The feud that erupted over John Gunter’s estate

Posted by Dave Tabler | March 15, 2017

One of the first whites to settle in Marshall County, AL was John Gunter (1765-1835), a Scotsman who migrated from North Carolina after the Revolutionary War.

Gunter came to the great bend of the Tennessee River near the present Veterans’ Memorial Bridge around 1785, where he was fortunate to find a salt deposit. He decided to settle near the river (the town that emerged around his land, originally called Gunter’s Landing, is present day Guntersville) and trade with the Indians, the majority of whom were Cherokees.

A Cherokee by the name of Chief Bushyhead, head of the Paint Clan, brought his beautiful 15 year old daughter, Ghe-go-he-li, to exchange for Gunter’s salt. Gunter accepted the bargain and changed his bride’s name to Katherine. Chief Bushyhead and Gunter signed a treaty stating “as long as the grass grows and the waters flow, the Indians can have salt.”

After his death, Gunter’s estate settlement caused quite an uproar; the Alabama Historical Quarterly, fall issue, 1947 spelled out the details of the story:

Before John Gunter died in 1835, he named the Rev. William Potter, superintendent of Creek Path Mission, as executor of his will. The old pioneer had amassed a small fortune down through the years and left large tracts of cleared land, many slaves and around $5,000 in cash. Before the Gunter will was finally settled, several persons had died in gun battles, and it became one of the most talked about events in the early history of Marshall County.

Section of Guntersville, AL aerial, shot for Tennessee Valley Authority, between 1933-45.

Although Gunter left around $5,000 in cash, he didn’t say where it was located. It was generally thought that Gunter had buried the money near his house, so the Rev. Potter formed an excavation party to dig for it. The money was never found. But Louis Wyeth noted that John, Jr. acquired several thousand dollars soon after his father’s death.

If John, Jr. did find the money, he may have felt justified, because the Indian law held that the first son to obtain his father’s estate had the lawful right to it. John, Jr. took possession of his father’s house and built a large store and warehouse some 150-yards away. The Gunter house was the largest structure in the county for many years, and when John, Jr. painted it white, it became known as the “White House.”

John C. Johnson purchased some of the Gunter property from John. Jr. in the spring of 1836. Included in the sale was a boarding house, a land office and a large stock of goods. Johnson sold the property and goods in the fall of the same year to Col. Nathaniel Steele.

Questions continued to arise over the legality of John, Jr.’s title to the property, and his right to sell it. In the meantime, the Rev. Potter, unable to settle the will, had become disgusted and resigned as executor. Sheriff Alexander Riddle of Jackson was named to take his place and immediately got a court order to sell the Gunter property and divide the money among the Gunter heirs, just as the will specified.

The property was sold to a company of men from Claysville for $1,500. The men included Wallace P. Macfarland, Cornelius Allen, William Wiggs and George Allen.

When the property was sold to the Claysville men, Steele’s title to the land became worthless, although Gunter had sold it to him in good faith. Steele vowed to get his property back or die trying, and the matter began to draw great interest locally. While many local people took sides in the feud, the Gunter children—the ones most concerned—stayed out of the quarrel.

One Sunday morning the whole thing came to a climax when Nathaniel Steele and his brother Graves Steele met near the Gunter house with the new owners of the property to settle the dispute one way or another. It soon became apparent that nothing could be settled verbally, and shooting erupted.

The Steele brothers and a man named Collins ran quickly to the Gunter smokehouse, which offered a perfect vantage point of the area. James McFarland was killed immediately, and Eli Feemsted was wounded and died a few day later. The Steele brothers and Collins were arrested following the shooting, but later released on bond.

The trio’s trial came up a few months later at Claysville. Nathaniel and Graves Steele and Collins got another one of the Steele brothers to drive them to the trial in his surrey. In the meantime, some of the McFarland clan had laid logs across the road leading to Claysville and had stationed themselves in and old log house nearby. When the unsuspecting party came by, the Macfarlands opened fire.

Nathaniel and Graves Steele were killed on the spot and the other Steele brother and Collins were wounded. This ended the most famous feud in the early days of Marshall County.

sources: The Alabama Historical Quarterly, Vol. 09, No. 03, Fall Issue 1947.

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Inaugural Address of WV Gov. Henry D. Hatfield

Posted by Dave Tabler | March 14, 2017

March 14, 1913

Our state, situated as it is in one of the richest mineral zones in the world – outside of the precious mineral class – contains more bituminous coal than Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia combined, and ranks second in coal production but thirty-fourth among the states in the value of its manufactured products. It is a daily occurrence that a great bulk of raw material, shipped out of the state, is returned from the manufacturers of other states to be sold to our citizens after having been converted into finished products.

Again, we see train-loads of our coking and by-product coal shipped into other states to supply the great iron and steel industries, at prices that are not remunerative to our operators, and at the same time fixing a standard of wages for the miner that is an injustice to him, by reason of the long railroad haul to market.

Statistics will show that the coal industry of this state is anything but prosperous under present conditions. As a matter of demonstration, the United States government reports will show that Illinois coal is twenty per cent inferior in grade to West Virginia coal, yet in 1910 Illinois received $1.14 per ton .for her coal while West Virginia received only 92 cents per ton.

Gov Henry D HatfieldWhat does this indicate? Simply that Illinois has no long railroad haul, and, again, that she has factories to consume her own coal. The bulk of coal consumed in West Virginia is utilized by locomotives in carrying the raw material from our state to the manufactories of other states. This is strong language to use, nevertheless it is true.

Our state is the possessor of more than 300,000,000 tons of excellent iron ore. In petroleum we are fifth in order of production but first in quality; and as to natural gas, after wasting quantities amounting to many millions in value, we produce for the market more than one-third as much as all the other states in the Union.

We have limestone of the best quality in unlimited quantities which is adaptable to any purpose for which lime can be utilized. As to clays and shales for making brick and tile, we have them in quantities beyond estimation. In glass sands there is no limit to quantity and nothing superior in quality.

The ruthless destruction of one of the greatest forests in the world has taken place within our state. It has been reduced from its original acreage of fifteen and three-fourths millions to less than a million and a half.

But rich as we are as West Virginians in our natural resources, it is indeed lamentable to relate that more than eighty per cent of our fuel and raw material is utilized outside the state. If this condition is left unchecked, what will be the ultimate result to the state and its citizens?

What are we going to do? Are we to permit this injustice to go on without any restraint until it is too late? I wish to say that if my efforts can accomplish anything, these conditions shall not endure. It seems to me that all good citizens should be willing to enthusiastically join hands and turn the channels of this great natural wealth into a new channel that will enrich our own people instead of impoverishing them.


Gov.+Henry+D.+Hatfield West+Virginia+history appalachia appalachian+history appalachian+mountains+history

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How Napoleon Hill came to write "Think and Grow Rich"

Posted by Dave Tabler | March 13, 2017

Napoleon Hill’s book ‘Think and Grow Rich’ is the all time bestseller in the success motivation field, with over 100 million copies sold around the world.

Napoleon Hill was born in 1883 in Wise County, in the western part of Virginia, not far from the West Virginia border. Hill’s view of his childhood was very negative and would probably have resulted in little if any success in his life were it not for Martha Ramey Banner. Napoleon Hill’s mother, Sarah, died when he was ten years old and his father James married Martha when Napoleon was twelve. Up to this time Napoleon was the scourge of Wise County, running wild and even carrying a pistol.

She saw the value in young Napoleon where most had written him off as a ne’er-do-well. Martha did something that was a turning point in young Napoleon’s life. She asked him to give up the pistol that he had been carrying for the past several years and replaced it with a typewriter. This typewriter opened a new world for the young boy. He would eventually turn to writing articles for the local paper and achieve recognition for his accomplishments rather than his infamy.

Napoleon Hill, 1904Napoleon Hill in a 1904 portrait.

This developed Napoleon’s writing talent and established the skills needed to write his books about the power people possess for achieving success.

In 1900, after graduating from high school, Napoleon left Wise County and traveled a little less than one hundred miles to attend business school in Tazewell, VA. The school’s one year curriculum consisted of shorthand, typing and basic bookkeeping. Though this sounds like training for a secretary, at the time, it was the traditional entrée into business for even the most ambitious young man. And Napoleon Hill was determined not to return to Wise County ever again without being a singular success.

As Hill neared graduation from school, his goal was to work for a prominent attorney with many business holdings named Rufus Ayres. Ayres was a very powerful figure in the region and Napoleon would have a difficult time to find a more influential person to work for at the time. Through his audacious approach to Ayers for a job, even saying he would pay Ayers for the first three months to have the privilege to learn from him, Hill got the job.

He took to the job quickly, arriving early, staying late, providing meticulous service by “going the extra mile to render more service than compensated for”…a future principle of success. Through a series of circumstances that allowed Napoleon to shine by exhibiting his ability to handle difficult situations and extreme honesty, he became manager of one of Ayers’ mines at the age of nineteen responsible for three hundred and fifty men.

Bob Taylor’s MagazineA 1906 cover of Bob Taylor’s Magazine.

One of the traits Napoleon Hill exhibited throughout his lifetime was first demonstrated when, though he held a lofty and influential position, he decided there were other things he wanted to do than manage a mine. Hill set his sights on becoming a lawyer. At this same time, his young brother Vivian was determined to go to law school. Hill announced to his family his intentions and that he would pay his and Vivian’s tuition at Georgetown University in Washington, DC by going to work for Robert L. Taylor, a former governor of Tennessee.

Taylor published a magazine called Bob Taylor’s Magazine that was based on the possibilities that ordinary people have to achieve wealth and power. Napoleon’s law school ambitions lasted less than a year. He realized he could not do the curriculum work, nor make the money as a freelance writer he had achieved as the mine manager. He told his brother he could not pay his tuition and Napoleon dropped out of law school.

Hill’s next stop was a lumberyard where he took the job as sales manager. Again, Napoleon excelled and by age twenty-two, he was a partner in the business. His success continued for the next two years but in early 1907, the economy was in turmoil. The stock market was reeling with large corporations and banks failing. By 1908, the lumberyard was out of business and so was Napoleon. Here was a young man at twenty-four who had achieved great success twice only to find himself broke with no job or prospects. Hill returned to Washington, DC and went back to work for Bob Taylor’s Magazine.

Andrew Carnegie in 1913Andrew Carnegie in 1913.

As a correspondent for Bob Taylor’s Magazine, Hill managed to schedule an interview with Andrew Carnegie, at that time, the richest man in the world and a leader in the steel industry. Hill went to Carnegie’s home in New York City with enough money to return to Washington after he completed his interview.

During the interview Carnegie liked what he saw and heard from the young writer. Hill was looking for information from Carnegie about how someone achieves the kind of wealth and success Mr. Carnegie had achieved. Carnegie talked about the men he knew, and he knew many…Edison, Ford, Firestone, and every other person of prominence at the time. He focused on their success and what a great a gift it would be if someone were to organize this information.

In the Author’s Preface of ‘Think and Grow Rich,’ Hill relates “When he saw that I had grasped the idea, he asked if I would be willing to spend twenty years or more, preparing myself to take it to the world, to men and women who, without the secret, might go through life as failures. I said I would, and with Mr. Carnegie’s cooperation, I have kept my promise.”

From “A Lifetime of Riches: The Biography of Napoleon Hill,” by Michael J. Ritt and Kirk Landers, Duttons Books, 1995

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The Great B&O Train Robbery

Posted by Dave Tabler | March 10, 2017

“The Great Train Robbery” of the B&O railroad made headlines worldwide on March 10, 1949. The event was reminiscent of Wild West days, and it seized the imagination of reporters on newspapers across the US.

B&O employee Bill Taylor was working at the Martinsburg, WV train station the night of the robbery. He was on the evening shift.

Photo caption from 1979 Martinsburg Journal article reads: "This World Wide Photo of Mr. and Mrs. O. William Clohan demonstrating for reporters how they ducked under the table to avoid the robbers appeared in newspapers across the nation the day following the incident. These photos and clippings were in a scrapbook kept by the late Mrs. Clohan and lent to the Martinsburg Evening Journal by her husband."

Photo caption from 1979 Martinsburg Journal article reads: “This World Wide Photo of Mr. and Mrs. O. William Clohan demonstrating for reporters how they ducked under the table to avoid the robbers appeared in newspapers across the nation the day following the incident. These photos and clippings were in a scrapbook kept by the late Mrs. Clohan and lent to the Martinsburg Evening Journal by her husband.”

“…four to twelve I worked. The train arrived in Martinsburg was train number 19, the Ambassador, going to Detroit, Michigan. Another gentleman and I worked the baggage car that night putting luggage on and taking it off.

“The train departed going to Detroit and 5 or 6 miles west of Martinsburg the robbery occurred. People in the dining car, they couldn’t get into it. Finally the door was unlocked and people got in it. They locked the doors back up. Two men with guns was robbing people. Going through the train, they shot a porter in the leg, and proceeded to go to the engineer.

“Going through the diesel part, they ran across a diesel mechanic, who back in them days rode the diesels. And the one boy put the diesel mechanic down on the floor and told him to lay there. He proceeded to the engineer and fireman and demanded that they stop, back up and block a highway crossing. They got off the train there and went into a beer joint, robbed the cashier there and shot through the ceiling. People was scared, going under tables and things. Clover Rail Club, that was the name of it.

“They come out of there, and a foreman that worked B&O shops, him and his girlfriend were there. He had a brand new Buick. They pistol whipped him and stoled his car. They proceeded somewhere — we’re not sure but we think they was on the Hedgesville Pike. They abandoned that car and hijacked another one. And later abandoned that too. And they believe that they caught a coal train and hid in the end of one of the cars going through Martinsburg, going east towards Washington.”

The Martinsburg Journal reported that the two bandits ran down the tracks, rather than hid in a coal car. Taylor doesn’t believe this version of the story, though.

“Well, they’s so filthy dirty when the man picked them up in Kearneysville the next morning. Coal dirt on ‘em. If they were just walking the tracks they wouldn’t have had a lot of coal dirt on ‘em. We figure that they was in the end of a coal car, and when they went through the passenger station, through Martinsburg, going back to Washington, we had us men there at the passenger station watching all the trains for them.

“But somehow, they did proceed to Kearneysville. And Bill Lopp, he was a bus driver for Emory Bus Company that went from Martinsburg to Washington every morning. He picked the two men up, and observed how filthy dirty they were from coal dust and things. He’d heard about the train robbery.

Photo caption from 1979 Martinsburg Journal article reads: “Bill Lopp shows the comic book he has prized since the story was picked up and published in November-December, 1949, crediting him as a bus driver with a major part in the capture of the gunmen.”

Photo caption from 1979 Martinsburg Journal article reads: “Bill Lopp shows the comic book he has prized since the story was picked up and published in November-December, 1949, crediting him as a bus driver with a major part in the capture of the gunmen.”

“He proceeded to Leesburg where he made more or less the excuse that he had to go to the bathroom. He went into the terminal there and calld the police in DC that he thought he the two train robbers on his bus.  And according to stories, arriving in DC, they got off a couple of blocks before they arrived at the DC terminal.

“And they went in a pawn shop there, and that’s where the police cornered them.

Luman Ramsdell, 23, and George Ashton, 21, both of Youngstown, OH, served 7 years in federal penitentiaries, then while on parole were brought back to Martinsburg for sentencing in Berkeley County Circuit Court.

Judge D.H. Rodgers sentenced each to 10 years in the state penitentiary, but taking note of their record of good behavior and general rehabilitation, placed them on probation for three years.


Sources: Martinsburg Evening Journal, Vol. 72, No. 254, March 10, 1979, “Robbery: Train Bandits Struck 30 Years Ago Today,”  by Ethel Bovey

2013 interview with Bill Taylor of Martinsburg, WV conducted by Dave Tabler



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It was a live burial, in a way

Posted by Dave Tabler | March 9, 2017

“The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) is an independent public corporation founded by Congress in 1933 to control flooding, improve navigation, assist farmers, provide cheap electric power, and make “surveys of and general plans for [the Tennessee River] basin and adjoining territory . . . for the general purpose of fostering an orderly and proper physical, economic, and social development of the Tennessee Valley.”
—The Tennessee Encyclopedia of History & Culture

Ernestine: “In the 1930s they kept coming through saying they were surveying, they was going to build a dam there and I just couldn’t believe it. Byron Denman, Bob Poage, Sanderfords from Belton came through. It was impossible to imagine because it was just farmlands and cedars, just a beautiful valley.

“We were heartbroken…it was the only place I knew as home. It was sad…house moved in 1953…land began to fill in 1954. It (the water) came up and spread out easy…1957 flood – it almost filled then…’91 and ’92 it overflowed again…Bert asked a corps engineer ‘How long will it take that to fill up and run over?’ and he said ‘You’ll probably never live to see it, it will be at least 100 years.’ I wish I knew where he was! and tell him that I did see it!”

“Mrs. Byron Denman, bless her heart, he worked so hard to get that in there (their farm in the valley) and I believe it hurt her worse than it hurt him. She just nearly had a nervous breakdown over it. They moved to Temple and bought a place over there. Miss Nora’s mother and grandmother lived there with her when we moved to Sparta in the early 1930s. She was an only child (Walton). They were about the richest people in the community. She dressed, she had her gloves and her hat.

Bert: “I never did give it too much of a thought because I blocked it out, our homeplace being covered up. But it is kind of like just laying down and letting water cover you up, that’s just the way I feel. It was a live burial, in a way. And of course, for Daddy, that’s the way they make their living (from the land) so it was even worse for them.

“Dad moved to Heidenhammer when the dam went in. The old Cummins family. Then to Salado. And so many people didn’t know where they were going to go, they just had to get out and find a place.”

Ernestine Humphrey & Bert Bounds
Sparta, TN residents 1931-1954

Source: “Just Like Yesterday”–RECOLLECTIONS OF LIFE ON THE FORT HOOD LANDS; by Amy E. Dase, Martha Doty Freeman, William S. Pugsley III, Thad Sitton, and Marie E. Blake; United States Army Fort Hood
Archeological Resource Management Series; Research Report No. 49; 2003

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