This Week in West Virginia History

March 27, 1862: Milton Humphreys Enlists in Confederate Army

Mar 27, 2020
Milton Humphreys
E-WV / WV Humanities Council

Milton Humphreys enlisted in the Confederate army on March 27, 1862. The Greenbrier County native served in Bryan’s Battery of the Virginia Artillery. It was only two months before he entered the annals of military history.

During a battle at Fayetteville in May 1862, Sergeant Humphreys fired his cannon at Union artillery from behind an intervening forest. When the shells rained down on a Union fort, the troops thought they’d come from the sky. This technique, known as indirect fire, was a first in battle and would become a precedent for modern warfare.

March 26, 1863: Voters Approve WV Constitution

Mar 26, 2020
This Week in West Virginia History.
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia online.

On March 26, 1863, voters overwhelmingly approved the first West Virginia Constitution, which had been nearly a year-and-a-half in the making. The constitutional debates had started at a convention in Wheeling in November 1861. Delegates tackled some surprisingly quarrelsome issues, such as the new state’s name and which counties to include.

March 20, 1864: Skirmish at the Sinks of Gandy

Mar 20, 2020
Sinks of Gandy
E-WV / WV Humanities Council

On March 20, 1864, a Civil War skirmish occurred at the north end of the Sinks of Gandy in Randolph County. In the shootout, Union troops killed three Confederates and recaptured goods the Rebels had stolen from a Tucker County general store.

The dominant teams in the late ‘40s and ‘50s were Garnet of Charleston and Douglass of Huntington.
e-WV / WV Humanities Council

On March 19, 1925, the state’s first basketball tournament for black high schools kicked off on the campus of West Virginia State College (now University) at Institute.

It featured 24 teams, with Lincoln High of Wheeling defeating Kimball in the championship. Kimball and other regions with large African-American populations were perennial favorites in the tournament. This included other McDowell County schools such as Gary and Excelsior High School of War as well as Beckley’s Genoa High.

March 13, 2002: Herbalist Clarence "Catfish" Gray Dies

Mar 13, 2020
Catfish Gray
E-WV / WV Humanities Council

Herbalist and folk doctor Clarence Frederick “Catfish” Gray died in Huntington on March 13, 2002, at age 84. A native of Jackson County, he worked in various jobs, raised 10 children, and was a walking encyclopedia of traditional plant lore.

After a workplace accident in the early 1950s left him unable to do physical labor, Gray began gathering and selling wildflowers and herbs, while dispensing advice for using them medicinally. He sorted and packaged his unique blend of herbs in little bags at his home near Glenwood in Mason County.

March 12, 1971: Politician Ivor Boiarsky Dies

Mar 12, 2020

On March 12, 1971, Ivor Boiarsky, speaker of the West Virginia House of Delegates, died suddenly of a heart ailment. He was only 50.

Boiarsky was born in Charleston in 1920 and went on to become president of Charleston Federal Savings and Loan Association. First elected to the House of Delegates in 1958, he was a rising star in the Democratic Party, becoming chairman of the House Finance Committee and then House speaker.

March 6, 1973: Author Pearl S. Buck Dies

Mar 6, 2020

Author Pearl Buck died in Vermont on March 6, 1973, at age 80. She was born in 1892 at her maternal grandparents’ home at Hillsboro in Pocahontas County. Buck grew up with Southern Presbyterian missionary parents who traveled around the world. To her, the family home at Hillsboro—now a museum—represented “security and peace.”

At an early age, she spent time with her parents in China and learned to speak Chinese almost as early as English. She later visited small Chinese farming villages, which would provide settings for her most popular novels.

March 5, 1880: James River and Kanawha Canal Co. Ceases Operation

Mar 5, 2020

On March 5, 1880, the James River and Kanawha Canal Company ceased operations. 

The original company had been formed by Virginia in 1785, at the urging of George Washington, who’d traveled through the Ohio and Kanawha valleys the previous year. Washington envisioned a navigable water route, with canals, connecting Richmond and the Ohio River.

February 28, 1909: Athlete John Zontini Born in Boone County

Feb 28, 2020
In his freshman year playing football at Marshall College (now University), he rushed for 865 yards, and his season of 9.5 rushing yards per carry is still a Marshall record.
E-WV/The Humanities Council

John Zontini was born in Boone County on February 28, 1909. To this day, he’s considered one of the greatest athletes in West Virginia history.

He was nicknamed the “Sheik of Seth” because of his great football career at Sherman High School, located at Seth in Boone County. His 1929 rushing average of 27 yards per carry remains a state high school record. In 1931, he also set the state javelin record with a throw of 172 feet, one inch.

February 27, 1869: D.T. Farnsworth Becomes Second Governor

Feb 27, 2020
E-WV/The Humanities Council

On February 27, 1869, West Virginia’s first governor, Arthur Boreman, resigned as the state’s chief executive to take a seat in the U.S. Senate. Daniel D. T. Farnsworth, president of the senate, stepped in to fill Boreman’s role, becoming West Virginia’s second, and shortest-serving, governor—since Boreman resigned just before the end of his term.

Five days after Farnsworth became governor, the state’s newly elected governor, William Stevenson, replaced him.

February 21, 1895: Bluefield State College Founded

Feb 21, 2020
Bluefield State College
E-WV / WV Humanities Council

On February 21, 1895, the legislature established the Bluefield Colored Institute, which would become Bluefield State College.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, thousands of African-Americans moved into Mercer, McDowell, Raleigh, and Fayette counties to work in the mines and for the railroads. At the time, there was a shortage of higher education opportunities for blacks in West Virginia, particularly black teachers.

February 20, 1883: The Grand Army of the Republic Met In Clarksburg

Feb 20, 2020
E-WV / WV Humanities Council

On February 20, 1883, the Grand Army of the Republic met in Clarksburg to form a state chapter, or department. The GAR, as it was known, was a national fraternal organization of Civil War veterans who fought on the Union side.

Formed nationally in 1866, the GAR’s membership grew slowly at first. It wasn’t until the 1880s that its numbers began to take off. By 1890, there were more than 400,000 members across the country.

February 14, 1925: Lawman Mack Day Killed by Bootlegger

Feb 14, 2020
Known as a shootist, Mack Day is known to have killed only three times.
E-WV/The Humanities Council

On February 14, 1925, lawman Mack Day was shot dead by a bootlegger at Pageton in McDowell County. The Virginia native had come to McDowell as a young man to mine coal.

He built a 14-room house for his wife and 12 children on Belcher Mountain. He joined the local Odd Fellows, Knights of Pythias, and eventually the Ku Klux Klan, during the Klan’s early-20th-century revival in West Virginia.

February 13, 1913: Mother Jones Arrested in Charleston

Feb 13, 2020
Mother Jones
E-WV / WV Humanities Council

On February 13, 1913, labor leader Mary Harris “Mother” Jones was arrested in Charleston for agitating striking miners during the deadly Paint Creek-Cabin Creek Strike.

Jones was no stranger to West Virginia’s labor movement, or its jails. Since the 1890s, she’d been active in union causes across the country but felt a special affinity for miners of the Mountain State. She once reported that conditions in West Virginia “were worse than those in Czarist Russia.” During a 1902 strike, she’d been jailed in Parkersburg for violating a court injunction.

January 31, 1945: Army Sergeant Jonah Edward Kelley Killed in Action

Jan 31, 2020
Jonah Edward Kelley
E-WV

In the early morning hours of January 31, 1945, Army Sergeant Jonah Edward Kelley died after leading an assault on the German community of Kesternich.

Despite being wounded, Kelley had led his men on a ferocious attack the day before. That night, he refused evacuation to a field hospital and continued leading his men the next day, when he was further wounded and died.

January 30, 1920: UMWA Mobilizes to Unionize W.Va.

Jan 30, 2020
Mingo County
E-WV / WV Humanities Council

On January 30, 1920, the United Mine Workers of America launched a concerted effort to unionize southern West Virginia. Relations between the UMWA and coal operators had regularly turned violent over the previous 30 years.

However, the two sides had reached a tenuous truce during World War I. During the 19 months the United States was involved in the war, coal production soared and miners’ wages rose.

January 24, 2003: Musician Tommy Thompson Dies

Jan 24, 2020
Thompson was born in western Kanawha County in 1937
e-WV / WV Humanities Council

Musician Tommy Thompson died on January 24, 2003, at age 65. Thompson was born in western Kanawha County in 1937 and lived there until he was about 11, when his family moved to Florida.

As a young adult, he got interested in jazz, blues, and eventually old-time music. He picked up the claw-hammer-style of banjo playing and, while attending the University of North Carolina, founded the Hollow Rock String Band, along with his wife, Bobbie, and fiddler and folklorist Alan Jabbour.

January 23, 1890: United Mine Workers of America Formed

Jan 23, 2020
UMWA District President M. F. Moran immediately launched what would become an extraordinary struggle to unionize the state’s coal mines over the next four decades.
E-WV / The Humanities Council

On January 23, 1890, the United Mine Workers of America was formed in Columbus, Ohio. Three months later, UMWA District 17, encompassing most of West Virginia, held its first meeting in Wheeling.

District President M. F. Moran immediately launched what would become an extraordinary struggle to unionize the state’s coal mines over the next four decades.

January 17, 1947: Labor Lawyer Harold Houston Dies in Florida

Jan 17, 2020
In later years, he was involved in an automobile dealership and a real estate addition in the Spring Hill section of South Charleston
e-WV / WV Humanities Council

Labor lawyer Harold Houston died in Florida on January 17, 1947, at age 74. When he was young, his parents moved from Ohio to Jackson County and then to Charleston.

In 1901, after getting a law degree from West Virginia University, Houston opened a legal practice in Parkersburg.

January 16, 1989: Gaston Caperton Sworn in as Governor

Jan 16, 2020
Gaston Caperton
E-WV/The Humanities Council

Gaston Caperton—our state’s 31st governor—was sworn into office on January 16, 1989. He was born in Charleston in 1940 and eventually worked at his father’s insurance company, where he rose to president.

By the late 1980s, the McDonough-Caperton Insurance Group was one of the nation’s largest privately owned insurance companies.

January 13, 1941: Matthew Neely Inaugurated Governor of West Virginia

Jan 13, 2020
Governor Matthew M. Neely (1874-1948).
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia / WV State Archives (WVSA)

Matthew Neely was inaugurated governor on January 13, 1941—one of many political career changes for the Democrat stalwart.

January 10, 1969: Novelist Tom Kromer Died in Huntington

Jan 10, 2020
Kromer attended Marshall College (now University) for brief periods in the late ‘20s before crisscrossing the country, often hopping freight trains.
e-WV / WV Humanities Council

Novelist and short story writer Tom Kromer died in Huntington on January 10, 1969, at age 62. During his childhood, his family moved frequently—living in Huntington, Fairmont, Kingwood, and Williamstown—wherever his father could find work in the coal or glass industries.

January 10, 1940: Bartley Mine Explosion

Jan 10, 2020
United Mine Workers monument at the site of the Bartley mine disaster
E-WV

On January 10, 1940, the Pond Creek Number 1 mine exploded at Bartley in McDowell County. The blast killed 91 miners; 47 men escaped. Most of the men who perished died instantly. Although, some asphyxiated following the explosion, and two left farewell letters.

Pond Creek Number 1 was a deep-shaft mine owned by an affiliate of Island Creek Coal. Investigators blamed methane gas for the fatal explosion since the mine’s coal dust had been treated properly.

January 9, 1986: West Virginia Sells First Lottery Tickets

Jan 9, 2020

On January 9, 1986, West Virginia sold its first “scratch-off” lottery tickets. The state lottery had been authorized by an amendment to the state constitution, passed by voters in 1984.

As the number of lottery games expanded, so did revenues. Within eight years, instant ticket sales had increased by 336 percent and would eventually bring in more than a billion dollars a year.

January 3, 1959: Robert C. Byrd Sworn into US Senate

Jan 3, 2020
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

On January 3, 1959, Democrat Robert C. Byrd was sworn in as a member of the U.S. Senate—in the presence of three future presidents: then-Vice President Richard Nixon and Senators John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson.

Byrd was assigned to the powerful Appropriations Committee. He used his political skills to become Democratic majority whip in 1971, upsetting the incumbent, Ted Kennedy. Byrd’s mastery of the rules and popularity among fellow senators helped him defeat Hubert Humphrey to become majority leader in 1976.

January 2, 2006: Rabbi Samuel Cooper Dies

Jan 2, 2020
Rabbi Samuel Cooper
E-WV / WV Humanities Council

Rabbi Samuel Cooper died in Florida on January 2, 2006, at age 97. The Toronto native visited Charleston in 1932 to lead the High Holiday services for the B’nai Jacob Synagogue. The congregation was so impressed that a delegation followed him on his return home, caught up with him in Baltimore, and hired him as full-time rabbi. Cooper returned to Charleston to begin nearly a half-century in the B’nai Jacob pulpit.

He was the synagogue’s first rabbi born in North America. He guided the congregation from old-style Orthodox Judaism to a more modern Orthodox perspective.

January 1, 1973: Songwriter Jack Rollins Dies

Jan 1, 2020
Jack Rollins
WV Encyclopedia

Songwriter Jack Rollins died on New Year’s Day 1973 at age 66. The prolific composer wrote more than 500 songs but will always be remembered for two holiday favorites.

December 27, 2006: Artist June Kilgore Dies

Dec 27, 2019
Kilgore’s modern and abstract work evokes intense emotion and a sense of the spiritual.
E-WV / Humanities Council

Artist June Kilgore died on December 27, 2006, at age 79. The Huntington native was an expressionist painter who spent 30 years as an art professor at Marshall University. Kilgore’s modern and abstract work evokes intense emotion and a sense of the spiritual.

An eloquent communicator, she had a significant influence on her students at Marshall and inspired many accomplished West Virginia artists, including Dolly Hartman and Sally Romayne.

December 20, 1999: Newspaperman Jack Maurice Dies in Charleston at Age 86

Dec 20, 2019

Newspaperman Jack Maurice died in Charleston on December 20, 1999, at age 86. Maurice was born in 1913 in the McDowell County coal town of Vivian. During his childhood, his family moved frequently around the West Virginia and Kentucky coalfields. He graduated from Huntington High School and Marshall College (now University) and immediately started his career with the Huntington Herald-Dispatch in 1935. Three years later, he joined the staff of the Charleston Daily Mail.

December 13, 1926: Wheeling Radio Station WWVA Goes On The Air

Dec 13, 2019
In 1933, WWVA launched a program that would become a mainstay. The Wheeling Jamboree was broadcast to 17 other states and six Canadian provinces.
E-WV

Wheeling radio station WWVA went on the air on December 13, 1926. The 50-watt station broadcast from the basement of John Stroebel, a physics teacher and wireless pioneer. By November of the next year, WWVA had established studios in a Wheeling office building and boosted its power to 500 watts, which, on some nights, could transmit its signal halfway around the world. Early programming on the station included contemporary recorded music, informal announcements, music by local amateurs, and children’s shows.

  

Pages