HISTORY OF PASCO COUNTY
The Whitehurst-Whidden-Stevenson Feud
This page was last revised on Dec. 30, 2011.
July 4, 1893. The town marshal of Tarpon Springs, William Erastus Whitehurst (1869-1893), attempting to arrest a drunken sponge fisherman named Robert Atwell, is shot and killed by Constantine “Bud” Stevenson and John S. McNeill in Tarpon Springs.
May 25, 1894. Constantine “Bud” Stevenson and John S. McNeill are convicted. The jury recommended mercy, saving the defendants from being hanged.
June 8, 1894. Judge Barron Philips declares a mistrial and thus voids Stevenson’s conviction for first degree murder and McNeill’s conviction for manslaughter.
July 26, 1893. A masked mob of 15 men, perhaps intent on seeking retribution on Stevenson, raided the house in which he was staying. Stevenson was wounded, but Henry Taylor Osteen, a 19-year-old cousin of Stevenson, who was sleeping, was unintentionally hit and killed.
Dec. 20-22, 1894. A second trial of Stevenson is held, and he is acquitted.
July 26, 1895. The New York Herald reports:
Messrs. Dan and Crockett Whidden were assassinated at their cedar camp on the Cootie River, in Pasco county, about one o’clock.... The men, with a large force of hands, have been at work in that vicinity for a week. The Whiddens slept in hammocks swung to two large trees. A dozen men rode into the camp, shot the brothers to pieces, and rode away. The negroes in the camp were awakened by the firing, and, going to the hammocks, found their employers frightfully mangled by gunshot wounds. The Whiddens took an active part in the Whitehurst-Stevenson feud, which has caused so much bloodshed in Pasco county, and they are said to have killed six men. It is supposed that they were assassinated by members of the Stevenson faction. More blood will undoubtedly be shed, as the Whiddens have a large family connection.
May 10, 1896. The Tampa Morning Tribune reports that the cases against Tillet Whidden and Lewis E. Mobley for killing Tom Swayne have been transferred from Pasco County and will be tried this term of court. It reported that there are two cases against Whidden, one for killing a man some eight or ten years ago.
May 21, 1896. The Tampa Weekly Tribune reports that Tillet Whidden is found not guilty of murder.
May 27, 1896. The Tampa Morning Tribune reports that jury selection has begun for the trial of Tillet Whidden charged with murdering John Ashley in what is now Pasco County in June 1881. [According to this page, the killing occurred much later.]
May 29, 1896. The Tampa Morning Tribune reports that Tillet Whidden is found not guilty. “This is the second trial of Tillet Whidden for murder during this session and he has been acquitted in both cases.”
June 12, 1896. The Tampa Morning Tribune reports, “Mr. J. W. Crum, a well-to-do citizen of Brooksville, was shot and instantly killed Wednesday night by an unknown assassin near that place. It is thought that Tillet Whidden is implicated in the tragedy as bitter animosity existed between the two. No arrests have as yet been made. The deceased was a son-in-law of Mr. David Hope, of Brooksville, and leaves a wife and eight children.”
Feb. 3, 1897. Constantine Stevenson is killed at Hudson from an ambush attack. A later newspaper article reported, “Stevenson was planting a watermelon patch at the time of the shooting, and his two daughters were in the field with him. When he jumped over the fence he fell before his wife reached him with the gun, but died before he could use it. Ever since the killing of Whitehurst at Tarpon Springs three years ago Stevenson has carried his gun regularly and it is said that this was the first day he had ever been without it.”
Feb. 5, 1897. The Decatur Daily Republican reports:
Jacksonville, Fla., Feb. 5.—Constantine Stevenson, a farmer of this county [sic], was shot and killed yesterday while in his field. The assassins were concealed in a clump of bushes and fired four charges of buckshot into Stevenson, tearing his body to pieces. Stevenson was a member of the Tillet faction which has been engaged in a feud with the Whiddens, and which has now caused the loss of nine lives. In 1895, after four members of the Tillet faction had been killed, three of the Whidden brothers were shot to death while sleeping in hammocks at their lodging camp in this county. Stevenson, it is supposed, took part in this killing. In July of last year J. W. Whitehurst, a member of the Whidden faction, was assassinated while sitting on his front porch. Stevenson was indicted for this murder, and tried, but was acquitted, while the Whidden faction believed him guilty and swore vengeance, and his murder yesterday shows the vow was kept.
Tillet W. Whidden of Pasco County and Willard Whitehurst subsequently surrendered to Sheriff Spencer in Tampa. Both denied involvement in the murder; Whidden said he preferred the custody of Hillsborough to the jail of Pasco County. On Feb. 6, 1897, the Tampa Morning Tribune stated, “The killing of Stevenson is believed to be the sixth chapter in this tragical record of crime and it is about time the law was invoked to bring the book to a close.”
Feb. 24, 1897. The Tampa Morning Tribune reports that Tillet Whidden and Willard Whidden surrendered to the sheriff in the killing of Bud Stevenson, and that the Whitehurst-Whidden and Stevenson-McNeill feud continues with the assassination of Constantine Stevenson at Hudson. [According to John Fuller, a descendant of Stevenson, who has researched the feud, only Whitehurst, Stevenson, and Osteen were killed in the feud, and it ended with Stevenson’s death.]
May 27, 1897. The Tampa Morning Tribune reports:
Late Tuesday night Sheriff Spencer received a telegram from Trilby informing him that another victim of the Whitehurst-Stevenson feud had been killed. The victim was William Edwards, of that place, who was shot and killed by unknown parties a short time before the telegram was sent. The message requested the sheriff to come at once and bring his blood hounds. But owing to the fact that the hounds were out at the convict camp, and could not be gotten to the scene of the murder before the trail would be too cold to follow.
On May 27, 1897, other newspapers carried the following: “Tampa, Fla., May 27.—William Edwards was assassinated at his home near Trilby. He and his two children were eating supper, when parties concealed in the woods fired through a window, killing Edwards instantly. He was a one armed ex-Federal soldier. This is the seventh man killed in the Whitehurst-Whiddin-Stevenson feud. Bud Stevenson was assassinated in his field two months ago. It was thought Edwards did it, and he was marked by the friends of Stevenson.”
Sept. 5, 1900. The Tampa Morning Tribune reports:
A report reached the city yesterday which indicated that the long-standing Whidden-Whitehurst-Stevenson feud which has been in progress in this section for years, and which has recorded fourteen homicides already, has scored another victim. The report is to the effect that Tillet Whidden was shot from ambush, near Fort Thompson, last Friday, and that he is in a dying condition. At the time of the shotting, Whidden was riding across a field.
(According to a genealogy post, Whidden died on April 24, 1914.)