The Laurel Creek Murders, part 1

Posted by Dave Tabler | September 21, 2016

On the night of September 21st, 1909, Howard Little allegedly came to visit Elizabeth E. Baker Justus and her extended family in Laurel Creek, VA and asked if he could spend the night. The family knew him and quite naturally opened their home to him. By nine o’clock, all six family members were asleep. Then, using a pistol, a knife, and a hatchet (Betty kept the hatchet next to her bed for protection), Little is said to have dispatched the lot of them, set the cabin on fire and made good his escape.

Who was Howard Little and why would he commit such a heinous deed? Robert M. Baker, great-great-great grandson of Betty Baker, in his telling of this story, maintains that in July 1909 Betty Baker had been paid $1,300 ($1,650 according to her) by Little, an agent for the W. M. Ritter Lumber Company in Hurley, VA, for the sale of some timberland (or perhaps it was for the rights to the timber on her 150 acres on Laurel Creek), the implication being that the September visit was a bungled petty theft that ended as non-premeditated murder.

Elizabeth E. Baker JustusA woman identifying herself only as ‘ of Lahoma’ (Oklahoma?) counters this version: “I was told that Grandpa Howard ran moonshine for a living. He would run it through the mountains from Bull Creek, WV to Laurel Creek and Guesses Fork VA and back, carried by pack mules late at night to avoid the law. Late one night, he was jumped by some Justus boys, who allegedly beat him, stole his moonshine, and took what money he had on him. In retaliation, he went to their home…”

Betty had several hundred dollars in a metal milk pail hidden beneath the hearth in her house. She had a hundred dollars saved for each of her children. This was in addition to the money she had received from Howard Little, and it was not found by the killer or killers. If the sums are correct, Betty had almost $2,500.00 hidden in various places on her property. Detectives determined that some of the money from the sale of her timber rights had been taken during the commission of the crime, but not all of it was missing.

Down the holler about three hundred yards lived Baker relatives Sennit Justus and his wife Lilabelle—Lillie. On that September night Lillie claimed she heard two gunshots and then saw the orange glow of flames from the Baker house. She ran up the holler to the cabin and could see the bodies of Betty, daughter Lydia, and two of the boys lying on the floor in the flames.

Sam Justus, another Baker relative and neighbor, claimed that he was the first to arrive at the cabin as it burned. He saw that the youngest child, Lafayette, was still alive and tried to carry him away from the burning cabin, then ran to get help. The boy managed to fall or climb back down to the burning house where he too was consumed by the fire, the sixth and last victim. George Meadows, Lydia’s husband, was found shortly afterward outside near the fence where he had crawled after being shot twice.

to be continued…

From the Baker family side:

and from Little family side:

2 Responses

  • Susie Justus Grimmett says:
    January 29, 2015 at 2:07 am
    I have heard many stories on the murdering of the Meadow family, which was a horrific crime. Howard Little was my great grandfather and I have read many letters that he wrote to a family member while in jail and he still claimed his innocence and said he was framed. We all can read the clippings and just imagine what happened, but only one person actually knows what happened that night and that is GOD.

  • Anonymous says:

    this article left out a few things like Bloodhounds took the posse to a man’s home in the opposite direction of Howard little this man must have had a good Alibi because they arrested Howard Littles DOGS DO NOT LIE

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You don’t mean to go into the Dark Corner, do you?

Posted by Dave Tabler | September 20, 2016

The following piece appears in the Fall 2012 newsletter of UpCountry Friends, an organization devoted to exploring and preserving the history and culture of the upper regions of Greenville County, SC. The opening preface, by the group’s treasurer Penny Forrester, explains the back story of the main text.

Thomas Robinson Dawley, Jr. toured the mountainous regions and the mill towns of the South for the federal Department of Labor in 1903 to determine whether child labor laws were necessary to protect children from “evil” textile magnates who were improperly using their labor to enrich themselves at the detriment of the children.

Among those he visited were the residents of our own Dark Corner. He interviewed, dined and slept in the homes of these people to establish living conditions, health, labor, and educational opportunities.

He eventually came down on the side of the mill owners, much to the chagrin of those who opposed child labor, who suppressed his [resulting] book, “The Child That Toileth Not”. He was forced to resign his position and eventually sold his family farm in order to finance its publication in 1912.

We will be publishing transcripts and some photos of his encounters and adventures in the Dark Corner. The text will be transcribed just as Dawley wrote it, including his use of dialect. It is the opinion of your editor that he was not ridiculing the people in using dialect. Instead, he used it to truly convey speech as he heard it.

You will recognize the names of some of the people he encountered – Hightower, Hodges, Gosnell, Howard, Hensley – and recognize some of the places described and photographed.

Original caption - "Dark Corner Burying Ground."   This is thought to be the Emery-Lindsey Family Cemetery, but not proven.

Original caption – “Dark Corner Burying Ground.” This is thought to be the Emery-Lindsey Family Cemetery, but not proven.


In setting out for the Dark Corner, I answered the warnings of my friends who said I would never return, by telling them that I would not only return, but I would bring back some moonshine, which seemed to be the foundation of the Dark Corner’s evil repute. In order that I could keep my promise, the proprietor of the livery stable handed me two pint flasks, one of which was filled with yellow kernels of corn.

He explained the presence of the corn, in that whisky being very scarce since prohibition had gone into effect, someone had offered to fetch “a pint of good old corn: for fifty cents, and after getting the fifty cents, he had sent back the flask filled with the corn. It was not the kind of corn anticipated.

Putting the flasks in my saddle-bags, I left by the old State road across the plateau and up over the Blue Ridge down into South Carolina. This was the road of former times, when it was the great artery of travel from the West, the Kentucky and Tennessee traders driving their hogs and cattle over it, to the cotton markets as far south as Augusta, Georgia, and the mountaineer farmers wagoned their produce over it to feed them.

As soon as I had crossed the summit of the Blue Ridge, a sterile strip of mountainous country presented itself below me. I soon came to a cabin with a weather-beaten door closing its entrance, and green grass grown up all around it. It was abandoned. I looked down upon another one, out of the chimney of which no smoke was coming, and it too proved to be abandoned.

Further on down the mountain, resting upon a terraced hillside, separated from the road by a ravine, was a little wood-colored house. A line of clothes flapped in the wind, and a row of blossoming trees added cheer to the scene.

As I photographed it, two women came trudging up the other side of the hill, followed by a small dog. The dog, upon seeing me, came running down the hill barking spitefully, but retreated as I crossed over and went up to the house, one of the women adding to his discomfiture by throwing sticks and stones at him.

As I asked the women what had become of the families that lived in the cabins I had passed, they replied that they had gone to the cotton-mills. The father of the family living in the last cabin had died about two years ago, after which the mother had taken the children and gone.

“Wasn’t he the man who sold the whiskey?” I asked.

“Waal, I reckon,” came the reply. “I ‘low they all sold et when they got the chanct.”

“Do they do any better at the mills, than they did here?” was my next question.

“Ef they didn’t do any better, I ‘low they wouldn’t stay. We don’t see none comin’ back,” said the older woman.

Returning across the ravine, I rode on, still on down the mighty mountain. My next halt was before a rambling structure of two stories with a neat fence enclosing a yard of shrubbery before a long porch. An upright stone slab like a tomb-stone, marked a spring of running water near the road, with the legend “Poinsette Springs.”

The colorless face of a dark-haired young woman on the porch, appearing above the shrubbery, answered my salutations in a shrill voice. She looked as though she was drying up and slowly dying of lonesomeness and inactivity. She said that the house belonged to her father; that in former days it had been a stopping place for the herders with their droves of hogs and horses and mules, but it was no longer as it used to be.

As I asked her the way to the Dark Corner she laughed drily.

“You don’t mean ter go inter the Dark Corner do you?” she said. “Strangers didn’t used to go in there at all. But I reckon it ain’t nothing like it used to be neither. I ain’t heard of no cuttings up from there for a long time. Things have changed mightily all around, I ‘spect.”

Farther on down another range of mountain, I came upon a large open field. The barren aspect of the country had changed now, and in the field were two men ploughing with slick, fat mules. As my road swung around the edge of the field I saw a man in the road apparently watching the men plough. A jug and a tin cup under the bushes near him looked suspicious, but the jug contained nothing stronger than water.

As I spoke to the man he held one hand to his ear to catch the sound, and I found I had to shout at the top of my voice to make myself heard. But he was unusually talkative. He looked at my government card with interest, and seemed most anxious to inform me on conditions without waiting for me to shout my questions at him.

He said that formerly he was one of the biggest whiskey makers in the country, but he had given it up satisfied that it was for his country’s good. He told how conditions had changed from bad to good; how the country had made great strides in every way, and there were no longer the idle, good for nothing, besotted parents and hungry children lying around in their cabins as formerly.

When I told him that I was going to the Dark Corner, he said, “Be keerful that they don’t ambush you. But I reckon there ain’t so much danger now. It isn’t as bad as it used to be. I used to haul grain in there for their whiskey, but when they killed the officer down at Landrum, I said to ‘em, ‘boys, I’m done now; you had the sympathy of all the folks before, but you’ve got’em again you now.’”

Original caption - "Dark Corner church shot full of holes."  This is Mountain Hill Baptist Church, now called Mountain HIll Church and located within the bounds of the gated community 'Cliffs of Glassy.'

Original caption – “Dark Corner church shot full of holes.” This is Mountain Hill Baptist Church, now called Mountain HIll Church and located within the bounds of the gated community ‘Cliffs of Glassy.’

—The full text of “The Child That Toileth Not” is online here.

Those interested in the UPCountry Friends group can join for $15.00/year. All members receive the newsletter, which is published 4 times a year. The group meets 4 times a year; the newsletter comes out about three weeks prior to each meeting.  You can find UPCountry Friends on Facebook, and also contact them via email:  To receive a newsletter, send a check to the treasurer: Penny Forrester, 55 Forest Dr., Travelers Rest, S.C. 29690

5 Responses

  • JIM MOORE says:


  • Dave Tabler says:

    Jim, this photo was taken by Thomas Robinson Dawley, Jr., from ‘The Child That Toileth Not’. You can find the complete text of this book here:

  • […] Bring your mug of coffee and come on in, let’s chat. I thought the first blog should provide an introduction to Dark Corner Coffee. As you probably noted in our introductory information our company is built on the ideals of the people of Dark Corner. If you have any doubt that Dark Corner is an actual place I challenge you to look it up and here is a starting website. […]

  • Tom Atkinson says:

    Looking for Rev. Rufus Rhodes and the church he oreached at in Dark Corners. Any information would be appreciated.


  • […] Lest we forget to mention… The Dark Corner, a small patch of the Upstate in Greenville County near the NC state line was once said to be crawling with hillbilly moonshiners and other dark doings.  The Dark Corner Distillery can get you started with that page of history… […]

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Holden 22 Miners Memorial Officially Dedicated

Posted by Dave Tabler | September 19, 2016

On March 8, 1960, the Holden Mine at Island Creek No. 22 in Holden, WV caught fire in the coal seam, and created a carbon monoxide gas which killed eighteen men by asphyxiation. Two miners escaped. It wasn’t the first mine disaster to occur in the southern West Virginia coal fields, and it hasn’t been the last.

But it traumatized the local community enough that the affected families held memorial reunions regularly from 1961 to 2012, and have spent the last several years seeking to create a fitting permanent monument to the tragedy. Why the focus on this one disaster?



Perhaps H.A. Jarvis, who was a mine inspector at the U.S. Bureau of Mines Field Office in Logan at the time, sums it up best: “The history of coal mining in Logan County records no greater loss of life previously in a single occurrence. Having participated in many rescue operations following mine accidents, gas and coal dust explosions, and fires, [I can say that] this was the most difficult, frustrating and lengthy.”

Seventy-two children were left fatherless and sixteen wives were made widows by this mine disaster.

On September 10, 2016, 210 members of the Holden 22 coal camp community gathered to dedicate the completion of that fitting permanent monument, located directly across from the WV Army National Guard Logan-Mingo Readiness Center atop Holden 22, in a solemn ceremony honoring the lives of those lost miners.

And not only honoring those 18 men, but also recognizing the selfless dedication of the many miners and rescue workers who sought to come to their aid. H.A. Jarvis, who posted his diary of the event online in 2007, speaks eloquently to that aspect as well: “[This online post is] an effort to keep alive remembrances of twenty men initially trapped underground by fire.

“Of those who labored so hard and long in rescue efforts, often in a contaminated atmosphere, which resulted in hospitalization for some. Of coal miners who left employment elsewhere and devoted full time to the effort. Of others who, after a shift of regular employment, donated another shift of work. Of coal miners who, although untrained in the use of protective respiratory devices, would don such equipment with minimal instruction.

“These asked nothing more than the opportunity to help their fellowman in distress. These meet my criterion for heroes, and are remembered as such. Failing to preserve these poignant memories would seem to compound the tragedy.”



The Holden 22 dedication ceremony rose to the occasion. Senator Art Kirkendoll presided over an hour and half long presentation, which included dignified speeches by Logan County Commission president Danny Godby, Mingo County Commission president John Mark Hubbard, and Holden 22 Miners Memorial Fund, Inc. president Isom Ooten.

Mike Sazy, a Logan, WV native and son of a coal miner, composed and read a heartfelt poetic ode to the hard work and dedication of Holden 22’s mining community. He was accompanied on autoharp by singer/songwriter Roger Bryant, 2014 winner of the Vandalia Award, West Virginia’s highest folklife honor. Bryant went on to sing the Merle Travis tune ‘Dark as a Dungeon,’ the widely beloved song that has become the miner’s anthem.

A color guard from the WV National Guard presented, and at ceremony’s end, retrieved, the colors. The board of directors of the Holden 22 Miners Memorial Fund, Inc. — Isom Ooten, Patricia Bodo Sazy, and, standing in for Connie Maynard Preece, who couldn’t attend, her granddaughter Grace Browning and husband John Preece — released 18 symbolic red, white and blue balloons into the hemisphere toward ceremony’s end. And Reverend Lonnie Gore, Jr., who grew up in Holden 22 camp, closed with a fitting prayer, thanking God that the community is able to finally find closure to this tragedy by creating an enduring monument to keep the memory of these miners alive for generations to come.

Perhaps the most stirring aspect of the Holden 22 Dedication ceremony was the oral history remembrances of the family members and rescuers themselves. Mary Ann Hall Curry, R.N., is one of the few first responders to the disaster still living. She remained 11 days on site round the clock. The mine company, Island Creek, had set up 3 railroad cabooses directly adjacent to the mineshaft entry to serve food and provide bedding to rescuers.

First Responder Mary Ann Hall Curry, RN, recalls "the snow stopped when they got the last body out, as if it had been turned off." Historical photo courtesy Bob Shanklin.

First Responder Mary Ann Hall Curry, RN, recalls “the snow stopped when they got the last body out, as if it had been turned off.” Historical photo courtesy Bob Shanklin.


When the miners’ bodies were located in the mine, they were wrapped in blankets and plastic bags, and carried to the base of a 485-foot elevator shaft. They were lined up neatly to await their return to the surface. A heavy wet snow fell, covering the ground. Curry distinctly recalls: “The snow stopped just like that when they got the last body out, as if it had been turned off.”

Fifty six years have passed, and though the emotional impact of the event is as strong as ever, some of the details on the stories shared have blurred with time. One of the audience members, for example, described how miner Josh Chafin, before he died, wrote a note to his wife saying “Bring our children up in the fear and admonition of the Lord,” and that he had passed this note through an opening in the coal seam to rescuers, even though the seam wasn’t large enough for him to get through.

H.A. Jarvis, in his diary, describes what actually happened, since he was there: “The scene that greeted us at the end of the 2,400-foot journey was one void of all sound and motion. Like a photograph, thirteen coal miners sat and lounged frozen in their last act of life.

“The first, in the act of enclosing the opening with cloth, knelt in front of his unfinished task with hammer and nail in hand. Another sat before his lunch pail with the lid in one hand and a sandwich, with one bite missing, in the other.

“Their foreman, Josh Chafin, sat with arms folded across his knees. Between his feet sat a flame-safety lamp with a note attached to the handle. With hope that it contained information about the others, I removed and read the note.


“Addressed to his wife, it revealed only his love for her and asked that their children ‘be raised in the Lord.”

“This, the only communication ever found, was duly delivered to Mrs. Chafin.”

[A copy of that note is in each of the Mine Health, Safety Administration offices in West Virginia. The full note read: “Mable, I love you more than you will ever know and raise them to serve the Lord.” It was signed Jr., the name he went by.]

“The scene left no doubt,” continues Jarvis in the diary, “that these lives were snuffed out instantaneously and without pain or suffering.

“Also, there was no doubting the cause, a lethal concentration of colorless, odorless, and tasteless carbon monoxide.”

Ironically, after days of fruitless searches for the men, rescue teams found them within 24 hours of when Island Creek President Raymond E. Salvati predicted they would be located. He kept an optimistic face to the public to the last. From the March 14, 1960 Charleston Daily Mail news report:

“Someone asked the inevitable question. Are the men alive?

‘I don’t think there is any question about it,’ said Island Creek President Raymond E. Salvati. ‘Those men are still alive and we are going to get them out.’

So where do they go from here?

T. N. Camiela, Island Creek vice president in charge of operations, said the ‘fresh-air base’ — the area where oxygen masks aren’t needed — would be pushed to within 650 feet of the area where it’s presumed the miners have barricaded themselves with airtight materials.

They’re now 960 feet away. How long will that take?

‘We’ll know something within 24 hours,’ Salvati said.


And indeed they did.


Charleston Daily Mail, March 14, 1960:

Diary of H.A. Jarvis, one of several mine inspectors at U.S. Bureau of Mines Field Office in Logan, WV:

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He brought the deer back to North Georgia

Posted by Dave Tabler | September 16, 2016

Deer hunting season got underway in Georgia this past Monday, September 9. It’s all too easy to forget that in the early part of the 20th century, there simply were no deer to be had in the northern part of the state. Arthur Woody never forgot that, and today’s hunters in Appalachian Georgia owe him a debt of thanks.

Arthur “Kingfish” Woody (1884-1946), served the U.S. Forestry Service from 1911 to 1945, starting out as a surveyor. In 1918 the Federal Government combined various local land holdings into the Cherokee National Forest, part of which extended into North Georgia. A short time later additional land the government purchased was consolidated with portions of the Cherokee into the Georgia National Forest (later renamed the Chattahoochee National Forest) and Woody became the Blue Ridge District’s first Forest Ranger. The district was the first wildlife management area in the South.

Ranger Arthur WoodyIn the midst of the depression the CCC began to improve the area around Suches, GA thanks to efforts by “the barefoot ranger,” and he was responsible for the original proposal for a Visitor’s Center at Brasstown Bald.

At the time of Woody’s birth, deer habitat was under tremendous pressure: much of the Georgia mountains had been stripped bare by lumber companies that found it cheaper to simply leave land they’d cleared rather than replant. Woody had gone with his father John on a hunting trip in 1895 when he was a boy, and claimed his dad killed the last deer anywhere in the North Georgia.

“I vowed I would remedy that situation when I was grown,” Woody later told Charlie Elliot, former commissioner of the State Game Commission. In 1927 he started restocking deer in the North Georgia mountains with much of his own money, while managing to raise some money from the U.S. Forest Service. He purchased whitetail deer from a passing show and rounded up more in the mountains of western North Carolina, releasing them in an area near the park headquarters of Rock Creek.

He named many of them. One old buck was named Old Nemo. He had names for others. Finally, the deer did multiply and the state re-opened hunting season in 1941. Among the landmarks in the Chattahoochee National Forest honoring Woody is a trail through the Sosebee Cove, a 175-acre tract of prize hardwood Woody purchased for the Forest Service that is now part of the Brasstown Ranger District.


Arthur+Woody Ranger+Woody Chattahoochee+National+Forest appalachia +appalachia+history appalachian+culture appalachian+history history+of+appalachia

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Gertrude a la September Morn

Posted by Dave Tabler | September 14, 2016

baby in the bath tubThat’s the exact caption of this photo, and while the caption dwells in specifics, the photo itself captures a universal moment that most any parent can respond to.

Gertrude is the daughter of Darley Hiden & Mary Ramsey, of Asheville, NC. We don’t know the date of the picture, or who shot it, though it’s most certainly from the late 1920s. Hiden & Mary [nee Sumner] married in 1926.

The grown Gertrude served on the Board of Trustees for Asheville-Biltmore College starting in 1958. She was recognized for her work as the Society Editor at Asheville’s Citizen Times by Editor & Publisher International Year Book (1963) and by The Working Press of the Nation (1969).

Her father had paved the way for her career rather smoothly, having spent 23 years as the general manager of the Citizen-Times Company, corporate parent of the Citizen Times. He’d worked at the Citizen as an associate editor for a year starting in 1920, then moved over to editorship of the Asheville Times the following year (where he served till 1926). Ramsey also served on the State Board of Education (1945-1953) and on the State Board for Higher Education (1955-1960). He died in 1966 at age 75.

D. Hiden Ramsey did well enough as a newspaperman that he was able to endow the University of North Carolina, Asheville with a new library facility: the D.H. Ramsey Library. His correspondence, speeches, and writings, including more than 200 manuscript speeches on a wide variety of subjects and occasions, plus 30 essays and articles on public issues and events, have become the D. Hiden Ramsey Collection. And it’s over in a personal corner of that inventory that this charming photo resides.


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