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The bootleg capital of Ohio

Posted by | May 24, 2017

New Straitsville, OH was considered the Bootleg Capital of Ohio during the Depression. Its population of enterprising ex-coalminers concealed dozens of illegal moonshine stills in the area’s hollows and abandoned mineshafts, selling it to a nation desperate for a stiff drink.

Today, New Straitsville’s bootlegging tradition is honored with an annual Memorial Day weekend Moonshine Festival, one of those celebrations designed to attract customers and promote the community. Randy McNutt, while researching “Ghosts: Ohio’s Haunted Landscapes, Lost Arts, and Forgotten Places,” arrived in New Straitsville just in time to experience the Festival.

Unidentified saloon in New Straitsville, OH. No date.

From his book:

On an empty lot near the business district, an older man named Jim Thompson demonstrated a still. The black contraption wheezed and moaned, and Thompson wiped his wrinkled forehead and adjusted a couple of metal pipes. He said, “When my daughter was born, the doctor asked me, ‘Jim, what’ll I put on this birth certificate?’ I told him ‘bootlegger’ was good enough for me.”

Matthews Café is the most well-known establishment in town. Until 1933, it served moonshine at the bar. The bartender always asked, “Do you want imported or Straitsville Special?” Most of the other small towns in the area brewed their own, too, but New Straitsville’s reputation as the bootlegging capital of Ohio was unsurpassed.

Thompson said the miners turned to making liquor in the little towns of Perry County. He said the moonshiners never filled their barrels to the top because they were afraid that rats would fall in. “Rats loved moonshine,” he said. “They liked to sit on barrel rims and dip their paws into the stuff. If it’d leak onto the floor, the rats’d come out and start lickin’ the mash. At first, they was scared of us, and they’d run off. The next time we came back, they’d just sit there, lickin’. We could pick ‘em up and that didn’t even bother ‘em. They didn’t even know where they was.”

State liquor agents raided the hills every few months, but the moonshiners usually heard of their activity and hid the brew. Thompson was much more concerned about the federals.

Sandra Mitchell-Quinn, former OHGenWeb state coordinator, says “this article was found folded up in the bible of one of my ancestor grandmothers. Original caption reads: “State Liquor Agent C.J. Gerard pauses in the ‘doorway’ of the pig house which hid the entrance to the Buchtel distillery, which was raided on Friday. The bootleg plant was beneath the hillside, which can be seen back of the pig house.” Courtesy OHGenWeb.

Sandra Mitchell-Quinn, former OHGenWeb state coordinator, says “this article was found folded up in the bible of one of my ancestor grandmothers. Original caption reads: “State Liquor Agent C.J. Gerard pauses in the ‘doorway’ of the pig house which hid the entrance to the Buchtel distillery, which was raided on Friday. The bootleg plant was beneath the hillside, which can be seen back of the pig house.” Courtesy OHGenWeb.

“Henry Spencer got caught deliverin’ whiskey down in Nelsonville, and he made a deal with a fed named Bush,” Thompson said. “If Bush would let him go, Spencer promised to show where to find four other guys who were brewin’ liquor. Spencer, that dirty son-of-a-gun, was workin’ with us. Well, late one night we saw a car comin’ but we figured it was Spencer comin’ down to check on his mash. We didn’t pay much attention.

“Come six o’clock the next mornin’, the feds come to my door. We had hid our kegs under the chicken coop, see, and they found ‘em and poured ‘em out-three ten-gallon kegs of it. They kept the fourth one. Old Henry Spencer sure was somethin’–told on his own brother and brother-in-law and lost a barrel of his own mash just to save his skin.”

sources:  Ghosts: Ohio’s Haunted Landscapes, Lost Arts, and Forgotten Places, by Randy McNutt, Orange Frazer Press, Wilmington OH, 1996



He jumped on the bed, held his wife down and shot her through the head

Posted by | May 23, 2017

State’s evidence portion of ‘Beck vs. State of Georgia,’ before Judge Estes, Rabun Superior Court, September Term 1885

In this partial court transcript, Eugene W. Beck is indicted for the murder of his wife, Ella Beck. He pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. He was convicted for life at the state penitentiary, where he later died of blood poisoning while working in the coal mines as a convict in May, 1890.

On October 28, 1881, Eugene Beck went to the jail, and while there talked to the town marshal about some hogs belonging to one Wall that kept getting into his lot. He stated also that the dogs kept getting into his kitchen and asked the marshal to lend him his pistol, saying that he wanted to shoot some of the dogs.

Smith & Wesson 1880 .44 Russian Revolver.

Smith & Wesson 1880 .44 Russian Revolver. The court transcript never indicates what kind of pistol Beck used, but this Smith & Wesson was in common use at the time and could well have been the type of pistol available to Beck.

The marshal said he did not want to lend his pistol, that he might need it. Beck stated that the marshal could lend it to him for that night, and this was done.

The marshal testified that about a week or ten days (or perhaps two or three weeks or a month) before the shooting, there had been dogs around Beck’s place; that Beck borrowed his pistol to shoot them; that the marshal heard a shot in the yard, and Beck said he had shot a dog; and that he returned the pistol the next day; that when Beck borrowed the pistol the last time the marshal thought him sober; that he had been drinking “right smart” for a month or so—kept pretty tight all the time—that is, drinking every day; that he did not see Beck drink but knew he was drinking; that there never was anything particularly wrong about him that the witness could see, and he did not know anything to the contrary of Beck’s transacting his business as any other business man would; that he talked pretty sensibly about the Wall difficulty, his conversation being connected, as witness thought; that when he talked about dogs his conversation was connected and sensible; that the witness saw nothing irrational about him and thought him perfectly sane; that he was getting considerably sobered up and all right and the witness would not have loaned him the pistol if he had not thought so; and that the impression on the witness’ mind when Beck was talking about the Wall difficulty was that he believed the witness had some charge against him, but such was not the case witness being after other parties concerned in it.

That night, Beck sat in his wife’s room and talked to her for some two hours about his mother’s having shot at a lady; nothing else was talked of. Miss Bailey, the sister of Mrs. Beck, was then in the parlor talking to a young man. Beck’s wife told him to go to bed. He said no, that he was going to the jail to see the marshal. He then sat down, pulled off his boots, lay on the bed “and went to sleep, or pretended to be asleep; he was snoring; his coat was off,” (as stated by a servant in the house who was a witness.)

Shortly after he retired, he waked up and said, “I wish you would not do so much talking,” and then went to sleep again, “or looked like he was asleep.” Mrs. Beck made no reply but worked on for a while; then undressed, said her prayers and went to bed.

In about ten or fifteen minutes after Mrs. Beck retired, Miss Bailey came in. She went to bed with her sister, the defendant being on her bed. She said, “Brother Gene (the defendant) is not asleep; he is looking at me.”

About fifteen or twenty minutes afterwards, Beck got up, put on his coat and boots, walked to the lamp, which was near the bed where the two women were, and turned it down. Mrs. Beck said, “Please, Eugene, turn up the lamp.” He turned the lamp so high, “it looked like the house was afire;” then jumped on the bed, held his wife down and shot her through the head, killing her.

He then turned to shoot the servant who had lain down, but had not gone to sleep, and who ran out of the door, but the pistol snapped. He then held the cover with his left hand; and with his right shot Miss Bailey, her head being under the cover, the ball entering her back and coming out at her breast, causing death.

He then ran out of the door jumped off the piazza and went to the jail. He ran into the room where the marshal was and said, “Captain, they have run in on me, and I have shot two of them.”

The marshal told Beck to give him the pistol, which the latter did. He said, “Don’t let them hurt me.” Hearing continued screaming, the marshal went out and learned that Beck had killed his wife and sister in law. Returning, he said to Beck, “Gene, you have killed your wife and sister-in-law!”

Beck replied, “Well, I have killed the best friend I have got.” In about fifteen minutes the sheriff came and locked him up. He did not resist. He had a little half pint bottle about half full of whiskey.

The servant testified that the defendant talked sensibly the night of the shooting; that she never heard any fuss between the husband and wife; that the latter taught school all summer and he worked on the turnpike a part of the time; that she was a good woman and “easy to get along with;” that about a month before the shooting she told her husband that if he did not quit drinking she was going home to stay with her father until he did quit, to which he made no reply; that Mrs. Beck and her sister had not packed their trunks preparatory to leaving—“there wasn’t a thing packed until that night that they was both lying there corpses.”

The two slain daughters of Dr. & Mrs. Samuel Bailey, of Forsyth County GA, were buried at Cumming Historic Cemetery, whose entry gates are shown here. Later, the parents were buried next to their two daughters.

The two slain daughters of Dr. & Mrs. Samuel Bailey, of Forsyth County GA, were buried at Cumming Historic Cemetery, whose entry gates are shown here. Later, the parents were buried next to their two daughters.

The servant stated also that at the time of the homicide, “he put on all his clothes, ready to run out, before he done anything at all.” Another witness, a doctor, testified that about ten days or two weeks before the shooting Beck told him about some dogs that had been bothering him, having got into his kitchen; that the witness let him have some strychnine for the purpose of poisoning them; that after the homicide he was present on the night of October 30 at a conversation between Dr. Bailey and Beck. The former asked the latter what was his motive for killing his wife and he replied that he did not know that he had the tremens.

Published in “Reports of Cases in Law and Equity Argued and Determined in the Supreme Court of Georgia, at Atlanta, Parts of October Term, 1885 and March Term, 1886, Vol. LXXVI,” by J.H. Lumpkin, reporter, The Franklin Publishing House, Atlanta,1888 Full court transcript here.


Stearns KY emerges out of the Big Survey

Posted by | May 22, 2017

Louis Bryant and Justus Stearns needed each other, and it’s surely no accident that their worlds finally intersected. Bryant, a bright young mining engineer, had moved into what is today McCreary County, KY at the beginning of the 1890s to consolidate mineral and land holdings acquired there by his father.

But while the Bryant family had mining expertise and raw land, they lacked the financial depth to develop the surrounding regional infrastructure they needed to grow their business. And so Louis hit the road to do a little selling. In 1893, he took a one-ton, thirty-six-cubic-foot block of bituminous coal from his family’s Worley mine to the Chicago World’s Fair.

Justus Stearns in 1885. From 'The Story of Ludington,' by Paul S. Peterson.

Justus Stearns in 1885. From ‘The Story of Ludington,’ by Paul S. Peterson.

Justus Stearns by this time had made a fortune in the lumber business from his base in Ludington, MI. But virgin timber resources in that region were becoming depleted as the upper Midwest grew in population.

And so Stearns hired field agents scattered around the country looking for business opportunities. He had expanded the already extensive holdings of Stearns Salt & Lumber Co. in the Midwest to include properties in the Pacific Northwest, the Great Lakes, New Orleans and Florida.

Kentucky was experiencing a lumber boom in the late 1890s, and Justus Stearns heard reports of vast tracts of virgin timber in the southern Kentucky counties of Pulaski, Wayne, and Whitley and Scott County just over the border in Tennessee.

In 1900, Stearns sent Michigan surveyor William Alfred Kinne to Kentucky to secure tracts to add to his timber holdings. Al Kinne traveled extensively through Kentucky and Tennessee, meeting up finally with Louis Bryant.

The two became friends, and Bryant later became a valuable associate of the Stearns Company, teaching them a great deal about coal mining.

the Sheriffs daughter in Stearns KY early 1900sPhoto caption reads: “Stearns; the Sheriff’s Daughter, 1900 – 1915″

By 1901, Kinne had negotiated a twenty-five-year lease with Bryant that called for the construction of a railroad and the opening up of mines in the area, and gave Stearns the right to harvest the timber in the area. Kinne secured 50,000 acres in what became known as “The Big Survey,” an area that included lands from the Kentucky & Tennessee counties mentioned earlier.

On May 22, 1902, Kinne and Nashville attorney E. E. Barthell rode horses three miles north from Pine Knot to a Cincinnati Southern siding known to the railroad crews as the Gum Tree Tie Yard. Acting as agents for the Stearns Salt & Lumber Company, the two men, using a briefcase as a desk under the big black gum’s boughs, signed documents which incorporated the Stearns Lumber Co., the Stearns Coal Co., and the Kentucky & Tennessee Railroad.

The old gum tree stood next to the site where the first company store in the brand new town of Stearns, KY would soon be constructed. The Stearns Company was the sole proprietor of its headquarters town, and would govern all aspects of daily life for the residents there.

The town site, one square mile purchased from the Bryant family, was uninhabited at the time but a fairly well known place in the region. Riley Sellars had owned a farm there, where General Ambrose Burnside’s troops had camped in September 1863 on their backcountry march to take Knoxville from the Confederates.

Stearns sat on the location of the old town of Hemlock, at the crossroads of the Somerset-Jacksboro Road and the east-west road from Williamsburg to Monticello.

1907 Stearns Coal & Lumber Company officeToday’s McCreary County Museum is located in the 1907 Stearns Coal & Lumber Company office building.

In 1903, Justus Stearns sent his only son, Robert L. Stearns, to reside in the small company town that bore his name so that he might oversee all the operations in the community.

Al Kinne lived in Stearns the rest of his life and was later a Kentucky state senator. Barthell moved his practice to Chicago, but remained the company’s general counsel until his death. An in-law of Rob Stearns, he was honored by having the first company mine camp named after him.

Sources: Lore & Legend, Vol. 1, No. 1, p. 3, published by J. P. Thomas, Box 248, Stearns, KY 42657
Appalachian Folkways, by John B. Rehder, JHU Press, 2004


The Guineas of West Virginia

Posted by | May 19, 2017

In American culture, if you can’t prove you’re 100% white or ‘pass’ for such, you get lumped into the minority by default.  This is a cultural bias the Chestnut Ridge People (CRP) of West Virginia have been familiar with for several hundred years now.

“There is a clan of partly-colored people in Barbour County often called Guineas, under the erroneous presumption that they are Guinea negroes,” observed WV historian Hu Maxwell in the 1890s. “They vary in color from white to black, often have blue eyes and straight hair, and they are generally industrious. Their number in Barbour is estimated at one thousand.

“They have been a puzzle to the investigator; for their origin is not generally known. They are among the earliest settlers of Barbour. Prof. W.W. Male of Grafton, West Virginia, belongs to this clan, and after a thorough investigation, says ‘They originated from an Englishman named Male who came to America at the outbreak of the Revolution. From that one man have sprung about 700 of the same name, not to speak of the half-breeds.’ Thus it would seem that the family was only half-black at the beginning, and by the inter-mixtures since, many are now almost white.”

Indeed, Barbour County Courthouse records indicate that several of the CRP petitioned the courts (successfully) to be declared legally white during the Civil War era, and they undoubtedly would not have done so if being considered ‘West Hill Indians,’ ‘Maileys,’ ‘Cecil Indians,’ ‘G. and B. Indians,’ or ‘Guinea niggers’ offered any advantage.

Chestnut Ridge People, or Guineas,  Betsy Mayle“I believe each of our people has the name Male as an ancestor,” says genealogist Joanne Johnson Smith. This is Elizabeth ‘Betsy’ Mayle, of Chestnut Ridge, in 1975/06.

By 1946, local courts treated the CRP as colored, regarding them as mulattoes. William Harlen Gilbert, Jr., of the Library of Congress, had more to say of the CRP that same year in ‘Social Forces’ magazine:

“They do not associate as a rule with Negroes or whites.

“Location: Primarily centered in Barbour and Taylor counties, West Virginia. Also, small scatterd families in Grant, Preston, Randolph, Tucker, Marion, Monongahela, and Braxton counties, West Virginia. Said to have originated in Hampshire County, West Virginia. A few occur in Garrett County, Maryland. Have recently migrated to Canton, Chillicothe, Zanesville, Akron, and Sandusky in Ohio and to Detroit, Michigan. Word Guinea said to be an epithet applied to anything of foreign or unknown origin.

“Numbers: Estimated to be from 8,000 to 9,000.

“Organization: Have own schools and churches in Barbour and Taylor counties. Have an annual fair at Phillippi, West Virginia. Family names are Adams, Collins, Croston, Dalton, Dorton, Kennedy, Male (Mayle, Mahle, Mail), Minard (Miner), Newman, Norris, and Pritchard.

“Environment and Economy: Many are coal miners, hill cultivators on sub-marginal lands, truck farmers and dairy farmers, domestic servants, and in cities industrial workers. Original habitat was inaccessible hilly area on a horseshoe bend of the Tygart River, the so-called Narrows. Live in compact settlements in this area.

“Physique: Sharp and angular features characteristic. Originally a mixture of white and Indian types to which Negro has been added. Deformities of the limbs and other congenital defects.

“In-Marriage: Has been pronounced in the past. Now said to intermarry with Italians who are also called Guineas in this area.

“Religion: Mainly Free Methodists in Barbour and Taylor counties.

“Schools: Have special schools classed locally as colored. Considerable tension over attendance at white schools in Taylor County. In Barbour County two schools have been burned down due to troubles.

“Military Draft Status: In Taylor County (Grafton and vicinity) have almost uniformly gone into the white status.

“Voting and Civil Rights: Have voted since organization of the State. Now hold balance of power in Barbour County.

“Relief: Received during the Depression.

“Cultural Peculiarities: Folklore, annual fair.

“History: Claim English descent from Revolutionary ancestors. Building of Tygert River Dam in 1937 scattered them in Taylor County due to flooding of original settlements.”

Today, widespread sharing of genealogical information via the internet has helped clarify much of the mystery and ‘otherness’ surrounding groups such as the CRP. “We would like you to keep an open mind as we, the Guineas, tell you about ourselves, since we know more about our heritage than anyone else,” said Joanne Johnson Smith & Florence Kennedy Barnett in a 1997 presentation at the First Union in Wise, VA., where about one thousand people converged on the College of Wise campus to reclaim their lost heritage. Their 20 years worth of combined research on Guinea bloodlines is available here.

Sources: The History of Barbour County, by Hu Maxweoo, (Morgantown, West Virginia, 1899) pp. 510-511.
Mixed Bloods of the Upper Monongahela Valley, West Virginia, by William Harlen Gilbert, Jr., Journal of the Washington Academy of the Sciences, 36, no. 1 (Jan. 15, 1946), pp. 1-13.
‘Memorandum Concerning the Characteristics of the Larger Mixed-Blood Racial Islands of the Eastern United States,’ by William Harlen Gilbert, Jr., Social Forces 21/4 (May 1946): 438-477

Chestnut+Ridge+People Guineas Philippi+WV Melungeons appalachia appalachian+history appalachian+mountains+history


Her editor published her work for several years before realizing she wasn’t a man

Posted by | May 18, 2017

“The clouds were blowing away from a densely instarred sky; the moon was hardly more than a crescent and dipping low in the west, but he could see the sombre outline of the opposite mountain, and the white mists that shifted in a ghostly and elusive fashion along the summit. The night was still, save for a late katydid, spared by the frost, and piping shrilly.

“He experienced a terrible shock of surprise when a sudden voice—a voice he had never heard before—cried out sharply, ‘Hello there! Help! help!’

“As he pressed tremulously forward, he beheld a sight which made him ask himself if it were possible that Alf Coggin had sent for him to join in some nefarious work which had ended in leaving a man—a stranger—bound to the old lightning-scathed tree.

“Even in the uncertain light Tom could see that he was pallid and panting, evidently exhausted in some desperate struggle: there was blood on his face, his clothes were torn, and by all odds he was the angriest man that was ever waylaid and robbed.

“‘Ter-morrer he’ll be jes’ a-swoopin’!’ thought Tom, tremulously untying the complicated knots, and listening to his threats of vengeance on the unknown robbers, ‘an’ every critter on the mounting will git a clutch from his claws.’

“And in fact, it was hardly daybreak before the constable of the district, who lived hard by in the valley, was informed of all the details of the affair, so far as known to Tom or the Traveler,—for thus the mountaineers designated him, as if he were the only one in the world.”

—from The Young Mountaineers / Short Stories, by Charles Egbert Craddock, with illustrations by Malcolm Fraser, 1897

Tennessee author Mary Noailles Murfree (1850-1922), better known as Charles Egbert Craddock, was born in Murfreesboro, TN. For fifteen years she spent her summers in the Tennessee mountains among the people of whom she writes.

“Miss Seawell might have written her stories from anywhere, but that is not true of the greatest woman writer in the South, Miss Mary Murfree,” commented Anna Leach in Literary Workers of the South (1895).

“It is her delineations of mountain character, and her descriptions of mountain scenery, that have placed her work in the place it holds. Her style is bold, full of humor, and yet as delicate as a bit of lace. To Mary Wilkins’ gift of giving exact pictures of homely life, Miss Murfree unites great power of plot and a keen wit. The little old woman who sits on the edge of a chair in one of her novels, has added stores to America’s proverbs. ‘There ain’t nothin’ so becomin’ to a fool as a shet mouth,’ has taken its place with its older kindred.”

“Her work was published by a well known Boston editor for several years before he discovered that she was not a man. Her handwriting is very heavy and black, and it was Mr. Thomas Bailey Aldrich’s joke to say, ‘I wonder if Craddock has taken in his winter supply of ink, and can let me have a serial.’

“One day a card came to Mr. Aldrich bearing the well known name in the well known writing, and the editor rushed out to greet his old contributor, expecting to see a sturdy Tennessee mountaineer. When a slight, delicate little woman arose to answer his greeting, it is said that Mr. Aldrich put his hands before his face, and simply spun around without a word, absolutely bewildered by astonishment.”

Charles Egbert Craddock“The sensation in the Atlantic office spread everywhere and gave tremendous vogue not only to the book but to the type of short story that it represented,” observed the Cambridge History of English and American Literature in retrospect. “No one had gone quite so far before: the dialect was pressed to an extreme that made it almost unintelligible; grotesque localisms in manners and point of view were made central; and all was displayed before a curtain of mountains splashed with broad colours.”

Murfree’s critical reputation has not fared well more recently. “Her fiction has been consistently criticized for its stereotyping of the mountaineer and for its overblown, highly romanticized descriptions of the landscape,” says Allison Ensor of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. “Almost every reader notices the wide gap between the tone and vocabulary of the narrator and the mountain dialect of her characters. Like many other local color writers, she felt it necessary to provide as narrator a cultured, sophisticated intermediary, someone like the reader she hoped to reach.”

Literary Workers of the South, by Anna Leach, Munsey’s, 1895 at
The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21) VOLUME XVI. Early National Literature, Part II; Later National Literature, Part I.

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