by Mack Samples
23 Shots is the true story of one of West Virginia’s most notorious shootouts. It took place in the small town of Boggs, in Webster County in 1894. The face-to-face gunfight inside a post office involved five men and more than a dozen innocent bystanders.
The story begins several years earlier in Wise County, Virginia at the infamous Pound Gap Massacre. Five people were ruthlessly gunned down in cold blood as a result of infighting between different factions in the raging moonshine wars of the time.
Calvin and Henan Fleming were known far and wide for not only being experts with their guns, but also willing to frequently use them. When convincing but circumstantial evidence was brought forth in their involvement in the Pound Gap Massacre, the brothers hid out but found increasing pressure to leave the area.
23 Shots chronicles the Fleming brothers journey to Boggs, their seemingly well-thought out integration back into society, and the persistent and dogged determination of three men that were determined to capture the Fleming boys, either dead or alive.
While 23 Shots is a novel, it is based on actual events. The two main shootouts in the story are based on historical records and oral history. The shootout that occurred at the Boggs post office on that cold winter day back in 1894 was as dramatic as the gunfight at the OK Corral in Tombstone, Arizona—it just never got the notoriety.
This is the 9th book by Mack Samples.
Samples recounts how he became interested in this unique but neglected part of West Virginia history, “I first learned about the shootout in the classic book, Tale of the Elk by Bill Byrne.The shootout did not occur on the Elk River but Byrne was a lawyer in the shootout case and provided a brief summary of the event. He mentioned, but did not elaborate on why it occurred, but it caught my interest.”
Then Samples read a bit more about the shootout in Skip Johnson’s River on the Rocks , which he says, “…provided a little more background and I started to dig deeper about how it all started in Wise County, Virginia. I also started prying around a bit to see if anything had been written about the shootout other than those two brief descriptions and found that nothing had been done. I also learned that most people who currently live in Webster County or central West Virginia did not know anything about it. My wife grew up in Cowen and her relatives knew nothing of it.”
Mack believes the shootout in Boggs was the equal of the famous shootout at the O.K. Corral but, “it never got any mention in the national news media. Perhaps it was because it occurred in a very isolated area and happened before the big timber and coal boom hit Webster County.”
Samples went down to Wise County Virginia to research this book, and, “I was surprised to learn what a violent part of the country that was back during that era. I was also surprised to learn that Henan and Calvin Fleming who were the participants on one side of the shootout at Boggs came from a background of very violent people and were fugitives from justice. I also learned that Henan Fleming had a streak of kindness in him despite his violent nature.
“My research in Virginia sort of led me to believe that folks in that part of the country often took the law into their own hands. Perhaps it was partly because there just wasn’t enough law to go around in those isolated mountains.
“The shootout in Boggs was the finale of the infamous Pound Gap Massacre which occurred near the Virginia/Kentucky border. A movie made in the 1930s starring Henry Fonda was based on that massacre. The movie was entitled Trail of the Lonesome Pines but it did not follow the facts very well at all.”
For anyone interested in the Pound Gap Massacre, or the Boggs shootout, this will be the definitive account to refer to. Much insight into the culture and way of life from this era is also shown in rich detail, documenting a way of life and mentality that few of us could imagine today.
About the Author:
Mack Samples was born and raised in Corton, WV.Since his retirement in 1999 Mack has enjoyed a successful career as a writer. His band, The Samples Brothers, has been active since 1978 and still performs on the festival circuit and other venues. He is a well known as a traditional square dance caller.He and his wife, Thelma, are also ballroom dancers. They live on a 55-acre spread in Duck, WV.