Editor’s note: Paul Ray Blankenship passed away Sept. 30, 2010 after a long illness. He was a retired teacher and college professor, who wrote several books about the history of Oceana and surrounding areas. As a tribute to his achievements, his columns will continue in this newspaper. The following excerpt is reprinted, with his permission, from “From Cabins To Coal Mines, Volume I.” This is part 11 of “The Civil War Era 1861-65.”
At Matheny, on the hill which now overlooks the Matheny Methodist Church and the Laurel Fork, a skirmish erupted in the spring of 1862 between the Union Home Guard forces, led by Charles Stewart (1808-1898), son of Capt. Ralph and Mary Clay Stewart, and the Confederate unit known as the Logan Wildcats. Capt. Russell Cooke, son of David Judson and Sarah Bailey Cooke, was among the rebels in the Confederate unit.
When the struggle began, the Union Home Guard under Stewart, greatly outnumbered, had to flee across the Laurel Fork into the woods on the opposite side of the stream. Rev. G. P. Goode’s narratives indicate that two of the Union men in this skirmish were John M. Sizemore (1836-1896), of Pinnacle Creek, son of George J. and Jennie Baldwin Sizemore, and W. H. H. “Little Harry” Cook.
W. H. H. Cooke was an ex-Confederate soldier, Company J, 22nd Virginia Regiment, who was then running with the Union Home Guard, so he had become a special target of the Confederate unit. Perhaps some of the Confederates longed to lay claim to the honor of killing Cooke because he was a “turn-coat.” As he fled the fray across the Laurel Fork, a bullet did strike his haversack but, lodging in the pages of a book which Cooke was carrying, the bullet failed to penetrate the haversack and wound the fleeing soldier.
There were no fatalities in this part of the skirmish, but just a short distance away, a flanking party of Logan Wildcats came upon George W. Stewart, eldest son of Charles and Nancy Cooke Stewart, Charles P. Stewart (1839-1928), son of George P. and Margaret Cooke Stewart, and William C. Wills (1836-1862), son of Stephen Wills and son-in-law of Richard Madison and Mary Gunnoe Cooke. These Union men had situated themselves on Chimney Cliff, a mountain located between Panther Hollow and Staggerweed Branch.
With the rebels in pursuit, the three ran down the hill in an attempt to escape what they believed to be a large Confederate force. Wills, shot in the foot, fell and was left. The two Stewarts, after crossing the river, ran along the ridge below Bear Branch and then crossed the mountain to Simmons Branch, near the present Oceana city limits and near the home of Squire James Cooke, the county clerk, who was the son of William and Catherine Stewart Cooke.
The two Stewart men spent the night under a cliff overlooking Cooke’s farm. The next day they returned to the spot where Wills had fallen. They found Wills where the Confederate Wildcats had killed him. The place became known thereafter as “Wills’ Hollow.”
The Matheny skirmish seemed to intensify the growing personal animosity between Capt. Charles Stewart and Capt. Russell Cooke.
So deep had this personal vendetta manifested itself that Capt. Cooke secreted himself above the Stewart home at Matheny and from there shot Capt. Charles Stewart twice from ambush. Thinking he had killed the Union leader, Russell Cooke went to the home of his sister Margaret (Cooke) Cooke (1830-1893), the wife of Green M. Cooke, and confessed that he had killed Capt. Stewart.
Stewart was badly wounded so a messenger was sent to the headquarters of the 11th Ohio Regiment, stationed in Raleigh County, for a doctor. Because Stewart was highly regarded as an influential Union man, Col. Coleman dispatched Dr. Gill, in the escort of 12 cavalrymen, to the home of Capt. Stewart, some 35 miles away.
Dr. Gill was able to extract one of the bullets; however, the second one could not be removed. Some days later, erysipelas set in, threatening the life of Capt. Stewart. A local doctor attended Stewart and remedied the condition by dripping black cat’s blood on the wound. Some thought this remedy was questionable, so Dr. Gill was requested a second time.
When the army doctor returned for a second visit, Capt. Stewart was found to be mending well.
The identity of the local doctor who treated Capt. Stewart was not ascertained and reported. It certainly seems most probable that he was a “naturally-trained” doctor who used unorthodox practices and traditional remedies as opposed to a “professionally-trained” one. Dr. Isaac Bailey (1800-?1869), son of Archibald and Agnes Godfrey Bailey, seems a likely possibility.
The would-be assassin of Capt. Stewart, James Russell Cooke (1832-1863), son of David Judson and Sarah Bailey Cooke, probably spent the next few months roaming with the Logan Wildcats unit. An official Union report dated February 9, 1863, made reference to the “rebel Captain Cook.” On May 18, 1863, he was designated the captain of Company C of Lt. Col. Henry M. Beckley’s 45 Battalion. This Confederate company of 75 enlistments appears to have been made up of men who had been involved in previous raiding activities in Wyoming County, including Charles S. Canterbury, Adroniram J. Lusk, Joseph Acord, George S. Canterbury, William S. Canterbury, James Gunnoe, Austin Cooke, and James Acord as company officers.
Two of Capt. Cooke’s brothers, Thomas Albert Cooke (1833-1883) and Andrew Morrison Cooke (1836-1899), were also active Confederate soldiers. Thomas Albert Cooke, who moved to Raleigh County before the war, was married to Nancy Stewart, daughter of George P. and Margeret Cooke Stewart.
According to official documents, Capt. Russell Cooke was in Tazewell County, Va., commanding his company at Camp Georgia, on August 12, 1863.
Capt. Cooke’s home was located at Jesse. He was married to Malinda C. Brooks (1831-1916), daughter of William and Nellie Cooke Brooks, and was the father of four young children: David R., Louisa E., William Van, and Flora Ann.
Probably while visiting home in late 1863 from Company C, Capt. Cooke was shot from ambush and killed at Hurricane Branch, near present Glen Fork. The identity of his assassin was not known, but the incident was thought to have been one of revenge and retribution. Capt. Cooke, according to tradition, was buried in, or near, the cemetery behind the Jesse post office in a grave marked only by field stones. War widow Malinda Brooks Cooke later married Charles George Kindcaid and Britton Allen.
Note: Only a few copies of “From Cabins To Coal Mines, 1799-1999, Volume I” remain available. Cost is $45, which includes tax, at the Wyoming County Historical Museum in Oceana, open Tuesday from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. and Saturday from noon until 4 p.m. The book has been reprinted by the Wyoming County Historical Museum Board of Directors.
Additionally, a few copies of Volume II are now available for $55.
Add $5 for postage costs to have either book mailed.
To order, contact Betsy Ross, board treasurer, at 304-732-6995; or write her at P.O. Box 411, Pineville, WV 24874; or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.