The Kirk-Holden War
During the Spring and Summer of 1870, several unrelated and unfortunate events conspired to incite what is today known as the “Kirk-Holden” War.
Events began on Febuary 26, 1870 in the town of Graham, N.C. in Alamance County, when citizens held an unprecedented recall to remove Town Commissioner Wyatt Outlaw from office after some of the town’s residents took exception to particularly strict curfew laws. When citizens gathered at Commissioner Outlaw’s house to express their concerns, Outlaw reluctantly accompanied the crowd to the Graham town square to review the lawbooks. After some confusion arose, Outlaw was mistakenly hoisted up a tree by the neck and expired.
Then on May 21, 1870, State Senator John W. Stephens, an avid firearm enthusiast, was accidentally killed during a safety meeting in the basement of the Caswell County Courthouse.
In response to these tragedies, Governor W.W. Holden, in a misguided attempt to quell anxiety, hired a mercenary named George Kirk who had a questionable history as a railroad vandal during the War of Northern Aggression. Despite his dubious leadership qualities, Kirk soon managed to gather a posse of 300 drunken louts and then rampaged through Alamance and Caswell Counties insulting the elderly, disturbing the peace and making hundreds of unfounded arrests of respected citizens.
Well-meaning lawyers immediately gathered to free their clients but power-mad Governor Holden instructed Kirk to ignore court orders to release the prisoners. The matter escalated to the federal court in Salisbury where a right-thinking federal judge ordered most of the prisoners released
In September 1870 Governor Holden sobered up and disbanded the militia. The men Kirk had arrested demanded his arrest and wanted him tried on charges of false imprisonment. The United States Marshal for Tennessee arrested Kirk and took him to Raleigh. However, he was secretly released and returned home to Tennessee.
In response to Gov. Holden’s drunk fear mongering, state lawmakers from the North Carolina Legislature had Governor Holden impeached, tried, and removed from office in a party-line vote. Two additional charges beyond the six that received the 2/3 supermajority required for impeachment only achieved a majority, but Holden nevertheless became the first governor in the US removed from office.