The letter below was from Wavolene Blass, written approximately 1981-3, to her cousin, Lillian “Judy” Thompson Hall, describing her mother, Nettie Thompson Curtis’, memories of her childhood. NOTE: The house that burned in this story was on or near the area where McConnell, West Virginia, now stands. My comments are in brackets [ ].
It was nice hearing from you. I would have answered sooner, but have been quite busy trying to document as much information as I could for you, also tied up with my son’s wedding which was on 5/21. I’m so sorry about your husband. [O.W. Hall d. 1/2/1980] I never met or knew him, but had heard a lot about him. Hope you and your’s [sic] are well at this time.
This is all the information I have been able to document on the family. Uncle Lark and Mom simply didn’t know any more since they were quite young when their parents died. Your Aunt Nettie was just three years old when her father died  and was only eight when her mother died. Of course, your Uncle Lark was just 14 months older than she. What they knew was just what they could remember and what had been passed down by “word of mouth”, as they would say. That probably explains their grandmother’s name. They both pronounced it as “Guh-newt” [Gunnoe], but neither knew how it was spelled.
Our grandfather, Jimmy Thompson and his brothers worked as loggers and rode logging rafts down the Guyan River [Guyandotte] and also down the Big Sandy. He and his brother, Pete, met Mary and Belle Allen (sisters) in Kentucky on one of their trips and took them back to Logan County. In fact, from what I can understand, they were probably married in Logan County rather that in Kentucky. [the sisters, daughters of Christina Gunnoe Allen and ?Allen, were actually part of the Allen family of Wyoming Co., WV.-see Allen Outline] The mouth of the Big Sandy where it meets the Ohio, was quite a logging port according to our local history, with people from Kentucky, Ohio and W.Va. involved in doing business and trading there.
Your Uncle Lark and Aunt Nettie have recalled stories as to how the brothers would either buy a horse to ride back to Logan or they would walk back. The old Farley Farm at Roach (recently sold) [location is known to me], was a stopping off place on their way back to Logan County and they most always spent the nights there. In fact, old Mrs. Farley (your Aunt Mollie’s Mother), [I have not found an “Aunt Mollie as yet] told your Aunt Nettie various stories on the boys, including one where they denuded her favorite tomcat while basking in front of their fire-place. She ordered them out and told them never to come back. Of course, I understand they did, many times.
Also, when your Dad [Lorenzo Dow Thompson], Uncle Lark and Aunt Nettie were small, they all live fairly close to the Hatfield clan, just over the mountain from Mingo County. Your Aunt Nettie recalls Devil Anse [Hatfield] stopping by their house one time with a big bear over his saddle and he had shot it, taking it home to his family. She said he was riding a big white horse. She apparently had been a visitor to the Hatfield family home at some time or other, also.
A few years ago my husband and I took her to Grandview State Park, Beckley,WV to see the outdoor production of the Hatfields and McCoys. She said that in the scene depicting the Hatfield kitchen with a loft over it where the children slept, as just exactly the same as the Hatfield’s old cabin. For the sake of brevity in the show production, and to hold down on the number of actor’s, they showed a final scene of Devil Anse being baptised by young Anse Hatfield. Your Aunt Nettie made herself heard quite audibly in the natural acoustical surroundings of the amphi-theater by saying, “Oh No! That’s not the way it happened! Uncle Dyke Garrett baptized Devil Anse. I ought to know, I was there!”
Mom and Uncle Lark said that after their mother died,[see story on Jimmy’s and Mary Elizabeth’s deaths-coming soon on the “Sketches” page] Uncle [Lorenzo] Dow, Aunt Rosa and Uncle Henry worked out someplace, leaving them at home with Aunt Polly to look after them. This didn’t last too long, I understand. They made a few trips home and then one night the kids were all awakened by Uncle Dow and Aunt Rosa telling them to get out, that the house was on fire. They went across the creek and found that Uncle Dow and Aunt Rosa had carried all of the personal belongings across the creek before awakening the youngsters. They both felt quite bitter in their later years and fully believed that the older ones set the house on fire deliberately to get out from under the care of the younger children. Uncle Henry wasn’t there at the time. Each of the younger ones were put out in various homes to work for their keep. Mom said she was supposed to have been paid a quarter a week where she stayed. One of her duties was carrying wood and keeping fires going all night for the family she lived with, besides carrying water for the household needs, etc. Uncle Lark went to live with a family by the name of Curry in Mingo Co. He kept in touch with a son, Rev. Curry until just a few years ago when they failed to answer any of his letters.
Mom finally lived with a family by the name of Smith in Logan Co., W.Va. They moved to Logan, Ohio and took Mom with them. They were very cruel to her and she ran off after about a year, and lived with Mrs. Smith’s sister, a Hunter family, and stayed there for over 11 years. Aunt Rosa had married by that time, and her husband went to Logan Ohio and brought Mom back, but everyone was so strange to her that she returned to the Hunter family and stayed there until she was about 19 years old, when she again returned to W.Va. (Huntington), where she met and married my Dad.
Eunice [dau. of Dow] once told me she had gathered considerable information on the family and particularly how our grand-father died. I tried to question Mom and Uncle Lark about this. Of course they were only 3-4 years old at the time and probably didn’t know, but believe they had heard. They were very reluctant to talk about the circumstances or the Hatfield family, only saying they were a good family and fine people and were good to them when they were little.
Mom is doing fairly well at 89 years. She is exceptionally mentally alert but the body is getting tired. She’s quite stooped from arthritis and osteoporosis. She doesn’t forget a thing and I often have to listen to all the bad things that were done to her as she was growing up as well as the good things, but I don’t really mind as that is how I find out things that she has forgotten to tell me about my ancestors, etc.
I too, am very interested in genealogy and if you have any information on the family that I haven’t included, please let me know.
Love and best wishes to all…
Wavolene (and Aunt Nettie)
** More On The Burning House Story **
At the time of widowed Mary Elizabeth Allen Thompson’s death, she was the mother of at least 10 children. The three oldest working children were Henry-18 years, Lorenzo Dow-17, Rosa-15. The rest of the children’s ages were, 14,13,11,9,7,6,& 5 years of age.
Try to imagine back when you were 18 or 17 or 15. Could you have been able to accept responsibility for working, feeding, clothing, and caring for 7 young children between 14 and 5?
The fact that Dow and Rosa probably “cooked-up” a plan to force the issue in order to get local residents to help their plight, to me was actually the right thing to do.
There were no “Social Services” to rush in to take care of matters. It was apparently seen to, probably by Dow, that these children were placed in local homes and not in a distant orphanage. Three teenagers were no match for the needs of 7 younger siblings.
January 1,1907 Lorenzo Dow Thompson, married a 16 year old girl, Malinda Elizabeth May, from Roach, W.Va, that he’d met after apparently somehow dirtying her white dress with possibly, coal dust. She eventually, while visiting her sister, who lived next door to his boarding house, invited him over to share a cake that she had baked especially for him. Malinda was raised not far from the Mrs Farley mentioned in the above letter.
After marrying, they moved to Frogtown, near Holden. They moved their little family back to Roach for a short while, with Dow commuting between Holden and his job, and his family at Roach. This came to an abrupt end when Dow came home one week-end and his son Dow Jr. set up a howl when his father tried to get into the bed with him and his mother. He viewed his father as an “stranger”. But before Malinda agreed to move back to Holden, she insisted that Dow get her a house with indoor plumbing. Because he was now working for newly formed “Island Creek Coal Company”, that enabled him to produce a new “company” house with the desired indoor plumbing! By this time they had several children and needed that plumbing! They moved to Batchelder Street to the house next to the church.
Dow wasted no time in rounding up his siblings, and she suddenly found herself the young “mother” to nearly all Dow’s younger siblings! She helped him finish raising these children and all became upstanding citizens.
Meanwhile Malinda and Dow continued to busily build their own family of 10 children as well during this time!
It seems to me, these older children did all they could do, by removing all the children’s belongings from the house and seeing the children safely across the creek as they burned their house in order to “force” the situation. What courage and painful, thoughtful planning had to have taken place by these older children!
Even so, one can easily understand “Aunt Nettie’s” viewpoint and resentment of her life’s circumstances.