From the time he became Logan Mayor in 1927 until long after he was elected as Logan Circuit Judge, Chester “Cush” Chambers always was very outspoken about the use of alcohol. He was around before, during and after the Prohibition era, and never did he lose an election. As powerful as he was, Judge C.C. Chambers’ message mostly fell on deaf ears in Logan County—at least when it came to the liquid spirits that were then and now produced in the hills of Logan County. Pointing out that “85 per cent of the crimes committed in Logan County and 90 per cent of all divorces are caused either directly or indirectly by liquor,” in 1962 the vocal Judge said, “Is it any wonder then why this court is so violently and bitterly opposed to the use of liquor.” The following story is just one example of what the Judge undoubtedly had grown up reading and hearing about, and it probably influenced his way of thinking.
It was late September of 1923 on Harts Creek, when Jim Tomley, Ben Priest and General Bryant—all three drinking from a gallon of moonshine—declared that they were out to get the Conley family, who were the men’s neighbors. They first went up to the home of Jess Conley, where they raised havoc by shooting into the house and running Mrs. Conley away from the home, while they playfully toyed with her husband. According to the newspaper account, the men made Jess Conley “embrace them, dance, and do unmasculine stunts” at the point of guns. From there, they went across the field toward the home of Stonewall Conley. On their way there they met another member of the Conley family. Charley was made to “climb a tree, drink great amounts of moonshine, caress the trio, and stand on his head.”
Seeking even more fun, the drunken trio arrived at Stonewall Conley’s home in the husband’s absence. No one was at home except Mrs. Conley and her small child. Mrs. Conley was forced to kill a chicken and prepare the men a dinner. Passing the bottle around and singing boisterously, the men were “downright abusive,” Mrs. Conley said later when she also described how the men said they were going to “thrash” her husband as soon as he got home. Mr. Conley said that by the time he arrived home his wife was “on the verge of hysterics.”
One of the men went into the yard and shot several times in the air. Conley ordered the drunkards out of his house and off of his property, and that’s when they began to beat him. Mrs. Conley, who sought to protect her husband, was dragged from him and thrown to the floor, Conley told a Logan Banner reporter.
Jim Tomley snapped his revolver at Stonewall Conley, but it failed to go off. Like a pack of wild dogs, all the men then attacked Conley, and were beating him with their fists and with rocks, when Floyd Conley and Roy Beckley came to the rescue. Upon gaining his release, Conley grabbed a 32-20 rifle and fired at the men. The newspaper account said two of the bullets hit Tomley in the chest, one near the heart, and one bullet hit Priest in the leg as he was running from the house. Tomley died at the scene.
Conley was badly bruised by the beating he had received from his assailants, and he suffered two broken ribs from a large rock thrown by Tomley. With the law not even hearing about the violent episodes until the next day because of a lack of communication and pitifully poor roads from the Harts area back then, Conley surrendered himself to Deputy Sheriff Randolph Dial the next morning and was lodged in the Logan County jail to await a hearing.
No cause for the trouble could be given by Conley, who said he had never had any problem with any of the men and didn’t know any reason why they should want to harm him or his family. He did, however, declare that the men were “beastly” drunk, and that they carried a jug of what was termed whiskey.
While all three men were reputed to be “bad characters,” Bryant was an ex-convict who had already spent time in prison for moonshining. This story is one of hundreds similar in Logan County that have been recorded in the annals of time, thanks to microfilm records, which reflect the good, the bad, and the ugly. And it’s all a part of our local history.
BITS and PIECES
There are a lot of signs that our local and state economy is floundering…..besides such things as mining layoffs and school system layoffs in neighboring counties, quietly, other things are slipping away here…..think about it: we now have just one laundromat in the entire county (at Chapmanville), and we haven’t had taxi service since I don’t know when…..thank God for the Tri-River bus service, I suppose…..empty or half-empty buildings dot the town of Logan, while other historical structures stand either dilapidated, half-burned, or half-torn down…..meanwhile, illegal drugs are all over the place…..we have a Hatfield-McCoy trail that goes right by the City Cemetery on High Street that holds some of the very founders of the town, yet we cannot get it cleared and cleaned up— not even by inmates…..we have a tourist attraction waiting to happen in the form of the Don Chafin House on Main Street that needs to be a museum attraction, while history abounds at both Blair Mountain and the Hatfield Cemetery at Sarah Ann, not to mention what could be done at the abandoned 20-acre cemetery at McConnell……when mining coal was a boom thing many years ago is when our leadership then must have been looking out for themselves, instead of their fellow Logan Countians…..a lack of foresight can mean impending ruin…..having said all of that, Logan County is still economically better off than most other coalfield places…..in the meantime, while most of our legislators, mostly Republicans, can’t even agree on Gov. Tomblin’s requests to help PEIA and other matters, it appears to me that West Virginia is headed backwards, as more younger people flee the coal fields to find work elsewhere…..the state is losing population, while we rank at or near the bottom educationally, even having the lowest percent of people with bachelor’s degrees of any state…..one the positive side, we offer hard working people and we have great recreational opportunities, as well as plenty of streams, rivers and lakes; we just require development of something else…..really, this state needs to wake up and smell the coffee before it is too late…..the Bible says, “a house divided cannot stand,” and that, unfortunately, is how this country and state has become…..would it not be nice to see a decrease in crime overall, including a decrease in burglaries by almost 10 per cent?…..how about a big decrease in prescription pills and $86 million or more in increased tax revenue, and billions more income and taxes from tourism?…..sounds good? …..well, then move to Colorado where leaders there legalized marijuana two years ago, and the sky didn’t fall, but the unemployment rate did, as it is at a six-year low, and the teenage use of marijuana there has also diminished …..all I can say about that is that I have been to Colorado, and I think our state has much more to offer in mountainous beauty, and a heck of a lot more to gain; heck, we’re even getting elk…..I am simply daring to say what many people know is the truth…..I’m not positive, but I believe the West Virginia Sportswriters selection of Man’s Harvey Arms marks the first time ever for a Logan County coach to be chosen as head coach in the North-South football contest; so, congrats to the longtime mentor…..Daniel Hall, the guy who was elected as a Democrat in Wyoming County, but then switched to Republican, should not have been allowed to do that…..after all, he could vote with the Republicans on all the issues he wanted as a Democrat…..the true definition of a Democrat in Logan County does not meet the definition that most Americans believe, and that’s probably a good thing…..the term Republicrat fits most of us rather nicely—guns, anti-abortion, mostly union oriented, and anti-gay marriage…..sure signs of spring include the Daytona 500 NASCAR race and pitchers and catchers reporting to baseball’s spring training— not to mention the popping up of political signs, many of which will be covered up with spring flowers in the not too distant future…..DID YOU KNOW that the average age of the United states Supreme Court judges was 69 before Justice Anthony Scalia, 79, died?…..I’m a big fan of WVOW radio, and I believe it, along with this newspaper, provide a great deal of variety to the listeners and readers of the area, but again this year, the station ignored its base by not letting the die-hard listening Reds fans know about the Reds Caravan that recently visited the Earl Ray Tomblin Convention Center…..I’m not a Reds fan, but I think of the many children and young adults who would love to meet these guys, and even get some autographs…..speaking of the local station, another sign of the times was the sad news of the laying off of several longtime employees there…..I believe many people take the radio station and The Logan Banner for granted, but would surely miss them, if either one should no longer exist…..I mean, shucks, I already miss Bill and Martha Jane Becker, Bob Weisner and Speedy Bevins…..so, don’t mess with “What’s Your Opinion,” “The Trading Post,” or the afternoon music that is provided…..as for The Banner, how about these former employee names for you: Charlie and Harriett Hylton, Don Pritchard, Earl Lambert, Larry Lodato, Raamie Barker, Melody Kinser, Richard Osborne, Kathy Chafin, Dave Maynard, Bob Kolovich, Greg Gibson, Teddy Paynter, Jerry Fekete, Jeff Baughan, Joe Kerns, Tony Costa, Gaynelle Hughes, Bud Robinette and his sister-in-law, Sherry Robinette, Deanna Eplin, Margaret Carter, Barbara Smith, Joe Chambers, Kevin Maynard, Keith Rebar, Stump Dalton, Lonnie Craft, and a host of many others in the Circulation Dept., including two of my own brothers, Faron and Jimmy…..those were the “vibrant” days, for sure…..QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “I condemn public gaming houses where liquor is drunk and men spend wages that are sorely needed for clothes and shoes for their children.”—Logan Circuit Judge C.C. Chambers, January 10, 1938…..former Logan assistant prosecuting attorney Chris White has joined forces with Logan attorney Steven Wolfe to form the offices of “Wolfe and White”…..the guys’ new office is located at the former Bob Noone law offices on Stratton and Main streets of Logan…..I’ve found both young men to be very intelligent attorneys…..Logan businessman Don Browning says former Logan High and Marshall University basketball star James Davidson was the best athlete ever at Logan…..most people forget that he also was a great field and track star back when LHS fielded a really good track squad…..new question: who should be nominated at Man and Chapmanville High Schools as their best athletes?…..there have been some greats at both schools, so let me know who you’ve got in mind?…..FINAL NOTE: As Congress gets ready for another “hell” of arguing back and forth as to a Supreme Court appointment, it should be noted that nothing I’m aware of has been done in regard to a financial shortcoming in Social Security. We not only need to ensure the solvency of the program, but I believe all income taxes on Social Security should be ceased. Seniors have a hard enough time, plus, I’m starting to get there myself……..