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Henry May [1824-1903]

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Tragic story of the two oldest sons of Henry Thomas May

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1. William Henry May b: 2 Aug 1886 Adria, VA d: 4 Aug 1920 War, WV, Adria, VA, and buried in the Litz Cemetery at Tazewell, VA Age at death: 34
........ +Julia Porter m: 24 Dec 1906

2. Thomas Lee May b: 27 Nov 1887 Adria, VA d: 2 Aug 1920 War (or Yukon), WV, buried in the Litz Cemetery at Tazewell, VA Age at death: 32


** Clinch Valley News, Friday, August 6, 1920: courtesy of R. Vaughn Cassell **

An article in this paper in Tazewell, VA tells of the tragic deaths of Henry and Ella's two oldest sons, known in the area as Will and Lee May. They were both killed in an altercation on Monday, August 2, 1920 with deputies at War, WV. Lee was almost instantly killed shortly after noon by deputy sheriff Charley Harman, a bullet from Harman's pistol penetrating May's neck. Will was shot at the same time by deputy sheriff Robert Profit. Conflicting rumors existed at the time of the article about the cause of the shootings. The two brothers were walking together at War and were approached by the two deputy sheriffs who attempted to place them under arrest. Will was the first to resist, attempting to draw his revolver from a holster. He dropped the gun and the officers began firing when he attempted to recover it. Lee, who always carried a .45 caliber semi-automatic handgun, was shot through the neck, suffering a fatal wound. Will was shot in the shoulder and in the body, inflicting a wound in his spine. He died two days later. The officers surrendered to local authorities and were released on bail, with a hearing scheduled for the next term of Court at Welch, WV.

Lee's body was returned to his home in Adria, Tazewell Co., VA on Tuesday and held there, anticipating that his brother Will would soon follow. A double funeral was held on Thursday, August 5, 1920, to the great anguish of his family. His mother had been very ill prior to the killings and wasn't expected to live long after enduring the loss of her beloved Will and Lee.

Vaughn Cassell noted that the shooting occurred on Will's 34th birthday.


There is more to the story than this contemporary newspaper account has to tell. Lee, for example, had been hired to begin working by mid-August for Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency of St. Louis, MO. The agency supplied guards for Railroad Companies and Coal Companies to protect their properties during attempts to organize miners by the United Mine Workers of America. West Virginia was a hotbed of activity between the UMWA and the Coal Companies in the early 1900s. The movie MATEWAN - telling of similar shootouts in Matewan, WV - dramatically illustrates the violence of the period.