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The only baseball player ever traded for a fence

Posted by | April 30, 2015

Robert Moses “Lefty” Grove is one of only 24 major-league baseball pitchers to win 300 games or more, and he reached the 300 win plateau in fewer games than any pitcher in history.

Lefty Grove suited up for the Baltimore Orioles.  Undated photo.

Lefty Grove suited up for the Baltimore Orioles. Undated photo.

In his 17 major-league seasons (nine with the Philadelphia Athletics and eight with the Boston Red Sox), Lefty had a lifetime winning percentage of .680.

Lonaconing, Maryland’s favorite son was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1947, earned a spot on Major League Baseball’s All Century team and is rated by the Sporting News as the 2nd greatest left-handed pitcher of all time, behind Warren Spahn.

Lefty Grove was born to John and Emma Grove on March 6, 1900. His father and older brothers preceded him into the Lonaconing coal mines, but a 15 year old Lefty quit after two weeks, saying, “Dad, I didn’t put that coal in here, and I hope I don’t have to take no more of her out.”

The teenager drifted into other jobs before he found his stride in baseball: as a “bobbin boy” working spinning spools to make silk thread, as an apprentice glass blower and needle etcher in a glass factory, and as a railroad worker laying rails and driving spikes.

In his spare time, he played a kind of baseball using cork stoppers in wool socks wrapped in black tape, and fence pickets when bats weren’t available. He taught himself to pitch, throwing rocks “at anything, moving or stationary,” according a Baltimore Sun article. “Sometimes the targets were squirrels and birds, but mostly they consisted of the glass insulators on the telegraph poles.”

He did not play genuine baseball until 17, nor genuinely organized baseball until 19, when Dick Stakem, proprietor of a general store in nearby Midland, began using him in town games on a field sandwiched between a forest and train tracks.

“Bobby never pitched a game [for Midland] until Memorial Day, 1919,” Stakem told the Philadelphia Bulletin’s John J. Nolan. “He pitched a seven-inning game which was ended by rain. He fanned 15 batters, walked two men, hit two, and made a wild pitch.

In 1929, Lefty opened "Lefty's Place" in Lonaconing.  This gave people in the area a place to bowl, play pool and socialize with their Hall of Fame legend.

In 1929, Lefty opened “Lefty’s Place” in Lonaconing. This gave people in the area a place to bowl, play pool and socialize with their Hall of Fame legend.

“Bob’s best game was a postseason series against [the Baltimore & Ohio railroad team in] Cumberland, the big team around here…. We went down there with Bobby and he held them hitless, fanned 18 batters, and the only man to reach first eventually got around to third. The reason he got there was because Bobby told me he let him steal second and third as he was so sure he could fan the next batters and the runner wouldn’t steal home. The score was 1 to 0, the other pitcher allowing just one hit.”

The B & O manager supposedly wanted Grove, and the next year Bob was cleaning cylinder heads of steam engines for B & O in Cumberland, MD. Before he could put in a baseball season there, a local garage manager named Bill Louden, who managed the Martinsburg, WV, Mountaineers team of the Class C Blue Ridge League, offered him a princely $125 a month, a good $50 more than his father and brothers were making.

With his parents’ blessing, Lefty took a 30-day leave from his job, signed a contract on May 5, got a roundtrip rail pass from his master mechanic and was driven across the mountains in a large car supplied by the Midland team.

Young Grove didn’t know what a curve was; but boy was he fast. By the time Grove had pitched 60 strikeouts in 59 innings, word reached Jack Dunn, owner of the International League Baltimore Orioles (and the man who had discovered Babe Ruth just a few years earlier.) Dunn sent his son Jack Jr. to watch Grove.

In early June, after Grove had pitched seven games, Dunn made an offer for him. According to Suter Kegg, the Sports Editor of the Cumberland Times-News, a storm had leveled the outfield fence in Martinsburg, so Dunn, to get Grove, agreed to pay the price of a new one – which meant Grove went to the Orioles for $3500, or the price of a fence. “I was the only player,” Grove said later, “ever traded for a fence.”

Grove broke into the team’s pitching rotation at midseason, but finished 1920 with a 12-2 record. Dunn kept Groves’ contract from 1920 through 1925, during which time Lefty won 108 minor-league games. In 1925, Connie Mack, owner of the Philadelphia Athletics, paid Dunn $100,600 to get Grove, topping the record $100,000 the Yankees had paid the Red Sox for Babe Ruth.

In 1931, Lefty had his greatest season.  He went 31-4 that year and won the American League Most Valuable Player (MVP) award.  Lefty is shown here with the MVP trophy.

In 1931, Lefty had his greatest season. He went 31-4 that year and won the American League Most Valuable Player (MVP) award. Lefty is shown here with the MVP trophy.

The A’s made it to three consecutive World Series behind the pitching of Lefty Grove (1929-1931), winning two of them (’29 and ‘31). From the middle of 1930 until the end of 1931, his win/loss record was an amazing 46-4, which is the best 50 game stretch of any pitcher in history. In 1931, Lefty’s record was 31-4. 

He captured the first ever American League Most Valuable Player honors awarded by the Baseball Writers Association of America that year, when he won the pitcher’s triple crown for the second consecutive season.

Today, the MVP Trophy that Lefty Grove received in 1931 can be seen on display in Grove’s hometown of Lonaconing. Although the Cooperstown Baseball Hall of Fame would love to have it, Grove entrusted it to the care of former Valley High School Coach, John Meyers, so more Lonaconing residents would get to enjoy it. Thanks to John Kruk, a former first baseman with the Phillies, it is now housed in a special showcase as part of the George’s Creek Regional Library’s collection.


Sources: Lefty Grove: American Original, by Jim Kaplan (Cleveland: Society for American Baseball Research, 2000)
High Heat: The Secret History of the Fastball and the Improbable Search for the Fastest Pitcher of All Time, by Tim Wendel (Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press, 2010)


White Cap hired assassins on trial

Posted by | April 29, 2015

Part 2 of 2 —

“I guess in all he [Bob Catlett] must have come to me some twelve or fifteen different times and I at last consented to kill the Whaleys for him, for which he agreed to pay me fifty dollars, and if I got into any trouble over it he was to pay my attorney’s fees and keep me out of jail by making bond for me.

“On one occasion I told Catlett I had spoken to Pleas Wynn to go with me and that he had agreed to go. He asked me if I thought Pleas would be all right and I told him I did. It was agreed that Catlett should go south with some stock and that the Whaleys should be killed while he was gone in order that he might not be suspicioned.

“Catlett went through Sevierville on Monday morning the 28th of December 1896 with some horses and as he was going out of Sevierville near the upper end of town and about opposite the Southern Methodist church I met him and helped him straighten out one of his horses. While there he said to me, ‘Be certain and attend to that job tonight!’

J.C. Catlett TiptonJ.C. “Catlett” Tipton, from ‘The White-Caps: A History of the Organization in Sevier County.’

“Jim Catlett, a brother of Bob, told me that evening that Bob had left the money with him to pay for killing the Whaleys whenever the work was done, and that he Jim would pay the money. This talk was had in the presence of Pleas Wynn near the old jail place in Sevierville.

“That night the 28th of December 1896, Pleas Wynn and I by agreement met at Ben Bailey’s in Sevierville, and about dark we left there, going first to Bailey’s shop near the bank of the west fork of the Pigeon River.

“There I got my shot gun out of my tool chest together with some cartridges. Leaving the shop, we went down the bank of said river to the point or junction of the two rivers, and crossing the bridge over the east fork of the river, we proceeded down the bank of said river on the north side to the Capt Wynn farm.

“When we got even with the Whaley house, we left the river and went up the hollow to where the Whaleys lived. We stopped a short distance from the house. We saw a light in the house and heard some one talking within. Wynn as I now remember made a noise by coughing, and a man who I suppose was John Whaley, came out with a light and did some fixing about the crib door.

“He returned to the house and in a short time left. Wynn and I then masked ourselves heavily and proceeded to the house, where the door was bursted open, and we entered the house. I had my shot gun and Wynn had a pistol. I there killed both Whaley and his wife by shooting them in the head. I never spoke to anyone after I entered the house, nor did either William or Laura Whaley speak after they were shot, to my knowledge.

“I reloaded my gun and then Wynn and I returned to Sevierville. We did not return as we went, but took a nearer route across the ridges, coming into the road near where the Andes boys live, just below Sevierville. I took my gun back to the shop and put it in the tool chest and got some dynamite I had there and met Pleas Wynn near the Mitchell corner in town.

Pleasant Pleas WynnPleasant “Pleas” Wynn, from ‘The White-Caps: A History of the Organization in Sevier County.’

“He said he had been to Otis Montgomery’s. From there we went to Mark McCowan’s, a half mile below town, called him out, talked to him awhile, and asked him to go fishing with us, but he declined, saying his folks were sick. We got his canoe and went down the river a short distance and dropped two sticks of dynamite in the river. The result was we got six fish: one salmon and five suckers. We took the canoe back to the bank and left it where McCowan told us to. Before leaving the canoe we there burned our masks.

“We then went on to Sevierville where we divided the fish, he taking the five suckers and I the salmon. I went to Ben Bailey’s, where I boarded, and went to bed and I suppose Wynn went home.

“I was barely acquainted with Wm Whaley; knew him when I saw him. I never saw Laura Whaley until the night she was killed. I never had had any trouble with either one of them and had no ill will or malice toward them. Jim Catlett came to Sevierville the next day after the Whaleys were killed and paid me the fifty dollars according to agreement, and on the following day I think it was I gave Pleas Wynn half of it.

“When I gave the package of money to JR Yett to deposit in his safe for me Wm Marshall and Miller Yett were present and when I took it away George Nichols and one or two others were present. I never deposited money or anything else with JR Yett & Co at any other time to my recollection.”


Source: The White-Caps: A History of the Organization in Sevier County, by Ethelred W. Crozier, pub. by Bean, Warters & Gaut, Knoxville, 1899


He wanted them put out of the way & would give one hundred dollars to kill them

Posted by | April 28, 2015

Part 1 of 2 —

The White Caps of Sevier County, TN, were a vigilante group formed in approximately 1892 by citizens who wished to rid Sevier County of individuals (mostly women) whom they deemed lewd or adulterous.

Their modus operandi was to leave the offending party a note signed “White Caps,” occasionally accompanied by hickory switches, warning them to leave town. If this tactic proved ineffective, the group escalated to whippings.

The White Caps were extremely popular between 1892 and 1896 and thus hard to control legally. Local law enforcement turned a blind eye to their doings and even when arrested White Caps would frequently tamper with juries to ensure their acquittal. In this atmosphere of tolerance, the beatings gradually increased in severity.

But then in December of 1896 the White Caps brutally murdered Laura and William Whaley in front of their infant child. The Whaleys were generally considered poor but honest citizens of Sevier County, and their savage deaths turned public opinion against the White Caps. J.C. “Catlett” Tipton and Pleasant “Pleas” Wynn were convicted of the Whaley murders, and hung on July 5, 1899, at Sevierville. Here is Tipton’s confession from his trial transcript:

murder of Bill and Laura Whaley, Sevier County TN“I was born and raised in Sevier county; am about 38 years old. In December 1896 I was living about two miles from Sevierville, but was at that time staying with Ben Bailey, my brother in law, and working in the blacksmith shop with him.

“I know the defendant Bob Catlett and have known him pretty much all my life. On the Saturday evening that the November term of the circuit court adjourned, Bob Catlett came to me and said he wanted to have a talk with me. We went into Fred Emert’s store and upstairs into a back room. He there told me that William Whaley and wife had gone before the grand jury at that term of court and had indicted him and Bob Wade, his brother in law, for shooting into Walter Maples house.

“He said he wanted them put out of the way and would give one hundred dollars to kill them; that he wanted to make an example of them to teach people that they could not swear against him. I told him I did not want to do it and would not do it. This was about all that occurred there, and we went out of the store. Bob Wade was present during this conversation.

“There was a meeting of an Odd Fellows lodge that Saturday night at Pigeon Forge, about eight miles above Sevierville. Wm Wynn, Jesse Atchley and I went to it; leaving Sevierville that evening I went in a buggy with Wm Wynn, I think.

“Some time after the lodge had been in session Bob Catlett and Bob Wade came in. That is the first time I ever knew Catlett or Wade in that lodge and have never seen them there since. It was about fourteen miles from there to where Catlett lived. As we were returning from the lodge that night, I stopped on the road near Henderson’s Island at a turnip patch and got some turnips and distributed them among the crowd. There were several along including Bob Catlett, Bob Wade, Arthur Seaton, Schuyler Atchley, Jesse Atchley and Wm Wynn.

“Wade and Catlett were riding horse back and when ready to leave the turnip patch Bob Catlett suggested to Wade that he take my seat in the buggy, and for me to get on Wade’s horse, as he wanted to talk with me.

“This change was accordingly made and I rode from there to Rambo’s Lane, about three miles, with Bob Catlett. On this trip he again brought up the subject of the Whaleys and renewed his proposition to me to put them out of the way for him. I told him I did not want to do it, but before leaving me near the Rambo Lane, he handed me an envelope and said for me to take it and that it was mine when the Whaleys were put out of the way. I took the package and went on home alone from that point.

“I examined the contents of the envelope and found it consisted of four twenty dollar bills and one twenty dollar gold piece. I kept the money until the next Wednesday evening and then I took it to Yett’s store in Sevierville, and gave it to JR Yett, and told him to put it in his safe for me a short time.

“I let it stay there until Friday following when I got it and gave it back to Bob Catlett, saying to him at the time that I had decided not to do the job and returned his money. Catlett replied that he was glad of it for he could get it done for one half of that amount. It was not long however until Catlett returned to me again and began to beg me to comply with his wishes by putting the Whaleys out of the way.

End of Part 1

Sources: The White-Caps: A History of the Organization in Sevier County, by Ethelred W. Crozier, publ by Bean, Warters & Gaut, Knoxville, 1899

Cummings, William Joseph, “Community, Violence, and the Nature of Change: Whitecapping in Sevier County, Tennessee, During the 1890’s.” Master’s Thesis, University of Tennessee, 1988.


This ends a very favorable April with just about enough rain

Posted by | April 27, 2015

Fulton Caldwell opened his personal diary with details of a trip from Ohio to Iowa in December 1859. His careful list of all expenses clues the reader in right away to a man concerned with the details. “Fulton Caldwell, now a prosperous farmer and a leading citizen, was born on the Caldwell homestead in 1833,” says his biography in the “History of Noble County [Ohio]” from 1887. “He was brought up a farmer, and has followed that occupation principally.”

Caldwell must have gotten waylaid by the business of living, however, since his next diary entry doesn’t turn up till 1873. The ‘History of Noble County’ profile gives a hint: “He was engaged in mercantile business four or five years, and for about two years was a stock-buyer and drover. With these exceptions he has devoted his time and attention to farming, stock-raising and dairying.”

But between January 1873 and December 1910 ‘Fult’ Caldwell managed the impressive feat of producing a daily journal entry. The typed, single-spaced document transcribes to 508 pages.

Caldwell, Noble County, Ohio, ca. 1886-1888View of Caldwell, Noble County, Ohio, ca. 1886-1888. This photograph is part of a collection compiled by Henry Howe while researching the 1889 edition of “Historical Collections of Ohio.”

Caldwell’s entries typically note the weather, farm chores completed or in need of attending, neighbors visited, village births and deaths. He didn’t vary that writing strategy much over the entire 37 years of diary keeping. Here are his diary entries for the last week of April, 1873:

Sunday, 27…Pleasant day – sun shines warm – at home – Mr. and Mrs. Moor here.

Monday, 28…Cloudy morning – quit at noon – rain early all day – Mr. and Mrs. Moor went home.

Tuesday, 29…Cloudy morning – sprinkles rain a little – I went to Gouchenours and Moors. Corden got hurt.

Wednesday, 30… Clear frosty morning – I commence plowing for oats – turn all stock on pasture – good pasture on Glidden farm – Sam Archer commence work today at $13.00 per month – boys haul wood.


Thursday, 1…Cloudy morning – we made a little garden – and finish sowing oats in field west of barn – rain in afternoon – we commence post holes for ball lot – Worthy McKee here.

…and 37 years later, that same last week of April in 1910:

Wednesday, 27…40 degress – rain during nt – cloudy threatening morning, clears off, pleasant by noon – cloudy again before night though sun sets red – find spring growing day – I am home – assist Ruth cleaning kitchen.

Thursday, 28…75 degrees – cloudy threatening day – sprinkles of rain – I borrow of C.C.C. check, $100.00 and pay same to Hugh Nughart to be accredited Mrs. Dr. Martin, money borrowed one year ago today.

Friday, 29…48 degress – Clouding threatening morning – clears off pleasant warm day – I walked with Marsh Merry to Ruths land west of town, then went on to Wm. Treadways home in hollow on west part of H. Caldwell farm where I have not been for over 50 years – called to see Mrs. D. Gouchenour, Dave Devold, Peter Walters and Mrs. Brock – Ben Davis hoed our sweet corn in garden – planted March 24 and all grew and standing now – also hoes potatoes well up in garden, Irish Cobble variety.

Saturday, 30…60 degrees – Partially cloudy morning and day – Ben Davis and I place logs front of west porch and stick poles and I plant 40 hills lima beans at west side of garden – also first beans – this ends a very favorable April with just about enough rain, though not as pleasant weather on average as March.


Sunday, 1…60 degrees – Partially cloudy morning – bright breezy warm day, flying clouds – we are home alone resting after weeks house cleaning – George Kean borrowed field glass to go to Mc Thorlas hill for observation.

Caldwell’s second to last entry in the diary tells the reader “I raid part of day working on books – worked steadily, drinking no whisky or other stimulant, took no medicine.” He doesn’t specify whether ‘working on books’ meant the accounting books, or something else.

But it’s quite clear that his diary by the end was meant to be passed on. The diary we now have opens with an “Index of Deceased” which Campbell later added after the original diary was completed, since it references diary entries that apply to each person listed.

And page 6 is titled “Index of Items for Future Reference” which opens with the perfectly expected entry “Page 8, 13 July 1873, Presbyterian Church Dedication” on through “Page 486, 13 Sept. 1910, mention again of Poochville school.” Quite useful for future historians and genealogists. Caldwell’s diary was transcribed in 1986 by the Noble County Historical Society.


Source: ‘The Digital Shoebox Project, Historical Treasures of Southeastern Ohio’



The Scottsboro Boys

Posted by | April 24, 2015

On March 25, 1931, local authorities in Paint Rock, AL arrested nine black youths on a freight train after receiving word about a fight between blacks and whites on the train. They discovered two white women, Ruby Bates and Victoria Price, dressed in men’s overalls on the same train and subsequently charged the nine young men with rape.

The doctor who examined the girls found proof that they had been having sexual intercourse but no reason to conclude that they had been roughly handled, except for a small bruise on one of them which might well have been caused by riding on gravel. This was not Victoria Price’s version of the story: “There were six to me and three to her….It took three of them to hold me,” she recalled under oath. “One was holding my legs and the other had a knife to my throat while the other one ravished me.”

Four of the “Scottsboro Boys,” Roy and Andy Wright, Eugene Williams, and Heywood Patterson, had grown up in Chattanooga, Tennessee; the Wrights were the sons of Ada Wright, a widow and a domestic servant in Chattanooga. Ozie Powell, Clarence Norris, Olen Montgomery, Charlie Weems, and Willie Roberson came from different towns in Georgia and encountered the others for the first time on the train. Olen Montgomery was completely blind in one eye and could barely see out of the other; Willie Roberson suffered from untreated syphilis and could hardly walk.

Scottsboro Boys with their lawyer in jailPresiding judge Alfred E. Hawkins assigned all seven members of the Scottsboro bar to defend the young men, but all of them found excuses not to involve themselves except for seventy-year-old Milo C. Moody.

In Chattanooga, sixty miles away, members of the local Interdenominational Colored Ministers’ Alliance raised funds to retain Stephen R. Roddy, a white lawyer from Chattanooga. “I was scared before, but it wasn’t nothing to how I felt now,” said defendant Norris as the trials got under way. “I knew if a white woman accused a black man of rape, he was as good as dead.”

On April 9, 1931, after four separate trials conducted over a four-day period before four different all-white juries in the mountain town of Scottsboro, eight of the defendants were found guilty as charged.

Judge Hawkins promptly sentenced them to death. The case of the ninth defendant-thirteen-year-old Roy Wright-ended in a mistrial after a majority of the jury refused to accept the prosecution’s recommendation that he be spared the death penalty because of his extreme youth.

“I was sitting in a chair and one of those girls was testifying,” Wright was quoted as saying in a March 10, 1933 New York Times article. “One of the deputy sheriffs leaned over to me and asked if I was going to turn state’s evidence, and I said no, because I didn’t know anything about this case.

“Then the trial stopped awhile and the deputy sheriff beckoned to me to come out into another room– the room back of the place where the judge was sitting– and I went. They whipped me and it seemed like they were going to kill me. All the time they kept saying, “Now will you tell?” and finally it seemed to me like I couldn’t stand it no more and I said yes.”

Soon after the guilty verdicts, the NAACP and the International Labor Defense came to the defense of the “Scottsboro Boys,” contending the trials were unconstitutional. Three more rounds of trials ensued. Ultimately, charges against four of the defendants were dropped, but by that time they had spent over 6 years in prison on death row without trial.

Alabama’s Governor Graves had planned to pardon all of the defendants before he left office in 1938. However, during the customary pre-pardon interview, Graves was angered by the men’s hostility towards him and refusal to admit their guilt, so he did not issue pardons.


PBS April 2, 2001: “Scottsboro: An American Tragedy” (

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