Doddridge County’s Silver Mining Craze
I was recently asked by one of my loyal readers if I would run the article on the silver mining craze that Doddridge County experienced several years ago again. Some friends of his were asking about it. If you have already read it, I hope you will enjoy reading it again.
Did you know that there was a little silver craze that swept through the Big Isaac area of Doddridge County before the Civil War? It’s true. As stated in Swift’s Silver Mines and Related Appalachian Treasures by Michael S Steely, silver was said to have been found in the creek bed of Dry Fork on Big Isaac Mountain (called ‘mountain’ in his book). The identified mine is said to have long since collapsed.
I remembered a story about the time a gang of characters decided to engage in the business of counterfeiting some silver coins in a silver mining incident that Dr. Childers had told me about several years ago and did an article on it in the Herald-Record at the time. Unfortunately, I cannot remember the date of his article. Still, I thought I’d share it with you.
During my research, I came across a newspaper article describing the incident in the Beckley Post-Herald, dated July 18, 1968, and in The History of Smithburg by Ned Jones. The information I uncovered in that article and several other newspapers, as well as the material from Dr. Childers’ article, corroborated the event. It goes as follows:
In an interview given by Solomon Day, the silver was mined from a cave or shaft on Cave Run, below the site where Charlie Ross lived at the time. After the silver ore was said to have been mined there, the gang loaded it and took it to another cave on Dry Fork which flows between Big Isaac and Avon and is a contributary to Meathouse Fork (described as being the headwaters of Meathouse Fork) and just a short distance above New Milton. It was there that the gang made the illegal coins from the silver ore.
The cave was said to have had an inner room that was as large as the largest room in most houses. It had posts upon which to hang coats and hats as in a workroom in a factory. Day said the Dry Fork Cave had a large pile of cinders where the silver was extracted from the ore mined in the Big Isaac section.
The silver was said to have been pure and there was no complaint otherwise. The crime committed was the use of the government stamp which was used in making silver into silver dollars. Federal authorities were tipped off about the matter.
Silver ore as it would have come out of the ground. This one came from Montana.
Two of the Perine gang members were caught and served time in the WV State Prison for their counterfeiting activities. Word spread after his release from prison, that he criminally assaulted his daughter, and a group of concerned citizens escorted the tall, dark-complexioned, hazel-eyed Perine to Tom’s Fort… He was never heard from again. The imagination might give a clue to what his fate had become.
Two other men in the gang were William “Old Bill” Childers (no relation to Dr. Childers) and his nephew, Samuel. These two were an interesting pair.
Old Bill Childers was said to be short on intelligence and a vicious man, but his nephew, Samuel was somewhat educated and of quiet demeanor. He was a good workman and talented in several trades. Samuel was said to have been the one who made the dyes for the coin counterfeiting ring on a forge he built just above New Milton and used the milling business as a front for their many less-than-legal endeavors.
A homemade counterfeit mold like that which was made by Samuel in his blacksmith shop.
To better reveal the character of Old Bill Childers and his nephew, Samuel, I shall pass on a summary as told by Ned Jones in his book, History of Smithburg on page 31:
“From the time of the first settlers, hogs were marked, and the marks advertised so that no two men would have the same mark and let go to the woods where they grew fat on the different kinds of nuts. At the time I write of, the forest was full of them. Now the Childers were hunters, and their business was to hunt the settlers’ hogs. The men owned dogs trained to their business and when they came upon a lot of hogs, the dogs surrounded them and held them until a pen was built of logs by the men, then the dogs would drive them in. After this, the men would catch every hog and cut their ears off close to their heads, thus destroying the mark. When they were ready to drive home, and I myself have seen them driving more than fifty head at a time, and what is more, they would drive the hogs by the doors of the men that owned them, for no man could swear to his hogs after their ears were off. These men followed this up year after year, causing great trouble and loss to the entire settlement.”
But, getting back to the fate of the Childers’ men… The story was told that when the law enforcement arrived at his house to apprehend him, he swam across the dam of the creek near his home, going out one door as they were coming in the other door. Childers was never heard from again as far as anyone knew. Some say that he might have become sick after swimming in the icy waters at the dam that day to escape capture and died. Others say he got away and was smart enough to count your blessings and never returned.
Unfortunately, the innocent man who unknowingly passed the counterfeit coins was arrested, tried, and condemned. He had to serve one year in prison.
Still another prospector’s name I discovered was a prosperous farmer by the name of Abraham Coffindaffer. I could find no connection between Mr. Coffindaffer and the gang. I want to make it clear that there was no association or connection of any kind. However, I mention him because Day claimed in his interview that Coffindaffer commented he had seen as much as half a bushel of silver molded into silver dollars and that there was every reason to believe that there was plenty of silver in the region.
Allegedly, some individuals around the Jane Lew area knowingly or unknowingly circulated the coins. And another gang, the Everson Gang, who lived along the Ohio River also helped to circulate the coins there. Other articles state that the coins were never circulated.
It is important to remember that during these times, there were no schools for the children to attend. Parents who were fortunate enough to have received an education became the teachers for their children if the children were to receive an education.
Likewise, there were no churches for the good Christian citizens of the community. That did not hinder the settlers from worshiping and studying the Bible. Church services took place when men of the cloth, like Ezekiel Bee, preached to the settlers inside their private homes. Settlers rotated who would use their homes for the services.
At that time, law enforcement within Doddridge County was the responsibility of the Doddridge County Sheriff’s Office. When it was decided that the matter was too large or complicated, it became a matter requiring that the outside law step in (Bring in the big guns, they called them). When that happened, everyone knew there was trouble brewing for the man/men being hunted.
I want to note that according to the West Virginia Geologic Survey, there is no native silver to have ever been recognized in West Virginia to date. You decide. Maybe you would like to do some investigating on your own. I hope you will.
Patricia Richards Harris