Source: WV History Film Project
Before I grew up and went out into the world, we were all at home there in our faded cottage in the meadow, all of us safe and warm. Then I knew just the earth itself: the quiet measure of the seasons, the primal certainty of spring. Then we were all there together, the years not yet come on us, these years of war and money and torrents of blood.
The history of West Virginia is a history of conflict, a history of struggle, but it's also a history of people hanging together, of people struggling, of people surviving, of people knowing who they are and of people learning how to come together to increasingly address their problems and we have a sense of community in West Virginia that many other parts of the country wish they had.[Title: West Virginia]
It is a place few Americans know, and fewer still understand. A place of terrible beauty that many think of as strange and peculiar, yet its story is distinctly American.
It is the story of a frontier, where native people fought a tide of white settlers until fighting became impossible, and where America's first great military commander nearly resigned in despair after a string of defeats.
It is the story of a bitter civil war that pitted neighbor against neighbor in fierce guerrilla warfare, while a deeply religious country boy ravaged his native land with ruthless passion, and a struggle over union led to one state being torn in half.
It is the story of an explosion of industry that drew workers from around the world to the mountains of Appalachia, where three young brothers were executed at dusk along a riverbank, igniting America's most famous family feud; where a feisty eighty-year-old labor organizer incited coal miners to armed rebellion; and a skinny, jug-eared police chief shot it out with mine guards in a town called Matewan.
West Virginia is not your average state. In many ways West Virginia was a guinea pig for the whole country's experiment in industrialization. And there are plenty of communities around the country, around the developed world now, that are waking up and finding that their main local resources are owned by absentee owners, and they're confronting a situation that West Virginia has confronted for over a century.And it is the story of how an ambitious First Lady, shaken by the misery she saw during the Great Depression, created one of America's most controversial social experiments, and a young President began a war on poverty in a state "where the sun does not always shine," he said, "but the people do."
[John A. Williams]
My grandfather walked over the mountains as an ex-slave and came into West Virginia and established a home. And I have a very firm love and attachment for the state of West Virginia; I don't believe that my life could be better any place else and so I intend to try to stay here.
I think the mountains burn their self into the psyche, somehow the heart or the soul of people from this place. I first realized it I think when I went to study for a semester in England. It was the first time I had been away from West Virginia for more than a week. And at the end of it I was so homesick, and I could shut my eyes and imagine mountains, and I could almost feel mountains inside of me - it was like this ache. I don't think I've lost that feeling whenever I leave and come back. It's always there, there's a sense of "I'm back again, I'm home."Time Code: 1/00:07:28
On a clear, spring night in 1760, a group of Delaware Indians witnessed a vision. On the face of the moon, they saw a horse gallop violently from the east and overpower a horse in the west. The Indians feared the meaning of what they saw; within their lifetimes, the vision would become reality.
For centuries, Shawnees and other native peoples lived along the western banks of the Ohio River. In spring and summer, the Indians stayed in villages, tending plots of corn, beans and tobacco. In fall, they left to hunt for elk and buffalo, returning in late winter. Then the cycle began again.
"We live upon an island," said a Shawnee. "In the water is a great Turtle, holding up the earth, put there by the Great Spirit."
The area south and eastward of the Ohio River was generally considered by the Indians to be a hunting ground. And it was for the use of all the tribes that surrounded it. The southern tribes would come up from the south to hunt there. And even though many of these tribes were bitter enemies and made incursions against each other and fought vicious wars with one another, when they were in this hunting ground it was a neutral ground. It was where they could co-mingle, where they could meet, they could talk, and nobody would kill each other.In 1630, the Iroquois confederacy, a powerful union of Indian tribes, invaded the Ohio Valley. Outnumbered, the Shawnees were forced to flee. Over time, they returned to their traditional homeland and rebuilt their villages.
White traders entered Shawnees villages along the Ohio in the 1720s. From the north came the French; from the east, the English. The traders wanted furs: fox, mink, and especially beaver for hats popular in Europe. In exchange, they offered goods the Indians had never needed: brass kettles, broadcloth shirts, guns and alcohol.
When these whisky-traders come, they bring thirty or forty kegs, and put them down before us, and make us drink, and get all the skins that should go to pay for goods. These wicked whisky-sellers, when they have got the Indians in liquor, make them sell the very clothes from their backs.The Shawnees were soon dependent on European goods. As their need for furs increased, they relied more than ever on their hunting grounds east of the Ohio.
In the morning, we set forward early. When we were got up to the top of the mountain and set down very weary we saw very high mountains lying to the north and south as far as we could discern. It was a pleasing tho' dreadful sight to see the mountains and hills as if piled one upon another.By 1745, seven thousand Virginians had crossed the Blue Ridge Mountains and settled in the Shenandoah and Potomac valleys. In the fertile bottom lands, Swiss, German and Scotch-Irish farmers planted corn and fruit trees; on the grassy uplands, they grazed cattle and horses. A British traveler said the settlers "have what many princes would give half their dominions for--health, contentment, and tranquillity of mind."
Convinced that settlements were essential to controlling land, Virginia promoted western expansion by offering speculators a thousand acres for every family they could place west of the Allegheny Mountains. Andrew Lewis, a young surveyor, mapped fifty thousand acres in the Greenbrier Valley for a land company owned by his father and other wealthy Virginia planters. Explorer Christopher Gist claimed two hundred thousand acres for the Ohio Company, which promised to settle one hundred families in the Ohio Valley and build a fort for their protection.
Virginia's greatest landowner, Lord Fairfax, hired an ambitious seventeen-year-old to survey his western lands. After three years, George Washington knew western Virginia as well as anyone, and was determined to own some of it himself.
In response to British settlements, France sent two hundred soldiers, accompanied by Iroquois scouts and Jesuit priests, to claim the Ohio Valley in 1749. The expedition was led by Celoron de Blainville, a vain officer who referred to Indians as "my children." At Shawnee villages along the river, Celoron drove out British traders and left marks of French ownership.
I had a leaden plate buried on which was engraved the
taking possession which I made, in the
name of the King, of this river and all those which fall
into it. I had also attached to a tree the
arms of the King, struck on a plate of iron. The
Indians were on the watch to discover me.
Celoron de Blainville
After Celoron left, Shawnees dug up all the lead plates they could find, tore down the iron plaques and trampled them underfoot.
The Indian believed that everybody owned the land and nobody owned it. To drive a stake into the earth would be like driving a stake into the breast of their mother. I mean they considered the earth the mother. When the whites came in and suddenly were building fences, suddenly were claiming lands, cutting down the forest, burning the prairies, destroying, almost always destroying as they came along - this was a concept so far beyond their thinking that it appalled them, and they felt it was very, very wrong.
An Indian came to me and desired to know where the Indian's Land lay, for the French claimed all the Land on one side the River Ohio and the English the other side. "My friend," said I, "We are all one King's people and the different color of our skins makes no difference in the King's subjects."In the Greenbrier Valley, fifty Virginia families settled, with more on the way.
Time Code: 1/00:16:22
[Title: A Deadly Panic]
Rival claims to the Ohio Valley ignited in 1753 when two thousand French troops began erecting forts along the river. Impressed with the show of force and angered by the advancing Virginia settlements, Shawnees cut off trade with the British and joined the French.
This colony has always been happy and in firm peace with the Indians till lately. The French have, by threats and promises, seduced some of the Indians from the British interest and with great injustice invaded His Majesty's lands. This is the miserable situation of this colony at present.Virginia Governor Robert Dinwiddie, a former Scottish merchant, sent troops to secure a fort at the Forks of the Ohio, the strategic center of the Ohio Valley.
One hundred and fifty militiamen were led by Major George Washington and Captain Andrew Lewis. En route, Washington learned that French troops had beat him to the Forks and built Fort Duquesne there, but he chose to continue on.
Near the Monongahela River, Washington defeated a small French patrol, then built a crude defense, Fort Necessity, in preparation for the main attack he knew would come. On July 3, a force of several hundred Indians and French troops assaulted the fort.
Greatly outnumbered, Washington surrendered.
The French let Washington go after he promised to stay away from the Ohio for a year. One of Washington's guides, an Iroquois, said later that "the French acted like Cowards in the Engagement, and the English like Fools."
Dinwiddie appealed to Britain for help. London sent General Edward Braddock, a short, arrogant officer who had spent forty-five years in the Army, yet had seen almost no fighting.
Braddock assembled fourteen hundred British troops and four hundred Virginia militiamen, including Lewis and Washington, then marched toward Fort Duquesne. Washington warned of an enemy ambush; Braddock ignored him.
Ten miles east of Fort Duquesne, nine hundred French soldiers and Indian warriors ambushed Braddock's army in a dense forest. Militiamen found cover behind trees. British regulars stood in formation on the narrow road and were cut down from three sides.
Our regulars were immediately struck with such a deadly panic that nothing but confusion and disobedience of orders prevailed amongst them. The Virginians behaved like men, and died like soldiers.Nearly a thousand British troops were killed or wounded. Braddock had four horses shot from under him; as he mounted a fifth, a musket ball pierced his lungs. Carried from the battlefield, Braddock looked up and asked, "Who could have thought it?"
Washington ordered a retreat. Along the way, Braddock died. Washington buried him in the middle of the road, then marched troops over the grave so Indians wouldn't find it. "We have been beaten," said Washington, "most shamefully beaten by a handful of men."
Braddock's defeat left the Virginia frontier completely exposed to French and Indian attacks.
Indian war parties now attacked settlements from the Greenbrier River to the upper Potomac. Frantic settlers abandoned their farms and fled east. Smoke from burning houses filled the valleys. A militia officer warned that soon there wouldn't be a settler west of the mountains.
Washington, now commander of the Virginia militia, went to see for himself. In the Potomac Valley he found the body of a farmer who had been killed by Indians, then partially eaten by wolves.
I see their situation, know their danger, and participate in their sufferings, without having it in my power to give them further relief, only uncertain promises.Dispirited, Washington considered resigning his command.
On July 8, 1755, Shawnees attacked a small settlement at Draper's Meadows on the New River. They killed four settlers and took five prisoners, including a pregnant mother, Mary Ingles, and her two young sons.
Ingles gave birth to a baby girl as she was led to a Shawnee village west of the Ohio. There Ingles' sons were taken from her. Then, a few weeks later, she saw a chance to escape. Knowing she would be caught if she carried a child, Ingles left her daughter behind and ran.
She fled east, struggling through the New River Gorge up into the mountains. She slept in caves, ate roots and berries, and crossed five hundred miles of wilderness. Forty days later, Mary Ingles saw a cabin near a field of corn, and shouted for help.
In retaliation for Indian raids, Dinwiddie ordered a surprise attack on the Shawnees in the winter of 1756, and put Andrew Lewis in command. A veteran surveyor who had served with Washington, Lewis was strict, dependable and unemotional. He is "reserved and distant," wrote a relative, "his presence more awful than engaging."
At Fort Frederick on the New River, Lewis assembled two hundred militiamen -- including Mary Ingles' husband, William -- and eighty Cherokees, traditional enemies of the Shawnees. Captain William Preston's company was typical. Few were native to Virginia. The average age was twenty-four. Only one was six feet in height, none taller. Most had no military experience.
Lewis planned to march from Fort Frederick to the Big Sandy River, follow it to the Ohio, then assault Shawnee villages. On February 18, 1756, the expedition set out.
Hoping to hunt for game along the way, Lewis carried only a fifteen day supply of food. Preston's company didn't even bring tents. Almost immediately, heavy rains and the rugged terrain slowed the march. Then, the rain turned to snow as food supplies dwindled.
Wednesday, March third. We marched until sunset and advanced only nine or ten miles being much retarded by the river and mountains which closed in on both sides. Each man had but half a pound of flour and no meat but what we could kill, & that was very scarce.Starving packhorses began to die.
Captain William Preston
Friday, the fifth. We marched about nine o'clock this morning and with great difficulty, proceeded fifteen miles on our journey, the river being very deep almost killed the men, and more so as they were in utmost extremity for want of provisions. This day my fourth horse expired and I was left on foot with a hungry belly, which increased my woe.Preston suggested eating the packhorses. His men refused, and threatened to desert if food wasn't found soon. Cherokee scouts reported signs of buffalo and turkey ahead, and Lewis ordered the march to continue.
[Captain William Preston]
Major Lewis would direct as he thought proper, and the common soldiers were by him scarcely treated with humanity. We were now in a pitiable condition, our men looking on one another with Tears in their Eyes, and lamenting that they had ever Entered into a Soldier's life.
The major stepped off some yards distance and desired all that were willing to serve their country and share his fate to go with him. Not above twenty or thirty joined him. It is impossible to express the abject condition we were in both before and after the men deserted us.As order disintegrated, Lewis abandoned the exhibition. Starving soldiers straggled back to Fort Frederick.
William Ingles returned to Draper's Meadows, where he and Mary had four more children. Thirteen years later, the Ingles purchased their eldest son, Thomas, from his adopted Shawnee parents. The boy often disappeared for weeks into the wilderness carrying only his bow and arrow. The Ingles never saw their other two children again.
In 1758, England launched a major campaign against French strongholds in North America. When six thousand British troops advanced on Fort Duquesne, French soldiers blew up the fort and withdrew. The British built Fort Pitt in its place.
British forces captured Montreal, forcing Canada to surrender and France to withdraw from North America.
The Treaty of Paris transferred all French territory east of the Mississippi to England.
Then, in 1768, England and the Iroquois Confederacy signed the Treaty of Fort Stanwix. For ten thousand dollars, the Iroquois dropped their claim to land east of the Ohio River.
The English wanted to believe that the Indians owned land. They needed to have an owner of the land so that they could purchase this land from its rightful owner. The Iroquois had never conquered the Shawnee, but they made everybody think they had. When they went to treaties with the whites, the whites said, "Well, we want to buy some of your land," and they said, "sure we'll sell you whatever you want" - it wasn't their land anyway. This is what caused all the great problems which came later because then, having made this purchase, the whites claimed it and said, "hey, we bought it fair and square, and it's ours." So this is where the wars began.
The white man seeks to conquer nature, to bend it to his will and to use it wastefully until it is all gone and then he simply moves on. The whole white race is a monster who is always hungry and what he eats is land.Time Code: 1/00:33:35
Virginia rewarded veterans of the French and Indian war with western land: five thousand acres for officers, fifty acres for privates. George Washington, one of the few to recognize the land's value, bought the rights to thirty thousand acres from his fellow officers.
Any person who neglects the present opportunity of hunting out good lands, and marking them for his own in order to keep others from settling them, will never regain it.In the fall of 1770, he set out to claim good farmland along the Ohio. To his surprise, Washington found some of the best land already taken.
People who were skimping out on a little plot of land in the east suddenly saw these great vistas of land open to them, if they would just go there and claim it. And so they came in droves. They spilled over the mountains and rushed into these lands and began claiming them as their own. And it was no difficulty, you just simply marked some trees at the four corners of your land and that was then your land. They were leaving a civilized culture and moving into a wilderness, a hidden land, a land that was really fraught with all kinds of dangers and unexpected happenings. They came in, and they built rude cabins with very rude tools. Sometimes the cabins were only ten feet square or fifteen or twenty feet square, just enough to house people and keep them relatively safe and relatively warm. They existed with the very barest of necessities, and it was a very hard and rough and difficult life for them.
The country here is swarming with wolves and wild cats, and those people called squatters, who neither pay rent nor own their own land, but keep roving the frontiers, advancing the tide of a civilized population.
Removing these people will be a Work of great difficulty, perhaps of equal cruelty, as most of these People are poor with large Families, and have sought out these retreats on which perhaps their future prospects wholly depend.As white settlers pushed westward, a religious movement swept through Indian villages in the Ohio Valley. Indian prophets urged their people to resume a traditional way of life, to observe sacred rituals and regain the power to take back their land.
Militant Shawnees recruited Cherokees, Mingos, and Delawares to join them in a united Indian front, and began attacking white surveyors on the Ohio.
Bands of whites crossed the river and raided Indian villages.
The Virginians in this part of the country seem determined to make war with the Indians at any rate. The one half of this country is ruined to all intents and purposes, which, only a few months ago, was in a flourishing way.On the night of April 30, 1774, a group of settlers lead by Daniel Greathouse lured eight Indians to the east bank of the Ohio with the promise of free liquor. After drinking together for several hours, the whites suddenly attacked their guests.
The Greathouse party fell on them and terribly massacred them - shot all the men, bludgeoned and stabbed and otherwise desecrated the women - disemboweled them, hung em from trees. One was a pregnant woman. They cut her unborn baby out and even scalped this little baby. So it was just a terrible thing. We hear so much about the atrocities of the Indians, but the atrocities that some of whites did were just almost beyond belief.The murders shocked colonial leaders. In the Virginia House of Burgesses, delegate Thomas Jefferson called the act "inhuman and indecent." The royal governor of Virginia, Lord Dunmore, said the event was "marked with an extraordinary degree of cruelty," but he did nothing to bring the murderers to justice.
Among the victims were the brother and sister of a Mingo leader named Logan. A baptized Christian, Logan was a friend of many whites and an outspoken advocate of peace. One fur trader called Logan "the best specimen of humanity I ever met."
I appeal to any white man to say, if ever he entered Logan's cabin hungry, and he gave him not meat; if ever he came cold and naked, and he clothed him not. In cold blood and unprovoked, [men] murdered all the relations of Logan, not even sparing my women and children. Who is there to mourn for Logan?--Not one.Logan's grief turned to rage. He led attacks against western settlements, personally killing thirteen whites before returning to his village. "I have fully glutted my vengeance," Logan declared. But fighting continued.
The country at this time is in great confusion. There have been broken up and gone off, at least five hundred families within one week. And I believe it has been the white people's fault altogether.Lord Dunmore called out the Virginia militia. A cultured Scottish gentleman known for hosting lavish balls, Dunmore was also a veteran officer who insisted on walking into battle carrying his own equipment. He ordered Major Andrew Lewis to prepare for a combined assault on the Shawnee villages.
The unhappy situation of the people settled over the Allegheny Mountains makes it necessary to give the enemies a blow that will break the Indian confederacy.Lewis was to take troops from Camp Union in the Greenbrier Valley west to the Ohio River. Dunmore would lead a force down the Ohio from Fort Pitt and join him.
In early September Lewis and eleven hundred western militiamen set out. This time Lewis was prepared. He carried fifty-four thousand pounds of flour on seven hundred packhorses, and drove one hundred head of cattle.
As Lewis advanced, Dunmore and a thousand troops reached Fort Pitt, where he delayed heading south. Instead, the governor went duck hunting with hounds brought along from Williamsburg. An incredulous frontiersman called Dunmore "the most unfit, the most trifling person living."
Meanwhile, Shawnee spies learned of the governor's battle plan. The principal Shawnee chief, Cornstalk, decided to attack Lewis before he united with Dunmore.
Lewis reached the Ohio in early October and encamped on a narrow tip of land called Point Pleasant.
We looked on ourselves in a Safe Possession of a fine Encampment and thought our Selves a terror to all the Indian Tribes on the Ohio.On the night of October 9, one thousand Indian warriors and three whites who had been raised with Shawnees crossed the Ohio a few miles above Point Pleasant. In the darkness they formed a circle around the Lewis' camp.
Captain William Ingles
Just before dawn the woods began filling up with a fog rising from the Ohio River. Andrew Lewis was preparing to cross the Ohio River that day, and he had given orders that no one was to leave the camp, but two men went out to hunt turkey early in the morning. And they got about a mile from the main campground, and the fog parted momentarily, and suddenly here they saw before them not turkeys, but a vast line of Indians. One of the men was shot. The survivor ran back and alerted the camp, and the battle began. This was a very terrible battle, very closely fought because of the fog, so it became a hand to hand battle from the dawning of day until mid-afternoon.
The enemy disputed the ground with the greatest obstinancy [sic], often running up to the very muzzles of our guns, where they as often fell victims to their rage.
Their bravery exceeded every man's expectations. Their Chiefs ran continually along the line exhorting their men to lye close' and shoot well,' fight and be strong.'Indian war cries mixed with the groans of the wounded. The sound was "enough to shudder the stoutest heart," said one officer. Despite heavy casualties, Lewis' men held their ground. That evening Cornstalk withdrew.
Cornstalk was a very proud man, and he was not going to have it ever be said that he had turned his back on an enemy, and so as he vacated the battlefield he walked backward all the way this mile to where his canoe was wedged, got in the canoe and then stood in it facing backward while it was paddled across the river.Eager to destroy the Shawnee villages, Lewis took one hundred men north to join Dunmore, leaving Colonel William Fleming in charge at Point Pleasant.
My Dear Nancy,The Shawnees returned to their villages, where militant warriors called for another attack. Cornstalk gave them a choice: kill all their women and children, and fight to the last man, or negotiate peace. They chose to lay down their arms.
I take this opportunity to write you that you may be convinced I am yet amongst the living. I received three balls -- two through my left arm, one in my left breast. If it please God to spare me, I propose coming home the first opportunity.
I saw four Indian chiefs of the Shawnee nation, who have been at war with the Virginians this summer. It is said they are cruel and barbarous and I believe they exercise some cruelties...But they are beings endowed with reason and common sense and they are as valuable in the eyes of their Maker as we are. . . and above our level in many virtues.Fifteen miles outside the Shawnee villages, Cornstalk met Dunmore to sign a peace treaty.
When he arose he was in no way confused or daunted but spoke in a distinct and audible voice. His looks while addressing Lord Dunmore were truly grand and majestic; yet graceful and attractive. I have heard the first orators of Virginia but never have I heard one whose powers of delivery surpassed those of Cornstalk.Lewis arrived to find the treaty already signed. Furious that Dunmore had excluded him, Lewis threatened to attack Indian villages the next day. Dunmore sent him back to Point Pleasant with orders to build a fort.
Upon his return to the capital, Williamsburg, Dunmore took credit for pacifying the frontier and was given a hero's welcome.
Colonel William Fleming returned home to his wife Nancy where, after recovering from his wounds, he set up practice as a surgeon.
In the Spring of 1775, fighting broke out near Boston between British and American troops, and quickly erupted into war. Washington, commander of the new Continental Army, requested volunteers from the Virginia frontier. Within a week, two companies left for the battlefront.
Unhappy it is that a Brother's Sword has been sheathed in a Brother's breast. But can a virtuous man hesitate in his choice?Loyal to the Crown, Lord Dunmore seized Virginia's supply of gunpowder and had it put aboard a British ship. When colonial troops captured Williamsburg, Dunmore fled back to England. The Americans were led by General Andrew Lewis.
The Revolutionary War forced native people once more to chose sides between warring groups of whites. Many thought an alliance with the British would buy them at least temporary safety. In 1777, known as "the bloody year of the three sevens," Shawnee war parties again struck the western Virginia frontier, now nearly emptied of young men.
The express came softly to the door, and by a gentle tapping waked the whole family. My father seized his gun. My stepmother waked up and dressed the children to be taken to the fort. The greatest care was taken not to waken the youngest child. To the rest it was enough to say "Indian" and not a whimper was heard afterwards.At the fort Lewis had built near Point Pleasant, Cornstalk warned commander Matthew Arbuckle that he was no longer able to restrain his young warriors. "All Shawnees are our enemies," declared Arbuckle. He took Cornstalk and his son prisoner.
A week later, two whites were killed near the fort. An angry mob went to Cornstalk's cell.
Cornstalk arose and met them. Seven or eight bullets were fired into him. I grieved to see him so long a-dying, the great Cornstalk warrior who from many brave acts was undoubtedly a hero.Five settlers were charged with murder, but they were all acquitted when no witnesses would testify against them.
Captain John Stuart
The Indians - the ones who were old and wise and knew the way things were going - said that there was no way to defeat the whites because the whites were like the leaves on the trees - numberless. They were like the grass beneath their feet that, even when cut down, would spring back up with more and more than there were before. They were like the worm which when cut in half would make not one dead worm, but two new worms. When an Indian died it was a great tragedy, a great loss to the people that caused a sorrow in their heart. An Indian was irreplaceable to them.After five years of warfare, two hundred Indians and British soldiers surrounded Fort Henry on Wheeling Creek in September, 1782. Leading the attack was Joseph Brant, an educated Mohawk chief who was also an officer in the British army.
When ammunition in the fort ran low, sixteen-year-old Betty Zane volunteered to get gunpowder stored in a nearby house.
She said your lives are more important than mine and maybe they won't shoot because I'm a woman. So she gathered up her skirts and took a running start and hit the ground going as fast as she could, and the Indians yelled out, "A squaw! A squaw!" And didn't shoot. They poured a keg of gunpowder into her apron and then she ran back, and by this time the Indians were waiting, and they started firing at her, and spurts of ground flew up all around her as she ran, but she managed to get back with the gunpowder and save the day.Brant withdrew the next day. Raids continued, but Fort Henry was the last large-scale Indian battle in western Virginia.
The following year, England and the United States signed the Peace of Paris, ending the war. England gave up its land south of Canada and east of the Mississippi. The treaty didn't mention any land for Indians.
With peace, settlers poured across the mountains.
My Dear Sister,In 1794, President Washington sent three thousand troops under Anthony Wayne to secure the western frontier. At the Battle of Fallen Timbers, near Lake Erie, Wayne defeated a force of two thousand Indians, then burned their villages to the ground.
This Country has suffered much by the Indians this summer. If we had trade and peace with the Indians we might live very well, but at present My advice is never to think of coming through the wilderness to this country. I remain your ever affectionate,
The defeat crushed Indian hopes of keeping their lands in the Ohio Valley. Embittered and demoralized, the Shawnees moved west.
It was fate. The time had come for the Indian epic to end east of the Mississippi.
In 1805, a Gilmer County man saw an Indian behind a tree near his house. He shot and killed him without asking questions.
These counties, remote from commerce and civilized life, confined to their everlasting hills of freezing cold, present a distinct republic of their own, every way different from any people.Time Code: 1/00:58:28
Most of the people who settled the mountains came out of choice, not out of chance. They were looking for a terrain that was similar to the areas that they had known in the old country, to land that was rich and valleys that were rich. It was a group of people who came seeking independence and a sense of community and a lifestyle and a way of looking at life that really set them apart I think from what one might have found in the New England colonies, or in the deep South or on the far western frontier.
O how many thousands of poor souls have we to seek out in the wilds of America, who are but one remove from the Indians in the comforts of civilized society, and considering that they have the Bible in their hands, worse in their morals than the savages.He was an itinerant minister who rode thousands of miles every year through a frontier nearly empty of churches. Francis Asbury, America's first Methodist bishop, preached in open fields and hog barns, six days a week, three times on Sundays.
Everywhere he delivered a simple and appealing message: all believers were saved, not just a chosen few.
At Cheat River we had a mixed congregation of sinners, Presbyterians, Baptists, and it may be, of saints.Asbury performed baptisms, marriages, funerals, and trained other backwoods ministers to spread the word.
Known as "circuit riders," they were so zealous that a common saying in bad weather went: "There is no one out today but crows and Methodist preachers."
My mind has been severely tried under the great fatigue endured by myself and my horse. This country will require much to make it tolerable. The people are the boldest cast of adventurers.In the mountains, circuit riders found a people often more concerned with survival than salvation. Eastern clergymen claimed that mountain people were godless, yet many welcomed a faith that accepted them as they were.
Frequently aspects of frontier life involved drinking and activities that would be deemed to be unacceptable back east. That doesn't mean that mountain people were not religious. That sense of distinction between a personal religion, which is the kind of religion I think that one finds in the mountains, and abiding by the tenets and rules of some larger national denomination or larger national expectations has been one of those things that has set the mountains off from other areas of the country and I think is directly associated with the strong sense of independence that one finds in the region.Methodist prayer services grew into camp meetings lasting several days. Thousands came to pray and sing from dawn till midnight. They pitched tents and filled tables with hams, biscuits and apple pies. Organizers posted guards in a losing effort to keep out whiskey.
A well regulated camp-meeting is one of the best institutions in the world to quicken and stir up believers, and to get souls converted to God. Hallelujah, praise the Lord, I could live and die at such a place and in such exercise.By 1810, the population of western Virginia approached one hundred thousand. Increasingly, Methodist churches dotted a landscape of towns and villages. Yet much of the land remained wild and remote, its people fiercely independent.
Time Code: 1/01:04:09
[Title: The Mountain Breeze]
In 1818, the National Road, America's first federal highway, was completed from Cumberland, Maryland, to Wheeling, Virginia. Mail coaches, Conestoga wagons and herds of cattle filled the road, which connected the Eastern seaboard with the Ohio River, the gateway to the West. Steamboats, a recent invention, carried freight and passengers from Wheeling to New Orleans.
In Wheeling, a village of less than a thousand, the National Road's impact was enormous.
Iron foundries, cotton mills, distilleries, glass and tobacco factories opened along the waterfront. The road brought thousands of European immigrants, who found work as laborers.
By 1825, Wheeling had grown into an industrial center with the second largest population in Virginia. Only Richmond, the capital, was bigger.
Despite its growth, western Virginia had little political power within the state. Eastern counties held more seats in the legislature and Virginia law limited voting rights to landowners, which favored wealthy eastern planters and excluded many western laborers. Western delegate John George Jackson called the situation "a burlesque upon representative government."
In response to complaints from western leaders, Virginia called a convention in 1829 to review its constitution.
Representing Brooke County in northwestern Virginia was Alexander Campbell, an energetic Irish preacher who had formed his own dissident church, the Disciples of Christ.
Campbell argued against basing suffrage on wealth. Why not use strength, intellect or artistic talent as a standard, he asked.
It is not the increase of population in the west which [you] ought to fear. It is the energy which the mountain breeze and western habits impart to these emigrants.Campbell proposed giving the vote to all white males, but eastern delegates rejected the idea.
The Old Dominion has long been celebrated for producing men that can split hairs in all questions of political economy. But when they return from Congress, they have Negroes to fan them asleep.
A western Virginia statesmen, though far inferior in rhetoric, has this advantage, that when he returns home, he takes off his coat, and takes hold of the plough. This preserves his Republican principles pure and uncontaminated.
What real share does any man suppose the peasantry of the West can, or will, take in affairs of state?Western leaders returned home empty-handed. The Wheeling Gazette called for dividing Virginia, "peaceably if we can," it wrote, "forcibly if we must."
Time Code: 1/01:08:48
[Title: Gateway to Freedom]
In the summer of 1831, Nat Turner, an educated slave who had visions of black and white spirits engaged in battle, led slaves on a rampage through Southampton County, Virginia. Fifty-five whites were killed. Turner and sixteen other slaves were captured and hanged at Jerusalem, the county seat.
Turner's rebellion spread panic throughout the South. Virginia increased its militia, restricted the movement of slaves and prohibited their education. But some Virginians began to question slavery itself.
Before I leave this Government, I will have contrived to have a law passed gradually abolishing slavery in this State, or to begin the work by prohibiting slavery on the west side of the Blue Ridge Mountains.Slavery existed in most western counties, but on a smaller scale than that found on eastern Virginia plantations. Farmers usually owned only a few slaves and often worked beside them in the fields. Yet conditions for slaves in western Virginia could be as bad as anywhere.
Governor John Floyd
Slave families were routinely separated. A slaveholder in Shepherdstown offered to sell a female slave with or without her four children. In Harpers Ferry, a woman gave her granddaughter a slave as a birthday present.
In the hot saltworks along the Kanawha River, slaves were leased, not bought, because the dangerous work wore them out so quickly. Runaway slaves were lashed publicly over several days, each new whipping called "tickling up the old scabs." Those who weren't caught headed for the Ohio River.
The Ohio River was the gateway to freedom. If you could get to the Ohio River and get across, you were in free territory. All along on the Ohio side of the river, colonies began to develop with free black people in them. There was land ownership. They were raising crops. They were involved in shipping and steam boating and barrel making and they were beginning to be educated. There were small schools that were developing just across the river, so those communities which were developing presented a view of what life as free people could be for those slaves who were still on the Virginia side.In Parkersburg on the Ohio, Robert Simmons, the son of a slave and her white master, opened a barbershop, wrote newspaper articles under an assumed name, and organized the first free school for blacks in the South.
Many western Virginians who didn't own slaves resented those who did. "If you desire to employ slave labor," a farmer told a new resident, "I would advise you to go to Hell, as slavery is said to flourish best in warm climates. Here you will find yourself among a people who can take care of themselves."
Yet few westerners objected to slavery on moral grounds.
We desire to be impartial on this subject, being neither in love with slavery nor abolitionism. As a philosopher and a Christian I would say to the North, let the South have their slaves, and throw no impediment in the way.Campbell suggested sending all blacks, slave and free, back to Africa. In twenty years, he said, slavery in America would disappear.
When we arrived at the Springs, all the walks leading from the different cabins were streaming lively forms. A band was playing gaily in the dining hall; and the whole face of things had the look of enchantment, as if the inhabitants of some fairy isle were turning out to welcome the coming of expected strangers.At first, they came for the water. Believers claimed it relieved headaches, arthritis, even mental disorders. "It cures ugliness itself," said one, "causes sailors to forget, and lawyers to confess the truth."
[Southern Literary Messenger]
Spurred by epidemics of cholera and yellow fever in the lowlands, the elite of eastern Virginia escaped in summer to western Virginia's mountain spas.
All of the first old Virginia and Carolina families were at the springs when I arrived. I was never at any watering place in England where the company was so good and so select.The most famous resort was White Sulphur Springs in the Greenbrier Valley. Elegant cottages fanned out in rows, including Paradise Row for newlyweds and Wolf Row for bachelors.
White Sulphur has something eminently aristocratic about it. You feel that you are with your fellows here.Opposite the cottages sat the massive Grand Central Hotel, four hundred feet long, known to patrons as simply "The White." "If I can't go to The White as I am accustomed to do," declared a Richmond judge, "I'll just stay home and die." It was the closest thing the Old South had to a summer capital.
John H. B. Latrobe
The power in the Congress was in southern hands, in southern congressman, and the presidents were coming to talk to the congressmen and meet them on their own turf. So Andrew Jackson, Tyler, Van Buren, Fillmore, Pierce, Buchanan - these were all pre-war presidents who came here and you could meet who you needed to meet. It was sort of a concentration of power and money but in a resort atmosphere.The hotel dining room seated twelve hundred guests. Many brought their own slaves to serve them. Others relied on slaves owned by the hotel.
If you have no servant, you must bribe one of those attached to the place or you run the risk of getting little or nothing. Bribe high and you live high, avoid bribery and you starve.By the late 1850s, White Sulphur Springs had replaced nearly a hundred of its slaves with free blacks. The change went largely unnoticed by the resort's slave-holding patrons. But it's larger meaning would soon become painfully clear.
John H. B. Latrobe
Time Code: 1/01:19:22
[Title: The Ennobling Hand]
On the morning of June 1, 1858, fifty prominent American artists boarded a train at the Camden Street depot in Baltimore. They were guests of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, the proud owner of what few had thought possible: a rail line over the Allegheny Mountains.
The B&O was in many regards a high stakes gamble. I would equate it to deciding in the late 1950s to go to the moon. The people here didn't have the technology, didn't have the engineering, didn't have the knowledge to really know they could get across those mountains. Deciding to do that was an act of faith and courage as much as a hard-headed business decision.Now the B&O wanted to call attention to its achievement by sending artists on an excursion. One car had been converted into a darkroom. Easels and writing tables filled two cars. The dining car was outfitted with a piano, sofas and cases of champagne. Officials encouraged the artists to stop the train anytime so they could paint or photograph whatever impressed them.
This is the first time in this country anything like this had ever been done and the railroads were looking around for ways to increase their visibility to get business. We didn't have advertising agencies then. We didn't have any of these modern notions of shaping public opinion. The railroad I suppose was trying to exploit these artists. The artists apparently didn't feel exploited at all; they thought they were taking advantage of the railroad.
It can not be that the brightest, busiest and freest people on earth, [who have built] this vast temple to civilization in the Western wilderness, will ever rest until the work is crowned by the ennobling hand of Art.Among the artists was David Hunter Strother of Martinsburg, Virginia. Strother had studied art in New York and Europe, painted portraits to support himself, then returned home broke and despondent.
David Hunter Strother
He abandoned painting and began writing and illustrating travel stories for Harper's Magazine under the pen name "Porte Crayon." The stories were immensely popular and Strother soon became one of the highest paid writers in America.
As the train commenced ascending the mountain a number of the excursionists took their seats on the front of the cow-catcher, for the purpose of obtaining a better view of the grand scenes which were opening before them: the groups of lofty firs near at hand; the silvery streamlets flashing through somber thickets of evergreen; the gorgeous bouquets of azalea and mountain honeysuckle, that recalled the luxuriance of the tropics.
[David Hunter Strother]
This was a safari to them. They were bringing back images and impressions of a land that was only vaguely known to the ninety percent of the population that lived within twenty miles of the east coast. What they came back with were a series of photographs and sketches, paintings, drawings that showed the wilderness being opened by the railroad. We were making this place useful to human beings, and these artists recognized that. That's how they represented this, that the railroad was good, or at least the railroad was neutral, and it was allowing people to go west in a way they hadn't been able to before.Three hundred eighty miles from Baltimore, the train pulled to a stop at Wheeling, where the artists were greeted with cannon fire and taken on a tour of the town.
Wheeling is like many a child we've seen that would be very pretty if its face was washed.
David Hunter Strother
It was a town that had a dichotomy of society. In other words, a very high society lived in grand homes. Some had slaves as house servants. And so people were living very well, going to theatre, going to concerts, going to scholarly lectures. They were enjoying the finer things of life, but that was only a select group in the community. And then there was the other side of the coin - the laborers and the wagoneers who drank a lot, who fought a lot, the people who did not have much money and worked so hard, were ill, led what we would consider miserable lives.
The idiosyncrasy of this town is smoke. It rolls sullenly from the great chimneys of the iron foundries, and settles down in black, slimy pools on the muddy streets. Smoke on the wharves, smoke on the dingy boats, on the yellow river, -- clinging in a coating of greasy soot to the housefront, the two faded poplars, the faces of the passers-by.She was curious, sensitive and remarkably observant. Raised in an upper class home, Rebecca Harding became fascinated with the working class life outside her window. In her early twenties, she began to write about it.
A cloudy day. Do you know what that is in a town of ironworks? The air is thick, clammy with the breath of crowded human beings. It stifles me. I open the window, can scarcely see through the rain the grocer's shop opposite, where a crowd of drunken Irishmen are puffing Lynchburg tobacco in their pipes. I can detect the scent through all the foul smells ranging loose in the air.In her steel-ribbed corsets and dragging skirts, Harding explored Wheeling's gritty industrial district, where thousands of Irish, Welsh and German laborers toiled.
Masses of men with dull faces bent to the ground, skin and muscle and flesh begrimed with smoke and ashes; stooping all night over boiling cauldrons of metal, breathing from infancy to death an air saturated with fog and grease and soot, vileness for soul and body.Harding's story, "Life in the Iron Mills," published in the Atlantic Monthly, shocked readers across the country. It was the first time that an American writer had portrayed industrialism in such realistic terms. Southerners claimed it showed that working conditions in northern factories were worse than those on plantations.
As the slavery conflict intensified, western Virginia, with its slave and free labor, became a border between two ways of life.
On a warm spring day in 1859, Rebecca Harding saw a gaunt man walking down a street in Wheeling, "his eyes fixed and lips moving," she noted, "like a man under the influence of morphia." "He was a poor farmer from the West," Harding wrote in her diary, "who was insane on the question of slavery."
A few days later, the man left town, heading east.
Time Code: 1/01:29:03
[Title: John Brown]
On the night of October 16, 1859, John Brown and eighteen followers crossed the Potomac River into Harpers Ferry, Virginia. There they easily seized the federal armory and arsenal, took a half-dozen prisoners, then barricaded themselves in the arsenal engine house.
Little else in Brown's life had gone as smoothly. He had roamed through six states, failed as a cattleman, merchant and land speculator, fathered twenty children, and fallen deeply into debt. Yet Brown felt God had given him a special mission.
John Brown came to Harpers Ferry because of the United States armory and arsenal. There were 100,000 weapons stored in two arsenal buildings here in Harpers Ferry. Brown intended to utilize those weapons to bring about an end to slavery throughout the South and Harpers Ferry would be the beginning of that liberation. Brown had convinced himself that he was an instrument of God and that he had been sent here by Jehovah with the Bible as his creed to declare war against slavery.Just after midnight, Brown's men killed Heyward Shepherd, a free black who worked for the railroad. At dawn, they seized two dozen armory workers as they reported for work. But then Brown let a train from Wheeling pass through town, and its conductor quickly spread the alarm.
Units of the Virginia militia arrived that afternoon and killed Dangerfield Newby, an ex-slave. Newby had joined Brown with the hope of freeing his wife and children, who were still in bondage. Someone cut off his ears as souvenirs.
Three more of Brown's men were killed in sporadic fighting. Townspeople shot at two of the lifeless bodies throughout the day; the third was partially eaten by a hog.
That night, ninety United States Marines arrived from Washington. They were led by Robert E. Lee, a fifty-two-year-old Army colonel. At dawn the next day, Lee demanded that Brown surrender. When he refused, Marines battered a hole in the engine house door.
And the first man through was a marine, Lieutenant Israel Green. He struck Brown and pushed him down, but the sword did not penetrate. Brown was wearing a buckle, and the sword had struck that buckle with such force that instead of penetrating it, it had almost broken it in half. And this is where history becomes a matter of a quarter of an inch. A quarter of an inch high or low or a quarter of an inch to the right or to the left, away from that buckle, that sword would have penetrated Brown, and he would have died on that very cold brick floor.Lieutenant Green clubbed Brown unconscious and his small army surrendered.
As Brown was carried out of the engine house, a hushed silence fell on the crowd that had gathered.
No one can feel any sympathy for him after they see the dreadful instruments he had prepared to kill us with. I had one of the spikes in my hand and examined it . . . They are made rough and coarse; they were for the Negroes to use. Oh, he is a dreadful man, may the Lord have mercy on him for man cannot.The death toll of the raid was sixteen, including one Marine and two of Brown's sons. In the Jefferson County Courthouse in Charles Town, Brown and his four surviving followers were put on trial for murder, treason against Virginia and inciting slaves to riot.
Special prosecutor Andrew Hunter vowed to have Brown "tried, sentenced and hung--all within ten days." Three days later, Brown was found guilty on all counts and sentenced to death. The judge asked if he had any final words.
Had I so interfered in behalf of any of the rich, the powerful, . . . or in behalf of any of their friends, . . . it would have been all right, and every man in this Court would have deemed it an act of reward rather than punishment....I believe that to have interfered as I have done, . . . in behalf of His despised poor, is no wrong, but right.Virginia Governor Henry Wise received hundreds of letters requesting clemency for Brown. Fearing a revolt, Wise declared martial law in Charles Town and ordered strangers arrested on sight.
Brown's wife Mary arrived from Kansas. In his jail cell, they talked for several hours. Then Mary left to await delivery of her husband's body.
On December 2, reporters from across the country, including David Hunter Strother, joined fifteen hundred soldiers around a gallows outside Charles Town. Cadets from the Virginia Military Institute were issued new muskets from the Harpers Ferry arsenal and told to prepare for any emergency. Their commander was Major Thomas J. Jackson, a pious, eccentric West Point graduate from western Virginia.
I was much impressed with the thought that before me stood a man in the full vigor of health, who must in a few moments enter eternity.At 11:30 A.M., a sheriff cut the trap door rope with a hatchet, and John Brown fell to his death.
I sent up the petition that he might be saved. I hope that he was prepared to die, but I am doubtful.
John Brown carved a canyon, a grand canyon between the North and the South. No longer could you stand on top of the fence and not topple either for slavery or against slavery. Brown took away the opportunity for compromise."This will be the date of a new Revolution," wrote Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, "quite as much needed as the old one."
Time Code: 1/01:37:37
[Title: True Virginians]
In November of 1860, an Illinois congressman was elected the sixteenth President of the United States. A moderate on slavery, Abraham Lincoln's election sent shock waves through the South. South Carolina seceded from the Union, followed soon by six other states. Virginia hesitated.
I am strong for the Union at present, and if things become no worse, I hope to continue so.
In any aspect we view the existing state of things in Virginia, nothing but confusion, conflict, and strife is foreboded.Newspaper editor Archibald Campbell, the nephew of Alexander Campbell, had fallen in with abolitionists while at college in New York. Now he began using his paper, The Wheeling Intelligencer, to rally public support for the creation of a new state, free of slavery, in western Virginia.
There is now on foot a grand counter movement, having for its object a division of the state at the Blue Ridge. This popular movement awaits only the opportunity and pretext for assuming formidable proportions.Then, on April 12, 1861, Confederate guns fired on Fort Sumter. The news ignited demonstrations in Richmond. An exuberant crowd tore down the Stars and Stripes from atop the capitol. Inside, a special convention debated Virginia's secession.
Western delegate John S. Carlile of Harrison County, a failed businessman who had become an eloquent political showman, led the fight against secession. "Carlile is an enemy," wrote the Richmond Enquirer, "against whom we warn the true men of Virginia."
Dissolve the Union and hitch Virginia to the tail of a Southern Confederacy to stand guard and play patrol for King Cotton! I drop the pen. I cannot contemplate the picture. I turn with horror from such a sight.Waitman T. Willey, a self-taught lawyer from Monongalia County who had set his slaves free, warned that Virginia would break apart if it left the Union.
The idea of a division of the state is new to the people; but I have never known so rapid a progress of opinion in favor of any measure, as there seems to be in favor of this.A western farmer put it more directly. "We will not fight for the nigger traders," he warned, "happen what will."
On April 15 Lincoln issued a call for troops. Two days later, former governor Henry Wise entered the Virginia Convention, drew a pistol from his shirt and announced that the state militia had seized the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry.
That evening, the Convention passed an Ordinance of Secession removing Virginia from the Union. Militia forces at Harpers Ferry were put under the command of Colonel Thomas Jackson, who had not hesitated in siding with his native Virginia.
Orphaned at a young age, Jackson was raised on his uncle's farm at Jacksons Mill on the West Fork River. He had poor eyesight, was partially deaf and suffered from numerous ailments, which he said were punishments from God for his sins. Obsessed with his health, Jackson refused to drink tea or coffee, ate fruit only in the morning, and often held up an arm so blood could flow back into his body.
People who are anxious to bring on war don't know what they are bargaining for; they don't see all the horrors that must accompany such an event.In May, Confederates led by Colonel George A. Porterfield occupied Grafton, a strategic junction of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad eighty miles southeast of Wheeling. In response, Union General George B. McClellan, a skilled engineer who had worked briefly for the B & O Railroad, sent Federal troops across the Ohio River.
To the union men of western Virginia:McClellan ordered General Benjamin Kelley, who had been selling hardware only a month earlier, to retake Grafton. Outnumbered, Porterfield withdrew south to Philippi and encamped beside the Buckhannon River. Kelley advanced and at dawn on June 3, Union cannon opened fire.
Now that we are in your midst, I call upon you to fly to arms and sever the connection that binds you to traitors. Proclaim to the world that faith and loyalty so long boasted by the Old Dominion is still preserved in Western Virginia.
We were startled by a loud explosion, with the cry "the enemy! the enemy!" The balls were falling and hissing all around us. All was now confusion. The infantry was rushing towards "Dixie's Land" in great disorder.The first land battle of the Civil War was over in a few minutes. No one was killed, but Kelley was seriously wounded in the chest. Federal troops pursued the fleeing Confederates in what became known as "the Philippi races."
Private John Lyon Hill
In June, Union forces advanced toward Jackson's troops at Harpers Ferry. Jackson, now sporting a full beard, dismantled the Federal armory, sent its machinery to Richmond and set the building on fire. Then he withdrew. On his way out of town, Jackson blew up the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad bridge.
Jackson certainly was not comfortable with destroying property in Virginia, but Jackson was a warrior. Those were simply the results of war - a war he did not want, a war that many other Virginians did not desire, but now that he had thrown his hat in with the Confederacy, he would execute the edicts of war, and if that war brought death, misery, and destruction, so be it.Only one armory building escaped destruction: the engine house, now called John Brown's Fort.
The appearance of ruin by war and fire was awful. Charred ruins were all that remained of the splendid public works, arsenals, workshops and railroads, stores, hotels, and dwelling houses all mingled in one common destruction.Recently married, David Hunter Strother had returned with his bride to his father's hotel at Berkeley Springs, planning to sit out the war. Now, with fighting so near, Strother realized that was impossible and promptly enlisted in the Union army.
David Hunter Strother
Volunteering in Monongalia moves very tardily. Each man thinks he is not the one to do the fighting but would rather do the talkingÉThe men of means stood off as if they had no lot or part in this matter but seemed to think the poor man ought to do the fighting.
The great majority of people did not want to take an absolute position. They wanted the problem to go away, but as often happens in periods that we look back and call great moments in history, in fact public affairs intruded in the private lives, and they required people to make a choice. They made it quickly; they made it slowly. They stuck with it; they backed out of it. But everybody had to make private decisions in response to this crisis in public affairs.Nineteen-year-old Joshua Winters left his family's farm near the Ohio River for a Union camp two hundred miles to the east. It was the farthest he had ever been from home.
[John A. Williams]
There is sixteen of us in one tent. We have a stove in the middle and we get along first rate at night. When we all get a' cutting up we have a great time. There's an awful sight of men here now and more a' coming.In Wheeling, three brothers enlisted, one with the Union and two with the Confederacy.
I have putting the last finishing touches to poor Syl's clothes, marking his shirts and stockings...My dear, dear husband....I clung to him with tears and sobs which I could not repress. The last lingering kiss and embrace was given and he went from my sight, and perhaps forever.Twenty-year-old James Hall of Philippi left college and joined the Barbour Grays.
I have volunteered in the Confederate Army. I can not fully visualize the stern realities of war. Scenes of carnage and death await. Be it so. We will consider our lives a small offering for our native land. May God avert the danger which now threatens her.Time Code: 1/01:51:22
As the war intensified, pro-union leaders meeting in the Custom House at Wheeling declared the Richmond government null and void. They formed the "Reorganized" Government of Virginia, with Wheeling as its capital, and named a new Virginia governor, loyal to the Union.
Francis Harrison Pierpont, a former schoolteacher and lawyer for the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, vowed to raise more Union troops, despite the fact that his government had no money.
The putting down of the rebellion is of vastly more importance to us, and to the world, than the formation of a new State.He secured bank loans, personally guaranteeing the loans, and seized $27,000 intended for a new state insane asylum.
Within a month, Pierpont had recruited and equipped twenty thousand Union volunteers.
Frank Pierpont is one of those men well fitted for the stormy and revolutionary times that are upon us. A truer man to the cause of the Union does not live.Determined to maintain the standards of the governor's office, Pierpont bought himself a tailored suit to replace what he called his "homespun" clothes. But he refused to employ a black servant, and had the uniform bought for one returned.
We enjoy this life very much. So healthy and so pretty a country is rarely seen...this is the land of blackberries. We are a great grown-up armed blackberry party and we gather untold quantities.A Harvard Law School graduate, Rutherford B. Hayes arrived in western Virginia with the Twenty-Third Ohio in the summer of 1861.
Rutherford B. Hayes
The people here are divided. Many of the leading ladies are Secessionists. We meet many good Union men; the other men are prudently quiet.In July, Union soldiers won a decisive victory at Rich Mountain in the Tygart Valley. At Gauley River in September, Federal troops defeated rebels under former Virginia governor John B. Floyd. By the fall, Union forces controlled all of northwestern Virginia, most of the Kanawha Valley and the B&O Railroad. Rebels still held the Greenbrier and other southeastern valleys.
[Rutherford B. Hayes]
In the Greenbrier Valley, Confederate General Henry Wise set up his headquarters at White Sulphur Springs.
Rebel soldiers signed the hotel's register alongside wealthy southern guests, who hadn't let a war stop their annual vacation.
Yet for most Confederates encamped in the mountains, conditions couldn't have been worse. Food and supplies were scarce. It rained constantly, then snowed. Diseases spread--pneumonia, mumps, then an epidemic of measles.
I entered the house--a deserted dwelling--which was filled with the sick. I saw many there who appeared so intellectual and highly educated, who undoubtedly were bright ornaments to the society, leaving the world in such a place. I involuntarily breathed a prayer to their Creator who knows all.Secure behind Union lines, Pierpont's government chose John S. Carlile and Waitman T. Willey as United States Senators from Loyal Virginia. Carlile immediately called for the formation of a new state.
Borne down by an eastern governmental majority, we have endured the disastrous results that ever must flow from an unnatural connection. Cut the knot now! Cut it now! Apply the knife!
They viewed this as an opportunity: "Here's our chance to assert our individuality, our independence, a new state! We West Virginians - this is - our time has come!" All these pent up emotions and feelings and frustrations that had been building for thirty, forty years. "Now we can do something. Our day has come."Supporters haggled over the state's name, suggesting "New Virginia," "Allegheny," then "Kanawha."
[Richard O. Curry]
The name Kanawha is a very hard name to spell. I think the rose would smell sweeter by some other name.Finally, they compromised on "West Virginia." The proposed new state contained fifty counties, including several in the northeast, where the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad operated.
The inclusion of this territory is essential to the welfare of this new State. The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad is the great artery that feeds our country. We cannot do without it.
Berkeley, Morgan, Hampshire counties, Jefferson County - those were tied very much to the old Virginia plantation economy. If they didn't go with the new state of West Virginia, part of the B&O would continue to operate through a Confederate state, through hostile territory. The United States government, the new government of West Virginia, the management of the B&O, pretty much everybody decided that it was in the best interest of everybody if the B&O lay entirely within this new state of West Virginia.Thomas Jackson, now called "Stonewall" after the Battle of Manasses, occupied Berkeley Springs in January of 1862. There his men ransacked the Strother Hotel. David Hunter Strother's father, distraught at the damage, died two weeks later.
In the spring, Jackson led his troops on a brilliant campaign in the Shenandoah Valley, repeatedly defeating larger Union forces before disappearing into the hills. Jackson, who prayed three times a day, seemed fearless under fire. "My religious beliefs teach me to feel as safe in battle as in bed," he told a fellow officer. "God has fixed the time for my death."
His fame spread, first throughout the South, then everywhere.
On May 29, 1862, Waitman T. Willey presented West Virginia's application for statehood to the United States Senate.
The division of the State of Virginia is a physical, a political, and commercial necessity. It is indispensable to the development of the great natural resources of West Virginia, and to the prosperity and happiness of its inhabitants.Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts, a leading abolitionist, demanded that West Virginia only be admitted as a free state. Senator Carlile insisted that residents of the state be given the choice over slavery.
Congress will hesitate long before it consents to the subdivision of a slave State, simply that two slave States may be made out of it.Willey proposed an amendment providing for the gradual elimination of slavery in the new state. The Senate passed the statehood bill with Willey's amendment attached. Carlile voted against it.
Carlile's supporters were shocked. His conversion "is greater than that of St. Paul," said a colleague.
Carlile has run himself clear under water. The people would have forgiven him almost anything else, except his vote against the New State."The most lively topic here," wrote a Wheeling woman, "is the detestation of Carlile."
John Carlile probably never understood why he was rejected, why he became an object of complete scorn. He didn't like the Willey amendment, which stated that West Virginia would have to become a free state before it could enter the Union. It wasn't, you see, that Carlile objected to the new state. He didn't want a new state on the terms on which it was being offered . He could not adjust to change, and being unable to adjust to change, he willingly consigned himself to oblivion.The statehood bill passed in the House of Representatives in December and was sent to President Lincoln for his signature. Lincoln worried that the bill violated a provision in the Constitution that said no state could be divided against its will. In giving its consent, Lincoln wondered, had the Wheeling government spoken for Virginia?
[Richard O. Curry]
Mr. President:Pierpont threatened to resign if Lincoln vetoed the bill.
As your friend, as an original, unconditional and unchangeable Union man, I say that you can never afford to veto this new State bill. A veto would be the death warrant of Unionism in Western Virginia.
Very sincerely and respectfully,
Finally, on December 31, Lincoln signed it. "The division of a state is dreaded as a precedent," he said, "but a measure made expedient by a war, is no precedent for times of peace."
Lincoln couldn't have done anything else but sign the statehood bill, and one of the things he talks about is that we need every West Virginian, every mother's son to fight in the Union Army, to volunteer. We need West Virginia regiments already in the field to re- volunteer. I mean he was very conscious of it. If he hadn't signed the bill, this would have been so disappointing that he would have lost the support, perhaps, of the populace.West Virginia became the thirty-fifth state in the Union and the only one torn from the body of another.
[Richard O. Curry]
Time Code: 1/02:06:00
[Title: The Crush of Worlds]
In 1863, as Union and Confederate armies in western Virginia were locked in a military stalemate, a second war emerged, a war without uniforms or codes of conduct.
Farmers, boys and deserters formed irregular Confederate units with colorful names--The Moccasins, The Black Striped Company, McNeill's Rangers.
In Logan County, Anderson Hatfield and two of his brothers formed the Logan Wildcats. The Hatfields picked off dozens of Union soldiers, including one of their neighbors, Private Harmon McCoy.
The country outside our lines is full of guerrillas and horse thieves. The staid people in the country wish them to the devil, although their own friends and relatives are among the plunderers.Called "bushwhackers" by their Union enemies, the guerrillas harassed Federal troops and terrorized Union supporters. Bushwhackers beheaded one Federal courier; another was found tied to a tree, his naked body riddled with bullets.
David Hunter Strother
The guerrilla warfare simply shows the inability of the Union Army really, to govern, or to control western Virginia. Northwestern Virginia, where the population was already committed to union, there was no problem, but the rest of the state could not be governed. Union troops controlled the cities and the roadways and the rivers during the day, but not at night. The terrain itself was enough to defeat any invading army. Thirty men while placed at a mountain gorge could hold off a regiment, an army.
[Richard O. Curry]
We now have over 40,000 men in the service of the United States in Western Virginia, but our large armies are useless here. They cannot catch guerrillas in the mountains anymore than a cow can catch fleas.Union General Robert H. Milroy ordered Confederate sympathizers to pay for goods stolen by bushwhackers; if they refused, soldiers were to burn their houses, seize their property and shoot them. Union soldiers occupied towns, declared martial law, then ransacked stores and houses.
We were engaged all day by the insolent conduct of a company of cavalry who seem to have taken complete possession of the town. We have no privacy whatever. Our yard and garden are no longer our own, and we are like prisoners.
A company of guerrillas came into our store and took possession in the name of southern Confederacy and intended to rob the store of everything, and did take about $1000 worth of goods. Confederate rags!
The Civil War was one of the most divisive and disruptive aspects of the history of West Virginian that one can possibly imagine. A true civil war occurred in the mountains, where one had families and communities divided against each other.
A great share of the calamities of war fall on the women. I see women unused to hard labor gathering corn to keep starvation from the door.In Philippi, Anna Jarvis, who had lost three of four children to disease, organized "Mother's Day Work Clubs" that provided food and medicine to women impoverished by the war.
Rutherford B. Hayes
Joshua Winters' mother and sisters managed the farm on their own.
You don't believe how lonesome we are. I chopped wood yesterday till I had a blister on my hand. Julia is a great big mare, big enough to ride if she was broke. I wish you would come home and break her so I could ride her. Don't forget your loving sister.
Such a time our new state is having. Lots of rebels trying to destroy it, but never mind it will shine as bright as any of the thirty-five after a while. If I were only a man to help fight for it.Both sides recruited women as spies.
In Martinsburg, Belle Boyd claimed she obtained information from Union officers in the privacy of her bedroom. A Confederate officer said Boyd could "charm the heart out of monk and cause him to break his vows of celibacy."
Boyd was arrested seven times, each time boasting of her deeds and delighting in the public outrage.
Belle Boyd was taken prisoner and sent off in a carriage with an escort of fifty cavalryman today. I hope she has succeeded in making herself proficiently notorious now.On the night of May 2, 1863, Thomas Jackson was returning to his camp outside Chancellorsville, Virginia, when he was mistaken for a Union soldier and shot by his own men. For a week, Jackson struggled to recover.
Then, on May 10, a warm spring day, Jackson closed his eyes. "Let us cross over the river," he said, "and rest under the shade of the trees." A few moments later, he died.
Southerners were heartbroken. In Richmond, five thousand people met the train carrying Jackson's body. Thousands more filed past his coffin as it lay in state. In death, Jackson became even more famous. "He was taken away from us," said a soldier, "because we made almost on idol out of him."
So common has death become that when a man dies, he is as soon forgotten. Yesterday I passed by the graveyard of our Regiment. Their pure souls shall forever stand unmoved during the wreck of time, and crush of worlds.In May of 1864, David Hunter assumed command of Union forces in West Virginia. Hunter ordered his troops to burn the property of southern sympathizers every time they were fired upon by bushwhackers. Federal soldiers promptly torched the homes of a parson and a widow.
Hunter advanced south and occupied Lexington, where he set fire to the Virginia Military Institute.
His chief of staff, David Hunter Strother, had a statue of Washington removed from the school and sent to Wheeling as a trophy for the new state.
Two weeks later, at While Sulphur Springs, Hunter gave orders to burn down The White, which had been converted into a Confederate hospital. Captain Henry du Pont, a regular guest at the resort, talked him out of it.
Hunter moved north to Charles Town, where set fire to the home of his cousin, Andrew Hunter, the prosecutor of John Brown.
When Lincoln received reports of Hunter's actions, he relieved him of his command. On his final day, Hunter had a Union deserter shot. "It is too troublesome to hang men," he said. "We have not time to spare."
What a terrible thing this war is; it has shaken everything to the foundation. One thing is evident -- the future will be very different from the past.By the end of 1864, the tide had turned against the South. Union forces controlled nearly all of West Virginia; Sherman was sweeping from Atlanta towards the sea; Grant pressing down on Lee in Petersburg. Bushwhackers continued to fight but it became only a matter of time.
On the night of April 8, 1865, cavalry private William L. Wilson of Charles Town bedded down with his company near Appomattox Court House, Virginia.
There is an air of repose and security about Camp tonight which I can not understand. Are we safe at last? My thoughts turn homewards. When will I ever see the blue mountains and green fields of Jefferson again?The next day Lee surrendered to Grant in a farmhouse outside the village.
Private William L. Wilson
We marched out within the Yankee lines this morning and stacked our arms. I saw several acquaintances in the Yankee army, some of my neighbors.They came home. Privates, generals, Union, Confederate. Home to wives and mothers, to neighbors they had met in battle. Home to a state that hadn't existed when they left.
Union Private Joshua Winters returned to his family's farm and took his sister Annie horseback-riding.
Anderson Hatfield disbanded the Logan Wildcats and was hailed as a local hero. McNeill's Rangers surrendered everything but their saddles and a few new rifles. One Ranger asked if he could keep some gunpowder to go hunting.
Anna Jarvis lost three more children to disease and died on the second Sunday in May. Through her daughter's efforts, the day became a national holiday, Mother's Day.
David Hunter Strother returned to Berkeley Springs, where he managed his family's hotel and resumed his writing. His war memoir was serialized in Harper's Magazine.
It will one day be considered a great privilege to have lived in these days, to have played a part in the greatest war that has shaken the earth for many a year.In Washington, Senator Waitman T. Willey personally handled hundreds of claims for compensation from victims of the war and fought off efforts by Richmond politicians to reunite Virginia.
[David Hunter Strother]
John S. Carlile moved to Maryland, ran for Congress as a Democrat and lost, then returned to Clarksburg and ran as a Republican. He lost again, and became a farmer.
Confederate James Hall, who had been wounded at Gettysburg, began the long journey home from Appomattox.
April 15: Today we separated. The majority of us will never meet again.
April 18: Slept in a bed last night. The first for many months.
April 24: Came to Philippi and stopped with Aunt Betsy Jarvis.
April 28: Went fishing.
What happened in the mountains as a result of industrialization is that mountain people very quickly moved from a relatively independent people, who had a large amount of control over their own destiny and lives, to a people who were increasingly dependent and whose lives were shaped by external markets and external owners. Appalachia essentially became a dependent society, dependent upon public work and cash income, and dependent upon absentee owners of the land itself. And we've been paying for that dependence ever since.Time Code: 2/00:04:08
Tensions from the war continued to simmer in West Virginia during the summer of 1865. Former Confederates campaigned to have two northeastern counties rejoin Virginia. Local newspapers refused to use the word "West" in their mastheads.
Hang me if I say West Virginia. Maps may say what they please, but I say this is Virginia.Hostilities increased when Governor Arthur Boreman's government banned ex-Confederates from voting, teaching, holding office or practicing law. "The spirit of rebellion," said Boreman, "still reigns in their breast." Federal troops were sent in to keep the peace.
As whites clung to Old Virginia, southern blacks welcomed its demise. Thousands of former slaves arrived in the Shenandoah and Potomac valleys of West Virginia seeking a new life.
The Condition of the Negro families in this Vicinity is alarming. Large families of Women and Children are being driven from their houses daily and hundreds of them are now roaming over the Country begging for support.
J. H. Duvall
Can you imagine what this great internal migration might have been like for black people? When you have thousands of people simply walking the roads, people who have no food, who have no clothing, who have no money, the territory is hostile, the people around them are hostile and they're trying to find someplace to go. I'm not sure that we have a real appreciation for the difficulties of that experience, the horrors of it.Seven hundred blacks crowded into a makeshift tent camp in Harpers Ferry. In the filthy conditions, diseases spread and infant mortality soared.
We have a colored population huddled together with almost no where to live and nothing to live on.Following the war, twenty-nine-year-old Nathan Cook Brackett was sent to Harpers Ferry by the Freewill Baptist Home Mission Society of Maine to open schools for ex-slaves. "We have the honor of occupying the ground," he said, "where John Brown made himself immortal." Yet Brackett found himself unwelcome.
People are exceedingly hostile to any measure that benefits the colored people, especially a school. Threats of violence have been made against any one who attempts to establish a "nigger school."With help from black residents, Brackett set up a classroom in a federal armory building in Harpers Ferry, found space for two more schools in Martinsburg and Charles Town. He requested teachers be sent from Maine.
I am going to Charles Town to open a school there next week. The spirit that hung John Brown still lives, and the people are strongly opposed to schools for the Freedmen. I go alone, but I trust the law and the Lord will shield me.When teacher Anne Dudley arrived in Charles Town, white residents sent her death threats. Ten federal soldiers escorted her to school the first day, but Dudley insisted on living by herself in a remote cabin.
I keep a good ax and six-shooter at the head of my bed at night, resolved to sell my life as dearly as possible, if need be.Sarah Jane Foster, a self-educated Maine schoolteacher, was sent to Martinsburg. A shoemaker's daughter, Foster was a voracious reader who taught so she could afford to buy books. Like many other young Baptist women in the North, Foster had a missionary zeal to help newly freed slaves.
I mean to act so that none can find fault with me about setting up the colored people above their place. I cannot help liking them.In a cramped basement, Foster taught reading and arithmetic to children ages six to eighteen. At night, fifty adults crowded into her classroom, eager to learn as well.
Sarah Jane Foster
We have been asked to believe that this race are only fit for chattels. A deeper, darker falsehood was never palmed upon the public.
[Sarah Jane Foster]
Part of what we have to understand is that it was not just the benevolence of people who came in from somewhere else to do something for these people, that they were interested in trying to help themselves. And I would suspect that this stems from the great effort during slavery to keep blacks from the Word, to keep us from being able to read and so those people who were freed slaves and who came into West Virginia after the Civil War were very interested in trying to get schools started for their children. Not only for their children, but for themselves because many of them as adults wanted to learn to read.Blacks raised fifty dollars a month to keep the school open, but white residents fought to close it. Whites broke school windows, disrupted classes, and taunted Foster on the streets. When she asked male students to escort her home, townspeople were outraged.
Is it any wonder that Southern people treat these amazons, who with brazen effrontery walk our streets with buck negroes as gallants, with deserved contempt?
Spirit Of Jefferson
It is not the refined and wealthy who are the most bitter, but the lower classes. As one of my pupils remarked: "T'aint them that used to own servants that's so hard on us, but them that never had none."
Sarah Jane Foster
The blood-hounds are all loose. They have attacked our evening scholars several times lately, and they are threatening to burn our houses.Under pressure from church officials, Brackett was forced to dismiss Foster.
Two years later, the Freewill Baptists opened Storer College in Harpers Ferry for the training of black teachers. Nathan Brackett was named president and Anne Dudley appointed to the faculty.
That year, Sarah Jane Foster contracted yellow fever while teaching at a freedmen's school in South Carolina. She died a few weeks later at the age of twenty-eight.
Behind the mists of ruin waved the calico dresses of women who dared; after the hoarse mouthings of the field guns, rang the rhythm of the alphabet.Time Code: 2/00:13:57
W. E. B. Dubois
Two things happened in the years after the Civil War. One was that the attitudes of many of the community leaders in West Virginia began to look more favorably toward industrial development than had been the case before the war. The second important thing was that the Industrial Revolution began to occur in the rest of America and created a tremendous need for natural resources. West Virginia was the new frontier after the war. It was the new frontier for industrialization, for the resources that would build industrial America.In the election of 1870, ex-Confederates, once again allowed to vote, swept Democrats into political power in West Virginia.
Democrats failed to change the names of Lincoln and Grant counties to Davis and Lee, but they managed to move the state capital from Wheeling--"that iron-hearted city," as one southern Democrat put it. The effects of government were put aboard a steamboat on the Ohio and taken south to Charleston, a small, nearly inaccessible village in the Kanawha Valley.
West Virginia was now back under the control, ironically, of ex-confederates, who had been included in the new state against their will. And that is one of the great ironies of West Virginia history is that people who made it, lost it, and lost it within five years.To succeed outgoing Senator Waitman T. Willey, Democrats chose Henry Gassaway Davis, a large, astute businessman who had made a fortune during the war selling supplies to the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad.
[Richard O. Curry]
The son of a bankrupt Baltimore developer, Davis started out as a brakeman with the B&O, opened his own general store and used his profits from the war to form a bank and a land company.
When he was on the railroad as a brakeman, he spent many, many cold hours riding on the top of a coal pile on a coal car. He probably escaped death just by a whisker many, many times over. That was life out on the railroad. Who better to represent a state like West Virginia than someone who has come from the bottom, made his fortunes, knows what West Virginia is all about?As Davis went to Washington, West Virginia began a campaign to attract industry and new residents to the state.
Commissioner of Immigration Joseph Diss Debar, a French-born artist, designed the state seal, showing a farmer and a miner with the motto, Montani Semper Liberi - "Mountaineers are Always Free."
Debar posted advertisements in Europe promoting West Virginia as the "Switzerland of America," a place, he promised, where industry and independence would co-exist.
That such a country, so full of the varied treasures of the forest and the mine should lack inhabitants, or the hum of industry, or show of wealth, is an absurdity in the present and an impossibility in the future.Yet when Debar greeted boatloads of Europeans in New York, he discovered that immigration officials described West Virginia as a waste land where prices were high and foreigners unwelcome.
Joseph Diss Debar
Debar did manage to attract a group of Swiss immigrants, who founded the community of Helvetia and joined other self-sufficient farmers in the sparsely-settled mountains.
The Mountaineer is born and nurtured in poverty and seclusion. He has no set pattern to grow up by, with none of the slop shops of civilization at hand to furnish him ready made clothing, manners or opinions.
David Hunter Strother
The inhabitants of this region are rude and unlettered, but generally thrifty, independent, and devout frequenters of Sunday meetings. Their isolation from the world and each other had nurtured a strong individualism, and there is a great variety of eccentrics among them.
[David Hunter Strother]
Central to the pre-industrial environment in the mountains was the family. Family was as important as the land. All of the family members tended to work within that farm setting. There was very little separation between men and women in that environment. Children worked alongside parents in the woods and in the garden. And when one wasn't looking to making a big profit off of the land or to getting rich and moving ahead, if one was looking to sustain the family, West Virginia worked very well for these people.
This is the best poor man's county on the globe. You can 'coon hunt all winter and fish all summer.
[Logan County farmer]
The people are generally hospitable. The stranger, if he can eat corn pone, fried pork, and fried chicken, is welcome to their table. In spite of their lack of the ordinary comforts of civilization and their isolation from the world, they all have a comfortable opinion of their surroundings.
T. C. Crawford
The farm was beautiful. Corn would be planted maybe three to five grains to a hill, one for the woodchuck, one for the crow, one for the weather, and two to grow. And when you have chickens, geese, ducks, guineas, and you have horses, you need to know how to take care of all of these animals. My grandmother insisted that girls should know how to do these things in order to be self-sufficient.
The women of Appalachia - they're much stronger than the men. You couldn't kill one of them with a hammer. The old women were very soft spoken. They appeared to be subservient, but you didn't have to be around very long until you found out who crowed and who laid the eggs. These women- they didn't survive; they prevailed.Farm women tended gardens, preserved food, made the family's clothes and earned a rare item in the mountains, cash, selling eggs and butter.
The only other common way to make money was selling moonshine, a whiskey made from corn. Farmers made barrels of moonshine in backwoods stills and sold it widely despite a federal law prohibiting the sale of untaxed liquor.
Then, beginning in the 1870s, a temperance movement swept the country. President Rutherford B. Hayes' wife Lucy, a leader in the Women's Christian Temperance Union, replaced champagne at state dinners with lemonade. She soon became known as "Lemonade Lucy."
Hayes sent Federal tax collectors into the mountains to crack down on moonshine. Known as "revenuers," the agents hired informants to spy on their neighbors, disguised themselves as land buyers and led armed raids on stills.
Mountain people, once known for their hospitality, became more suspicious of strangers.
The earliest settler frequently welcomed strangers into their communities and into their homes. A writer traveling through the mountains could stay almost anywhere and be welcomed into a cabin and be offered the best bed and the best meal and music in the evenings. The suspiciousness of outsiders is a phenomena that actually began to occur in the late nineteenth century. Then you begin to find the stories of the suspiciousness and the fear of outsiders because mountain people have come to see outsiders at that point as someone who has come to take advantage of you and not always to be neighborly toward you.
Here is a great region which is now of little importance to the rest of the country. It was a hard country to fight in; it was an unpromising country to invest capital in; you and I could not be persuaded to live there. And here comes a railroad and suddenly changes all this.Time Code: 2/00:25:41
Charles Nordhoff, New York Daily Tribune
In the Spring of 1870, work began on the extension of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad through southern West Virginia.
The project was the brainchild of the railroad's president, Collis Potter Huntington. Born into poverty, Huntington had peddled jewelry in the Midwest and butter in New York before making a fortune selling supplies to miners during California's Gold Rush.
He is "a hard and cheery old man," wrote a colleague, "with no more soul than a shark." Huntington's only weakness seemed to be his growing baldness; he wore black skullcaps everywhere to hide his lack of hair. Now Huntington's goal was to build his own transcontinental railroad, and he pursued it ruthlessly.
At a time when people were thinking more in terms of what is in the next county and where can I make my next ten bucks, Huntington was thinking what is in the next state and the next state beyond that and where can I make my next ten million.The route of the C&O extension crossed a hundred miles of rugged mountain terrain. Engineering crews, which included many former Confederate officers, had to be lowered by rope into the steep canyons.
Agents recruited thousands of Irish and German laborers from the docks in New York, and thousands of southern blacks, who were attracted by a wage four times greater than what they were paid on plantations.
About 5,000 men are now employed on the work of construction along the unfinished part of the line. Wherever we rode, I saw whites and Negroes working together, pushing at the same car, shoveling at the same dirt heap, lifting together at one rock.
West Virginia as a state is probably the most formidable area in the country in which to building railroads. Life was hard out on the C&O. The fellows who built the railroad were nothing more than beasts of burden. Digging the cuts, digging the tunnels, creating the fills, cutting the timber, literally making the cross ties as they came through the trees. Work was more dear than life in many cases. If you worked for the railroad, you did so at your own risk; it was your problem if you got hurt or maimed or died.Pick and shovel crews burrowed a six thousand foot tunnel, then the longest in the country, through Big Bend Mountain. The tunnel was dark and crowded. Frequent cave-ins crushed many workers; others became sick in the foul air and died.
The companies placed greater value oftentimes on the mules than on the workers themselves. It was said that a mule was hard to find; a man could be hired off the street, and so value on human life and human labor was often very low on these construction crews. Disasters occurred almost nightly in many of the tunnels along the lines of the Chesapeake and Ohio. And in some cases the bodies were literally dumped over the hillside and covered over with rubble. And we'll never know how many workers were killed in the construction of that line.One black steeldriver claimed that he could break rock faster than a new steam-powered drill. He did, creating the legend of John Henry.
John Henry was probably a real character. And he very well could have beaten that steam drill once or twice. Even John Henry couldn't stop progress. He could stop that one steam drill, maybe, but not the one next behind it and the one behind that.Near the line's terminus at the Ohio River, Huntington purchased five thousand acres of farmland, which he sold to the C&O at a handsome profit. Around the railroad's depot and repair yards, a town rose up from the corn fields. Huntington named it after himself.
The first train from Richmond to Huntington! To say that the occupants of that train were welcomed would be a feeble way of expressing the enthusiastic display. A yell burst forth as they came up to the platform and the passengers were almost dragged out by eager hands.But not everyone was pleased with the railroad. "It carries whiskey," complained one newspaper, "kills chickens and cows, scares the horses, and throws teamsters out of employment."
The God-fearing Methodists and Presbyterians who had come to get away from the worldly influences - they didn't want the railroad to run on Sunday. The Sunday was Sabbath, by God, and they did everything in their power to keep this outside influence, to keep this work of the devil, at least away from their churches and families and children on Sundays. The trouble was the railroad needed to run on Sunday. People wanted it to run on Sunday, and sooner rather than later the railroad started running on Sundays.
Northern capital and northern men are invading this new country. Thus will be induced that intermingling of northern with southern men, which is, in the long run, our best and perhaps only surety for a more perfect Union.At Quinnimont in the New River Gorge, Joseph Beury, a thirty-year-old miner from Pennsylvania, opened the first coal mine along the C&O. Twenty more mines began operation within a year. One geologist claimed there was enough coal within five miles of the C & O "to supply Western markets for a thousand years."
Railroad workers stayed on to work in the mines. Stores, sawmills, whole towns sprang up in the wilderness.
Despite opportunities to expand the C&O in West Virginia, Huntington chose to move on. He bought thirteen more railroads, created his transcontinental dream, yet seemed discontent and complained constantly about his health. "I would feel better," he told a friend, "if I didn't have to spend most of my life on trains."
Huntington's missed opportunity was seized by others. Henry Gassaway Davis' West Virginia Central Railroad became the backbone of his growing empire of timber and coal companies. Davis' closest friend, Johnson N. Camden, a tall, reserved oil developer from Parkersburg, built two railroads into the mountains.
Davis and Camden bought land and formed businesses together, and seized the reins of political power in West Virginia. The two industrialists turned political influence into an art form, handing out campaign contributions, private loans to politicians and newspaper editors, and all-important government jobs.
My friend wants an office very, very , very bad. . . I can't make it any badder than it is; and he wants it instanter . . a Judgeship, district attorneyship, a Marshalship, any old thing.
I had not the remotest idea that every man, woman, and child in West Virginia wanted a government position, but I believe they do.On election day, their agents handed out cash and bottles of moonshine. "A little whiskey does more good with our hill people," said one, "than all the speeches we can give."
Davis lobbied on behalf of the B&O, handing out free rail passes to political supporters.
It can not be a matter of surprise that a feeling of distrust pervades the public mind, when the public servant holds the laws of his country in one hand and a railroad pass in the other.
E. Willis Wilson
In West Virginia business and politics became intertwined in a way that was not typical of most of the other states. There were people who saw opportunities to make some money. The problem was they needed capital. People were always tempted to use political influence as a means of gaining economic capital. Now that happened in every town and every county seat in West Virginia. Local guys who had access to power traded that power for a share, a minority share, in the economic development that was going on.
[John A. Williams]
Charleston is full of land speculators, schemers, stock jobbers, and people so occupied with their own affairs that they are oblivious and dreary, incapable of conversation on other subjects.As industry spread into the mountains, a land frenzy swept southern West Virginia. Agents for outside buyers swarmed into the backcountry, buying land and mineral rights for as low as a dollar an acre. One agent traded sewing machines for land. Another bought an entire valley, seven miles long, from a farmer for three hundred dollars and a horse.
David Hunter Strother
My great grandfather, Larkin, made one of the biggest transactions of his life one afternoon. He managed to sell the mineral rights, all the gas and the coal, to about a 10,000 acre tract of land that he had settled early and laid claim to for about 250 dollars. And he came home and told his wife what a great deal he had made, that he had managed to get 250 dollars for this coal and this gas that's under the ground. So, they had a celebration, naturally. But little did they know that in 1974, that same tract of mineral land sold for nearly 500 million dollars.
The early settlers in the mountains didn't see land as commodity; they saw land as place. Industrializing America would see the land as something to be bought and sold and resources to be extracted. The traditional community saw the land as something that was always going to be there, something that really reflected family and community and tradition. And so when the first mineral men came through the region, local farmers saw this as an opportunity to acquire cash to pay taxes or cash to send a son or daughter to one of the mission schools to get an education. It was difficult for them to envision a time when they would be moved from the land, when they would not have access or control to those woodlands.
People thought that they could stay on the land, if they sold their mineral rights. They were told that they could, often. And that's how much of it was lost. When people lost their land, they really lost their whole life. I mean, all of the sudden the place where they were used to doing what they wanted, you know, farming where they wanted, hunting where they wanted, suddenly, it's like a big "No trespassing" sign goes up on the whole place. You could literally walk for miles and not set foot on land that wasn't owned by a company. People were totally dislocated. They had no security and they also had no control over their life. They found themselves treated as strangers in their own place.In the fall of 1878, near Tug Fork of the Big Sandy River, the border between West Virginia and Kentucky, Anderson Hatfield sued his neighbor, Perry Cline, for cutting timber on his land.
The settlement awarded Hatfield all of Cline's property--five thousand acres of virgin forest. Overnight, Hatfield became one of the largest landowners in the Tug Valley. Tall and formidable, with gray-eyes and a flowing black beard, Hatfield was known for his marksmanship and the bear cubs he kept as pets. It was said that he had fought off a mountain lion as a boy, leading his mother to say he "was not afraid of the Devil himself." The name "Devil Anse" stuck.
Hatfield married a neighbor's daughter, Levicy Chafin, on the eve of the Civil War. After the war, they settled on a corner of his father's land near Mate Creek. The couple raised thirteen children.
Aggressive and ambitious, Hatfield borrowed money from local businessmen to expand his timber business. He hired friends and relatives from both sides of Tug Fork. At the age of forty, Devil Anse Hatfield was the envy of many in the Tug Valley, including Randolph McCoy, a poor, cranky farmer from the Kentucky side of Tug Fork.
Both these individuals tried to make money by selling the timber on their land. And Randolph McCoy failed at this effort, whereas Devil Anse Hatfield was the most successful timber entrepreneur in the Tug Valley. A lot of the resentment and fear of Devil Anse had to do with that very success. He was admired; many people would like to emulate him. I think Ranel McCoy would have liked to emulate his success. But at the same time that success was really resented, and they tended to conclude that he had done it in some illegal way, in some immoral way. And this only added to his image as a devil.Ten years later, Hatfield would be famous across the country as the leader of a sensational family feud, and labelled an ignorant, bloodthirsty hillbilly.
Time Code: 2/00:44:36
[Title: The Feud]
On August 7, 1882, an election day in Kentucky, residents of the Tug Valley gathered at polls in Pike County.
Late in the afternoon, Randolph McCoy's son Tolbert attacked Ellison Hatfield, Devil Anse's brother, with a knife. Two of McCoy's brothers joined in, stabbing Hatfield twenty times before shooting him in the back.
Tolbert's motivation for this attack seems to have come from his father who was constantly telling stories about how terrible the Hatfields were, and particularly Devil Anse. The rage that came out was really violent, deadly rage. It was very deep-seated, going back to the different economic paths that these two families had taken.Friends carried Hatfield back to West Virginia and laid him in a cabin near Mate Creek. Devil Anse captured the three McCoys and told them their fate depended on whether his brother lived. Two days later, Ellison died.
At dusk, a band of Hatfields led by Devil Anse took the McCoys to the Kentucky side of the river, where they were blindfolded and tied to pawpaw bushes. Then the Hatfields opened fire. The sound of gunshot echoed for miles down the valley.
Normally, they were the friendliest, most generous hospitable people on earth. But if you pushed them, it was very, very risky business. I mean, they wouldn't let their own push them, much less somebody else. And that's what happened.Pike County indicted Devil Anse and nineteen others for murder but made no effort to have the Hatfields extradited to Kentucky. Randolph McCoy badgered local officials to arrest Devil Anse, to no avail. McCoy's family urged him to drop the matter. In a way, they said, justice had been served.
That year, Frederick Kimball, president of the Norfolk and Western Railroad, decided to expand into West Virginia's southern coalfields. A sophisticated Philadelphia businessman known for wearing black scarves and jeweled stick pins, Kimball realized the future of the N&W was in hauling coal, not passengers.
In Logan County, H. C. Ragland, a real estate developer and newspaper editor, announced that a new era was dawning in the Tug Valley.
Before we can realize it we will hear the snort of the Iron Horse, and see wealth and prosperity staring us in the face. There is no occasion for any man in the county to be idle, who wants to work for good wages.As land prices shot upward in advance of the railroad, four businessmen who had loaned Devil Anse Hatfield money demanded immediate repayment. One creditor, James Nighbert, an agent for a Cincinnati lumber firm, called in a debt nine years old. To raise cash, Hatfield mortgaged his property to Nighbert's partner, H. C. Ragland, who would get the land if Hatfield defaulted.
H. C. Ragland, Logan Banner
Devil Anse represents West Virginians caught in economic and political changes that were of incredible magnitude at that time. Devil Anse and his friends were not trying to stop what we would call civilization or progress. They, in many ways, wanted it to come and welcomed it, but they wanted to have what we would say, have a piece of it. They wanted to be part of it; they wanted to prosper with it and the dilemma really came when it became clear that the managers of those corporate forces did not want local people to share in it. And, that's really what the argument came down to ultimately was: who is going to benefit from economic development which really should have been a good thing for everyone.In 1887, Perry Cline moved to settle his own score with Hatfield. After losing his land, Cline had moved to Kentucky, where he had become a prosperous lawyer and sheriff of Pike County. After Cline campaigned for him, Kentucky Governor Simon Bolivar Buckner promised he would bring the Hatfields to justice.
If we fail to repress this lawlessness, or to bring the offenders to justice, we have no right to complain of the false estimation in which we are held by the people of other states.Worried that Kentucky's reputation for violence was hurting business, Buckner offered a reward for the capture of Devil Anse and requested that West Virginia extradite those charged with murdering the McCoy brothers. West Virginia Governor E. Willis Wilson refused Buckner's request. Wilson claimed that Kentucky was using the Hatfields as scapegoats.
To show his appreciation, Devil Anse named his twelfth child E. Willis Wilson Hatfield.
Every man in Logan County who knows me will tell you I am a peaceful, law-abiding man, and no man will say I ever told a falsehood. In this contest I have only defended myself, as any man would do under similar circumstances.
Anse Hatfield is universally regarded in this community in a favorable light. He possesses the extraordinary virtue of paying his debts, and a man who is financially honest in this country ranks so high that the mere fact of his having been guilty of a little peccadillo of murdering is not charged against him in a general estimate of his character.Tired of waiting for official results, Perry Cline hired twenty-five year-old Frank Phillips to arrest the Hatfields. Fearless and explosive, Phillips was known as "Bad Frank" for his fighting, womanizing and public drunkenness.
New York World
In December, 1887, Phillips led a posse of twenty armed men into West Virginia, taking one prisoner and threatening more arrests.
Devil Anse's son Cap claimed Randolph McCoy was behind the raid and proposed kidnaping him.
Cap Hatfield is simply a bad young man. His right eye is a watery blue; his other has been disfigured by an explosion. He stares off into vacancy like a person disposed of melancholia.Seven friends and family members agreed to join Cap. "We wished," said one, "to be able to sleep beside better bedfellows than Winchester rifles."
T. C. Crawford
At dawn on New Year's Day, 1888, Cap Hatfield and his men crossed the river into Kentucky and surrounded Randolph McCoy's log house. Cap called out for McCoy to surrender. Suddenly, Johnse Hatfield began shooting and two others set the house on fire. As they fled the flames, two of Randolph's children were shot and killed. Their mother, Sally McCoy, ran to them, but Johnse knocked her unconscious with his rifle. Randolph and two other daughters escaped through a window and hid safely in the pigpen.
The Hatfields withdrew, dejected over the botched raid. "We have made a bad job of it," remarked Ellison Mounts, who was said to be Ellison Hatfield's illegitimate son. "There will be trouble over this."
What's significant in one way about this is that Devil Anse did not go along. Now some people say he didn't go just because he was ill. That is very difficult to believe, that if Devil Anse had decided he wanted to do this, he would have been there. The attack itself was horrendous. It was the event that brought the feud to the attention of a national public.
The latest vendetta in the backwoods shows the purely savage character of the population. It is evident that a strong course of common schools, churches, soap and water, and other civilizing influences is required before these simple children of nature will forbear to kill a man whenever they take a dislike to him.
New York Times
This is I think the first time that Appalachians have been presented as being violent for no reason. They're somehow genetically or culturally just different, and that's the image that has been perpetuated to this day. It's a turning point of people's image of Appalachia.
The image of the mountaineer as the sturdy frontiersman living on the land, independent, freedom-loving, switched to this image of the ignorant mountaineer living in squalid poverty, at the same time that the coal industry was coming in to take over the land, and I believe that that switch happened because it was convenient for it to happen, because it helped justify this wholesale theft from the people of West Virginia.Frank Phillips struck back, leading raids into West Virginia and seizing eleven more prisoners. Phillips shot two of them in the head.
We have been tried, convicted, and sentenced by the press before they knew the fact of our case...you will find us all different people from the general ideas entertained of us.Eight Hatfields were tried for murdering the McCoy brothers, found guilty and given prison terms.
Ellison Mounts was convicted of killing Randolph McCoy's daughter and sentenced to death. Mounts boasted that Cap would free him at the last minute.
Governor Buckner set the hanging for February 18, 1890. Five thousand spectators gathered in Pikeville, despite a Kentucky law forbidding public executions. As a black hood was pulled over his head, Mounts cried out, "They made me do it, the Hatfields made me do it!"
Then he fell to his death.
Later that year, construction began on the Norfolk and Western Railroad through the Tug Valley.
Devil Anse Hatfield missed out on the economic boom that followed the arrival of the railroad. Hatfield moved his family out of the Tug Valley to a high mountain ridge, yet he continued to place lookouts in the windows of his home to guard against an attack.
He would give them a rifle and they would hold this rifle on their lap and would look out that window and he would tell them, "Now, don't take your eye off'n that window. You look out that window and watch because your dad's gonna take a nap and I don't want to take a chance." And Aunt Vicy would get mad, and she would ball him out and say, "Anderson," she called him Anderson, "Anderson, why don't you go on in there and go to bed and sleep? Those McCoys are not coming all the way over here in Logan County to Island Creek. Why don't you go on in there?" He said, "Oh Lord, honey, no. I can't do that. I love you too much."
We have undergone a fearful loss of noble lives. The war spirit in me has abated. I do not wish to keep the old feud alive. I suppose that everybody, like myself, is tired of the names of Hatfield and McCoy.After learning to read and write from his wife, Cap Hatfield attended law school, served as a deputy sheriff, then established a law practice with three of his children.
At the age of seventy-three, Hatfield experienced a religious conversion and was baptized by a Baptist preacher. Ten years later, he died at his home.
Hatfield's obituary was printed in the New York Times. Five hundred people attended his funeral. Over his grave, Hatfield's family erected a life-size marble statue, carved in Italy.
What the public grasped upon was the family aspect of this, which is really a small part of the feud. A family that was so loyal to each other and so dedicated to each other, they would go to these, what seemed shocking and radical extremes to defend it. So they both hated Devil Anse and were repelled by him for his violence, but they were admiring and saying that they were too passionate about their family affairs for modern civilization.Time Code: 2/01:03:49
Ambitious men in democracies care much more for success than for fame. What they most ask of men is obedience, what they most covet is empire.By 1890, West Virginia was booming with industry. Prospectors struck more oil along the Ohio River, turning the Sistersville field into the most productive of its time.
Alexis De Tocqueville
In Wheeling, over half of the city's thirty thousand residents worked in a factory or mill, producing steel, textiles, tobacco and pottery.
The industrial revolution is a real revolution for men in that they go from a situation where they had been primarily agricultural workers, to a new identity as an industrial worker. There's no parallel explosion, no parallel revolution for women in that state because the jobs that do open up for the most part exclude women. Even for those women for whom the industrial revolution has some meaning, it does not re-define them. They would take the kind of work they had done in the home and just recreate it in another environment and recreate it for wages.As the timber resources of other regions diminished, attention turned to the southern Appalachian Mountains. In West Virginia, ten million acres of virgin forest covered two-thirds of the state. Then came the loggers.
Logging railroads snaked up into the forest from the main lines. Once again immigrants laid much of the track, including Italians who were known only by the identification tags worn around their necks.
Logging camps were hacked out of the woods. A single two-story building served as a kitchen, dining room and bunkhouse for one hundred men. A crew of six "wood hicks," as the lumberjacks were known, could cut two hundred trees in a day.
Whole mountainsides were shaved clean and the logs taken to a band sawmill, where seventeen acres of forest were processed every day.
Wood hicks hit the nearest town on Saturday night. Those atop Cheat Mountain descended on Cass, a clean, orderly village on the Greenbrier River. Directly across the river from downtown was "Brooklyn," a raucous collection of saloons and cheap hotels reachable only by a swinging bridge. Everyone called it "the Brooklyn Bridge."
Despite a local prohibition on the sale of alcohol, wood hicks found plenty of beer and bootleg whiskey in Brooklyn's saloons. Drunken brawls spilled out doorways onto what was known as "Dirty Street."
Schoolteacher Emma Burner led repeated efforts to clean up Brooklyn. She disguised herself as a man, bought booze in saloons, then returned with police deputies to raid the place. One raid seized ninety cases of whiskey. The bootlegger turned out to be the town's deputy sheriff.
Outside corporations controlled the timber industry in West Virginia. Non-residents owned three-quarters of the timberland in Wyoming County, two-thirds in Logan and over half in Mingo County.
The state is rapidly passing under the control of large foreign and non-resident land owners. In a few year, we will occupy the same position of vassalage to the North and East that Ireland does to England.
Because of absentee ownership of the state's resources, the dollars that could have built better schools and better roads and better health services in the early part of the century flowed out of the region and we got what we call "growth without development." We got a short period of immense growth and expansion and boom period and jobs, but we didn't get the development of those aspects that will sustain a community over time and provide a quality of life.
West Virginia has not, up to the present time, done much with its scenery except to mar it, mutilate it, and burn it up.By 1900, aggressive logging had removed half of West Virginia's forest. Twenty years later, it was all gone. Fires swept across the barren landscape, leaving more scars. For the first time, West Virginia came to be seen as a place of ugliness, "a monotonous panorama of destruction" as one writer put it.
West Virginia Conservation Commission
Time Code: 2/01:12:17
[Title: King Coal]
We think coal and live coal. If you take our coal from us, we shall go back to the days of the bobcat and the wilderness. Coal is our existence.The nation needed coal. Locomotives, factories, ships, generators, home furnaces--all burned coal. Before 1900, most coal came from northern fields stretching from Pennsylvania to Illinois. The opening of the massive coalfields of West Virginia changed everything.
[source of quote not identified]
The State is a huge layer cake; the slices are mountains, the layers are rocks, and the filling is coal--flat, thick, regular and rich.The first entrepreneurs into the coalfields were former miners. John Cooper began mining in Wales at the age of six, emigrated to Pennsylvania, then headed south to West Virginia. Cooper borrowed twenty thousand dollars and opened his own mine in Mercer County.
James M. Cain
When John Cooper moved on the Bluestone River there were no roads, there were no schools, there was nothing. But he owned a lease to a thousand acres of some of the richest coal-bearing land in America. He had to bring in labor; he had to negotiate sales contracts; he had to deal with the railroad; he had to physically construct a saw mill, to build a house to live in. He, literally, with his hands, had to build a coal mining operation.Cooper was joined by aspiring young miners from the North and the sons of ruined Southern planters, who came in search of lost wealth and prestige.
I came here determined to get enough money so that I could tell any man to go to hell. Several million would do. I didn't want a hundred million.Independent coal operators hired a few dozen local farmers and worked shoulder to shoulder with them breaking up the seam. Near the mine site, operators and miners lived together in crude camps.
There was a little dirt road that ran along the creek and sometimes where there wasn't room for the creek and the road and the railroad track, the road was the creek and the wagons with horses pulling them would drive up the creek in the water. And, where it widens out in bottom land, there would be a line or two of miners' cabins, usually a tipple or two, a company store with the big steps out front, the mining offices, sometimes a church, and then it would narrow out again and go on up to the next camp.
Early coal operators were completely independent. The way that a coal operator opened up a mine in southern West Virginia was, he obtained a lease from a land company which was wholly owned by the railroad. In a sense the early coal operators and the coal miners were together in this little town, and allied against them were massively powerful industrial forces, a railroad, land holding company and lease company.In less than six months an operator could turn a profit selling his coal to the railroad. Within a year, he could open another mine. As their wealth grew, many operators moved their families away from the dirty coal camps.
Several dozen operators formed their own bank and built the town of Bramwell around it. With its well-appointed houses, school and bustling main street, Bramwell was a world away from the coal camps.
Yet it was also remote from urban America. The family of Phoebe Goodwill, a coal operator's wife, worried she had left Pennsylvania for "the wilderness." They insisted she return home for the birth of her children. Other wives and daughters who went East were embarrassed to find their dress years behind the fashion.
As coal grew into a big business, independent operators were forced to merge or sell out to large corporations.
Philip Goodwill of Bramwell sold the coal company his father had started. His own three sons had trouble finding steady work and took to drinking. Their mother Phoebe feared no one would hire such "society boys." The Goodwill family fortune, like that of many other pioneer operators, dwindled away.
The first miners were local farmers. They mined only part of the year, returning home in spring and fall to manage their crops. "They make good woodsmen and guides," said one operator, "but their shiftless methods of living have not accustomed them to sustained labor."
Many of our best men are out today for no apparent reason other than they do not want to work. The majority are still drunk. I cannot get them to work as long as they have a cent or a bite to eat.Operators began looking for other workers. They recruited thousands of Hungarian, Russian, German, Greek, and Polish immigrants, many with mining experience.
Many African-American men were enticed to come by the labor recruiters to work in the southern West Virginia mines even though they'd had little experience in mining before. The 1890s and the turn of the twentieth century were the height of racism in the South, the height of Jim Crow. So West Virginia offered real opportunities to improve one's life, to provide a home and a foundation for the future.By 1900, there were twenty thousand coal miners in West Virginia. One-third were foreign-born. One in five was black. The majority were native whites, including many mountaineers who had left the farm for good.
The coming of the coal camps to the mountains revolutionized Appalachian communities. Coal camps were closely knit, tightly controlled artificial communities that were created in an area where urban areas and urban communities simply didn't exist. Eighty percent of the coal miners in southern West Virginia lived in company-owned communities.As mining boomed, coal camps grew into company-owned towns. Company doctors dispensed medicine; company preachers intoned sermons and buried the dead in company cemeteries; company guards policed the streets. On Sunday afternoons, company-sponsored baseball teams competed against each other. All of it under the control of the coal operator.
They had running water in their house. We carried our water. They had commodes and we had outdoor toilets. But they didn't try to rub nothing like that in. They was friendly if they was around you, but you didn't go to none of their parties and they didn't come to none of yours.
[ Retired Miner]
We are not running a Christian Camp meeting or a Sunday school. The sole purpose of the organization is to make money. Matters of conduct that tend to produce a contradictory result, should be promptly squelched with a heavy hand.
To use the expression of the Middle Ages: I was the high justice, the middle and the low.
Tams had the reputation of being one of the most paternalistic of the coal operators in southern West Virginia. He hired a local policeman to walk up and down the streets of Tams, his community, in the evenings to assure that everything was quiet and peaceful. If a husband and wife would be arguing and yelling at each other, that the constable would bring the couple to Tams and he would settle the dispute. That characterized his control over his community.Miners were paid in scrip, a paper currency issued by the company, despite a law forbidding the practice. Scrip was good only at the company store, which sold food, clothing and household goods, often at excessively high prices. Unable to pay in full, many miners went in debt to the company store, which then became a company bank.
In the Pocahontas coalfield there were some 120 small company towns. They averaged about 500 people. The railroad was the only way in, the only way out. The isolation created a fierce sense of community. The whole town centered around one thing: mining coal. There was a purpose and a central mission to the town that communities don't have nowadays.
There's not a division between people who mined coal for a living and those who don't. Everyone does. Everyone shops at the same store. Everyone goes to the same school. I went to a two-room school. The coal mine was not that far from the community, and so our fathers would often come to the school on the way to work and have lunch with us. These big men sitting in our little, tiny chair at the tables where we had lunch.Some company towns were clean and well-maintained, with sturdy houses, paved streets, bowling alleys and a theater.
But many coal towns were cheerless and filthy.
As you look out of the train window, riding through the heart of the Logan County coalfield, you see on either side camp after camp in which the houses are little more than shacks. Camps look like the temporary quarters of some construction gang at work. Yet they are permanent towns.Coal-dust spread like a thick black paste over everything.
One of the greatest enemies women who lived in coal camps had was dirt. That heavy, heavy, black of coal dust. And so one of the memories I have of my mother, she was always cleaning. She couldn't keep the outside of the house clean. So the inside of the house, what she could control, had to be spotless. And after all of her children went to bed at night, she would stay up and polish those floors and polish that woodwork. Every night, while she waited for my dad to come home from work.In their backyards, women tended chickens, cows and pigs. Few families had indoor plumbing; creeks provided drinking water and sewage disposal.
In our town we have many good things, good churches and schools, but there is another thing of much more importance...that the coal operators have intentionally overlooked ---and that is our freedom.
Most of the members of the county court were coal operators. And they had a system of constables where these constables, on election day, would go about and hand out the list of who you were supposed to vote for. And, when the constable handed it out, you were, the coal miner and others, were expected to go vote for that list."You didn't even own your own soul in those damnable places," remembered one miner.
[Jerry Bruce Thomas]
Nothing symbolized the lack of freedom in company towns more than the company-owned houses rented by miners.
They didn't paint the houses very often. I can only recall them, where I lived, being painted one time in a lot of years that I lived there. But a lot of people would get paint and paint them theirselves, you know. Sometimes, the company give you a little bit of paint to do it, but they didn't do that very often, I can tell you that.
[ Retired Miner]
One of my earliest memories is of living in this white coal camp house that had turned gray because it was so dingy with the coal dust, and then the company came and repainted the houses and they painted them all this real icky yellow color that nobody liked, and I was sort of asking, "Why can't we have, you know, why can't we have a green house, you know?" And my Mom saying, "Well, the company decided this was what they were gonna paint the house; it's their house." And I remember I would go to school and I would read about American history and freedom and how people had come to this country in search of their own land and realized that where I lived, we didn't own the land that our house sat on and we didn't own our house, that somehow America was someplace else. It didn't apply to us.Underground was another world: dark, wet, and cramped.
Miners were paid by the ton, not by the hour. There was an independence rare in factory work aboveground, yet many miners charged that operators cheated them by under-weighing their day's work.
West Virginia miners were supposed to be at least fourteen years old, yet few were required to prove their age. Boys as young as nine joined their fathers underground. There were no restrictions on where or how many hours children could work.
I started work with my father as a hand loader. If he got two cars, I'd get the third one. Oh my goodness, it was rough. It was hard. Every shovel full of coal you picked up was heavy and hard. There was nothing easy about it.Filled with gases and thick dust, prone to explosions and roof collapses, a coal mine was the most dangerous workplace in America.
Coal mining was an extremely dangerous occupation. Extremely dangerous. From 1897 to 1928, ten thousand men died in West Virginia coal mines. Ten thousand. In West Virginia--I'm not talking about the country; I'm talking about West Virginia. That's a stunning fact to me.
[Jerry Bruce Thomas]
Two men injured by a powder explosion died last night. Both are penniless. We buried one who has no relatives. The other we sent to Virginia to avoid keeping his widow and children. The accident will cost us twenty dollars if twelve can be collected from the county for coffins.Mine safety regulations were weak and poorly enforced. Inspectors were often political appointees with no experience in the mines. "There is not an inspector in this state," claimed one miner, "who is not holding his job through the influence of an operator." When the state legislature passed a bill requiring higher standards for mine inspectors, Governor William A. MacCorkle vetoed it.
The greatness of West Virginia is founded upon coal. Can the Legislature afford to hinder the progress of this great industry?
My father was killed in a mine accident. The slate covered him up and killed him. Him and another young boy about my age was killed at the same time. It was bad. If you didn't watch yourself, you'd be a fatality.At 2:30 in the afternoon of December 6, 1907, a massive explosion ripped through the Fairmont Coal Company mine at Monongah in northern West Virginia. Flames and billowing smoke erupted from the ground. The blast blew buildings clear across the West Fork River. In parts of town above the mine, gaping cracks opened in the streets. Townspeople rushed down the hillside in panic.
Family members gathered near the collapsed mine opening, praying for survivors. One women pulled out all her hair; others screamed and clawed their faces till they bled.
As bodies were pulled from the rubble, Monongah's only bank was converted into a morgue. Overwhelmed by the number of Catholic victims, priests couldn't handle all the funeral services and sent for help.
The official death toll was three hundred and sixty-one. That didn't include dozens of boys who worked off company record books. It was the worst mine disaster America had ever seen.
One thousand children lost a father or brother. Two hundred fifty women were left as widows. Fairmont Coal offered families one hundred fifty dollars compensation. Company lawyer A. Brooks Fleming, a former governor, thought the offer was generous. "I think the money would be quite a Christmas present," he said.
One widow went to the mine opening every day, returning home with a few lumps of coal. She picked through it carefully, hoping to find some remains of her husband, whose body was never found. When she died, her sons donated the pile of coal to a local church.
Time Code: 2/01:39:44
[Title: Paint Creek]
In the spring of 1912, coal miners from Paint Creek, ten miles south of Charleston, walked off the job when operators refused to renew their union contract. In nearby Cabin Creek, non-union miners joined the strike. "We have to get out of the oppression of the coal barons," said one.
At issue was the union itself. Since its founding in 1890, the United Mine Workers of America had made little progress in southern West Virginia. Union organizers were harassed and beaten by company guards. In some counties it was illegal to even discuss a strike.
The coal operators' perspective was that they were involved in a war. They convinced themselves that they were in a struggle for survival. The union threat, as they saw it, was that it was going to raise their cost of operation. They felt they would have to pay higher wager to union workers, an element that they couldn't control would come into the picture. They wanted order and this was part of their way of seeing that there was order in their operation. And it became almost a patriotic sort of thing and they convinced other people who were not coal operators, other people in the middle class, that this was essential, that they could not allow the United Mine Workers to operate in West Virginia.In May, Paint Creek operators hired three hundred guards from the Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency of Bluefield. Their job was to protect company property and evict striking miners from company houses.
[Jerry Bruce Thomas]
The evictions were just mean, vicious things and the detectives did it in a mean, vindictive kind of way. One woman, Maude Fish, was at breakfast when they came. And she said, "Give me time to finish my breakfast." And they said, "You've had time." And they carried out her breakfast and sat it on the road along with everything else she owned. There was a funeral, early in the afternoon, and a very highly respected old lady there on Paint Creek had died. When they got out of the church, they went home and found their furniture had been set out on the road and they no longer had a home. Those are the kinds of things that just infuriated the miners and drove them to violence.
I doubt whether it will result in good to evict the tenants. If I was a tenant, and my goods should be taken out and left in the street, that I would become more desperate than I otherwise would be, and more likely to commit unlawful acts.To house the evicted miners, the UMWA erected a tent colony at Holly Grove. Thirty-five thousand men, women and children moved in. The expense of operating the camp quickly drained the union's resources. When union support wavered, local miners took over control of the strike.
Henry Gassaway Davis
We don't propose to get out of the way when a lot of capitalists come down and tell us to get off the earth. They played that game on the American Indian. They gave him the end of a log to sit on and then pushed him off. We don't propose to be pushed off.Soft-spoken yet explosively temperamental, Frank Keeney had been fired, evicted from his house, witnessed beatings by mine guards and "seen hell turned loose," he said. Now there was no turning back, he told miners, and began handing out rifles.
Keeney is a true leader of his people. He has the hypnotic influence of power. Even the passing of a union car brings a cry of "Frank Keeney!" from the streets and the camps.Keeney was assisted by Fred Mooney, a fellow Cabin Creek native who had started mining at the age of thirteen. For the past three years, Mooney had bounced from one coal camp to another seeking a better life for his family. He arrived in Cabin Creek just months before the strike.
After three years of hard work and self-denial, I looked at my two children dressed in common gingham, then I looked at my wife, attired in a dress made of cheap calico from the company store. I said to her, "Lillian, we don't seem to be getting anywhere. It's just work, work, and nothing to show for it."As miners and guards dug in, Keeney sent for Mary Harris Jones, a colorful eighty-year-old Irish labor organizer known as Mother Jones.
Mother Jones. Her very name expresses the spirit of Revolution. Her striking personality embodies all its principles.After losing her husband and four children to a fever epidemic in Memphis, Mary Harris had opened a dressmakers shop in Chicago, where she lost everything in the great fire of 1871. She joined the United Mine Workers as an organizer. Normally quiet and shy, in public she became profane and dramatic. "I am not a humanitarian," she declared, "I'm a hellraiser."
Eugene V. Debs
If she be, in truth, a Doctress Jekyll--Mrs. Hyde, she is wonderful in her black silk, her carefully dressed, silvery hair, her silk stockings, and neat pumps.
New York Times
She would go actually into the mines and down into the tunnels and meet miners down there at the face, digging coal. At one West Virginia mine she sat on a rock near the pit mouth and she said, "Come my children." And the miners slowly gathered around her as she would say, "Do you know the kind of life you are leading, my children?" And she began to speak. They just were mesmerized. And finally, one came forward and said, "Don't tell us that there's Mother Jones. That's Jesus Christ come back again in the form of an old woman." Something like that.Jones arrived at Cabin Creek on a warm Sunday morning in June. She was greeted by a line of machine guns manned by mine guards. "If you fire one shot here today," she warned them, "we will not leave any of your gang alive."
Mother Jones had an expression: "There's no peace in West Virginia because there's no justice in West Virginia." She was a fearless lady. The people who manned the machine guns and didn't hesitate to shoot down male strikers would never kill Mother Jones and she knew they wouldn't.
[WV Secretary of State]
When the time comes in the history of this struggle that a mine owner or Baldwin guards will intimidate me, I want to die in that hour.In the Holly Grove tent colony, Mother Jones found conditions unlike any she had seen. Women and children huddled inside ragged tents, caught in a crossfire between guards and miners. In the mud and filth, many were sick and hungry. All were terrified.
Medieval West Virginia! With its tent colonies on the bleak hills! With its grim men and women. When I get to the other side, I shall tell God Almighty about West Virginia.In August, Mother Jones led three thousand marchers to the state capitol in Charleston, where she read a declaration of war to Governor William Glasscock and told miners not to give up hope.
She made about a half a dozen major speeches urging her boys to resist, to stand firm. At times, there's no question, she urged them to fight with guns. She even loaned them money so that they could buy guns.Inspirited miners shot up trains carrying strikebreakers and attacked the camps of Baldwin-Felts guards. In one raid, a dozen guards were killed as they cooked breakfast. Miners cut up the bloody coat of one victim and wore pieces as souvenirs.
On the night of February 7, 1913, a train crept slowly towards Holly Grove. In the freezing darkness, a machine gun suddenly opened fire on the tent colony, killing one miner. The attack was organized by a coal operator with help from the county sheriff. A few days later, twelve miners and four guards were killed in a shootout.
Governor Glasscock declared martial law and sent twelve hundred state militiamen to Paint Creek. Soldiers confiscated weapons and arrested three hundred miners, who were given military trials and sent to jail.
The coal operators and the Government of West Virginia have been one and the same. King coal and his barons have ruled in and by means of the institutions of society.Troops seized Mother Jones on the street in Charleston and put her under house arrest. A sympathetic guard smuggled out her messages, including several that made their way to Washington and prompted a congressional investigation of the strike. "I can raise just as much hell in jail as anywhere," she said later.
Conditions worsened in the tent colony. Epidemics of smallpox, measles, and diphtheria spread. Food became scarce, and a mood of bitterness set in.
On March 5, 1913--his first day on the job--newly elected Governor Henry D. Hatfield slipped out of Charleston at dawn on an eastbound train.
Devil Anse's nephew, Hatfield had left the Tug Valley to earn a medical degree, then returned home to work as a doctor for the N&W Railroad. He entered politics and at the age of thirty-seven was elected governor.
Carrying only his black doctor's bag, Hatfield spent two days in Holly Grove treating the sick, then summoned operators and union officials to Charleston.
Governor Hatfield saw himself as a champion of the common person. He came back to Charleston and the coal operators had heard what he was doing and were furious. Hatfield became so angered at the operators insisting that he had done something terrible that his temper got the better of him, and he punched out one of the coal operators, which I always though would have been a great scene to see - just, apparently, flattened him right there in the governor's office. But he also squandered his changes to be a hero for the miners. Like many people in political office, he just began to think that maybe he could compromise and do something to please both sides. And in trying to please both sides, he really ended up pleasing neither side.A month later, Hatfield announced a compromise agreement giving miners a nine-hour workday, a system of checkweighmen to guard against company cheating, and an unspecified "right to organize," though operators were not required to recognize the union.
Rank and file miners rejected Hatfield's agreement, saying it offered nothing new and had no means of enforcement. Hatfield gave them an ultimatum: accept the terms or face more troops and prison sentences. Reluctantly, the miners returned to work.
Hatfield withdrew the militia, suspended the judgements of the military courts and released Mother Jones after eighty-five days in captivity.
Then Hatfield boarded a train for Wheeling to attend the state's fiftieth birthday celebration.
Presiding over the festivities was Henry Gassaway Davis, just five months shy of his ninetieth birthday.
We have spent fifty years demonstrating to the world that we possess nearly all the requisites of commercial greatness. Let us begin the next half century with a determination to use the material we have to build our own house instead of our neighbor's across the way.In its first half-century of statehood, West Virginia had seen two bitter civil wars--one over Union, the other over unionization. Now, as events in Wheeling got underway, the state was once again at peace.
For the time being.
West Virginians are ashamed of the best part of their history. West Virginia history occurs in the coal mines and in the mountains. It's got even more of the ingredients of great history than they had in the Wild West, and yet America looks at the Wild West as one of the glorious parts of its history and then looks aside when the same kind of thing happens in West Virginia. West Virginia's history is, I think, more distinctive, more unusual, richer. I think it's a great history that West Virginians won't even acknowledge.
We could sense, just beyond our broken-down fences, the great reach of the American continent. Because the land kept us, we held to our pioneer ways the longest, the strongest; and we saw the passing of time from a place called solid.Time Code: 3/00:01:40
World War I brought the world to West Virginia and West Virginians into the world. Farmers and factory workers left home as soldiers, sixty thousand in all, including nearly two hundred Army nurses.
In Wheeling, steelmakers worked around the clock filling military contracts. A new chemical industry mushroomed in the Kanawha Valley, producing mustard gas and high-explosives.
But the resource most critical to the war effort was coal. As demand soared, miners were exempted from the draft. Union leaders called on coal operators to join them in a united front.
There must be no laggards, no frivolous quibblings, We must stand shoulder to shoulder in this great battle for liberty and democracy.During the war, state membership in the UMWA soared from 6,000 to 53,000. But in the southern coalfields, the union made little progress.
During the war, there was demand for everybody's coal, and there was no pinch then. The pinch came in the year following the peace.Time Code: 3/00:04:30
James M. Cain
In January of 1920, John L. Lewis, the eloquent, combative president of the United Mine Workers of America, announced a campaign to expand membership in southern West Virginia, especially Logan and Mingo counties.
Now is the logical time for this work. Every agency within the power of the coal operators is expected to be invoked to thwart the movement. But the campaign will be pushed through to the finish.For coal operators, unionization couldn't have come at a worse time. The wartime boom in coal had collapsed and fierce competition returned. Now the peace between operators and the union dissolved amidst strikes, layoffs, and evictions.
John L. Lewis
At the center of the union drive in Mingo County was Matewan, an independent town on the site of the Hatfield-McCoy feud. At the center of Matewan was its twenty-eight-year-old chief of police, Albert Sidney Hatfield.
He was thin and frail-looking, but Sid Hatfield was anything but weak. He drank hard, gambled, and kept two pistols always by his side. Hatfield claimed to be a relative of Devil Anse, but wasn't. Jug ears gave him a boyish appearance; his wide grin showed off gold-capped teeth and led everyone to call him "Smilin' Sid."
Sid was a uncouth, self-made person. He was rough, tough, and nasty. And when he got the job as the chief of police in Matewan, a lot of the better people even questioned that.
Matewan was an incorporated community. It was not a coal community. There is no police force in a coal company town. Matewan was a social center and service center for lots of company towns in the area. It was absolute wide open. Trains of prostitutes coming down on the weekend. The town was for sale. To keep law and order in a town like that you needed a man with a reputation something like Sid Hatfield. The people in the town were scared of him. He was capable of mobilizing guns and people who would use them quickly. He was the voice of law and order in a place that needed it.Now Hatfield promised to protect miners who joined the union.
It was rather unusual in those days to find a law officer who sympathized with the union. He was the rare fellow who stood for what I think is right. And that is: the freedom to hold meetings and to talk, speak, and to join groups that you want to join.On the rainy morning of May 19, 1920, thirteen Baldwin-Felts detectives arrived by train in Matewan, led by Albert Felts and his brother Lee. Almost immediately, the detectives began evicting families from houses owned by the Stone Mountain Coal Company. Word of the evictions spread quickly.
As the detectives returned to the train depot, they were met by Sid Hatfield and a group of armed miners.
Sid approached the Felts brothers and tried to place them under arrest; they tried to place him under arrest. Around them were miners with guns trained, ready to fight.
I was not there when the first shot was fired. My grandmother realized they's going to be trouble. She sent me home. I had walked up the railroad into my grandmother's home and had put my foot on the first step when they's a thousand shots fired.
It sounds like a war had begin and I run through and my aunt was there and I said, "Oh, Vinnie. Matewan is blowed up." I thought everybody was murdered and we run to the back. And you could see the back end of Matewan and you could see Tug River in that bend of the road there. Over a hundred people run out of the city of Matewan and swum that river into Kentucky.When the shooting stopped, seven detectives, including both Felts brothers, and two miners lay dead. Also killed was Cable Testerman, a plump jewelry store owner who was the town's mayor. As the five o'clock train pulled in, shocked passengers stared at all the bodies. A bloody stream flowed down the street.
The story of the Matewan battle was called into the union office in Charleston and one of the union officers held his own hand and danced around, he was so happy to hear it.Papers found on Al Felts revealed a plan to bribe Sid Hatfield to turn against the union. Hatfield, whose hat was shot off in the fight, boasted that he'd killed all the detectives. When he was charged with murder, Sid said he hadn't shot anyone.
Two weeks later, Hatfield was arrested in a hotel room in Huntington with Jessie Testerman, the mayor's attractive and fashionable widow. The two were charged with "improper relations" but released when they produced a marriage certificate.
Tom Felts, head of the Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency, blamed Hatfield for his brother's death, and also Mayor Testerman's. To gather evidence, Felts sent an undercover agent, C. E. Lively, to Matewan. Lively opened a restaurant, rented out space to the union, and began spying on Sid. At night, he wrote secret reports to Felts under the code name "Number Nine."
That spring, in a sensational trial, Lively testified against Sid. But Hatfield and fifteen other defendants were found not guilty. One juror said he would sit until the dogwoods bloomed again before he'd convict a Matewan boy.
After the trial, Sid and Jessie Hatfield took over Testerman's jewelry store. In addition to rings and bracelets, the store began selling guns and ammunition.
Then, on August 1, 1921, Tom Felts got his revenge. On the courthouse steps in Welch, C. E. Lively and six detectives ambushed Sid and his boyhood friend, Ed Chambers. Lively killed Chambers with a bullet to the head. Five shots struck Hatfield, sending his lifeless body tumbling down the steps. "They shot Sid down like a dog," said one miner.
The murders sent shot waves through the coalfields. Violence and wildcat strikes spread. Governor Ephraim Morgan declared martial law, ordered the arrest of union organizers, and dispatched all one hundred members of the state police to Mingo County.
In Matewan, two thousand people attended Hatfield's and Chambers' funeral in a drenching rain. "Even the heavens weep," said one mourner. As Sid's body was lowered into the ground, Jessie called out, "I'll never forget you, my sweetheart."
What's important is not who Sid Hatfield, the actual man was, but who he became after his death. Sid Hatfield, dead, was someone who had, finally, after so many years, stood up to the coal operators and, especially, had stood up to the Baldwin-Felts guards who had been brutalizing people for so long. I sort of see him as the "John Brown" of the mine wars. You can question his character or the methods that he chose, but he was the spark that set off this insurrection that then took on a life of its own.Three weeks later, five thousand miners--including veterans of Paint Creek--assembled near the northern border of Logan County. Many carried hunting rifles and hand grenades left over from World War I. The miners planned to march to Mingo County, where they would free those in jail and establish union headquarters.
Every drop of blood and every dollar of the union will be spent in the attempt to lift martial law in Mingo County. The only way to get your rights is with a high powered rifle. If we meet any resistance, the Matewan affair will look like a sun bonnet parade.Standing between the miners and Mingo was Don Chafin, a tough, belligerent lawman known as the "King of Logan." "No armed mob will cross Logan County," he vowed.
Don Chafin was the sheriff of Logan County, but he was much more than that. He had his own private army. He received money directly from the coal companies to fund it. He also was a protector of businesses in the same way that any organized crime outfit is. In other words, he would go to a business and say, "If you don't let me protect you, I'll break your knee caps." That kind of thing. He ran his county with an iron fist; if you disagreed or got in the way, you were beaten or you were shot or you were thrown out.
Logan County is a leer in the face of liberty, a feudal barony defended by soldiers of fortune in the pay of mine owners.After pursuing one organizer all the way to Charleston, Chafin was shot four times in the chest by a union vice-president. He was back on the job the next week.
To stop the miners' march, Chafin recruited three thousand volunteers, including lawyers, bankers, and doctors.
When the call went out to Bluefield, it was, "Get your raincoats and machine guns and come on." A lot of the townspeople turned out at the train station. The troops marched through as he was going off to war. The crowd parted. The men marched onto the train and the train pulled out as the people waved goodbye and cheered. And this was going off to war. This was the other side of West Virginia, responding to the miners' march.Chafin positioned his amateur army in trenches atop Blair Mountain on the road to Mingo.
Meanwhile, the miners had begun to move. They commandeered automobiles at gunpoint, took over trains, and raided farms for food. The march grew to fifteen thousand, forming a line twenty miles long. "The time has come," said John Wilburn, a miner and Baptist minister, "for me to lay down my Bible and pick up my rifle." To the tune of "John Brown's Body," miners sang, "We'll hang Don Chafin from a sour apple tree." Many wore red bandannas and were soon known as "rednecks."
At some point, people just have to stand up and say, "This may not even be totally rational, what I'm doing," to pick up your rifle and try to overthrow the government of a county. But yet you do it anyway. At some point, people just have to say, "Enough is enough. I have to do this to keep my human dignity, whether it succeeds or not." And I think that was the sort of spirit that that march grew out of.On the morning of August 31, seventy miners led by John Wilburn met three guards from Chafin's army at Blair Mountain. Each side asked for a secret password, then realized they were enemies and began shooting. All three guards and one miner were killed.
Fighting spread along a ten mile front. Despite its smaller numbers, Chafin's army held its position. "I never experienced anything like that battle," said a veteran of World War I. "Bullets were hissing back and forth all around our heads."
For three days, heavy gunfire echoed from Blair Mountain. But both sides were unorganized and ineffective.
Governor Morgan appealed to Washington for help. President Warren Harding sent two thousand federal troops, including a chemical warfare unit, and a squadron of bombers.
As federal troops reached Blair Mountain, Chafin's army disbanded. Almost immediately, miners began laying down their arms. Many said they could not bring themselves to shoot at soldiers in the U. S. Army.
The battle of Blair Mountain was America's largest insurrection since the Civil War, yet only twelve miners and four of Chafin's men were killed.
It was a defeat for the miners really. They didn't get to Mingo County; they didn't change much. What they did get, and it was the only thing they got in my estimation, they got the nation's attention. People in West Virginia and around the country learned about them, learned of their lives and their frustrations. And they sat up and took notice of these West Virginia miners for a little while.
There's a myth that people in West Virginia have been very passive and haven't stood up for themselves and haven't tried to deal with their problems. During the mine wars, people risked their lives; they risked their families; they risked their children's lives. They went through an incredible amount of suffering to stand up and say, "I'm a human being, and I'm an American citizen, and I deserve the same treatment as any other American citizen."Hundreds of miners and union officials were arrested. Fifty-four, including Keeney and Mooney, were tried for murder and treason in the Jefferson County Courthouse in Charles Town, where John Brown had been convicted on similar charges.
Several miners, including Reverend John Wilburn, were found guilty of murder and sentenced to prison. The other defendants were acquitted.
When Frank Keeney and Fred Mooney squabbled with union president John L. Lewis over the strike, Lewis replaced them. The two tried to form their own union but it failed, and both men left the labor movement for good.
Inside the courthouse where he had shot Hatfield and Chambers, C. E. Lively was acquitted of murder on the grounds of self-defense. He left the Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency and found work in a non-union coal mine.
Jessie Hatfield married a state policeman, divorced him and married a fourth husband, then lived to the age of eighty-two.
Don Chafin served two years in prison for selling illegal liquor. After his release, he became a lobbyist for the coal industry and died a wealthy man.
In October 1922, the UMWA officially called off the strike in the southern coalfields. Victorious coal companies tore up union contracts and began hiring non-union workers. Union membership in West Virginia dropped from fifty thousand to only six hundred by the end of the decade. Coal miners everywhere struggled to find work.
Time Code: 3/00:28:40
[Title: Pants or No Pants]
In the 1920s, state officials proudly launched a fifty million dollar road-building campaign with the slogan "Help Pull West Virginia Out of the Mud."
West Virginia was caught up in some of the change that was taking place in the country; it was a decade of tremendous change. The building of the roads had tremendous impact on local communities. I think it reoriented even the way people lived and where people lived. People came down from their mountain homes so they could be closer to the roads, which meant they were closer to civilization.
[Jerry Bruce Thomas]
When the new road was finished, new houses and new schoolhouses were built alongside it. Back in the hills, the old houses and schoolhouses rotted down, blackberry vines crept over the broken porches, and the eyeless windows stared out at the encroaching wilderness.
There is a restless flocking to the towns and the big cities. We will soon have a large self-disinherited population. They sell their farms for what they can get; where they can get nothing, they abandon them.The automobile transformed West Virginia's cities and towns. Wheeling, Huntington, Charleston and dozens of smaller towns expanded, adding movie theaters, department stores and middle-class neighborhoods. Families built homes with telephones, electricity, indoor plumbing and central heating--comforts rare or nonexistent in rural areas. An impressive new state capitol summed up the confidence urban West Virginians were feeling.
Nothing reflected prosperity more than a massive new hotel, The Greenbrier, at White Sulphur Springs. Here European royalty and Hollywood stars mixed with affluent West Virginians, including coal operators, who held their annual meetings at the hotel. Guests competed at America's newest craze: golf. At night, they slipped away to casinos and speakeasies nestled discreetly on the edges of the resort.
Nothing changed as much in the 1920s as opportunities for women. More women than ever before worked outside the home, attended school, started professional careers. Teacher Fannie Cobb Carter of Charleston became the first black newspaperwoman in West Virginia and a leader in the fight against illiteracy. In 1922, two years after women received the vote, Izetta Jewel Brown, an actress and suffragette from Kingwood, became the first woman in the South to run for the United States Senate.
The following year a fourteen-year-old girl in Roane County was arrested for wearing pants, a violation of a local law banning females from dressing in "anything that impersonates males attire." The next day, she and three girlfriends paraded through town in forbidden clothing. The issue "pants or no pants" dominated the town's next election. "No pants" politicians lost.
For blacks in West Virginia in the 1920s, the situation was better than in some neighboring states and certainly better than the deep South. And in the coal mining counties, particularly in the southern part of the state where there were substantial numbers of blacks, they had a political impact. There were state institutions which were established, which spoke to the needs of the black citizens of the state. The downside of race relations, and I think one has to be careful about claiming exceptionality for race relations in West Virginia, is the fact that I think we know the Ku Klux Klan was very active in the state in the 1920s.
[Jerry Bruce Thomas]
Somebody told me that his father had been a shoe repairman and at that time the Ku Klux Klan was becoming quite active in their town. And he said that when they went down to watch the Ku Klux Klan parades, they knew who all the people were, although they were covered with sheets and they couldn't see their faces, because they recognized the shoes, because the shoes had been brought into their shop for repair.Time Code: 3/00:36:11
I sold the Cincinnati Post when I was a little boy and I saved up $7. I put that $7 in a bank at Matoaka, West Virginia. The bank went under, and I haven't seen my $7 since. The depression hit everybody hard. You didn't have much; didn't expect much. We lived close to the earth, close to the ground, close to the soil. I'd hear my mom praying at night, after we turned out the kerosene lamp and went to bed. Those were days that in some weeks there was no work in the coal mining community.The Great Depression hit West Virginia as hard as anywhere in America.
[Robert C. Byrd]
Men worked for nothing and they had nothing. It was very hard living. When beans was ten cents a pound and bread was five cents a loaf, but who had it? Who had a dime to buy beans and who had a nickel to buy bread? Very few had it. They lived hard, and if they didn't raise it, they didn't have it.
We would go down to the railroad track and we would walk along the railroad track and pick up lumps of coal. And each one of us would fill our bag as much as we could carry, probably a third or a fourth of the way, and we would bring it home because we had no central heat in the house; we had fireplaces. That was tough, really tough.Men desperate for work in 1930 were drawn to Hawks Nest, a scenic cliff in the New River Gorge, where Union Carbide Chemicals Corporation began digging a giant tunnel through Gauley Mountain. The tunnel would divert water to the company's hydroelectric generating station three miles downstream. Fearing interference by the Federal Power Authority, Union Carbide pressed its contractors to complete the tunnel in record time.
[B. J. Evans Gee]
Contractors hired three thousand men, the majority African-American, to drill through rock that was almost pure silica. Basic safety precautions, such as wet-drilling, were ignored. Fine silica particles filled the air, becoming trapped in workers' lungs, and making breathing difficult.
They didn't allow any water on the bench drills. The drilling there had to be dry drilling, because otherwise they couldn't drill fast enough....A fellow could drill three holes dry to one wet. The boss was always telling us to hurry, hurry, hurry.Every morning in the camp above the tunnel, armed men forced the sick out of bed. Those too weak to work were run out of town by the local sheriff.
These companies involved in it thought that they could get this job done quickly and they probably didn't have a lot of regard for the people who were being hurt by it. The result was: great numbers of workers came down with silicosis and great numbers of workers died. It was one of the great industrial disasters in the history of this country."Men died," said one worker, "in the camps, under rocks, and every place else." Many bodies were buried in unmarked graves near the tunnel opening.
[Jerry Bruce Thomas]
A committee of Congress has just started to investigate the building of Hawks Nest tunnel, known as the village of death. I personally believe that two thousand men are doomed to die as a result of ruthless destruction of life by American industry.Congressional hearings failed to assign blame for the deaths and the issue was soon dropped. Few people wanted to discuss the tragedy, said West Virginia Senator Rush Holt, "because of the danger of stepping on the toes of some industrialist."
[Rush Holt, US Senator, Universal Newsreel]
An estimated 764 men, including 581 blacks, died digging the tunnel at Hawks Nest.
In 1935, the year the project was completed, Hawks Nest became one of West Virginia's first state parks. Tourists flocked to the grand overlook. Far below, the tunnel opening was barely visible.
Nowhere were times harder during the Depression than in a group of coal camps lining Scotts Run, a creek outside Morgantown. Few of the area's ten thousand residents held a steady job.
Scotts Run provides kind of a symbol for what went wrong in West Virginia. Early in the twentieth century, great numbers of people were brought in, the mountaineers who came down from the farms, and people from many different countries, to mine the coal at the various coal operations along Scotts Run. In time, the Scotts Run companies found difficulty marketing their coal. They found they had too many miners to mine the coal that they could sell. So you had a situation where there were great numbers of people kind of captured or stuck in an area.One writer called Scotts Run "the damnedest cesspool of human misery I have ever seen in America."
[Jerry Bruce Thomas]
I was eight when we moved to Scotts Run. You felt lost when you got down into that spot. The trains were constantly shifting and moving up and down there full of coal. The hillsides were lined with houses. The creek was orange color; it was full of garbage. That part of my life is colored in, not bright colors, but in that grays and blacks and browns. In the center there are some bright yellow spots. That was the families that gathered around inside at night and sat around the old stove.
December 8. Went to the store to get some bread for a family of six children that had nothing to eat. The father has been out of work for two months. Only two of the children have shoes. The mother has been married five years and is twenty years old. Oh, the pity of it.Twenty-two-year-old Mary Behner, the bright, energetic daughter of a Presbyterian minister in Clarksburg, had dreamed of doing social work overseas, but her father convinced her to look closer to home. She was hired to open a church mission in Scotts Run.
My mom was really shocked. She had never seen so much poverty. Newspapers on the walls, no clothes for kids, no shoes, sickness, bedbugs. She would wash the lice out the people's, children's, hair after she got to know them better. Hopelessness. There was no food, no money. If you lost your job, you had nothing. There was no hope.
Little Audry said his father was real sick, and how they got eighty cents a day for his father's janitor service at the two school houses. Now little Audrey has to do the janitor service. Once in a while food gets scarce, he said. When I think of my thirty dollar budget a month for meals--I feel like two cents.Behner converted an abandoned company store into a community center called "The Shack." She turned a walk-in refrigerator into a shower, filled dusty store shelves with books. Behner taught children about health and nutrition, formed a community choir, and created the county's first black Girl Scout troop. She urged families to plant gardens and raise their own food. But when Behner asked coal companies to donate seeds, they refused.
These companies have no regard for human life. They tear men to pieces, then let them go to die.
I can remember Dad and Mother saying, "Why is she here? What is she doing? Why did she come? Who sent her?" But then we saw what she was doing. Here was a woman, a very young woman, who was directing all sorts of things. She would not just say, "And God loves you." She was going out and showing people. She was bringing clothing; she was bringing food; she was sending people out to help people. And it made a real impression on me to see this young woman, what she was doing.
Even if Scotts Run was only nine miles away from Morgantown, it was a world of difference that many people were afraid to cross. So she put the kids on a bus and she took them into town. One of the people told me much later. He said, "When your mom took us to have lunch at a restaurant, we were very scared. And she taught us that we could do this. And this was the first time that we'd sat down and ordered from a menu, but we were all very scared." She made them believe in themselves. She gave them new opportunities.Mary Behner was soon joined by others. The Quakers opened a factory where unemployed miners made what were called "God-love" chairs. Students from West Virginia University taught Sunday School classes and helped serve free meals.
Then, in 1933, a woman who had bought a God-love chair arrived. She met with Mary Behner, visited several families, and saw conditions in the camps for herself. The next day, Eleanor Roosevelt returned to Washington and told her husband that something had to be done about Scotts Run.
She was convinced that what needed to be done was to take these excess people out of the mines at Scotts Run and find some way to give them a livelihood where they could work at something different and get out of this completely dead-end situation that they were in. Let's take these people and let's put them on the land. Let's let them be farmers and if they can't earn enough by farming, let's bring in some manufacturing. And out of that, I think, was born the idea of Arthurdale.President Franklin D. Roosevelt put his wife's idea into action. The federal government bought a farm twenty miles from Scotts Run, built new houses, and began selecting families for relocation to the new community of Arthurdale.
[Jerry Bruce Thomas]
Applicants were asked if they got along with their neighbors, if they had ever used farm tools, and if they could tell a rooster from a hen. Blacks and foreign-born whites were excluded. "Colored people [do] not make much of an effort on their own," said one official, "and foreigners [are] even worse."
Families from Scotts Run began moving to Arthurdale in the summer of 1934.
The day that it became real to us was when the truck came down to pick up our furniture and take us up on the hill. And we got up there and there was this little white house. All around it was green grass. There were trees behind it, silhouetted against the most beautiful blue sky. Our lives changed completely overnight.A school and cooperative store opened, as did factories where workers made vacuum cleaners and furniture. Reporters from across the country arrived to see "Eleanor's experiment." "It got so a man couldn't set down to his sow belly and turnip greens," complained one resident, "without some stranger peeking in the window to ask fool questions."
Arthurdale was the first of nearly two hundred New Deal resettlement projects, but its planned economy fizzled. Factory goods weren't profitable enough, food production less than what was needed.
Arthurdale didn't accomplish what it set out to accomplish. The efforts to bring in manufacturing to Arthurdale failed. What manufacturer wanted to go out to a remote location like Arthurdale? It didn't make economic sense. Moreover, the farm land at Arthurdale turned out not to be very good land; they had picked bad land. They did a lot of foolish things. Economically, it didn't work in the long term.Government support of Arthurdale dwindled, yet Eleanor Roosevelt returned every year and continued to declare the project a complete success.
[Jerry Bruce Thomas]
She cared. We couldn't imagine that the president's wife would come down here. You couldn't love her enough. You can't tell anybody that grew up in Arthurdale that it was a failure. No. It was our savior. We really got the good life. It depends on what you call the good life. But the good life is having shelter, clothing, food. Our dream was to have a home of our own. It was a success for us.Time Code: 3/00:56:30
Listen to the mill whistle. It's Wheeling Steel. On the dawn of a new year, this is the Wheeling Steel family broadcast from the headquarter city of the Wheeling Steel Corporation, Wheeling, West Virginia, with music by the....[continues in background behind film narration]On January 2, 1938, It's Wheeling Steel, a live radio program from the Capitol Theater in Wheeling, premiered coast-to-coast on the Mutual Network.
["It's Wheeling Steel" radio broadcast]
...We welcome thousands of our families. We extend also a hearty welcome to you other friends of Wheeling Steel, our customers and your families. For your enjoyment, It's Wheeling Steel.There was nothing on the airwaves quite like it.
["It's Wheeling Steel" radio broadcast]
Headliner appearances on these programs are made by members of Wheeling Steel families or men and women right out of the mills, the factories, or the offices of the corporation. These are not acclaimed radio performers. Many in the course of these broadcasts will face the microphone for the first time. Others can claim a limited experience. In every case, their sincere efforts are to please their vast radio audience. (music and singing) The stars at night are big and bright... [singing and music continue in background behind film narration]Among the amateur stars were the "Steel Sisters," a trio of high school girls; the "Singing Millmen"; and Sara Rehm, "the singing stenographer."
["It's Wheeling Steel" radio broadcast]
The show was the brainchild of John Grimes, Wheeling Steel's director of advertising. Grimes had first proposed the idea in 1931, but company executives were skeptical. Then, Wheeling, like other blue collar towns in the 1930s, was divided by labor troubles. Soon after Wheeling Steel signed a union contract with steelworkers in 1937, the company gave Grimes the go-ahead. A radio show could plug company products, and perhaps rekindle the feeling that Wheeling Steel was one big family.
They got the idea of the family broadcast and it wasn't very hard to do because Wheeling has always been a very musical city. Every little night club in town had a band and practically everybody in Wheeling either worked for Wheeling Steel or had a father or a mother or uncle or aunt working for Wheeling Steel.Open auditions drew hundreds of hopeful stars. Included were a millworker's three teenage daughters: Janet, Margaret June, and Betty Jane Evans.
My parents were very musical. My mother played the piano; my father sang. Everybody in the family sang. We used to have a saying at our house: "And the night shall be filled with music and the cares that infest the day shall fold their tents like the Arabs and silently slip away." That was our family philosophy. Don't worry when you go to bed tonight because that's already over with and you can't do anything about it. Just look forward to tomorrow. And we did that."It's Wheeling Steel" was an overnight hit. LIFE Magazine published a glamorous photo essay on the cast. The show broadcast from the 1939 World's Fair in New York, then joined the NBC Blue Network. Millions of Americans tuned in every Sunday afternoon.
[B. J. Evans Gee]
My mother was so proud of me. "Did you see my girls on the radio?," she always used to say. And we were just plunged into a brand new, whole life that people just don't expect to ever happen to them in a small town like Wheeling.
[B. J. Evans Gee]
We conclude the Wheeling Steel program earlier than usual today in order that we may hear the voice of the President of the United States.Then, on December 7, 1941, "It's Wheeling Steel" was suddenly pre-empted by an announcement from President Roosevelt: America was at war. [Roosevelt's voice in background]
["It's Wheeling Steel" radio broadcast]
A second world war changed everyone's lives once again. Coal miners were called back to work, women hired on to keep mills and factories operating. Chemical plants along the Kanawha River expanded to meet the need for explosives and synthetic rubber.
In White Sulphur Springs, the U. S. State Department rented The Greenbrier to house enemy diplomats -- the nation's first five-star internment camp. Wheeling Steel converted its mills to weapons production and its radio show into a patriotic arm of the war effort. "It's Wheeling Steel" hit the road, playing at war bond rallies across the country.
Oh my heavens, in four years we sang so many songs. Everything was oriented to the war, like "Don't Sit under the Apple Tree" and "You'd Better Give Me Lots of Lovin' Honey while Your Honey's Still Around," "Miss You."Then, in 1944, John Grimes' health began to fail, and Wheeling Steel abruptly canceled its radio program. On June 18, "It's Wheeling Steel" went on the air for the last time.
[B. J. Evans Gee]
It's Wheeling Steel direct from the stage of the Capitol Theater in Wheeling, West Virginia, and here is Carlo Ross. (music and singing) Got a feeling, I'll be steeling back to Wheeling, West Va." [music and singing continue in background]
["It's Wheeling Steel" radio broadcast]
We didn't know it was going to end. It was terrible because it was an end of an era for all of us that had been on. The song we sang was "We'll Meet Again, Don't Know Where, Don't Know When." And everybody on the stage was in tears. It was just awful. Even the audience was crying.Musicians returned to local bands; secretaries and steelworkers to the mill. The Evans Sisters went home, where they resumed a more normal life. But they never stopped singing.
[B. J. Evans Gee]
Goodbye everybody.Time Code: 3/01:08:58
["It's Wheeling Steel" radio broadcast]
I was born and grew up in a coal camp which occupied all the valley space. Other than that, the only place you could live was a "holler" and you live in the only flat space available and then you're just surrounded by the mountains. Flat spaces make me very uncomfortable; I need some of that sort of comfort of hemming me around with those mountains. And when you grew up like that, that's how you come to see the world is ringed with mountains, and without them, I think you lose your balance; I think you lose your perspective.In post-war America coal was still king, which made a coal strike a potential national crisis. Beginning in 1946, union coal miners were called out in a series of dramatic strikes by the man they had come to worship: John Llewellyn Lewis.
If we must grind up human flesh and bones in the industrial machine that we call "modern America," then before God I assert that those consume the coal and you and I who benefit from that service because we live in comfort, we owe protection to those men first and we owe them security for their family if they die. I say it, I voice it, I proclaim it! And I care not who in heaven or hell opposes it!A union organizer from Iowa who had spent little time in a coal mine, Lewis overwhelmed friends and enemies alike. "Lewis' head," wrote a reporter, "is the most impressive affair I have ever seen on top of a man's neck." Lewis scowled so often that pictures of him smiling became collector's items.
[John L. Lewis (film footage)]
Since seizing control of the UMWA in 1919, Lewis had become the most widely feared labor leader in America. One Congressman called him "a bushy-browed Hitler." "Think of me as a coal miner," replied Lewis, "and you won't make any mistakes."
At the White House, John L. Lewis, union head, and federal coal administrator J. A. Krug, with his chief deputy Vice-Admiral Moreell, conduct the negotiations which mean good news to consumers: the end of the strike which shut down soft mines on April 1st and threatened the tie up of all industry. All through the soft coal regions, miners await the word to return on completion of the compromise agreement. Everybody's happy. [continues in background behind film narration]By 1950, Lewis had secured miners a contract better than they had ever seen, including health benefits, a guaranteed pension, and higher wages. But the gains came at a price. The contract allowed operators to further mechanize their mines. Continuous mining machines replaced whole crews of men and spewed clouds of coal dust into the air. Thousands more miners came down with "black lung," a disease resembling silicosis, with equally fatal results.
[Ed Herlihy, Universal Newsreel "Coal Strike Ended"]
Black miners were the first to lose their jobs. Mine foremen refused to train blacks to operate machinery. They "would envy the machine," claimed one foreman, "and not work well."
During the 1950s, a decade of national prosperity, more than half of the coal miners in West Virginia lost their jobs. Coal operators sold off company stores and houses, closed down company towns.
When I was thirteen, the coal company that my father worked for was sold and my father lost his job, and we lost our house and had to move. Many people moved from one job to another, but they could always to back to where they grew up often and point to where they grew up and say, "This is the old neighborhood." When I go back, there's a field where my town was. There's a field of weeds and nothing left. When I go to see the old movie theater, it's not there anymore, any of the places I used to hang out. The swimming pool where I used to go to is now a hole in the ground. There's nothing left. I don't think I've ever quite gotten over that, and I think that's probably true for a lot of people. It's like being a refugee in your own state.
I remember the day when my father packed up the family car and put all of the kids in the car and the furniture on top of the car and joined the trek of others along Route 21, heading towards the promised land in Ohio because there were no jobs to be had at home. It was a very difficult decision for young men and women of that generation to make, to have to leave the land that had become part of them.As their communities disappeared, many families drifted north to cities such as Detroit and Cincinnati in search of work. Blacks left the state at three times the rate whites did.
For people who moved out of state, it was an environment that was openly hostile, where neighbors didn't want you there, where neighbors made fun of you, where when you went to school the other children made fun of you, made fun of the way you talked and where you were from. It's really hard on anybody. I think that's true for poor West Virginians who left and it's also true for middle-class West Virginians who left as well.In 1953, newly elected Governor William Marland made a stunning proposal: a stiff new tax on coal. A former miner, Marland said that outside interests had exploited the state for fifty years, leaving behind a scarred landscape, yet few tax dollars. "We are paying a fearful price to allow coal to be extracted from the hills of West Virginia," he declared. "It is only right that we should be able to point with pride to better roads and schools as a result of this awful toll."
In West Virginia the big coal barons had run the state for years, and he came in and right off called for the severance tax on coal and just about blew their mind. I mean, these guys were: "What?" They felt that they owned the legislature. You know, I mean they would pay for all of this and pay for all of that and how dare this guy come in and do that. It's like striking Mom and Dad or something.Coal operators lobbied fiercely against the tax, saying it would cripple the state's leading industry, and the state legislature rejected it soundly. Marland's proposals for other taxes were defeated as well.
Marland was successful in de-segregating West Virginia's public schools beginning in 1954, despite the objections of several southern counties.
We took the position that the Supreme Court's ruling was the law of the land, that as such we should obey it in both spirit and word. To this end we have worked, and I'm glad to say that those who have studied the segregation and integration program of the public schools of the nation have been loud in their praise of West Virginia's efforts in this field.
[WV Governor William Marland (film footage)]
Marland did not get most of the things that he had asked for. He never did come to peace with the coal operators in the state who never forgave him. The only problem was: he had a personal drinking problem, which he later admitted. He started to feel like a failure, when in fact he probably wasn't, and his drinking problem tended to get worse.Frustrated and weakened by alcoholism, William Marland joined the exodus from West Virginia in 1959. Reporters later found him in Chicago, driving a taxi.
Time Code: 3/01:20:40
[Title: Two West Virginias]
On February 7, 1960, Senator John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts arrived in Charleston to register as a candidate in West Virginia's presidential primary.
Kennedy needed a victory in West Virginia. A wealthy Roman Catholic, he had to prove that he could win in a blue-collar, Protestant state. For six weeks, Kennedy crisscrossed the mountains, promising federal help for West Virginia if he was elected.
This state has been hard hit, probably more hard hit than any state in the union. There's about 250,000 people in West Virginia on surplus food, but I think the most significant thing is that most of these people have been put out of work because machines have taken their place. What's happened in West Virginia is going to happen in many states in the union, unless the federal government begins to recognize that this is a great national problem to which we've devoted very little attention.
[John F. Kennedy interview (film footage)]
He had studied up on the state and he liked to learn more by going down into coal mines, by visiting schools. And on one occasion when the school kids were getting their lunches, he noticed that one of the students was not eating his and he went over to ask him why. And that student simply said that he had to bring that lunch home to his family, and this made a very deep impression on John F. Kennedy and it made him the kind of president who never forgot West Virginia.
[WV Secretary of State]
When John Kennedy came to campaign in West Virginia, he saw conditions that clearly shocked him, that made it difficult for him to believe that these conditions survived in mid-century America.In May, Kennedy won an impressive victory in West Virginia. He said later that it was the most important step on his road to the White House. As President, Kennedy moved quickly to fulfill his campaign promises, sending surplus food for needy families and federal funds for two new highways.
On June 20, 1963, Kennedy returned for the state's Centennial celebration in Charleston, where he spoke in a pouring rain.
The sun does not always shine in West Virginia but the people always do, and I'm delighted to be here. (applause) This state was born to turmoil, but I know of no state, and I know this state well, whose people feel more strongly, who have a greater sense of pride in themselves, in their state, and in their country than the people of West Virginia, and I'm proud to be here today. (applause)It was his last visit to West Virginia.
[John F. Kennedy speech (audio clip)]
The same primary that catapulted Kennedy toward the White House launched William Wallace Barron into the statehouse. A charismatic politician who preferred the name "Wally," Barron led the most corrupt administration the state had ever seen.
Wally Barron, a fairly effective governor when he was in office, but corruption took over. I mean he used to have a jar on his desk and people would go in to see him and he wouldn't tell you to put money in it, but somebody else would say, you know, "when you go in, you might drop a twenty in there, or a ten," or something like this, you know.Thirteen members of Barron's administration were convicted of bribery, conspiracy, or tax evasion. Barron was found guilty of jury tampering and became the first governor sent to prison. "I might have married Wally," a former girlfriend once said, "but I would never vote for him."
My coal miner dad took me to Beckley one evening in the back of a large, old truck. That was a payday. He bought a fiddle for me. Then when I ran for the House of Delegates, I knew a lawyer friend up in Beckley and he said, "Now, Robert, take that violin with you. Play a tune. They'll remember you." That's what I did. Everywhere I went, I took that violin, and I played a tune. And if I found two persons who wanted to hear a tune, I'd play it for them. That's how I fiddled my first race and won the House of Delegates. I was an unknown, but with that violin, I opened doors.In 1965, Senator Robert Byrd joined President Lyndon Johnson in launching a massive federal aid program for Appalachia, a mountainous region spread across thirteen states, including all of West Virginia. A year earlier, Johnson had declared a national "War on Poverty"; now Appalachia would be a major battleground.
[Robert C. Byrd]
Workers from VISTA -- Volunteers in Service To America -- arrived in West Virginia to assist anti-poverty programs. Local politicians charged that they were outside agitators sent in to teach communism. "They are dirty and nasty," said one official, "and they won't shave." One volunteer came from an unlikely lineage: John D. Rockefeller IV, known as "Jay."
In Mingo County, VISTA workers joined a program run by a local high school teacher, Huey Perry.
Mingo had a reputation for being one of the crookedest political counties in the whole United States. The local politicians controlled the welfare system, the board of education. The politicians were the economy. It was serfdom. It was a little kingdom and the people were the subjects; there was no democracy in Mingo County. What we attempted to do was to talk with the poor people up the creeks and hollows and to organize them into what we called "community action" groups. To organize the people so that they could speak for themselves, rather than being spoken for. They had all the kids that had health problems. They were running around in the front yard, playing in the creeks, wearing a diaper, and we really started a pre-school program. It was the first full-day pre-school program run by people who were in poverty. The program in Mingo County, that early program that we developed, became the model for Head Start programs throughout the rest of the nation.Following the trail of federal dollars into Appalachia were the national media.
This is the road, if you can call it that....thousands of roads like this, winding back along the creeks and hollows of eleven states. And beside these roads, the shacks of tar paper and pine which are the homes of a million permanently poor. Up on the hill is the [?] school and up there, on this one day, is the only sign anywhere in this hollow that it is Christmas in Appalachia. (singing children and announcer saying, "Christmas in Appalachia, a CBS News Special Report")
[Charles Kuralt (film footage)]
There were people who came to West Virginia with their story already in mind. They came with the idea of presenting the picture of a state that was a poverty- stricken state with its people running around barefoot, and I resented it. They were bent on portraying the sad lives of people who had lived in hard times, people who were patriotic, people who were God- fearing, people who lived near the soil, and people who worked hard, that wanted to work, that weren't looking for a handout.
[Robert C. Byrd]
The image started to get formed in the 1960s that West Virginians ran around in their bare feet, that they had no family structure of any type, that they didn't have any food. We had reporters coming in here from all over the country and they would want to see poor people, like they didn't exist somewhere else, you know. So we were always kind of fighting this, and I must confess that we used to send them, the newspaper, all down to the same bar, down as East Bank, where the same four miners would always be there to be interviewed all the time. You know, we used to laugh about it, but that got annoying to people in West Virginia. They started to get a little bit sensitive. People lived just like they did anywhere else.
There are in effect two West Virginias. There is the West Virginia of Charleston, with its average family income one of the highest in the East. And there is the West Virginia of Kelly's Creek, where men who have not worked since the mine closed in 1952 sit on the porch and stare sad-faced and gentle-eyed at the scarred hillside. It is the second West Virginia, the West Virginia of technological unemployment in the coalfields, that casts a painful shadow over the prosperous, growing West Virginia.
New York Times
In order to eliminate problems, we first had to admit that there were problems. We did not hide the poverty that was there and there was criticism from a lot of sources about "we are tearing West Virginia's image down," but this was West Virginia. There was lack of every opportunity, and so if the outhouses and all the garbage and all the shacks showed up on the national television screen, then we felt that was helpful to the state and not harmful to the state.
Goldie Johnson cooks for seven: her three children, her daughter's husband, her granddaughter of 2 and one-half, besides herself and Calvin Johnson. In the yard, there are the dead outlines of a flower garden Goldie Johnson tried to keep one forgotten spring and then gave up on. She has worked hard every day of her marriage. There is nothing conceivable that can stop her work as long as she lives. And she knows now it will have to be a life without flowers.
[Charles Kuralt, "Christmas in Appalachia" (film footage)]
There were a lot of politicians in West Virginia who resented the fact that we were shining a search light on conditions of poverty, but that was the only way that those conditions could have been improved, and this was absolutely necessary in order to get the necessary support and financing and to understand why poverty exists in West Virginia.As the War on Poverty expanded, local politicians seized control of federal programs in West Virginia.
[WV Secretary of State]
The number of people participating in the community action groups grew and grew and it scared the politicians, and I think the thing that summed it up well was when a community leader with his bull horn spoke to the county commission. To paraphrase him, he says, "Over in old England, if they didn't like you, if the king didn't like you, they would cut off your head." He says, "Over here, if they don't like you, they'll cut off your project." And this was what was happening.Community action groups dissolved. In 1970, Huey Perry resigned, and left Mingo County.
The legacy of the war on poverty is a rather mixed legacy. It helped to bring conditions that had not been addressed to the national agenda. It also spring- boarded West Virginia into the forefront as a symbol of the other America, a region of poverty and laziness, the images and stereotypes that folks from the mountain had struggled against and fought against for generations.It was a decade of change. Civil rights demonstrators pressured state officials into banning segregation in parks, theaters, and restaurants. Coal miners threw out the corrupt union leaders who had succeeded John L. Lewis. After a tragic mine explosion at Farmington, they won stronger mine safety laws and compensation for victims of black lung.
But a grassroots campaign to end strip mining failed. Nearly a third of West Virginia's coal now came from surface mines, which employed fewer workers and left a greater impact on the land.
At many sites, mine waste called "slag" or "gob" was poured across creeks, forming dams that impounded water. Despite warnings that gob pile dams were unreliable, they were unregulated and mostly ignored. Until Buffalo Creek.
Time Code: 3/01:39:38
[Title: Buffalo Creek]
On the morning of February 26, 1972, a gob pile dam at the head of Buffalo Creek in Logan County collapsed after a week of heavy rains. Within seconds, one hundred and thirty-two million gallons of water rushed downstream.
It was just a great churning mass of coal dust, and everything it had picked became a part of that mass, so it was like a liquid battering ram. It looked like a living creature, very deliberate. It looked as if it had a mind of its own and that that mind, you know, had malicious intent and that it was after people.The flood roared for seventeen miles, destroying cars, buildings and power lines, leaving four thousand of the valley's five thousand residents homeless and killing one hundred twenty-five people.
What I remember is I heard the phone jingling. I woke up and I saw all my neighbors running all around up there and I looked the front door and I saw water coming. I grabbed the baby and woke up Randy and we grabbed a blanket and a housecoat and out the back door we went. By that time, water was knee deep and we were standing on the tracks and water was going all around us and everybody was helping everybody. That's all there was to it; everybody was grabbing clothing from everywhere they could find it. People were helping other people get in houses and then we came out yesterday morning about 8:30 and my dad and brother is still up there looking for my mom. We haven't heard anything from her.
[Woman at Buffalo Creek (newsfilm footage)]
I was down there the day after the disaster and I've never seen anything like it . There was a family, there were only the children survived, but there were other places where just the father survived or just the mother survived and the community was trying to put itself back together saying, "Okay, put these two children over here. She can cook for them and he can cook for this boy here," and everything. And maybe today we would have a smoother way of doing that, but here the community was putting itself back together.
This is a temporary morgue in Man Junior High School's gymnasium where Senator Randolph has come to console the bereaved and the people waiting to find out if relatives of theirs will be brought in here dead or hopefully alive.National Guard units arrived to clean up. Governor Arch Moore, who said West Virginia's image had taken a "terrible beating" from the media, closed Buffalo Creek to reporters. The owner of the dam, the Pittston Company, claimed the disaster was "an act of God."
[Bob Brunner, WSAZ newsfilm]
The people of Buffalo Creek were outraged because they expected more from the coal company itself, that they would come to your aid like a neighbor does. And what the coal company did was kind of gather behind a wall of lawyers and a wall of legalisms and a wall of statements that made no sense to anybody on Buffalo Creek. And you'd meet up and down Buffalo Creek in those days people who would say, "If only they had come to me and asked if I needed a cup of coffee; if only they had offered my wife a dress; if only they had said have you got a blanket, are you cold, can we make you warm?" But nobody came; nobody did anything.Two years later, an official inquiry concluded that Pittston had been negligent and forced the company to pay $13.5 million to survivors of Buffalo Creek.
Buffalo Creek was, for all practical purposes, a dead place, not just because so many people were dead, but because so many of the survivors afterwards described themselves as "half dead" or as "dead." Because if the community dies, it's hard to think of yourself as fully alive.Time Code: 3/01:45:35
There is something special about West Virginia. West Virginians have a special feeling for their state. Wherever they go, I think they always feel West Virginia is home. The feeling West Virginians have for their state may be unusual. One might wonder why in the world with all the problems this state has had and all the disasters we've suffered, why we would feel that way. I don't know, maybe because it has been such a tough experience, we feel sympathetic with our home state, but there is something special about it.
[Jerry Bruce Thomas]
Almost heaven, West Virginia, Blue Ridge Mountain, Shenandoah River. Life is old there, older than the trees, younger than the mountains.... [continues in the background behind film narration]In the early 1970s, a song that praised West Virginia as "Almost Heaven" became a popular hit. For many West Virginians, John Denver's "Take Me Home, Country Roads" reflected a feeling that West Virginia had at last turned the corner, that hard times were now behind her.
[John Denver singing "Take Me Home, Country Roads"]
There was cause for optimism. Employment was rising. New residents streamed into the state, seeking a change in lifestyle and a greater sense of community. Many West Virginians who had left came home.
Then, in the 1980s, employment fell again, and another exodus followed -- this time headed south to the Sunbelt. Yet many of the state's economic problems were now shared by the whole country. And West Virginia's strengths were now more desirable than ever.
West Virginia is one of the few places in the United States where community in the old, classic sense still exists. Where there is a very strong sense of neighborliness, a very strong sense that those who live near you are almost like kin, almost like family. The people in West Virginia, even though community is disappearing here too, probably know more about community as anybody anywhere. What's unfortunate about it is that very few people who do have a sense of community recognize it as a virtue until it's gone.
West Virginia is the kind of place that people try to stay in as long as they can, and they miss it when they leave. I've never felt comfortable any other place. I've never felt accepted the way I do here. I think we have to be our own place, so to speak. It's sort of us against the world in a way because we're all we have.
West Virginia is a state that is small enough to deal with most of its problems. Yeah, we got problems here; I'm not saying that. But I always feel like, whatever it is, we can deal with it if we want to. And I'm not so sure that's true in some other heavy population areas of the country. The statistics may be in their favor, but I think the lifestyle here is probably one I would choose. I feel like I can have a little more control of my fate here.
This is the most beautiful state in the union, and it's wonderful place to live and to raise a family. But still we're plagued with the problems of political corruption and exploitation which haunt our beautiful state. We are a very wealthy state with poor people, and I think that's the dilemma that we are constantly facing here in West Virginia.
[WV Secretary of State]
People in West Virginia, they got the guts. That's one thing about them. If they believe in anything, they'll get it. I don't think there's any other state, to be honest with you. I've been a lot of states, and I liked them all, but I always come back home. I think West Virginia is the greatest.
People who look at West Virginia seldom see the black West Virginian. We are a minority within a minority within a minority. We just don't have a high visibility and so for many people we don't exist.
West Virginians are rich. They're rich in history. They're rich in their faith. They have an unshakable, indomitable faith. They're rich in their attitudes and their outlooks, their family life, their simple yet dignified way of living.
[Robert C. Byrd]
My people were a people who were survivors, who knew how to come into a wilderness to make a good life for themselves, a meaningful life for themselves. A people who, like many other Americans, had struggled against forces beyond their control. And through all of that I see a tremendous strength in the mountains and in mountain people, a determination to go on, a determination to survive as a people, as a family. And that's where I see the hope of the future is in that human spirit that continues to survive.It is a place few Americans know, and fewer still understand. A place of terrible beauty that many think of as strange and peculiar. Yet, its story is distinctly American.