From week to week, I try to vary my writings so as not to lull anyone to sleep with the same type of material. Realizing that not everyone, including my own wife, really cares about history as much as some of the rest of us, I often tread into other matters hoping they may be of some significance to readers.
This column appears weekly in four newspapers that include The Logan Banner, Williamson Daily News, Coal Valley News in Boone County and the Pineville Independent Herald of Wyoming County. Although circulation in these long-standing news organizations certainly is not what it used to be, I am always pleased to find out there are many people across this nation who do either receive a mailed copy or read their respective newspaper via the internet. I know this because of telephone calls and letters I receive from folks from many places.
One example is a call I received from a former Boone County lady now living in Tennessee who receives The Coal Valley News by mail. Seventy-eight-year-old Connie Pate, who said she grew up at Monclo, which is a community near Sharples in Logan County, flattered me with some kind words about my weekly features.
Of particular interest to her was an article in which I mentioned Jenny Wiley, a pioneering woman captured by Indians in 1789. While her husband was away, the Indians stormed her small log cabin, savagely killing her brother and three of her small children, all of whom were scalped. Jenny, seven months pregnant, was taken captive and later gave premature birth to a child, who later was also killed by the Indians bashing its head against a tree.
Jenny’s daughter, also named Jenny, married Richard Williamson, who was my grandfather’s great-grandfather. Consequently, the Jenny Wiley story has been handed down through my family for generations.
Anyway, Mrs. Pate’s interest in Jenny Wiley is that her mother had told her about her grandmother, or perhaps great-grandmother being of Indian descent, and she wondered if there was connection to Wiley. Mrs. Pate said she possessed a photograph of her grandmother and it appears she was Indian, at least in appearance.
I have read different versions of Jenny’s life, and some indicate that the first of her five children born after her escape from the Indians may have been part Indian, the allegations being that she was pregnant after 11 months of captivity. Other stories indicate otherwise. So, basically, I have no clue if there is Cherokee blood in my veins or not.
As for Mrs. Pate, I was able to determine through the Williamson Genealogy that her grandfather, Lafe Stepp, was the son of Thomas Stepp, who married Mary “Polly” Williamson in 1865 and they settled near Stepptown, which is near Kermit in Wayne County, which is where Mrs. Pate said her grandfather lived.
From Tennessee to Logan and Boone counties, I suppose, Mrs. Pate, we can say it’s a small world after all.
I also recently received a letter from Carol Hockenberry, of Liverpool, New York. Mrs. Hockenberry said she had visited Logan County out of historical interest this past October and was getting in touch with me because of stories I had written about the Ku Klux Klan’s existence in Logan during the time period of the 1920s. Although she grew up in Patton, Pennsylvania, here’s what Mrs. Hockenberry, now 80 years old, had to say about why she felt the need to visit Logan County:
“My paternal grandfather, George Nicholson Reed, was given many opportunities in life. He was born in England in 1882 and was very well educated. He spoke several languages. In his late teens he angered his father so badly that he left the country by joining the British navy. He eventually ended up in Ontario, Canada, and entered this country in 1903.
“He was active with the Salvation Army and was sometimes referred to as ‘Preacher Reed.’ He worked for the railroad and met my grandmother, Pauline Bloomberg, in Pennsylvania. After they married in 1910, he worked in Kentucky for a while and I believe they next moved to Peach Creek, Logan County. I learned last month that George owned a house that no longer stands in West Logan. The location was a surprise, too. All that I ever heard of was Peach Creek. I got to visit both communities when I visited your area.
“My grandmother served as a midwife back then, and she was called out in either 1922 or ’23, and telephoned a teenage neighbor to stay with her children. George was not to return from work until morning, but he got home before his wife. The teenager ended up pregnant. That is the family story.
“My mother, who would have been about 8, recalls the KKK eventually coming to the house, robed and masked. They were neighbors, because she recognized their voices and recalls calling out to them. Soon after, George made a trip to a dentist in Logan. He was seen getting on the train to return home. However, he apparently moved on through that train and onto another one.
“He had paid all of the bills, taken the remaining money and run from the Klan, abandoning his family. I understand this to be May 8, 1923. Railroad detectives searched for him for a year and he was eventually found in Port Aransas, Texas, working on a charter fishing boat.
“The railroad and neighbors supported my grandmother and the three children for a year. She worked as a midwife and took in laundry. When George was found alive and well, railroad support was to be cut off the end of May.”
Mrs. Hockenberry went on to explain that her grandfather’s family on May 31, 1924, boarded the train and left for other family in Pennsylvania, and that her grandmother divorced George in 1928.
“My mother spent years trying to learn where and when her father died, and now I try,” Mrs. Hockenberry wrote. “I do not expect to learn that from Logan County, but George and the new enthusiastic Klan fascinates me.
“Have you any suggestions how I might learn more? I have read your KKK articles for The Logan Banner that you wrote earlier this year. Thank you for any consideration you might give this request.”
I suspect, Mrs. Hockenberry, there very well may be a story concerning his disappearance in The Logan Banner microfilm files from that time period. I will at some future date attempt to find something, and if successful, make sure that you receive a copy.
Thanks for reading and for the interesting story.
Bits and pieces
I have numerous folks I hear from who still call these hills their home even though some have not been back here for many years and now live far away. For instance, there’s John T. Bailey Jr., of Tallahassee, Florida, who writes that he has not been back to Logan since 1978, but was raised below what was Island Creek Coal Co.’s No. 28 tipple at Mud Fork.
Bailey says his parents owned and operated what was known as the Mud Fork Cash store before the No. 22 coal mining disaster that left his father leaving his mining job and moving to Florida in 1962 after having relocated to Chapmanville in 1957.
Bailey writes that his grandparents shared a boarding house on Mud Fork with Lloyd and Loretta Copley and his cousin, Pam Copley. I remember Loretta as being the longtime postmaster at two different post offices at Verdunville. He notes that the first post office that operated there was inside the No. 16 company store and that his family were members of Maryetta Baptist Church.
“Thanks for keeping Logan County history alive,” writes Mr. Bailey.
I most certainly am glad no one was killed or even hurt from the collapse of the old Super “S” building onto Dingess Street, or from the terrible fire that recently engulfed the vacant Fox apartments on Stratton Street, but in one way, I do consider it a blessing.
The now vacant lot that once also was the Midelburg Theatre across from Chopper’s barber shop looks good with new grass sod and now Christmas decorations. The huge banner now there welcoming people to Logan also adds a little flavor to the town.
The cleanup of the apartments indeed was quick, thanks to rapid work by members of the Logan Fire Department, in keeping the outrageous blaze from spreading, and Orders’ Construction — a company working on the new bridge near the hospital — volunteering their equipment and men in taking down what was left of the structure, which had been home to drug users and vagrants for a long time.
With other noticeable improvements like the painting of the various fire hydrants and the painting of the old Guyan Valley Hospital, as well as a neat new laundromat near Dead Man’s Curve, window dressing in the town, and the saving of the Don Chafin House, Logan is looking better every day.
Hats off to all those responsible for making things look more appealing throughout Logan and elsewhere.
DID YOU KNOW that the median income for a Logan County family is $37,859, while $44,061 is the median in West Virginia? Nationwide, the median income is $57,652. That final figure is more than the annual salary of any West Virginia magistrate.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “To escape criticism, do nothing, say nothing, be nothing.” — Elbert Hubbard
CLOSING NOTE: With Logan County’s jail bill continuing to escalate and the threat of eliminating some services and even layoffs ever looming, one local attorney’s solution is simple. “Don’t pay it.” He contends that the money saved each month can better be used elsewhere and that the state and/or the federal government is certainly not going to close the regional jails. Therefore, he thinks the Legislature will eventually come up with a way to pay the state’s jail bills. Of course, that means lawmakers will likely be forced to rob Peter to pay Paul. Just saying.