We got along well with them. Of course, we knew our limitations

Posted by | April 1, 2014

“My parents were share croppers. My mother and dad separated in, I guess it may have been ’36 that they separated, and my daddy continued to work on the farm, and my mother went to Richmond and stayed and took care of babies and she got a job in Fayette County where she was called a nanny to a white family of children.

“We lived with our grandparents. Grandpap John and my step-grandmother Gilmer. Because mother’s mother died when she was five years old. We were in an integrated neighborhood. There was some well-to-do white people that lived in our neighborhood and there was some poor whites that lived in that neighborhood And we were sort of mixed in with all of them. My granddad owned 86 acres that ran back, and his land kind of connected with a well-to-do white man that had oh, I guess he had 300 acres back in there.

“They’ve always been in my family. My grandmother did laundry for these people, and my granddaddy killed hogs for them in the fall, and one of my uncles worked for him for a number of years before he went to Cincinnati to live. So, they’ve always, you know, been more or less friendly with the family. They were called the Deatherages. The James Deatherage family. And, I remember, you know, distinctly most of the . . . uh, uh . . . around us, most white people in the neighborhood called my grandmother, Aunt Emma.

“We got along real well with the, you know, neighbors and that, and whenever, you know, they wanted favors or wanted to borrow something from the family, they would come and borrow it. They borrowed my granddad’s tools. They would come and borrow things from my grandmother. We got along well with them. Of course, we knew our limitations.

Civil Rights march in Richmond KY, 1958
Civil Rights march in Richmond KY, 1958

“We speak and talk with them, and sometimes on Sundays evenings, if we were out playing, that was one of our entertainments on Sunday, and especially in warm weather was have a big ball game out in the lot, a baseball game, and they would come and join us and play baseball with us. The neighbor and white people around. And we all just got out there and had a lot of fun playing baseball. We played until dark and then everybody separated and went home. This was a Sunday evening activity.

“I went to . . . I finished Richmond High School there in Richmond, the 12th grade. And I went two years at Kentucky State. I wanted to be a dietician. I worked in the cafeteria at Kentucky State, and I remember the labels of the can goods being shipped to Kentucky State for Negros. That was what was labeled on the outside of the cartons that they came in… it was Kentucky State for Negros.”

Mrs. Lillian Ballew Gentry
b. 1927 in Madison County KY
April 1, 1992 interview
conducted by A.G. Dunston,
Eastern Kentucky University,
History Department

Source: www.library.eku.edu/collections/sca/oralhistory/1993oh146.pdf

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The feud that erupted over John Gunter’s estate

Posted by | March 31, 2014

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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Listen Here: Appalachian History Weekly podcast posts today

Posted by | March 30, 2014

We post a new episode of Appalachian History weekly podcast every Sunday. Check us out on the Stitcher network, available on mobile phones, in-car dashboards and tablets worldwide. Just click below to start listening:

We open today’s show with a series of live interviews from the floor of the Appalachian Studies Association 37th annual conference in Huntington, WV.

We’ll pause in between things to catch up on a calendar of events in the region this week, with special attention paid to events that emphasize heritage and local color.

We’ll wrap things up with more conference doings from Marshall University in Huntington.

And thanks to the good folks at the Internet Archive, we’ll be able to enjoy some authentic Appalachian music from JH Howell in a 1938 recording of Girl That Worries My Mind.

So call your old Plott hound up on the porch, fire up your corncob pipe, and settle in for a dose of Appalachian history.

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Highlights from 37th annual Appalachian Studies Assn Conference

Posted by | March 28, 2014

Stay tuned for this Sunday’s live podcast from the

37th Annual Appalachian Studies Association Conference

Marshall University

Huntington, WV.


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Book Excerpt: ‘Images of America: Guyandotte’

Posted by | March 27, 2014

Bob WithersPlease welcome guest author Bob Withers. Withers is a retired reporter and copy editor for the Herald-Dispatch in Huntington, WV, and a Baptist pastor. He has authored or coauthored 15 books and numerous articles in internationally circulated magazines. The Withers family tree’s roots go back to the 19th century in Guyandotte, and the author has memorialized the historic neighborhood of Huntington in the new Images of America series book, “Guyandotte,” (Arcadia Publishing), a 127-page book chock full of historical photos that together tell many of its stories. We’re pleased to present an excerpt of it here.


Peaceful Delaware and Wyandot Indians populated the area that became Guyandotte, VA, in the 16th century. Rock quarries where the Indians made arrowheads and petroglyphs have been found and authenticated by the West Virginia Historical Society. The first white men known to visit the area were French explorer Rene Robert LaSalle and his party in 1670. The first signs of civilization were a crude river landing and a few log cabins.

Guyandotte cover

In 1772, John Murray, the fourth Earl of Dunmore and Virginia’s royal governor, acted as agent for King George III in granting 28,627 acres along the Ohio River and the lower Guyandotte and Big Sandy rivers to John Savage and 59 others who had served under George Washington at the Battle of Great Meadows, PA, in the French and Indian War. The acreage included all of the original site of Guyandotte.

The community’s growth started almost immediately. In 1802 William Huff was appointed a constable “for the neighborhood of the mouth of the Guyandotte” and a year later, Thomas Buffington established ferry operations across the Guyandotte and Ohio rivers. In 1804, Methodist Bishop Frances Asbury, headquartered in Baltimore, sent William Steele to Guyandotte to form a congregation in answer to a petition from a hundred residents requesting “a preacher.”

In 1805, ’06 and ’07, 8,000 bearskins were shipped from the mouths of the Big Sandy and Guyandotte rivers. When Cabell County was carved out of Kanawha County in 1809, Guyandotte was designated as its first county seat, and in 1810, Virginia’s General Assembly chartered Buffington’s 20 acres as the town of Guyandotte.

River tradesman James Gallaher of Gallipolis, OH, floated his home down the Ohio to Guyandotte by flatboat in 1810, and reassembled it on Guyan Street. Thomas Carroll, an Irish carpenter and stonemason, bought the home in 1855, and he and his widow operated it as an “ordinary” (inn) called Carroll House.

By 1831, a daily stagecoach ran from Washington DC, and Richmond, VA, to Guyandotte, where passengers made connection with Ohio River steamboats. The stagecoaches continued until 1873, when Collis P. Huntington’s Chesapeake & Ohio Railway was completed between Richmond and Huntington, WV, a town three miles west of Guyandotte that the railroad mogul built and named for himself. West Virginia had become a state in 1863.

The Methodist congregation generated significant growth in the region. The original building was the site of the area’s first grammar school, which covered the first eight grades. Eventually, members built a subscription school for higher education, choosing attorney John Laidley as chairman of its trustees. Laidley organized the school in 1837 and named it Marshall Academy after United States Chief Justice John Marshall. Later, the school became Marshall College, and, since 1961, it has been Marshall University.

This painting, done in pastels by young traveling French artist Felix-Achille Beaupoil de Saint-Aularie, shows the village of Guyandotte as seen from the Ohio shore in 1823. At least 20 buildings are in sight, as well as a side-wheeler, flatboats, and scows. The artist, de Saint-Aularie, has painted himself and his horse into the scene. (courtesy of Barbara Bias and Lori Wolfe).

This painting, done in pastels by young traveling French artist Felix-Achille Beaupoil de Saint-Aularie, shows the village of Guyandotte as seen from the Ohio shore in 1823. At least 20 buildings are in sight, as well as a side-wheeler, flatboats, and scows. The artist, de Saint-Aularie, has painted himself and his horse into the scene. (courtesy of Barbara Bias and Lori Wolfe).

The Guyandotte church came to be known as the mother of Methodism in the region, since it spawned four churches in downtown Huntington. Marshall Academy also enabled a Presbyterian church to get its start on the Virginia side of the Ohio River.

Once the Civil War broke out, the town’s Confederate sympathizers became the hostile hosts of Camp Paxton, a Union recruiting center. The “southern” Methodist church and several other buildings in town were commandeered for use as storage depots. A Union soldier who fell asleep on a pile of hay in the church’s balcony awoke to find that a cow had managed to to get to the hay. Both soldier and bovine were startled, and the cow jumped out of the balcony, breaking her leg.

Guyandotte’s split personality was bound to ignite deadly trouble sooner or later. Confederate Col. John Clarkson’s 8th Virginia Cavalry and Brig. Gen. Albert Gallatin Jenkins’ Border Rangers encircled the town with about 700 horsemen on Sunday evening, Nov. 10, 1861, as many townsfolk and recruits from Camp Paxton were settling down in the pews of the “northern” Methodist church to hear the preaching of the Rev. J.C. Wheeler, a Union officer himself. The Confederate forces stormed into town and took control of the camp. When their attack was finished, 10 Union recruits lay dead and at least 10 more had been injured. The Confederates lost three cavalrymen to death and 10 more to injuries.

As the Confederates withdrew from town on Monday morning with prisoners in tow, the steamer SS Boston appeared, moving slowly up the Ohio from Ceredo, 10 miles west, and carrying about 200 hitchhiking soldiers from the 5th Virginia Infantry who had learned of the attack. The steamboat crew landed briefly at Proctorville, OH, to pick up several members of the Ohio Home Guards, then tied up on the Virginia side about a mile above Guyandotte. The Union soldiers and their sympathizers then marched into town, and hearing reports of collaboration between some of the townsfolk and the Confederate cavalry, flew into a rage and burned most of the town – including a Baptist church, the principal hotels, and the homes of the town’s most prominent secessionists. The Union troops melted down the Baptists’ bell to make souvenir rings for the troops. The southern Methodist church was either burned or fell into ruins and was torn down.

One of Guyandotte’s best known citizens was Virginia Ruth “Ruthie” Egnor, who was know to millions of television viewers as Dagmar in the 1950s. Here, she and her little dog Shakespeare have come home for a family visit on August 12, 1957. Ruthie’s big break came in 1950 or 1951, when she starred with Jerry Lester and Morey Amsterdam on NBC’s ‘Broadway Open House.’ (courtesy of the Herald-Dispatch).

One of Guyandotte’s best known citizens was Virginia Ruth “Ruthie” Egnor, who was know to millions of television viewers as Dagmar in the 1950s. Here, she and her little dog Shakespeare have come home for a family visit on August 12, 1957. Ruthie’s big break came in 1950 or 1951, when she starred with Jerry Lester and Morey Amsterdam on NBC’s ‘Broadway Open House.’ (courtesy of the Herald-Dispatch).

Mary Carroll, Thomas Carroll’s spunky wife, saved her historic home from the flames. Although ill and confined to bed, she saw the soldiers approaching with lit torches and rushed out into the street, crying and begging the troops to spare the house because she could not move her husband. The soldiers extinguished their torches.

Carroll House also played a role in the community’s association with the town’s first railroad. It was there that Collis Huntington first came when his surveyors were looking for a place to locate the C&O Railway’s original shops. But he was offended after his horse, tied up outside the Carroll home, blocked the sidewalk and the mayor fined him $10. Huntington ordered his surveyors to continue their search across the Guyandotte River. Although the town lost its chance to be a major rail terminal, Huntington still frequented the Carroll House to enjoy its gourmet cooking.

It turns out that the Civil War claimed yet another casualty. Guyandotte never recovered from its fiery mortal wound sustained during the conflict. People began moving to the new town of Huntington, causing Guyandotte to lose some of its most talented leadership. Youngsters left town as soon as they were old enough. Despite the fact that the town staged a gala centennial in 1910, Guyandotte just, in the words of one newspaper report, “quit trying.”

In the spring of 1911, less than a year after the centennial, the idea of Guyandotte being annexed by the City of Huntington was submitted to a vote of the people. On April 11, the town council canvassed the vote and found 260 for and 70 against the plan. The council declared Guyandotte to be a part of the City of Huntington and adjourned sine die.


People who mail a $27 check to the author at 313 Main Street, Huntington, W.Va. 25702 will receive an autographed copy of the book, which has been published by Arcadia Publishing in Mount Pleasant, SC.

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