Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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October 15, 2012

Inaugural Mercer Heritage Festival has successful conclusion

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A volley of musket fire Sunday afternoon effectively signaled the conclusion of the inaugural Mercer County Heritage Festival. The Civil War demonstration that was planned for the afternoon was canceled, but members of the Southern West Virginia Black Bear Guard (galvanized) Federal and Confederate reenactment group, acted out the execution of a “southern man in a Federal uniform” to the cheers of the crowd.

“You have been found guilty of treason,” Gene Hensley said before commanding his firing squad to execute Greg Farmer, wearing a Union Army uniform.

“I die with honor,” Farmer responded, but when the firing squad took aim, he took off running, and fell at the report of the muskets. As was the tradition of the time, the members of the HeBlack Bear Guard stripped the boots and haversack from Farmer.

“For a first time, she’s done a real good job on this festival,” Jim Boardwine of Saltville, Va., said of Lois Miller, president of the Mercer County Historical Society who organized and coordinated the event.

Boardwine brought salt kettles and demonstrated how people boiled down brine into usable salt. During the 1860s, salt was an essential product in the process of preserving meats. Saltville is the center of the drainage basin of the Great Inland Sea and a large pool of brine underlies the land there. After Union warships had sealed off the ports of the Confederacy, the small community became a vital source for salt during the Civil War.

Along with demonstrating how salt was made, Boardwine had a display of mastodon and wooly mammoth bones that had been found in the Saltville area. Both species inhabited the earth during the Pliocene and Pleistocene Epoch starting 3.75 million years ago, and living to about 10,000 years ago during the Ice Ace.

“The animals came to Saltville looking for salt just like people did,” Boardwine said.

“The Civil War period ball was great last night,” Miller said as she and several other volunteers cleaned the kitchen and main dining hall at the Mercer County 4-H Camp at Glenwood. “We had about 60 people here for the ball, and we had a really good time. We may consider doing this again next year. We’ll talk about it among the membership. We have received a lot of great comments.

“All of the volunteers have had to work hard,” Miller said. “We promised the reenactors who came that we would fed them good. We did our best to do just that. Allen Dunnagan brought his team of horses and his hay wagon to take people on rides and people really seemed to like that.”

Miller said that the shotgun wedding on Sunday was a lot of fun. The skit featured her son, Alex Miller, his girlfriend, Jennifer Weeks, and “the other woman” portrayed by Tanya Hill. “It was cute,” Lois Miller said. “They dragged him into the wedding, and then the other woman comes up and yells: ‘There he is Pa!’ and ends the whole thing. It was all good, clean fun.”

Joan Williams, who was also volunteering to clean up the kitchen said that her husband, Wayne Williams, tried to see all of the storytellers on Saturday. “There were 24 storytellers here,” she said. “He said he enjoyed all of them, but General (Thomas “Stonewall”) Jackson was his favorite.”

Laurie Stone traveled from Maryland to demonstrate her talents as a genealogist at the event. She does custom genealogy research through ( She researched the service records of Rufus Rowland, a Spanishburg native who joined the Mercer County-based 24th Virginia Regiment and fought in every major battle of the Civil War starting with First Manassas on July 21, 1861 and concluding with Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s surrender to Union General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House, Va., on April 9, 1865.

“They were one of General Jubal Early’s favorite companies,” Stone said. “They started out with 122 members and only 22 survived at the end of the war. I love getting the records together,” she said.

— Contact Bill Archer at

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