And so on Saturday, Jan. 24, 1894, Hall and two other Virginia lawmen burst through the post office door, guns already cocked and ready for action. Calvin Fleming fires the first shot and the two outlaws and three lawmen quickly exchange fire.
A total of 23 shots ring out. When the gun smoke clears, Calvin lay dead, with three bullets in him. One of the Virginia lawmen is fatally wounded; he would die nine days later. Henan, Hall and the other Virginia lawman are wounded. Amazingly, although a dozen other people were crowded into the post office when the gunfire erupted, none of them are hit.
History records that a Webster County grand jury indicted Henan for murder in the post office shooting, but he was acquitted. He then was taken back to Virginia and put on trial for the Mullins murders. Again he was acquitted. Later, he and his wife would move to West Virginia, where he ultimately became a policeman in Richwood. Truth, it seems, is indeed stranger than fiction.
Samples believes the shootout at the Boggs post office was the equal of the famous gunfight at the O.K. Corral in Tombstone, Ariz., but "it never got any mention in the national news media. Perhaps it was because it occurred in a very isolated area and happened before the big timber and coal boom hit Webster County."
Be that as it may, Samples' slim paperback novel does an excellent job of bringing to life this all but forgotten piece of bloody West Virginia history.
"23 Shots" is available at bookstores throughout West Virginia, or by phone or online from the West Virginia Book Co. at 304-342-1848 or www.wvbookco.com.
Retired Huntington newspaper editor James E. Casto frequently reviews books for the Sunday Gazette-Mail.