Booger Hole, WV: Blood, Justice, Exodus - The Weekly Holler #27





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October 23 · Issue #27 · View online
American Mythology
Welcome to The Weekly Holler. This newsletter is published by Luke Bauserman. Luke grew up in the Appalachian foothills of southeastern Ohio. As a young adult, he worked in a nursing home while studying history in college. During this time, he made friends with and heard many stories from the old-timers of his community. Shortly before graduating, Luke won the Randolph Stone Award for Historical Writing from Ohio University. Luke is working on his first novel, a mix of Appalachian folklore and history (updates forthcoming). 

Booger Hole, WV: Blood, Justice, Exodus
An abandoned home in Booger Hole, 1971.
An abandoned home in Booger Hole, 1971.
In January 1917, handbills tacked on trees and fence posts in Clay County, West Virginia, gave warning to residents of the little mountain settlement of Booger Hole:
We, the citizens of Clay county, seeing that we cannot get justice by law, have organized the Clay County Mob. We have pledged our lives to drive these people from our country or kill them. If we cannot catch and hang you, we shall sneak upon you and kill you as you killed Henry Hargis, Lacy Ann Boggs, the old peddler, and Preston Tanner.
If before you leave there is any stealing, killing or burning we will get bloodhounds and detectives and run you to the ends of the earth. Bill Sampson, Kooch Sampson, Fred Moore and Aaron Runyon are hereby notified to leave the state in ten days. Rose Lyons, Bill Moore and Elizabeth Sampson are notified to leave in thirty days.
P. S. — Do not stop this side of the Ohio river. 
Booger Hole is an isolated hollow in the Rush River Valley of Clay County, West Virginia. A series of mysterious deaths that took place in Booger Hole from the turn of the century to the end of World War I, put the residents of Booger Hole in conflict with residents that lived outside the hollow, giving rise to the vigilante justice group, The Clay County Mob.
One of the first mysterious deaths to occur in Booger Hole happened around 1893, when Henry Hargis, along with $300 he was carrying, went missing. Several residents of the hollow were accused of murdering him, but all had alibis, and no conviction was made.
Eight years after Hargis’s disappearance, Mrs. Lacy Anne Boggs, an 84 year-old resident of Booger Hole, was arguing with some neighbors and made the comment that she could light her pipe and go to the place where the ashes of Henry Hargis were buried before it burned out. A few nights later, Mrs. Boggs was shot through her window as she sat by the hearth, peeling apples. 
Mooreville Times, April 21, 1905
Mooreville Times, April 21, 1905
A young detective was sent to work the case. He found one resident, Caroline Moore, who was willing to talk about the murders. Caroline claimed that on the day of Hargis’s disappearance, she had been wrapped in a sheet by her brother, James Moore, and brother-in-law, John Lyons, so she could not watch what they were up too. The two men had left the house and returned. Caroline, gnawed a hole through the sheet during their absence, and saw them bring in the body of a man, also wrapped in a sheet. They buried it under the house. The detective searched under the Moore house, and found burned tufts of hair, collar and cuff buttons bearing the initials of Hargis, and a small pocket whetstone with the missing man’s name. 
James Moore, John Lyons and several of their family members were arrested and brought to trial. The jury considered that there was enough evidence to indict the two men in the murders of Hargis and Boggs, but in the end, neither were found guilty.
In 1902 John Newman, a Swedish peddler, rode into Booger Hole to peddle his wares. He disappeared and was never seen again. Traces of blood believed to be from the peddler’s body were found in a barn, but the suspect killed a colt to cover up the evidence. The prosecutor disguised himself in prisoner’s clothing, complete with ball and chain, and went undercover in the jail. He won the confidence of the suspect, and was told all the sordid details of the peddler’s murder. When this evidence was presented in the trial, however, the judge ruled entrapment and threw out the evidence and the state’s case. The accused killer wasn’t convicted, and returned to Booger Hole.
Joseph Clark, a watchmaker who stopped to sleep overnight in the Booger Hole schoolhouse, was another victim to disappear in the area. His body was never found, but a trail of blood led officers to a nearby creek.
The last to die was Preston Tanner, a twenty-two year old who moved into Booger Hole with his pretty young wife shortly after their marriage. In January, 1917, he died in his sleep as fire leveled his shack. His wife was away, visiting her father. An empty can of lamp oil was found under Tanner’s bedsprings, and evidence indicated that he had been knocked in the head before being burned. 
Charleston Mail, Jan 29, 1917
Charleston Mail, Jan 29, 1917
Following Tanner’s death, twenty-one year old Howard Sampson, and his fifty-seven year old father, Andrew Sampson, were taken to the Clay County jail on murder charges. While they were there, a mob of nearly two-hundred men, their faces masked with black stockings, stormed the jail. Shots were fired into the stone walls of the courthouse. The mob had nooses prepared, dangling beneath the Elk River bridge, waiting for the accused. The Sampsons were moved to the attic of a nearby house, and Clay County lawyer quelled the wrath of the mob by standing on the courthouse steps, making a speech on law and justice. After the vigilantes dispersed, Howard and Andrew were sent to separate jails in neighboring counties.
Charleston Mail, Feb 9, 1917
Charleston Mail, Feb 9, 1917
The Sampson trial began on February 2. Among the witnesses was Jennie Sampson, daughter of Andrew and sister of Howard, who testified that several months earlier, her father had told her of a dream he’d had in which Preston Tanner had drawn a gun on him. He believed that Tanner should leave Booger Hole, and go back to the Stimson community where he was born.
“Bunk” Truman testified that Howard Sampson informed him a few days before the murder that he intended to have Tanner’s wife if he had to kill Tanner to get her.
Mrs. Preston Tanner took the stand, and told of Howard having made numerous advances to her, and that he had threatened that she would be sorry within two months if she did not agree to his proposals. 
The trial concluded on February 14th, with Howard being convicted of murder in the first degree, and sentenced to life in prison. Andrew’s trial was scheduled for April.
Charleston Mail, March 2, 1917
Charleston Mail, March 2, 1917
On March 2, 1917, the Charleston Mail reported that “the notorious Booger Hole community has undergone a reformation by the disappearance of a number of residents from there. There has been an exodus of those voted as undesirables by an organization of citizens which sent warnings over the signature of ‘The Clay County Mob.’” One resident of the area later recalled being awoken late one cold night by a tremendous blast. He jumped from his bed, and saw the skyline at the top of the ridge was as bright as day. Dynamite explosions echoed through the valleys, and red flames glowed in the darkness. The mob dynamited and burned out five Booger Hole families that night. Members of the Sampson, Moore, and Lyons families left Booger Hole and settled in the most mountainous region of neighboring Braxton county.
Andrew Sampson was acquitted of murder charges in April. He returned home, and was also driven from his old haunts by the Clay County Mob, and went to Braxton County. Upon his arrival, citizens committees in Braxton county directed that the refugees from Booger Hole leave at once.
Howard Sampson was pardoned and released in 1925. In 1953, he killed his wife in Canton, Ohio, then drove to Grantsville, WV, and killed himself.
Since the departure of the old “Booger Holers,” the hollow has become a quiet farming community. The last echoes of its treacherous past can be found in local lore, which holds that the hollow is haunted by the “Gype Dog,” a large black animal that kills children, and a bleeding tree on the site of one of the old murders.
  • Charleston Mail 1917- Jan. 29, 30, 31; Feb. 1, 2, 9, 10, 12, 14; March 2, 13; April 13
  • Mooreville Times - April 21, 1905
  • Charleston Daily Mail - November 2, 1971
  • Bluefield Daily Telegraph - March 27, 1988 
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