Just before my father, Edward Shortt, passed away I met with him about past allegations that he had shot my Grandfather with anger in his heart. Dad was very hesitant to share most of the details with me as he was a very discreet man. The things he did reveal to me were straightforward and from his heart.
The Counties of Buchanan and Tazwell , in the state of Virginia, were wild and wooly during the 1930’s. Our family lived on the Buchanan County side but did most of our business in Tazewell County due to the road conditions going to the County seat of Grundy in Buchanan. Beer joints dotted the landscape in both counties due to the boom in coal and due to the fact that Virginia was a dry state and did not allow hard liquor to be sold in any establishment other than the State run liquor stores. This filled the coffers of the state in two ways; the state was getting all the revenue from liquor sales, and the State Police were kept busy arresting men who were caught driving under the influence and being drunk in public. Bootleggers did a steady business selling bathtub gin and home brew. The old west lived again during that period.
During a very bad locust year in the area of Buchanan and Tazewell Counties, probably in the early 1930’s, Grandpa, Jeff Shortt, had a nervous breakdown changing his whole life. Before the breakdown, Grandpa was a cattleman, running cattle in both counties and besides that he was farming a chunk of Buchanan County property. After the breakdown, he became shiftless, a womanizer, and drank his share of illicit booze. Whereas before he would bring his earnings home to Grandma, Eva, and pour the money out in his hat showing Grandma that he was earning a very good living for her and their children. This all stopped suddenly after the nerve attack.
Grandpa began running with a very bad crowd, wasting his money on booze and women who were willing to help him spend all the money he could scrape together. He also was used as the bogeyman by mothers along the creeks of Buchanan County as he would ride up and down the creek shooting off his revolver under a state of inebriation. They would tell their mischievous children, “You’d better be good or else we will allow old Jeff Shortt to take you!” Even in his terrible state, he maintained a lot of friends among relatives and neighbors in the vicinity of Shortt Gap where our family resided. Of the many acres of land that Grandpa had bought when he was in his right mind, he began selling off the land, sometimes for fifteen cents an acre and by unscrupulous relatives who took advantage of the situation. His family suffered many hard days and nights because of his inability to control his need for cheap booze and women. Many times he would come home in a state of drunkenness and run the family out in the cold where they would have to sleep, sometimes in the barn and sometimes in a cave down below the house where they resided at the time. The harsh Virginia winter nights had to be endured by any means that Grandma could devise. This woman of Irish and Native American stock was a true mother who, even after Grandpa had been gone for many years declared, “I love Jeff to this day!” She told this to my wife and I as we drove from Washington D.C. to Shortt Gap in a sweeping rainstorm so bad that we had to stop many times as we could not see to drive! It would be very difficult to find a woman today as hardy as this one.
“Frankie, I know that many stories have been told about the incident with my dad, but maybe I can clear up some of the mystery for you,” Dad began. It seemed as though he did not know where to begin. He again reiterated the fact that Grandpa had been a great dad up until the time he had the nervous breakdown in the thirties. In 1938 was when the thing came to a head!
My dad began,“Dad had been drinking all day as was his usual habit. He had also been with some pretty bad company before he arrived at my home. This was after he had chased mom and the other children from their home. They always came to my home when any trouble arose as they were only about half a mile from us. Dad came up to the door, which was still not hung on hinges, as I was in the process of finishing the house a little at a time.”
“Edd, open up! dad cried, I’ve been shot! He had tried this trick before to get into my house and raise havoc so we did not believe him. He then ran to the woodblock and grabbed the pole axe coming back to the door and commencing to chop it down. I shot out the side of the wall with my shotgun thinking to scare him off. This must have sobered him up as he left off chopping down the door and went up the hill and lay down under an old beach tree.”
Dad continued, “As soon as we deemed it safe, my brother and I went up to the beach tree to check on dad. He lay in a pool of blood from a wound in his back. He was taken to the hospital by a neighbor but succumbed to his wound after a day or so.
My father was arrested for shooting his father because of trumped up charges by some disgruntled, so-called, friends. He served six months in Richmond Penitentiary before it was proven that he was not the one who shot Grandpa. He had been shot in the back by a jealous lover named Shelton as he rode home in an inebriated state. It seems that Grandpa had been a little generous with his affections toward Shelton’s wife. Alcohol and illicit love was never a good combination.
During his stay in the Richmond Pen, my father’s life changed. He came home continuing to raise his family of three, adding seven more as the years went by, working on any job that would provide for his family. Most of his career was in the coal industry. He also worked in the lumber industry. He served the Shortt Gap community for the next forty years ministering to all their needs, spiritually and physically. He was commended by the High Sheriff for making Shortt Gap one of the safest and most peaceful communities in Buchanan County, Virginia. Dad was buried on his own property called by many as Shack Ridge. Automobiles backed up on the half a mile red dog road leading to the main highway and then another mile to the Shortt Gap post office at his funeral. The man from South Africa, who did dad’s eulogy later, made a point to say, “Edd stood in the Gap for all the citizens of his community and was an example of charity, faith and hope to all that he came in contact with.” By the way, Edd in Hebrew means, witness! The witness is the one who gives evidence or testimony of things, or of people.