West Virginians are fiercely independent and resilient by nature; you cannot live in our hills and valleys and not be. Whether one lives at the head of Crawley Creek near Chapmanville or a hollow somewhere in, say, Ritchie County, the only real difference is probably the language. All are mountaineers, most of whom are the results of pioneering frontiersmen who settled in our mountainous state hundreds of years ago.
Disasters like the flooding and devastation of our more northern neighbors in counties like Clay, which just happens to be the poorest county in the state, and other areas were devastated, but fellow West Virginians — including the efforts of many Logan County organizations, churches and individuals — have joined hands in providing aid to our state neighbors. Whether it is Buffalo Creek near Man or Mud Fork, or anywhere else in the county, we know the pain and suffering that comes with flooding. The loss of lives only makes the pain more severe.
In March of 2012 five inches of rain in an hour was reported at Mud Fork and homes in places never flooded before were lost. However, residents there were actually quiet fortunate because if the torrential downpour had come in the middle of the night there surely would have been several deaths.
The fact is that without the efforts of individuals and businesses during the 1960’s to supply money for expenses to delegations who went to Washington D.C. to testify about the need to build the Justice Dam (now known as R.D. Bailey Lake), Logan County would have endured far worse pain than what we already annually have to deal with in the form of flooding. In 1964 the Logan County Chamber of Commerce formed the Flood Control Fund that eventually helped lead to the $180 million construction of the dam. Just the year before, a monstrous flood had crippled the county, even flooding parts of the town of Logan. Construction on the dam began in 1967, thanks to local efforts.
As with all catastrophes Logan Countians have endured — from mining disasters to the Buffalo Creek atrocity of 1972 — there are always heroes; some of which you may never have heard about. The following account is one event that occurred during the 1963 flooding that caused $8 million of damages in just the Logan area alone. One of the heroes of the story is today a leading citizen and well known Logan businessman.
A 40-year old wounded veteran of World War II, Charles Stover, and Stewart Miller, 19, were in 1964 awarded silver medals for their heroic efforts during the flood that occurred in March of the year before. The nationally recognized Carnegie Hero Fund named the Coal Branch residents as two of the 25 persons in 13 states as national heroes. A total of $17,550 was awarded to the various heroes for their efforts of 1963.
Stover, an unemployed father of three children, and the unmarried Miller, were cited for saving the lives of three people during the ‘63 flood. The Logan Banner reported that rising waters had trapped Charlie Smith, 75, and his 58-year-old wife, Estella, in their small home. Stover and Miller reached the house by boat and were told the Smiths could not swim and were inside.
A third party was also rescued from the same house. According to the report, the man was not named and was described only as being “a blind musician.”
Ironically, Stover and Miller had earlier been rescued by Neal Scaggs, described then as the manager of Baisden Brothers Inc. of Ellis Addition. Scaggs today is owner of the hardware store, as well as other local businesses.
The story said Stover and Miller were trapped with several others in the Economy Auto Sales building and that they had made their way through the roof to Scaggs’ boat which was later used in the rescue of the elderly couple and the blind musician.
The two named heroes chopped a hole in the roof of the Coal Branch house and swam under water through floating furniture to rescue the Smiths, according to the newspaper account. The water was about 18 inches from the ceiling when the dramatic rescue was made. The Smiths and the blind man were found — Mr. Smith clinging to a floating television set, and the blind musician, along with Mrs. Smith, were holding on to a mattress.
The areas of Coal Branch and Ellis Addition have always been a target of frequent flooding and many years ago received the name of “Black Bottom,” because of the dark and rich soil that were the result of countless years of flooding.
In a recent edition of the Sunday Gazette-Mail there was a sad story of an 80-year-old couple in Rainelle, which is a town in Greenbrier county, that became trapped in chest high water in their home for more than seven hours. The barefooted couple, who had been married for 65 years, clung to each other standing in their living room. Edward Thompson gently laid his head on his wife’s shoulder and died of heart failure. Gerda, the wife, is the mother of one son, according to the story.
Perhaps, had it not been for the efforts of two Coal Branch residents and a current Logan businessman, a worse fate may have came to three trapped individuals back in 1963.
Thank goodness for heroes — some of whom, most people never knew about.
Dwight Williamson is a contributing writer and a former reporter for The Logan Banner. He currently serves as a Logan County Magistrate.