Clay County: The Last Baker

This is part of the So Far Appalachia book project. If you enjoy what you read, please visit my Kickstarter page (and pass this along to any friends who you think might find this interesting).

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(Left) Robert Lee Baker, Sr, the last Baker killed in the Clay County War. B: 2-18-1885; D: 6-22-35

(Left) Robert Lee Baker, Sr, the last Baker killed in the Clay County War. B: 2-18-1885; D: 6-22-35

Robert Lee Baker, Sr, my great-grandfather, was the last man killed in the Clay County War.

There are two stories I’ve been told about the nature of his killing, one related to a marital affair and another related to retribution.

Both stories, though, place the War as the motivating factor.

The Revenge Killing

Robert Lee had moved his family from Clay County to southern Indiana, although he maintained several businesses in Cincinnati and kept ties in Manchester.

However, the Bakers were warned by the Whites not to return to Kentucky because the first one to step foot in town would be killed. The reason: Robert Lee’s brother, Tom, had allegedly killed a man, although nobody served any jail time.

(Aside: After the murder, Uncle Tom began going by his middle name, Paul. To the family, he was referred to Uncle Paul-Tom.)

When Robert Lee returned to Manchester, as he oftentimes did, he was mistakenly gunned down because the shooters believed him to be Paul-Tom.

Tom shot a guy. But Uncle Paul-Tom was the cause of Daddy getting killed. Uncle Paul and a man shot a man, and Uncle Gilbert said they tried to not get Daddy killed but he was the first one back in town.  — my grandmother, Virgie (Baker) King

The Affair

I’ve been told on numerous occasions that Robert Lee was a handsome, charming man who always had a nice suit, a new car, and town to visit.

While nobody can say for sure what he was doing, we do know that the family farm was visited by federal agents looking for moonshine and he would be away from the family for long stretches.

One story finds Robert Lee doing business back in Manchester while also engaging in an affair with one of the White daughters. Robert Lee’s blatant disregard for the warning to stay out of Manchester and his bravado in having an affair with a White was cause enough.

He was running around with another woman. Dad would never admit this, but he was running around with somebody from – what I remember, she was from the Whites. When you’re young, though, you dont always understand things. — my great uncle Robert Lee Baker, Jr.

The End of the Beginning

Whatever the cause, the killing of Robert Lee Baker, Sr. set off a series of events that would lead the Bakers west, through Arizona and eventually to California.