February 5, 1942: Lawman Dan Cunningham Dies at 92

Feb 5, 2018

Credit e-West Virginia Encyclopedia / WV State Archives

Dan Cunningham died on February 5, 1942, at age 92. The legendary lawman was involved in some of the most violent and eventful moments in West Virginia history—sometimes finding himself on both sides of the legal system.

In the late 1800s, Cunningham was charged with murder related to the Bruen lands feud in Jackson and Roane counties. The feud stemmed from outside landownership and long-simmering Civil War resentments. After his brother, a U.S. marshal, was murdered during the feud, Cunningham was charged with killing the Rev. Tom Ryan, a member of the opposing faction. Cunningham was acquitted in his native Jackson County.

He played a part in the Hatfield-McCoy Feud, both arresting—and being captured by—feudists on either side of the conflict. In the violent 1902 coal-mining strike, Cunningham was involved in some spectacular gun battles, including the Battle of Stanaford, in which six union sympathizers were killed. Labor leader Mother Jones insultingly referred to Cunningham as the ‘‘big elephant.’’

Dan Cunningham also had a sixth sense for sniffing out moonshine stills, making him an enemy of every bootlegger in the hollows of southern West Virginia.