Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Charles Lee Riffle, 1872-1949, Laid to Rest

by David Parmer and Ed Riffle

His grandson, Edgar Riffle, remembers the horse and wagon slowly ascending the steep hill to the Posey Cemetery. Despite the frozen and uneven terrain, the casket of Charles Riffle bounced but little on the way to his final resting space. The funeral service at the Orlando U. B. Church had been solemn and respectful and the small church was full of family and friends. On a cold day in February, 1949, Charles Riffle was laid to rest and joined his late wife, Donie Zeler (Blake) Riffle, who had died twelve years before.

Left: Donie Zella (Blake) Riffle and Charles Lee Riffle
Right: Young Eddy Riffle, about the time his grandfather died.

A Wedding on Clover Fork
Donie (b. 1870) and Charles (b. 1872) were born and raised in the Oil Creek watershed. Donie was twenty and Charles was twenty-one in early September, 1891. That is when they were married by the Methodist Protestant preacher, the Rev. W. A. Law, at the home of Elizabeth (Sands) Blake Donaldson and her new husband James Donaldson. In the Protestant tradition of the time, folks generally married at home or in the minister's study. Sometimes it was the the home of the bride's parents, sometimes another's home. While we can't know exactly why Charles and Donie were married at the home of Elizabeth and James Donaldson, we do know that Elizabeth was a first cousin of Donie's mom and Charles Lee was a first cousin of Elizabeth's first husband, Thomas Blake. (Joseph Thomas "Thomas" Blake had died of typhoid fever seven years earlier. His widow, Elizabeth, and James Donaldson had been married about two years at the time of the wedding.)

Right: Charles and Donie's wedding certificate. Note that Doni is incorrectly named "Dianah" The facts about their wedding were taken from this form. Click on the certificate to enlarge it. .

Their Immigrant Ancestors
Charles Lee Riffle and Donie Z. Blake were descendants of the Riffles, Blakes, Ocheltrees and Williamses, who, with the Skinner/Poseys, were Oil Creek's earliest pioneers.

~~Doni's mother's family, the Ocheltrees, Williams and McCoys, were part of a Scots-Irish settlement in Greenbrier County.

~~Charles' father's family, the Riffles, were German immigrants. According to genealogist Don Norman, "Jacob Riffle was born in Germany about 1725 and died in Lewis County VA in 1816. He arrived at the port of Philadelphia, PA aboard the ship "Phoenix", John Mason commanding, August 28, 1750. Settlement of Jacob 's estate was recorded November 2, 1816 in Lewis County VA Will Book #1, p ages 2-4. He married Dorothy ------ in Harrison County VA about 1768. Dorothy was born about 1745 and died in Braxton County in 1817.

The History of Randolph County by Hu Maxwell written in 1898 says "Jacob Riffle was one of the first settlers in Randolph County. There is evidence that he was in the [Tygart] valley in 1772, and that he subsequently owned or had claim upon 300 acres of land on the creek named from him. . . The tradition is that he deserted from the Virginia Army during the French and Indian War and in his efforts to hide, he found his way into Tygart's Valley soon after the Pringles, also deserters, had made their camp in a hollow sycamore on the Buckhannon. He is said to have owned two slaves. His son's name was Jacob and he, probably accompanied by his father, moved to Braxton County at an early date." They settled in the Oil Creek/Salt Lick area of the LIttle Kanawha River.

~~ In addition to these two lines, Doni and Charles both descended also from an English mariner, Jasper Blake, through his great grandson Theophilus Blake, who set to pioneer farming with the Scots-Irish in Greenbrier County.

Charles's parents were Stewart/Steward Lewis Riffle and Abigail (Blake) Riffle, Charles’ father was known throughout Orlando as “Stewart L” and his mother was called "Abby."

Their Grandfathers & Great-Grandfathers

Charles' grandfather, that is, Abby's father John William Blake, died in the Civil War, in service to the Confederate States of America, according to Lee W Blake's monograph, "The Riffles and Blakes Back 7 Generations.

Charles' other grandfather, Stewart L.'s father, Jacob Isaac Riffle, left a very different legacy. Jacob had many children (perhaps as many as twenty) by two wives, Francena Blake and Matilda Riffle and allegedly many more “woods colts.” The descendants of Jacob are omnipresent throughout central West Virginia and all are, no doubt, keenly aware of the many stories about the “sire of the shire.

Above right: Stewart L. Riffle on the right with John Fountain Posey.
Left: John Jackson and Eliza (Ocheltree) Blake.

Doni's parents were John Jackson and Eliza (Ocheltree) Blake. Doni's great-great grandfather Alexander Ocheltree was was among the Protestant Scotsmen who were moved from Scotland to Northern Ireland because of their religious beliefs, and then came to America. Andrew settled in the Greenbrier area and married Elizabeth McCoy, another Scots-Irish immigrant. In 1778 Alexander was killed in the Indian battle at Donnely's Fort.

Their Children

Charles and Donie Zeler Riffle were the parents of seven children:
.. . Josie married Bill Beckner. Bill worked the tracks between Orlando and Burnsville, with Josie's cousin Patrick Newton "Newt" Blake (aka: Uncle Zeke).
. .. Della married Marion Wymer and they farmed on Three Lick.
. .. Vay Rene never married.
. . Homer Ellis married an Orlando girl, Pearl Barb.
. .. Dana Herbert married Wade Mick's daughter Nellie.
. .. ClarenceBrownie,” worked for the rail road and married Treecy Riffle from Boone County.
.. . Jackson Gilbert "Jack" worked at the Hazel-Atlas glass factory in Clarksburg. there he met his bride, Bernice Knapp from Doddridge County. The materials and photos in this entry belong to their son Ed.

Left: Doni with sons Brownie, Jack and Dana.
Above, right: Charles with Josie, Brownie, Dana, Ellis, Della, Jackson and Vay. Roy Brown has said this photo was taken at the mouth of grass run, facing up the holler. They are in side yard behind the log house that is now torn down. It was his 75 th.birthday, Nov. 1, 1948. He died Feb 5, 1949, 3 mo. later.

Charles' Life
Like most of his contemporaries, Charles was a farmer for most of his life. He never became wealthy from his agrarian pursuits, but provided food, clothing and shelter for his children. Except for a few years at McWhorter, Charles lived most of his life on farms in and around Orlando.

From his grandson Ed Riffle we know that, like most folks in the area, Charles Lee loved country music. Ed reports that his grandfather loved listening to country music from WJJD in Chicago and WCKY in Cincinnati, Ohio on an old battery-operated radio. Maybe it isn't surprising that Charles’ son, Clarence "Brownie," was known as an outstanding music-maker in the Orlando area and since Charles was descended from the musical line of John Burton "Johnnie B" Blake on both his father's and mother's sides.
Right: daughter Josie (Riffle) Beckner is fixing her hair in front. Behind is the Posey Cemetery, where Charles and Donie were laid to rest.

Looking Backward
It has been sixty years since the horse and wagon climbed the hill to the Posey Run Cemetery to lay Charles Lee Riffle to rest beside his bride, Donie. Family who knew him in life are now old themselves. Memories have faded but the photographs of Charles and Donie return to their descendants a precious look at the life and times of their grandparents who loved the land of their births.

. . . . .

Note 1: Donie Blake: What’s in a Name?
What did John Jackson Blake and Eliza (Ocheltree) Blake, name their daughter? Ed Riffle recalls that his aunt Josie Beckner said her mother’s name was Donnie Zellar. Grandson Clarence Riffle, Jr. stated in a newspaper article dated 1995 that her name was Donna Zellar. Her birth record has "Donzillia". The 1870 census has "Donzeller". Her marriage record has "Dianah". The newspaper account of her death in the Weston Independent said her name was “Donie Zeller.” In the obituary of Charles in the Weston Independent, her name was spelled “Donniee Zella.” Her tombstone in the Posey Cemetery simplifies it somewhat and reads “Donie Z. Riffle.” The official death certificate indicates that her middle name was “Zeler.” Charles was the informant for the spelling on her death certificate and perhaps his knowledge carries more weight than the other sources. Likewise, there is confusion about her date of birth and the date of her marriage. but if the tangled confusion could not be resolved during her lifetime by her family there is little hope for this writer to straighten it out.

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