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The Way We Were

Clips from available Mountain Eagle pages since our founding in 1907

THURSDAY, JULY 18, 1929

Charges have been dismissed against two men who were accused of criminal wrongdoing in the drowning death of newlywed Gabe Hughes at Jenkins Lake. Letcher County Judge Noah Bentley ordered the charges dropped at the end of an “examining hearing” in which testimony was heard from the victim’s wife, Josie Hughes. Mrs. Hughes told Bentley that the two men accused in her husband’s death, James H. Varney and William Wright, both section foremen at Consolidation Coal Co.’s Dunham mine, were the “warmest of friends” with her new husband, who had gone to the lake voluntarily for one of two “duckings” that were planned. Cubba Mullins, second newlywed who was to be “ducked” that same night, testified that Hughes had asked to be thrown in first and chose to have it done from a concrete diving school so he could swim out of the lake. Mullins, who said the baptisms “were a matter of fun only,” testified Hughes came to the top of the water once, but sank to rise no more. Two men dived in after Hughes, but he could not be resuscitated. Vanover called The Mountain Eagle after the hearing to talk about the incident. Vanover said the loss of their good friend Hughes “has cast a shadow” over his life and that of William Wright that will never leave. “All the young men engaged in the tragedy are said to be fine, moral fellows and well liked by all who know them,” The Eagle reports in a front-page story.

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Rural school teachers in Letcher County and elsewhere in Kentucky will have only $8.15 in state money to spend on each student this year, a drop from $11.25 per student last year.

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Letcher County Constable Matthew Collins was seriously wounded Tuesday after being shot by ambush from long range. Collins, who serves the Colson district, was shot in the front part of his foot by someone hiding in a cluster of bushes located about 200 yards away from where he was standing. The shooter fired two shots, but only one of the bullets connected, tearing through his foot before coming out in the center of the heel.

THURSDAY, JULY 20, 1939

A Whitesburg man was shot and killed Saturday night near Millstone, where he had apparently been meeting with his lover. Demmer Richmond, a 41-year-old World War I veteran, died about 9 o’clock after being shot in the face and back. Charged with murdering Richmond is 45-year-old Henry Holbrook, whose ex-wife Richmond, a married father, apparently had been visiting. Authorities say Richmond was hot while checking to see why his car wouldn’t start when he returned from an hour’s visit with the woman. The car’s gas line had been cut intentionally. “Aside from his connection with the woman mentioned above, Demmer was a find and reputable citizen,” The Mountain Eagle reports.

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Matchmaker Ivan Mullins is the promoter of five boxing matches scheduled for July 29 in the Jenkins Fieldhouse. Boxers from a cross the nation will compete in one six-round match, four eight-round matches, and the main event of 12 rounds between Frankie Hughes and Remo Fernandez.

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A Letcher County coal miner is dead after being shot by one of two suspects — his former brother-in-law Sam Bates (Black Rob’s son) or Bill Hall. Geeter English was killed on Thornton Road in front of John S. Webb’s residence after he and the two suspects were involved in what is being called “a drinking racket.” According to The Mountain Eagle, “Bates and Hall are well connected in the county. English came to the Thornton section from Tennessee several years ago and married a daughter of the late Robert “Black Rob” Bates, who was then a merchant on Thornton Creek. The couple had been separated for several years.

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Word is that a “peace truce” will soon be signed between the United Mine Workers of America and the Harlan County Coal Operators Association. Officials for both sides are meeting in Knoxville, Tennessee to try to work out an agreement to end the long and deadly coal strike.

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The movies “Frankenstein,” starring Boris Karloff, and “Dracula,” starring Bela Lugosi, will show next Wednesday and Thursday at the Bentley Theatre in Neon.

THURSDAY, JULY 21, 1949

The Jenkins Kiwanis Club has set the official opening for the club’s new swimming pool at the former location of the Goodwater Dam. “These Kiwanians have really put forth plenty of manual labor, from cutting and clearing brush to painting the pool and surroundings,” writes The Eagle’s Jenkins correspondent, Bliss Farley. “The depth of the pool varies from two feet to nine feet. Showers and baskets are available in the new bathhouse.”

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The remains of Army Private First Class Lee Craft Bates were returned to Letcher County for burial on July 14. PFC Bates, who was known to his family and friends as Dickie, was killed in action during a battle in Okinawa on May 7, 1945. He was 21 years old. He was buried July 17 at the Payne Gap home of his mother, Ida H. Banks.

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Kyva Motor Company President Wilson S. Renaker died at his home in Whitesburg Wednesday night. He was 54. A former employee of South-East Coal Company, he had suffered from a long illness that began to grow worse about three weeks ago.

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Smitties’ Dry Cleaning plant, located beside the Kentucky River on Jail Street in Whitesburg, was destroyed by fire on the evening of July 14. Owner C.W. Smittie estimates his loss at $12,000. He says he will build a new plant that will cost about $20,000 to open.

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Sam Bates of Whitesburg and six others accused of operating a wholesale whiskey business in a dry territory were sentenced and fined on Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Jackson. Bates, listed by the federal government as the “boss” of the Letcher County operation, was sentenced to serve two years in prison and was fined $5,000. The others received lesser sentences. At the trial’s opening Monday, the government said it could prove that Bates and the others provided whiskey illegally to 25 to 30 persons at Cornettsville. Bates had threatened to “have the law” on these people if they didn’t buy illegal whiskey from him, the government added. The record shows that Bates is an ex-convict who was given life prison sentences for killing his brother, Robert Bates, and later for killing Henry Bentley on Rockhouse. For several years Bates operated a roadhouse on Tunnel Hill in Whitesburg that was the scene of several shooting deaths and other criminal acts. One of those shot and killed at the roadhouse was Bates’s first wife, Maxine. According to Letcher County court records, Bates has been indicted for willful murder four times, but was only convicted in the deaths of his brother and Bentley. He only served a short time in prison on each of those convictions after filing appeals. Presently, authorities are seeking the whereabouts of Mrs. Katie Fields, a mother of three children and sister of Maxine Bates. Mrs. Fields had been living in Bates’s home since the death of her sister. Bates’s current wife, Elizabeth, was convicted for murdering Maxine Bates, but served only one year in prison before being released on probation.

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Letcher Grocery Company of Whitesburg now boasts that it sells wholesale goods to 110 small stores in Letcher County.

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John Wayne and Laraine Day star in the film “Tycoon,” showing Thursday and Friday at the Elinda Ann Drive-In Theatre in Whitesburg.

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Arthur Lake and Lon Chaney Jr. star in “Sixteen Fathoms Deep,” showing Saturday at the Haymond Theatre.

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Cliff Hunsaker has opened a new place of business at Payne Gap. It is called The Cottage Café.

THURSDAY, JULY 23, 1959

Ruben Watts, who served as principal of Kingdom Come High School last year, is having a private audit made of lunchroom funds collected and dispersed at the school during his term there. Watts said he hired the auditor after Mrs. W.B. Hall, the county lunchroom director last year, and her husband, the superintendent of schools, told the Letcher County Board of Education Saturday that the lunchroom fund was short about $400. Watts denied a shortage exists, saying that Mrs. Hall failed to tell the board that $66.41 was stolen from his office during the year, that the lunchroom had accounts receivable totaling $304, and that $10.32 worth of milk was used by cooks in meal preparation a the lunchroom. The Kingdom Come lunchroom is the latest controversy stirred up by Superintendent and Mrs. Hall, who have come under heavy criticism from several board members who don’t think it is proper that she holds the lunchroom director’s position while her husband is the school boss. Watts said that pending the audit he has locked up the lunchroom’s records to protect himself from the Halls.

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Unemployment compensation claims have more than doubled since the nationwide strike of steelworkers began. The state has taken in about 700 applications for jobless benefits submitted by coal miners idled because the steel mills that use coal are shut down. Most of the workers idled by the strike are employees of Bethlehem Mines Corp. at Jenkins.

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Letcher County Schools will operate on a budget of $1.079 million next year, an increase of $42,530 from the year before.

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William Franklin Bailey of Blackey was sentenced to life in prison this week after being convicted of armed robbery. In April, Bailey took $320 at gunpoint from Mr. and Mrs. Leslie Jones.

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Major John D. Collins, a native of Colson and a graduate of Fleming High School, has been assigned as Special Weapons Coordinator with the Field Support Division at the Army Ballistic Missile Agency. The agency is an element of the Army Ordnance Missile Command, which is responsible for all missile and space programs assigned to the Army. Among the agency’s achievements is the launching of the free world’s first earth satellite, Explorer I, on January 31, 1958, and with launching the free world’s first satellite of the sun, Pioneer IV, on March 2, 1959.

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Robert Paul Atkinson of Stanton has accepted the job as basketball coach at Fleming-Neon High School.

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A harvest of 1,295 bales of oats was completed recently by Denver Miniard’s machines from the Stuart Robinson School farm near Blackey. The crop came from approximately 20 acres of the school’s farmland.

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Marshall Thompson and Marla Landi star in “First Man Into Space,” showing July 22-25 at the Alene Theatre in Whitesburg. The double feature also includes “Touch of Evil,” starring Charlton Heston and Janet Leigh.

THURSDAY, JULY 17, 1969

As the Apollo moon landing nears, a Mountain Eagle editorial talks about the changes that have occurred beginning with the Wright brothers building an airplane and ending with a rocket ship heading to the moon.

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Letcher County native Harrison Garrett Jr. is an aerospace engineer in the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Marshall Space Flight Center at Huntsville, Ala. He is one of the engineers responsible for the development of the Saturn V rocket that lifted Apollo II from earth early Wednesday morning.

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The Millstone Sewing Center takes used clothing and its staff transforms the clothing into useful articles that are distributed free to needy families. Since its opening, the Center has provided more than 12,000 articles of clothing for Letcher County families.

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The state has reached an agreement with the four surviving sons of Lilley Cornett to buy Cornett’s 556-acre virgin forest, but have yet to settle with Kentucky River Coal Co. and Virginia Iron, Coal and Coke Co., which own the mineral rights.

THURSDAY, JULY 12, 1979

The L&N and C&O railroads are planning a connection between their lines near Deane which should reduce shipping rates for coal mined in Letcher County and sold in the South. The branch line connecting the two railroads will shorten the route to Atlanta by 265 miles.

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The Whitesburg City Council has decided not to include the upper end of Solomon Branch in its annexation plans. Mayor Ferdinand Moore said a delegation of Solomon residents opposed the annexation.

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Unemployment in Letcher County fell to 9.4 percent in May, making it the lowest unemployment figure recorded in the county this year.

WEDNESDAY, JULY 19, 1989

“Two news reports underscore the tightening economic noose that is squeezing the economy of eastern Kentucky,” writes Whitesburg attorney and author Harry M. Caudill. The first report says that in the last 10 years eastern Kentucky counties lost 11,000 jobs in coal mining and 1,200 more in manufacturing. The second report is that the first shipment of five million tons of coal from Wyoming will soon arrive at American Electric Power’s generating plant in Indiana, making it likely that AEP’s Louisa plant will follow suit and buy cheap Wyoming coal.

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There is a possibility the Kentucky River Steering Committee may ask the state General Assembly to approve reservoirs in eastern Kentucky to supply water to Lexington, and a Letcher County citizens’ group has formed to fight the plan.

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State and federal money has been appropriated to help some Letcher Countians whose property was damaged by flooding. However the disaster relief won’t be available to residents of the Cram Creek, Pine Creek and Bottom Fork sections, despite heavy damage those areas received in late April. Judge/Executive Ruben Watts says the areas were hit by flooding before the period designated by the state Division of Disaster and Emergency Services.

WEDNESDAY, JULY 14, 1999

A motion to increase the minimum wage in Letcher County to $7.50 an hour, made by Judge/Executive Carroll Smith and seconded by Magistrate Wayne Fleming, was defeated. The current minimum wage is $5.15 an hour.

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Officials say there is a long way to go, but progress is being made on the three-county Red Fox recreational/industrial area. The project is planned to include a championship golf course, industrial sites, retail developments and a lodge. The industrial park will straddle Letcher, Knott and Perry county lines, and the three counties, all of which put coal severance tax money into the project, will share in any tax revenue from the park.

WEDNESDAY, JULY 15, 2009

Six Letcher County residents have already died from drug overdoses in 2009, raising the number of overdose deaths to 26 since 2006, Letcher County Coroner Wallace Bolling Jr. said. Bolling said the drugs most commonly found in overdose victims were painkillers methadone, hydrocodone, tramadol and oxycodone. One person overdosed from cocaine.

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Letcher County Fiscal Court members say more workers need to be hired to help keep the Fishpond Lake recreational area and other county parks clean of garbage and free of vandalism. “We are getting to the point where we are going to have to have a park ranger with arresting powers,” said Magistrate Wayne Fleming.

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Sam Church, former leader of the United Mine Workers of America, died July 14 after a long illness. A native of Matewan, W.Va., he began working in the mines in 1965 at Clinchfield Coal Co. in southwest Virginia. When Arnold Miller resigned for health reasons in 1979, Church became the union’s international president, a job he held until 1982.

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Twenty-one family, school and class reunions are listed in The Mountain Eagle this week. The reunions will take place through September 26.

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