Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Murder of a Red Lick Bachelor

by David Parmer

An Aging Bachelor
He was a bachelor, confirmed and dedicated, and a farmer, self-sufficient in all respects. His closest friend was his faithful dog whose name is now unknown. In 1904, a person’s needs were few, and wants were even less, especially for a bachelor, whose only responsibility was a canine. Charles W. Traylor was born in 1837; in October 1904 he was sixty-seven years old and he had farmed his land, which drained partly into Red Lick and partly into Clover Fork, for over forty years.

Right: Charles Taylor and his best friend

The Coal and Coke Railroad
Clover Fork was a tranquil place in 1904, or had been before the Coal and Coke Railroad decided to locate its rail line through the valley on its way to Orlando and then on to Charleston. The clang of a sledge hammer on railroad spikes was jarring to the peace of the valley. The ribbons of steel being laid on stone ballast looked out of place on the bank above Clover Fork, especially as sheep, cows and horses grazed the flanks of the road of steel. Farmers whose farms adjoined the railroad tracks had not yet thought about the change about to come into their pattern of their lives and the lives of the livestock which would now have to cross the tracks in search of water from Clover Fork.

Work on the tunnel identified as the Jacksonville Tunnel No. 10 was slowly progressing through the hill on the Cunningham farm near Charles Traylor’s humble abode which was at the head of the Red Lick side of the hill, and many strangers were seen coming and going along the railroad right of way. An occasional boom could be heard as dynamite was used to blast the rock in the tunnel which was slowly creeping its way through 1888 feet of bed rock.

"My Money Is Under the Flour Barrel"
One of Charles Traylor’s closest friends was his nephew, Vaden Traylor. Vaden was farming part of the same farm which had been in the Traylor family from before 1860. He was the son of Lang and Eliza (Cunningham) Traylor, daughter of John J. and Lucy (Craig) Cunningham who were also long-time residents of the Clover Fork area. With many newcomers in the area and suspicious-looking strangers who were working on the Coal and Coke Railroad project, Charles confided to his nephew that he was concerned that one of these strangers might try to rob him. Charles also revealed to Vaden that he had hidden his money under the flour barrel in his home and that he trusted it would be a safe hiding place.

Left: an article published in the Weston Democrat.
Right: example of flour barrel.

October 5, 1904
October 5th, 1904 was a Wednesday, a normal working day for a Red Lick farmer who was in the midst of fall harvest. According to Charles Bennett, who today lives about two miles from the Charles Traylor farm of 1904, and whose family has lived on Clover Fork for over one hundred fifty years, the tale of October 5, 1904 was told often when Charles was growing up on Clover Fork. Nina (Smarr) Myers also remembers the tales which were told during her youth on Clover Fork when she was coming to maturity in the household of her foster parents, Abia and Etta (Cunningham) Holbert, close neighbors of Charles Traylor. Madeline Scott, a ninety year old, lifetime resident of Clover Fork, is the grand-niece of Charles Traylor, granddaughter of Lang Traylor, and daughter of Vaden and Burla (Daugherty) Traylor and recalls mention of the tragedy when she was growing up on Clover Fork. Bits and pieces of the tales sewn together give us a semblance of a reconstruction of the events of that day which took the life of Red Lick bachelor.

Right: Madeline (Traylor) Scott with her husband Vorris

Charles Traylor was working in the loft of his barn. It is likely that he was putting hay or grain of some sort just harvested in the barn loft. His faithful dog as always was on duty in or about the residence. It isn’t unusual for a dog to bark in a rural environment. Rabbits, groundhogs, snakes or other small game or vermin can attract the attention of a trusty guard dog and be the object of its bark. Perhaps Charles heard his dog bark and thought it was nothing to be concerned about as he worked in the loft. However, the sound of a fired pistol certainly was not expected, nor the yelp of a shot dog. When the yelp of his dog was heard, Charles, no doubt, rushed to the opening of the loft and saw the perpetrator. Without an eye-witness, we can only speculate that the dog’s killer saw Charles and fired at him, and unfortunately hit his mark. Charles was found dead of a gunshot wounds in the barnyard, beneath the loft opening.

Left: portrait of Charles Trayor made from the photo at the top of the page.

An Unsolved Murder
The official cause of the death of Charles Traylor by the Lewis County coroner was “murder.” In the early 1900’s, there were no state police in West Virginia. The only law enforcement available to the rural areas of Lewis County lay in the jurisdiction of the Sheriff of Lewis County. The year of the murder was an election year and October was the month before the general election. A sheriff is an elected official who usually politicks the month before an election. Whether the sitting sheriff made an effort to make a diligent investigation of the murder of Charles Traylor, we will never know. We do know that no one was ever arrested for the murder of Charles Traylor and the murder of the Red Lick bachelor was never solved.

It is generally believed that the Sheriff of Lewis County questioned a worker on the tunnel project, a man who had not been to work, or was late coming to work on the day of the murder but no charges were filed against him

The Money was There
After his uncle was laid to rest, Vaden Traylor went to his uncle’s home, and mindful of his previous conversation with Charles about the hiding place for his money, moved the flour barrel and found the stash undisturbed.

Lost to the Ages
Today, Charles Traylor lies buried in the Jacksonville Cemetery and the circumstances of his death are lost to the ages. Without question, his killer is also dead but his dastardly deed went unpunished. His identity likewise is lost to the ages.

. . . . .

Comment 1 by Charles Bennett
When I was growing up on Clover Fork, I heard stories about the murder of Charles Traylor who had a farm on the Orlando side of the Clover Fork railroad tunnel. My uncle Joe Bennett and my grandmother Edna Bennett frequently spoke of the terrible act and how unsettling it was on the neighborhood. My uncle Joe reminisced that Vaden Traylor who was a nephew of the murdered man took to carrying an old pistol around with him for protection wherever he went. The only trouble was, he kept losing his pistol, and he spent a considerable amount of time looking for it.

Comment 2 by David Parmer
A perusal of the 1860 census records of the area of the Charles Traylor farm is useful to ascertain the nearby neighbors of Charles Traylor. The following appear to have lived close to the farm of Charles Traylor in 1860: Washington Groves , Henry Cosner, Susan Cosner, Luther Skinner, and Thomas Posey.

Comment 3 by David Parmer
The 1860 census of Lewis County reveals the following census information about the Traylor family. It is noted that the census taker misspelled the family name as “Trailer.” For purposes of this comment, the family name will be spelled correctly.

Name Age Occupation

Traylor, Charles 23 Farmer
Traylor, Fieln (?) 60 Farmer
Traylor, Julia 45
Traylor, Sarah 24
Traylor, Martia 19
Traylor, Bruce L. 18
Traylor, Emily N. 13
Traylor, Thomas L. 11
Traylor, Erzurum R. 7
Traylor, Joseph 1
Eliza Rigmy 49

It is also noted that the person listed as “Fieln” Traylor, presumably is the father of Charles Chesterfield Traylor and Julia is his wife and mother of Charles. The census taker or the compiler placed a question mark after the spelling of “Fieln’s” name, indicating some uncertainty about the spelling. To further add to the confusion of the name, there is a grave marker in the Jacksonville Cemetery in the area where the Traylor family is buried for “C. Traylor,” born in 1799 and died in 1861. This likely is the father of Charles Traylor and husband of Julia. Julia died in 1891. On her death certificate, her place of birth was listed as Franklin County, Virginia. Her spouse was listed as William C. “ Taylor,” another misspelling.

Relevant information from the Jacksonville Cemetery is as follows:

Traylor, C. 1799-1861
Traylor, Julia w/o W. C. 1814-1891
Traylor, Bruce, s/o W. C. and J. A. Died 8/12/1875 Aged 32y 8m 16d
Rigney, Eliza Died 3/12/1876 Aged 63y1m6d
Traylor, Ezra Runner,s/o W.C and J.A. Died 7/20/1876 Aged 25y9m22d
Traylor, Joseph 1858-1896
Traylor, Charles W. 4/23-1837 – 10/5/1904
Traylor, Langdon T. 1849-1917
Traylor, Eliza A, Cunningham 1860-1948


  1. I really do hate to say this but how can the nephew be ruled out? He knew about the money, and, changing the scenario presented about the hypothetical murder details, what if there was no struggle and he was taken by surprise because he knew the person? I don't know the guy so of course I hate to accuse, maybe I've watched too many cop shows.

  2. I've been trying to solve the murder too, even though I find, time after time, that there are facts I didn't have which change the story completely. Too much CSI TV for me, I guess.
    I think the old gentleman told his nephew where the money was because he knew someone was angry enough with him to try to kill him. Those worker camps were pretty rough places. Maybe an insult, or a poker game?

  3. When my father, Thomas E."Tom" Grove/s, was a student attending high school in Walkersville, he would take the tunnel as a short cut. He was involved in student activities so he walked the tunnel in the dark many times. He told me that the story about this death, although he thought someone had been hung at the entrance to the tunnel, haunted him sixteen years after it happened every time he would walk the tunnel.

  4. I have the parents of Charles as Chesterfield Traylor and Nancy Rigney. That combined with David Palmer's Jacksonville Cemetery readings seems to support my files. Notice, Rigney, Eliza Died 3/12/1876 Aged 63y1m6d, I wonder if she was Nancy's mother or sister?

  5. Darrell, I've heard that that tunnel is just big enough for the train to go through. Anything sticking off the train would be torn away when it hit the tunnel. Also, there are little niches cut into the rock every so often indside the tunnel for the workers to stand in if they were in there when the train came through. Is that so? Makes it seem like a pretty scarey shortcut to me, too, if that's so.