By Bob Weaver

The Hellfire Band was an organized vigilante group that roved the West Fork River Valley, a group of men described as renegades and thieves, claiming they provided law enforcement and justice to the region.

The premise of the Civil War was not revered, when locals went in all directions to wreak havoc.

Hellfire Band member, Daniel F. McCune, son of early Calhoun settler Peter McCune, was one of the principals in the outlaw group. He was born in 1800 and died about 1850 in a Richmond VA penitentiary, where he was sent for the 1843 murder of Calhouner Jonathan Nicholas.

Col. D. S. Dewees in "Recollections of a Lifetime," recalls McCune and three other members of the renegade Hellfire Band, Jackson Cottrell, Joseph Parsons, Alexander Turner were tried and convicted for the murder of Nicholas. They were sentenced to 18 years in prison in Richmond, Va.

Mostly the band preyed upon law abiding citizens, resulting in one of the earliest calls for some kind of law enforcement in a region that was to become Calhoun County.

Jonathan Nicholas was the overseer in charge of building a road along the West Fork in what was to become Washington and Lee Districts. Nicholas was a first cousin to Daniel McCune's wife, Rebbecca.

The Hellfire Band, while roving the West Fork River Valley, claimed they wanted to preserve the wildlife of the region for a sportsman's paradise, opposed to all newcomers or improvements.

Nicholas, with his road building efforts, was an assault upon their "preservationist" beliefs.

Jackson Cottrell was pardoned after five years, Alexander Turner died on the road to the penitentiary near White Sulfur Springs, Greenbrier County, and Joseph Parsons died soon after going to prison.

Daniel McCune died in prison two or three years after Cottrell was pardoned, about 1850.


Some of the descendants of the Hellfire Band joined irregular groups when the Civil War started.

Arnoldsburg resident Peregrine Hays, a sheriff of Gilmer and Calhoun Counties, and George Silcott formed a militia during the Civil War known as the Moccasin Rangers.

George Downs was elected captain, with Daniel Dusky and Peter Saurburn(Sauborne) being among its' ranks. Saurborne was beheaded during the war.

Perry Conley and Nancy Hart, the "Lady Guerrilla," helped organize an irregular group of renegades in Calhoun County.

While some Calhoun citizens left the Moccasin Rangers disgusted with its thieving ways, General Heth continued to describe the group as band of robbers and plunderers.

During the war Francis Butler was killed on Big Otter by his brother-in-law, Thomas Cadle, a member of Capt. Absolom Knotts' Co E 14th VA Cavalry.

Cadle was indicted and convicted of murder in the first degree and sentenced to be hanged. He was confined in the Roane County jail, but before the day of his execution he broke jail and escaped.

He had threatened to take the life of Oliver M. Butler, another brother-in-law, and while Cadle was sneaking about the premises of Butler in the deadly Booger Hole area near Big Otter, Butler shot him.

The shot inflicted a severe wound in the Cadle's knee, dying some days after. Butler was indicted and acquitted.

The Booger Hole bushwhackers, home guards and various vagabonds frequented "The Hole" near Big Otter, many of them having an outlaw past.

Captain Perry Conley's renegades played havoc with some of Booger Hole's early settlers. Conley, known as the "Quantrel of West Virginia," led the outlaw wing of the infamous Moccasin Rangers.

Riding with Conley was the lady guerrilla, Nancy Hart, a woman who could outride and outshoot any man.

James Rogers organized a home guard in Booger Hole. Rogers and a neighbor Soloman Carpenter were patrolling the holler one night when they encountered the Moccasin Rangers.

Captain Perry Connolly and the Moccasins took Rogers and Carpenter up a nearby holler, tied them to a tree and riddled them with bullets.

This was how the Yankees had murdered Nancys brother-in-law William Price.

The Braxton Home Guards found Conley and Nancy Hart on Stinson in Calhoun, firing upon them.

Some say Conley was shot and beat to death with gun-butts in 1862.

Hart escaped to Nicholas County.

Read Nancy Hart tales under PEOPLE, HUMOR AND HISTORY