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Bad Men of Greenbrier

Pocahontas Sheriff and Deputy Take Them

July 1914

In June 1913, Theodore Hoke, aged fifty years, and Jesse Hoke, his son, ages 24 years, were tried in the circuit court of Greenbrier county upon a charge of stealing goods from box cars on the C & O Railway. The case was vigorously fought and defended and the trial attracted considerable attention. The evidence that was most convincing was that the prisoners had the stolen goods in their possession and could give no reasonable account of having gotten them. The trial resulted in a conviction and Theodore Hoke was sentenced to serve seven years and Jesse five years in the pen.

They were in jail awaiting the result of an application for an appeal made to the Supreme court (which was denied them) and in September of last year they made their escape from the Lewisburg jail and returned to their homes on the edge of Greenbrier and Monroe counties, in the mountains near the main Alleghany, not far from the White Sulphur Springs. Here they took their stand and defied authorities to come and get them. Many reports of the manner in which they were fortified and the scouts that they had on the lookout for officers filtered into the settlements and the law and order people put their heads together to answer the challenge in order that the law of Greenbrier county should not be an astonishment and a by-word among the nations of the world. The judge who had tried them saw the importance of the subjugation of these men. It was decided that the sheriff officers of Greenbrier and Monroe, the two counties most directly interested, being well-known to the criminals could not cope with the situation, and the job was turned over to Sheriff [Link] Cochran of this county, on account of his well-known courage, and he selected as his side partner, young Frank Sparks, of Lobelia, as another man who never knew a fear.

Judge Dice issued a bench warrant directed to Messrs. Cochran and Sparks, and last Saturday afternoon the two officers rode into that need-more country in search of the two men. They found them working on a planing mill on Pumpkin Run in Monroe county.

Cochran rode in and represented himself as a tie buyer and sized up four or five men in an effort to identify the men he was after. After talking ties for awhile he asked if he could get his horse shod, one of the Hokes being a blacksmith. About that time he and Sparks decided that two men standing with their backs to a wagon were the two men that were wanted and asked them as to their names, producing the warrant. They denied their identity and others there said they were not the men, but that they were at a sawmill in another hollow. Cochran was directly in front of Theodore and Sparks got in front of Jesse. Sparks had been rolling a cigarette in an offhand manner. Cochran and Sparks then covered the men with revolvers and ordered them to hold up their hands. This they did not do but continued to deny their identity. Cochran told Sparks to put the handcuffs on them and Sparks put his gun in his scabbard, and took out the handcuffs, Cochran holding his gun on both men who were then standing close together.

Just at this critical time with both the convicted men refusing to put up their hands, Carl Hoke, another son of Theodore Hoke, came up behind the Sheriff in a noiseless manner, and took hold of the pistol barrel and deflected it from his father, and he and the Sheriff immediately fell to the ground in a desperate struggle over the possession of the weapon.

The tragedy happened then, in four or five seconds. Both the Hokes and Frank Sparks reached for their guns and each one of the three had about the same time and were about equally expert in the art of quick firing. The three pistols were drawn and emptied in less than five seconds. All three men fell. The Hokes were desperately wounded, each with a ball in the center of his body in front, and Sparks with a wound in the right arm and another wound in the right leg. Sparks was not seriously hurt but he fell a long way and was unconscious from the shock for some time.

Cochran in the meantime was on the ground wrestling with Carl Hoke. The Sheriff retained hold of the butt and Carl was twisting the front end of the revolver. Finally both reached their feet and the Sheriff was in possession of the gun and he dealt Carl a terrible blow on the forehead with the gun. After this, Carl lost interest in the fight and fled. A man by the name of Reed interfered in the scuffle between the Sheriff and Carl and while he helped the Sheriff to some extent he also prevented the Sheriff going to the relief of Sparks for a time. On the whole it was a rather hostile party to the visiting delegates from Pocahontas county.

Telegrams were received here first that the Sheriff had been mortally wounded and later that he was dead and it was nine o’clock Sunday morning before any definite word was received. Both men got back Sunday night and received a great demonstration, as being the heroes of a terrible fight. Sparks had his arm in a sling but otherwise was all right.

Frank Sparks is the young man who, being full of surplus energy and other things, got into a big fight at the Lobelia church last fall and was convicted and given a jail sentence. Being a likable young fellow and very much of a man he has become a great favorite around town and with the Sheriff. And when a brave assistant was needed to go after the Hokes, he was picked as a man having the requisite nerve and he carried himself well through the battle. But for his quickness and coolness both he and the Sheriff could have been killed.

The wounded men were taken to Hinton Hospital. Both are gut shot, and recovery in either case is uncertain.

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