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Living the Life of a Miner
Logan County "Mining Camp" Stories
Descendent memories
(Mostly taken from the WVLOGAN list discussion group... authorship as indicated)
The following is regarding a question as to the difference between a Clubhouse and a boarding house (both housed people) ... Sorry, I could not locate the original message.

Hi Porter;
I think you are right about the difference between Club Houses and Boarding houses. I got a job at MacBeth and I boarded at Mrs Hall's  beforeI got married. As you said, the club house was for the drummers and important people to stay.

We had a boarding house for the Americans and a boarding house for the foreigners,when a black got a job there,he would stay at one of the blacks in the camp until he wanted a house and then he would get it, regardless of where it was located.

~ Hassel Browning

I have given some thought on living in mining camps. It was a form of communism; maybe the good kind.  In return for your work you were given a house to live in for about 10 dollars a month; coal for heating & cooking for about 3$ a month;medical care for about 2$; food and clothing at the company store came through the scrip system and the company give you time to pay during
slow times.But there was no retirement pay; when you got old you were thrown on the "gob pile."

~ Shelby Burgess

Not only when you got old....  My uncle (who took care of me most of my life) got cancer.  He lost his job, his house, his credit, and he had a wife and minor children.  I had just left home to go to work and helped as much as I could, but  I will never forget what it was like for them.  I was able to get his social security (disability) through fairly quickly, but the first check came a few days before his death.  Remember the song '16 tons?'  The 'company' did 'own' them in many respects.

I had forgotten about the 'scrip.'  For a while, we lived in Keystone.  I think the exchange rate for scrip was 72 cents on the dollar then.  We used to exchange our scrip for cash and buy snow cones :)

~ Iva (Lilly) Durham

Sorry about your uncle taking sick; but I don't think we have come as far as we think.  A miner made about $50 a month It took about half that amount for living expenses, so he had $25 left.  You can't get by in this age with half left over.  But of course we would never return to the days of old; given our choice.

~ Shelby Burgess

I have been reading the last two letters about coalminers pay, or little to no pay.  My dad worked many mines for Island Creek.  Of course we, as everyone else were in debt to the company store. He was employed when Social Security began, and had his original card.  He also was in the union.  He told us of how the Government began handling the union money so that it indeed would remain there.  Thank God for that.

When he was in his early 80's and black lung set in, we recognised it after seeing so many uncles and cousins suffer and die from it.  All of his medical bills were paid by the money the miners had actually worked for, and was set aside for this purpose.  He began receiving a black lung check also.  This money helped tremendously.  When daddy passed on my mother began receiving the check in his sted.  It made such a signifigant difference for her life style regardless that it was just a short few years before she went to be with God.  But they were not easy to deal with.  This may be a help to someone somday.

Six months before daddy passed away he had a heart attack, which is normal.  But I found out that had he died from the heart attack, as the doctors and nurses were with him and it would have been put on his death certificate as that, mother would NOT have gotten the widows benefit. The death HAD to be ruled "black lung".  And although black lung brought on the attack, that did not matter.  Daddy lived 6 more months.  He was alone in his hospital room, and slipped away peacefully.  No one could call his death by anything but B.L as no one saw him go.  Thus, mom got the benefit.   But, I had a time with these people, and the doctor HAD to list B.L as the cause of death.  Years ago it was different.  The widow received the check regardless, but not now.  It really matters what the doctor lists the cause as being.

My 2cents worth.

~ Judi Clark

My grandfather, Claudis Smith, was also a miner.  He worked for Elk Creek Mine in 1940's and 50's.  He was killed a mining accident in May 1954.

I love to hear the stories about growing up in the Coal Mining Towns that my father, aunts, and uncles used to tell.  I also love the movies based on the unique culture of a coal mining community, such as "Coal Miner's Daughter" and "October Skies".  We descendants of coal miners are the toughest, hardworking, most special people I know (If I say so myself haha), and we should work our hardest to preserve and share our heritage.  We are not the "dumb hillbillies" that people stereotype us when we open our mouths and the Appalachian Accent comes pouring out, or the stories of the coal miners are told.  (Sorry if I'm going on a tangent)  Anything that shows what we are and where we come from should be cherished.

~ Kristal Smith Chapman

I may get scolded for this one.
My parents were Christians by faith and we attended the little Pilgrim Holiness church in Cherry Tree.  The church is still there, across from a funeral home (for anyones help to recall.)
During the depression, and coupons(or what ever they were called) were given out, rations I guess, for sugar, gas, liquor and I do not know what else.  The men at the mine would give the foreman their ration for liquor.  Dad being of his faith did not drink, nor did he want to help anyone else to.  At this time he was driving a coal truck.  So they put him in one without a drivers door, dead of winter.

It also was against his belief to work on Sunday, unless a necessity.(police medical and etc.) He did not judge others for it, it was his personal belief for himself.  He was out of work and word was out that a certain mine was hiring one of Island Creek's. He went there, and the foreman said, I know you, you won't work Sundays, and would not hire him.  This mine was overflowing with work.  Dad went home.   In a bit, a friend from the church, Russell Wooton, came walking up the road, dad was on the porch.  Russell said boss wants you to come to work.  Dad said, he would not hire me.  Russell said we hit slate, he needs all of the drivers he can get.  The slate had to be removed to get back to the coal.

Daddy said "from the 23rd psalm, Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of my enemys, my cup runneth over."  And it did.  He worked 6 days a week for months hauling off slate.

I hope this does not offend anyone.
It makes me think of how the foremans who were company men treated people. I am sure they were not all unkind.  Daddy as all of our dad's worked under all kinds of conditions to support his family.

That is why "southern women have grit".  We had good examples.

~ Judi Clark

Thank you, Shelby, for the old names of locations.  I knew the coal companies robbed our ancestors for mineral rights, forced our men in the mines to work in inhuman conditions before the UMW, and the recent devastion of  Blair.  Also, I know most people don't care about mountaintop removal in Logan Co.  If they lived in Blair, they might care.  Now, I'm learning that these same coal companies even took away our heritage by changing the names of locations to further the interests of mining.  Blair is supposedly named after a president of a Philadelphia bank.  Did Blair once have another name?  The Northern robber barons came through in the 1880s and bought mineral rights - my gg grandmother Almira Jarrell Mullins got $200 from it.  That was a fortune for a widow with two children.  She didn't know her mounteain ridge would be a third lower one day and Blair a near ghost town.

~ Rick Stewart

Well, Rick we are on the same page at last. My Grandpa sold his land & minerals for a small sum after many lies & half truths.  Promised him employment for his sons.  Well, we all know what happened later.  But at least they left the mountains alone.Now they are being destroyed.  As for Blair's name beforehand, I have been looking into that matter.  I'm of the opinion that the whole Spruce Valley was known as Seng at one time but can't prove it yet.  On the records are Marriages, births & deaths at Seng from the head to many miles downstream.
~ Shelby Burgess

In 1920, the miners decided to have a membership drive .The march began at Cabin Creek and went thru all the communities in Kanawha, Boone, Logan Cos.  They arrived at Madison and captured a passenger train; they had the train go up Spruce Fk.  They stopped at Blair and all got off. They proceded on up Whites Trace to top of the mountain and were met by Sheriffs and gunfire started.  About 25 casualties happened that day.  But the march was over when U.S. troops arrived.  While the miners were at Blair, my uncle Lewis Burgess' wife Katie served food to the men. Uncle Charlie Roe convinced the miners to release the train and it went back to Madison. This story told to me by my dad & older residents of Blair.

The BCCC & employees were involved in the 1920 mine war;  An employee of a detective agency named Moyer was ambushed & killed at # 4 camp, between Monclo and Sharples. Also there was an incident at head of Beech when a schoolteacher named Elbert Gore was taken prisoner while he was on his way to school.  The same day at Blair Mt. gap his dad was killed.  He was not allowed to attend his dads funeral.

~ Shelby

Note from LuAnne:  I just finished reading a book called Thunder in the Mountains: The West Virginia Mine War 1920-1921 by Lon Savage.  This was a great book and very informative.  Quite a bit of Logan County history there.  It is available on or probably by order through any bookstore. 

These entries, also taken from the WVLOGAN discussion group and added at the request of a member, provide small windows into the lives of grandparents and great grandparents as they eked out a living in the coal mining camps of Logan County.

As with all areas of this site, if you have any additional insight, memories, or stories of life (good or bad) in these coal mining towns, please email me at so I can add them for all to learn and remember.


This page was last updated on: 4/7/02