Monday, January 11, 2016

October 16, 1887: Robert Duff, George Duff, Jr., and Charlie (Jake) Coon (Chester Cook)

Today we learn about a lynching in West Virginia through the pages of The Inter Ocean (Chicago, Illinois) dated October 19, 1887:


CHARLESTON, W. Va., Oct 18.—News was brought here this morning that Dan Cunningham, the Eureka detective who was charged with having been the instigator of the robbery of the Rev. Mr. Ryan and others in Roane and Jackson Counties, was caught yesterday and lynched last night. It is certain that there were only seven engaged in the murder and robbery of the Rev. Mr. Ryan. of this number the vigilantes have disposed of Coon, George Duff, Jr., Bob Duff, and Drake. The two Duffs, Coon, and Drake confessed and said that Cunningham and his nephew were the two not caught. All arrests made by the vigilantes were upon warrants. Bob Duff, just before his death, begged that Drake should not be harmed, as he was forced by Coon to go with them. Excitement still runs high, and it is evident that others will be arrested. When Bob Duff was shot one of the vigilantes went to his body and cut his throat, saying:  "This is in remembrance of the young lady school teacher you killed for her money." It appears that a lady school teacher was killed and robbed in the upper part of Roane County some months ago, and it is said that a warrant was out for Bob Duff, charging him with the crime.


CHARLESTON, W. Va., Oct. 18.—Since the murder of the Rev. Thomas P. Ryan, near Spencer, Roane County, this State, it has been learned that an organized band of regulators of over 1,000 persons, farmers and others of Jackson, Roane, Kanawa [sic], Clay, and Gilmer Counties, has existed for over six months. The organization was formed for the purpose of self-protection against the organized bands of robbers and murderers who have run riot in certain localities of Jackson, Roane, and Kanawha Counties, in which stores have been robbed and inoffensive people made to suffer. It was about 11 o'clock Thursday night last when the door of the Rev. Mr. Ryan's mountain home was crushed in, after a shot having been fired through the front door. Ryan immediately sprang from his bed, grabbed his shotgun, cocking both barrels, and exclaimed:

"What is wanted?"

The reply was from an inner door.

"Old man, we want your money and mean to have it."

A second shot was fired, and Ryan exclaimed, "Mother (speaking to his wife), I am killed; I am shot through the bowels."

Thereupon one barrel of his shot-gun was discharged, taking effect in the side of the room, the fall of the hammer being supposed to have been caused by his fall.

This caused a halt, and the wife and a son took Ryan to an upstairs room, after which the murderers, five in number, ransacked the lower part of the house, getting nothing, and overlooking some money near at hand. Strong circumstantial evidence pointed to Charles Coon, George Duff, Jr., Robert M. Duff, and Perry Drake, for whom warrants were issued. Drake was quietly arrested at his home. Constable Gibson and a posse of about sixty went to the residence of George Duff, Sr., in Kaintuck, Jackson County, where George Duff, Jr., and Coon were quartered. They had


expecting a troublesome time. Coon saw the posse moving upon the house, and coolly notified two women present to leave, as there was going to be a show. Upon the appearance of the officers Coon warned them away, and immediately opened fire with a pistol. The fire was returned by the officers, and for a few minutes bullets flew thick and fast for each party.

The outlaws took refuge in an upstairs room, where Duff was brought down by a shot from a rifle. The officers then surrounded the house, and were about to set it on fire, when old man Duff, a respectable farmer, prevailed upon Coon to surrender, which he did, as his ammunition was about exhausted. Robert M. Duff was arrested the same day (last Friday) at his house, near that of his father, by being surprised by the officers, he not having a chance to shoot.

On Saturday noon the prisoners were taken to the scene of their crime, Ryan's residence, and a justice set yesterday for their preliminary trial. Meanwhile George Duff, Jr., died at his home Sunday night. The rest of the prisoners were kept under guard until Sunday night, when about 300 masked men took Coon from the officers, and with a rope around his neck hurried him to a convenient tree. On his way he prayed and made a confession which is to be received with doubt. The substance is that he was guilty of participating in the murder; that Bob and George Duff, Jr., fired the fatal shot from his (Coon's) revolver. Some say he implicated Drake, others say he did not speak of him. Whatever the confession was, he was


After the hanging of Coon, the regulators went after Bob Duff and hurriedly took him toward the scene of Coon's execution. It is both alleged and denied that he confessed. Shots were fired at the mob either by the guards or friends of Duff. The mob scattered instantly. In the early morning Thursday the body of Bob Duff was found in the public road with his throat cut entirely across and frightful stabs in his chest—almost in sight of the body of Coon, which is still hanging to the tree. Neither was touched until late Sunday evening, when a coroner's jury assembled and adjourned without discovering anything. Coon, who had no friends near, was buried by a farmer. Relations of Duff took charge of his remains and buried them near his home yesterday.

Drake was spared, and yesterday was taken to the Ryan residence for examination. A large crowd of armed men were present, determined upon lynching him. He waived examination and was ordered to the jail in Charleston for safe-keeping. After much trouble and danger he reached here to night under the guard of Captain Burnett, of the Eureka Detective Agency, and a strong posse. No warrants have been issued for Dan Cunningham, whom it is alleged was one of the game of murderers. As the investigation of the affair progresses, interesting results are certain. Officers are after others who are said to be members of the outlaw's band. Coon came from Tyler, Texas, and called himself Jesse James. Great trouble is expected, as the affairs have gone into a vendetta, and rival factors are after each other.

Another article comes to us through the pages of the Brown County World (Hiawatha, Kansas) dated October 21, 1887:


CHARLESTON, W. Va., Oct. 17.—Fully three hundred citizens started out yesterday morning after the robbers who murdered Mr. Ryan near Walton, Roane County, last Thursday night. After the house was robbed and the old man shot, the robbers (thirteen in number) compelled the family to get breakfast for them. The officers and citizens ran into the robbers last night at George Duff's residence, eight miles from Vissonville, this county, and were warned to keep off by the robbers who had taken refuge in the house, fitted port-holes and made other arrangements for protection. the murderers were fired upon, and Geoge Duff, Jr., killed and Jake Coon was captured and lynched. Five of the officers and citizens in the battle were wounded, among whom are Peter and William Skiens, brother, but the information received is very meager. There are about twenty robbers in the gang who have been carrying on at a high rate. R. M. Duff, G. R. Drake and Frank Shambling are prisoners and await the pleasure of the vigilante committee for their disposal. Coon is the man who killed Rev. Thomas P. Ryan and shot five of the vigilantes. it is believed that a full confession will be made and the whole gang lynched.

After some time passed, the information began to change and the guilt of the lynched men began to be questioned. The Decatur Herald (Decatur, Illinois) dated November 10, 1887:

A Mysterious Affair.

CHARLESTON, W. Va., Nov. 9.—In an interview with the sheriff of Jackson County, who lives near the section of Roane County where Rev, Mr. Ryan was murdered last month, he said that the men who lynched Coon and the Duffs composed a gang who have been fighting the Duffs for years, owing to the fact that they assisted the United States marshal in making arrests to break up the moonshiners, to which it is alleged that the lynchers belong.

Every effort is being made to bring the lynchers to justice and the people are divided into two factions. The impression of Roane and Jackson counties is that Ryan was murdered by others than those who were lynched. There is one thing certain, and that is there is a great mystery about the whole affair.

The North Carolina Prohibitionist (Archdale, N. C.) dated November 25, 1887:


Seventy-Three Men Who Terrorize Roane County, W. Va.

About a month ago Rev. Mr. Ryan, of Roane county, W. Va., was shot and killed at his door by three or four. Afterwards a number of men lynched a man named Coon and two brothers named Duff, and it was supposed that the lynching was done because the men committed the crime. One of the parties mentioned in connection with the killing of Ryan was Daniel Cunningham, an ex-detective. He disappeared after the affair, but is now in Charleston, having business before the United Stated Grand Jury in relation to moonshining carried on in Roane and Jackson counties. in relation to the murder of Mr. Ryan, he said"

"I am here, not to evade civil law, but to keep out of the hands of a gang of cutthroats, murderers and demons. It is reported that a warrant is out for me, but such is not the case, and I am not trying to elude the officers. I called upon the proper authorities, saw the Judge of the court and told them I was ready to give a bond. I was informed that I was not wanted and told to keep out of the way of the mob, which I am now trying to do. I shall return when wanted, provided I shall be protected. The gang is still after me and are making every effort to get me. They met in the woods several nights last week and tried hard to raise a reward for me, but failed.

"They desired to get me into their clutches and murder me. none of the outlaws have been indicted, as it is well known that several members of the Grand Jury are members of the consolidated band. One of the band told me that there are seventy-three members, and gave me their names. The members are residents of Jackson and Roane counties. There has been much said about that band doing illicit distilling ever since the late war. Last June, near my home at Kentuck, I heard noises and saw smoke issuing from a deep hollow in a thich [sic] jungle. A young man was with me and we crept to a position near the place and there saw a still in full blast. I reported the find to the Government authorities and was given warrants of arrest. I made the arrests in company of Bob Duff. For this he was lynched by a mob last month. A still was operated by these people last winter and they sold their product promiscuously before it was gauged by Government officers."

Evidence enough has been found to prove that the murderers of Mr. Ryan are still at large and that those who were lynched are innocent of the crime.

Our final article comes to us through the pages of the Fort Worth Daily Gazette (Fort Worth, Texas) dated January 12, 1888:


The Diabolical Deeds of a Band of So-Called Regulators Made Public—A County Terrorized.

A Minister of the Gospel and three Young Men Lynched—Detectives on the Trail of the Leaders.

PARKERSBURG, W. Va., Jan. 11.—Rev. Thomas P. Ryan, a noted Methodist minister of this state living in Roane county, about forty miles from here, was brutally murdered in the presence of his family, and at his own house, in October last. He had just returned from conference with $400, and the purpose of the murder was evidently robbery. Within two or three days after that three young men—Robert and George Duff and Chester Cook—were brutally lynched for the murder. it has been the prevailing opinion that the lynchers and the murderers were the same parties, and that they lynched the innocent men to cover their own crime. Since the events just stated took place, Detectives Alfred Burnett and Dave Cunningham have been working up the case, and last night for the first time made public the facts in regard of the matter. Cunningham says that about the time winter broke out a number of families came from Clinch river, Russell county, Virginia, and squatted on the Brown estate without either buying or leasing the land and a band was organized which was to run the neighborhood as it pleased and protect their "rights" as squatters. most of the arrests of the band since then have been made by members of the Cook family and by the Duffs. in regard to the more recent doings of the band, the names of thirty-nine members, the pass word and so-forth are given. The "consolidated band" held meetings every week ans at every meeting they took a new oath to divulge nothing under penalty of death. About three weeks before Ryan was murdered they held a meeting at Kentuck at which it was moved that they proceed at once to lynch George and Robert Duff, Frank Shamblin, Doc Jones and Jack Parsons. The motion was seconded but was voted down by a very small majority. The next week a meeting was held at the same place and the same motion was made and again lost by a small majority. At this meeting four of the members for whom it was getting too murderous withdrew from the band. The next day the Duffs and Cook were lynched. After George Duff had been fatally wounded by the lynchers 'Squire Taylor ordered the arrest of bob Duff and Chess Cook. the next evening 'Squire Gardee ordered them to be taken to Walton. The constables discharged the orders. Cook was taken to Joe Cook's and Duff to David Cox's residence for the night. That night the band held a secret meeting at Linn Camp schoolhouse. it was decided to lynch Cook and Duff immediately, thought some voted to wait until Ben Cook, uncle of Chess Cook, one of the men whom they were going to lynch, was elected leader and he accepted the position. They then went to Cook's where Chess Cook was, took him out and hanged him. Then they went to Dave Cox's, took Bob Duff out and cut his throat. he was first stabbed in the stomach and breast, then a gash was cut in his throat, and finally Duff's head was held back while one man cut his throat for year to year [sic]. in regard to the murderers of Ryan being lynched the detective says:  "We have secured evidence enough to prove, and will prove, that the men who lynched Cook and the Duff boys were the same men that murdered the Rev. Thomas P. Ryan. The five or six men engaged in the murder of Ryan do not all live in Roane county. I have their names, and they are all in that county now with some possible exceptions.

A number of original letters are also made public, in which prominent citizens have been warned to leave the county. These warnings are all signed "Regulators," and are addressed to men and women. The common form is to the destruction of property, mutilation of the body or other outrageous conduct. The slightest offense on the part of any one was punished with a warning and the person warned generally found it wise to leave. the grips and other signals of the hand are given. the forefinger of the right hand placed around the thumb is the signal for a meeting when it's dark, and the same finger thrust into the hand that a meeting was to be held at once and in the day time. The men make oath to the above statement and a number of affidavits accompany the publication.

Thank you for joining me and as always, I hope I leave you with something to ponder. 

1 comment:

  1. Hi Anne

    Thanks for posting this --- thought you might like a little info--
    Daniel Cunningham was NOT lynched by the mob as stated in the 1st article--- Daniel died in 1942 --obit was Feb 5 ,1942 Charleston Daily Mail--Dan Cunningham was eventually tried as an accessory to murder-- and was ACQUITTED as was Peter Drake--the only man that Rev Ryan thought he recognized the voice of....

    perhaps you had a bad copy on that last article you listed for Jan 11 1888 BUT Ches' last name was COON not Cook-- see The Albany Ledger 20 Jan 1888 Fri page 2 or just do a newspaper search for Winchester/ Chester/ Ches and Chess COON and a lot of articles will pop up in the time frame.... his uncle was Benjamin COON... and yes Jake and Charlie do show up in a couple of articles BUT most of the articles have some form of Winchester as his 1st name...

    Winchester 'Ches' Coon was born 1864 Oh to John Coon and Elizabeth Bishop--- the family moved to Mo between 1866-1868-- they stayed in Mo until John Coon died ( 1876- bef 1880) when Elizabeth moved the family back to W VA--info on his mother being confirmed by the article in the Wheeling Daily Intelligencer Fri 25 Nov 1887 ( and Dan Cunninngham's Memiors ) page 1 which said:

    Ben Coon, an uncle of Ches Coon, who then lived in Bell Grove, Jackson County, was the third man called on and he accepted. The meeting adjourned and the mob started for Ches Coon at Joe Cook's.----the members of the Consolidated Band notified Ches Coon that they intended to hang him...

    Ches Coon asked for a paper and wrote a letter to his mother,
    Mrs Eliza E Coon, Huntington in which he addressed her as Darling Mother and told her of the situation and the charge and adding " This is the last time you will ever hear from me, for I am going to be hung. Give my regards to my sisters and brothers, and this is all I can say: It is my dying truth, I am not guilty. God bless you, my darling mother.
    your loving son,
    W. C. Coon
    Winchester's sister Minerva married Robert Perry Cunningham a brother of Daniel Cunningham and Keziah ( Cunningham) Duff mother of George and Robert Duff--Winchester Coon had a sister Addie who married George Shamblin--a nephew of the above mention Cunningham--so Ches Coon was running around with the nephews/ cousins of his brother-in-laws

    hope it helps

    n k