Harris and Dooley Feud No.2


by Henry C. Thompson

Feuds amongst the mountaineers of Tennessee and Kentucky have been more or less frequent until recent years and have been given considerable publicity but the Dooley-Harris feud in this county around the turn of the century is not known in detail by many, and entirely unknown by the present generation.

For many years parts of the story have been told but it was not until some years ago that this writer was doing some research in the vast newspaper library of the State Historical Society of Missouri at Columbia that copies of the Farmington newspapers gave us enough details to make the basis for this story. Our friend, Jesse D. Stewart, who was then Clerk of the Circuit Court, helped piece out the story from court records.

The Dooley and Harris families had been neighbors in and around Doe Run. William Dooley, Sr. and his four sons, John, William, Jr., Leslie and Joseph. Henry Harris and his wife Amanda and their four sons, James, Frank, Wesley and William are the ones we find involved in this story.

It appears that sometime during April or May 1899, William Dooley, Sr., heard a noise around his corn-crib and took down his Winchester rifle to make an investigation. He saw a man filling a sack with corn and he took a pot-shot at the man who fell to the ground but got up and ran. Peculiarly, Henry Harris, Sr., died at his home from gun-shot wounds a few days later. No charges were ever filed and Mr. Dooley was never sure who the man was at his corn-crib.

Some time later, James M. Harris bought the farm from the owner on which the Dooleys were renting. Considerable trouble resulted, for the Dooleys claimed that their lease ran until their crops were harvested. Court proceedings were instituted and the Dooleys were evicted from the farm. This did not engender any friendly feelings between the two families.

Trouble followed Jim Harris after he moved to the farm. Many unpleasant things happened around the place. His stock was poisoned, his dogs killed. No one was caught and the depredations were never charged against anyone openly.

Sometime after leaving the farm from which they had been evicted, John Dooley became a teacher in the District Public School and the Harris children attended this school. That was in the days of the hickory stick or witch hazel switch. John Dooley seems to have laid it, perhaps rather heavily, on the Harris children, so much so that criminal charges were made against John Dooley before Squire R. C. Tucker.

All of this shows the background for the ill-will between the two families that lead to the serious feud that resulted later.


In the days at the turn of the century, the big summer events were picnics with carnival rides, barbeques and general visiting amongst neighbors. The liquor parlors were the congrating place for the men. Every family hitched up the buggy and drove for miles to the picnics.

On July 25, 1900, such a picnic was held at Flat River. Of course the Dooley and Harris families were there, some of them were reported to have Brass knucks. As could easily happen, with families who between which were ill-feeling, a fight broke out when the two families ran into each other. Nobody was seriously hurt but no love was engendered over the incident.

In those rough and ready times it was not unusual to "tote a gun" and this habit could often lead to serious trouble.

It was reported that after the fight at Flat River, both the Harris and Dooley boys went about "dressed." On several occasions the Dooley boys are reported to brag that they would be at the Doe Run picnic on Saturday, August 4, 1900 and would run the Harris boys off the grounds, if they showed up. This, of course, was a direct challenge and it would have been considered cowardly if the Harris boys stayed away. How much of a serious threat the Harris boys considered the matter is not known, but if they had anticipated that there might be blood shed, it is not likely that they would have brought their women folks along.


The morning of Saturday, August 4, 1900 dawned brightly and the air was clear and pleasant. The carnival rides had been set up and were ready for a day of amusement for all visitors.

From testimony of eye witnesses and court records, we piece out the events as they occurred. It seems to have been about 8:30 A.M. that William Dooley, Sr., and his sons, John, Joe, Less and Bill came onto the picnic grounds. Each of them were reported to have been armed with a pistol and a pocket full of ammuniton. Also in their wagon under the straw was one or more Winchester rifles. None of the Dooley women were there.

Jim and Wes Harris arrived with their mother, Mrs. Amanda Harris. Jim's wife and her seven children arrived about 9:00 A.M., Frank Harris arrived shortly afterwards with the estranged wife of William Dooley, Jr. They had baskets of food anticipating a wonderful picnic but were not afraid of a few fisticuffs if they developed.

The air grew tense about 10:30 as everyone realized that trouble of a serious nature was about to start, and the Dooley boys were "dressed" for a shooting match.

It seems that William Dooley, Sr., and his son Bill were standing ... [ a line of text is missing ] ...

Jim and Wes Harris came up and spoke to him asked about fox hunting. Wes ended up by telling that Matkin was "no good and not worth a damn." Matkin told that Wes turned to old man Dooley and told him he was not afraid of their guns.

From testimony from several witnesses, Dooley advanced on Wes Harris with a club of some sort and Wes reached in his pocket for a pistol which he carried wrapped in a handkerchief. Apparently, the first shots fired were from Wesley Harris' gun. He fired twice at Mr. Dooley and killed him. Less Dooley had secured one of the rifles from their wagon and he and his brother John started firing at Wes Harris, who tried to get out of the range of the cross fire from the two men. A shot from the Winchester entered Wes Harris' head and killed him. Frank Harris testified that Joe Dooley shot him once in the left arm and once in the left side. Jim Harris ran from the grounds and Less Dooley followed, hitting him four times. Bill Dooley fired once at Mrs. Jim Harris but missed. Bill Dooley then picked up Wes Harris' revolver after Wes was killed and shot twice into the dead body and then stomped into his face.

Bill Harris had been late in getting away to come to the picnic and when he appeared the Dooley boys fired at him only to scare Bill's horse who ran away from the grounds and Bill was unhurt.

It is apparent that the Harris family expected only the good old past time of "fists and knucks." Wes Harris had been living for some time at Pilot Knob and was the only Harris with a revolver. The rest of the Harris family were unarmed.

At the November 1900 term of Circuit Court an indictment was presented by Prosecuting Attorney W. T. Hensley and Joseph, William and Leslie Dooley were indicted by the Grand Jury for the murder of Wesley Harris. On December 1, 1900 each defendant posted $3000.00 bond and were released from custody.

Killing of a human being is not a pleasant thing. To look upon a dead man shot down by his neighbor has no glamour to it and we write this story only to preserve a part of our Missouri history and show how far we have come in nearly seven decades.

Those were the days of open saloons in most of the mining camps. Rough and tough men lived in our towns. Killings were frequent, most of them by men full of hard liquor that cost ten cents a shot. It is not a pretty picture but we have more about the Dooley-Harris feud.

On Monday, July 7, 1902, Frank and Jim Harris were in Bono's saloon at Doe Run. Leslie and Joe Dooley came into the saloon. The Harris boys opened their coats and exposed revolvers on their hips in holsters, but made no attempt to draw their weapons. The Dooleys walked into a rear room and exposed their weapons and returned to the bar. No words were spoken on either side but one of the Dooley boys ordered a beer and drank it while his brother eyed the Harris boys. The other Dooley then ordered a beer while his brother watched for an untoward move by the Harrises. The Dooleys backed out of the saloon and went home. Nothing happened but the Harrises are reported to have said that they would kill every Dooley before they were through.

It was on July 9, 1902 that Bill Dooley came into Doe Run about half an hour before train time for the M.R. & B.T. Ry. train to Bonne Terre. Bill Harris came down and entered the rear coach when the train came in, and took a seat on the opposite side from the station. Dooley waited until the train started and then ran and caught the last coach and Conductor Belknap collected his fare to Elvins, leaving Dooley standing outside the door of the coach. Harris paid his fare to Bonne Terre. As the whistle was blown for Rock Spring, Dooley approached Harris, stopped within about ten feet of him, took deliberate aim and shot Harris immediately behind the left ear, then rushed up to him and placed his pistol against his head and fired twice.

We will not attempt to relate the court procedures which were long and involved. Ending the case, we find that on May 17, 1905, William Dooley was found to be of unsound mind and ordered confined to State Hospital No. 4. He died there about 1907.

On June 11, 1905, Joseph and Leslie Dooley plead not guilty and on June 16, 1905, the trial was completed and Joseph and Leslie Dooley were found not guilty and were discharged.

[Note: This six page manuscript was found in the vertical files of the Ozark Regional Library at Ironton, Iron Co. MO. It appears to be a rough draft. We don't know if it was ever published.]