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Wednesday, June 8, 2016

From the Pocahontas Times Re: Messer


Grisly 1903 murders remain a mystery

Jaynell Graham 
Staff Writer 
Perhaps not the “true” version, but rather as it has been recorded in my family’s history and passed on to me, with information added from the February 12, 1903, edition of The Pocahontas Times. 
Granville Messer, a tall man with light hair and blue eyes, came to Pocahontas County from Mingo County in the 1880s and bought a 500 acre tract of land in the Buckley Mountains at the head of Monday Lick Run. Here he cleared the land and farmed for his wife and seven children. 

In the 1890s, William J. Colley, from the Tug Fork area came to Pocahontas County. He built a small house at the mouth of Beaver Creek. One source records that he worked at times for the farmers around Hillsboro and was a strange individual with little to say. Little was known of this man’s past, but by his conversation and the fact that he had in his home a ship model, it was presumed by neighbors that he had at once been a seaman. 

Colley said he had attended the Naval Academy at Annapolis. He would work for the farmers and locate articles he “needed,” then at night would return to steal them. Another record states that “He has had a bad reputation, always had plenty to eat and has never been known to do any work. He was of a quarrelsome and overbearing disposition and was greatly feared and disliked. He always had an idea that conspiracies were on foot directed against him.” 

Colley lived with a woman named Mattie Williams, who was a native of Beaver Creek. They were never married and had no children. 

During an altercation with Ed Lange and George McComb concerning a piece of property, Colley threatened Lange with a Winchester rifle. Lange went to Buckeye to Justice Rodgers to swear out a warrant against Colley. 

When Messer learned of the warrant, he went to the Sheriff at Marlinton and contracted to serve it. The sheriff deputized Messer, John May, and John Sharp. On February 7, the three proceeded to Colley’s house at the station known as Dan, seven miles below town, at the mouth of Beaver Creek. 

Messer owned a considerable amount of property, but was illiterate and Colley had, in the past, written contracts for him. 

On this day Messer approached Colley under the pretense of having Colley write a rental agreement between Messer and John May. 

Colley refused to come outside, but wrote the contract while the men waited. When Colley stepped to the door to read the completed document, Messer said, “You’re under arrest.” 
Whereupon Colley produced a .38 Smith and Wesson and began to fire. Messer also shot Colley with a pistol. 

As this was going on, Williams reached for the rifle which hung over the mantle. John May stepped past the two men and grabbed her, then Colley shot him in the shoulder. May held the woman with one hand and fired four shots at Colley with the other. When Colley had emptied his .38, he reached for a .44 caliber pistol, on the table. However, he was so weak that it fell from his hand. 

Colley sank on a bed and said “I’ll surrender” and died. 

Messer turned and walked to a chopping block in the yard and sat down. May said to him, “Are you hurt?” 

Messer said, “ I believe I am killed.” as he slumped over dead. 

Four shots had “taken effect” on Messer and 10 bullet holes were found in Colley’s body. 
Prosecuting Attorney T. S. McNeel and Justice Rodgers went to Dan to hold an inquest. A jury was selected from the group of men who had gathered at the site. After the inquest, McComb was authorized to bury Colley. He made a crude wooden box and buried him near the house. Messer’s body was taken to his home in the Buckley Mountains and buried in the family cemetery. 

The assumption was that Messer and Colley had known each other before they came here and were possibly on opposite sides of the Hatfield and McCoy feud. 

The Pocahontas Times of February 12, 1903, contains the comment, “the struggle that resulted in the death of both participants is perhaps without parallel in this county, and it is hard to imagine an encounter more desperate in its nature.” 

Granville Messer’s grave has been well maintained through the years. The original crude headstone is gone and a newer footstone records an incorrect date of death as 1907. 

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A local archivist who specializes in all things Pocahontas County