Warren McClung of Lenore, Mingo County, WV (2019)

On May 5, 2019, Sara McClung interviewed Warren McClung at Lenore in Mingo County, West Virginia. What follows is a transcription of the interview:

Okay, my name is Sara McClung and I am interviewing my dad, Warren McClung. So let’s just dive right into it. When and where were you born?

I was born in Montgomery, West Virginia. Larry Memorial Hospital in 1957. April 15.

Okay. Who were your parents?

Jessie and Aubrey McClung.

Where were you raised?

Uh, mostly on Scarlet Road on Trace Creek here in Mingo County. We moved here when I was three or four.

Okay, tell me about your earliest memories as a young child.

Wow, uh, I really uh don’t know uh how to answer that. I mean, I remember a little bit about living in Fayette county. Not a whole lot. I remember the house we lived in and I remember when we packed up and made the move to Mingo County. Uh and pretty much I mean just a semi-normal kid growing up, I guess.

Okay, tell me about your experiences in grade school. What schools did you attend? Who were your favorite teachers? What were your favorite subjects?

Well, I went to Myrtle Grade School. Started there in 1963. I guess my favorite teacher was my first grade teacher, Mrs. Merle Tingler. And I don’t remember liking any particular subject more than others. Maybe science. I guess maybe science was my favorite.

Okay, tell me about your experiences in junior high or high school. Where did you attend? Who were your favorite teachers? Favorite subjects? Or did you play sports?

Well, I didn’t play any sports. I went to Lenore High School from the seventh to the twelfth. Don’t remember any favorite subjects there either. I guess probably I guess my favorite teacher was Jack Smith.

Okay, what kind of chores did you do as a young person?

Well, I got the coal in for the heat, cut wood, fed the chickens, helped out in the garden.

Okay, what did you like to do for fun when you were young, what did you like to do for fun?

Well, we used to play softball in the bottom down at the forks of the hollow at the Estepp Cemetery. In the fall, I loved to squirrel hunt. Practically stayed in the woods squirrel hunting when I wasn’t in school or having to do something else.

Okay, what do you remember about the neighborhood where you grew up?

Aww, it was a great place to grow up. I mean, everybody knew everybody. You could leave your doors unlocked. We’d get out, bunch of, you know, the boys my age, we’d get out on Sunday and you know we’d walk down the holler, play in the creek. This, that, and the other. The people sitting out on their porches, they would invite you to come in and get something to eat. But that’s sure not like that today.

No. Who were your neighbors?

Who were our neighbors? My nearest neighbor down the road was Henry Gillman. His son Darrell was one of my best friends. Opal and Mike Ooten lived up the road from us, and my grandma lived right across just right next door.

Okay, tell me about your career. Did you work here locally? What did you do? Did you move far away for work?

I’ve always been here, been here locally. I worked for two different tree trimming companies. That’s my first jobs. And then I got into construction in the coal business and then later on became a surface miner.

Do you have any hobbies?

Yeah, like to hunt, tinker around on firearms, reload ammunition, work on, well like to four-wheel, love to go four-wheelin’ and of course I work on my own stuff I guess you can call that a hobby. I do the majority of my own mechanic work.

Tell me about your grandparents. Who were they? What did they look like? How was their personality? Where did they live?

Well, I never got to meet my grandparents on the McClung side. My grandpa Buzzard, yeah that’s a real name….my grandpa Buzzard got killed before I was born but my grandmother lived next door, she was a sweet old lady, and always she fixed some of the best biscuits I’ve ever ate. She lived to be 96 years old and unlike a lot of older people she kept her mind right up until the time she passed away.

What kind of work did your grandparents do?

They were, I don’t know if I know… My grandmother didn’t… I don’t know if my grandpa ever held a public job. If he did, it was probably in the mines. But you got to remember, back then people had farms. They grew what they ate, they raised their own beef, hogs, chickens. They had to work hard to make it, but they were pretty much self sufficient.

Do you know any family stories that go back past your grandparents?

Stories, just wild tales probably, not really anything.

Do you know how to do any of the old customs like farm, tend to farm animals, make quilts, gather ginseng, and so forth?

I can dig ginseng, and I can grow a garden. Quilting, I don’t believe I’d do any good at that.

Do you remember any old ghost stories?

Well yeah, I do. Where I grew up, our ghost was—nobody knew what it was, but it was supposed to holler and carry on at night. They called it ‘eight toes’ because it supposed to have an eight-toed track. I never did see it, never did hear it. But you know, that was a real popular story when I was growing up.

Okay, tell me anything you would like about your neighborhood or hometown. General thoughts? Who ran stores and what kind of stores?

Well, where I lived it was kindly up the head of the holler. Couple people had little stores, but they didn’t sell much, mostly candy and stuff to us kids. We’d gather pop bottles or whatever and sell to go get candy and stuff.  One of the stores—I can’t mention any of the names and I won’t—but one of the stores was a front for a moonshine operation. But we will just let it go at that.

Do you know anything about Native Americans in the area? Have you heard stories about them or found arrowheads, mounds, or burial sites?

Well, no not really. Not where I grew up. I mean, there was the burial mound at Millers Creek that held up the construction of 119 for a while. Archaeologists came in here and excavated it and really made some interesting finds from what I understand and what I read.

Tell me anything you would like about the coal industry.

I’d like to see it pick up. I mean, we’re working now, doing good, but that’s—you know it’s up and down all the time. I’d like to see it level off and stay steady and I don’t see any way that this country can do without coal because it’s used in so many different ways. I mean, it’s not just its not just for electricity.

What do you remember about the Korean War? Did anyone you know serve in the war?

Well, the Korean War took place before I was born, but my oldest brother served in the Korean war. He was in the air force: the copilot of a bomber.

What about national politicians such as JFK who visited the area? If you know anything about them, who was your favorite president and why?

Who was my favorite president? I don’t really know, probably Ronald Reagan. I mean, he was straight to the point and didn’t take any crap and I remember when I was in the first grade when John F. Kennedy got shot. That’s one thing that I remember from you know early in my childhood was when president Kennedy got shot.

Tell me about his assassination and what you remember.

Well, I was only in the first grade and it would’ve been… I don’t remember exactly if we had come back from lunch you know our noon hour or whether we had came back from recess which they don’t have that now but when I was in school we had a fifteen minute recess in the morning where we could go out and play and carry on and one in the evening. But anyway, we had just came back in from something. The teacher was not in the room yet and you know a bunch of six-year-olds in a room. You know, you could imagine. I mean everybody there was all kinds of noise in there and when the teacher walked in the look on her face—just all the kids got quiet because from the look on her face something was wrong and she told us that you know President Kennedy was dead, that somebody had shot him. Now, I can remember that just like it was yesterday.

Do you have any knowledge of well-known local people or events like Devil Anse Hatfield, the Matewan Massacre, Sid Hatfield, Don Chafin, the Battle of Blair Mountain, Jack Dempsey, Blaze Starr, or any train wrecks or mining disasters?

Well, I have actually met Blaze Starr. She was at Cheech’s Restaurant. It was several years ago, she came in organizing a—they were organizing a class reunion for her class and she was in Cheech’s. I actually met her. The rest of them, Devil Anse Hatfield and all them, just what I have read and what I’ve been told. Natural disasters, I mean mining disasters, I remember the Farmington Number 9 up in Fairmont that was in ‘68 and of course Upper Big Branch in 2010. There were several others, but Farmington and Upper Big Branch were the worst.

Did anyone in your family play a musical instrument or sing? What did they play? How did they play?

Well, my uncle Tom Buzzard lived up in Pennsylvania. He was in a country band. He played the guitar and sang. But I do not you know remember the name of his band.

Do you have any special holiday memories?

No, not really.

Do you recall any of the old words or words that were pronounced differently by old timers?

Well, there’s lots of words that’s pronounced differently by old timers. People still pronounce them that way. Some words I guess are not even words, but you know it’s part of the Appalachian culture, I guess.

Did you ever sleep in a log cabin? What do you remember about it?

Cold. It was cold. That’s what I remember the most it was in the winter time.

What do you remember about the Vietnam War? Did anyone you know serve in the war?

I know several, several Vietnam veterans. I remember it was going on all through school and it was pretty close to when it ended, I was pretty close to being the age to go. We all had to register for the draft back then on or before your 18th birthday and when I went up, we could register at the school at the guidance office and I went up to register when I was supposed to and Mr. Dickenson, he was the guidance counselor, he informed me that they wasn’t going to register at the birthday: they was going to have a registration for everybody at a certain date. I believe it was January 1, but before I had to register they cut the draft out, so I never did have to register for military service.

Okay, that concludes the interview… Any final comments?



I hope you get a good grade for this.

Me too.

From Southern’s Appalachian Oral History Collection, Williamson Campus, Williamson, WV. Submitted by student Sara McClung.

Shirley McCoy of Crum, Wayne County, WV (2019)

On April 14, 2019, Donald Salmons interviewed Shirley McCoy at Crum in Wayne County, West Virginia. What follows is a transcription of the interview:

Can you tell me when and where you were born?

I was born at Praise, Kentucky, which is in Elkhorn City.  Do you want the date?


February 26, 1933.

Could you tell me the name of your parents?

Polly and Dave Ratcliffe.

Could you tell me some of the youngest memories as a young child?

Well, let’s see. As a child, my father was a coal miner and my memories of him is him going out the door with his lunch bucket. As he was going to work. My mom used to have a garden and we would can stuff. I remember she had the first washing machine. It was an old fashioned roller kind and I remember you turn it on and it would swish it. It was electric. I remember us being so thrilled to death to have a washer. We lived in a small town and years later our house burned, and we had a house when we lived in town and later on daddy swapped the land we lived on and to this day there is a post office on that land. I had 3-4 older sisters and one brother. Daddy ultimately traded the land for an already built house. So, we moved to that house when our house burned. That’s why we had to move to the new house. We had a barn even though we lived in town. Even in town people kept stock. We had a barn, we had a cow. We used milk and stuff from that cow. We would get out of the night for entertainment. Our neighbor would give us some of his corn. And we would build a fire outside, and we would hold that corn over the fire. In a skillet or something and we called it parched. It just warmed up the corn and browned it, and that was a real treat to us.

What did you guys do as kids for fun?

Well, we had a ball team. We would go to the high school. You could see the school from our house. We used to jump rope and the boys played marbles. There was a small theater in town. Every Saturday we would get to go to that movie house and watch a movie. The movies back then were small movies. We paid 35 cents to go see the movie. Every Saturday, that was our special treat. Not all of us had money to go to the theater. So, mom would give the ones that she had money for and they would get to go to the movie and that was the highlight of our week.

So, as a child growing up, things were a lot different back then than they are now. What was it like growing up and seeing all the changes that have led up to today?

Well, when I was in the 11th grade I quit school and got married and moved to Virginia. So, I wasn’t there in the town from the time I got married. I would go back and visit. We have a cemetery there. The things I saw change were people no longer had chickens. And cows and things like that that ran loose in town. They went and tore down the barn to build houses and they made new roads. Our town had a bridge that separated… Our town was made like two communities. One side you can cross over to be in the other town. Then you can cross the bridge. It was divided into two parts. I saw new business going in, the old theater was shut down. No longer had that. They tore down the old school building and built a new school. Since I left. They just… Everything changed. The town had grown. They had more houses; more people went to school there. I remember when I was growing up as a teenager. Mom and Dad had seven kids. So, I had to work. I didn’t have to, but I worked in other people’s homes. Cleaning and baby-sitting for them. To make extra money. I remember when I got my first pair of glasses. I worked as a janitor after school was out of the evening to get money. The janitor that hired us to help him, he gave us a portion of what he got paid. That was some of the money I had to save when I was in 4th grade. To get me a set of glasses.

How much did you have to save?

Well, something like twenty-some or thirty-some. Around twenty to thirty dollars. My fourth-grade teacher found out I had real bad eyes and I couldn’t see the chalk board. I can’t remember if she sent a note home, but she told Mom I needed glasses. They took me to the optometrist in Pikeville, Kentucky. Pikeville was about twenty miles away from Elkhorn City. That was our big city we went to shop. It was a small town.

Is it still around?

Oh yeah, the cemetery is there. We go back and decorate Mom and Dad’s and go back to the cemetery.

I would like to go.

Well, it would be an education for you to see the small town, the big bridge. There was a big bridge that ran across the river and separated the two towns. That big bridge has been replaced by a new one now. So that was another thing. The C&O or B&O railroad ran through Elkhorn and they did have a passenger service.

I didn’t know you lived that close to Pikeville, when you were younger.

23 miles I think exactly

That ain’t far at all.

From Southern’s Appalachian Oral History Collection, Williamson Campus, Williamson, WV. Submitted by student Donald Salmons.

Appalachian Folk Medicine (2019)

Submitted by Morgan Booth

Appalachian folk medicine has made a large impact on Appalachian culture. Folk medicine molded Appalachian people, contributing something that we today likely would not think reputable or worth using as a means to relieve pain, heal injuries, illness, and other ailments. There are still a few people in Appalachia who practice folk medicine today, be it herbal remedies or acting based on position of the sun or moon, spiritual dedication for healing, etc. Appalachian people were considered backwards or not as advanced as others living in America at the time, and people in the Appalachian region are still considered “less advanced” than others. According to Cavender, Author of Folk Medicine in Southern Appalachia, “Southern Appalachians had the option of using naturalistic or magico-religious interventions for most health problems.” (80)

Appalachian folk medicine has set the tone for medicine in society even today. There are still people who believe that homeopathic medicines are better for the body rather than chemicals that most use to eliminate even small things such as sore throat or cough. Many Appalachians would use local honey (be it, clover, rose, or other blossom honey), wild cherry bark, red oak bark, and vinegar to soothe a sore throat, and there are many that still do. However, there was not always the harmless types of remedies, there were also more barbaric methods as well, such as cupping, sweating, purging, puking, and even blistering in an attempt to get the bad substances out of the body. Of course today, some of these methods are outdated and no longer used, however some of them can still have some merit to healing. The more magico-religious methods consist of many treatments as honed by the Appalachians, for example, the common eye sty; there is a chant that is considered to be a charm of sorts. “Sty, sty, leave my eye, go to the next person passing by.” (Cavender 95) Of course for the sty, there are other homeopathic remedies, such as applying breast milk, potato poultice, egg white, salt water, or fatty meats to the affected area.

Other illnesses and ailments, common during that time, were diarrhea, dysentery, and cholera. According to Alma R. Hutchens, author of Indian Herbalogy of North America, The common blackberry is a source of healing these ailments. Different parts, such as the roots, leaves, and even the berry itself can help with these intestinal issues. “As a remedial agent, Blackberries are classed as astringents and are far more serviceable medicinally than most of our generation is aware of.” (Cavender 45)

For opposing gastrointestinal issues, such as constipation, strawberries, mayapples, and castor oils were used in order to provoke a bowel movement. Both strawberries and mayapples are high in fiber, and the mayapples, according to Cavender, “does induce the bowels to move, but it can also produce potentially harmful inflammation.” (Cavender 87) The castor oil, however, is not intended to be ingested, but instead is meant to be rubbed on areas such as the armpits, navel, back, stomach, and buttocks. The reason being is because it was believed to have been absorbed into the body and induce a bowel movement.

For integumentary issues, such as dry skin, cuts, sores, facial blemishes, rashes, insect bites and stings, there are plenty of remedies as discovered by Appalachians. The main point to healing lacerations in the skin was, and still is, using antiseptics. For cuts and sores, antiseptics like turpentine and kerosene, along with iodine, carbonic acid, alcohol, rosebud and cloverine salves, etc. For blemishes, such as acne and facial redness, blackheads, whiteheads, and other facial ailments, old Appalachians used buttermilk, dew of the first day in May, witch hazel, chalk to make the skin appear lighter, and even more primitive methods such as massaging cow manure into the skin to make it lighter as well.

For dry skin, itches, and rashes, there are methods to help with these issues such as rubbing down the skin with sulfur and lard, rosewater, glycerin, oils (such as olive oil, and mineral oil), cucumber water, juice from a corncob, and putting chicken manure on chapped lips. As stated by Cavender in the book, “An informant in eastern Tennessee offered the following chapped lips remedy: ‘I knew an old man who said to put chicken manure on chapped lips. Said it wouldn’t cure it, but it sure would keep you from lickin’ your lips.’” (99)

Many methods for helping with issues such as infertility, there were many things used as an aphrodisiac. As mentioned by Hutchens, Ginseng was a natural aphrodisiac used by Appalachians to help promote vitality and sexual motivation. (139) Saffron was another known aphrodisiac, however it was rarely used due to its expensive cost. There weren’t many aphrodisiacs used during the early Appalachian settling period, since most often at this time, they were having many children.

In terms of the more magico-religious aspect of Appalachian remedies, an interview was conducted with Appalachian born and raised, Lowell T. Booth. He has lived in Southern Appalachia all his life, as were all his brothers and sisters. He recalls that when he was younger, his older brother had to get a rotten tooth pulled at the dentist. His mother was hoping that the dentist’s appointment would be scheduled on the light of the moon, an old Appalachian belief that as long as more of the moon was showing, then bleeding would cease quicker. However, if anything happened on the dark of the moon, then bleeding would be more intense and would be less likely to stop soon.

Unfortunately, the dentist appointment was scheduled on the dark of the moon, and Lowell’s older brother, Charles, had a very long lasting and intense bleeding after the tooth extraction was done. This being somewhat of a ritual even in the 1950s says a lot about how Appalachian folk medicine has largely impacted Appalachians in the area, even in modern times.

Spiritual Dedication is another largely sought after method for healing ailments like sickness and wounds. Christianity is a large part of Appalachian culture and religion, prayers being one of the biggest methods of healing in the Appalachia’s as well. Many churches will take in prayer requests, so that even those who don’t attend the church can get prayers for healing or even tough times they may be going through. Many Appalachians even today, still practice this method of healing. Faith is one of the biggest attributes of Appalachian culture, and still is strong today. Divine intervention is what most Appalachians believe to be the strongest form of healing when needed the most.

Many Appalachians were born and raised in the “Bible Belt” of the United States. In the Bible Belt, there are many who are religious mainly in the Christian sense. As an example of this, many religious Appalachians use a bible verse to help cease bleeding. It is commonly known as The Blood Verse, Ezekiel 16:6, which reads “And when I passed by thee, and saw thee polluted in thine own blood, I said unto thee when thou wast in thy blood, Live; yea, I said unto thee when thou wast in thy blood, Live.” This is claimed by many Appalachians to have worked in the past, and even still today when there are intense bleeding spells.

Midwives were another largely used method of helping a mother birth a child. Midwives were used all around the world, but in the Appalachian Folk times, they were used greatly. As mentioned in Stone’s thesis on Appalachian folk medicine: Midwives were typically older women, entrusted by the community in which they lived and worked in, to help with upbringings such as births, and other issues in which their remedies may be necessary.

When regarding the birth of children, Appalachian folk medicine focuses more on healing rather than the typical treatment. Corn and corn silk were two widely used products when it came to childbirth in the folk days of the Appalachia’s. The corn seeds were said to contain allantoins, which speeds up the healing of wounds internally and externally. The corn silk was used to speed up the birthing process by causing contractions to occur more frequently, as they were used as diuretics at this time.

Some women in Appalachia in the late 1800s and early 1900s were subjected to contraceptive methods or more drastically, abortion, even during this time. The midwife would be the one to help with these types of circumstances. There was very little health education in the region during that time period; this resulted in many unwanted pregnancies. Much of this was blamed on the illiteracy of most women living in Appalachia during this time period as well, especially those of which who lived on farms or farmland. As stated by Masters, author of “A Study of the Southern Appalachian Granny-Woman Related to Childbirth Prevention Measures”, over fifty percent of white women in the year 1907 didn’t receive a high school diploma. Many herbal remedies were put to use during this period of childbirth preventative methods.

Many of the birth control methods used during this time were quite gruesome, involving trauma to the lower abdomen, and less aggressive methods such as parsley, mugwort, pennyroyal, black cohosh, and Queen Anne’s lace seeds. These were meant to induce menstruation. Though the herbal method seems a bit more tame, taking too heavy a dose or doses could end up making you ill. To add on to the idea of taking too heavy a dose, this could also cause damage to not only the mother, but fetus as well. These herbal methods of abortion are still used today.

Other methods of Appalachian folk medicine include those of which who were healers and herbalists. They kept medicinal techniques and methods solely homeopathic, since long ago, the methods they were using were just homeopathic; this being all they had access to at the time. More often than not, African Americans in Appalachia would primarily execute healing practices. This being a vivid part of their African culture, they maintained the knowledge after being forced into slavery and transported all the way to the United States.

African American healing and herbal remedies focused less on the aspects of Christianity and the Christian God, but more on their own former religious beliefs. Their practices would eventually come to be known as “voodoo”. Many African Americans in the Appalachia’s, despite popular belief, contributed greatly to what would become healing techniques and practices, and even what would be known today as African voodoo magic.

 In the state of West Virginia alone, as stated by Crowder; author of the thesis, “Black Folk Medicine in Southern Appalachia”, according to a chart of the number of Africans in the Appalachian region throughout the years, in the year 1890, there were 32,690. West Virginia consistently stayed the state in the Appalachia’s with the highest rate of Africans. This was, from the year 1930, where there was 114,893 African Americans, all the way to 1960 where this number drastically dropped all the way to 89,378. This just goes to show just how many Africans there were even at this time that would have greatly impacted the idea of folk medicine in the Appalachia’s, especially in the magico-religious aspects of medicine at this time.

Appalachian folk medicine has been so impactful on Southern Appalachia for many years, and now it is only something that is hardly touched on. While we now have access to so many more advanced and medical methods of medicine and healing techniques, it makes the true nature of Appalachian folk medicine fade away. Despite all this, there are still those who practice these methods, but their numbers are dwindling as time passes.

As sad as this is, there is still a need for bringing back methods such as those Appalachian folks used during their times settling and thriving. By using homeopathic techniques and medicines like Appalachian folk used, there will be much less money spent on drugs that may be unnecessary and there will likely not be a built up immunity to these types of over-the-counter drugs sold today.

In conclusion, there are so many methods when it comes to Appalachian Folk Medicine, and some can still be used today if executed properly. Appalachian Folk Medicine is something that ancestors of the area have relied greatly on, and it is something people today can still rely on. With the access today to ingredients from all around the world, these herbal methods could definitely be much more useful and should be utilized. As for the spiritual and magico-religious methods, they can and should also still be utilized today. Despite having access to so much now, in the twenty-first century, there are still many aspects of old methods that should be taken into consideration and possibly tried for a result.

Works Cited

Booth, Lowell T. Personal Interview. 21 Apr 2019.

Cavender, Anthony P. Folk Medicine in Southern Appalachia. Indiana University:      ———-University of North Carolina Press, 2003. Print.

Crowder, Steve, “Black Folk Medicine in Southern Appalachia.”, 2001. Electronic Thesis ——and Dissertations. Paper 149. http://dc.etsu.edu/etd/149 Web. Accessed 24 Apr ————2019.

Hutchens, Alma R. Indian Herbalogy of North America: The Definitive Guide to Native ——-Medicinal Plants and Their Uses. Shambhala Publications, 1991. Print.

Masters, Harriet P. “A Study of Appalachian Granny-Woman Related to Childbirth Prevention Measures”. Electronic Thesis and Dissertations.  —————————————–https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/a12f/56c080c43f2e85a363e638ee76858efbce58.pdf

——Web. Accessed 23 Apr 2019.

Stone, Mary. “Appalachian Folk Medicine”. Electronic Thesis. ———————————– –http://home.wlu.edu/~lubint/touchstone/AppalachianFolkMed-Stone.htm Web. ————Accessed 24 Apr 2019.

Woodstock, Yuri. “Folk Remedies: Useful Plants from Your Backyard”. Online Article. ——- http://appvoices.org/2010/12/06/folk-remedies-useful-plants-from-your-backyard/

—— Web. Accessed 23 Apr 2019.

Submitted via Instructor Vicky Evans’ English 102 class, Williamson Campus, Williamson, WV, Spring 2019.

Chattaroy Cemetery (2019)

Photo by David Daniels. 17 February 2019.
Photo by David Daniels. 17 February 2019.
Photo by David Daniels. 17 February 2019.
Photo by David Daniels. 17 February 2019.
Photo by David Daniels. 17 February 2019.
Photo by David Daniels. 17 February 2019.
Photo by David Daniels. 17 February 2019.

Papaw’s Seat (2019)

By: Sara McClung

Torn and tarnished just like my heart, Papaw’s seat is set apart.

He left his mark.

It may blend with the others, but to me it sticks out like a sore thumb.

Why does this pain make me feel so numb?

A special man was he.

He was everything to me.

The scars on the seat are the same ones he left by leaving me.

The Treasure of Coal Camps (2019)

Submitted by Madison Vance

     Coal camps have been an important part of Appalachian history from the moment they began. The history of coal camps goes back to many years ago, holding families that had a miner who provided for them. Coal camps are like small towns where coal miners resided themselves and their families to remain close to the mine itself. However, they hold so much more value than what people seem to perceive. The secrets that can be found inside of each tiny home are heartbreaking, amazing, and sometimes terrifying. The ghosts of the past that continue to dwell in these homes hold the key to the past. Typically, the camps were quite small and could be found in common coal mining areas, like the Appalachia itself. Some camps are still standing and are used as museums for people to study and examine closely. If one intently inspects the historical values of the coal camps, so many secrets and intriguing facts can be brought back to life.

     Coal towns of the Appalachia were considered homes for many families. Miners were provided with these homes when they came onto the job so that they and their families would have a place to live. The coal companies provided everything for these families. There were town stores that only accepted the coal miners’ money, or scrip, that would not be accepted anywhere else, so the families had to shop at the local stores. The companies basically owned the families and controlled what they did throughout their time living here. They did take care of them while they were there, but once it was time for them to go, there was no sympathy. For example, if a miner happened to pass away in the mines, the grieving family would be kicked out of the camp as soon as possible so someone else could move in. It sometimes got rough for these families.

     Coal camps in West Virginia began to gain popularity in the early 1900s. “By 1922, nearly 80 percent of West Virginia miners lived in company houses.” (Company Towns) The towns began spreading throughout the state, and the Appalachia, as an easier source of living for the miners and a more intense amount of power for the owners. Churches, schools, stores, and sometimes luxuries such as swimming pools, movie theatres, and parks were built for the new residents of the towns. Most of the time, citizens were not provided with the luxuries and were only given the few things they needed to survive. The company store was basically the only source of food, hygiene products, toys for children, and anything else families wanted or needed to purchase. The whole towns were built around the company stores. Most of the time, the towns were isolated and placed by the train tracks. To build the coal camps, companies stripped the forests and built the homes and all the other buildings. “To cut costs, almost all miners’ homes were built identically, often of cheap materials.” (Company Towns) These homes were not reliable or stable enough for families to live in, but they had no choice.

     Most of the time, the homes you were assigned depended on the job you worked. If you had a more important, better paying job, your home was not as bad as those who made less. There was a slight chance that the men and their families would receive a nicer home, but it depended on their job position as a whole. For example, if a miner was a boss, he had the most dependable and nicest built home in the camp. If you were a simple miner and worked the same as everyone else, the homes were not well. In addition, there were separate camps for other races.

     Being in the early 1900s, racism was still a very popular thing then. African Americans were segregated from the white citizens and were treated very poorly. Violence, bullying, and hate crimes were common things that happened. The African American citizens that lived in the coal towns were placed in separate areas in the towns and were not allowed to be on the Caucasian side sometimes. The towns did, however, try to keep it steady and calm in the camps. “To maximize productivity while maintaining peace, coal companies tried to keep a balance in numbers among native white, blacks, and immigrants.” (Coal Towns) They claimed this to be a “judicious mixture”. Eventually, the hatred and violence decreased. This is believed to be because of the realization that all men were there for the same thing – to make money. They got along for the most part, but there were still some conflicts that occurred.

    The wives of the coal miners went through a lot for their family. They struggled as well as the miners and helped get through the hard times. The women of the coal camps are under appreciated in many ways; sometimes they were the saving grace of these men and towns. The men of this time worked in deadly, unsafe areas to provide for his family and give them a home in the coal camps, but the woman took care of everyone and made sure things were taken care of. In the book Strategies for Survival: Women’s Work in Southern West Virginia Coal Camps, written by Janet W. Greene, it states, “…they fed the miner, washed his clothes, took care of him when sick or injured, and raised the children who would become the next generation of mineworkers. They added to the family income by performing domestic work for other families, produced goods for use in the home, and scavenged and bartered.”. (37-54) These women went through hard times taking care of everyone and trying to find work as well. The camps that held these families now hold the ghosts of the past that replay these moments throughout time.

     Women did have opportunities to work outside of the home as well. There were not very many options to choose from in Southern West Virginia, but there were a few that they could pick from. If they did choose to do an outside job along with her work at home, she had to do double because she was still expected to do everything at home. Of course the husband would work in the mines and do hard labor, but the woman was stuck with everything else and no help except from maybe the children at times. Also, the women sometimes had to do manual labor as well. For example, they would often have to help carry coal on their backs if their husbands quit or they were not making enough money. It is understandable that the men’s jobs were far more dangerous, but the woman had to work more if she decided to take on an outside job to make extra cash. It was just expected for the woman to be able to handle it all.

     To add, the families that lived in coal towns were moved around quite a lot as well. The miners would move from town to town, trying to find a stable job, or just simply going where they were sent. Greene included an interview from a miner’s wife in her novel. The interview was done with a woman named Ethel Brewster. “He moved me every place. I lived at Holden and Mud Fork: I lived all over Rum Creek… I’ll never forget the moving.” (Greene) The women of these families were the true backbones of the relationship. They were the biggest support and help to their men.

     The only source of transportation for these citizens was the railroad. The railroad transported people, coal, and more.  The homes in the coal camps were often built close, or next to, the railways so transportation would not be so far for them. The managers and owners of the coal companies had much better homes than the workers; they had mansions basically. In the book Builder levy | Images of Appalachian Coalfields, it states, “Managers and key personnel were favored with large and elaborate houses … The workers were housed in another section in cheap look-alike buildings.”. (Lewis 16) The workers were placed in very low maintenance, poorly built homes unlike the bosses. It was all because of the money difference. Once again, they basically owned these families and controlled them.

     When it came to living in the coal towns, it sometimes got rough for these families. A lot of the families struggled daily; basically, their entire lives there. Money was hard to come by, the items at the company stores were expensive, the homes were caving in, the jobs were never stable, death was common, and more. It was hard for them at times. While living in these towns, the families had to find some source of friendship throughout the journey to help them get by. In the book Coal Men and Coal Towns, written by Charles Kenneth Sullivan, the details of life in the coal town are included in the text. It speaks of the many things miners, and their relatives, did to make life just a bit better. “Baseball was the reigning passion in the coalfields, and the Mining Institute’s first project was the sponsorship of a Raleigh town team.” (194) So, baseball was a large sport that distracted the men from the rough times they were going through. It helped them cope and gave them something to look forward to daily. There were also boy scout organizations for others. Drinking was also another hobby the miners had. Not all of them drank, but there was many that involved themselves into that lifestyle. It was all for their sanity, for the most part anyways.

     The miners involved themselves with many other activities to make the best out of their situations. Along with the ones listed above is dancing, swimming, movies, tending to animals, church, and so much more. Friends were easy to come by in a small coal town because of the similarities the families had. “Women talked a lot over the fences and met each morning at the store to draw scrip and buy groceries. The men talked a lot after work on the steps of the store.” (Lewis 16) The children kept themselves quite entertained as well with games that they played with the other children.

    Linda Vance, 70 years old of Kermit, West Virginia, spoke about many stories her parents told her about while she grew up. James (Hol) Hannah and Garnet Hannah lived in a coal camp for a very short period of time. Her grandparents on her mother’s side (Bertha Peggy Meade and Washington Mont Meade) also lived in one for quite a while. It was where her mother was raised. She has studied and learned quite a bit about them from primary sources – her family. Her parents lived in the coal towns in the 1930s-1940s. She mentions her parents’ detailed descriptions and how they described what life was like in these camps.

     In an interview with Linda Vance, she explained what her parents went through as they grew up in coal camps. “The houses were just all together and close. They were real dirty too. It was just hard livin’, honey.” (Vance) She spoke about how she was raised in the homes that were in coal camps, but she did not experience it like her parents. The old, worn down camps were indeed dirty and unsafe.

     “Mommy and daddy lived over in Omar in one while he worked. It was right close to a railroad track. It was a real tough time, mommy said. She always told me about how they’d have to heat with coal.” (Vance) Mrs. Vance added that she remembers seeing the coal homes, but when she seen them, they were renovated to last longer and hold better. Since coal towns had faded, people turned them into much better homes and updated them majorly to live in. She made sure to include the fact that her parents resided in these homes right after the Great Depression.

     Mrs. Vance spoke of necessities, what was difficult to keep, and a few luxuries. “They had to use that ole scrip to pay for everything. It was used to buy sugar, coffee, and everything else that was needed. Mommy even sometimes got to go to the movies with it if she was lucky.”  Her mentioning scrip is a prime example of how the companies owned and reigned over the people that lived here in these homes. How the community people had no choice because they had to make a living somehow.

     Vance continued on, speaking about the different nationalities that also stayed in the towns. “Racism was a thing that happened, but not quite as often as you’d think. There was all different kinds of races livin’ there just tryin’ to get by, so everyone got along pretty good. Daddy always said that the families that lived there were no better or worse than him and mommy, or anyone else for that matter. They were all there for one reason.” (Vance)

     Linda’s grandparents were more familiar with the coal camps. Her maternal grandfather, Washington, was killed in a mine. Bertha, her grandmother, passed following childbirth in the year of 1938. “After granddaddy was killed in the mines, grandma just had to leave. Of course, she found another man and had more kids, but mommy had done got out by that time.” (Vance) This shows how the coal companies had no sympathy for the families who lived here, but simply only cared for work. “Those who ran the mines were heartless. Didn’t care ‘bout hardly nothin but work.” (Vance)

     Coal towns are an extremely important part of history. The background information that can be dug up is amazingly existential. Coal towns aren’t studied much anymore, they have faded throughout the teachings of history. Each time, being more and more forgotten. Living in the coal camps were not easy, especially in the Appalachia. However, it got the families by. They relied on the coal camps to survive and make it through another day at times. Times got rough, but the families relied on these towns. The bosses, the friends they made, local store workers, and more. Everyone relied on one another to get by. No matter what race, in the end it was all about just making it through another day. The women, kids, and men of these camps struggled daily with money, food, and supplies while living in the towns. Living in the old, run down, unreliable homes. The history of it all holds the key to many secrets.

Works Cited

“Company Towns.” Company Towns, coalheritage.wv.gov/coal_history/Pages/Company-Towns.aspx.

Greene, Janet W. Strategies for Survival: Women’s Work in the Southern West Virginia Coal Camps, 1990, www.wvculture.org/history/journal_wvh/wvh49-4.html.

Levy, Builder, et al. Images of Appalachian Coalfields. Edited by Douglas Harper, Temple University Press, 1989.

Sanders Day, James. “The Path Was Steep: A Memoir of Appalachian Coal Camps During the Great Depression.” Alabama Review, vol. 68, no. 1, Jan. 2015, pp. 123–125. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=100017249&site=ehost-live.

Sullivan, Charles Kenneth. Coal Men and Coal Towns: Development of the Smokeless Coalfields of Southern West Virginia, 1873-1923. Garland, 1989.

Vance, Linda.

Submitted via Instructor Vicky Evans’ English 102 class, Williamson Campus, Williamson, WV, Spring 2019.