Ronald L. Lewis
In 1897 a small landholder named Robert Eastham shot and killed timber magnate Frank Thompson in Tucker County, West Virginia, leading to a sensational trial that highlighted a clash between local traditions and modernizing forces. Ronald L. Lewis’s book uses this largely forgotten episode as a window into contests over political, environmental, and legal change in turn-of-the-century Appalachia.
The Eastham-Thompson feud pitted a former Confederate against a member of the new business elite who was, as a northern Republican, his cultural and political opposite. For Lewis, their clash was one flashpoint in a larger phenomenon central to US history in the second half of the nineteenth century: the often violent imposition of new commercial and legal regimes over holdout areas stretching from Appalachia to the trans-Missouri West. Taking a ground-level view of these so-called “wars of incorporation,” Lewis’s powerful microhistory shows just how strongly local communities guarded traditional relationships to natural resources. Modernizers sought to convict Eastham of murder, but juries drawn from the traditionalist population refused to comply. Although the resisters won the courtroom battle, the modernizers eventually won the war for control of the state’s timber frontier.
1. The Incorporation of West Virginia
2. Modernizing the Law
3. Robert W. Eastham, the Early Years
4. Eastham in West Virginia
5. Who Were the Thompsons?
6. Setting the Stage for Trouble
7. The Struggle for Control
8. The Shoot-Out and “Lawyers by the Dozen”
9. Jury Selection and Appeal to the High Court
10. On Trial for Murder
11. Epilogue: The Aftermath
Ronald L. Lewis is Stuart and Joyce Robbins Chair and Professor of History Emeritus at West Virginia University, where he taught for many years. He is the author of several books, including Aspiring to Greatness: West Virginia University since World War II (published by WVU Press) and Transforming the Appalachian Countryside: Railroads, Deforestation, and Social Change in West Virginia, 1880-1920. He lives in Morgantown, WV.
“Fascinating and informative. Lewis has crafted a thoroughly researched, well-written, and lively narrative account that uses one violent event—and all it set into motion—to show how old Civil War conflicts were rekindled, how increasingly marginalized farmer-loggers attempted to challenge corporate power, and especially how control of courts and local governance were central instruments in this epic struggle.”
“A welcome addition to the study of industrial Appalachia. Through the lives of Eastham and Thompson, Ronald L. Lewis provides a strong sense of how the ‘incorporation of America’ unfolded at the local level.”