1934 Logan and Mingo County Living Conditions
In the Fall of 1933, Federal Emergency Relief Administration director Harry Hopkins sent sixteen reporters to investigate social and economic conditions around the country. “I don’t want statistics from you,” the journalist Lorena Hickok remembers him saying. ” I don’t want the social-worker angle. I just want your own reactions, as an ordinary citizen.” (Bauman and Coode, p. 1) This is one such report.
Title: Report, Williamson, West Virginia, December 7, 1934
Author: Francis, Henry W.
Source: Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, Hopkins Papers, Box 66
Date: December 7, 1934
FEDERAL EMERGENCY RELIEF ADMINISTRATION
WALKER JOHNSON BUILDING
1734 NEW YORK AVENUE, NW.
Williamson, West Virginia.
December seventh. 1934.
Dear Mr. Hopkins:
“Don’t admire their children,” said the relief visitor as I started out on my first morning in Logan County. “Just admire their guns and their dogs. They’ll understand you better–they’ll think you’re their kind–and they’ll talk more freely…. They’re bad and they’re proud of it. If you don’t believe they’re bad they’ll prove it to you. If they don’t like you they’d just as soon shoot you as not. I’m a native of this state and I’m right about that; you may depend upon it. Why, two men were shot yesterday in Hatch Creek. There’s shooting every Saturday over there. And down in “Bloody Mingo” it’s worse still.”
For six days I have been traveling in Logan and Mingo. I have made more than 450 miles by automobile and on foot. I have visited the “hottest spots” in Mingo and some, described as “pretty bad” in Logan. I have found worse living conditions and more cause for discontent than I have ever seen anywhere. But nowhere have I encountered hostility–even sullenness has been rare. On the contrary, I have been treated with kindness and met with understanding. I leave Mingo amazed at the docility and capacity for suffering of most of these people who, I had always understood, were hot-headed and temperamentally given to unreasoning revolt. I have found more common sense in the mining camps and in the dark hovels of mountain ravines than I have in the homes and offices of the controlling class. In those homes and offices I have seen more firearms than in the poor shelters of the workers and heard more threatening talk. I have talked with lawyers, doctors and merchants who admitted sitting at their windows and firing upon striking workers and who expressed their willingness and determination to do so again should occasion arise. That such occasion eventually will arise is taken for granted by many with whom I have talked. The mine operators themselves generally in these counties do not believe that labor troubles are over. They look forward to a breaking up of the union sooner or later and hope for a return to non-union conditions. They are opposed to unemployment insurance, old age pensions and shorter hours. They are unsympathetic to anything providing for the greater security of the worker and look upon present governmental efforts towards such security as being inspired solely by political considerations.
Replying to a question as to the effects of the relief program W.A. Hunt, General Superintendent of the Island Creek Coal Company, said: “The effects have been beneficial to the Democratic party, haven’t they? What more do you want?” The Island Creek Company, employing 2,500 men, is the largest operation in Logan County. It has been working four days a week but now is down to three and expects to go to two. Several hundred families there will probably require help. Mr. Hunt deplores this but says that were it not for code price restrictions all would remain at work. The company is applying for a twenty cent reduction in its selling price.
In Mingo County the largest coal operation is that of the Red Jacket Consolidated Coal and Coke Company. W.M. Ritter, of Columbus, O., is president of this organization. He is a brother-in-law of Isaac T. Mann, of Washington, D.C., former President of the Pocahontas Fuel and ex-head of a dozen banks in southern West Virginia. Ritter made money in lumber in Ohio and lent capital to Mann for the development of Red Jacket. It went broke two years ago and the bond holders sold the mines back to Ritter for twenty cents on the dollar. The company now employs about 1,200 men in four mines, conditions are bad and a strike is looming. W.C. Thompson, organizer of the U.M.W., in the district, was at the mines when I visited them and a meeting was called at the Miners’ Hall. The men charged discrimination against a certain group which the company held to be “too active in union affairs.” These men were not given a fair turn; they were made to work under conditions which, according to Thompson, were “tantamount to a discharge.” The company had resorted to a trick, he said, to avoid compliance with a Labor Board ruling concerning the transportation of certain men to the workings. Consequently men had to “walk 1,900 feet over coal knee-deep in a five-foot working, pushing their tools ahead of them, to get to and fro from their assigned work places.”
The county relief organization has had trouble at this operation over the old question of relief eligibility. Men were working for empty envelopes. One man hadn’t seen a dollar in three years. Mr. McChesney, General Superintendent, denied that any man was in need. Payrolls were shown to me and I was unable to find any case in which a worker had not received at least $10 scrip in two weeks. This would make them ineligible for relief here. The men say that $10 in scrip at the company store represents merchandise to a current value of $7.50 or less. Men with families cannot live on this amount.
The company says that the mines are working four days a week. The men said one mine was not working at all. The company agreed but said that work had been offered idle men at other mines but that union rules prevented their accepting. This was denied by Thompson who declared that the company was doing everything possible to “freeze out the union by discriminating against those in favor of it.”
I visited homes, saw pay envelopes and talked with the women. Conditions are bad. Clothes and bedding are needed in many cases. There is trouble in the air. The attitude of Hunt and Ritter is that of coal operators, generally, in Logan and Mingo. The old time hostility between capital and labor seems merely to be quiescent; meantime those aligned with capital are busy shaking their heads over the “immoderate measure of consideration being shown labor at the expense of industry.” The phrase is Mr. Hunt’s. He likes to think that if the government “would do something about helping industry” labor’s difficulties would be over and relief would not be necessary. This is, of course, quite overlooking the fact that there are thousands of former coal miners in Logan and Mingo counties who could not pass the physical test requisite to employment. In fact, last Spring, when the Lake Trade was demanding greater tonnage, Island Greek and other mines in Logan imported large numbers of miners from out of the State in preference to employing those who, because of age or minor physical handicaps, are classed as “seconds.”
Not only did these companies not reemploy such men but went so far, in many cases, as to evict them and their families from company houses in order to make room for the imports. It was necessary for the country relief administration to establish colonies for these evicted families. With difficulty houses were found and leased and turned over to these homeless people. Evictions continue. Some sixty families have been notified by the West Virginia Coal & Coke Company that they must move immediately from Company houses at Omar. Mr. Thomas, the Logan relief administrator, visited these houses with me. The families are looking to him to find them shelter and their morale is at low ebb. The patch in question has been leased by the W.Va. C.&.C.Co., from the receivers for the coal concern which owns them. The lease calls for the houses to be vacated by November 1st and the W. Va. Company disclaims any responsibility in the matter. It merely has leased the houses for the accommodation of its own workers, now suffering from overcrowded conditions. The truth is that the W. Va. Company merely is taking advantage of an opportunity to lease the houses at low cost in anticipation of future needs. It does not expect, its officials admit, to take on any additional labor. In fact, its 2,000 men, who have been working 4 days a week, now are going down to 2 and 3 days. And overcrowding never worried the company before.
Mr. Thomas finds great difficulty in finding homes for such evicted families. Shorter working hours increased the number of men employed and so created a demand for more houses. The Crystal Block Coal Company has housed families in discarded box cars purchased from the C.& O. R.R.Co. The relief administration has established colonies for evicted families. I visited one of these–Camp Irto, about eight miles from Logan. Twenty-six families were living there in houses grouped about an abandoned coal mine. About half of them were on work relief. The others were on direct aid, the family heads being physical incapable of any work. One man wee in the last stages of tuberculosis and, surrounded by his wife and four children, wee waiting and hoping to die. Another, a man of 26 years, living with his mother had heart trouble and a pulse of such rapidity that I expected to see him drop as I talked to him. Still another was blind in one eye and almost so in the other. Walking from house to house, one encountered almost every form of disease. One man had cancer, another Bright’s Disease. Syphilis showed on many. Its toll is high in this county. A weekly Venereal Disease Clinic is held under the auspices of the State Board of Health. Attendance is voluntary and only syphilis is treated; yet 1,700 patients attended last week. In one case, out of 197 men examined for work relief, only slightly over a quarter were found to be capable of ordinary manual work,
The 1930 census showed a population of 58,534 in Logan County. Forty-nine per cent are native whites and eighty-three per cent native white and negro. There practically is no farming in the county, the rural farm population being only five per cent of the total. Mining coal is the only industry and at least ninety per cent of the population is dependent upon it for livelihood, according to the Chamber of Commerce. And yet, according to Harry Magova, the Logan representative of the United Mine Workers, less than 10,000 minors now are working in the county and those only part time. It is difficult to understand why, the relief caseload is not higher than it is. Last week there were 1,304 on work relief and 1,054 on direct relief, making a total of 2,358 families. This load surely will be increased by several hundred before the winter is half over. On the last day I was in Logan 300 applications for relief were received. Mr. Thomas said that probably sixty would be approved. He can give aid only to the most needy cases. Honey gave out entirely during the last days of November. About that time sixty men employed at the Ferrell Coal Company went on strike, demanding ‘ that scales be installed at the mine. The sixty families were given flour, potatoes, lard, butter and beef. They asked for cash relief as well and were told frankly that the administration treasury was empty. Mr. Thomas said that they accepted this reasonably. I talked to some of these men. They said working conditions were bad, despite the union. They had been cheated right along on weights and things got so bad that they had to strike. Scales now are being installed. The men said that the relief administration had been fair with them and had given all the help it could. “We know Thomas is doing his best,” they said. “He ought to get more money for us Logan folk. Charleston has the idea that we live like pigs, anyway, and don’t need much.” Thomas is spending about $14,000 a week in the County.
Logan County has dozen level spots, each about as big as the White House grounds. The rest is hilly. One of these level spots is being utilized for an airport; another, privately owned, is the property of a country club. There isn’t, so far as I could see, enough level arable-land in the county, to make one decent size farm. Tiny gardens are cultivated behind the company houses and corn, planted and tended by human spiders, grows high on hillsides so steep as to prevent an ordinary human from maintaining foothold. To these high corn patches, these “do-less” miners carry tools and water. They plough the land with their mine picks and raise good crops of corn. If there were enough level land in the County to permit these “gun-toting bad men” to be rehabilitated on small farms where they would have an equal chance with Nature, I believe they would make good. But Nature has the edge on them now. One good storm and their seeded corn is washed downhill and only bare rock remains in the place to which they climbed and toiled.
Any long range planning would have to cope with the fact that there are in Logan County thousands of permanently displaced coal miners. The aged and disabled will have to be helped until they die; they are dying pretty fast and the particular Works Division project which has to do with coffin-making is behind with its orders. Thousands of younger people, including children, will have to be brought back to health before they can ever help themselves to advantage. Employment will have to be found for thousands now denied it by existing industry or else these people will have to be moved from the county to industry elsewhere. No one with whom I have talked entertains the hope of any new industry ever coming to Logan. The attitude taken in the sitting rooms of Logan’s “best” people is: Why worry about other industry; there’s enough coal in Logan to supply the entire world for a hundred years? Stop undermining our industry with your power development schemes and your economic fol-de-rols and we’ll be alright. We’ll take care of our people; we don’t say we’ll try to make ladies and gentlemen out of them but we’ll give them work enough to supply their reasonable needs. They’ve always lived the way you see them now. When the men were making a hundred dollars a week in the mines they lived just the same way. You can’t interest them in bettering themselves. If they have food ahead for one day that’s all they want. You’re wasting your time planning and scheming for them; you’re making them worse with your relief. Half of them getting relief are not needy at all and a the others could got along somehow without it. You’ve wasted hundreds of thousands of dollars in this county. But you can’t stop now. If you did we’d have bloody insurrection here. Now you’ve started you’ve got to keep it up until general business makes our coal good again. Just concentrate on helping business.
The only variation on this theme was supplied by Mr. S.B. Early, owner of the Aracoma Coal Company, employing 150 men half time. Mr. Early is an enlightened operator. He has men in his employ who are 65 years old. He will never discharge them as long as they can “do something around the mine.” He recognizes the fact that the mines never will absorb all the available labor. He suggests the establishment of by-product plants in the coal fields of W. Virginia where by-product coal is mined. Such plants, he says, subsidized, if necessary by the government, would make for regular full-time operation of the mines by taking such coal as could not be sold. He developed his scheme at length and feels that it offers a solution at once practical and potentially profitable both to labor and capital. Speaking of present conditions in the coal trade he said prospects were fair for a continuance production on the present scale through the winter. He believes that, in fairness to the industry as a whole, the present practice of some of the large operators working their tipples three shifts a day should be stopped.
“I hope the new contract will put a stop to it,” he said. “Limitation to one shift a day would make it fairer for all. Any Mellon and the Consolidation are working their tipples three shifts a day in some mines and making it hard for the other fellow.”
The following are the principal coal operations in Logan County. They are working for the most part two or three days a week. The majority expect to maintain this work schedule during December. Cold weather would tend to increase the schedule at many mines. It was impossible to pin any of the operators down to a definite statement as to future work.
Island Creek Coal Co. Holden mines 2,500 employees.
W.Va.Coal & Coke Co. Omar mines 2,000 employees.
Logan Co. Coal Corp. Lundale 700 employees.
Hutchinson Coal Co. Rum Creek 390 employees.
Amherst Coal Co. Amherstdale 370 employees.
Lorado Mining Co. Lorado 543 employees.
Boone Co. Coal Corp. Sharples 410 employees.
Mallory Coal Co. Mallory 340 employees.
Utilities Coal Co. Kistler 346 employees.
Guyan Eagle Coal Co Amherstdale 500 employees.
Monitor Coal Co. Wilkinson 185 employees.
Ethel Block Coal Co. Wilkinson 300 employees.
Six store keepers in Logan reported better business than in preceding months. Five said business was better than a year ago. A dry goods store proprietor said that business was “fine–better than we expected even for Christmas week.” He was referring to the last week of November. A new P.W.A. bridge had just been opened in Logan with fanfares and ceremonies. The “doings”‘ had brought many people to town and “money had been very free.” I saw gambling going on in a restaurant on Logan’s Main street. Cards and roulette were being played as well as other games. Quarters and half dollars were being wagered by holiday-making miners. Fully fifty people stood around the gaming tables and hundreds of dollars were won or lost in the few minutes I was there. There was a great deal of drinking in Logan that night but no disorder and not one arrest. I did hear some argument about the bridge. The charge was being made and refuted that it was built with “scab” labor. Union workers had struck when non-union relief labor had been employed on the concrete work. The strike had lasted two days and the relief workers had continued at work following its settlement.
“You all from Washington, then?” said Bert Canterbury. “Wal, I reckon then yo’ better tell me ’bout my cow.”
I had made my way down a mountain side ten miles from Mingo and had climbed a mile or more over the dry creek bed up Dark Hollow to Bert Canterbury’s log house. He built it himself eight years ago, hewing the timber and dragging it, stick by stick, down the mountain. For floor boards he split ash logs into planks two inches thick with nothing but an axe, shaved them with the same tool, and pegged them down. A hand split shingle roof was made the same way. Dried mud fills the chinks between the log siding. A stone fireplace with a shotgun hanging above it is the outstanding feature of a somewhat forbidding interior. And beside the fireplace stood Bert Canterbury with definitely forbidding expression on his swarthy, unshaven countenance.
“What about my cow, man?”
“Yes, what about it?” This from Mrs. Canterbury, prostrate in bed beneath a pile of cornstalks.
“Well, what about it?” I asked.
“Yo’ all done promised it, didn’t you?” challenged Bert, eyeing me fiercely. “A promise is a promise, ain’t it? Are we goin’ to get cow, d’ye reckon?”
“I don’t know. Do you want a cow?”
Bert Canterbury spat disgustedly into the fire.
“Yo’ all don’t know nothin’ either. Seems like a promise is a promise, though. I was hopin’ to get cow in while the weather still was afairin’. Yo’ all don’t know nothin’ then?”
“Not a thing. Tell me about it.”
Mr. Canterbury spat again.
“There’s chairs,” he said. “I told Mr. Downey here: I told him –don’t yo’ talk ’bout cow at all onless you mean it. He’s the one that brought it up first thing.”
“That’s right, Bert,” said Mr. Downey, Director of Rehabilitation, “I offered you a cow, I know. We thought we were going to get 350 cows in Mingo but they never come.”
“Jes come in cans,” said Bert Canterbury. “Ain’t yo’ all goin’ get some live cows? By God, you got to; you promised.”
“We’ll get you a cow,” said Mr. Downey. “Have you got feed enough?”
“Sure; I got hay. I got soy beans from the government–four dollars’ wuth. Yo’ all know I got ’em and yo’ makin’ me pay for them. I done paid for ’em reckoning I was going to get cow. Now whar’s I at?”
“We all is fooled, that’s all,” said Mrs. Canterbury. “They make us buy soy beans an’ they know full well no cow’s comin.”
“Sure, you’ll get a cow,” promised Mr. Downey.
“Better had,” said Mr. Canterbury.
Now, if you think this is a trifling way to begin a report on Mingo County let me say at once that, in Mingo’s estimation, this cow business is no trifling matter. It came in for discussion almost everywhere I went and it was plain that nothing the relief administration has done or failed to do has caused as much unfavorable comment as has its failure to make good on what, in every district of the county from Marrowbone Creek to the Gulandott River, was regarded as a solemn promise I found this tendency to talk cow a stumbling block impeding constructive discussion of all else. Conversation would proceed nicely and a basis of mutual comprehension would be building itself up when, all too frequently, the cow question would intrude or the goat theme be evoked and ribald laughter or forceful interrogation would leave me silent and defenseless before piercing eyes full of reproach.
“Man frum Washington don’t know nothin’ either. How come no one knows ’bout cows? Yo’ all made us sign papers enough–they was for Washington, wasn’t they?”
The facts are these: Before the drought cattle came in to West Virginia and while they were on their way, Charleston asked the Mingo Administrator how many ho could place. He said that while Mingo was not cattle country and while the query surprised him, he nevertheless, after a quick survey, found homes for 300 cows. Charleston raised this to 350. Applications for cows, formidable documents, were made out in triplicate and carried through the county for signature. Soon after it was decided to require cow applicants to purchase soy beans for planting and feeding. Previous cow applications, not mentioning soy beans, were voided and new ones made out, again in triplicate, and including both soy beans and cows. Then soy beans were delivered, each cow applicant purchasing from $2 to $5 worth. As cows had not arrived and consequently could not be delivered, second applications covering soy beans and cows could not be used and a third set of 350, in triplicate again, had to be prepared. The officers signing, becoming tired, had rubber stamps made for their signatures but the soy bean applicants laboriously signed again and soon afterwards were presented with a fourth set of application blanks covering cows only. Those they signed and, cleaning out and, in some cases, building cow sheds, stored their soy beans and waited expectantly for the cows to arrive. . .. Time passed and finally the cow applicants received, not cows, but a few cans of roast beef! Now they are paying off their soy bean debt at the rate of twenty-five cents a month, taken out of their work relief checks.
Soon after the cow tragedy, Mr. David W. Harris, Mingo County Administrator, became interested in establishing the goat industry in the county. He realized that any rehabilitation plan here must include the establishment of some industry which would provide some cash income to the rehabilitated. Much research convinced him of the practicability of a plan whereby families could be supplied with goats. He felt that extensive markets could be established for the milk and other goat products. A hundred goats were brought in, a demonstration goat farm set up, a market for the milk was found and fifteen families, selected carefully, were inspired to form the Southern Virginia Dairy Goat Association. Everything was in readiness for the delivery of goats to these families when, last week, word came from Charleston to hold up on the plan. Enthusiasm is waning; another cow-like deception is feared. . . . Cows cannot do much for Mingo County; goats will thrive there and Mr. Harris’ scheme, although discounted and ridiculed by many, is considered by those qualified to know as having every chance of success. From a health standpoint the plan is commended for this county where tuberculosis is taking a heavy toll, due in no small measure, I am told, to the consumption of cow’s milk from tubercular cows.
Mingo County, like unto Logan, has always been considered 100 per cent industrial. There is good land in some of the hollows but not much. The whole county comprises only 250,000 acres, surface land measurement. Coal mining and timbering have been the principal industries, mining, of course, predominating. least one-third of the coal mines operating in 1926-1927 now are abandoned and only something like another world war would make it profitable to reopen them. The coal in Logan and Mingo is good and second only to that in the Pocahontas field. Coal operators cannot reconcile themselves to the view that the coal industry here has seen its best day. They hold to the view that the coal is good and “must come back.” They point to the fact that the U.S. Steel Corporation owns upwards of 30,000 acres of undeveloped coal in the Pigeon Creek district. “You don’t see them selling it,” they say. The fact remains that the tendency of the big companies now is to acquire coal lands preferably in McDowel, County and the likelihood is that only a small percentage of these abandoned properties have possibilities for future activity. Many of the operating mines are owned by “little men” who find it difficult to compete with larger operations here and in other parts of the state. Future expansion cannot be foreseen and the general impression must be that the outlook for at least a very large proportion of the population is permanent unemployment.
The county may be divided into areas as follows:
Rough mountain area. No industries. Scattered population living in hollows and along creeks in home made shacks. Small mountain side corn patches, product of which largely used in making “moonshine.” Seventy-five per cent of these people lease from land companies which own largest part of this area. Average land rent $2 per acre. Many of these men formerly worked in mines during winter or earned money enough timbering to keep them in groceries, clothes, etc. Years ago the main line of the Norfolk and Western R.R. ran through this area but some years ago track was taken up and roadbed turned over to State Road Commission. I motored along this old roadbed, through tunnels, into the heart of this country, known as the Harvey District, It was like walking through Pompeii amidst the remains of a dead civilization. Rotted railroad stations–abandoned mines–demolished homes. Thousands left with the abandonment of: industrial activity–all the better-and more prosperous families. But 9,500 people remain, mostly the mountaineer type. Their shacks are unspeakable, crowded beyond belief. Clothing is lacking. Sickness and disease prevalent. Of the 9,500 people only some four hundred men are employed. Upwards of 1,200 families are on work relief or direct relief. They have no hope.
The store keeper and postmaster at Breedon where 120 of these families get mail said:
“They’re not so bad off. They don’t need much. Too many of them are on direct relief. They should be made to work. I tell you you’re spoiling them. They’ve always taken care of themselves and could still if there was a little work. Make them work for what you give them. I’ve been here for forty years and know them all. I’ve offered to take their corn in trade at ninety cents a bushel and give them anything in the store for it. But mighty few of them have took me up. They ain’t planting the corn–they ain’t been this year–they’re on relief, that’s why. Good many of them are living better on relief than they ever did. ‘Course there’s some sickness and some unfortunates–I’m helpin’ them all I can. Woman next house down owes me forty dollars for food. They’re–well, it ain’t for me to criticize God’s people an’ they was hungry. So I let ’em have what they need an’ am still doin’ so. Guess you took her off relief; she ain’t had no check for two weeks an’ more. But there’s lots getting it as shouldn’t have it.”
Pressed, the storekeeper said that one road foreman on a W.D. job was getting relief when he had money in the bank. It turned out that the man in question was employed by the State regularly on road work.
Mrs. Tennessee Hager, the woman referred to by the storekeeper, was visited. She lives in a leaky two-room shack which she owns, it having been left to her by her mother. With her were four daughters and three grandchildren, all illegitimate offspring of the daughters aged from 12 to 21. A daughter, aged 16, was pregnant. Mrs. Hager had been work relief on a sewing project. But the supervisor found Breedon too inaccessible and the project was too costly and so was abandoned. Mrs. Hager had been put back on direct relief but her checks had not as yet come through. Children looked sickly. Eldest girl said she would be glad to do anything in the way of work and would go anywhere. She would be glad to go into domestic service. Two other girls agreed that they would, also. Something should done for these girls. And for hundreds of girls like them whom I have seen and heard about in West Virginia. They cannot be blamed–their lives are so empty that they fall a prey to anything which offers momentary escape from the horror of their lives.
Area 2 comprises the coal mining section of Mingo. Here are the principal operations:
RED JACKET CONSOLIDATED COAL & COKE. Mentioned on page 1. Four mines working four days a week. One mine idle. 1200 men. Prospects are for a continuance of the four-day schedule for the present month. Large number of men are getting only two days’ work. They claim discrimination and a strike is brewing.
HOWARD COLLIERIES CO. Two mines at Chattaroy. Captives, owned by Norfolk & Western R.R. 452 men employed four days a week. Expects to continue at this rate.
BORDERLAND COAL CO., Borderland. W.Va. capital. 420 men. Working three days a week. May go to two after next week but not if weather gets cold and orders come in.
NEW CENTURY COAL CO. Ragland. 159 employed. Three days a week. Hopes to continue.
PURITAN COAL CO. Puritan mine. W.Va. capital. 360 employed. Working three days a week on an average for the last few months. Will continue at two days through the winter.
NEW ERA COAL CO. Delbarton. 202 employed. Two days a week in November. Expect as much or more in December.
UNITED THACKER COAL CO. Owned by Kountz Bros., New York, Delancey Kountz principally interested. 207 employed. Three days a week. Could not say what prospects.
DAYTON COAL CORP., Matewan. Gates mine; ALMA FUEL CO., Sprigg mine; and MERRIMAC COAL CO., Merrimac mine. These three operations are being run by Georg. Gibbs and they offer a good example of what energy and initiative can dounder fairly favorable circumstances. All these mines were in bad shape a year ago. Gibbs took them on, paying about $25,000 each for them. Such a sum represented only a fraction of the value. The Dayton Company mine at Gates, for instance, had been equipped by one Shoen at a cost of $300,000. Shoen went broke and the mine was sold under the hammer to Gibbs. Merrimac mine was bought by Gibbs from S.J. Patterson, nephew of Cash Register Patterson, of Dayton, who also had backed Shoen. Gibbs agreed to pay the purchase price at the rate of ten cents a ton on the coal mined, plus ten cents a ton royalty until the mine was paid for. He now is out of the woods on all three mines and has been working all summer five days a week. He employs 200 men at the three operations. Gibbs lives in overalls supervising his men; his wife keeps the books; his daughter runs the company store. He told me that in six months more he’ll be worth half a million. He started as a miner in Ohio. He sells most of his coal in Ohio, S.J. Patterson now being his selling agent.
VULCAN COAL CO., Vulcan. 110 men employed. Working 2 days and three next week.
EARLSTON COAL CO. Kermit. 150 men working two days weekly.
WILLIAM ANN COAL CO. Delbarton. 202 men. Three days a week last month. Hopes for 10 days at least in December. More if weather improved.
SYCAMORE COAL CO. Cinderella mine. 215 men. Four days weekly most of November. Three days a week for next few weeks.
GLEN ALUM COAL CO. Glen Alum. 175 men working. May go down to 1 day unless orders come in.
WAR EAGLE COAL CO. 186 men. Two and three days a week looked for.
HARDY COAL CO. Isaban. 175 men. Two and three days.
WINCO BLOCK COAL CO. Naugatuck. 110 men. Three days a week for next week or two. Do not know further.
Population in this area is about 21,000. more than 5,000 are employed and perhaps 1,400 unemployed or perhaps less. Number on relief rolls 900 odd. Mr. Harris, Administrator, says: “We are not worried about this area for increase in business would take care of those now on relief. I do not look for any great increase in the relief load, so far as this area is concerned”
There is much overcrowding in this area. The miners are hard pressed to make ends meet even under the three day a week schedule. They need clothes and household equipment. Some of them are making a gallant fight. Take Dexter Ratliffe, for instance. He is 53 years old, a loader at Red Jacket. Some years ago he was “rolled” in the mine and three ribs were broken and improperly set. They still “bother” him but he still loads his four or five cars a day, “working from the knees and arms when the back and chest give out. He is getting only two days a week at Red Jacket, he says, although others, younger men, are getting more. In October last he had a couple of hundred dollars’ windfall–a legacy, I understand–and he contracted for four lots at $150 each and put himself up a three room house. There will be four or more when it is finished but the trouble is that Ratliffe can’t finish it. He has 5 children, including two grown sons who can’t get work. Besides them he has a nephew, 24 years old, living with him. The nephew is homeless otherwise and he can’t get work. Then Dexter’s mother-in-law, being almost blind and totally helpless, had to be taken in. So they all live on the $10 weekly which Dexter makes loading coal. The old lady–the grandmother–is on direct relief I forgot to say but since she moved to Dexter’s without leaving her address cheeks have not been received.
Ratliffe has put $750 into his home, building it partly himself. He now owes $250 on the lots and $111 for lumber and mason supplies. He is being pressed for payment and feels that he may lose his new home. He wondered if he could not get something from Relief to supplement his income. Or could Relief help him to got work for his boys? I suggested a N.H.A. loan and Dexter said that E.B. Chambers, president of the Matewan National Bank, would vouch for him. I saw Chambers and he gave Ratliffe a good recommendation but made it clear that Ratliffe’s income was too precarious for him to be a good risk. I told Ratliffe to see Chambers and apply for a loan and Chambers at length agreed to consider the matter. Ratliffe never had conceived of the possibility of borrowing.
Area 3 is the nearest thing to what may be termed an agricultural section. The bottoms in this region will grow produce. About half of the people living in this section own their own property and are independent of relief. They are self-helping to a large extent and offer good prospects for any rehabilitation plan. Formerly they helped themselves along by engaging in coal mining or timbering in the winter months. There is no chance for this now and many are very hard pressed as they have no means to extend their farming activities. More land could be brought into cultivation in this area if equipment, seed, etc., were forthcoming. There are about 2,000 people in this area and although no employment offers all except some 200 families have managed to keep off relief rolls.
Area 4 comprises the city of Williamson, County seat. Increased business will, if it eventuates, absorb half of the people now on relief in this area. The other half may be considered to be permanently on relief. Let us say that there are 200 families without hope of becoming self-supporting without some government help.
The pressing need throughout the whole of Logan and Mingo is for medical care. Health conditions are inconceivably bad. Shelter is inadequate, clothing is lacking, food is poor and malnutrition is general among the children. This is true not only of children of relief families but of all.
Dr. R.L. Farley, whom I met at Delbarton, said: “Health conditions here are worse than anywhere in the United States. You folks in the cities get excited over slum ‘conditions–they’re nothing compared to conditions in these hollows. Id Williamson Hollow, Just out of town, children are sleeping on the floor in corners of old shacks, rat-ridden, filthy and open to the four winds of Heaven. They’re marked for death here–marked by the hundreds. We have everything in the way of disease. All forms of venereal rampant, tuberculosis, cancer–everything. Intermarriage has depleted the stock to begin with, malnutrition has further weakened it. It falls an easy prey to disease. Right now pneumonia is raging throughout these hills. People, lacking clothes but having relief coal or digging it in the hills, heat their hovels to suffocating temperatures. When the fires go out at night the temperature inside the shacks, open as they are, is the same as that outside. Bed clothing is scant and they sleep cold. Children, sleeping on floors, can’t help getting pneumonia. I’ve half a dozen cases to see to-day.”
Miss Cushman, Visiting Nurse said:
“Another case of typhoid to-day; we’ve had quite a lot of it. Due to unsanitary conditions. Water supply, usually wells, became polluted from toilet seepage. We fill up the wells with rocks and make them get water elsewhere. Sometime they have to carry it from wells a quarter of a mile away. I don’t know how many cases of typhoid there are in the county. I have only this one now. But I’ve had a dozen.”
C. O. Batson, Chairman of the Relief Welfare Board and Superintendent of Schools, said:
“Lack of clothing is causing suffering but it always has. The children have never been adequately clothed even in prosperous days. Malnutrition always has been a problem, too. More than a year ago the Kiwanis arranged for lunches to be served to needy children at school. The lunches were offered; not one child accepted. Pride prevented them from eating to their need. I believe that has all vanished now. We are planning to start serving hot lunches again on January 1st.
“Lack of clothing and a good deal of sickness is keeping children out of school. Our attendance is down to around seventy per cent. I think some children stay away because the parents feel that they can learn nothing without books. We have hardly any books. We have just reorganized the state school system into county units. The old district school system broke down due to political graft. Under the new system we cannot allow free books although I hope this soon will be changed. It is impossible for our teachers to hold the pupils without books. Id t he lower Jenny Street School, in Harvey District, we have sixty children and three books. You cannot blame parents for keeping their children home, especially when the children have to walk long distances in bad weather without shoes or proper clothing.”
In the Relief headquarters at Mingo I saw twenty women working on a sewing project. They were making light summer clothes. Eight were working on intricate, hand-sewn patchwork quilts, each of which takes a week or more at the very least to make. In the clothes store room I saw shelves full of light, summer clothes. The only heavy garments were sweaters which the local relief administration had bought in the open market.
Everywhere I have been during this last month I have found heavy clothes lacking. Women on sewing relief projects mostly were making light garments or intricate, painstaking quilts.
In Clarksburg, a few hours from here, 1000 women are suffering for lack of work. They have had, many of them, factory sewing experience, I understand. I have been looking for someone to make a suggestion in this regard but nowhere have I found one. Mr. Harris, local administrator says:
“We merely are trying to keep these sewing women at relief work, a few hours a week, to help them. We have to use up the materials we have. They mostly are light weight cottons.”
Now this is the last chance I have to get this idea in and I have no one to sponsor it. But here it is. Why cannot the Federal government go into the market (for heavy woolen cloth as it does in war time, buy up a few million yards and put these thousands of women to work making clothes that will do some good. Slips, underwear of flimsy weight and such garments are not needed. Good outer garments, coats, pants and cloaks for women and children would help to maintain both health and morale this winter–and next.
H. W. Francis
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