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Social History and Cultural Change in the Elkhorn Coal Field Oral History Project  

This guide will help you find primary source oral history interviews pertaining to the Social History and Cultural Change in the Elkhorn Coal Field Oral History Project.
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Annotated Guide to the Social History and Cultural Change in the Elkhorn Coal Field Oral History Project: Part I

If not available online, audio copies and/or transcripts of the interviews in this project are available in the Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History.

 

Guide Edited by Jeffrey Suchanek

2003

87OH186 APP 109

AUTIE STILTNER

Date: June 8, 1987

Location: Elkhorn City, Kentucky

Interviewer: Nyoka Hawkins

P.T.: 1 hr. 15 mins.

Audio Conditions: Good

Transcript: First Draft

Restrictions: None

Autie Stiltner was born in 1906 on Kennedy’s Branch near Elkhorn City, Kentucky, and began working as a coal miner when he was sixteen years old. His parents, Fed and Diadema Stiltner, were small mountain farmers. Autie worked at 24 different mines in eastern Kentucky and neighboring states during his 35-year career. He vividly recalls the common experience of working for extremely low wages. He also discusses the scrip system and the inability of the miners to confront the coal companies about unjust treatment. Stiltner tells of miners working at the Dunleary mine who became sick due to “bad air” and were laid off by the company for two weeks. He talks about the “clean-up” system that required a miner to clean up all the rock and coal that had been “shot down” that day before he left the job, regardless of the hours it took.

Stiltner worked at several mines on Marrowbone Creek including Edgewater, Henry Clay, Allegheny, Ratliff, and Greenaugh. He comments on the recruitment of labor by Edgewater Coal Company and on the high mortality rate of immigrant miners at the Wolfpit mine on Marrowbone Creek. The Wolfpit mine was known to have a bad slate top, and many local miners would not work there because of the danger. Stiltner also mentions that his brother, Baby Ray Stiltner, worked for the Polley Mining Company near Pikeville, Kentucky. After getting in debt for his board the first week, his brother ended up staying a year and earned a total of six dollars. Autie Stiltner recalls that he once worked for one week and earned $1.25 that bought him one broadcloth shirt. He comments on the miners’ fear of the mining companies. If you asked any questions, the company fired you.

87OH187 APP 110 

MAXIE RAMEY STILTNER

Date: June 8, 1987

Location: Elkhorn City, Kentucky

Interviewer: Nyoka Hawkins

P.T.: 1 hr. 30 mins.

Audio Conditions: Good

Transcript: First Draft

Restrictions: None

Maxie Ramey Stiltner was born on May 2, 1912 on John Moore’s Branch near Elkhorn City, Kentucky. Her parents were Virgie Elkins and Ephram Ramey. Ephram was a boss at the Dunleary, Federal, and other mines in eastern Kentucky and neighboring states. She remembers as a child seeing her father only on Sundays because of the long hours he worked. Her father also worked in the logging business, running rafts of logs to earn extra money.

Stiltner remembers the “workings” that families held on John Moore’s Branch. All the neighbors would gather to help a family hoe out its corn, for example, and the women would cook chicken, corn, potatoes, beans etc. for everyone. She recalls fondly that the dessert was usually a cold biscuit filled with applesauce. She also talks about the scarcity of cash and the trading that went on between families.

Stiltner began teaching school at the age of seventeen on John Moore’s Branch and earned $68 a month. She spent over ten years as a rural schoolteacher at Draffin, Lookout on Marrowbone Creek, Potter Flats (near Breaks Park in Virginia), in addition to John Moore’s Branch. She recalls that the school systems provided her with only a broom, coal bucket, shovel, water bucket and dipper, and two boxes of chalk. She has pleasant memories of teaching in Potter Flats, an area known for frequent violence, because the parents were supportive, the children diligent and interested.

Her childhood memories of growing up on Moore’s Branch include a frightening story of being caught on the railroad bridge when a train came across. To avoid being hit, she stepped onto water barrels along the side that were used in case of a fire. She talks about her efforts to continue her education even after her marriage to Autie Stiltner and having a child. She describes hiring a live-in “hired girl” to help her take care of her child. She also describes her experience as a teacher in Lookout, Kentucky during the late 1930s when the large mines had shut down and some of her students were impoverished.

87OH188 APP 111 

JAMES E. CHILDERS

Date: June 11, 1987

Location: Ashcamp, Kentucky

Interviewer: Nyoka Hawkins

P.T.: 3 hrs. 30 mins.

Audio Conditions: Good

Transcript: First Draft

Restrictions: None

James Childers was born in 1910 on Adams’ Branch near Elkhorn City, Kentucky. His parents, Love Childers and Lizzie Sanders Childers, were born on Marrowbone Creek. Lizzie was raised on the land where Peabody Coal opened up the Allegheny mine. Lizzie sold her land to Peabody in 1906.

Lizzie and Love farmed and raised their family on Adams’ Branch. James provides a vivid description of the richness of the land and the abundance the mountains provided. The family owned several horses, cows, hogs, sheep, turkeys, geese, and ducks. His mother used the sheep’s wool to make socks and weaved blankets on her loom. Childers states that farmers did not have to feed their stock because the mountains were full of timber that provided plenty of “mast” for the animals. He recalls that chestnuts were so plentiful that one could pick up a bushel full in half an hour. Mountain farms also had large orchards full of apple, peach, pear, plum, and cherry trees. Adams’ Branch also had many paw-paw trees. Farmers dug roots and herbs, such as pennyroyal, mayapple, and wild cherry bark, to sell to the R.T. Greer Company in Pikeville. As a child, Childers also hunted and trapped and recalled that occasionally a man would come by on horseback to buy the pelts. There were also bear and wildcats on Adams’ Branch that fed on the farmers’ chickens and young sheep.

Childers states that his family would take corn to be ground to Aunt Rachel Sloan’s water mill, located above the mouth of Water Branch. They bought their flour in 196-lb barrels and he estimates that they would use 25-30 pounds a week. They also bought salt by the barrel. They rarely bought sugar because they used molasses as a sweetener. His family had a well for water and a springhouse for cold storage. He remembers peddling eggs and other farm products at the Edgewater coal camp on Marrowbone Creek. He mentions community bean-stringings and corn-shuckings.

At the age of eighteen, Childers began work as a coal miner for Edgewater Coal Company. He walked six miles to work, leaving at five o’clock in the morning and returning at seven or eight o’clock at night. He started out earning fifty cents an hour as a “chalkeye” or “backhand.” This meant he was employed by a contractor or miner and not directly by the company. The miners from Elkhorn Creek did not move into the company towns but continued to live on farms. The mines provided the only means of earning cash.

When Edgewater shut down in the spring of 1930, Childers began working at the Henry Clay mine. He describes earning four dollars a day when he first started, but by 1933 wages were down to $2.80 a day. During the miners’ efforts to unionize the mines in 1933 and 1934, Childers joined other miners in going out on strike and he describes the violence that eventually erupted. He recalls early UMWA field organizer Tom Raney as the “best speaker in Pike County,” and talks about the work divisions within the mines. The coal loaders were the paid the least and were often “backhands.” The “company men” who ran the motors and laid track received higher wages. When the UMWA tried to organize the miners, a split developed between miners. The coal loaders sided with the union, while the company men were mostly anti-union.

Childers also talks about working in McRoberts, Kentucky, and having to walk 24 miles one way to come home on weekends. He recalls the first automobiles in the area and one man who made a living pulling cars out of the mud. Electricity was not run up Elkhorn Creek until the late 1940s. Childers suffered permanent hearing loss in a mine fire at the Allegheny mine on Marrowbone Creek in 1946. He retired in 1963 when he was crippled by a slate fall.

87OH189 APP 112 

SPURLOCK CURE

Date: June 12, 1987

Location: Elkhorn City, Kentucky

Interviewer: Nyoka Hawkins

P.T.: 30 mins.

Audio Conditions: Good

Transcript: First Draft

Restrictions: None

Spurlock Cure worked in and around coal mines for thirteen years. He began work as a miner in 1945 at age seventeen and earned five dollars a day. His grandfather was Orville Cure, a renowned Pike County carpenter. Cure describes the extraordinary craftsmanship exhibited by his grandfather. His grandfather earned extra money by riding rafts of logs from Elkhorn City to Catlettsburg when the logging industry was active in the area.

Cure describes the eleven-acre farm he grew up on near Elkhorn Creek. His father, Reuben, had a sawmill and a gristmill, as well as chickens, pigs, and cows. Cure reflects on changing community values. He remembers that when he was growing up, “neighbors helped neighbors.” He also talks about the working conditions miners were subjected to such as working in standing water, moving rock for no pay, and the lack of safety measures. He talks about the struggle to unionize the mines and the failure of younger miners to recognize the value of the union.

87OH190 APP 113 

FLORENCE RAMEY

Date: June 12, 1987

Location: Elkhorn City, Kentucky

Interviewer: Nyoka Hawkins

P.T.: 45 mins.

Audio Conditions: Good

Transcript: First Draft

Restrictions: None

Born in Elkhorn City in 1900, Florence Ramey was the daughter of Hattie McCown and Orville Cure. Her father, a renowned carpenter, built several of the early tipples for the coal companies, as well as the Elswick Store in Elkhorn City and many of the homes in the area. Ramey’s mother, who died in 1914, kept boarders to supplement the family’s income. As a result, Florence Ramey owned boarding houses at several coal camps in the Marrowbone and eastern Kentucky area. She recalls that sometimes she would have as many as 35 miners boarding in her seven-room house. The miners would “double-shift,” meaning that one group of miners would sleep while the other shift worked. The Henry Clay mine, for example, operated three shifts, 24 hours a day. Ramey also ran a boarding house at the Edgewater camp in conjunction with the coal company, Semet-Solvay, on Marrowbone Creek. Her sister operated the clubhouse where the office workers and company employees lived. Ramey made use of a “hired girl” to help her run the boarding house.

 When Henry Clay miners tried to organize the UMWA in the mid to late 1930s, a violent strike ensued. Ramey recalls the gun battles and states that she kept a gun at her boarding house where the company guards ate frequently. She resented the intimidation tactics of the striking miners. In her view, the outsiders brought in to fight for the union were “pretty bad.” She avoided taking sides, however, because, “I didn’t have no say. I was taking care of my children.”

87OH191 APP 114 

TEAMUS BARTLEY

Date: June 14, 1987

Location: Ashcamp, Kentucky

Interviewer: Nyoka Hawkins

P.T.: 3 hrs. 15 mins.

Audio Conditions: Good

Transcript: First Draft

Restrictions: None

Teamus Bartley was born at Ashcamp, Kentucky, in 1891. In 1905 at age fourteen, he went with his father to Wise County, Virginia, to work for the Virginia Iron Coal and Coke Company. He believes that the company operated one thousand coke ovens on Tom’s Creek and that the town was two and a half miles in area. He and his father worked on the coke ovens at night because of the intense heat. Bartley states that Kentucky had a bad reputation outside of the state and that people were “afraid of anybody from Kentucky.”

After returning to Kentucky, Bartley went to work for the Edgewater Coal Company on Marrowbone Creek building coke ovens for $1.50 a day. He worked for Edgewater until it shut down in 1930, and then went to work at the Henry Clay mine from 1935 to 1937. He describes the company’s attempt to discover if he supported the union and states, “They fired every man they thought was union.” He talks about his first experience with a miner being killed in the mine. He discusses working at the Greenaugh mine on Marrowbone, “the sorriest company I ever worked for.” After working a month, he asked how much money he had made, that he estimated to be between $75-$100. When he was told $12, he immediately quit.

Bartley also discusses the splash dam and logging industry on Elkhorn Creek. His father worked for the Yellow Poplar Lumber Company. The logs were tied into rafts and floated to Catlettsburg. He describes in detail “working up” logs with his father and vividly remembers cutting down a magnificent white oak tree on Cumberland Mountain. Bartley also had his own coal bank and tipple and sold house coal for $1.50 a ton for seventeen years. He estimates that he was able to make $15-$20 a week in addition to his company pay by doing this.

Bartley also provides a detailed description of early Ashcamp schools. He recalls that the boys all wore gowns and homemade shoes. The schoolhouse had a dirt floor and chestnut benches hewed from logs. He estimates that the teacher was paid $25 a month. He describes riding into Pond Creek on horseback to buy apples from Uncle Grant Hawkins. A bushel cost ten to fifteen cents. He mentions the 1918 flu epidemic that killed hundreds of people in the area and that medical care was limited to a doctor who rode through on horseback every month or two. He describes going into Elkhorn City with his father on Election Day in 1901 where everybody carried pistols and knives and several people were killed in drunken brawls.

87OH192 APP 115 

KERMIT RATLIFF

Date: July 23, 1987

Location: Lookout, Kentucky

Interviewer: Nyoka Hawkins

P.T.: 1 hr. 20 mins.

Audio Conditions: Good

Transcript: First Draft

Restrictions: None

 Kermit Ratliff worked as a coal miner for thirty years. He was born in 1912 on Little Big Branch on Marrowbone Creek. His father, J.H. Ratliff, Jr., was the postmaster at Lookout, Kentucky, for several years. His mother was Lizzie Maynard Ratliff. The family moved from Little Big Branch in the early 1930s when Semet-Solvay Corporation bought up the land to begin mining.

Ratliff worked off and on at the Henry Clay mine from 1936 until it shut down in the early 1950s. He describes in detail an accident at Henry Clay where a miner was killed in a motor accident. He also describes his own injury when his arm got caught in machinery and was severely broken. He worked in a coal seam no higher than thirty inches high and had to crawl around on his knees to work.

Ratliff’s own family had a small coal bank that provided them with house coal. He estimates that they typically used one hundred bushels of coal during the winter.  Ratliff went to grade school in Lookout, Kentucky, but quit Hellier High School because it was six miles away and he had to walk to get there.

 

87OH193 APP 116 

LONZO JOHNSON

Date: July 24, 1987

Location: Lookout, Kentucky

Interviewer: Nyoka Hawkins

P.T.: 1 hr. 20 mins.

Audio Conditions: Good

Transcript: First Draft

Restrictions: None

Lonzo Johnson was born in Carter County, Kentucky, in 1907. His father, Thomas Johnson, worked in the coal mines around Matewan, West Virginia. In 1916 his family moved to Rockhouse on Marrowbone Creek where his father began working for the Marrowbone Mining Company. Lonzo Johnson himself began working in the mines when he was sixteen years old and worked as a miner for 45 years mainly at the Henry Clay mine. He recalls that when he first started mining he made two dollars a day, or thirty-five cents a ton. The company then took out deductions for his rent, coal, electricity, and medical care. He describes the division within the coal camps between the sections where the miners lived and the sections where the bosses lived. At Henry Clay, the bosses lived in “Boss Town.”

Johnson talks about the clean-up system that required that a miner clean up all the coal and rock no matter how long it took. He recalls that when the UMWA tried to organize on Marrowbone Creek, the miners and organizers frequently met on the railroad tracks at Hellier because they were not allowed on company land. He mentions Tom Raney and George Titler as two of the early organizers. If a miner was overheard talking about the union, he was fired and blacklisted. He describes the tactics the company at Henry Clay used to fight the union including the use of armed guards and the installation of a spotlight above the town. He tells how union supporters out on strike would shoot the dinner bucket out of scabs’ hands to try to discourage them from going to work. Johnson recalls that G-Tom Hawkins, an area lawyer and union supporter, would make speeches on behalf of the union.

Steam engines brought the coal out of Marrowbone Creek. Black miners and their families had to ride in the Jim Crow car to Pikeville. Johnson remembers the loud, spirited singing that came from the black church. The black miners lived in “nigger town,” worked in a different section of the mine than the white miners, and sat on a different side of the union hall during union meetings. Johnson comments that union miners “took care of each other but everybody knowed his place.”

Johnson remembers that at the Wolfpit mine, owned by McKinney Steel, scores of immigrant miners were killed. Johnson states that “the company didn’t care.” A miner would get killed and “they’d haul him out and keep working, same as you’d kill a chicken.” He also talks about listening to his first radio, watching silent movies in the company town theaters, and playing company-sponsored baseball games.

 

87OH194 APP 117 

BUCK RATLIFF

Date: July 25, 1987

Location: Lookout, Kentucky

Interviewer: Nyoka Hawkins

P.T.: 1 hr. 30 mins.

Audio Conditions: Good

Transcript: First Draft

Restrictions: None

Buck Ratliff was born in the mining camp owned at the Henry Clay mine on Marrowbone Creek in 1918. His paternal grandparents, Harvey and Jane Bartley Ratliff, at one time held vast tracts of land there. His father, Cephus, worked at the Henry Clay mine and other mines around Marrowbone for forty years. Buck Ratliff began working in the coal mines in 1936.

In 1933 and 1934, Buck Ratliff carried a shotgun with other union miners and supporters to help organize the Henry Clay mine for the UMWA. He describes how Wash Kinney, one of the union leaders, wore his army uniform and marched the striking miners like troops. When fighting between the company guards and the miners broke out, one miner, Perry Adkins, was killed and another miner was wounded. Ratliff recalls that at Adkins funeral, that drew UMWA members from several states, everyone was armed and there was talk of finding the sheriff who killed him and hanging him over Adkins’ grave. Ratliff attributes his decision to fight for the union over the treatment his father received in the mines. He was able to see his father only on Sundays because his father operated a pump and would come home at night in the winter with his pant legs frozen.

Ratliff also worked at the Rockhouse mine where miners had to trade at the company store and were paid $2.10 a day and comments that it “was slavery.” He states that John L. Lewis “stopped the slavery.” Ratliff recounts the divisions and violence within the community over the union, the frequent fights between the “rednecks” who were the union supporters, and the “yellow dogs” who supported the company. He also talks about Marrowbone figures like Lawrence E. Ratliff who owned a general store in Lookout and was known for his generosity to miners and their families.

 

Annotated Guide to the Social History and Cultural Change in the Elkhorn Coal Field Oral History Project: Part II

If not available online, audio copies and/or transcripts of the interviews in this project are available in the Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History.

 

87OH195 APP 118 

NELLIE and VICTOR GIBSON

Date: July 27, 1987

Location: Elkhorn City, Kentucky

Interviewer: Nyoka Hawkins

P.T.: 2 hrs. 35 mins.

Audio Conditions: Good

Transcript: None

Restrictions: None

Nellie Gibson is the daughter of Perry Adkins, the union supporter who was killed in the Henry Clay strike on Marrowbone Creek in 1934. She recounts in detail the events surrounding his death. She states that the sheriff had picked out her father as the one to shoot. Victor Gibson describes the existence of a “hit list” that the sheriff possessed that listed all the names of the local union leaders.

Nellie Gibson talks about the hard times her family experienced after her father’s death. Occasionally they would receive a small amount of money from Sam Caddy of UMWA District 30. She also discusses her family’s reaction when her brother Edgel decided to go to work as a non-union small coal operator.

Both Gibsons talk about the intense divisions the union caused between the “rednecks” (union supporters) and the “yellow dogs” (company supporters). Victor Gibson’s grandmother was “turned out” of the Old Regular Baptist Church because she was a union supporter. Both Gibsons also recount the story of a black miner who shot a white man at Clyde Childers’ store at Wolfpit. A group of white men snuck the black miner out of town on a train because another group of whites planned to lynch him. The Gibsons also talk at length about their experience living in Michigan next door to a Polish family who at first called the Gibsons “dirty hillbillies,” but eventually became friends.

 

87OH196 APP 119 

EDGEL HUTCHINSON

Date: August 6, 1987

Location: Lexington, Kentucky

Interviewer: Nyoka Hawkins

P.T.: 3 hrs.

Audio Conditions: Good

Transcript: First Draft

Restrictions: None

Edgel Hutchinson was born in Carter County in 1915. His father, Ed, began working at the age of nine in 1896 for fifty cents a day. He carried water, worked at a blacksmith shop, and drove ponies in the clay mines of Carter County. Later he worked at Paint Creek in West Virginia. He joined the union there in 1918-1919 and was later blacklisted for it when the family tried to move to Van Lear, Kentucky. Edgel’s grandfather, Robert, was from Wales. He came to this country to help ventilate mines in Carter County as well as Clinchco and Dante, Virginia.

Hutchinson’s family moved to Pike County when Edgel was five years old. His father worked at the Dunleary, Wolfpit, and Henry Clay mines. Miners were paid no overtime, were required to sign yellow-dog contracts and pressured to trade in the company store. Hutchinson began working at the Henry Clay mine in 1932. He gives a detailed account of the UMWA efforts to organize Marrowbone Creek in the 1930s. He describes the initial organizing meeting that was held at the Greenaugh mine. He estimates that about 1500 miners came to hear Sam Caddy speak about the union in the early fall of 1933. He recalls that everyone joined the union, and the next day the company began firing the men who had joined. Hutchinson believes that this action is what precipitated the Henry Clay strike in early 1934.

Hutchinson remembers that Sam Caddy feared for his life, and the miners provided security for him. He talks about the relationship between the county sheriff and the coal companies. He also recounts in great detail the violence at the Henry Clay mine the day Perry Adkins was killed and another miner was wounded. Hutchinson states he was one of the miners arrested that day. He describes the aftermath of the violence and the eventual NLRB hearing that ruled in favor of the union.

Hutchinson talks about the reasons for his loyalty to the union. He also speaks eloquently about the conditions the miners suffered under before the union. He offers a wide-ranging perspective on life on Marrowbone Creek including the churches, women, mine guard harassment, and union violence. He also reflects on the state of the UMWA today. Hutchinson lost a leg in a mining accident in Harmon, Virginia, in 1943. The company denied that the injury was caused by safety violations. He also lost a finger at the Dunleary mine. He comments on mine inspectors and their relationship with the companies.

 

87OH197 APP 120 

JAMES ELL RATLIFFF

Date: August 21, 1987

Location: Rockhouse, Kentucky

Interviewer: Nyoka Hawkins

P.T.: 2 hrs. 10 mins.

Audio Conditions: Good

Transcript: None

Restrictions: None

James Ell Ratliff was born in 1893 on Marrowbone Creek. He can recall hearing about the sinking of the Maine in 1898. Residents received the Louisville and Cincinnati newspapers through the mail in those days.

Ratliff remembers the era of the steamship on the Big Sandy River, and he recalls seeing them being unloaded. He talks about the coming of the railroads and the opening up of the mines on Marrowbone Creek. Child labor was common, and sometimes the children were paid nothing. If you worked as a “backhand,” that is, not working directly for the coal company but for a contractor or another miner, you ran the risk of not getting paid at all. Farm work paid fifty cents a day, and sawmill work paid about one dollar. As low as mine wages were at two dollars a day, they were still higher than other kinds of paid labor.

Ratliff worked as a boss in the mines. His wages were around seven or eight dollars a day. He describes the duties of a boss, in particular the firing of miners. He recalls being ordered to fire over thirty men one morning. Ratliff was against the UMWA and recounts the events surrounding the Henry Clay strike of the 1930s, where he was a boss. He describes Perry Adkins, a union supporter who was killed during the violence, as “a dangerous man.” He states that the miners were divided over the union, and that the union did “whatever it took” to gain a foothold in the mines. The union miners were “ruthless in their demands,” in his view.

 

87OH198 APP 121 

FRANK STEWART

Date: August 21, 1987

Location: Rockhouse, Kentucky

Interviewer: Nyoka Hawkins

P.T.: 1 hr. 30 mins.

Audio Conditions: Good

Transcript: First Draft

Restrictions: None

Frank Stewart began working as a miner in 1924 when he was fourteen years old. He started working for his brother who was a contractor for the Henry Clay mine on Marrowbone Creek. During his 44 years as a miner, he worked at various mines in eastern Kentucky and in neighboring states.

One of his jobs in the late 1920s was to fire the powerhouse at the Henry Clay mine. At nine o’clock every evening except Wednesdays the power was turned off in the coal camps. Wednesday was generally wash day. Every morning at five o’clock he would turn the power back on when the company whistle blew. The miners complained about the lights-out policy to no avail. He was paid $3.76 for a twelve-hour shift. He recalls working 36-hour shifts as a miner. He describes a mining accident that occurred at the Bowman mine near Pikeville, Kentucky, in 1939 that severely injured his foot. He discusses the company’s denial that safety violations contributed to the accident.

Stewart recalls an incident on Marrowbone where a black miner shot a white man in Clyde Childers’ store at Wolfpit. He states that the area residents then “ran them (black families) all off” and “wouldn’t allow them to live there.”

Although he was not involved in the strike at the Henry Clay mine in the 1930s, he was a member of the union. He speaks strongly for the union as “one of the finest things poor people ever had.” He comments that today’s miners don’t work as hard as the miners did in his day, and that they “think the world owes them a living.”

 

87OH199 APP 122 

ALVA CHILDERS

Date: August 22, 1987

Location: Hellier, Kentucky

Interviewer: Nyoka Hawkins

P.T.: 2 hrs. 10 mins.

Audio Conditions: Good

Transcript: None

Restrictions: None

Alva Childers was born on Pond Creek near Draffin, Kentucky, in 1907. Her parents were Harriet and Grant Hawkins, mountain farmers who were known for their fine apple orchard. Childers remembers peddling apples as a child in the nearby coal camps on Marrowbone Creek for twenty-five cents a peck. Her family stored apples in a cellar and would bring them out to sell on Election Day and Christmas for ten cents.

Childers met her husband, Lawrence, a miner, at a box supper, and they had nine children. She describes the fear she had while he was in the mine. They lived in a section of the coal camp called “Titanic.” The other section of the camp was called “Noah’s Arc.” She describes the ordeal of cleaning up each house they moved into. They also made their own paint by digging clay out of the mountains, mixing it with water and adding dye to it. Childers recounts delivering one of her children without a doctor present. She also recalls being a “hired girl,” doing housework, ironing, and caring for other people’s children. She mentions that they attended the black church in Edgewater because “they had the best singing.” She also talks about the mining accident that left her husband’s right hand permanently disabled.

 

87OH200 APP 123 

JAKE and EDITH EASTERLING

Date: August 22, 1987

Location: Pikeville, Kentucky

Interviewer: Nyoka Hawkins

P.T.: 4 hrs. 5 mins.

Audio Conditions: Good

Transcript: None

Restrictions: None

Edith Easterling is a community activist on Marrowbone Creek who has worked for black lung benefits, surface owners’ rights, and other social justice issues in the mountains. In this interview she talks about her childhood growing up on Poorbottom, the bitter divisions within her family over the UMWA, the efforts by her paternal grandmother to shelter pregnant girls who had been cast out by their parents, the severe poverty affecting some residents of Poorbottom, and a wide range of other topics related to her work as a community activist.

Jake Easterling talks about his life as a miner. He began working at the Henry Clay mine in 1932 at the age of seventeen and worked there for 33 years.   He was born in Carter County and his father worked in the fire-clay mines there. He describes the differences between clay mining and coal mining. The coal mines operating at that time were “slave-driving outfits.” Even though the bosses preached safety, they demanded that the men work at such a pace that safety rules could not be observed. Easterling states that the bosses kept their backs turned unless they wanted to fire someone.

Both Easterlings describe in great detail the early days of organizing the union on Marrowbone Creek. They discuss the mine guards, the spotlights the company erected above the town, and the fear that the residents felt. They also reflect on the class divisions within the company towns. Edith Easterling comments that those who lived in a coal camp, even those people who lived in Boss Town, were looked down upon by the people who lived in the country.

Edith Easterling also talks in great detail about her involvement in the black lung movement of the 1960s, and her encounters with then District Attorney Thomas Ratliff. She describes the group’s decision to present Kentucky Governor Louie B. Nunn with a mule to protest an expensive racehorse he had presented to another state’s governor. She also talks about the investigation Gov. Nunn began to see whether she and Preacher Jim Hamilton were guilty of  “un-American activities.”

 

88OH85 APP 131 

JOHNNY BEAR CHILDERS

Date: August 22, 1987

Location: Hellier, Kentucky

Interviewer: Nyoka Hawkins

P.T.: 25 mins.

Audio Conditions: Fair

Transcript: None

Restrictions: None

Johnny Bear Childers was born in 1910 on Elkhorn Creek near Ashcamp, Kentucky. When he was a young boy his father, James Childers, took a job as a policeman for the Edgewater Coal Company. His family, who owned three farms on Elkhorn Creek, moved to Marrowbone Creek into a new house that James Childers had built. Childers describes the violence in Hellier. He remembers that on Saturday nights the jail was always full of men arrested for fighting, drunkenness, or beating their wives. He recalls that Hellier once had six or seven restaurants, two barbershops, and two pool halls. Many black miners had been brought in from Alabama and their children went to a separate school.

 

88OH86 APP 132 

EDGEL ADKINS

Date: July 24, 1987

Location: Pikeville, Kentucky

Interviewer: Nyoka Hawkins

P.T.: 55 mins.

Audio Conditions: Fair

Transcript: None

Restrictions: None

Edgel Adkins is the son of Perry Adkins, a union supporter who was killed by the sheriff during the 1934 strike at the Henry Clay mine. Edgel, who was twelve years old at the time, recounts the events surrounding his father’s death and the funeral that followed. He tells of his family’s struggle after his father’s death. He and his brothers opened a coal bank on the family’s land and sold house coal for a dollar a ton to stores on Marrowbone Creek. He also talks about the shooting of his uncle, Eary Adkins, who had been blacklisted as a teacher on Marrowbone Creek because of his brother’s union activities. The family received no compensation from the company or from the union after his father’s death, although he does recall his mother receiving fifty dollars at Christmas or Thanksgiving from Sam Caddy, the president of District #30 of the UMWA.

In the early 1940s Adkins went to work as a miner at the Henry Clay mine. Later he became a small operator working for larger operators Curt Caudill and Thomas Ratliff. Family members talk about the conflict within the family over his decision to work as a non-union operator. He discusses his reasons for doing so.

 

88OH87 APP 133 

SIMON SWINEY

Date: June 10, 1987

Location: Elkhorn City, Kentucky

Interviewer: Nyoka Hawkins

P.T.: 1 hr. 10 mins.

Audio Conditions: Good

Transcript: None

Restrictions: None

Simon Swiney was born in 1913 on Little Branch near Elkhorn City, Kentucky. His parents, Anderson and Aggie Swiney, were mountain farmers who cultivated fifty acres of cleared ground. He describes the huge smokehouse they had and the way they used hickory bark to smoke their meat. They also preserved their own vegetables, canning beans, corn, and sauerkraut in 60-lb barrels.

To supplement the family income, Simon Swiney began working at the Henry Clay mine on Marrowbone Creek at the age of sixteen. To make the six-mile trip in time for the night shift, he would leave home at three o’clock in the afternoon and return at nine o’clock the following morning. He walked part of the way, then paid forty cents to ride in Floyd Bartley’s car. He recalls that on one trip he learned that he and two other miners were paying for rent on a house in the coal camp that none of them lived in. The company rule was that rent was automatically deducted for rent from each miner’s pay regardless of whether he lived in the coal camp or not. Despite conditions such as these, Swiney states that miners came from as far away as Pikeville to work at the Henry Clay mine.

Swiney also describes the partisan nature of politics and the union in the eastern Kentucky mountains. Most Republicans fought the union (a notable exception was G-Tom Hawkins) and most Democrats supported the union. Once the union was organized, however, everyone was willing to share the benefits.

Swiney recounts the time he and his brothers walked 25 miles over Cumberland Mountain carrying their heavy mining tools to get a job at Splash Dam, Virginia. The company would not tell them how much money they had earned. After three weeks, they decided to quit. When they went to collect their wages, the boss told them, “You don’t owe the company anything, and the company don’t owe you anything.” When they asked for twenty cents each to ride the train back to Elkhorn, they were told the company never “loaned” money.

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