Life in early Appalachia wasn’t always about outlaws and the thrill of blockading. It wasn’t always gunfire and violence. Many of the greatest stories will never be known due to pervasive yellow journalism that overshadowed so much factual history. One such story revolves around a man named Connelly Fields.
Keeping the Peace
Connelly Fields enjoyed a relatively stable life in 1881. The only exception to that routine were the various instabilities of his hotheaded wife. Mrs. Fields noticed her own brother hunting on their property. Connelly didn’t mind, but she wouldn’t be calmed. She demanded he confront her brother for trespassing. He went to speak with William Scott, but his wife followed. The exchange was only vocal, at first. It soon became physical. Not one to waste such an opportunity, Mrs. Fields jumped between the fighting men.
Suddenly, William stumbled backwards. His shirt became drenched with blood. He’d been stabbed in the stomach with some kind of sharp object. Connelly didn’t know what she did, or if she stabbed him, but felt he needed to protect her. Even when he faced murder charges and outlawry, he refused to incriminate his wife.
Scott was a well-known resident of the county, so local wrath promptly came against Fields. He didn’t attend court proceedings because he’d received death threats if he ventured into town at all, let alone as far as the courthouse.
Absence garnered him the conviction of guilty as charged. Fields knew he had no choice, but to leave. Someone was going to eventually kill him if he didn’t He couldn’t hide in their house forever. He begged his wife to go west with him and start a new life. She refused. With no choice, Connelly went west alone.
Mrs. Fields was incensed by the entire matter. After several years, she sued her husband for a divorce, although history doesn’t record if he ever knew about it. He was busy building a career while she went about life in Gate City. Unfortunately, no husband meant there was no one was to clean up after her.
She flew into a rage several years later and shot a well-respected woman. Her victim sustained serious injuries, but survived. Mrs. Fields was tried, convicted, and sentenced to five years in prison. She contracted tuberculosis while incarcerated. The ailment became so severe the Governor pardoned her to live out the rest of her life at home. She died shortly after her return.
Connelly Fields returned to pay his respects. He worked and invested for years, until he became an affluent railroad magnate. He faced the enemies that had threatened his life all those years before. He finally confessed what really happened that day.
The story touched everyone who heard it. The lengths he went to in protecting his wife became a popular story across the state. Eventually, it reached the Governor’s office and Fields was pardoned of any wrongdoing.
Sixteen years after his pardon, long after he’d returned west, a passer-by noticed something at the scene of the long-forgotten crime. They saw something metallic beneath a pile of dead leaves and debris at Fields’s old home. They found a pair of bloody scissors, still encrusted with blood from the murder so many years earlier.