- Historic Sites
What Happened In Hinton
Back in Prohibition days, the citizens of a West Virginia town decided to crack down on bootlegging and prostitution. The author remembers it well.
July/August 1988 | Volume 39, Issue 5
Now Cousin Joey started escorting that businessman from Green Sulphur Springs to Pipestem, from Elk Knob to Barger’s Springs, and from Pence Springs to Bull Falls. There wasn’t a place of questionable nature that they missed. They even drove up Powleys Creek but couldn’t get all the way to the top of the mountain. They made the complete tour of Bluestone Lake and Jumping Branch. The businessman paid for everything, and Cousin Joey enjoyed it all. I especially remember that Flat Rock at the west end of Hinton had more than its share of fancy women and bootleggers. I visited there one time with Cousin Joey and had to sit in the car and wait for him. Because it was cold and raining, the madam came out and invited me in. She even fixed me a cup of hot cocoa, but I never told this at home.
Years later, when I was a grown man, I attended the funeral of a relative in Charleston, and a nice-looking middle-aged woman came over and introduced herself to me. It was the madam of Flat Rock. She had seen the obituary in the newspaper and had made it a special point to be there. She insisted I go home with her, and she wouldn’t take no for an answer. The madam of Flat Rock showed me everything in her home with a great deal of pride and let me know that she had a comfortable bank account. I felt she wanted me to praise everything she had acquired, and I did. She inquired as to the health of Cousin Joey, and when I said he was dead, she said she was sorry she had missed his obituary in the Charleston Gazette. I never knew what happened to her or her family or saw them again.
I have gotten way ahead of my story here.
One beautiful morning Cousin Joey borrowed my grandfather’s old 1917 Buick touring car, picked me up at our farm, and drove back to Hinton. Cousin Joey had a big, fat cigar screwed up in the corner of his mouth when we came in sight of the courthouse and the county jail, where a big crowd had gathered.
Joey stopped the car and asked one of his friends who was standing on the sidewalk, “What’s all the commotion, and why’s everybody standing around in front of the jail?”
“Don’t you know, Joey? Your drinking buddy went to Charleston or Bluefield and had blank warrants sworn out for every person in town who was doing something illegal. You showed him everything. The law arrested so many people last night the jail can’t hold them.”
Just then I saw the madam of Flat Rock standing outside the jail. She winked and nodded at us with a faint smile. I waved back, but Cousin Joey let on as if he didn’t see her. (Later I heard that she got thirty days in jail, and that while she was there, she didn’t lose much of her income.)
Cousin Joey almost swallowed his cigar in his hurry to get that old Buick turned around. After letting me out at home, he went back up Elk Knob Mountain and down Laurel Creek to Sandstone. There he gave a friend of his a dollar to drive the car back. He got on a westbound train, and it was six weeks before anyone knew where he was.
Now what was the outcome of this attempt to round up all the sinners?
The people who dreamed up the caper had to admit the plan had backfired. The idea had been to catch all the white trash, but almost everybody in town had some family member picked up. Even the mayor made the headlines of the Charleston Gazette: MAYOR OF HINTON ARRESTED IN VICE RAIDS. It took the mayor three or four weeks and three or four lawyers before he got his story straight. When he did, he claimed he wasn’t selling whiskey from his office: the whiskey found there was evidence that he was keeping for the courts.
The Charleston Gazette printed a retraction.
Cousin Joey was never charged with anything for his part in this charade, but he was always uneasy when the topic came up. He was told more than once that if it hadn’t been for him, the raids would have been a failure. Several years later he and I were walking down the street in front of the Holley Hotel in Charleston when a man jumped up from his seat by one of the windows and came running out.
“Hey, Joey, how have you been? It’s been a long time since I’ve seen you.” It was Joey’s free-spending drinking buddy.
For a minute I thought Cousin Joey was going to run, but he stood his ground. After the small talk was over, it came around to the discussion of how to catch a sinner in Hinton.
The man said, “Joey, I had to sue those preachers before I got the rest of my money, but I got it. I had a contract, you know. The preachers are still furious with me because they claimed I caught the wrong people. No hard feelings to you, Joey. We did have some good times together, didn’t we, buddy? And the preachers paid for them.”