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Madison family feud ends with blood

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Madison County will likely never be remembered as any place to compare with the legends of the Old West as created by fiction writers plying their craft. However, there are sufficient true stories of this area to excite even the most stoic spirit. Following the years of The Civil War and the carpet-bagging aftermath, violence did not suddenly end. During the late 1800's men wore pistols as a common part of their daily attire. Many carried a pair of revolvers in a gun belt, known in some quarters as a "double-rig." Colts and Remingtons, with fixed ammunitions, were favored but many cap and ball weapons were still in use. Much as with the Old West legends, men were of a mind that they settled their own questions of right and wrong without having "the law" intervene. Some men would "just as soon shoot you as to look at you." It was also a time of genteel politeness on the street. Good manners were an acceptable means of survival. Personal insults were dealt with swiftly and summarily as exemplified by the feud between two Madison County families, the Wests and the Langfords.

William "Bill" Madison Langford was one of eleven children of Capt. Thomas and Lucinda Overstreet Langford. Bad blood existed between the Langfords and Wests. It may have been some petty jealousy that caused Bill Langford to write a letter to the editor of the local newspaper insulting the West boys' mother by accusing her of being a "road woman," or some such. The West boys didn't take too kindly to such printed comments and became quite incensed when a requested retraction was not forthcoming. On Sunday, May 17, 1885, the Langford family attended services at Hickory Grove Methodist Church, adjacent to the cemetery. The Langford homestead was only a few hundred feet from the church. Bill Langford apparently had reason to suspect that there was going to be trouble that morning. Fortunately, Bill's wife, Molly Luke Langford, the sister of Judge Roscoe Luke, of Thomasville, Ga.; and a year-old son Daniel Luke Langford were not with him. He rode horseback to the church that fateful day to "visit" his family. He came armed with a pistol. When his family arrived for services, he did not go into the church building with them but chose to remain outside.

Meanwhile, the West brothers, three or four of them in two buggies, drove up from their home near West Farm. Knowing that there would probably be a need for him, they stopped by Madison and brought a doctor with them. The doctor followed them to Hickory Grove. The Wests tied their horses down the road a piece and well out of danger. They quietly approached the church on foot. The Wests claimed that they meant to kill only Bill Langford as he was the one who had written the "letter to the editor" saying very ugly things about their "ma."

As they approached the church, the Wests saw Bill Langford standing outside. As soon as he was within range, Eugene West shot Langford from the side, the bullet ripping through his shoulder and arm. Langford had his gun in his back pocket. After being shot, he managed to draw it but was able only to shoot a bullet into the dirt before he went down. At the sound of gunfire, the rest of the Langfords came running from the church. Unfortunately, they were only armed with their long-bladed pocketknives. They soon realized the folly of bringing only knives to a gunfight. Lucinda, Langford's mother, ran to the downed man and cradled his head in her lap. Eugene West came over, rudely pushed Lucinda back from her wounded son and then shot him in the chest while he was still lying on the ground. Bill Langford died almost instantly. It was murder, plain and simple. The youngest of the Langford men, Joe Langford, ran and jumped on Eugene West and stabbed him in the back between his shoulders. However, Joe's knife blade entered an O-ring clasp holding West's suspenders together and the blade failed to penetrate West's back deep enough to kill him. In the ensuing melee, Babe Langford was shot and killed and at least one other of the Langford brothers was shot and seriously wounded. The Wests got cut up pretty good, but none died from their wounds. The two Langfords were buried in the Hickory Grove cemetery, not far from the West family plot.

The West brothers were tried for murder in Madison. Both Eugene West and one of the Langfords were sufficiently injured that they had to be carried into the courtroom on stretchers. The Wests were all found not guilty based upon the publication of the disparaging letter. The accepted belief was that you don't go about insulting someone's mother and expect that nothing will happen to you. Some folks felt that the editor of the newspaper should be "strung-up" for publishing the letter, because he knew, or at least should have known, that the West sons would not allow such remarks about their mother to go "unrevenged." It is claimed that as long as the West family members lived in Madison County, they never allowed a light in the house at night, for fear that some of the Langfords or their friends would shoot them through the window under cover of darkness.

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