By Stephen D. Bowling
Snake Valley is the name given to the long, winding valley cut by the North Fork of the Kentucky River thousands of years before men first walked in Breathitt County. The section of Breathitt County that connects Quicksand and Jackson today is referred to as Old Quicksand Road, but previous generations knew it simply as “the Valley.” For generations, the valley was the most dangerous part of the county. Shootings, stabbings, and every type of crime found refuge here.
Once called Jackson’s “skid row,” the six-mile-long valley was home to many of the wildest honky-tonks and beer joints in Breathitt’s history. “The Bloody Bucket,” the “Slaughter House,” and the “Butcher’s Block” were all names given to these dens of excess and iniquity. While condemned by many of Breathitt County’s leading citizens, spending nights up the Valley was just a way of life for hundreds of people in the county.
Men and women mixed with a large quantity of cheap whiskey and other alcohol often lead to violence and occasionally murder. The following article details one of those violent occasions in Snake Valley. The original article was published in the Friday, January 22, 1915, edition of The Jackson Times.
Another Snake Valley Scrape
On last Sunday afternoon near the “slaughter house” (a fit locality for what we are about to record) at the bridge over Malone Branch in Snake Valley, Hiram Centers and Ross Lunce became intoxicated in a difficulty, said to have arisen over the price of a small bottle of whiskey, and as a result. Lunce picked up a rock, said to have weighed not more than five pounds and hit Centers on the head with it just over the eye, crushing the skull, from which wound Mr. Centers may die, though the doctor says he may have a chance.
Mr. Biggs was called at once and removed pieces of the skull and finds the brain exposed in a place as large as a silver half-dollar. Dr. Hogg was with Dr. Biggs in the operation and treatment, and as soon as Mrs. Harvey Beuris, a daughter of Centers, heard of the trouble, she hurried there and had her father removed to her house, where he is receiving every attention- medical and otherwise, that the devotion of a fine daughter can give.
The trouble occurred on the exact spot where Ewen Bowling killed Sam Crawford, a good old colored man, and close to where “Yaller Cat” Davis is said to have shot Drew Bush, and is very close to where Felix Bullock was killed in front of the “dead” house and near where Cal Miller and Josh Miller are said in have killed Jack Roberts, a deputy jailer.
Likely we could go on and extend this list of people who killed and who were killed on this dark and bloody ground- but what the use- tiger, blind and otherwise, still abound and will abound up there and human life will be sacrificed. “How long, oh, Lord, how long?”
Whiskey will be blamed, and justly so, in a large measure, but this trouble was over the price of a bottle of bad liquor. The great truth of the Biblical statement that “the love of money is the root of all evil” holds good and is again proven. Lunce is in jail.
Today, Snake Valley is the mostly-quiet home to several churches and many respectable families. Gone are the bars, honkey tonks, and the shootouts they hosted. There are no hints of the violence that once was commonplace along this beautiful stretch of the North Fork of the Kentucky River.
© 2023 Stephen D. Bowling
Fascinating history! I had heard of the Bloody Bucket while growing up in Jackson.