Life and Death In The Coal Camps of Wise County, 1920

Transcribed from The World News of Norton, Virginia, Volume 35 Number 146, June 16, 1920


All Participants in Sunday’s Battle Were Either Killed or Wounded

In the Norton Telegraph story carried by Tuesday’s Times relative to the shooting affray at Esserville, an error was made in the transmission of names. For that reason, the following story is printed of the affair.

Norton, June 17 — Perhaps the bloodiest gun fight that ever took place in Wise County was staged last Sunday afternoon about 1:30 o’clock at Esserville and resulted in the death of two men and the wounding of three men and a little girl. The dead are Robert Fee and George Polly. The wounded are Dewitt Fee, Tom Berry and his son George Berry, and a little Polensky girl. The child was in her own home when struck in the side by a stray shot.

It seems that Sunday morning the Fee brothers, Tom Berry and George Berry, and George Polly, along with their families, started out for a pleasure trip to Keokee. There was some liquor in the crowd, and they were all in high spirits. The party got as far as Hoot Owl Hollow when it seems that some sort of altercation arose, and they all alighted from the cars near the mission church. In this affray, one of the Fee brothers was wounded. George Polly succeeded in taking Fee’s gun from him and the Fee boys came back to Esserville.

About a half an hour later, the Berrys and Polly returned and as they alighted from the car the Berry boys opened fire. Policeman M. Wilson hastened to the scene and made heroic efforts to stop the battle but without success. The shooting became general as the men fought around the house and through the streets of the mining town. At length, Wilson opened fire, wounding Dewitt Fee, who had escaped injury and was keep up a fusillade.

Every man who took part in the battle was either killed or wounded. The three wounded are improving, and it is thought they will recover. Dr. R. P. Carr of Norton hastened to the source of the tragedy and dressed the wounded. He took the child to the hospital at Coeburn, where it is improving and expected to recover.

The combatants and their families are all from Kentucky and are here digging coal, living in the Esser coal camps. They seem to be genial, hardworking people when sober. The Polinskys live nearby.

F. H. King, the undertaker of Norton, took the bodies of the dead to his establishment and prepared them for burial. The body of George Polly was shipped to his old home at Barboursville, Ky., and that of Fee to Harlan, Ky.

Many hundreds of people from all parts of the county visited the scene of the bloody tragedy.

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