CALHOUN REDMEN BECAME VIGILANTES - Legitimate Lodge Turns Brutal

(01/24/2017)

Grantsville Redmen Lodge members during better days (L to R) Claude Gherke, Valerie Gherke Poling and Ed Marshall - Circa early 1900's.

By Bob Weaver 2006

The Redmen Lodge was a legitimate fraternal organization in parts of rural West Virginia, including Calhoun County. The lodge created membership for women, who were known as "Pocahontas." Several lodges sprung around Calhoun in the 1800's and some continued into the early part of the 20th century.

Unfortunately, some so-called "lodges" became vigilante groups, particularly between 1870 and 1900. The Red Men split into loosely organized community bands, becoming secret orders. They were bound together and sworn to elevate the morals of the community by taking upon themselves the chastising and flogging of any person who was "not living right."

Ceremonial plaster Indian head 16" and Redmen axe used
at Doddrill, Calhoun Co. (Compliments Bill Gherke)

Ceremonial badges used by Redmen members at
Doddrill, Calhoun Co.(Compliments Bill Gherke)

Newspaper accounts are confusing at times, mixing Redmen episodes with the activities of the Klu Klux Klan.

John Jennings and his wife were shot in Wetzel County in 1873. Jennings died and his wife survived, their faces painted red. John Wallace was lynched by a mob. Fifty horsemen rode into Mannington in 1879, but were turned back after they "chastised" a Mr. Neely. Freeman Hunt was "ordered to work."

It is said the vigilante groups gave the "official" Redmen Lodge, a bad name.

In Wirt County Sam Ring was beaten and ordered to leave in 1879 with 40 mounted Redmen riding through Elizabeth with hickory switches.

In 1879 the home of Jacob Elliott was burned to the ground by vigilantes at Smithville, Ritchie County.

In 1881 Dr. Daniel Cain was whipped by ruffians in Reedy District.

In 1881, Marcellus Fogle was whipped in Grantsville and Mrs. Packer's house near Elizabeth was torn down after she was beaten.

Numerous stories appeared in the Wheeling papers regarding nefarious activities with articles entitled Crimson Outlaws of Wetzel County, High-Handed Outlawry, Vigilante Movements, Roane Vigilantes, and A Cut-Throat Crowd.

An account of a Minnora, Calhoun County, woman who was reportedly "straightened up" by a group of Redmen from Washington District appeared in the Calhoun Chronicle in 1894.

"Word again reaches us that a band of masked men gathered at the house of one "Sis" King, near Minnora, a few nights ago and took her from her bed in her night clothes and each proceeded to administer two well laid on lashes. It is told that the screams of the tortured woman made the night hideous for some distance."

"It is also told that there were forty men in the gang. With our personal knowledge of the citizens of Washington district we are astonished to think such an act could be perpetrated, but that it was, and that there were forty men accessories to the crime utterly astonishes us.

"For what was this woman whipped? One says for adultery. Admitting her to be an adulterous woman such offenses are punishable by fine or imprisonment in the county jail or both. While the offense of whipping a person as above indicated is a felony and is punishable by confinement in the penitentiary."

"We were warned by a friend some time ago when we said something about a like matter if we didn't "quit it" we would lose some subscribers in that community. Be this as it may, we can't in justice to the fair name of the county, in justice to the good citizens of that neighborhood (and we repeat "there are many such"), in justice to the general welfare, peace and prosperity of all the people, in justice to humanity let this matter go without entering our solemn protest and disapproval of such conduct. As to losing subscribers for entertaining the opinion we do about such matters we can not now believe that any Chronicle subscriber would be guilty of such conduct."

The "Redmen Act" was passed in West Virginia to prevent vigilante activities, and in Calhoun was used in an attempt to prosecute individuals for what is known as "The Whippings at Sand Ridge."

Thirteen Calhoun persons were indicted in August, 1910 for complicity in the whipping of Rev. Scott Williams, a holiness preacher. Dozens more participated in the act. Albert and Wesley Poling were held under bond to appear in the case, since they witnessed the event.

A large number of masked riders on horses descended on Rev. Williams, dragging him from his dwelling with a pillowcase over his head. Five of the masked men beat the clergyman, severely lacerating his body.

The Polings had assisted the Rev. Williams in coming to Calhoun, but for months rumors about the preacher's doctrine had spread around the county, indicating he was "preaching against God" and "had young nude girls participating in some meetings," all false claims.

Medallion worn by members at Doddrill
lodge, Calhoun Co. (Compliments Bill Gherke)

A newspaper account said "Wesley Poling, an aged and highly respected citizen, and his son, Albert, who is also a first class citizen, were attracted to the scene of the whipping by the noise made by the mob, and implored the maskers to desist in the cruel designs, but they were of the same faith as the preacher and were given the same dose as he." The Polings, founders of the historic Sand Ridge round church, were tied to a tree and beaten. It has been told, Albert Poling uttered a blessing upon his persecutors every time he was whipped

The court attempted to locate the Rev. Williams to obtain additional information, but he returned to Oklahoma. No one was prosecuted for the attack.

Here is another photo of the Loyal Order of Redmen and Pocahontas's in Grantsville in the early 1900's. The group was in costume for some kind of theatrical production, from Associate Editor Norma Knotts Shaffer's collection.

First row, left to right: Herbert Stump, Walter Marshall,
Oral Hathaway, John Hamilton, Dallas Stutler, Bess Stalnaker,
Edna Jeffreys, Mildred Marshall, Jean Stump, Jim Barr and
Victor Hamilton;
Second row: Gorda Vanhorn, "Budge"
Marshall, Owen Stutler, Cecil Marshall, George Barr

Photo Courtesy of Robert J., Jr. and Hazel Collins Knotts

Accounts of the Sand Ridge whippings can be found in a book published by Cora Palmer Foester and Alice Palmer Ramsey, two Calhoun women who recall their lives in Calhoun on a small farm on Sycamore. The book contains numerous accounts of days gone by and subsistence farming.

"It Happened in West Virginia" is available from Word Association Publishers, 205 5th Avenue, Tarentum PA 15084 - PHONE 1-800-827-7903 for price and ordering information.


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