Editor’s note: Robert Darius Bailey (1883-1961) was the grandson of James Bailey, the founder of Baileysville. He served as a deputy sheriff, the county prosecutor, Democratic state chairman, a state senator, state Board of Education member, and as Mingo County Circuit Judge during the Matewan Massacre trial. In 1965, the U. S. Congress changed the name of R.D. Bailey Lake in honor of the late judge.
The following is reprinted, with permission, from Mary Keller Bowman’s “Reference Book of Wyoming County History,” published in 1965.
Robert Darius Bailey (1883-1961), youngest child of Theordore and Martha, was born on July 26, 1883, at the family home at Baileysville. He attended the local “McGuffey” schools, supplemented by subscription schools, and Concord State Normal at Athens, W.Va. He taught a term or two in a one-room school near the mouth of Rockhouse for $25 a month pay. He clerked in his father’s store and in the commissary of Buskirk & Wittenburg at Horsecreek and engaged in timbering on contract. For three years, he was employed by David Bluestein, of Charleston, as a traveling salesman to buy up ginseng, yellow root, beeswax, and hides. His territory was all of Wyoming and parts of McDowell and Boone counties. He spent six months of each year traveling and the remaining six months clerking in his father’s store.
Early in 1907, “Bob” and Al Toler went to Huntington, Tenn., to attend law school. After a few days, they realized the school did not meet their requirements and left. Months later, Bailey entered the University of Valparaiso at Valparaiso, Ind., where he took his degree in law two years later. In 1909, he was admitted to practice in the courts of West Virginia.
Bailey’s first political and public service was as deputy under Sheriff John Ball, 1901-04. He was elected prosecuting attorney of Wyoming County for a term from 1917 to 1920. In 1917, during World War I, he was chairman of the local draft board in Wyoming County.
In May 1920, violence erupted in the coalfields of Mingo County. At Matewan, the miners, led by United Mine Workers of America organizers, clashed with coal operators and Baldwin-Felts detectives employed by them. The armed “battle” began soon after the Baldwin-Felts men stepped off the train, and was over in a few minutes with seven men lying on the ground dead.
Prosecutions for murders committed in this affray were to come up for trial at Williamson in January 1921. Judge Dameron, whose term would expire Dec. 31, 1920, resigned as judge to resume his law practice at Williamson. R. D. Bailey then resigned as prosecuting attorney of Wyoming County to accept appointment as circuit judge in December 1920. F.E. Shannon was appointed to finish serving Bailey’s term.
Early in January 1921, young Judge Bailey set out for Williamson to meet his destiny. He was not reluctant to accept the challenge of the important trials to come before him. He had a very strong innate sense of right and wrong and felt that he could adjudicate with fairness and justice the proceedings to be heard by him and decisions to be made relating thereto. One of his first pronouncements concerning the Matewan trial was: “This is going to be a fair trial.”
Before his first term of court ended, the “Matewan Trials” and Judge Bailey made headlines and daily news in every big daily in the country, and his reputation as a judge and lawyer was firmly established.
Before his term ended, his handling of the case against Clyde Beal, who was tried in Mingo County for murder, again brought him national notice. The jury found Beal guilty of murder in the first degree with no recommendation for mercy, which made a death sentence mandatory.
Convinced that Beal was not guilty, Bailey refused to sentence Beal to death and resigned rather than do so. This unprecedented act brought commend not only from United States newspapers, but in foreign countries. Judge’s terse comment on his act was, “I would rather be right than judge.” Whereupon, he returned to Wyoming County to resume his law practice.
In 1929, he and F.E. Shannon, his cousin, formed a partnership to practice law under the firm name of Bailey & Shannon, which continued until Shannon’s death in January 1947. There was one very unusual feature about this partnership. Bailey was the recognized leader of the Democratic party in Wyoming County and F.E. Shannon was the recognized leader of the Republican party. They were relatives and close friends, but kept their politics separate.
Bailey’s political career continued as long as he lived. He was elected to office of prosecuting attorney three times and served as assistant prosecuting attorney two terms when Shannon held the office. He resigned the office once to accept appointment as state senator. Twice he was an unsuccessful candidate for governor of West Virginia. He served appointments to state Board of Education three times. He lost interest in this office after accomplishing two of its projects which particularly interested him. One was establishment of the (African-American) college at Bluefield. The other was establishment of the state headquarters for 4-H Club at Ripley in Jackson County. The simple truth was that Bailey preferred to be in his home community most of the time. He served two terms as chairman of the Wyoming County Democratic Executive Committee, then resigned. Later he was persuaded to accept the position again.
In addition to his political activities and practice of law, Bailey was actively engaged in promoting good roads, good schools, and public improvements in the county, such as laying a shale top on dirt roads, using prison labor; purchase of road graders for each magisterial district; promoting bond issue in 1915 for permanent relocation of roads; securing paving, sewer lines, and other Works Progress Administration projects for the county during the Depression years; securing extension of C & P Telephone from Mullens to Pineville; and securing electric power service to Pineville and beyond.
Bailey also engaged in various business activities. He was engaged in coal mining in Mingo County and years later in Wyoming County. As a member of Pineville Land Company, he engaged in the real estate business (1947), which continues in business in 1963. He joined with other businessmen to organize and establish the Wyoming Broadcasting Company, station WWYO, at Pineville, owned a sizable block of its stock, and was its president. He was active in organization of Castle Rock Bank in 1946, also a stockholder. He was one of the promoters who established Rotary at Pineville in 1938. He was a member of Pineville Lodge No. 138 AF and AM more than 50 years. He was a member of the Methodist Church and teacher of its men’s class for 20 years.
The above listing will give the reader a fair idea of the scope of Bailey’s public activities. There may be others. I personally know about the ones mentioned as I was his secretary for 30-odd years.
R.D. Bailey married Sue Starkey, of Spencer, a school teacher, in 1911. Their children are Frances Bailey and R. D. Bailey Jr. (born 1912), attorney at law and veteran of World War II, who married Jean Hickman of Covington, Ky., during the war. They live at Pineville (in 1963). They have one child, a son, R.D. Bailey III, age 17, a senior at Pineville High School.
After the death of F.E. Shannon in 1947, the law firm was reorganized as Bailey, Worrell & Bailey, made up of Judge Bailey, C.S. Worrell, and R.D. Bailey Jr. The firm continues under the same name (in 1963), the two members being C.S. Worrell and R.D. Bailey Jr.