Controversy Over Lands in Wise County, VA

     Neglect in perfecting their titles by the original settlers on the Beaver Dam Fork section of Wise County is being fully felt today, a hundred and fifty years later. When old Lewis Roberts and his sons, Shadrick, Galon and William, came into this region about 1830 and settled the wild and (what most people considered) worthless land, very little attention was paid to titles.
True, Old Lewis and his sons took titles to their lands and had them duly recorded at Jonesville, this part of Wise then being in Lee County. But when they began trading among each other and later-comers, deeds were penciled, inked or firecoaled out and stuck up over a round-pole joist of the cabin and that was the only recording such papers ever got.
     Around 1875 agents for coal companies came into the Beaver Dam country and announced they would pay as much as a dollar an acre just for the minerals that might be underground. The Roberts' clamored over one another to sell their rights, all but Galon, son of Old Lewis, who, being a man of pretty good judgment, decided he would lease the company his lands for mining purposes.
     Nothing more was heard of the transactions. One concern bought the small one's holdings until this particular corporation laid claim to practically all of the upper Beaver Dam Fork lands. Still nothing was paid. Titles were not questioned. 
Galon Roberts had got mixed up in a feud and had been shot to death.
    Galon, Jr., called Bud Roberts, who had been away several years prior to 1940, when he returned and promptly built himself a house, on land which a coal concern had claimed without question for fifty years, and moved his family in. The company agents waited on Bud and asked him to leave. Bud told them to leave and made gestures that they took as a threat to do them bodily harm. They moved. Then they tried an injunction. Bud ignored it and threatened to horsewhip the officer who ventured to serve it.
     The officer reported his findings and the company officials went into conference and decided that, as Bud was growing old, they would make no further effort to dispossess him. Let the old fellow live out his days
on his ancestral acres, they said; and they did.
     After Bud passed on, and his widow didn't know what to do, young Varney Roberts, grandnephew of Bud's, stepped into the breech. And it was then the fireworks began. Not shooting, but verbal and legal explosions all the way from Fox Gap to the Wise County courthouse and even down to Big Stone Gap and
     While Bud had simply lazed out his days on the land, Varney was full of pep and ambition; and he immediately employed a crew of men and began felling the giant oaks and poplars on a certain tract of the elder Galon's lands and hauling the logs off to market. He also built himself a house on the land and established his home.
     The coal company immediately retaliated by claiming the land by deeds made and record by other heirs of the late Galon M. Roberts, Sr., sued out an injunction. Varney told his men to lay down their axes and saw and his truckmen to idle their truck engines. But did he quit? Did he give in? He didn't. He simply moved over to another tract and began operations all over again. After he had cut and trucked away a number of fine trees and sold them to a lumber concern, here came the officers again; and again they had an injunction. Varney
didn't have a word to say. He simply gathered up his tools and moved off the tract.
     In the meantime, the widow of Bud Roberts, being lonely, moved out of the house her husband had built, and immediately the company, claimant to the land, sent wreckers, or a crew of men who represented themselves as the company's employees and tore down Bud's house.
     So the controversy rages. Varney Roberts, with enough deeds, as he says, to hold all of Wise County, is peeking around to see where the best timber grows; and the company's agents are probably peeking around
to see just where Varney strikes next.
     (By James Taylor Adams)

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