Early Logan Co.: A mighty tough place to live

By Dwight Williamson

Dwight WilliamsonFrom everything I’ve been able to discover over the years, it appears Logan County was a mighty tough place to live, particularly during the 1800’s. There were no real law enforcement officers, and oftentimes matters were settled—let’s just say—outside of a court room. The Hatfield-McCoy feud is a prime example. However, there were many other happenings— some of which that ended with gunfights that resembled old western shootouts. And there were several hangings, especially of black slaves when one of them was said to have committed a crime. The only white person hanged at the Logan courthouse (that was ever reported or recorded) was a prominent lawyer in 1897. And in as much as some readers may rejoice in hearing this lawyer news, I will relay the information which I uncovered from a Madison newspaper printed in 1939.

M.L. Jones, who taught school in Logan County during the 1880’s, tells the story of Charley Williams, whose untimely death came with the snapping of his neck in the Logan courthouse yard. Jones, who said he was listening to the song “The Yellow Rose of Texas” on the radio when he was reminded of Williams, who he said was a well renowned banjo player in these Appalachian hills.

“Good banjo players were scare in Logan about 1883, and he and his banjo were welcome almost anywhere,” Jones explained. “But Charley Williams was no wondering minstrel. He was a man of intelligence and culture. He was of a leading family in eastern Virginia. While he was still a boy he joined Lee’s army, and was present at Appomattox. His people must have saved a little money; for after the war he took a course in law and practiced a while in Logan, then went back to Virginia. He returned to Logan about 1883 and for a short time was a leading lawyer of the Logan bar.

“I think I must have met Williams first while staying a couple of days at a home on Main Island Creek near where the Anse Hatfield monument is now. He was boarding there and borrowed a shotgun, and we strolled up the creek with it. Seeing a squirrel in a tree, he handed the gun to me and told me to shoot the squirrel. I told him I had never shot a gun in my life, but he insisted. I pulled the trigger, and the squirrel fell to the ground. Charley Williams was my partner in my first, last, and only squirrel hunt.”

According to the report, Williams did well for about three years, but by 1896 he was drinking heavily, but was described as “not being quarrelsome” and only “pleasantly conversational”. “I remember that while Bruce McDonald and I were teaching in the first schoolhouse built at Logan, Williams, feeling pretty full, said to me, ‘I like you Jones. You should study law; you would make a good judge.’ By 1897 his drunk spells lasted longer, and he reportedly became obsessed with the idea that certain men were his enemies. If anybody tried to rebuke or argue with him, he was terribly insulted.

“He began to mutter as he walked about,” Jones said. “People heard him say, always to himself, ‘I’ll kill him, or I’ll shoot him.’ Several men around Logan began to be afraid of him when he was drunk. It would have been well if Jim Aldredge had been afraid of Charley. Aldredge was a nephew of William—a sister’s son. He was almost as old as his uncle, and was County Surveyor, married and with several children. But not being afraid of him, he did his utmost from time to time to take care of him.

Doubtless, with what little mind the besotted lawyer had left, he fancied Aldredge was insulting him.

“One day Aldredge approached Williams and said something to him, which people thought might have been, ‘come with me.’ Before Aldredge or the bystanders realized the danger, Williams drew a pistol, said ‘I’ll kill you,’ and shot Aldredge through the heart. At once there was a great commotion. The gun was taken from Williams and he was put in jail. On either the second or third night, I don’t remember which, a mob took Williams from the jail and hung him in the court house yard.

“Thus, the only white man ever hung in Logan was a lawyer, a man of family and education, and originally a gentleman.”

Dwight Williamson is a contributing writer and a former reporter for The Logan Banner. He currently serves as a Logan County Magistrate.

*Published with permission.

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