by David Parmer
Henry Kuhl, Immigrant and Pioneer
Prussia was a state of landed gentry. Huge estates were owned by a few aristocrats. There was little opportunity and even less future in war-like Prussia for a common man like Henry Kuhl; so like his Scotch-Irish, German and English counterparts of the previous century, he set sail with his family for America, the land of opportunity, and hopefully peace, for a common man. He was thirty seven years of age when his immigrant ship set anchor in Baltimore harbor in 1839.
A Braxton County Beginning
The Kuhl farm on Toms Creek as it looked in the late 1900s.
The Civil War
The Union troops came as an invading army. As do most invading armies, the soldiers, mostly from Ohio, took what they wanted from the local farmers and threatened those common folk who did not pledge loyalty, in act and deed, to the Union cause.
Throughout northwest Virginia, in the area that would become central West Virginia, the loyalties were divided between the cause of the Union and continuing allegiance to the Commonwealth of Virginia. Spies for each competing faction were everywhere. Union sympathizers were reported to Confederate-leaning partisans and southern sympathizers were reported to the Union occupiers. Acts of cruelty, murder, arson and robbery were committed in the name of each side by neighbors who prior to the invasion had lived peacefully, side by side.
The Casper Prislor Affair
During the early days of the Civil War in what is today central West Virginia, strangers were particularly viewed with suspicion. Unfortunately, one of those strangers, a Union soldier, sympathizer or camp follower by the name of Casper Prislor came skulking to the out-of-the-way farm of Henry Kuhl. The Kuhl farm had earlier been victimized by thieving Union soldiers. The suspicious Prislor was killed by a wary Kuhl and a farm hand named Hamilton Windon. This regrettable act was reported to the Union army whose officers arrested Henry Kuhl and Windon for murder. They were tried by a military tribunal and were hanged at Sutton as an example to local farmers that violence against the Union cause could have fatal consequences.
Henry Kuhl's Son Conrad Kuhl, Confederate Prisoner
The second oldest Kuhl son, Conrad, had been present at the time his father and Windon had killed the Yankee Prislor and was arrested along with his father and Hamilton Windon. Marilyn Cole Posey, great-great-great-granddaughter of Henry Kuhl, who has done extensive and important research on the death of Casper Prislor, reports that the military tribunal found that Conrad was not a principal in the murder of Prislor, but was nonetheless involved. Conrad was sentenced to imprisonment for the duration of the war and ordered to wear a ball and chain on his ankle for the time of his imprisonment.
According to Thomas Bland Camden in his article published in the Weston Democrat in 1927, he was imprisoned along with Conrad Kuhl at the notorious Federal prison camp at Camp Chase, Ohio for the duration of the war. Camden reported that Conrad could easily slip in and out of the ball and chain fixed to his ankle. Camden also reported that Conrad became a skilled jewelry maker while in prison and that Conrad had fashioned a nice ring for him with his initials, “T B C,” inlaid in the ring. In addition to Fort Chase, Conrad Kuhl was also imprisoned at Fort Delaware.
Henry Harrison Cole's Father:
Left: William and Mary (Hefner) Kuhl
William Kuhl Changes His Name to Cole
William, the older of the two Kuhl sons who had emigrated from Prussia, disapproved of his father’s implication in the death of Casper Prislor and felt that the family name had been disgraced by the act. Maybe to atone for the act of his father, William joined the Union army, and as a statement of his denunciation of his father, changed his name from Kuhl to “Cole” on his enlistment papers into the Union army, and thereafter went by the name of “Cole.” William’s younger brother, Henry J., following the lead of William, also joined the Union army under the name of “Cole.” There must however have been some uncertainty regarding a change of name by William because the 1870 census-taker reported William’s last name as “Khule” and in 1880 the census-taker still reported it has “Kuhl.” Obviously, since the family name was still being spelled as “Kuhl” as late as 1880, there is an inconsistency within the family tradition as to when the spelling of the name changed. William and Mary’s children however seemed to be consistent in spelling their last name as “Cole,” which became the accepted spelling of family name thereafter. When our Henry Harrison Cole married Mary Jane Heater in 1882, the official record of the marriage lists his name as “Cole.”
Henry's Parents William Cole Family
Quiet times again returned to central West Virginia after the hostilities of the Civil War. It was still a hard life, scratching out a living for a large farm family on a hilly Rocky Fork farm. Notwithstanding the difficulty in making a living, William and Mary Cole were fruitful and multiplied. By the time of the 1870 Gilmer County census, William and Mary were the parents of four children, our Henry Harrison, aged nine, Peter, aged five, Lurana, aged three, and Sarah, aged one. The 1880 census reported that William and Mary were the parents of three additional children, Susanna, aged nine, Elizabeth, aged six, and Lovey, aged three.
William Cole continued to farm during his lifetime and also, according to his great, great granddaughter Marilyn Cole Posey, operated a grist mill at Blackburn on lower Rocky Fork. Mrs. Clifford Wine of Indian Fork recalls the remnants of an old mill which were stored in an old barn on her father’s property on Rocky Fork, once believed to be a part of the William Cole farm. William died in Gilmer County in 1891. His widow, Mary, passed away in 1914. William and Mary are buried in the Blackburn Methodist Church Cemetery.
Left: #1 is Toms Creek, #2 is Rocky Fork and #3 is the confluence of Grass Lick and Three Lick.
Henry Harrison Cole
Henry Harrison Cole, the oldest son of William and Mary (Hefner) Cole, and Mary Jane (Heater) Cole were Gilmer County residents from the time of their marriage in 1882 until 1901. From 1884 until 1899, they became the parents of eleven children who were born in Gilmer County. The oldest child Bessie was born in 1884, Ida in 1885, Mabel in 1887, Susan Rosetta in 1889, Charles Q. in 1890, twins Lana and Laura were born in 1892, Simon in 1895, Jesse in 1897, and a second Susan Rosetta in 1899. After the family moved to Lewis County, two additional children, Verdie Elizabeth and William H., were born to Henry Harrison and Mary Jane (Heater) Cole in 1902 and 1906.
Left: Son Charles Quinton (center) with his sons Alvin "Slim" and Harold Quinton.
Right: Daughter Bessie Cole, wife of David Wimer, then wife of Uncle Zeke's good friend Rufus Blake, in her later years.
Henry and Mary Jane Cole Move to Three Lick
In 1901, Henry Harrison Cole purchased a one hundred thirty acre farm from Aldinah (Cosner) Bennett and George Hezekiah Bennett, her husband, in the vicinity of Three Lick and Grass Run and moved his family to the outskirts of thriving Confluence. This farm at one time had been owned by David N. Godfrey, a well-known Orlando resident. There Henry took up general farming and raising his family for the next twenty-five years.
Second Row: Nellie Wymer, David Wymer, Furman Wyer, Mabel (Cole) Wyer, Charles Quinton Cole, Laura Cole, Cora Wimer, Ida (Cole) Wimer
Pete Moran, the Orlando postmaster, sorted the mail from Weston which had arrived on the early morning train on a February morning in 1926. Among the many letters in the mail sack was a letter from the Circuit Clerk of Lewis County addressed to Henry H. Cole of Route 2, Orlando. Pete dropped the letter in the box of Alva Barnett, the Route 2 mail carrier, for further sorting and for delivery.
Henry Cole was a farmer and lived with his wife Mary Jane near the mouth of Grass Run of Three Lick, just north of Orlando. The mail carrier, Alva Barnett, usually reached the home of Henry Cole in Grass Run area late in his delivery route, which took a circuitous route by way of Posey Run, Rocky Fork, Indian Fork and Three Lick. Arriving in the Three Lick area in mid afternoon, Alva dutifully slid the letter for Henry into his mail box and nudged his horse along on down Three Lick. Mail was eagerly awaited by rural patrons. Henry Cole opened the important-looking letter and found a summons from the Circuit Clerk of Lewis to report for grand jury duty in the Circuit Court of Lewis County for the March 1926 term of court. Henry knew his duty and meant to comply.
Serving on jury duty in 1926 in Lewis County was no easy obligation to fulfill for a rural citizen from the southern Collins Settlement District. There were no passable roads from Three Lick to Weston in the winter of 1926 and a trip to Weston meant a trip by rail. Serving on a jury may also have required that the jury pool be available for court for a number of days without the possibility to return home at the close of each day’s court session.
In 1926, Weston was a bustling town and was the center of commercial activity in Lewis County. Glass plants flanked the outskirts of the town and gas well drilling contractors were busy. Main Street was full of prosperous stores. The Insane Asylum loomed large in the town’s identity and economy.
Town Run in 1926 was a thickly populated section of Weston, dotted with modest frame homes which were primarily occupied by the glass plant workers, asylum employees, railroaders and shop workers. Located on the southern end of town, it was also convenient to the Lewis County Courthouse, the place Henry Cole was to report for jury duty.
A Deadly Fire
In 1926, Minnie Radcliff, a fireman for the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, lived with his wife Jessie and his six children on Willow Street in the Town Run section of Weston. Minnie generally worked between Weston and Grafton. Minnie was the son of Henry F. and Eliza Radcliff. Henry’s parents, James Ratliff and Rebecca Ratliff, lived on Rocky Fork in Gilmer County during the 1860’s and were neighbors of William Cole, father of Henry Harrison Cole.
We don’t know why Henry Harrison Cole was staying with the Minnie Radcliff family in Weston on Friday night of February 26, 1926 awaiting jury duty which did not begin until the following Monday. Maybe the early family connection as neighbors on Rocky Fork led Henry to seek a bed at the Radcliff home and spend a few days visiting. Whatever the reason, it was a fateful, and fatal, decision by Henry Harrison Cole.
At some point in the evening, fire broke out in the Radcliff home. During the confusion, Mrs. Radcliff became convinced that one of her children was still in the blazing house. Hysterically, Mrs. Radcliff proclaimed this belief and Henry, who had been standing on the street watching the blaze, went back into the inferno in search of the child. Maybe his inability to find the child caused Henry to stay in the burning house longer than was wise. Henry Cole of Three Lick perished in the blaze as the burning house collapsed. Henry H. Cole was never known to be a courageous or noble man, but now he is remembered as a hero. As a footnote to his death, the newspaper account of the fire reported that the child who was supposedly in the burning house, had been out of the house all along, safely in the arms of a neighbor.
Left: Henry and Mary Jane (Heater) Cole
A Solemn Return
The corpse of Henry Cole was prepared for return to Orlando by the McKinley Undertaking Company of Weston. There is little cosmetic help for a corpse as badly burned as Henry Cole so a modest casket was selected and according to Ruth Mick, the body returned to Orlando by horse and buggy. Winter travel was difficult in the days of crude country roads from Weston to Three Lick. Flooding on Oil Creek also made travel difficult. After a difficult journey, the casket bearing the corpse of Henry Cole returned to his Orlando home. His widow, Mary Jane, had been seriously ill for several days and fear of contagion prevented her from opening her home to mourners and prevented her from leaving. Mary Jane viewed the badly burned corpse of her husband from a window before the casket was sealed for burial. The raging flood waters of Oil Creek made it impossible for a burial that day and that final act would have to wait until the next day, February 28th. With due solemnity, Reverend Emory F. Keller of the Orlando United Brethren Church officiated at the burial of Henry Harrison Cole, the grandson of a German immigrant and son of a Civil War veteran, as he was buried in the Orlando Cemetery.
. . . . .
Comment 1 by Marilyn (Cole) Posey
William Cole, the father of Henry Harrison Cole, operated a grist mill near Blackburn. The grist mill was located in the meadow on the right at the intersection of the Indian Fork Road and the Rocky Fork Road. The William and Mary (Hefner) Cole home was located across the creek and on the hill overlooking the mill. My great-great grandparents attended the Blackburn Methodist Church and are buried in the church cemetery. William died in 1891 and Mary died in 1914.
Comment 2 by David Parmer
Simon Cole, one of the younger children of Henry Harrison and Mary Jane (Heater) Cole, enlisted in the United States Navy during World War I. In late November, 1918, after the war was over, but while he was still serving aboard the battleship U. S. S. Pennsylvania, Simon received a telegram from home advising him that his teen aged sister, Elizabeth, had passed away. The telegram has been preserved to this day. After his discharge from the Navy, Simon returned to Orlando, married Tressie Sibyl Heater, daughter of Andrew Jackson and Ora (Riffle) Heater, and eventually moved to Gassaway. Simon was a long time employee of the Hope Gas Company. His son, Simon Junior, was also a long time employee of Hope Gas Company and was a long time Mayor of Gassaway. Simon’s youngest son, Jim, recently retired as the Executive Vice President of Allegheny Wood Products, one of the largest lumber companies in West Virginia. Jesse Cole, also a son of Henry Harrison and Mary Jane (Heater) Cole, moved from Buzzardtown [Posey Run area] to Gassaway in 1935 to operate a garage and filling station for his older brother Simon.
Left above: Simon in his Navy uniform
Left: Simon and Tressie Sibyl (Heater) Cole
Comment 3 by David Parmer
The name “Ratliff” seems to be spelled as many different ways as there are letters in the alphabet. Minnie Radcliff, with whom Henry Harrison Cole was staying the evening of his death, was the grandson of James Ratliff of Rocky Fork. Other variations of the name are Ratcliff, Ratcliffe, Redcliff, Redcliffe, Radcliffe, Ratleff. All of the ways the name has been spelled creates problems in genealogy research. Most “Ratliffs” seem to acknowledge that they are still related to the persons who spell the last name differently.
Thanks to David Kuhl who corrected the first name of Mr. Windon with his comment: "The name of the hired hand hung with Henry Kuhl was Hamlton W. Windon not Gabriel.
Dave Kuhl email@example.com"