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
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
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
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