Skip Navigation

West Virginia Archives and History Library
Workshops/Lectures

"Don’t Cuss Me": Saloons, Liquor, and Gunplay in West Virginia’s Early Coal Camps
August 8, 2013


On August 8, 2013, Dr. Paul H. Rakes will present “‘Don’t Cuss Me’: Saloons, Liquor, and Gunplay in West Virginia’s Early Coal Camps” at the Thursday evening lecture in the Archives and History Library in the Culture Center in Charleston. The program will begin at 6:00 p.m. and is free and open to the public.

Economic opportunity attracted a number of people to the southern West Virginia coalfields in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The early coal camps in Fayette and McDowell counties and along the Cabin Creek District of Kanawha County witnessed a dramatic increase in population on what was, in essence, an industrial frontier. The attraction of liquor, saloons, and guns on this frontier led to frequent violence among a predominantly transient male population. The rise in violence in the coalfields caused political problems for West Virginia Governor Albert B. White and also found the state Supreme Court of Appeals wrestling with interpreting the cases within the change of legal philosophy from "No Duty to Retreat" to "Back against the Wall." In fact, before the coal camps matured, these areas of West Virginia bore a striking similarity to the more famous tales of the late 19th-century American West.

Paul Rakes, Associate Professor of American History at WVU-Tech, is a third-generation coal miner of twenty years who then earned his Ph. D. in history at West Virginia University. His research focuses on mining in West Virginia, and he has produced such essays as “Technology in Transition: The Dilemmas of Early-Twentieth Century Coal Mining” for the Journal of Appalachian Studies, “West Virginia Coal Mine Fatalities: The Subculture of Danger and a Statistical Overview of the Pre-enforcement Era” for West Virginia History, and “A Combat Scenario: Early Coal Mining and the Culture of Danger” in Culture, Class and Politics in Modern Appalachia. Most recently, he co-authored a chapter in Blood in the Hills: A History of Violence in Appalachia that focused on the American common law and legal concepts that influenced violence among coal miners in the early southern West Virginia coalfields.

For planning purposes, participants are encouraged to register for the lecture, but advance registration is not required to attend. To register in advance, contact Robert Taylor, library manager, by e-mail or at (304) 558-0230, ext. 163. Participants interested in registering by e-mail should send their name, telephone number and the name and date of the session. For additional information, contact the Archives and History Library at (304) 558-0230.


West Virginia Archives and History Workshops/Lectures

West Virginia Archives and History