Dingess: One of West Virginia’s Most Lawless Regions at the Turn of the Century

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Dingess TunnelAs a little boy, I remember sitting at my late-grandmother’s feet, just a few miles north of the infamous Dingess Tunnel in Mingo County, West Virginia, listening to her tell tales of the area’s murderous and lawless history.

She once told me that when she was not very many more years older than I was — I was probably ten at the time — that she witnessed a murder while in the mountains taking a walk.  Her court testimony ended up being enough to find the individual guilty and she spent many years worrying of retribution.

As I grew older, I realized that tales abounded of the county’s infamy, so much in fact that it was known throughout the state as “Bloody Mingo.”   The stories ranged from late-night lynchings, to dead bodies being hanged from the tunnel’s ceiling.

I’m reluctant to believe every story I hear about this tunnel, simply because it’s in human nature to sometimes exaggerate a good story and this area begs for a great story to be told; however, at the same time, I’ve spent a lot of time “on” Dingess (not “in”) and I can say for a fact that many of these stories are true.

Huey Perry, author of They’ll Cut Off Your Project, wrote “Old-timers there said it was common practice to have a killing once a month. As ‘Uncle’ Jim Marcum described it, ‘Why, a colored person couldn’t think about riding through Dingess. They would stop the train, take him off and shoot him, and nobody would say a word. Why, they would even stop the train and take all its cargo. It was a wild country then, and it ain’t much better now.’”

According to Perry, from 1900 to 1972, approximately seventeen lawmen were shot to death in the area which stretches fifteen miles along Twelve Pole Creek.

In addition to being the site of numerous murders, the area’s isolation created a standing invitation for thieves and train hijackers.

The following news article appeared in the November 23, 1901, edition of the Bluefield Daily Telegraph:
A report has just reached here to the effect that burglars made a raid on the town of Dingess, on the Kenova division early Thursday morning, and visited various business houses and residences.

It was not until they had dynamited a large safe that their presence became known.

Citizens were on the scene almost immediately after the heavy report, and the burglars hadn’t time to gather up their booty as a number of citizens opened fire and probably forty shots were exchanged. The burglars, who secured a lot of valuable jewelry, escaped on a hand car which was recovered later four miles from Dingess, and on which blood spots were plainly visible.

A clerk in the Greer store was shot in the arm, but not seriously injured.

It is believed that the robbers are headed for Huntington, and the police of that city have been notified to keep on the lookout for them.

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3 COMMENTS

  1. This article supports the stories told to me by my mother. She grew up on Laurel Creek. As a young man,1960’s, I periodically walked from Dingess to Lenore where I lived. This was before the asphalt and lights. When I would reach the tunnel late at night I took a stick and brushed the wall as I walked. The manholes placed in the tunnel gave an eery feeling that was brought on from the stories my mother told me.

  2. My husband I discovered he had relative shot and killed July 4th 1927, ( I believe is the year) by a constable and his son. Later my great uncle L. Lawson prosecuted the constable.. The Stacy men were resting under a tree , taking shade from it. One working on a pocket watch.. I found this very interesting.

  3. I grew up in Dingess my fathers side is from there as well. I know this story along with many more. I have a few of my own from my time living there. I have to say I had the best childhood.

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