Shirley Donnelly: The Days Of Joe Beury and Ben Wright

On the birthday of Joseph Beury, coal operator and union captain, I thought I would share this newspiece from Shirley Donnelly. I have transcribed it for easier reading below.

Beckley Post-Heerald 10 Jan 1956 -
Beckley Post-Herald
Beckley, West Virginia
10 Jan 1956, Tue  •  Page 4

The Days Of Joe Beury And Ben Wright

By SHIRLEY DONNELLY

In the Good Book it is written that “the days of our years are three score years and ten,” but J. W. Campbell, sage of Danese, W..Va., has the ups on the Scriptural Span by fully fifteen years, come February 8, next. In a lengthy letter for this Caleb of our area, reader Campbell told me a number of interesting things. One thing he said was, “I love to read after you.” He says, what he calls, my “Irish wit” strikes his fancy, so I might add that when he refers to me as a “wit” he is 50 per cent correct, that is, half-right!

In the course of his communication, friend Campbell says mention of my column on the loss of a mule shutting down old Caperton mine until Ben Wright got his spring plowing done was right. Campbell well remembers the incident. When that occurred Campbell was but a boy on his father’s farm at Lookout. Often father Campbell would take young J. W. with him to Caperton to peddle produce and other things that were calculated to keep body and soul together. There were no roads to Caperlon then, just a rail road and bridle paths. Kenney’s Creek and Nuttallburg were two other markets for the products of Campbell’s farm at Lookout. In the brave days of old these were flourishing New River mining towns and in them life was touch-and-go.

Joe Beury and Ben Wright were mountain men in more ways than one, says Mr. Campbell. Beury was squatty, wide, and short, whereas Ben was long, lean, and lanky. Six feet and eight inches did Ben Wright tower, and he was an active and brawny giant. Joe and Ben were great friends and boon companions. While Beury ale at the first table when it came to raking in the wealth of the world, he was always thoughtful of his good friend Ben by giving him many jobs that paid him well. At one time Ben Wright was worth $75,000, but Joe could never get Ben to venture out into the coal business. Ben ciphered that a little with contentment was far ‘better than great riches and worry therewith.

When Joe Beury passed out of the picture he left 10,000 acres in the Danese and Landisburg area, running to top of Sewell Mountain, at Lee’s Tree, to his heirs. According to Campbell, Joe’s $140,000 insurance went to Tom Beury, son of the pioneer operator. Before Tom went the way of all flesh he and his money had parted because he did not share his father’s knack of holding on to what he had. For a time Tom tried his hand at mining, but as genius is not always transmitted from father to son, his ventures were not profitable. He tried his luck at the old mines and seems, according to my informant, to have bet on the wrong horses if I may be pardoned for using a badly mixed figure of speech. Years ago when I was a boy at Charleston this family lived in a big house there. I remember that T. C. Beury family well.

Rich in reminiscence is Campbell’s letter to me. When he was only 15 years old, J. W. Campbell took the teacher’s examination and got a good Number 1 Certificate. That examination was taken at Clifftop, he says. Born Feb. 8, 1872, Campbell taught school on War Ridge in Quinnimont District in Fayette County, in 1887. His school was only about 800 yards from the Summers County line, and overlooked Meadow Creek C&O Station. Down at Alaska on the C&O, Lee Eye taught school. Eye was an old classmate of Campbell.

At Christmas, that year of 1887, Lee Eye and J. W. Campbell went into the city of Hinton for to see what they could see. They got off the train at the Summers County metropolis and went down to the Round House. In those days the Round House was a sight of which Hinton was proud and boasted. As Campbell and fellow pedagogue Lee Eye trudged up the steep street from the Round House to Main Street they espied two very large men come out of the basement room of a building making passenger train lime. They were really carrying the mail. In the hand of the lead man was a wide brimmed hat. He was a short, wide man and had the hat of another man, Behind him and chasing him was a very large man nearly seven feet tall. Campbell avers that he and Eye saw the chase and met them at a deep ditch just back of the famed Round House. There the chase ended when one took the other man’s hat and ripped it to pieces with knife. It seems that Beury was one and Ben Wright was the other. After Wright’s hat was consigned, in pieces, to the gutter, Beury took him by the arm and said. “Now, Ben, we go back up here to Flannagan’s Hat Store I will top you out with a “bee gum’. ” Those two men were Joe Beury and Ben Wright.

Campbell and Eye followed up the scene to eye the outcome of the whole affair. Beury took Ben into the store and bought him the tallest topper that Flannagan had in stock. Ben put the tall hat on his head and looked ten feet tall, says my correspondent. Then, with Ben so dressed up, Joe took Ben by the arm and said, “Now, Ben come with me and we will put on the biggest street show that old Hinton ever saw. The two rugged individualists went up and down the street there and had one hilarious time, Campbell says, “They really woke Hinton up.”

All this was the result of over indulgence in Christmas cheer, a looking on the wine when it was red and the mule when it was white. Colorful characters dotted the countryside in those days of sixty and seventy-five years ago when it was every fellow for himself and the Devil take the hindmost, as they used to say back where I was born.

Long before Joe Beury and Ben Wright gave up the ghost they saw the folly of their younger years and left hilarity for those who yet had their lessons of life to learn the hard way. In all probability, outside of J. W. Campbell, there is not a living soul in the world today who remembers the episode I’ve just paraphrased from Campbell’s communication. More of Campbell on the morrow!

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