We Were Here

Conrad "Coon" Reichley
February 3, 2012
by Konrad Stump, contributing writer to The Logan Daily News

Back around Christmas, my fellow columnist Lois Kempton wrote a wonderful piece on Conrad "Coon" Reichley, a man known throughout this part of Ohio as Santa Claus. Naturally, I became interested in finding out more about Coon. Certainly, he sounded like a bit of a character.
Conrad Henry "Coon" Reichley was born June 8, 1862, in Perry County, a son of Samuel and Jane (Acker) Reichley. His parents initially made their home in Trimble Township, Athens County. Between 1860 and Coon's birth, they'd moved to McCuneville, in Perry County. When Coon was two years old, the family moved to a farm in Washington Township. His mother passed away on July 4, 1875, and by 1880 his maternal grandmother, Ann Acker, was living with them. On March 24, 1887, Coon married Emma Jane Carnes, the daughter of Thomas and Mary (Shafer) Carnes in Athens County.
Coon and Emma made their home on Chapel Ridge, near the headwaters of Queer Creek. Queer Creek was one of the most noted places in Hocking County, flowing for several miles through a deep canyon, with large caverns, cliffs, and evergreens on either side. It had, at one time, been inhabited by the American Indians, who descended the cliffs by means of ladders, some one which were still visible at the turn of the 20th century. The ladders were known by all in the area as "the Indian ladders."
One winter day in 1901, Coon descended to the base of the large cliffs, discovering a small cave. Around that time, catamounts had been seen in the area, and mention had been made in the newspapers. When Coon entered the cave he heard terrible sounds coming from within, and fearing he may have discovered the den of the catamounts, he backed out of the cave and rushed home. He told his neighbors what he had discovered, and what he had heard, wanting others to come help him investigate. After having some trouble finding people to assist him, he finally convinced Arthur Woodgeart, a man known for being knowledgeable about dynamite, and Henry Gordon to investigate with him. The entrance to the cave was only about five feet high, but was about 15 feet high inside. In one corner, they noticed a small figure cut in the stone with a head like a pot and a body like a snake. They realized the sounds were coming from a small hole on the other side of the cave, no more than six inches in diameter. Wanting to figure out what was in there, they began drilling holes, then set up dynamite to blow the hole open. Behind the wall, they found a room which appeared to have been manmade, being about 10 by 15 feet and seven feet high. In one corner of the room they noticed a little mound overlaid with cut stone. Coon and the others began removing the stones and picking at the mound. When the loose dirt was removed, they discovered bones of human bodies, bones of animals, knives and all kinds of tools made out of flint. Digging farther, they discovered a small earthen pot. They broke it open, and inside were many kinds of gold coins, which were later valued at $500, which the three men split. Anyone wishing to see some of the items they found, or hear more of the mysterious tale, was told to call Coon.
Coon didn't see a catamount that day, but he would have a run in with a wildcat. One day, Truman Kline was on his way to Coon's house, and when he was within a short distance of it, he saw a large wildcat sunning itself on a rock. Truman took out a 32-caliber revolver and shot at the animal, striking it in its paw. Maddened with pain, the wildcat attached Truman, tearing at his clothes and lacerating his flesh. Truman's cries soon caught the attention of the Reichley family, who came running with weapons. Coon killed the wildcat with a shot from his musket. They took Truman to their home, and Emma nursed and bandaged his wounds. Coon, on the other hand, pelted and stuffed the hide of the wildcat.
By the time of his death in 1940, Coon was well known as a republican, but for years he had been an avid, vocal democrat in Hocking and the surrounding counties. As early as 1892, he was making attempts to colonize voters. By 1903, he was so well known as a voice in local politics, it was thought he might receive a visit from the president. An article ran in The Hocking Sentinel on Apr. 16, 1903, stating, "Teddy the Terrible is now in the wild west pursuing the Bison. On his return trip he will come on the Benton pike in Jim Hanson's 15th century, high water carriage, by way of Ash Cave, and go coon hunting with Coon Reichley." On June 22, 1905, The Hocking Sentinel reported, "Among the many stalwart Democrats who attended the Democratic convention on last Saturday was our old friend, and a wheel horse of Democracy in Benton, Coon Reichley.
That November, he took a weekend trip to Columbus, where he went to meet with the governor and his staff. By 1932 he was an avid Republican, making national news by refusing to shave his beard until a Republican president got into office, resulting in his uncanny resemblance to images of Santa Claus. Coon first received the job of playing Santa Claus 1935. In the Dec. 21, 1935, edition of The Ogden Standard Examiner, out of Iowa, an article appeared discussing the Logan Chamber of Commerce selecting him, and his three-year-old beard. This was followed by many offers from other parts of Ohio, but Coon stayed loyal to Logan.
Coon stayed a vocal citizen in terms of politics to the very end. On March 4, 1940, he disappeared after making a trip to Logan. When his body was found four months later, on July 12, he had a number of nominating petitions in his pockets, along with a copy of The Logan Daily News, dated Feb. 29, 1940. Nobody reported him missing till March 28, because he became prone to taking unannounced hitchhiking trips to different parts of Ohio after Emma died in 1933. Although there was some initial investigation, and there was same dissatisfaction with the ruling on the part of Coon's son Samuel, the death was ultimately ruled an accident. He and Emma were both laid to rest in Fairview Cemetery.
Reprinted here with the permission of the author, Konrad Stump.

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