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The panic of 1907 engulfs the Collins Company

Posted by | April 27, 2016

“One of the most important business enterprises of modern Pennsboro was the founding of the Collins Company, [the holding company for Pennsboro Lumber Company] which was opened as a retail planing-mill in 1905,” declares Minnie Lowther’s 1910 ‘History of Ritchie County (WV).’

The company was headed up by Creed Collins, then considered the wealthiest man in Ritchie County, who partnered with Charles W. Sprinkle and Elbert M. Bonner in this venture.

In April 1907 the trade magazine ‘Hardwood Record’ reported:

“The Collins Company, wholesaler of lumber at Pennsboro, W. Va., has just purchased from the Deckers Valley Lumber Company a large tract of West Virginia lumber near Sturgisson, between Morgantown and Kingwood. The tract comprises from 2,500 to 3,000 acres of virgin timber and is one of the finest in the state.

“The transaction includes several miles of railroad, two sawmills, a hotel, store, and other property. Although the exact amount of money involved has not been announced, a report places it at at least $100,000. The company has taken possession of operations, with E. M. Bonner as general manager and Frank Smith as superintendent.

“The sales department will be conducted through the general offices of the Collins Company at Pennsboro, W. Va. Creed Collins, C. W. Sprinkle and E. M. Bonner are the principals of this well-known hardwood house.”

Business seemed promising enough that the following month Collins, Sprinkle & Bonner opened a second lumber concern (along with the Frank Smith mentioned above, and also one J.B. Yates).  The Lick Run Lumber Company also based in Pennsboro.

Creed Collins and his partners couldn’t have predicted the Panic of 1907 that was about to engulf their businesses that summer.

In early 1907 consumer goods prices were high and continuing to increase, a situation set in motion by too easy credit. The money center banks of New York City owed their depositors more money than the whole country possessed, real money and ‘credit money’ combined. The system couldn’t sustain itself that way any longer. A stock market panic hit that threatened to topple the New York investment banks and reverberate through the economy, triggering a depression.

The Panic of 1907 caused nationwide bank failures, timber prices collapsed, mine operations ceased, railroads stopped running, a rash of bankruptcies occurred, and a dramatic loss of confidence and a nasty economic downturn sank in for the next year.

“Collins Lumber Company Bankrupt,” reported the NY Times on October 9, 1908.  “Following the filing of a petition in bankruptcy in Clarksburg, WV today Judge Dayton in the Federal court adjudged Creed Collins of Pennsborough, a prominent business man of Ritchie County, and the Collins Company, a large lumber concern, bankrupts.  The Collins Company’s liabilities are listed at $254,879 and its assets at $46,644.  Mr. Collins assets are estimated at $92,427.”

“….thus one of the largest enterprises in the history of the county took its place among the annals of the past, and untold sorrow followed in its wake,”  historian Minnie Lowther tells us.

Charles Sprinkle and Elbert Bonner were also bankrupted in 1908, but had nowhere near the remaining assets Collins had.  And so Decker’s Valley Lumber sued Collins individually for restitution, knowing he had more assets than both his partners and the partnership itself.

The same Judge Dayton mentioned in the NY Times article ruled the suit valid, despite the fact that the original transaction papers were signed not solely by Collins, but by Collins and his partners Sprinkle and Bonner.  The court cited a technicality that the signatures at the bottom of the document did not reference the partnership, but were simply individual signatures, and therefore that Decker’s Valley could sue any or all three partners as individuals.

But the lawsuit stalled.

Meantime, the turbulent business environment and his own personal misfortunes were too much for the 64-year old Collins to bear. “Death quickly follows in the wake of the financial misfortunes of Creed Collins,” announced the Wheeling Intelligencer in April of 1909. “Health fails when fortune of lumber magnate and Democrat politician dwindles,” the obituary continues. “The well known Democratic politician and financier died this afternoon [April 23 ] shortly after 1 o’clock at his home at Pennsboro. The end was not unexpected and it came with all members of his immediate family at his bedside.

“The death of Creed Collins was caused by his recent financial troubles. Formerly known as the richest man in Ritchie County, he was hard hit by the financial depression. A few months ago he went into bankruptcy. The loss of his fortune was a deathblow to Mr. Collins and it is said that he died of a broken heart.”

Three years after Creed Collins’ death, his estate trustee, Homer Adams, filed an appeal in West Virginia’s Federal Circuit Court Of Appeals, Fourth Circuit.  Circuit Judge Pritchard reversed the lower court decision, only allowing Decker’s Valley to claim against the partnership assets. “If there shall be any surplus of the individual estate of Creed Collins remaining after the payment of his individual debts,” wrote Pritchard, “this claim, like all others allowed against the partnership of which he is a member, will participate in its distribution.”

And what happened to Sprinkle & Bonner after the Collins Company implosion?

Timber crusing (estimating) prior to purchase of the 7,600 Acre tract, known as the Ranwood Lumber Company Tract, on Sugar Creek and Back Fork of Elk, Webster County. CH Holden, Ranwood Lumber Company; C.W. Sprinkle, Atlas Lumber Company; EM Bonner, Atlas Lumber Company; and Dave Cogar, woods boss. Photo from 1913.

Charles Sprinkle moved to Cincinnati, where he founded the Atlas Lumber Company, which provided butts for guns in World War I (the “Encyclopedia of American Biography, “Vol. 19, edited by Winfred Scott Downs, 1947 states “all the butts” for guns in WWI, but that sounds exaggerated). He also sold wood to the auto industry in Detroit. Sprinkle was a member of the Lumberman’s Club, the Cincinnati Club, the Hyde Park Country Club, the Detroit Athletic Club, and Calvary Episcopal Church. He died 1944 in Cincinnati.

Bonner regrouped to form EM Bonner Associates, based in Pickens, WV.  Photos in the collection of the West Virginia Regional & History Collection confirm that the company was still active as of 1920, and had lumbering operations in the towns of Log Bottom & Camp Run.

Sources: —West Virginia Corporation Report Of Secretary of State.  March 1, 1907, To March 1, 1909. — Online at

“Encyclopedia of American Biography” (Vol. 19, edited by Winfred Scott Downs, 1947)


I did not enter politics. I was shot into it as by a catapult

Posted by | April 26, 2016

“You want to know when l really entered public life.

“I did not enter; I was shot into it, as by a catapult, and I learned politics in front of Gatling guns and Mauser rifles. The foe left nothing undone that human ingenuity could devise or tricky politicians could muster up. As soon as I could get an inkling of their respective political histories, I made it lively for the gentlemen, and it was an unequal but vivacious struggle, with one woman versus some dozens of north Georgia politicians.

“When convict lease politicians attacked Dr. Felton, I searched the records and made the lease and the lessees step around lively. A legislative report, made in 1879 and printed in the proceedings of that year’s General Assembly, gave forth the astounding fact that twenty-five little children, under three years of age, were then in camp, along with their convict mothers, little helpless innocents, born in the chain gang, in the lowest depths of degraded humanity.

Rebecca Latimer Felton, age 75. From frontispiece of "Country Life." Collection University Library, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Rebecca Latimer Felton, age 75. From frontispiece of “Country Life.” Collection University Library, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

“These children, according to the report mentioned, were born from convict mothers, were also the offspring of the guards, (employed by the Lessees to punish all offenders,) who had basely used their authority to compel these women to submit to their carnal desires. This state of things was so plainly horrible that I wrote it up in the newspapers at the time this legislative report was published.

“When the state road lessees entered our politics, I posted myself and flung hand grenades until the whole thing got in a blaze.

“The corruption of the judiciary in Georgia has been more than once exposed in legislative investigations, but it is well understood that the “dominant faction” elected the judges at the time when a negro could be sent to the chain-gang for ten years for stealing three eggs or for stealing a bowl of milk, and a negro girl fifteen years old in Atlanta was sent to the penitentiary for five years for snatching fifty cents from the hand of a smaller negro. The dominant faction made a half million annually out of a convict lease, and the judge who could send able-bodied negroes to the pen was well worth electing!

“Whenever the dominant faction showed heads above the ramparts, this sharp shooter in woman’s form deliberately picked them off for public amusement and feminine revenge.

“Did they attack me?

“Yes! Times without number, but I have always been careful to know I was correct in my statements, and then I had nothing to fear. About a dozen years ago I joined the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union. I introduced a resolution pledging the union to a reformatory for youthful criminals and a separate prison for women convicts in April, 1886.

“The organization authorized me to memorialize the legislature on these two reforms that summer. When my petition was read before the legislature the ball opened. Dr. Felton, as a member, championed the reforms, and the whole pack, ‘Tray, Blanche and Sweetheart,’ opened on us both. I heard myself denominated as the political ‘She’ of Georgia.

“I was sneered at as a reformer and vials of wrath were poured out on my spouse, who was helping me in my work as I had so long helped him in his political work.

Chain gang in Atlanta 1895Chain gang from Fulton County, GA working in Atlanta in 1895.

“I sat in the same hall five days later and listened to Dr. Felton’s reply that will never be surpassed for strength and powerful invective so long as the English language exists. I forgot myself in admiration of my defender and his marvelous defense. I saw that audience also forget itself and rise as one man to cheer and shout in praise of the speaker. Such a day as that marks a milestone as big as the Washington monument.

“The reformatory for juvenile convicts had a small beginning and only a woman to start it, but such as it was, I had the responsibility and the honor of agitating and launching the craft into sailing waters. More than six years later I was gratified to find that the convict women were quietly separated into other camps and I felt certain that had Senator Joseph E. Brown lived a few years longer he would have made a reformatory system for the juvenile criminals under his control.”


from “Country Life in Georgia 
in the Days of My Youth,” by Rebecca Latimer Felton, 1919, Index Printing Company, 

Until late in her life, Rebecca Latimer Felton saw her career as tied completely to her husband’s. William Felton served three terms (1875-81) in the U.S. Congress. From 1884 to 1890 he served another three terms in Georgia’s state legislature. “Country Life in Georgia in the Days of My Youth” is primarily a record of Rebecca Latimer Felton’s middle years and her husband’s political campaigns.


The Harmonia Sacra

Posted by | April 25, 2016

Go to Harrisonburg, Virginia and you’ll find them in just about any of the numerous old, old Mennonite churches in the area. They’re “Old Folks Singings,” an event unique to that religious group in that region. People filter in and out of the one-room churches, picnic in the church yard, rub tombstones if the church has a cemetery. And sing hymns. In some communities there is 100 per cent participation in the singing. Their songbook is and has been since 1832 The Harmonia Sacra. No other hymnal in the English language has had such a long lifespan of constant use in any Christian denomination. Indeed, many of the families of Harrisonburg have also been in the area since the mid-1800’s — Buckwalters and Hosslers, Stutzmans and Brubakers.

The original Harmonia Sacra was a “four-shape” shape note book using the shapes and syllables “faw, sol, law, and mi.” Joseph Funk designed A Compilation of Genuine Church Music for use in singing schools. It contained 208 pages, including rudiments of music and tunes harmonized for three voices. In the early 20th century the singing consisted primarily of German hymns; however, not the slow tunes used in the church services. The 17th edition of 1878 was the one widely in use during the Depression era.

Harmonia Sacra title page“The different musical grammar of these hymns makes them sound fresh, rugged, and often rough-hewn. As the layout suggests, this music is written as melodic parts, not in chords. Each line is an individual composition against the principal melody… In this style of hymnody each singer chooses any line which is comfortable, and then focuses on expressing that part, that personalized manifestation of the words. The parts do not necessarily form the identifiable and static chords which a modern congregation might encounter together in an improvised harmonization.”
—Review of The Harmonia Sacra, 25th ed.
Bradley Lehman, 1995 for Mennonite Quarterly Review



The Harpes —Two Outlaws of Pioneer Times

Posted by | April 22, 2016

On April 22, 1799, the Governor of Kentucky issued a Proclamation offering a reward for the capture of either or both of the Harpe Brothers. Reports of killings in Kentucky were followed by others from southern Illinois, then from east Tennessee, then again from Kentucky. Among their victims was one of their own children. Declaring that Little Harpe’s crying infant would some day be the means of pursuers detecting their presence, Big Harpe slung the baby by the heels against a tree and literally burst its head into pieces.

The Harpe brothers and their 3 female traveling companions. Art by Lawrence Bjorklund for 'The Spawn of Evil', by Paul I. Wellman, Doubleday Books, 1964.

The Harpe brothers and their 3 female traveling companions. Art by Lawrence Bjorklund for ‘The Spawn of Evil’, by Paul I. Wellman, Doubleday Books, 1964.

During the first year of their unrestrained ferocity they had committed at least twenty murders. The whole of Kentucky and Tennessee had become terrorized by the possibility of the appearance of the Harpes at any hour in any locality.

The people of the lower Green River country, like settlers elsewhere, were on the lookout for them. In the early part of August, 1799, two suspicious newcomers were discovered prowling around some of the backwoods settlements in southern Henderson County. These strangers might be the Harpes. No one knew.

The Harpes, aware that they were being hunted—and at times seen and watched—had taken the precaution never to move in the open with their women. The fact that no woman had been seen with them led the watchers to conclude that the suspects were not the widely sought murderers.

One day the Harpes left Henderson County and started toward the hiding place of their women and children—twenty or more miles away. They rode good horses, and were well armed and fairly well dressed.

That evening they arrived at the home of James Tompkins, in what is now Webster County. They represented themselves as Methodist preachers. Their equipment aroused no suspicion, for the country was almost an unbroken wilderness, and preachers, as well as most other pioneers, often traveled well armed.

Tompkins invited them to supper, and Big Harpe, to ward off suspicion, said a long grace at table. After supper they bade their host farewell, saying they had an engagement elsewhere.

Late that night, August 20, they reached the house of Moses Stegall—about five miles east of what later became the town of Dixon. Stegall was absent, but his wife and their only child, a boy of four months, were at home and, a few hours before, had admitted Major William Love, a surveyor, who had come to see Stegall on business.

Mrs. Stegall, expressing an opinion that her husband would return that night, invited him to remain. He had climbed up a ladder outside the house to the loft above and was in bed when the new arrivals entered the cabin. He came down and met the two men. In the conversation that followed the murderers themselves inquired about the Harpes and, among other things, stated that, according to rumor, the two outlaws were then prowling around in the neighborhood.

Mrs. Stegall, having only the one spare bed in the loft, was obliged to assign it to the three men. After Major Love had fallen asleep, one of the Harpes took an axe, which he always carried in his belt and, with a single blow, dashed out the brains of the sleeping man.

The two villains then went down to Mrs. Stegall’s room. She, knowing nothing to the contrary, presumed Major Love was still asleep. Reprimanding her for assigning them to a bed with a man whose snoring kept them awake, they murdered her and her baby. Leaving the three bodies in the house, they set it afire.

The next morning five men returning from a salt lick found the Stegall house a smoldering ruin. Surroundings indicated that the disaster was still unknown in the neighborhood. The men proceeded to the home of Squire Silas McBee to notify him of their discovery. While they were discussing the subject with Squire McBee, Moses Stegall rode up, and for the first time heard what had happened to his family.

Then began the hunt for the Harpes. Mounted and equipped, and provisioned for a few days, Squire McBee’s troop of seven men started on their expedition against the murderers. They found and followed the trail until night. Early the next morning, after traveling only a few miles, they detected the Harpes standing on a distant hillside. Big Harpe was holding his horse; Little Harpe had no horse.

The pursuers at once started for the hill. In the meantime Big Harpe mounted and darted off in one direction, Little Harpe ran in another—and both were out of sight. In their efforts to find traces of the Harpes the pursuers discovered the Harpe camp. They found no one there except Little Harpe’s woman.

When questioned threateningly she said she did not know in what direction little Harpe had fled, but that Big Harpe had just been there, hurriedly placed each of his women on a good horse, and had ridden away with them. She was left under the care of one of the men, and the chase was resumed.

A few miles farther on, Big Harpe and his two women were seen on a ridge a short distance ahead. Realizing his danger he put spurs to his horse and dashed off alone, leaving his women behind. They made no attempt to follow him, but calmly awaited their captors, two of whom took them in charge.

The other men continued the chase. Each fired a shot at the fleeing outlaw, who again and again brandished his tomahawk in savage defiance. The wild ride continued through dense woods and over narrow trails for a few miles until the fugitive, slackening his pace, was overtaken. He had been mortally wounded by one of the shots. As he lay stretched upon the ground, he asked for water. A shoe was pulled off his foot and water was brought. Moses Stegall now stepped forward.

While reciting to Big Harpe how brutally he had murdered his wife and child, Stegall drew a knife, declaring he would cut off his enemy’s head. Then he pointed a gun at Harpe’s face.

The dying outlaw, conscious of the threat, jerked his head from side to side, hoping to dodge the threatened bullet. “Very well,” said Stegall, “I will not shoot you in the head, for I want to save it as a trophy.” Then, aiming at his heart, he shot him in the left side. And Big Harpe died without another struggle or groan.

With the knife he had so coldly exhibited, Stegall cut off the outlaw’s head. He placed it in one end of a bag, in the other end of which was a corresponding weight of provisions. The bag was slung across a horse, and the captors and their three captured women started on their return–some thirty-five miles–leaving the headless corpse to the wolves of Muhlenberg County.

The head was taken to the cross roads near where the Harpes had committed their last crime. It was there placed in the fork of a tree as a warning to others. The spot ever since has been known as Harpe’s Head, and the old road, now a modern highway, still bears the name of Harpe’s Head Road.


Adapted from: Rothert, Otto A. (July 1927). “The Harpes, Two Outlaws of Pioneer Times”, Filson Club Historical Quarterly , Vol. 1, No. 4


Was I what you would call a pioneer? No, there were then old settlers

Posted by | April 21, 2016

I sought and received the forgiveness of my sins in August 1861, at a camp meeting at Bird’s Chapel, in Dade County, Georgia. My conversion was so definite – I may say, so sweet and so satisfactory -followed by so great peace – which I could never be made to doubt that I was reconciled to God. My consecration was so full as not to leave a hoof behind.

I immediately erected a family altar, and while it has been a rule of my life to keep up family worship, we have neglected it at times, to our great spiritual loss. Soon after my conversion or even before, I felt impressed that I should preach the Gospel and asked the church after a few years, for license to preach; and in October, 1870, the Quarterly Conference gave me the license.

Timidly, I undertook work as a local preacher. I always wanted to join the Conference and be a traveling preacher and spend my whole time in the work. But I did not join the traveling connection. I have done what I could as a local preacher.

In May 1876, Bishop Wightman ordained me as a local deacon at Russellville, AR. I have done some little supply work, and feel now that I should have joined the Conference, yet I may not be entirely to blame for not doing so. And now the day is far spent and I am in the evening of my life, and the results of my work are with the Great Head of the church. Amen.

Well, (again looking back) the war was now over, the South subdued and our entire Southland almost all devastated, the people poor and discouraged. I am at Lavergne, Tennessee, on the Nashville and Chattanooga Railroad, sixteen miles from Nashville, in a great country – with only $500.00, which we have saved in the last year. I have been at work for the United States government at pretty good wages; have traded, run the blockade from Nashville, and sold to Negroes such little things as I could get out of Nashville undetected. My wife and my two girl babies compose my family.

My brother, George, who lived in Arkansas, was with us. He persuaded us to return with him to Arkansas. So about the 15th of July 1865, we hired a man to take us to Nashville – gave him $5.00 for the trip. At Nashville we got aboard a steamboat, and went down the Cumberland River to Smithland, thence down the Tennessee River into the Ohio, thence down the Ohio to Cairo, Illinois. We there took the big boat, “Ben Stickney,” and ran down the Mississippi to Napoleon, where we took the Glide No. 3, for Little Rock, Arkansas. At Little Rock we purchased a wagon and team and moved overland to Polk County, arriving at my father’s farm on August 1st.

Our people were all poor now and in a hard shape financially. So we had to begin at the bottom with only a few dollars in cash, and our living to buy. I did not like Arkansas, and thought I would go back to Tennessee, but George always influenced me, and we stayed. So we are here yet.

Eagle Mountain in Polk County, AR; part of the Ouachita National Forest.

View of Eagle Mountain in Polk County, AR.


I got hold of a few hogs, a pony, a cow, a bull-tongue plow, a sprouting hoe – and went to work. I would turn the pony out on the grass with a bell on. We would hunt him in the mornings. We had no bedsteads except scaffolds pinned to the wall. We lived three miles from Shady Grove Church and schoolhouse. There we went to church, where the Rev. W. Wakely baptized me and received me into the M.E. Church, South.

I worked hard and saved as much as possible. We lived a rather hard but happy life. We were 150 miles from a railroad and market. That first fall I went to Center Point and bought two bales of cotton, and took it to Little Rock. Sold it for 36 cents a pound. Bought a few supplies – a barrel of salt for $6.50, a pair of cotton cards at $2.00, some little Oznaburge at 60 cents a yard, a little coffee at 60 cents a pound. I was gone three weeks on the trip.

I began to get acquainted, and secured a little school to teach at a little log cabin where the village of Silver Center now is. Wade Hilton had a little water mill just down on the creek. Sometimes we could get some corn ground and when the creek was low, he could not grind. The next nearest mill was on Big Fork, ten miles away. We would go down there and stay all night. Maybe we would get a peck of meal and maybe not. We would grit the corn and make hominy, but we would scrape about some way to keep from starving.

There was not a steam mill in the whole county, a county that was sixty miles long and fifty miles wide. There were not more than three hundred voters in the whole county. How is that for neighbors?

Game was plentiful. Anybody could kill a deer if he could shoot. I could not see them until they had left me. Cattle could be bought cheaply. We would dry the beef and it would answer for meat and bread. Acorns were plentiful and the hogs would thrive on them. We did not feed the cattle. They would live through the winter on the range.

Was I what you would call a pioneer? No, there were then old settlers. I could name a few of them, but there is not need. I write these little details down to impress on you boys some of the troubles and trials through which the older generation has gone in order that you may be a little happier and a little better.

An Autobiographical Sketch of My Life, by John Thornton Miller
Miller lived from 1839-1923
online at

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