Lawman Daniel Webster ‘‘Dan’’ Cunningham (January 16, 1850-February 5, 1942) was born in Jackson County. His remarkable career involved him in the Hatfield-McCoy Feud, the West Virginia Mine Wars, bloody land disputes, political skullduggery, and the destruction of moonshine stills. Cunningham first taught school, then was hired as a deputy U.S. marshal by Marshal (later Governor) George W. Atkinson. He continued to serve through the terms of Marshals H. S. White, Frank Tyree, and Frank Thompson.
Cunningham was charged with murder in connection with the Bruen lands feud, a late-19th century vendetta stemming from the resentment of outside ownership and long-simmering hatred of opposing Civil War factions in Jackson and Roane counties. Cunningham’s brother, Nathan, served as a deputy U.S. marshal and land agent for the absentee Bruen land company and evicted squatters from their land. Nathan Cunningham was murdered during the feud, and Dan Cunningham was alleged to be part of a group that exacted vengeance in 1887 by murdering Rev. Tom Ryan, a member of the opposing faction. Arrested in Roane County, Cunningham was tried and acquitted in Jackson County.
Cunningham was involved in arresting both Hatfields and McCoys during the decade-long feud violence on the border of Kentucky and West Virginia. Frequently in danger, and once captured by hostile McCoys in Kentucky, Cunningham nevertheless overpowered several armed men and brought them to justice. On another occasion the Hatfields caught him in West Virginia and humiliated him by taking him to the Logan county seat as their prisoner.
When Judge B. F. Keller issued sweeping injunctions against union organizing efforts in the New River coalfields in 1902, Cunningham was responsible for serving warrants and arresting violators. In performing his duties, he was involved in several spectacular gun battles with striking miners, including one in which miner John Harless was killed by Cunningham’s deputies and the Battle of Stanaford, in which six union sympathizers were killed. He was recalled in the autobiography of labor organizer Mother Jones as that ‘‘big elephant, Dan Cunningham.’’
After retiring from the U.S. Marshal Service, Cunningham served as a city detective in Charleston, as a special police officer for the Kanawha & Michigan Railroad, and as a deputy game warden for the West Virginia Game, Fish and Forestry Commission. He was a member of the Kanawha County Board of Examiners for teachers for eight years. Cunningham died at age 92.
This Article was written by Kenneth R. Bailey
Last Revised on October 08, 2012
Proceedings of the New River Symposium. 1991.
Mylott, James P. A Measure of Prosperity: A History of Roane County. Charleston: Mountain State Press, 1984.
Johnson, Ludwell H. 'The Horrible Butcheries of West Virginia': Dan Cunningham on the Hatfield-McCoy Feud. West Virginia History, (1985-86).