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West Virginia"
January 1998 Programs


January 1, 1888: The Hatfield-McCoy feud

The conflict between the Hatfields of West Virginia and the McCoys of Kentucky is the most famous of a series of feuds in Appalachia in the late nineteenth century. Both families lived in the Tug Fork River Valley.

A cause of the feud has never been determined. Some say it started after Floyd Hatfield stole a razorback hog belonging to Randolph McCoy. Others point to the romance between Johnse Hatfield, "Devil Anse's" son, and Roseanna McCoy, Randolph's daughter. Court records indicate troubles between the two families started around the time of the Civil War.

Violence flared between the two families for years until tensions exploded on New Year's Night 1888. A party of Hatfield men, led by "Devil Anse's" uncle, Jim Vance, raided Randolph McCoy's home. The Hatfield raiders feared the outcome of impending trials connected to feud violence and planned to kill those who might testify against them. They set fire to the McCoy home; killed two of Randolph's children, Alifair and Calvin; and severely injured his wife Sarah. Randolph escaped unharmed. Several Hatfields received prison sentences and one defendant, Ellison Mounts, was sentenced to hang.

Although more deadly feuds occurred throughout the country in the late 1800s, the national media made the Hatfields and McCoys the most famous. One year after the New Year's incident, New York reporter T. C. Crawford used the Hatfield-McCoy feud to brand Appalachians as barbaric.

The feud appears to have fizzled out after the trials. "Devil Anse" moved from the Tug Valley to Island Creek near Logan and became a member of the Baptist church. He died in 1921. Randolph McCoy died seven years earlier.

For more information:

Rice, Otis K. The Hatfields and McCoys. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1978.

Waller, Altina L. Feud. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1988.

Waller, Altina L. "The Hatfields and McCoys

For Discussion:

The Hatfield-McCoy feud was not the only one of its kind during this period, however, the media used it to label an entire geographical region--Appalachia.

January 2, 1918: Founding of Nitro

It's often assumed the town of Nitro is named after nitroglycerin, but that's the wrong assumption. Historian Bill Wintz says Nitro's name can be traced back to its origins as a World War I boomtown and nitrocellulose, which is used to manufacture gunpowder.

The government chose the area that is now Nitro for one of three new explosives plants after the United States entered the war. The plants were built to relieve a severe shortage of gunpowder.

Even though construction at Nitro had begun the week before, official groundbreaking ceremonies for the plant were held January 2, 1918. Bill Wintz says it took just 11 months for workers to build the plant.

Wintz: During the eleven months that it took to build Nitro, there were 110,000 people, different people, on the payroll. But the average only stayed about 6 weeks. There was terrific turnover. The most that was ever there at one time was about 30,000.

And Wintz says Clark Gable, who was to become a major Hollywood movie star, was one of them. Wintz came across the information in a newspaper article.

Wintz: It was in this article he said that while he was in Nitro, he had a girlfriend and the girlfriend was worker there too and she lived in Welch, West Virginia. And he said he had to . . . she quit before he did. And he said one weekend he wanted to go see her and he left on the train. And he said he was on the train all weekend except two hours that he spent with his girlfriend in Welch. He did actually work at Nitro. He was in the . . . he was a telephone repairman.

The explosives plant was not completed in time to help the war effort. The facilities were sold at auction and Nitro eventually became the center of one of the most productive chemical industries in the world.

For more information:

Wintz, William. Nitro, The World War I Boom Town. South Charleston, WV: Jalamap Publications, 1985.
For Discussion:

There are many famous people with ties to West Virginia, including Clark Gable.

January 4, 1911: Death of U.S. Senator Stephen Elkins

The death of Stephen Elkins on January 4, 1911, left a vacancy in the U.S. Senate that proved difficult to fill. Elkins, a Republican, lived at various times in Ohio, Missouri, and New Mexico, where he served as a territorial delegate to Congress. After arriving in West Virginia in 1878, Elkins became heavily involved in the coal, railroad, and timber industries with his father-in-law Henry Davis.

Elkins' death meant the legislature had a chance to elect two replacements since Elkins' Republican colleague in the Senate, Nathan Scott, declined to run for reelection. In those days, senators were elected by the state legislatures.

The West Virginia House of Delegates was controlled by Democrats, while an equal number of Democrats and Republicans served in the state senate. Fearing Democrats would win both U.S. Senate seats, all 15 Republican senators locked themselves in Governor William Glasscock's office, preventing the state senate from convening.

The Republican senators secretly traveled to Cincinnati, out of the reach of West Virginia authorities. When 20 armed Kentucky woodsmen appeared at their hotel, the Republican senators feared West Virginia Democrats had conspired to kidnap them and agreed to negotiate. The two sides finally reached a compromise. Future Governor Henry Hatfield, a Republican, was elected state senate president, while Democrats picked the two U.S. senators. The editor and publisher of the Charleston Gazette, W. E. Chilton, succeeded Senator Scott and coal baron Clarence Watson of Fairmont replaced Senator Elkins, ending one of West Virginia's most bizarre political tales.

For more information:
Williams, John Alexander. "New York's First Senator from West Virginia: How Stephen B. Elkins Found a New Political Home." West Virginia History 31(January 1970): 73- 87.

For Discussion:
Today, the "organizing" of the West Virginia Legislature is a routine function at the beginning of the legislative session. But the process is controversial when close election results are disputed by the political parties.

January 5, 1911: Star City elects a Socialist government

Today, politics are controlled almost entirely by the two major political parties. That wasn't always the case--third parties once played an active role in West Virginia politics. In the early 20th century, the Socialists organized a successful third party.

Coal, oil, gas, and timber companies were thriving economically. While the owners of these businesses lived in relative luxury, workers and their families often struggled to survive. The Socialist party provided a glimmer of hope, promoting a system where the workers owned the workplace, such as a mine, factory, or farm. In Star City, a small town near Morgantown, the glass industry was suffering through a depression and many employees worked only a few days a week. On January 5, 1911, Star City voters elected a Socialist city council.

Stephen Cresswell, the chair of the History Department at West Virginia Wesleyan, says the Socialists reached their political peak in the state in 1912 and dominated several municipal governments.

Cresswell: Adamston in Harrison County and Star City in Monongalia County and Hendricks over in the mountains and Cameron up near Wheeling, all taken over by the Socialist party. Not by Revolution but by the voters there deciding that they wanted a Socialist mayor or Socialist city council.

The Socialists closely aligned themselves with the state's growing labor movement, which was generally opposed by both Democratic and Republican officials. During the violent Paint Creek-Cabin Creek coal strike in Kanawha County, the Socialists supported the miners with words and weapons. Governor Henry Hatfield eventually shut down two Socialist newspapers, which had been outspoken advocates for the strikers.

Cresswell says that despite the workers' support, the Socialist party never gained enough momentum to win election statewide.

Cresswell: When about six out of a hundred West Virginia voters voted for Eugene Debs, the Socialist for President and for the Governor candidate here in West Virginia from the Socialist party. And while six percent may be pretty good by third party standards, you know, it's clear that the Socialist party was not on the verge of taking over the state.

Support for the Socialist party declined in West Virginia and across the nation after the United States entered World War One in 1917. Russia's violent Bolshevik Revolution that same year also convinced many that socialism was un-American.

For more information:

Cresswell, Stephen. "When the Socialists Ran Star City". West Virginia History 52(1993): 59-72.

Fagge, Roger. "Eugene V. Debs in West Virginia, 1913: A Reappraisal". West Virginia History, 52(1993): 1-18.

For Discussion:

Third parties have made strong showings in recent elections.

January 6, 1860: Establishment of Weston State Hospital

Prior to the Civil War, there were two institutions in Virginia to treat mental illness. Overcrowded facilities at Williamsburg and Staunton often meant that those in need of treatment were confined in jails. Western Virginia politicians demanded a new facility be built west of the Allegheny Mountains. Virginia had never funded a public institution in present-day West Virginia, a point of contention among those who leaned toward forming a new state. To appease western leaders, the Virginia General Assembly authorized the establishment of the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum in 1858, although funds were not appropriated until January 6, 1860. The Civil War delayed construction and the facility finally opened in October 1864 as the West Virginia Hospital for the Insane, renamed Weston State Hospital.

Over the next 100 years, West Virginia expanded its mental health institutions. Facilities were built in Huntington and Spencer and a segregated institution for black patients opened at Lakin. In 1932, the West Virginia Training School, later called the Colin Anderson Center, was established near St. Marys to serve people with mental retardation.

By the 1960s, these institutions had become overcrowded and underfunded. In response, West Virginia developed programs to provide mental health services locally. People formerly committed to state hospitals could now receive help in their own communities. As local services expanded, state institutions downsized or closed. Weston State Hospital closed in 1994 and was replaced by a much smaller facility named for State Senator William R. Sharpe, Jr.

For Discussion:

For many years, western Virginians had tried to obtain public funding for roads, public institutions, etc. The Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum was the first institution in western Virginia funded by the state of Virginia.

January 7, 1862: Battle of Blue's Gap

When Union General Benjamin Kelley learned of Confederate General Stonewall Jackson's plans to destroy the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal opposite Hancock, Maryland, he met the rebels at Blue's Gap. Blue's Gap is in Hampshire County about 13 miles southeast of Romney. The site of the battle is also known as Hanging Rock. It was an important region during the Civil War because the Northwestern Turnpike, which is now U.S. Route 50, passed through Blues Gap.

The C&O Canal was an avenue for federal supplies. In one attack, Jackson intended to disrupt the canal as well as the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, a significant supply line which ran through Romney. Once these objectives were met, Jackson planned to move across the Allegheny Mountains and drive Union troops from northwestern Virginia.

Kelley thought an attack at Blue's Gap would force a Confederate withdrawal to protect Jackson's headquarters at Winchester, Virginia. It would also relieve pressure on Union troops at Romney. Troops under Colonel Samuel Dunning, the Union commander at Romney, arrived at Blue's Gap on the morning of January 7, 1862.

Various reports number the Confederate killed or captured between 40 and 70, but Dunning reported only 7 prisoners and 7 dead. Union troops suffered no casualties and were back in Romney by 4 o'clock that afternnon. Just three days later, Kelley ordered Union troops to evacuate Romney, which was subsequently occupied by Jackson.

Winter weather forced Jackson to scrap plans to bring northwestern Virginia under Confederate control. Jackson nearly resigned his commission after the Confederate War Department ordered him to abandon Romney. General William Loring had convinced Confederate officials the occupation of Romney had been a strategic mistake. However, Jackson was validated. After the Confederates evacuated Romney, Union troops reopened the entire line of the B&O Railroad.

For more information:

Haselberger, Fritz. "The Battle of Blue's Gap." West Virginia History 28:3(April 1967): 241.

January 8, 1866: Life of Governor William Conley

The end of Governor William Conley's term in 1933 marked the end of thirty-six years of Republican control of West Virginia's governor's office. The election of Democrat John J. Cornwell in 1916 briefly interrupted this trend. It was the Great Depression that finally caused a shift toward Democratic control of state government. Since the end of Conley's term, only two Republicans, Cecil Underwood and Arch Moore, have held the state's highest office.

Conley was born on a farm near Kingwood, Preston County, on January 8, 1866. He worked in coal mines, a sawmill, and on the railroad before becoming a school teacher. After earning a law degree from West Virginia University in 1893, he served as mayor of Parsons and founded the Parsons Advocate newspaper. In 1908, he was named West Virginia attorney general by Governor William Dawson. After losing the 1912 election for Congress by fourteen votes, Conley opened a law practice in Charleston. He defeated Fayetteville's J. Alfred Taylor by nearly 50,000 votes in the 1928 election for governor.

The crowning achievement of Conley's term was the dedication of the new $10-million state capitol building on June 20, 1932. The dedication came at the height of the Great Depression. He was unable to turn the tide of West Virginia's worsening economic problems. The election of H. Guy Kump as governor in 1932 marked the beginning of Democratic dominance in West Virginia. Upon leaving office, Conley divided his time between Charleston and Florida. He died in Charleston on October 21, 1940, at the age of seventy-four.

For more information:

West Virginia Legislature's History of the West Virginia State Capitol.

West Virginia State Archives' Biography of William Conley

For Discussion:

The end of Governor Conley's term marked the end of a long span of Republican control of state government and a shift toward Democratic control.

January 9, 1942: Barnette v. Board of Education

In the 1940s, several West Virginians risked persecution while standing up for their constitutional rights of freedom of religion and speech. Court cases involving Jehovah's Witnesses had an impact nationwide.

In 1940, Jehovah's Witnesses, who had been going door-to-door in Richwood, were rounded up by a deputy sheriff and American Legionnaires. The group was tied together by rope, forced to drink castor oil, and marched out of town. The Jehovah's Witnesses challenged this action in court and, in the case of United States v. Catlette, a U.S. circuit court determined the deputy sheriff had committed civil rights violations. This was the first time a public official had been prosecuted for using his office to deny an individual's civil rights

A year later, following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the West Virginia Legislature passed a bill allowing school systems to require the Pledge of Allegiance. On January 9, 1942, the state school board did just that. This went against the religious beliefs of Jehovah's Witnesses, who would pledge their allegiance only to God. But many people thought Jehovah's Witnesses were unpatriotic because they did not salute the flag. This controversy came to a head when Jehovah's Witnesses Marie and Gathie Barnette; David , Helen, and Louellen McClure; and Franklin and Mildred Stull were expelled from their Kanawha Valley schools because they refused to recite the pledge. The parents of these children went to court. The case Barnette v. West Virginia Board of Education was first heard in West Virginia district court, which decided in the parents' favor. In an appeal, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled students could not be forced to participate in any activity which violated their religious beliefs.

This landmark decision is still the precedent for freedom of religion in public schools.


January 12, 1967: Governor Hulett Smith proposes strip mining reform

In the early 1900s, West Virginia led the nation in the underground mining of bituminous coal. By mid-century, coal miners no longer had to tunnel under the earth. Technological advances made it possible to extract coal by removing the earth's surface. Strip mining required less labor than underground mining and generated higher profits. To protect jobs, the United Mine Workers stonewalled strip mining operations until 1948, when union president John L. Lewis conceded the issue in exchange for the establishment of miners' pension and retirement funds.

During the 1950s and 1960s, strip mining in West Virginia increased dramatically as did the unemployment rate. Strip mining also took an environmental toll in the form of erosion and water contamination. The legislature passed laws in the 1950s to help protect the environment from strip mining, but failed to appropriate funding to enforce them.

By the late 1960s, environmental activists had convinced the state government that something had to be done. On January 12, 1967, in his State of the State Address, Governor Hulett Smith proposed a reform of strip mining laws, which would protect the environment but not cripple the coal industry. The legislature passed the Surface Mine Reclamation Act, the most stringent strip mining law in the nation. However, it too failed due to inadequate funding.

The dangers of strip mining were brought to the nation's attention in 1972, when a dam collapsed on Buffalo Creek in Logan County, killing 125 people. Despite regulations forbidding the practice, the Pittston Coal Company had been allowed to build the dam with strip mine refuse. The disaster led to passage of a 1977 federal law which imposed more controls on strip mines. Today, the debate continues. Environmental activists argue that inadequate penalties do not deter strip miners from destroying the land while coal operators insist higher fines and stricter regulations will put them out of business.

For more information:

West Virginia State Archives' "Buffalo Creek"


January 13, 1941: Inauguration of Governor Matthew Neely

When Matthew Mansfield Neely became West Virginia's 21st governor, he took it as a mandate that the people were confident in the leadership of the Democratic party. Neely was sworn in as governor on January 13, 1941. He began his inauguration speech with these words:

Neely: Governor Holt, distinguished visitors, and fellow citizens, at the ballot box last November, the people of West Virginia, for the third consecutive time, deliberately and decisively ordained that the government of this state should be conducted by the duly chosen representative of the historic Democratic party. A free people may capriciously change an administration but they seldom, if ever, again and again, capriciously continue a political party in power.

Neely's term began during World War II. The United States hadn't yet entered the war. But the remarks Neely made during his inauguration speech show he was clearly concerned about it.

Neely: This frightful world war, like its wicked predecessor, unhappily threatens not only the national security and peace, but the perpetuation of democratic government.

When Neely took office at the age of 66, he was the oldest man ever elected governor. That distinction now belongs to Cecil Underwood. However, Neely is still the only man to hold all three of the highest elected offices in West Virginia. Besides governor, Neely served in the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives.

Neely resigned his Senate seat to serve as West Virginia's governor, causing a controversy over whether Neely himself or outgoing governor Homer Holt should name Neely's successor. Neely prevailed, appointing Fairmont State College President Dr. Joseph Rosier to his old seat.

Neely again ran for the Senate one year after his term as governor began. He suffered his greatest political defeat, losing to Chapman Revercomb by 50,000 votes. He finally returned to the Senate in 1948 and served until his death in 1958.

For more information:

West Virginia State Archives' Biography of Matthew Neely

January 14, 1960: Retirement of UMW president John L. Lewis

John L. Lewis retired as president of the United Mine Workers union on January 14, 1960, ending a forty-year career. He had succeeded president Frank Hayes in 1919, in the midst of violent strikes to unionize West Virginia's southern coalfields. The defeat of West Virginia's rank-and-file labor leaders at Blair Mountain in 1921 allowed Lewis to assume a more dictatorial power over the UMW and take control from local unions. New Deal laws of the 1930s strengthened labor by requiring employers to negotiate with unions. As a result, Lewis' power grew immeasurably as the UMW organized millions of coal miners in addition to employees in the steel, auto, rubber, and glass industries.

His testimony before a congressional subcomittee in 1948 demonstrated the combativeness for which he was famous. The five- and-a-half-hour debate stemmed from a mine disaster in Centralia, Illinois, and Lewis' subsequent strike order.

Lewis: If we must grind up human flesh and bones in the industrial machine that we call modern America, then, before God, I assert that those who consume the coal and you and I who benefit from that service, because we live in comfort, we owe protection to those men first and we owe security for their families if they die. I say it, I voice it, I proclaim it and I care not who in heaven or hell opposes it. That's what I believe about that.

Lewis' successor, Thomas Kennedy, lived only three years after becoming president. Kennedy was replaced by Tony Boyle, whose corrupt leadership during the 1960s sparked a new rank-and-file movement, which culminated with the election of West Virginia native Arnold Miller in 1972.

For Discussion:

John L. Lewis was president of the UMW longer than any other individual. Because Lewis had almost total control of the union, it was difficult to replace him.

January 15, 1929: Martin Luther King's Birthday

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was born in Atlanta, Georgia, on January 15, 1929. By the time of his visit to West Virginia in 1960, he was already recognized by many as the national leader of the civil rights movement. King had won fame for leading a battle to integrate the bus system in Montgomery, Alabama. King preached a sermon at Charleston's First Baptist Church on the morning of January 24. He told a large audience that Americans were living during a momentous time--a time--in his words--"When an old order is dying and a new one is being born."

King was interviewed by a television reporter in Charleston and said the civil rights issue would be important in the 1960 elections.

King: I believe both the major political parties recognize the significance of this issue in order to gain the Negro vote and also the other liberal forces in the white community. And I'm sure that both parties will face this issue, both in the conventions and in the election.

Reporter: Are you hopeful for additional civil rights legislation this year from Congress?

King: Yes, I'm sure that some type of civil rights bill will be passed. And I'm sure that there will be a strong debate in Congress on this issue. How strong the legislation will be I don't know. We hope that it will be a bill with teeth and with substance. But at any rate, there will be additional legislation in the area of civil rights, I'm convinced.

King was instrumental in securing passage of the landmark 1964 civil rights bill and was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace. He was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, in April 1968.


January 16, 1959: Elgin Baylor boycotts basketball game in Charleston

Most of the 2,300 West Virginians who braved icy Charleston streets and near zero weather on January 16, 1959, to see the Minneapolis Lakers play a professional basketball game against the Cincinnati Royals thought Lakers rookie star Elgin Baylor was ill or injured. Baylor, dressed in street clothes, sat on the bench during the game at the city's brand new civic center. After the game, it was revealed that Baylor had refused to play in protest.

The Charleston hotel where the Lakers had reservations wouldn't allow Baylor and two other black players, Boo Ellis and Ed Fleming, to stay with the rest of the team. The whole team moved to a hotel that accepted African Americans, but Baylor refused to play that evening's game to protest the incident. Ellis and Fleming, who did play, attempted to change Baylor's mind. Charleston native Rod Hundley, who played for the Lakers at the time, also pleaded with Baylor to no avail.

The Lakers lost the game to Cincinnati 95 to 91. Baylor later said he wouldn't have played even if it cost him his entire year's salary. The protest made national news although local reaction was mixed. Charleston sportswriter A. L. "Shorty" Hardman denounced the city's segregation ordinances, but called Baylor's actions "inexcusable."

Charleston's American Business Club, which sponsored the game and lost money because of poor attendance, filed a protest with the National Basketball Association (NBA) and the Lakers. Both the NBA and the Lakers refused to discipline Baylor.

For Discussion:

Public attention often focuses on athletic events. Over the last fifty years, athletes and government officials have used sporting events to make political statements.

January 19, 1894: Hanging of John Hardy

Two of West Virginia's most popular folk songs are often confused with one another even though they tell very different stories. The song "John Henry" chronicles the epic struggle between man and machine. John Henry won his contest over a steam-powered drill but the effort cost him his life.

Like Henry, John Hardy was a black railroad worker, but he met his death in a less than heroic fashion. Hardy joined thousands of laborers in southern West Virginia's booming coalfields in the 1890s. McDowell County was not prepared to handle the population explosion and stories of murder, drinking, gambling, and prostitution became legendary.

One of these stories became the basis for the folk song "John Hardy." In the song, Hardy guns down a man who beat him at poker. Governor William MacCorkle later called it a classic tale of "women, cards and liquor." Hardy was convicted of murder and sentenced to death. A large crowd gathered at the McDowell County seat of Welch on January 19, 1894, to witness the spectacle. Like many condemned prisoners, Hardy is said to have experienced a religious conversion. Before the noose was placed around his neck, Hardy delivered a moving speech from the gallows in which he showed remorse for his crime.

Although passed down as a folk song, "John Hardy" has been played by bluegrass, blues, country, jazz, and rock musicians. The song has been recorded by a wide array of performers, including Leadbelly, Pete Seeger, Earl Scruggs, Duke Ellington, Manfred Mann, and Uncle Tupelo.

For more information:

Ramella, Richard. "John Hardy: The Man and the Song." Goldenseal 18:1(Spring 1992): 47-51.


January 20, 1978: Snowstorm cripples West Virginia

West Virginians have seen their fair share of snow over the years but not in the proportions that piled up on January 20, 1978. National Weather Service forecasters thought the snow that began early on a Thursday morning would change to freezing rain and sleet by late in the afternoon.

It didn't--the temperature never rose high enough for that. By the time the snow stopped, West Virginia was blanketed by its heaviest snowfall on record. It was a struggle just to get around. Up to two feet of snow had fallen in the Kanawha Valley and Preston County. Parkersburg and Martinsburg ended up with 16 inches, Huntington had 20, and Wheeling reported 18.

Governor Jay Rockefeller activated the National Guard to help with snow clearing efforts.

Rockefeller: It's a matter of equipment, really, more than personnel. We need as much equipment as we can get to clean off the roads--the primary roads and then the secondary roads. And then we've got to have availability for emergencies-- when people have to get to hospitals or need food or fuel or something of that sort. So that . . . vehicles is what we need and heavy equipment.

Adjutant General Robert Childers was in charge of West Virginia's Emergency Services office.

Childers: The mobility of the state has been slowed to a snail's pace. Your main arteries are snow-covered, being worked on to be unplugged. Most of the secondary roads are clogged. Then, you get into the so-called orphan roads. You've really got some very serious problems in those areas.

Roads were so hazardous that authorities advised motorists to use them only for emergencies. Schools and businesses were closed. In Hinton, the roof of a factory caved in under the weight of 15 inches of snow. It took the spring thaw to finally melt the last of the record snow.


January 21, 1927: Death of Confederate general John McCausland

John McCausland was a young Confederate brigadier general when he ordered his troops to burn Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. McCausland never regretted the action, which made him infamous throughout the North.

McCausland was born in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1836. Thirteen years later, he made his home in Mason County in what is now West Virginia. After Virginia seceded from the Union, McCausland was commissioned a colonel in the Confederate Army. By 1864, he rose to the rank of brigadier general. That same year, he was lauded as a hero in the South and branded a villain in the North.

McCausland commanded about 1,000 troops when he held off a Union force of 15,000 at Lynchburg, Virginia. The people of Lynchburg presented McCausland with a gold sword, a horse, and a pair of solid silver spurs for his efforts on their behalf.

In retaliation for the Union Army's destruction of Lexington, Virginia, General Jubal Early ordered McCausland to either collect a ransom from the people of Cumberland, Maryland, and Chambersburg, or destroy the towns.

Upon reaching Chambersburg, McCausland demanded $100,000 in gold or $500,000 in paper money. The townspeople refused so most of Chambersburg was burned to the ground. McCausland never made it to Cumberland to repeat the ransom threat. He was forced to retreat into West Virginia in the face of a superior Union force.

The North wouldn't let McCausland forget the burning of Chambersburg. Warrants were issued, charging him with arson and calling him a murderer and a thief. After the war, McCausland was forced to flee to Europe and Mexico. It was only after President Ulysses Grant intervened that McCausland was able to return. He lived the rest of his life in Mason County and always maintained a clear conscience regarding the burning of Chambersburg.

McCausland died January 21, 1927.

For more information:

Brown, James Earl. "Life of Brigadier General John McCausland". West Virginia History 4(July 1943): 239-293.
For Discussion

According to an old saying, "History is written by the victors." McCausland was a villain for burning the town of Chambersburg. However, Union general William Sherman destroyed large sections of Georgia and South Carolina and Philip Sheridan burned much of the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia. Sherman and Sheridan were considered heroes and served in high-ranking government positions after the war.

January 22, 1953: Governor William Marland & the coal severance tax

An ongoing debate has resurfaced in recent years over whether West Virginia taxes its natural resources fairly. Governor William Marland faced the issue head on in the first days of his administration. Marland stunned the legislature on January 22, 1953, when he asked for passage of a severance tax on coal, oil, gas, and other natural resources. The proposal was a surprise to lawmakers because Marland had made no mention of such a tax in his inaugural address.

Marland estimated the new tax would generate about $18 million annually and solve the state's road and school problems. Marland found support for the proposal from West Virginia's major labor groups. The state's congressional delegation also supported the tax but opposition arose from the coal industry, the Republican minority of both legislative houses, and the state Chamber of Commerce.

As the 1953 legislative session wore on, it became obvious Marland's tax bill was doomed, despite his efforts to salvage it. Late in the session, the House of Delegates killed the issue by postponing further consideration of the tax bill indefinitely. Under House rules, the bill couldn't be acted upon again during that legislative session.

The severance tax never again became an issue during Governor Marland's term. Coal interests helped defeat Marland in his race for the U.S. Senate in 1958, ending his political career.

For more information:

WV State Archives' Biography of William Marland

For Discussion:

Taxes are necessary to raise money to provide services such as schools, government, roads, public safety, infrastructure, etc. However, issuing new taxes is often unpopular.

January 23, 1888: Birth of labor leader Fred Mooney

Fred Mooney was born in Kanawha County on January 23, 1888, and became a well-known figure during West Virginia's mine wars. Mooney, Frank Keeney, and Bill Blizzard emerged as leaders of the United Mine Workers District 17 during the Paint Creek-Cabin Creek strike, one of the most violent labor disputes in this nation's history. Because of strike-releated violence, Governor William Glasscock declared martial law, dispatched 1,200 state militia to disarm both the miners and mine guards and, on three different occasions, sent in troops. Glasscock's successor, Governor Henry Hatfield, imposed a settlement ending the strike.

In 1916, rank-and-file union members threw out corrupt officials and elected Keeney president of District 17 and Mooney secretary- treasurer. Mooney helped organize the 1921 armed miners' march on Logan County, which culminated in a pitched battle against mine guards, sherrif's deputies, state police, and federal troops at Blair Mountain. Mooney, Keeney, and Blizzard were indicted on charges of murder and treason, although none of the three were ever convicted. Bill Blizzard remained a prominent UMW figure for years after Blair Mountain. Both Mooney and Keeney were forced from their leadership positions and later formed the West Virginia Mine Workers Union, an unsuccessful rival to the UMW.

Following the failure of the rival union, Mooney went back to work in the mines. His career in West Virginia's coalfields came to an end in 1952. After an explosion at his home near Fairmont, Mooney committed suicide. Newspapers reported that police suspected Mooney of trying to murder his wife.

For more information:

West Virginia State Archives' West Virginia's Mine Wars.

January 26, 1855: Birth of Secretary of the Interior John Barton Payne

Few West Virginians have been appointed by a president to cabinet posts. However, two West Virginia natives held cabinet positions during the administration of President Woodrow Wilson.

John Barton Payne, who was born in Pruntytown on January 26, 1855, served as mayor of Kingwood and as a circuit court judge in Tucker County before moving to Chicago at the age of 28. He became one of the most prominent railroad lawyers in the Midwest and, as Director General of Railroads in 1918, Payne was instrumental in the government's takeover of rail lines after the U.S. entered World War I. He served one year as Wilson's Secretary of the Interior before becoming chairman of the American Red Cross, a post which he held until his death in 1935.

The other West Virginian in Wilson's cabinet was Martinsburg native Newton Baker, who honed his political skills as Congressman William L. Wilson's private secretary. As mayor of Cleveland, Ohio, Baker had thrown his political weight behind Wilson at the 1912 and 1916 Democratic conventions. Wilson repaid the favor by naming Baker Secretary of War in 1916. During World War I, Baker selected Morgantown and South Charleston as sites for ordnance plants and established a large munitions factory at Nitro. Baker also played a role in determining whether states could ask the federal government to intervene in volatile situations such as labor disputes. In 1920, he blocked West Virginia Governor John Cornwell's requests for federal troops to put down labor unrest in the southern coalfields. Baker died in Cleveland in 1937.

Payne and Baker are two of only nine West Virginians to serve in presidential cabinets.


January 26, 1921: Sid Hatfield's murder trial

When non-union miners in Mingo County went on strike for the right to join the United Mine Workers in the spring of 1920, mine guards from the Baldwin-Felts detective agency evicted miners from their company-owned houses. After twelve Baldwin-Felts men arrived in Matewan, chief of police Sid Hatfield encouraged townspeople to arm themselves. The situation exploded into a gunfight in which seven detectives and four townspeople were killed.

The trial of Sid Hatfield and twenty-two other defendants for the murder of one of the detectives, Albert Felts, began on January 26, 1921. Some forty armed Baldwin-Felts agents lined the streets of Williamson that morning to influence the pro-union jury. Despite the testimony of numerous eyewitnesses, the jury acquitted Hatfield and the other defendants in what was the lengthiest murder trial in the state's history.

Realizing the impossibility of gaining a conviction in southern West Virginia, Baldwin-Felts gunmen prevented Sid Hatfield from standing trial in an unrelated case in McDowell County later that year. Hatfield and a deputy, Ed Chambers, were murdered on the steps of the county courthouse, sparking an armed march on southern West Virginia by union miners, which ended with the Battle of Blair Mountain. Again, despite numerous eyewitness accounts, accused murderers went free. Baldwin-Felts agents C. E. Lively, "Buster" Pence, and Bill Salter were acquitted of the Hatfield and Chambers murders on the grounds of self defense, although neither victim was armed.

For more information:

Matewan Historic District.


For Discussion:

In the killings at Matewan and the murder of Sid Hatfield and Ed Chambers, there were numerous witnesses, yet there were no convictions.

January 27, 1827: Chesapeake & Ohio Canal Co. incorporated

Early 19th-century supporters of a project to attract trade from the western United States asked Virginia, Maryland, and the District of Columbia to improve navigation on the Potomac River by building an adjacent canal. The Virginia General Assembly did its part by passing an act January 27, 1827, incorporating the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Company.

Gordon Gay, the Chief of Interpretation and Visitor Services for the C&O Canal National Historical Park, says the canal was originally intended to connect the Chesapeake Bay to the Ohio River.

Gay: That's why it was called the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal. It was to meet the Ohio River in Pittsburgh. In fact, in 1826--I believe it is--there was a survey done showing the route of the canal all the way to Pittsburgh.

In 1833, the canal reached Harpers Ferry, one year ahead of its main rival, the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. But the railroad quickly made up ground, reaching Cumberland, Maryland, in 1842, eight years before the canal. By 1853, the railroad had reached the Ohio River at Wheeling, leaving the canal behind at Cumberland.

Gay: Because of the problems that they had with the money and the floods that had already occurred up to that point. And getting the contractors to stay on the job was a very difficult process--and contractors building locks and building aqueducts. Of course, Paw Paw Tunnel was a major . . . almost a disaster, you could call it. They thought it would take a couple years to build. It took them ten years to build it. And that was the final obstacle to opening the canal all the way to Cumberland.

In the beginning, the canal bolstered the economy of the present- day eastern panhandle of West Virginia, particularly Harpers Ferry. It was the first navigation route connecting western Virginia with the profitable markets of Washington, D.C. However, the canal's success was short lived. Transportation of goods on the B&O Railroad proved quicker and more dependable, as floods frequently rendered the canal unnavigable. The canal was badly damaged during the Civil War, although it continued in operation until the flood of 1924.

For more information:

Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park.

For Discussion:

Rivers and canals were among the few available means of transportation in the early 1800s.

January 29, 1873: Completion of the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway

In 1852, the Baltimore & Ohio reached the Ohio River at Wheeling, sparking an economic boom in northern West Virginia. Twenty years later, a railroad did the same for southern West Virginia.

On January 29, 1873, the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway was completed from Huntington, West Virginia, to Richmond, Virginia, when Collis P. Huntington's business partner, General Williams C. Wickham, drove the last spike at Hawks Nest in Fayette County. The railroad linked the Atlantic Coast with the midwestern United States and facilitated the growth of the coal industry along West Virginia's New River.

One coal industry pioneer, Joseph Beury, was the first to ship carloads of coal by rail from his mines at Quinnimont. Beury was a Union Army captain who had moved to Fayette County after the Civil War. A granite monument dedicated to Beury stands at Quinnimont to honor his achievements in nurturing the area's coal industry.

The railroad also allowed the coal trade to develop in other areas along the New River. Coal mines opened at Stonecliff, Fire Creek, Hawks Nest, Sewell, and Nuttallburg, which is named for John Nuttall, another coal industry pioneer. Nuttall began mining operations in the New River Valley in 1873.

Ten years after the spike was driven at Hawks Nest, the newly built Norfolk & Western Railway began transporting coal from the Pocahontas Coalfield in the southwestern part of the state. By 1900, the C&O and N&W railroads had established southern West Virginia as the leading bituminous coal-producing region in the nation.

For more information

Brown, Leona G. "Quinnimont: Going Back to a New River Town." Goldenseal (Fall 1990): 23.

Turner, Charles Wilson. Chessie's Road. Alderson, WV: C&O Historical Society, 1986.


January 30, 1788: Establishment of Fort Lee at Charleston

In the late 18th century, Kanawha Valley settlers worried about Indian attacks, so George Clendenin appealed to the Virginia state government for greater protection. Despite the existence of four small forts in the valley, Clendenin feared settlers would abandon the area if something else wasn't done.

On January 30, 1788, Virginia Governor Edmund Randolph authorized Clendenin to organize a company of rangers to establish an outpost. Clendenin directed the rangers to build a fort on lands he had purchased only a month before at the confluence of the Kanawha and Elk rivers. The fort was initially called Clendenin's Fort but it was later renamed Fort Lee in honor of the Revolutionary War hero Richard Henry Lee.

After Fort Lee was well established on the site of Charleston, Clendenin was able to persuade the Virginia legislature to create Kanawha County from the western parts of Greenbrier and Montgomery counties.

A legend surrounding the eccentric "Mad Anne" Bailey grew out of Fort Lee's frontier days. Bailey, whose husband had been killed at the Battle of Pt. Pleasant, became a scout of sorts for the frontier settlers. It's said that "Mad Anne" once saved Fort Lee by obtaining a supply of gunpowder from the settlements of the Greenbrier Valley more than 100 miles away. Since records make no mention of a siege of Fort Lee, the story is generally discounted.

With the threat of Indian attack practically eliminated in the 1790s, Fort Lee was no longer needed for defense. The stockade surrounding the fort was removed in 1815. The blockhouse, which the Clendenin family had used as a residence was eventually moved to the corner of Virginia and Brooks streets, where it burned down in 1891.

For more information:

Cook, Roy Bird. Annals of Fort Lee. Charleston: West Virginia Review Press, 1935.

"Time Trail, West Virginia" January 1998 Schedule

West Virginia History Center West Virginia History Center