Ferguson claimed that all his killings were in self-defense, while admitting that some, like the Frogg shooting, were preemptive attacks. One of them occurred about a month after Frogg’s death. Ferguson and his men went to the home of Reuben Wood, who also lived in Clinton County. Wood met the guerrillas in the road in front of his house. ‘Don’t you beg,’ Ferguson told the older man, ‘and don’t you dodge.’ Wood’s children later testified that their father reminded Ferguson of their past friendship and the fact that he had cared for Ferguson when he was a child. ‘You have always treated me like a gentleman,’ Ferguson said, ‘but you have been to Camp Robinson, and I intend to kill you.’ Reuben Wood did not die easily. Even fatally wounded he managed to knock Ferguson’s gun away with a hatchet and escape. Wood died two days later.
‘Reuben Wood and I were always good friends before the War,’ Ferguson said, ‘but after that he was connected with the same company in which my brother, Jim, was operating. I knew that he intended killing me if he ever got a chance. They both hunted me down, and drove me fairly to desperation.
‘On the day that he was killed, we met him in the road and he commenced on me, and I believe he intended to shoot me. The touching story about his piteous appeals to me — that he had nursed me when a babe, and tossed me on his knee — are false, and were gotten up expressly to create sympathy, and set me forth as a heartless wretch. If I had not shot Reuben Wood, I would not likely have been here, for he would have shot me. I never expressed a regret for committing the act, and never will. He was in open war against me.’
In 1862, Ferguson began his long-running war with a man named David Beaty, who would become his greatest enemy. The Nashville Dispatch noted that Beaty ‘fought Champ Ferguson from the beginning to the end of his career…. They have shot at each other innumerable times, and each has received ugly wounds. They were deadly enemies, and hunted each other down with savage ferocity.’
Known to his neighbors in Fentress County, Tennessee, as Tinker Dave, Beaty (also spelled Beatty) was as ruthless and vicious in his defense of the Union as Ferguson was of the Confederacy. Local legend tells of the time he shot a man and then directed his horse to step on the unfortunate victim’s face.
Beaty became a guerrilla in early 1862. About February 1, Bledsoe’s men warned Beaty to take sides or leave the country. At this point in the war, Bledsoe and Ferguson were, according to Beaty, ‘conscripting, killing, and shooting at Union men in general, including myself.’ Beaty responded to the threat by choosing the other side and raising his own band of guerrillas. His men lived in the woods like Ferguson’s and practiced the same tactics. These enemies skirmished often.
Given the opportunity, Ferguson and Beaty would no doubt have eagerly cut each other’s throat, but they did share a mutual respect. Perhaps they sensed they were kindred spirits who had more in common with each other than with polite society or the military establishment.
By the spring of 1862, relatively few major military engagements had taken place in Tennessee, but the Cumberland Mountains were filled with violence. Roaming bands of outlaws took advantage of the war to steal whatever they wanted with no regard for their victims’ politics. It was not uncommon for these outlaws simply to declare a man an enemy sympathizer and then take his possessions or even kill him. Families, friends, and neighbors were so passionately divided that even idle rumors questioning a man’s alignment could soon lead to his death. Many prudent people avoided their own homes.
In the middle of all this chaos stood Champ Ferguson. Many of the Union men he took prisoner — some in the army, some not — were found shot and often stabbed through the heart. Ferguson favored the Bowie knife and often finished his victims off with one. There were rumors of decapitations.