“A Pitched Battle”: The Ainsworth-Windham Fracas of 1903

Recently, in a comment posted to Yvonne Bivins’ essay on the Ainsworth-Smith-Knight family of Smith County, Mississippi. a reader mentioned an infamous neighborhood battle of the early nineteenth century that involved several members of the Ainsworth clan. Reminiscent of stories that abound in popular literature about the feuding Hatfields and McCoys, or, closer to home, the Sullivans of Smith County’s Sullivan’s Hollow, the Ainsworth-Windham feud ranks with the “best” in its portrayal of stereotypical Southern mayhem. My thanks to Yvonne for providing Renegade South with the transcript of this story. 

Vikki Bynum, Moderator

From the Ainsworth Trading Post

Smith County Reformer Raleigh, Mississippi Thursday, February 26, 1903


Of all the horrible battles into which Satan has ever had the pleasure of leading his forces, there never was one as far as our memory serves us in the history of the county of Smith, which breathes a more Satanic odor or beats a more demonical aspect than the one fought at the Jeffrey Ainsworth old place in the Southeastern part of Smith County near the line of Jasper county on last Saturday evening. We have heard of wars and rumors of war, but this was the biggest war ever fought on Smith county soil. This was a battle in which A.L. (Coon) Ainsworth and his two sons, Jesse and Sloney Ainsworth were arrayed against Anse Windham, in particular, and the other Windhams in general. It is claimed that over 100 gun and pistol shots were fired in this battle, in which Coon Ainsworth and his two sons, Jesse and Sloney were literally riddled with balls. The wounds are so severe that the victims are not expected to recover there from. No other human flesh was penetrated by balls except Anse Windham was slightly wounded in the side after he had emptied his six shooter and was retreating from the battleground in double-quick time.

It is remarkable that no more damage was done in the midst of such an array of balls flying hither and tether, cutting holes through the raiment of many persons and especially that of the Windhams. While human flesh was spared to a seemingly miraculous degree, yet the flesh of the dumb animals were not entirely spared. One horse, one yoke of oxen and a few dogs passed through the ordeal of this historical battle with many marks on their carcasses. This row or riot began at the close of a session of justice court presided over by Justice Andrew Bryant of Beat 2, in which Anse Windham had been proceeded against by Coon Ainsworth’s daughter in a case of bastardy which procedure resulted in the justice binding the accused over in a bond of $1000 to appear at the next term of circuit court to answer the complaint. It is said at this junction Coon Ainsworth kicked over the table, threw the justice docket out at the door and cursed out the justice of the peace, forbade any of the Windhams going on the bond and made an attack on Anse Windham and from that shooting began furiously. It is true that the enormity of the offense which Anse Windham had committed against the Ainsworth family and himself was enough to incense their feelings against his conduct beyond human utterance; for a man to seduce his sister-in-law in this way is wicked to the extreme. But one wrong can’t be corrected by committing another wrong, therefore Coon Ainsworth was not justifiable in letting the case go to trial and then tank up on mean whiskey and cause the shedding of so much blood. These two families of Ainsworths and Windhams related by blood as well as by affinity – hence the feud. Anse, Bill, Hiram, D. Windham and Jim Ainsworth, one of Y.E. Ainsworth’s sons, were brought in Tuesday by N.B. Boykin and G.M. Martin and committed to jail. They will have a preliminary trial here at Raleigh tomorrow. The committal of crime has reached an alarming point in Smith County and in nearly every case mean liquor plays a conspicuous part.

Smith County Reformer, Raleigh, Mississippi, Thursday, March 5, 1903

When court convened here last Friday for the preliminary trial of Anse Windham, Bill Windham and Jim Ainsworth, their cases were dismissed by the court for want of a prosecutor, and the defendants discharged. After that affidavits were made charging Anse and Bill Windham with the murder of Sloney Ainsworth; Anse and Bill Windham for assault and battery with intent to kill A.L. Ainsworth; Anse and Bill Windham for an assault with intent to kill Jesse Ainsworth; papers were issued for their arrest and preliminary trial set to be tried before A.L. Jones at Raleigh today. [final sentence unintelligible]

Smith County Reformer, Raleigh, Mississippi, Thursday, March 26, 1903

Dr. Hill, the attending physician, informs us that Coon Ainsworth who was so severely wounded at Ainsworth’s Store in the unfortunate shooting aggray which occurred on the 21st February 1903, with the Windhams, is improving and is likely to recover. He was shot in different places, but the wound made through the stomach is the most dangerous and difficult to manage. Jesse Ainsworth has about recovered from his wounds. It will be remembered that Sloney Ainsworth died from his wounds which he received at the same time about a week after the lamentable affray.


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27 replies »

  1. First off I just want to say that your blog is fantastic. I have only come to it recently, but I am already captivated. I have been working through the back catalogue, and I particularly enjoyed the profile on Blanche K. Bruce. So many great details.

    I write to you because I am involved with a movie called “Saving Lincoln.” I thought you might be particularly interested because a Virginian is the subject of our movie.

    It tells Lincoln’s story through the eyes of Ward Hill Lamon. The movie is Directed by Salvador Litvak, who invented a filming process called CineCollage in order to make the movie on an indie budget. The tentative release date is Lincoln’s birthday this coming February.

    I would really appreciate it if you took a look at our teaser trailer http://www.savinglincoln.com/ and our Veterans Day tribute http://is.gd/XNQMi8.

    I would love to hear any comments you may have. Maybe we can find a way to drive our respective supporters toward each others projects in a mutually beneficial way. I hope all is well, and keep up the great work!


  2. I still own the property homesteaded by Coon Ainsworth’s brother, Asberry, my great great grandfather. They were the sons of Samson and half brother’s of the children of Samson and his mulatto slave, Martha, ancestors of Mrs. Yvonne Bivins. I read about this fued a couple of years ago. My parents which are both decended from Asberry Ainsworth have no knowledge of the fued. My mother is 87 and has a very good memory, so I suppose it was something that was not passed down. However Coon, my parents great uncle,shot his neighbor, my mother’s grandfather, Levi Allen on his front porch. Levi Allen died later in 1907 from the wound. Mother doesn’t know of any legal action taken against Coon. This took place in Old Taylorsville, a route out of Summerland. If my memory is correct, Anse Windham was married to Coon’s daughter and took advantage of her sister, another daughter of Coon. Anse took his wife and moved to West Monroe and raised their family. There was another killing of one of the Windhams shortly after this fued, while in route either to or from Bay Springs by an unknown assailant.


    • Thanks, Mitchell, for sharing this story! Perhaps others can contribute what they’ve heard. It’s interesting how these stories are–or are not–passed down through the generations.



    • Killed From Ambush
      Mississippi Man Shot to Death, Result of an Old Feud
      Laurel, Miss., Aug. 20 – Last evening, while W.C. Windham, E. Windham and J.T. Blakeley were going through the Talahala swamp, about two miles from Bay Springs, Miss., they were fired upon by an assassin from ambush and W.C. Windham was shot in the breast by a rifle bullet and killed.
      The shooting was a result of the Ainsworth-Windham feud in Smith County, Sloan Ainsworth having recently been killed by one of the Windhams. Further trouble is expected, as both factions are heavily armed. There is no clew to the assassin.
      [From the Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), dated August 21, 1904:]


  3. Thanks for sharing this! I am a descendant of the Windham family and this gives a more personal view of the family.


  4. I am also descendant of Anse Windham. He was my father’s grandfather. My father is also named Anse Windham. He was born and raised in West Monroe, Louisiana where several of his siblings still live.


    • Linda, Coon Ainsworth was my gg grandfather’s brother. A couple of years ago I located Wonderous Ainsworth’s only daughter. She was raised in West Monroe and has asked me about some of the Windham’s that moved to West Monroe that she remember from 50 years ago. She remembers a mother and her sons. I’ve have to call her to get the names again, but it was the same family. Her Dad told her they were related.


      • It would be nice to put them in touch with each other. My Dad still visits his sisters in West Monroe and there is a family reunion in October every year.


      • I am in K.C. but was raised on hwy 80.The youngest Windham boy and his mother visited dad frequently.Floyd called my father dad.As a little girl I went a lot of places with Floyd.


  5. Linda Long, I just spoke with the Ainsworth girl that has fond memories of Bryceland Windham. His brother was Breland and sister, Helen and Mother, Vallie. She would love to make contact if this is your family. Friend me on facebook and I will set it up.


    • So glad you mentioned Vallie as a daughter of Albert. The 1890 census went up in flames so there’s no census record of Vallie living with Albert. Very helpful!

      I’m descended from the illegitimate child produced between Anse and Stella.


  6. Coon Ainsworth was my mother’s grandfather. Her father was Lafayette Ainsworth who settled in Bay Springs, MS. If anyone has any more information about this fued, I would appreciate you letting me know. My mother used to talk about it all the time. Grandpaw Coon was born February 29. And he always called himself a “Blue Hen Chicken”.


    • Sandra Adams, I just looked and saw where my great grandpa Levi Allen lived inbetween Albert L. (Coon) and Lafayette Ainsworth. Layfayette next door and Coon two doors down, in 1900. Have you ever heard of Coon shooting my grandpa Allen? I’ve like to hear anything you know. I was told this by my Aunt that has passed away now. I understand Coon shot him on his front porch, but grandpa Allen died later from an abscess…….??


  7. This is all very interesting does anyone know the names of Coon’s daughter that was married to Anse Windham and the one that was taken advantage of by him as well ? I remember hearing of the Blakeneys when I was a little girl at my grandparents home in Taylorsville . There is also an interesting story about an Ainsworth property that is in the hands of a family named Stringer – I believe it is in Bay Springs. This property has a lot of strange occurrences . I remember my great uncle Jesse who had a twin brother named Sloaney . It’s interesting how they passed these names down.


    • Suzanne, I don’t know the name of Coon’s daughter that was taken advantage of but his daughter (my great grandmother) that was married to Anse was Vallie.
      The names definitely get passed down. My Dad was named Anse after his grandfather. My Dad named my brother after his father, Brealon and I named my son after my brother.


  8. I believe the daughter was Stella Ainsworth. Her son was named James Ainsworth, born in 1907. She later married a Jernigan.


    • I believe the illegitimate child that Stella was pregnant with turned out to be my great grandmother Robbie Ainsworth. Stella also had a son James, but I don’t know or even have any guesses as to who the father is.

      My theory on Robbie isn’t drawn family lore but rather census data. In 1900 Stella is still in Albert’s house at the age of 14. In 1910 Robbie shows up as a 6 year old child listed as a “cousin” in the household where she’s staying (in this census, Robbie is at the top of the census page and I don’t have the preceding page to see whose household is caring for her.). In this same census, James is listed as 4 and also a cousin.

      Ten more years forward to the 1920 census, Robbie is now 16 and listed in Albert’s household as his granddaughter, but her mother is not in the household. She has now begun her Jernigan life with James in her household still bearing the Ainsworth name.

      Finally, in 1930 we see that Robbie is now married to Connie Gibson, and married him at the age of 17, just after the last census. They begat my grandmother Bradis Gibson.

      So, if my theory is correct, it is really interesting to see the family pitching in to care for a child while her mother can’t.


  9. i Am Wanda Ainsworth,daughter of Wondrous Ainsworth.I knew the whole family when I was a little girl. When daddy went to West Monroe they soon migrated behind him.


  10. Killed From Ambush
    Mississippi Man Shot to Death, Result of an Old Feud
    Laurel, Miss., Aug. 20, 1904 – Last evening, while W.C. Windham, E. Windham and J.T. Blakeley were going through the Talahala swamp, about two miles from Bay Springs, Miss., they were fired upon by an assassin from ambush and W.C. Windham was shot in the breast by a rifle bullet and killed.
    The shooting was a result of the Ainsworth-Windham feud in Smith County, Sloan Ainsworth having recently been killed by one of the Windhams. Further trouble is expected, as both factions are heavily armed. There is no clew to the assassin.
    [From the Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), dated August 21, 1904:]


  11. My mother was Ruby Clarinda Hardin from Smith Coubty and I have learned I am related to this family. I had my DNA done and it puts me right there in Smith County where I was born. Anyway, interesting.


  12. In the original article near the end it mentions a D.Windham as part of the Windham shooters Anyone have a name to go with that. My great grand father was J.D. Windham. Would have been about mid twenties in 1903. He lived just southeast of old mt neon church he was part of Windham’s and Ainsworths between there and Union bapist church right on jasper smith county line

    Liked by 1 person

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