With Halloween just around the corner, I am reminded of times past when danger lurked on nearly every roadway in Logan County during this time of year. Thank goodness, everybody now seems to have their cell phones and other gadgets to keep themselves occupied, and perhaps that helps to keep people out of trouble during these cool autumn nights. Long before cell phones and computers came into existence, though, there were those who took advantage of the Halloween spirit in some not so flattering ways.
Take for instance, the guys more commonly known as the “Porch Sitters”. In nearly every hollow in Logan County—and the Lord knows we’ve got plenty of them—there were those usually young men and some women who, just like the “Porch Sitters, found ways to become downright—well, let’s just say, precarious. Now, I can’t begin to tell you when it all started, but I suspect it was sometime after the horse and buggy days, and when most of the county’s citizens could afford automobiles. While I am most certainly not endorsing the following stories for future generations to partake in, I must admit that those days, or should I say nights, were certainly exciting, yet dangerous—and illegal.
Usually, it started about a week before Halloween when the true ghosts and goblins, whose poor souls usually just enjoyed the bathing moonlight that reflected off the No. 16 company store showroom windows, suddenly became villainous. Maybe it was out of boredom; or perhaps it was for the thrills and laughs, but suddenly, the “Porch Sitters” and others became the diabolical “Verdunville Villains”. The ring leader, as I recall during my porch sitting days, was Teddy Hale. He masterminded many of our dastardly deeds, and he especially loved blocking the road that served as the only way in and out of Mud Fork. He always seemed to come up with a bunch of old automobile tires that we neatly stacked across the road several feet high. Along with brush and other burning materials, the fire was ignited by gasoline, and the skies suddenly were filled with dark smoke and ashes.
Most people knew better than to travel late evenings during this time of year, but I guess there were those who simply had to do so. Anyway, the police would soon be on the scene with their spotlights ever searching the nearby hills for the outlaws who had committed the crime. Occasionally, the state troopers would spot one of us and the chase would be on. With adrenalin pumping and knowing every nook and cranny of all the hills, creeks, and ditch lines in the area, no one ever got caught, but there were some close calls. Some of the braver, or perhaps I should say “more stupid” individuals, would yell at the police from the hillsides, trying to entice them into a chase. Frankly, it’s a wonder that somebody didn’t get shot. I do know there were a few times when shots rang out.
Sometimes filling balloons with water and then tossing them from a cliff onto the windshield of an oncoming vehicle would make for an interesting night. Most drivers did not find our antics amusing and oftentimes there were some choice words expressed as we slithered through the underbrush to prepare for another victim.
One of the more fun things to do was to take an old purse, or even sometimes a man’s wallet, and set one of them in the middle of the road. Attached to the purse or wallet would be a fishing line or string that could be jerked about the same time the person bent over to retrieve what they hoped would turn out to contain money. The driver, who usually had parked his or her vehicle off the roadway, was not a very happy person at that point; especially with all the heckling they received from out of the darkness. Again, choice words were conveyed by the poor “suckers” who most definitely were angrily embarrassed. Like always, nobody ever got caught.
There was the old rolling of the hub cap trick and then there was egg throwing which would lead to paint peeling from a vehicle if not cleaned off quickly enough. But one prank that even I did not appreciate was one in which I’ve never known who perpetrated. A fishing line would be tied across an alley from fence to fence and about six inches from the ground. I don’t know who enjoyed watching excited youngsters tripping and spilling their bags of candy, but let me assure you that I was not one of them.
Of course, most of these pranks were dangerous, not only to the pranksters and the trick-or-treaters, but also to the drivers. Accidents could have been caused and people could have been injured. One incident I recall was when the Porch Sitters got word of a monstrous fire located up the road at what we simply called “the head of the creek.” Word was that grown men and women with chain saws had cut large tree across the road and set them afire. I do not recall how we all got up the road that dark evening, but I sure do remember the trip back.
We arrived on the scene only to see headlights and shadowy adult figures on the other side of the blazing fire. We were about 25 yards away from reaching the road block when a man’s voice bellowed out something about his mother and getting her to a hospital. Seconds later, the booming sounds of gunfire of different calibers followed by angry words rang out loudly. There were about 10 of the Porch Sitters who scattered in different directions. I later found out four or five of these guys got hit by buckshot.
On my own turf, I would not have been too worried. However, I did not know the woods very well on upper Mud Fork. So, I chose to lie back even though I was faster than most of the fellows. In the pitch dark of the hills, running through briar thickets with gunshots in the background, a fellow who shared my name (Dwight) Baisden yelled out, “I know these hills; follow me.” In what seemed like only seconds later, I heard a terrible scream. “Ikie”, as most people called him, had run into a barbed wire fence neck-high and was not only bleeding, but also had choked himself. He survived, and years later went to work for the Federal government somewhere out west. He now is deceased. As for myself, I survived the night by staying in the hills and off the main road for the two-miles or more until I reached the confines of the company store porch where I rested. Wearily, I shortly later crossed the railroad tracks and headed for bed just hoping the rest of the guys got home safely, which they did; bruised, battered, and some still with buck shot in their hides, but ok.
Looking back, I realize the roads were in bad shape enough without us setting fire to them. I also realize that people could have been hurt, and that the inability of an ambulance or other emergency vehicle getting through should have been foremost on our minds. Understand, however, that most of us were kids, basically good kids. Unlike today, you never had to worry about any of us breaking into your home or stealing anything. In fact, back then most people did not even lock their front doors at nighttime.
For the most part, the Porch Sitters were a great bunch of guys; that is until the one stretch of the year when they became the Villains. Many of the Porch Sitters have either died, or at least settled down—or have we?
BITS and PIECES
Logan has always had close ties to neighboring Mingo County, so it is with some sadness that I report another of its magistrates will be retiring soon…..Deloris “Dee” Sidebottom, who was raised on Mud Fork at a place called 19 Hollow, is set to end a long and illustrious career at the end of this month…..well-liked in Mingo County and in the magistrate ranks statewide, she will be missed…..another Mingo magistrate and well-liked judicial official, Pam Newsome, retired some months back…..so there are basically three new magistrates in our sister county…..recently, while attending our annual training conference, I got to know Jim Harvey, who is one of the three in Mingo, and soon to be the elder statesman of the magistrate group there…..from what I saw and heard from Magistrate Harvey during the week-long stay in Charleston, it appears Mingo County has an outstanding individual representing the people there…..speaking of magistrates, former magistrate Jeff Lane, who resigned to take a probation officer’s position, told me several people have asked him what he wanted them to do with his political signs that they saved from the last election…..I guess they could keep them as souvenirs.…..unfortunately I must report that plans for a grant to replace the Don Chafin House roof have fallen through……Josh Butcher, who along with his wife, Jamie, had previously announced what sounded like great news….. however, I ran into him in the County Clerk record room recently where he told me that a problem had developed, and that now, Shirley Baisden, who is President of the Logan Woman’s Club, must agree to sign the property over to the Coalition for the Arts or the organization cannot receive funding….. Josh said Shirley has agreed to do so…..“We do not want the building for long term,” Butcher explained…..“We want to secure the funding for repairs and then turn it over to the County Commission or something else for use as a museum, or something historically beneficial.”…..here’s hoping it all works out…..in the meantime, what if I told you that the house was first given to a certain female lover, who also ran several hotels that served mostly for places of prostitution?…..stay tuned for this one, which bodes well with the history of the Chafin House…..fantasy football has become a monstrous thing all across America; we even have our own Courthouse League here, which requires no entry fee and pays out no money, but still is competitively fun…..it’s interesting that Montana is the only state in the country which makes participating in fantasy football illegal…..don’t think I want to live in that grizzly place…..a recent poll I saw in a state newspaper reported that two thirds of 406 residents contacted in 54 of the state’s 55 counties said someone in their house owned a firearm…..what surprised me was that 82 percent of them said gun owners should have a permit to carry a concealed weapon…..the poll also noted that 75 percent of those polled opposed legalization of recreational marijuana, but 52 percent said they would support medical use of marijuana when prescribed by a doctor…..QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “I did not attend his funeral; but I wrote a nice letter saying I approved of it.”—Mark Twain…..did you happen to see where the federal government removed bacon, pork chops, pork links, ham, and all other pig products from the national menu for 206,000 federal inmates in the country?…..a spokesperson for the Bureau of Prison said the decision was based on a survey of prisoners’ food preferences: “They just don’t like the taste of pork,” the spokesperson said…..pardon the pun, but I’m just wondering how much “bacon” that will save us taxpayers…..sadness abounds in the town of Logan and the street people weep at the death of young Kelli Franklin Cochran who has passed…..Kelli, who dealt with adversity for much of her life, was liked by many…..DID YOU KNOW?….. that it was announced in 1938 that plans were to purchase what is now Midelburg Island, and it was said that after development of the property at least 1,000 or more people would be provided homes in the city of Logan…..of course, that didn’t happen….FINAL NOTE: It should come as no surprise that Governor Tomblin is slashing the state budget. Without coal there simply cannot be the tax revenue the state is used to. That having been said, I still believe legislators should consider a one-time amnesty for all those persons who have lost their drivers’ license for unpaid fines other than DUI’s. Give the people 90 days or more to get valid because many will have to take the required tests again. Most of these people will never be able to pay their fines anyway, and yet some still drive without license to go to work and in the meantime accumulate more fines, which can never be paid. Give them a one-time chance to get legal. Times are tough for all.
Dwight Williamson is a contributing writer and a former reporter for The Logan Banner. He currently serves as a Logan County Magistrate.