New River Gorge region in West Virginia once a bloody "Wild West"

New River Gorge region in West Virginia once a bloody
Montgomery, West Virginia, as it appear about 1910. (Photo: Joe Green Collection)

FAYETTEVILLE, W.Va. — For millions of tourists, Fayette County and its New River Gorge is a destination for healing and rejuvenation—a wonderland of hiking trails and kayaking streams. But a century ago, newspapers across the U.S. had named it "Bloody Fayette," and with good reason.


Coal had been discovered in the county in vast quantities, and in the late 1800s, tens of thousands of miners had arrived with their families in tow. Every kind of opportunist soon followed, if they hadn't come in advance. The police struggled to maintain order.

The New River Gorge Bridge spans its namesake gorge near Fayetteville, W.Va. (Photo: Sharosh Rajasekher)

Boomtowns along the New and Kanawha rivers won particular infamy, and covert murders and drunken brawls seemed to be a daily occurrence, but in 1904 along the Kanawha River at Montgomery, West Virginia, town officials themselves became mired in the bloodshed.

On November 16, the day after Republicans in the county had swept the local elections, Constable Walla Jackson was celebrating with friends at a saloon called The Mecca when he "overheard a remark that was uncomplimentary to Judge Bennett," according to a version of the story recounted in the W.Va. Heritage Encyclopedia.


"The constable slapped the speaker, Dan Hemmings, across the face, and, at almost the same moment, both men were placed under arrest by Montgomery Policeman John Elliott. Constable Jackson refused to submit to arrest, so Elliott took Hemmings away to the jail and returned to the saloon with Chief of Police Frank Hundley."

Fueled by more liquor, Jackson again refused the arrested and reached for his gun. Friends said he had no gun at all, though after so many years, who can say for certain? What is certain is that the constable was shot dead.

"The two Montgomery officers fled the home of Mayor J.C. Montgomery, son of the town founder. They feared retribution from Jackson's relatives and hoped that the popular mayor would find a way out of the predicament. The mayor sent them out of town and called in Fayette County Sheriff Nehemiah Daniel to preserve order, but the sheriff, perhaps not understanding the volatile nature of the citizenry, arrived with only one constable. He was met by the mayor and three of the slain constable's brothers."

Meanwhile, a rumor was circulating through town that the mayor and police chief had fled to the Ruffner Hotel in Charleston, West Virginia, then one of the capital city's most exclusive resorts.

A guitarist strums outside a Fayette County boutique.

"Members of the family of the slain constable Walla Jackson were at this point inconsolable. The sheriff had a talk with Ed Jackson, who had enjoyed the sheriff's patronage and had voted for him, and the Jacksons backed off to allow the sheriff and the mayor time to confer, but they didn't return to their homes."

After their talk, the sheriff went back into the streets and sought out Ed Jackson, whom he ordered under arrest, but he was immediately shot dead by three of four shots that Jackson fired in rapid succession. As Jackson left the scene, he met one of the sheriff's constables, named Keeney, and attempted to fire, but the gun did not fire. George and Bob Jackson disarmed Keeney.

The Prosecuting Attorney was then called, and deputies were sent in. Governor Albert B. White (1901-1905) ordered the militia on alert, and news reporters began flocking to Montgomery, "some from Huntington, and others from as far away as Boston," according to the encyclopedia.

The county court put up a $2,000 reward for Ed Jackson's capture, dead or alive, and the governor added another $500. Several posses were organized and began to scour the countryside for the missing Jacksons. The brothers were found hiding in an abandoned mine shaft and within a few days surrendered to Squire Davis and Constable Perry. They were sent to Charleston and jailed, though not even the mayor was aware of their capture for some time.


So ended one of the first bloody chapters in the history of the county, though the coming Mine Wars, Prohibition, and the Great Depression would guarantee that civil unrest and crime would not soon be quelled.

For more information on visiting the far-less-bloody county today, contact the .

Five reasons Fayette County town has become yoga destination

Candace Evans leads a yoga session near Fayetteville.

Long a mecca for hiking, biking, rock climbing, and paddling vacations, Fayetteville, West Virginia, is gaining attention nationally as an ideal destination for yoga retreats. The town of just more than 2,000 residents boasts 20 yoga instructors, and healing-arts venues are growing, according to Candace Evans, an instructor at New River Yoga.

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