Friday, February 5, 2016

"And That's the Real McCoy"

Some wedding announcements may be more remarkable than others. In the case of the marriage of forty five year old John Syme Hogue and his seventeen year old bride, Lucille Epling, one couldn't help also notice—if one were familiar with the now twenty-five-year-long saga of John Hogue's history—his employment as a mining engineer at his new home in Mahan, West Virginia.

For those with patience to read the fine print at the back end of local newspapers, under such headings as "Notice of Judicial Sale," there is a way to reconstruct the twisted trail of purchases, leases assigned, re-sales and other hallmarks of high finance and real estate. But for those of us with less patience to learn about Mr. Hogue's employer—the Christian Colliery Coal Company—let me introduce the Reader's Digest version of the story.

However, I warn you: this detour comes with a high risk of rabbit trail sightings.

Found in a page four column entitled, "Our Neighbors," this snapshot of just what the history of the Christian Colliery Coal Company was had been provided by the June 19, 1940, Charleston Daily Mail—just months before the Epling-Hogue wedding.

The thumbnail sketch:
     The Imperial Colliery company opened Mahan's first mine in 1911 under Judge Lynch Christian and Quinn Morton. Nine years later the Steel and Tube Company of America took over and sold out in 1921 to the Youngstown Sheet and Tube which in turn sold to George Daniels about 1925 or '26.
     Named after Judge Christian of the supreme court of Virginia, the Christian Colliery company today is under the vice presidency and general managership of A. O. B. Hogue.

While even that streamlined description could leave me a person somewhat confused, it does point out a few pertinent details:
  • First, the place where John Hogue was employed as mining engineer was named after a judge of the Virginia state Supreme Court, and
  • Second, the general manager of that mining concern was none other than John's own brother, Andrew O'Beirne Hogue.

What I hadn't bargained for, in that brief tour of the real estate exchanges embedded in the coal mines of this neck o' West Virginia, was the very next sentence in the article.
Mahan's first settlers were the Hatfields and McCoys who followed the trail blazing Daniel Boone across White mountain from Virginia. It is still a much discussed topic that back up in the hills may be found Boone's marks on trees—crudely cut half moon designs with the outline of an axe cut over his initials.

Really? I wasn't sure how reliable it might be to glean my history lessons from the local newspaper, so I took a cursory glance at other resources about both Daniel Boone and the Hatfield-McCoy feud. While Daniel Boone was mostly remembered for his knowledge of land around Kentucky, he did, for a while, move to the region around Point Pleasant (now in West Virginia) and when nearby Kanawha County was first formed, he was appointed lieutenant colonel of its county militia.

That, however, pre-dates the famed Hatfield-McCoy feud by several decades. Yet it could be possible that the predecessors of those ill-fated families had actually been escorted into that then-unknown territory by Boone, himself.

The introduction to that Daily Mail article had quite the way of explaining the county's colorful heritage:
Tales about every phase of the famous Hatfield-McCoy feud are as prevalent on Paint Creek as ants at a picnickers' convention and it has been passed from generation to generation that the private family war had its birth in the Blue Ridge mountains of Virginia and over, of all things, an old razor-back hog.

Again, I'm not sure about taking one's history lesson from a newspaper article, but when the story continued with some verifiable details, I took the bait and hopped down that rabbit trail.
It is not every person who knows there is a graveyard on Paint creek at Sandy City in which are deposited the remains of three McCoys—once rugged mountain boys—no doubt.

The article included the name and inscription on one headstone—of "Samuel McCoy who died Sept. 16, 1846, aged 60 years, four months and four days"—so I took a look at Find A Grave. Sure enough, there was a photo of the headstone upon which could be seen those very words. See for yourself here.

The cemetery location provided another confirmation—in Kanawha County, West Virginia—as did the fact that not only Samuel but his brother James were among the McCoys listed in the cemetery's burials. (The third mention in the newspaper article described an unmarked grave which gave appearances of being for a child; the third McCoy listed in the Pratt Cemetery is someone who married a Huddleston.)

One more tidbit was shared in the Daily Mail article, a bit of hearsay providing local color:
It is told by Jim Williams, one of the creek's old timers at Mahan, that the time of the extension of the C. and O. line further up the creek (about 1910) several of the surviving McCoys sat with rifles on this small plot and made track surveyors go around the graveyard. The line originally had been right through the cemetery.

"And that's the real McCoy," the article's author concluded.

Just to the other side of this article and its accompanying photographs was another local history feature, "Paint Creek Highlights." In it, one short paragraph mentioned,
John S. Hogue, father of the present vice president and general manager of the Christian Colliery company there, was the civil engineer in charge of the location for the standard gauge railroad running up the creek to Kingston, about 23 miles from the mouth.

One wonders whether the railroad company the senior John Hogue represented in his surveying duties might have been the C. and O. I simply will have to polish up my West Virginia geography.

Above: McCoy family nemeses, the Hatfield Clan, shown in an unsourced photograph, circa 1897, courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.


  1. That thar is some swell rabbit huntin'!

  2. Replies
    1. It's discoveries like this that warn me there is likely more about the Hogue family's story that needs to be gleaned by reading between the lines.

  3. Daniel Boone was a "local boy" that lived near me when he was young. He led MY ancestors over the Cumberland Gap. He really must have suffered from mega-wanderlust!

    1. I had always heard the name and knew of some of his legend, but I was amazed to read of all the territory he covered in his career. It doesn't even seem possible, considering how wild and unconquered the terrain was during his lifetime.


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