Whether or not you are a history buff, people - especially in Logan and Mingo counties - should know that Mingo County was formed from Logan County in 1895. However, I'd bet very few people know that an old mountain moonshiner is credited with being the "daddy" of the project that led to Mingo's creation. Here's the story.
The old "shiner" has been given the credit for making it known that there was enough territory in Logan County for the formation of another county. There had been arguments raging for some time between the citizens of the Guyandotte and the Tug River valleys as to whether or not the current location of the county's courthouse should be moved to a more central location at the mouth of Pigeon Creek in what is now Mingo County.
Most of the county's population was on the Guyandotte side, giving the people in Logan the advantage in the election of county officers. Of course, this fact did not please the people in the western part of Logan County who had to ride horseback for two days just to reach the county seat.
When the N&W railroad started up the Tug River, bringing more people into that section, there was speculation that the courthouse should be relocated. It was about this time that a fellow named Ed Lilly was arrested for making moonshine and brought before Logan Circuit Judge Thomas Harvey, whose portrait still today hangs in a courtroom of the Logan courthouse.
Ed Lilly, who lived near Big Creek, which is not far from the town of Chapmanville, managed to hire an attorney who argued that his client did not live in Logan County at all, but in Lincoln County, and therefore, Lilly's trial should be conducted in Lincoln County.
Judge Harvey reportedly called in several residents of the Big Creek area and questioned them as to the exact location of the Logan-Lincoln county line. When he realized that he could not get a definite answer from these men, he determined that a trial could not be held until the defendant's residence was determined. Therefore, Judge Harvey ordered a survey to be made.
According to old newspaper records, three men from Logan and three men from Lincoln County were chosen to do the surveying. When the survey was completed, the results were quiet shocking. Not only was Lilly found to be living in Logan County, but there were several families who had thought for years they had been residing in Lincoln County when in fact they lived in Logan County.
Even more shocking was the fact that it was determined that almost half of what is now Chapmanville district was added to Logan County as a result of the momentous survey.
After this rather large new territory was added to Logan County, Judge Harvey determined there then was enough square miles in the county to allow for two counties to exist. This being true, then there was a good chance, Judge Harvey thought, to please people on both sides of the county by giving both sections their own county seats.
Dr. S.B. Lawson, a pioneering doctor in Logan, was elected to the Legislature and introduced the bill proposing that that Mingo County be cut off from Logan and another county seat set up.
More surveyors were hired, this time to determine a line along what is known as the dividing ridge between the Tug and Guyandotte river valleys to see if there was the required 400 square miles in each section to form two counties. One newspaper account said that the survey was done when the Tug River was at its lowest point "in order to get every possible square foot of land."
When the survey was completed, the surveyors reported there were approximately 812 square miles and that about 406 of them were in Logan County and the other half in what was to become Mingo County.
The matter was about to be put before the people for a vote when good ol' politics went into action. A group of men went to what is now the town of Williamson and purchased a large farm belonging to Ben Williamson, a distant relative of this writer and the namesake of what would become a bustling coal and railroad city.
Because these men were the only ones aware of the plans, they reportedly started a slick campaign for getting the new county formed by going to every man who owned a piece of bottom land of any size near the Tug River and told them that if they voted for making the new county, then more than likely the new county seat would be built on their lands.
The group also went to every prominent citizen and told them that the formation of a new county would allow them to be elected to such offices as sheriff, assessor or other offices. After such a powerful campaign, there were only six dissenting votes cast out of 1,000 people who voted in the special election to determine whether or not a new county should be created.
It was reported that people on both sides of what was Logan County were pleased. The citizens on the west got their new county seat, while Logan's residents got to keep theirs.
The truth of the matter is that politicians in Logan feared that with the railroad already having reached Dingess, and with it progressing along the Tug River side of the county, there would sooner or later be more people living in that section of the county, which inevitably would affect the outcome of local elections, thus changing the power structure enjoyed by a handful of prominent Loganites. Of course, that part of the equation changed when the railroad did reach Logan in 1904, as both Logan and Williamson began to blossom.
Just think about it. All of the great basketball games between the Williamson Wolfpack and Logan Wildcats, and indeed all of the hard-fought sports battles of Chapmanville and Man, versus the likes of teams from Lenore, Gilbert, Burch and Matewan over years past could never have transpired had it not been for the likes of one man, who just happened to enjoy making his moonshine.
It is said that the highly liked Ed Lilly, who was eventually tried and convicted in Logan of his moonshine making activities - which at that time were not exactly a public disgrace - died a broken and penniless man. But regardless, Ed Lilly was responsible for the survey that resulted in the creation of Mingo County. Now, perhaps for the first time ever, residents of both counties have been provided the proof.
And to credit Mr. Lilly's moonshining abilities, let's just agree that it is 100 percent proof.
Dwight Williamson serves as magistrate in Logan County. He writes a weekly column for HD Media.