George Pilkenton (John Yates ) was born on Christmas day 1876, his parents were Selena J. Keller (born 9/8/1857) and CW Pilkenton (born 5/12/1854) Mom had told me his mother was an Indian, that doesn’t appear to be correct. The Pilkentons appear on the 1880 US Federal Census in Pine Swamp, Ashe, North Carolina and then in 1900 they have re located to Pound, Virginia This town seems to have been named after the mill established by William Robertson. It was a horse- operated mortar and pestle which pounded the grain into mill. People brought their turns from all over the country to the pound and it has been called the pound ever since. The Pilkentons were among the first settlers in this town. (from the Wise County Historical Society) George married Ida Kiser on the 25TH of June 1895 in Russell County, Virginia. They had three (3) children, Dent, Samuel and a daughter, named Ruby. I was told some men raped George’s sister Grace and he killed them. There was a sister named Sarah but no Grace. There was a niece named Grace but so far no record of any rape or killing. A relative that I talked to in Pound did tell the same story about a sister being raped and George killing the culprits. This relative remembered George. He said he played guitar and was a trader. I’m certain we will eventually find the answers.
However, something happened to make him leave his wife and children, He moved to Willard, Kentucky and changed his name to John Yates. On May 15 1902, he married Nora Alice Gollihue in Carter County, Kentucky. The newspaper in Carter County, Kentucky puts out a special edition every 50 years telling of historical events in their area and John Yates is mentioned. He was a member of a six man posse that chased and caught six men that had tried to rob the bank at Willard, KY, on 31 October 1905. This same event is also in "A Pictorial History of Carter County, Kentucky”, by George Wolfford on page 53.
John and Nora had five children. Grace was born 1906, Bill on 13 June 1908, Walt on 30 Jan 1911, Edd on 31 Aug 1913 and Laura on 21 May 1916. John (because of his trouble with the law) listed his birthplace and his parents’ information differently on every record I found on him. His occupation was listed as blacksmith and miner.
On 11 March 1918, John and Nora bought 30 acres of land in Wayne County, West Virginia, for $60.00 cash, a gun valued at $40.00 and a cow valued at $70.00. John got a job at the Crystal Block Mining Company, Gates Plant, at Lobata, West Virginia. I have newspaper articles from the "Williamson Daily News" (dated 23 Oct 1920, 26 Oct 1920 and 28 Oct 1920) and the "McDowell Recorder" (dated 29 Oct 1920) that say he was an outside foreman for the company. I believe this was another name for a special guard or mine guard. West Virginia was the largest coal producing state in the nation. The miners lived in grim mining camps and in company owned houses, which was little better than stables in many camps. There were deplorable living conditions, starvation wages, illegal, oppressive, often dishonest practices of many of the early coal operators and it brought on bloody uprisings that bordered on civil war: and on four occasions required the presence of US troops.
The United Mine Workers of America were trying to unionize the miners and the coal-operators were fighting against it. In the early days there were no state police and the Sheriff's office could not police all the plants, so the coal operators appointed a deputy sheriff and mine guards to keep the peace. The miners were on strike and John was active in trying to get the Gates Plant to work and in helping to open up other plants closed by the strike. It was stated by his friends that he had been threatened on numerous occasions, and that it was well understood that those seeking to prevent the mines from working had determined to "get him". On 22 Oct 1920, John talked the matter over with a well-known citizen, who visited him in his home. It was also reported that warnings had been given others that they were marked for death, as a consequence there was a very tense situation in and around Sprigg and other mining towns in that vicinity. John also gave his wife instructions on where he wished to be buried. On Sat morning, 23 Oct 1920, the threats by miners were made good. As John Yates and George Morden were leaving the Gates Company Store the first shot was fired from the bush somewhere on the nearby hillside and it zipped close to them. They started for cover, but not quick enough, for the second shot followed immediately and John was struck and instantly killed. A third shot was fired, and then the firing stopped. Information was sent at once to the commander of the troops at Sycamore (2 miles west of Sprigg), and a detail was sent to the scene. Another detachment of soldiers accompanied by Captain Milliken and his bloodhounds were also sent (from Williamson) to see if they could pick up the trail that would lead to the assassin's lair.
The point from which the shots were fired was soon located and evidence was found that three men had been concealed there, probably for some time. The dogs followed the trail back to the road where it was lost.
The Crystal Block Mining Company authorized Sheriff Blankenship to offer a reward of $5000 for the arrest and conviction of the murderers and this sum was augmented later by $500. which was subscribed by local employees of the company. The Mingo County Court also authorized a reward of $500. There were no arrests made.
Nora Yates buried her husband on the hillside, in his orchard and placed yellow rambling roses all around him which was his last wish. A deathbed confession was made by John Gollihue (Nora's brother) many years later. He was also working for the Crystal Block Mining Company, Gates Plant. He lived in a company owned house and was on strike- he was told to work or get out of the company's house. He said this was why he killed John Yates. *The Crystal Block Mining Company, Gates Plant was chartered on 29 Dec 1913; the address was Lobata, W VA with the general office in Sprigg, W Va. It ceased operations in 1944 and was succeeded by Cedar Grove Coal Company. Cedar Grove closed several years later and no successors were indicated. (This information is from Division of Energy, Charleston, West Virginia) *Note: The information used to prepare this article were: "Thunder in the Mountains" by Lon Savage, Wise County Historical Society Wise County, Va, " Carter County, Ky Pictorial History", by George Wollford, and articles from "Williamson Daily News" dated 23 , 26 and 28 Oct 1920, and the " McDowell Recorder", Welch, West Virginia dated 29 Oct 1920. I have "West Virginia Coal Fields” Personal Views by Senator Kenyon, several pages of signatures of miners and their family to the US Senate Committee, copies of records on Crystal Block Mining Company and lots of information on the children of John and Nora.