“When the going gets rough, family smoothes the edges”
Beth Meade Conny
As I’ve researched my deep West Virginia roots to a time before West Virginia even existed, I found that, to be a frontiersman, a person would have to have the intestinal fortitude to be able to defend “his own”.
So deep was this attitude, coupled with the fact that “the law” was practically non-existent in this isolated, mountain filled frontier, that is now Logan and Wyoming Counties, that it seems to have taken several generations before our ancestors began to find alternatives to taking the law into their own hands.
Below are accounts of several of these “shootouts”. I hope you enjoy reading and learning about them even half as much as I have.
Wyoming Co.,West Virginia
This ‘Logan Banner’, July 14, 1898 account, was discovered on microfilm
in the genealogy room located at the Cultural Center in Charleston, West Virginia. (A wonderful place to do research!)
The following stories were both on the same page, separated by an ad for a “deafness cure”.
The Allen Case
The James Allen case for the murder of Dr. Harvey in Wyoming County, went to the jury last Wednesday and a verdict of murder in the first degree was returned by them on last Thursday with recommendation of mercy which means a life-time sentence in the penetentary. Allen’s own evidence was about the same as last year and very damaging to himself.
A Fracas in Court
During the trial of James Allen at Oceana last week, his brother and Henry Stuart got into a fight which attracted everybody from the court house except Judge J. M. Sanders and the prisoner, James Allen. Stuart got the worst of it and went in to show the Judge his wounds, who ordered him to be silent. He persisted and the Judge ordered Sheriff Cook to place him under arrest. But the Sheriff was dumfounded with the situation, whereupon the Judge imposed on the Sheriff a fine of $25 and cost.
Logan County, West Virginia
The Death of James “Jimmy” Thompson
James “Jimmy” Thompson
b. Abt 1840 – d. October 12, 1897
Son of James “Jack” Thompson & Juda White
Husband of Mary Elizabeth Allen Thompson
Father of 10 children
Henry 13, Dow 12, Rosa 10, James 8, Polly 7,
Thomas 6, Larkin 4, Nettie 3, Julius 1, Charlie new born
In October, 1897 Jimmy and Mary Thompson lived just south of Logan County Court House, Logan County, West Virginia on lands that had been in his family for some time. It is believed that Thomas Patton Thompson, was Jimmy’s Grandfather. Jimmy’s father James “Jack” Thompson had lived on this same land, as well as assorted other Thompson family members for at a long time. Possibly from the 1830s.
Just over the mountain toward Mingo County, the Hatfield Clan and allied families had begun their move into Logan, in effort to leave the Mingo County area along the Tug River, where there was constant tension between the Hatfields, and their extended family factions, and the McCoys, and their factions, on the Kentucky side of the River.
Many written accounts, backed up by Thompson family stories indicated that Devil Anse, the Hatfield patriarch, had tired of the strife and had made a concerted effort to avoid trouble.
The younger men of his, and his children’s families, did not always feel the same way, and on occasion, would behave in less than a peaceful fashion, as did many of the younger generation of that time. This according to Altina L. Waller in her excellent book “Feud – Hatfields, McCoys, and Social Change in Appalachia 1860-1900”.
In “Wavolene’s Letter” she states that the Hatfields “were a fine family and had always be good to us”.
But for what ever the reason, there was an exchange of ill will between Jimmy Thompson and John Totton Vance, husband of Nancy Hatfield, Devil Anse’s daughter.
The family story told to me by my mother and other older family members, explains that they believed Jimmy Thompson owned a piece of landlocked land in the middle of John T Vance’s land, or at least land located in such a location, that it required, that Jimmy cut across Vance’s land.
Apparently, there had never been a problem for Jimmy, prior to this, getting to his fields. This was said to have been a common practice for him. But, it was also apparent that the trouble between the two had been festering, because my grandfather, Dow, 12 years old at the time, heard the shots ring out while in the school house, and knew just where to run to, because he did run out of school when he heard the shots.
Oral history tells us that Jimmy Thompson and his wife Mary were crossing John Vance’s land and he, and it is said, his wife Nancy, were waiting for them. As they crossed the land, shots were fired and Jimmy received fatal injuries to his abdomen, and Mary received permanent maiming injuries to her elbow and arm. The Thompsons were not armed, having left their weapons at home, contrary to their usual practice.
Dr. Sidney B. Lawson attended the couple and tried in vain to lift out Jimmy’s gut and wash the ‘shot’ from it. He died within hours, leaving an injured wife to support and raise their 10 young children.
John T. Vance was tried and convicted for the murder. He served time for this. I know some of the details of his arrest and the found documentation that he did leave for prison. It is also known that he received a ten year sentence for the murder.
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After recently talking to Wavolene Bloss (Nettie Thompson’s daughter), she stated that she had been told that a Thompson pig had been rooting in the freshly planted corn of the Vance fields. Apparently the Thompsons had been warned about it and were told that they would shoot if the Thompsons couldn’t control their pigs. The pig returned to his rooting in the Vance’s fields and the Vances followed up on their threat.
NOTE: Wavolene, in our recent talk, said she understood that John Vance did not serve out his time, because someone else confessed to doing the actual shooting. She had also been told, (as we were) that it was supposted to be a Hatfield woman that actually did the shooting. Whether it was Nancy Hatfield Vance or another member of her family, is completely unknown at this time. All we have is oral history. In this one instance though it agrees. Wavolene had been raised away from the Logan Thompsons because of her mother’s experiences (dealt with in “Wavolenes Letter”). The Logan Thompsons had been told the same basic story about the possiblity of a Hatfield woman being responsible for the actual shooting.
On the day that Vance returned home, Dow got wind of it and left work early that day, came straight home, went directly upstairs to get his gun. He was going to kill his father’s murderer! All in the house were frozen with fear at what he was about to do. Dow was a strong willed man, and would not be talked out of doing what he thought he had to do.
But strangely, he stayed upstairs for a very long time. Suddenly he came down and with a light mood behaved like nothing was wrong. Later, he told his family, he spent the time thinking about what he was about to do and what it would do to his own family and all that he was working so hard to attain.
Dow Thompson (Sr.) went from a boy of 12 who had to start working in order to help support his widowed, injured mother and family, to a man, that through his own self-determination, studied via correspondence school, to become an electrician. He accomplished this, and eventually became the man responsible for first electrifying Island Creek Coal Company’s #22 mines in Holden, & mines in Mudfork among others. He advanced to become Chief Electrician.
He and Malinda eventually finished raising most of his younger siblings.
Thankfully, he put the gun down, and let the matter end.
If anyone can offer more information of these events I would very much appreciate your input! We would like to understand the full scope of this dispute. This can only be accomplished by placing as much info as possible on this page and letting the reader be the judge of what actually took place.
Below is documentation that I have been able to locate to back up details of the above story.
At the court house I was able to locate Indictments, dated October 25, 1897, against John T. Vance before the Grand Jury, H. C. Ragland, Foreman.
[H. C. Ragland later wrote “The History of Logan County” for the Logan Banner in 1898. A “must” book for genealogy, it has been updated and annotated by Samuel W. Rogers for the Logan County Homecoming 1996]
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True Bill Indictments for Murder – 2 Counts
True Bill Indictments for Felony – 2 Counts
Some of the next bit of information, is to say the least, puzzling. I do not understand exactly what the extra names mean, and have tried to obtain access to copies of the actual Trial Documents without success.
The day I visited at the Court House, I was told it was all on microfiche, and all unsorted. It was also located in the desk of a person who was much too busy to allow someone to rumage through the files.
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Note number of these 3 cases-148,149 & 150, all listed together while other cases just before and just after had unrelated numbers. Q-Were these other people involved in the murder?]
State vs. John Vance
A & F 148
This day came the State by her attorney as well as the defendant by his attorney who for plea says he is not quilty in the form and manner and form as the State in her indictment against him has alleged and of this he puts himself upon the county and the state doth the like.
[This one causes me no question]
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But who is the Rhoda Pack in this one?
State vs John Vance & RHODA PACK [!?]
This day came the State by her attorney a well as the defendant [not defendants ?]John Vance by his attorney who for plea says he is not quilty in manner and form as the State in her indictment against him has aleged and of this he puts himself upon the County and the State doth the like. [?no mention of Rhoda Pack in the record text here?]
And this one:
State vs Blackey Vance
A & B
This day came the State by her attorney as the defendant by her attorney who for plea says she is not quilty in manner and forn as the State in her indictiment against her, had alleged of this she puts herself upon the country and the State doth the like.
[Q-Who is Blackey Vance? And what is her involvement if any?]
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Logan Banner Newsclipping
October 16, 1897
Much more to come, as time permits! Please check back!