By Paul Ray Blankenship
For the Wyoming County Report
Editor’s note: The following excerpt is reprinted with permission from “From Cabins To Coal Mines, Volume I.” This is part seven of “The Civil War Era 1861-65.”
The tragedies of war, some wanton and cruel, began to hit closer to home as units of Home Guards, both Union and Confederate, went rampaging throughout Wyoming County, pillaging, destroying, and performing wanton acts which resulted in the deaths of family, neighbors, and one-time friends. More often than not there appeared to be no reason for the wanton destruction and killing except that friends and neighbors held opposing views or sympathies than did the perpetrators of such wanton acts. Sometimes it appeared that personal conflicts between individuals were settled under the guise of war.
One of the early episodes of wanton killing occurred in early 1862 when John “Crap” Allen (1819-1862), son of John and Nancy Daniel Allen, was captured and finally killed at Walnut Gap, which was a route of travel into the Kanawha Valley near the present location of Kopperston. It is possible that his death was a revenge killing precipitated by the death of Lt. Ferdinand Neumann on Indian Creek.
John “Crap” Allen, known Confederate sympathizer, was captured by some of Lt. Ferdinand Neumann’s Union troops with the aid of Ralph Lafferty, Allen’s brother-in-law. As a prisoner, “Crap” Allen, described in a history of Company I, 7th WV Cavalry, as a “noted guerilla and horse thief,” was taken to Charles Stewart’s home on Laurel Fork, and afterward was placed under the guard of Ralph Lafferty, Richard Elkins, Owen Smith, and John J. Mitchell, who were given the assignment of delivering Allen to Union forces in the Kanawha Valley.
They started to Charleston, got to Walnut Gap, which crosses from Kopperston over into Boone County, when they apparently decided they didn’t want to make the long trip. The four guards told Allen that he might escape by running for his life. Allen decided to run. Viciously, Lafferty and Elkins shot him.
They left Allen’s body where it fell. Nine days later the body was discovered and buried. The murder of John “Crap” Allen inspired an old ballad, lost to history now, but some of the words were: “Look on the right, look on the left, goin’ o’er Walnut Gap, Look to the left, look to the right, and you’ll see ol’ Crap.”
Don D. Cook (1890-1964), son of Landy P. and Fanny Marshall Cooke and an elementary school teacher, knew the ballad well and used to sing it for his students.
This episode illustrates again the extent to which families were torn and divided. John Allen’s brother-in-law, Ralph Lafferty, was among the men to help capture and finally murder him on Walnut Gap. Lafferty was married to Allen’s sister, Elizabeth Allen. John Allen’s younger brother, Britton Allen (1826-1911), was a member of Capt. Lewis Cook’s Wyoming County Militia, a federal unit mustered to duty April 1, 1862.
In August 1862, the McDonald plantation, already pillaged of foodstuff and supplies, was burned by Union partisans. The McDonalds, without doubt the most Confederate family in Wyoming County, had been targets practically since the first shot of the war was fired. The wanton destruction by Union partisans essentially destroyed most of the McDonald family property. The McDonalds were certainly Wyoming County’s wealthiest and most affluent family prior to the war.
The McDonald plantation, located about four miles west of Oceana where the Clear Fork Valley Golf Course is now situated, was established by Capt. Edward and Kesiah Stephens McDonald with the help of slaves in 1802. The self-sufficient plantation consisting of many thousands of acres was inherited by two of the McDonald sons, William McDonald and Joseph McDonald, both of whom were more than sixty years of age when the war erupted. A third son, Stephen McDonald, had died in 1852 and his family had moved west before the outbreak of the war.
William McDonald died in 1862. Joseph McDonald lived out the war but died in Tazewell County, Va., in 1866. Two of Joseph McDonald’s sons, Floyd and John, died in the Confederate Army.
— Paul Ray Blankenship of Oceana is a retired teacher and college professor, who has written several books about the history of Oceana and surrounding areas.