Attorney General Howard Burton Lee (October 27, 1879-May 24, 1985) was born in Wirt County. Graduating from Marshall College (now University) in 1905, he became a teacher in Putnam County before winning a scholarship to Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia.
While still a student at W&L, Lee was elected as a Republican member of the West Virginia legislature, representing Putnam County. Lee began his law practice in Bluefield in 1909 and served as Mercer County prosecuting attorney from 1916 to 1924. Elected state attorney general in 1924, he served in that post for eight challenging, eventful years. His term saw the impeachment of a state auditor for embezzlement, the lawlessness and violence of Prohibition, and continued labor troubles in the southern coalfields. Lee later practiced law in Charleston until he retired in 1943. After his retirement, he lived much of the time in Stuart, Florida.
Beginning with The Story of the Constitution in 1932, Lee wrote a dozen books, both on legal subjects and regional history. His Bloodletting In Appalachia (1969) is perhaps the best known. In it, he drew on his personal experience to help detail the history of the state’s Mine Wars. ‘‘It’s the most horrifying story you’ve ever read,’’ Lee said in a 1978 interview. ‘‘Unfortunately, every word of it is true.’’
In 1982, Marshall University presented Lee, then 102 and believed to be the school’s oldest living graduate, with an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree. He died at age 105.
Written by James E. Casto
Lee, Howard B. Bloodletting in Appalachia. Morgantown: West Virginia University, 1969.