Since I seem to be writing a good deal of stories concerning Logan’s violent past, I thought I should paint a written picture of how things were for the local “black community” back when the word Negro was commonly used to describe African-Americans. During the early coal mining days of Logan County, it does not appear that “violence” was very segregated. Here is the first story:
The Logan Banner article of Jan. 25, 1937 was headlined as “Weird Story of Murder Attempt and a Suicide.” I personally am re-titleing it as “Life Insurance May Get you Killed.”
Deputy Sheriffs and Logan city police were said to be investigating what was believed to be a case of attempted insurance fraud in which one Negro narrowly escaped being murdered and another committed suicide. William Allison, 24, of Logan was admitted to Logan General Hospital where he was found to be suffering from a fractured skull and severe bruises and lacerations about his head.
The patient’s condition was described as fair when he told officers the harrowing story of being attacked and beaten over the head, then escaping while his attacker, evidently thinking him already dead, was driving him in a truck to an isolated burial ground.
Allison told the police that J.A. Gentry of Holden had telephoned him at about 11 o’clock Saturday night to come to the Oasis Dry Cleaning Company on White Street in Logan, which is just north of where Logan City Hall is today; City Hall then being the location of the C&O train station. Gentry called Allison into the back room and as he entered it, Gentry struck him over the head with an iron bar.
The injured man ran into the front room and while trying to escape, knocked out the front glass of the establishment in an effort to attract help. He then lost consciousness, and when he came to, found himself in the back end of an enclosed Chevrolet truck which was used by the cleaning company. Gentry was identified as being the driver.
According to the account, Allison was barely sensible, with his face “battered, bleeding and hardly recognizable,” he managed to escape out the back door of the truck and ran down the road with Gentry close behind. Allison reached a beer garden where he ran in screaming, “Don’t let him in. He’ll kill me.” The story said the proprietors of the joint locked all the doors. In the meantime, a passerby who had witnessed the chase went to a home and called the police and the beaten man was taken to the hospital.
The news account said the sheriff’s department kept a close eye on Gentry’s home at Price Bottom of Holden and that a resident of the camp reported finding a body in an isolated hollow about a half mile from the coal camp. Gentry had apparently shot himself through the right temple with a German Luger pistol and, officers said, had evidently been dead for at least six hours. A coroner’s report declared the death as a suicide.
Deputies reported that they had found the deserted dry cleaning truck on the Holden road near a Cora bridge. The truck was said to be packed with several bushels of old papers that were smeared with blood.
As it turned out, Gentry had taken out a $2,000 life insurance policy on Allison’s life about three weeks earlier. Interestingly, Gentry and Allison’s unidentified mother were named as equal beneficiaries of the policy.
Gentry, who had no insurance policy upon himself, was survived by a widow and three children, while Allison was reportedly unmarried.
MURDER VICTIM GETS DUG UP
During the same night that the above altercation occurred, William Hopkins, 25, of Henlawson was shot to death by another Negro on a crowded dance floor at what was the Dew Drop Inn in an area that was then referred to as Black Bottom, but today is known as Deskins Addition.
The Banner reported that Hopkins died instantly when the bullet entered his head on the left side of his head below the ear and exited out the right side. James Beck, 28, was arrested and lodged in the local jail after Joe Browning, an employee of the triangle Service Station near the then new bridge at Logan, said Beck came running into the filling station begging to let him hide there because two men had shot at him. Browning reportedly locked the man into the toilet room and called the police.
The murdered man had been employed as a coal miner at the Merrill company mine that was located where Chief Logan State Park is today. The company’s burial fund association paid for the funeral of Hopkins, but when James Lomack, a friend of the deceased, and some women with him wanted to view the body and to see the casket, they were told it was illegal because the body had been held for so long at the Wyatt Funeral Home.
Lomack approached the burial fund committee about the situation and Prosecutor Claude Joyce told the association they had the right to view the body since they had paid the funeral expenses. Lomack and others went back to Henlawson with picks and shovels and, in the heavy frost of a cold February morning, the men unearthed the pine box which contained Hopkins’ remains.
Upon opening the box they found that the body had been buried without a casket and with only a soiled pillow under the head. Sheriff’s deputies were called to view what was described as “the ghastly site” and Harris Funeral Home wound up in charge of the reinternment. An employ of Wyatt Funeral Home said, “I merely followed orders. Everything will be straightened out, I am certain.”
The owner of the funeral home could not be reached for a statement.
Not long after this incident, the Dew Drop Inn and other close-by structures would be the scene of a major fire in which police would uncover numerous bones as a result of the described inferno. A lengthy investigation was started to determine who to charge with murder, as the blaze was said to be the result of deliberate arson during another packed house filled with dancing and romancing.
Meanwhile, Logan Circuit Judge C.C. Chambers, who had been in office less than a month, attributed the evil doings of his fellow Logan Countians as the direct result of illicit actions brought on because of the use of alcoholic beverages.
And few ever disagreed with the astute judge on that subject; not then, or even today.
BITS and PIECES
Logan Sen. Richard Ojeda has caused heads to turn as a legislative bill he sponsored legalizing the use of medical marijuana in West Virginia passed the senate chambers Wednesday by a surprising 28-6 vote……Boone County Sen. Ron Stollings, a doctor by profession, voted for the bill and has been outspoken for some time about the medical benefits of the naturally grown weed…..Ojeda’s picture regarding his efforts took up about half of Thursday’s Charleston Gazette-Mail’s front page, which makes me wonder about the upcoming trial of Jonathan Porter in Kanawha County…..the trial of Porter, who is facing malicious assault, among other charges against Major Ojeda, has seen his trial moved to Kanawha County because potential jurors could not be found here due to the publicity already afforded the case; be it Facebook, or otherwise…..now, I fear the freshman senator’s new found “star power” could present the same problem in Kanawha…..regardless, the feedback I’m getting has been very positive toward the marijuana bill, which may face an uphill battle in the House of Delegates…..I found it interesting when recently a family member of the Major stated he thought Ojeda was “tricked” into sponsoring the marijuana bill so that it would turn voters against him…..I never said anything then, but the fact is Ojeda campaigned saying he supported medical marijuana, so, to me, he’s simply keeping a campaign promise…..there is an old saying: “What you lose on the peanuts, you make up for on the popcorn” and that may apply here…..I’m not sure how U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin feels about this bill, but he has stated that he believes marijuana is a “gateway” drug…..Manchin, who I feel is already on politically thin ice, continues to lose political supporters on a daily basis…..after watching our legislature in action, I have to tell you I’ve been impressed with Ojeda’s balanced voting, although I do wish he would take a closer look at Senate Bill 212 regarding DMV administrative hearings…..while on the subject of law, the legal team of Abraham and Illderton no longer exists as such since Brian Abraham took the job as Governor Justice’s legal counsel…..just to let you know, attorney Robert Illderton’s new office, currently under renovation,will be opened next to Chirico’s Restaurant in Logan at the former Wilson Cleaners location…..I have a feeling, Illderton, a former Logan assistant prosecuting attorney, just may soon be eating a great deal more Italian food…..attention area coal miners and other coal related business people: just thought I would let you know that Anheuser-Busch, the world’s largest beer maker, recently announced it plans to by 2025 no longer use coal produced electricity in any of its businesses…..I suppose that may mean that it should now become “Miller time” for some of you beer drinkers…..speaking of beverages, DID YOU KNOW that bottled water has now overtaken sodas, such as Pepsi and Coke, as the number one drink in the United States?…..personally, I’d like the proof that bottled water doesn’t come from a faucet, or “spicket,” as we Hillbillies prefer to say…..foul and polluted water even during the days of the early Egyptians led to the making of forms of beer and wine as a way of preventing certain diseases and illnesses that were the result of poor drinking water and sewage…..if someone had told me when I was young that bottled water would someday replace “pop” as the #1 drink in the U.S., I probably would have declared that person insane…..McDonald’s restaurants soon will be switching to “fresh beef” instead of frozen meat for its burgers…..the announcement came the other day, as Wendy’s continues to advertise the fact that it never uses frozen meat at its locations…..just to let you know, however, if you ever have the opportunity to visit McDonald’s Golden Arches in either Germany, Portugal, France, or South Korea, you will find that McDonald’s locations in those countries serve beer to go along with their Big Mac’s, or anything else on their menu…..in America, you may be surprised to find out that beer and other alcoholic spirits are already being sold at some Burgers King’s, White Castle’s and Taco Bell’s in some places like Las Vegas, Florida and soon Columbus, Ohio…..QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “The public is the only critic whose opinion is worth anything.”—Mark Twain, 1870…..as a product of the ‘70’s, I must officially say good-bye to television’s host/producer Chuck Barris ….thanks to Barris, many of us loved the TV shows “The Gong Show,” “The Dating Game,” and “The Newlywed Game”…..the “crazy” guy recently died at the age of 87…..CLOSING NOTE: Last Sunday, my wife and I took what turned out to be a seven-hour trek through the southern Appalachian coalfields. From Logan to Man and Gilbert, with stops at several places, including the absolutely “dead” town of Iaeger and many areas along Route 52 through Wyoming and McDowell counties. After visiting small communities and former coal camps like Coalwood, which is the former home of “Rocket Boys” author, Homer Hickam, we continued into Tazewell and Richlands, Va. and then from there to Grundy, Va., and on to Pike County, Kentucky, before making it full circle back to Logan County. Although the historical, yet depressing trip through many hills and narrow hollows, showed coal mining is most definitely on the upswing, I couldn’t help but think of all the land that is owned by absentee land owners. Wyoming County, for instance, is 85% owned by land companies like Heartwood Forest, Norfolk Southern and Natural Resource Partners. Mobile homes are strewn throughout these hills on land the home owner can only rent or lease. The situation is very similar throughout the state, as the top 10 land owners in the state are based out-of-state. With the economic plight of OUR state such as it is, perhaps that is where more tax dollars can be generated. Growing up in a coal camp surrounded by hills or mountains, we played in those hills, camped on them, hunted on them, and many people gardened on the sides of those hills to help feed their families. To us, they were OUR hills. Of course, I now realize they never really were ours to begin with.
Dwight Williamson is a contributing writer and a former reporter for The Logan Banner. He currently serves as a Logan County Magistrate.