Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Ellison Mounts & Pike County

A couple of weeks ago, I was contacted by Jay Shepherd of the Pike County Tourism, Convention and Visitors Bureau regarding making a post about Pike County, Kentucky. I am always amenable to promoting the positive aspects of Appalachia, so after a few emails back and forth, I was excited to help promote Pike County. Jay then solicited the assistance of local historian, Jessica Forsyth, to write about an aspect of the Hatfield-McCoy Feud that took place in Pike County, Kentucky. Jessica also serves as the Director of Activities and Events for the Big Sandy Heritage Center, a local historical museum located on Hambley Blvd. in Pikeville, Kentucky.

"Ellison Mounts was Pike County’s biggest scapegoat, but also one of the lesser known roles of the Hatfield-McCoy feud. Supposedly the illegitimate son of Ellison Hatfield, Mounts was with the Hatfield boys Johnse and Calvin when they went to the McCoy home on January 1, 1888 and set the house ablaze with McCoy family members still inside. Sarah McCoy and her children ran outside to escape their burning home and chaos erupted. Johnse fired a shot before the signal was given to fire on the McCoys and a gunfight ensued between him, Calvin, Ellison, and the McCoy boys."

"In the panic that ensued, Calvin fired a shot, killing Alifair McCoy. The blame was not directed at him however. Instead, all eyes turned to Ellison Mounts. Mounts, being somewhat dimwitted, probably did not realize the severity of the charges or what would happen to him next."

Ellison Mounts (photo courtesy of Pike County Tourism, Convention and Visitors Bureau).

"At trial, Ellison was convicted and sentenced to be hanged. He and his lawyer tried to appeal the case, but were unable to do so with a jury that had already made up their minds, as most of the county had. On February 18, 1890, Ellison Mounts was hanged on the site of the present day University of Pikeville classroom building. Thousands of onlookers turned out to witness the hanging, but laws stated that executions could no longer be public. Workers constructed a fence around the scaffold to hide the sight from prying eyes. His last words would attempt to point the blame again to the Hatfields. No one had been sent to the gallows in Pike County for forty years, and after Ellison, no one ever would be again. All the other Hatfield prisoners received life sentences in prison."

"The University of Pikeville, then named Pikeville College, erected residence halls and classroom buildings on the site where the makeshift gallows had stood. Today, visitors can read a marker placed by the historical society on the site. It tells of the life and trial of Ellison Mounts, and how the nation’s most famous feud claimed yet another young life well before its time."

The Hanging of Ellison Mounts (photo courtesy of Pike County Tourism, Convention and Visitors Bureau).

I hope everyone enjoyed reading about some of the interesting history that took place in Pike County, Kentucky. I encourage everyone to plan a visit to Pike County in the very near future. Pike County truly offers something for everyone. If you have any questions regarding your visit to Pike County, I'm sure Jay over at the Pike County Tourism, Convention and Visitors Bureau would be more than happy to assist you.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Folks Are Talking

A former feature writer and columnist on the Bluefield, W. Va., Daily Telegraph has released a double CD of oral histories titled “Folks Are Talking” from men and women he interviewed for the newspaper in the 1970s.

Garret Mathews, who moved to Evansville, Ind., in 1987 to write the metro column for The Courier, retired in 2011 after penning more than 10,000 articles on a variety of subjects from a 91-year-old female bootlegger in Princeton, Ky., to the members of a snake-handling church in Jolo, W. Va.

Mathews selected 28 of his early Daily Telegraph stories for “Folks Are Talking.” They include an early United Mine Workers organizer, a horse trader, survivors of coal mine explosions, coal camp baseball players, a child born during the deadly flood of 1977 and a female furrier who carves muskrats while eating peanut-butter sandwiches.

“These men and women are from a bygone era and most are long dead,” Mathews says. “I wanted to record our time together as a way of keeping their stories alive.”
Music evocative of the region that includes southern West Virginia and southwest Virginia is included on the double CD.

Copies of “Folks Are Talking” will be furnished to public and school libraries in the two-state area as well as to historians and colleges and universities that offer Appalachian studies.

“It’s as I point out in the introduction: You just don’t find these folks any more,” Mathews says. “What they shared with me, I want to share with future generations.”

“Folks Are Talking” was featured on a recent interview segment with Joe Dashiell on WDBJ-TV in Roanoke, Va. Selections from the double CD are also being played on the public television station in Roanoke.

The double CD costs $17 plus $3 shipping and handling. Checks should be sent to “Folks Are Talking,” c/o Garret Mathews, 7954 Elna Kay Drive, Evansville, Indiana 47715. For more information or to listen to four of the tracks or to order online, go to