One of the most interesting characters and the oldest person in this section of the county passed away Thursday morning of last week when Mrs. Mahala Wells Huff died at the home of her son on Little Blaine Creek, three miles south of Louisa, Kentucky, at the age of 108 years and 19 days. Mrs. Huff's husband fought in the War of 1812 and her father was in the Revolutionary War. She was a former Wayne County woman, having been born across Tug River from where she died, on West Virginia soil. Mrs. Huff was known to most Wayne County folks as she lived near the Wayne- Lawrence County, W. Va./Ky. line.
The death of Mrs. Huff ended the oldest life of the most pioneer of all citizens in this part of the State. Even the log cabin where she lived with her son and where she died last Thursday was suggestive of pioneer days. It is a three-room cabin, built from logs cut from the hills' sparse woods, chinked with mortar and trimmed with heavy boards laboriously sawed by hand. The windows are burnished like the brightness of a new pane and the plank floors of the old cabin are scrubbed to a cleanliness that is like fresh butter before the milk has been worked out. And here dwelt Mrs. Mahala Wells Huff, born 8 years more than a century ago across Tug River in West Virginia within walking distance of the very cabin which has been her home for almost forty years.
Forty years, to most of us, seems quite a long period, but Mrs. Huff was a girl of 75 when she came to this hill cabin to live for the rest of her life with her son, Henderson, her only child, who is now a youth of 75 summers. With them lived Mrs. Huff's daughter-in-law, Laura; John Workman, the latter's uncle, who considered himself the youngest member of the family at 76 years, and a lad whom they had taken to raise--all of their own children having left the old home.
Although the daughter-in-law was in active charge of the household, Mrs. Huff was by no means a burden on the rest of the family. On the contrary, she made up the beds every morning--and these are old Kentucky feather beds and no light work for any chunky pair of arms--and almost always helped with washing the dishes as a part of the cooking. She swept and scrubbed the floors and turned the handle on the mechanical churn with as much vigor and a great deal more industry than any youngster of eighteen.
She did these things up until a short time before her death last week.
On Decoration Day in 1922, Mrs. Huff was named by the government as the oldest widow on its pension rolls. She was then more than 103 years old and the following war record of her departed husband was announced by the war department:
"James Huff volunteered November 5, 1813, at Knoxville, Tenn., and served until March 10, 1814, when he was honorably discharged. He served with the Fourth Regiment of General Taylor's brigade, having participated in numerous skirmishes near Norfolk, Virginia.
"The year after his return to civil life, he married Miss Ann Pennington. When she died, he then married Miss Mahala Wells, who survives him."
Age brought to Mrs. Huff a philosophy of life that is not inharmonious with the bleakness of the hills outside the little cabin, nor with the smooth, inevitable sweep of Tug River, clearly visible on a bright day off to the south as it goes to join Levisa Fork at the twin towns of Louisa and Fort Gay to make the Big Sandy River.
"I just intend to keep goin' until I die," she said in an interview a short while before her death, without a touch of the self-pity so often noticeable in similar statements from aged people.
"I enjoy living just like I always did, and I don't suppose I ever will get tired of it." She chuckled and leaned toward the big open fireplace, where four foot legs blazed forth a heat that made the whole cabin cozy, peering into the coals over her ancient spectacles, holding her brown, old hands to the warming flames.
"I've heard young people say that they wanted to die before they get old and couldn't get about like they did when they were in the 'teens, but there don't seem to be any reason for feeling that way about it when you reach old age. Of course, I don't care so much about dancing as I did once, and I'd a heap rather sit in a spring water on a ride than on a mule's back. Still I like to do my work around the house here, and then sit down and rest after it's done, feeling like I'd really accomplished something and saved somebody else the trouble."
She paused to readjust her spectacles a little further from her eyes. "After I've done a bit of sweeping, or scrubbing, or washing, and I sit down in front of the fire to rest, I feel so comfortable and peaceful that it seems I never really enjoyed living until that very minute. Most people don't know how much real fun there is in resting until they grow old, then they're afraid to do enough work to get tired, and they never appreciate what they miss."
Nor was it an uneventful life that the old venerable lady recalled.
She was born in the year 1818 in a one-room cabin on Well's Ridge in the heart of Wayne County, West Virginia. Ann and Moses Wells built the Cabin but a few years after Daniel Boone had tracked through that country and made his coonskin cap a symbol for love of adventure and courage that dare any danger to penetrate an unknown land.
She was the youngest of four children, all of whom have long since passed away, and she grew to robust young womanhood with only the vaguest conception of other mortals outside of her immediate family, who lived in the scattered cabins many miles away on Twelvepole Creek and down at the mouth of Tug River, where twin trading posts had been settled.
Occasionally she saw small boats on Tug River, when she accompanied her father hunting, and they learned from traders of a town of considerable proportions which had grown up at the mouth of Big Sandy, where it added its turbid waters to those of the Ohio River. So it was not surprising that after the death of Moses Wells the family foresook the cabin on Well's Ridge and moved to Catlettsburg, then one of the most prosperous towns along the Ohio.
Here they lived, until the mother of the family died, leaving Mahala, the only daughter, to keep house for her brothers, one of whom left home when the removal to Catlettsburg was made.
Soon after the death of her mother, Mahala Wells married James Huff, a veteran of the War of 1812, in which he served as a private in G. W. Camp's company of the Virginia Militia, and they lived in the towns of Catlettsburg and Louisa until his death. Neither the records of the government, which paid Mrs. Huff a pension as the widow of a veteran of this country's last war with England, nor those of either of the towns in which the couple lived throw any light on the Huffs.
James Huff seems to have been a riverman, but in those days most of the male residents of Ohio River towns either followed the river or aspired to do so, so that classification is too generous to give much information. The Huff home, in common with most of the homes in the border towns during the troublesome days of the Civil War, was raided first by home guards and then by guerilla fighters from both the Union and the Confederate forces.
At any rate, Mrs. Huff's Bible, with the history of her family and that of her husband carefully recorded on the yellow pages, was lost during that period, along with most of her prized family treasures, most of which were relics of the days of the revolution.
James Huff died in 1872, and six years later, by the act of a benevolent Congress, Mrs. Huff began to receive the munificent sum of eight dollars a month as a token of the services her husband had rendered his country in time of need. . . .
Meantime her son had married, and Mrs. Huff, longing for the freedom of the hills and isolated life she had known as a child, went to live with her son and his wife in the cabin that stands on the highest and the bleakest hill that borders Little Blaine Creek.
In an interview a short while before her death, Mrs. Huff said that she didn't have any prescription for longevity except except working in the daytime and sleeping at night, living where the air is always fresh and the worries of a complex civilization are the lightest. Worry, she said, was the cause of most deaths and the reason why so few people got any real enjoyment out of life.
The death of Mrs. Huff at the age of 108 years on Thursday of last week is of interest to people the whole country over, since so few people ever attain that advanced age, but her death is news of outstanding interest to readers of Wayne County News since the deceased was a native of Wayne County and had spent her entire life either in this county or near its borders.
Despite the fact that over two hundred boys representing twenty-eight different high schools took part in the Annual Voc-Ag Judging Contest at the State University at Morgantown last week, Wayne County High School took fifth place in the sweepstakes with a score of 95 per cent, which shows that the competition is becoming keener each year. The same score of 95 per cent won first place for Wadestown last year.
The first ten teams stood as follows and in the order named: Aurora, Morgantown, Masontown, Peterstown, Wayne County, Shinnston, Petersburg, Hodgesville, Wadestown, and Greenville.
Wayne ranked in team honors as follows: Second in grain; fifth in fruit; fifth in Holstein cattle. In individual honors, Minse Adkins took first place over two hundred boys from twenty-eight high schools, winning a gold medal. His score was 98.6 out of a possible hundred. This is indeed a remarkable score.
Basil McKee finished fourth in the judging of grain with a score of 92.4 per cent. This is another very good score.
Rudolph Perry stood eighth in fruit judging, and Edgar White stood tenth in livestock.
Wayne County is one of the farthest schools away from the State Judging Contest in Morgantown. However, in spite of this fact, Wayne was represented by the largest delegation of boys--to be exact, twelve in number--which makes thirty boys that have represented Wayne County over the past three years. The majority of the schools only takes three boys to do all the judging. Wayne County believes in all her boys and girls, not just a few; therefore, the twelve boys made up four teams, composed of three boys to each team. Many other boys in the Agriculture classes at the County High School were as good as these boys, but certain conditions did not allow them to attend. All the boys on the team made a good showing, or we never would have made a total sweepstake score of 95 per cent. Great pleasure is taken in introducing to Wayne County her noble sons who hold up the good qualities of our community in such a splendid fashion.
The boys' names are Roscoe Adkins, Marvin Wilson, Wallace Wellman, Edgar White, Jack Preston, Horace Tabor, Otto Tabor, Lowell Sellards, Clyde Tabor, Minse Adkins, Basil McKee, and Rudolph Perry.
The boys made the trip to Morgantown by automobile truck and were accompanied by Professor William M. Garrison, head of the Agricultural Department in the local high school and to whom a great amount of credit is due for the good showing made by the Wayne County judging teams.
Wayne County High School dropped three games in basketball over the week-end, all the games played on the home floor at Wayne.
The Wayne boys lost to Proctorsville, Ohio, 10 to 14 Friday night.
The Wayne girls' team lost to the girls of Ceredo-Kenova Saturday evening 15-22.
The Wayne boys lost to the fast Ceredo-Kenova five Saturday night following the girls' game in the feature home game of the season by the score of 13 to 19. That was a real exhibition of basketball and enjoyed by a big crowd. Wayne held Ceredo-Kenova to a closer score than did Huntington High School as C-K defeated Huntington 24-17.
Friday of this week Wayne plays Catlettsburg, and on Saturday night Chesapeake at Chesapeake. On the 24th the locals play Milton at Wayne, and on February 4th Wayne plays a return game with Ceredo-Kenova on the C-K floor.
So far this season, Ceredo-Kenova has played nine games and has won every one, their splendid record today for the season being indicated by the following scores:
C-K 21 Grayson 8
C-K 24 South Point 10
C-K 19 Hurricane 11
C-K 28 Columbia Central 20
C-K 30 Ashland Blue Devils 19
C-K 27 Hamlin 16
C-K 16 Ashland 12
C-K 24 Huntington 17
C-K 19 Wayne 13
James O. Marcum of Ceredo and Oscar Watts of Westmoreland, Wayne County's representatives in the House of Delegates at the Legislature session now in progress at Charleston, have been honored by appointment on a number of important committees.
Mr. Marcum is a member of the following committees: Humane Institutions, Labor, Railroads, Executive Office and Library, Mines and Mining.
Mr. Watts is a member of the following committees: Roads, Printing and Contingent Expenses, Game and Fish, and Arts and Sciences.
35 bills were introduced in the House Monday and 25 in the Senate. None of them were introduced by the Wayne County Delegates. Among the bills of general interest, introduced was one requiring the Bible to be read in all schools; another providing for the local distribution of automobile licenses; one to relieve from double taxation notes, certificates and bonds; one providing that trust deeds and mortgages merely be filed instead of being recorded; a bill requiring all prohibition enforcement officers to wear uniforms; a bill making every school teacher an officer of the law; a bill relating to salaries of county officers, etc. Bills are only introduced at the present sitting of the legislature and will not be acted upon until after the legislators reconvenes after a recess.
It is understood that a bill will be introduced at the present session giving the municipalities of Ceredo and Kenova the opportunity of voting themselves into the corporation of the city of Huntington, as Westmoreland did at the last session of the legislature. Some of the Huntington city officials, including Mayor Neal and Commissioner Murphy have expressed themselves as opposed to the measure, according to newspaper reports.
No action has been taken on the bill yet by the Wayne County Delegates, and a copy of the proposed bill is not available as this is written. However, it is understood on good authority that the measure provides that the corporate limits of the city of Huntington be extended to Big Sandy River, to include the municipalities of both Ceredo and Kenova.
Hon. Mont White of Williamson, who defeated J. Floyd Harrison of Wayne in the November election, was elected Speaker of the Senate. Delegate Vernon E. Johnson, of Morgan County, was elected Speaker of the House of Delegates.
Transcription by June White
Wayne County News