WEST VIRGINIANS ARE ACCUSTOMED TO COPING WITH THE HARD KNOCKS LIFE DEALS THEM. THEIR ADVERSITY BUILDS STRENGTH AND CHARACTER, AND IT NO DOUBT IS THE CORNERSTONE OF THEIR LIVES.
This early aerial shot of the Dehue tipple was taken by civil engineer, Carl Paller who worked for Youngstown Sheet & Tube Company from 1927 to 1944. However, Dehue got its start in 1916 when Rum Creek Collieries & By-Products sank a shaft and built surface buildings in the hollow along Rum Creek. Dehue was named after D.E. Hewitt who operated a large band mill in the vicinity. I am sure some of the timber used to build the houses came from the bare mountain behind the houses in this picture. It was typical for mining towns to build wood-frame houses for miners to rent around or near the tipple where they worked. In 1920 the coal lease and mining plant at Dehue were purchased by the Sheet and Tube Company of America that was headquartered in Chicago. In 1923 the mine became part of the Youngstown Sheet and Tube when they bought Steel and Tube.
The largest building in this photo was a boarding house for miners which was called the Club House. Fanny Perry-Bailey started taking in boarders to make ends meet when she became a young widow. Her husband, Clarence was injured in a roof-fall in the Dehue Mine. He died the next day on January 18, 1934 at age 43 leaving her with seven young children to raise. Her first boarder was Taylor Adams followed by Earl Hatton and (my dad) Emmett Riggs. She later moved into the Club House, and it became known as “Bailey Boarding House”.
(e-mail from Rex Bowman) – Richmond Times – Dispatch – Friday, October 27, 2000 – Ma’am: Hello, my name is Rex Bowman, I’m a reporter for the Richmond Times-Dispatch in Virginia. Could you PLEASE GIVE ME A CALL as soon as possible? I am working on a story touching on coal mine disasters and I believe you might be the only person who can help me. Thanks, Rex
I returned Mr. Bowman’s call, and he wrote this story which was published in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
TRAPPED MINERS REACH OUT TO LOVED ONES REX BOWMAN TIMES – DISPATCH STAFF WRITER
Trapped in darkness, struggling for air but resigned to death -what do you write to your loved ones at such a moment?
Dying under those grim circumstances, some have written tender, assuring words to their mothers, vowing to see them again in Heaven. Some have scribbled terse notes declaring how and where they should be buried. Others have penned short but intense love letters to their wives.
Lt. Dmitry Kolesnikov, a Russian sailor trapped in the destroyed nuclear submarine Kursk, was among those whose final thoughts turned to his wife, writing a note to her as he took his last breaths following the Aug. 12 disaster, Russian naval officials disclosed Thursday.
Kolesnikov’s letter, not all of which has been made public, is a rarity in the annals of maritime disaster, because most sinkings occur too rapidly to give sailors time to compose letters.
But a world away from the Barents Sea where Kolesnikov and 117 others died, in the coalfields of Appalachia, there have been men who knew what the young Russian sailor felt in his final moments. Hundreds of US. miners have died in mine collapses and explosions through the years, and a few were able to write notes as they huddled in destroyed mines, waiting to run out of air.
Take, for instance, J.L.. Powell, a Tennessee miner who died in the Fraterville Mine disaster of 1902. Trapped with a few other miners, he wrote to his wife: “Dear Ellen, I will have to leave you in bad condition. But dear wife, put your trust in the Lord to help you raise my little children. Ellen, take care of my litle darling Lillie. Ellen, little Elbert [also in the mine] said he believed in the Lord. He said he was saved if we never see the outside again. He would meet his mother in heaven if he never lived to git out. We are not hurt bad, only perishing for air. There is but few of us here. I don’t know where the other miners are at. Elbert said for you all to meet us in heaven, All the children meet us both in heaven.”
Dolores Riggs Davis, an Ohio historian who specializes in mining disasters, said the need to write a farewell note is an impulse probably shared by anyone trapped and dying, whether in a coal mine or a submarine.
“I’ve seen my share of these letters,” she said. “People desperately want to reach out to a loved one. They’ll tear scraps from paper bags to write a note. They want people to know what they were feeling when they died.
“And though it might be grievous to read at first, I think it would give loved ones comfort down through the years.”
Davis has a copy of a letter written on March 8, 1960, by trapped miner Josh Chafin Jr. to his wife. The letter, found in Chafin’s hand when crews pulled his body from the Holden Mine in West Virginia, reads: “Mable, I love you more than you will ever know. Take care of the kids and raise them to serve the Lord.”
Another one, found on E.W.. Hopps in a McDowell County, W.Va., mine in January 1940, reads: “If we don’t make it out, darling wife, please take my body down home and have Rev. Spears to preach my funeral.”
Hopps’ widow took her husband’s body to his boyhood home in Jackson, Ohio, where the Rev Spears preached a sermon over his grave, Davis said.
Harry Beech, trapped with Powell in the Fraterville mine, wrote this to his wife: “Alice, do the best you can. I am going to rest. Goodbye Alice. Elbert said the lord had saved him. Do the best you can with the children. We are all perishing for air to support us. But it is getting so bad without any air.
“Charlie said for you to wear his shoes and clothing. It is now 1-1/2 o’clock. Marvell Harmon’s watch is now in Andy Wood’s hands. …Raise the children the best way you can. Oh how I would love to be with you. Goodbye to all of you. Bury me an Elbert in the same grave. Tell little Ellen goodbye. Goodbye Ellen. Goodbye Horace. We are together. It is now 25 minutes after 2 o’clock. A few of us are alive yet, Jacob and Elbert.OH GOD FOR ONE MORE BREATH.”
Carl Fritts, of Snellville, GA., said the letters from Powell and Beech gave him goosebumps when he found handwritten copies of them in his grandmother’s photo album in her Tennessee home years ago.
“I thought they were tremendously touching,” Fritts said. “They really make you think what it must be like, when you’re trapped and you have to think about what you have to say.”
Near Beech and Powell in the Fraterville mine, according to the 1907 book “History of the Coal Miners,” dying miner Jim Herman wrote: “Dear darling Mother, Brother and Sister, I have gone to heaven. I want you all to meet me in heaven. O dear friends, don’t grieve for me for I am in sight of heaven. O dear Sarah, stay at Fathers or your Fathers. Pay all I owe if possible. Bury me at Pleasant Hill if it suits you. If not bury me anywhere it suits you all. Bury me in black. This is about 1-1/2 o’clock. So good bye dear darling father.”
Following the 1926 explosion in West Virginia’s Fairmont Mine, where 24 miners died instantly and another 70 were entombed, Scottish immigrant and miner H. Russell Erskine survived long enough to write three notes, said local researcher Mike Pennington.
The first note said: “At peace with God. -H. Russell.” The second one read: “Dear Mary: Tell Father I was saved. -H. Russell.” And the third and final one said: “We do not feel any pain. Try to stay in the U.S.A. Love to the kids.”
Bill Derenge, trapped and dying after the Layland Mine exploded in Fayette County, WV, in 1915, scribbled a note intended for all his friends. A copy of the letter kept at the Craft Memorial Library’s Eastern Regional Coal Archives in Bluefield, W .Va., reads in part:
“We are all still alive but not knowing [how] long God will spare me so dear friends should it be Gods will that I must die you will find on me a Gold watch and a purse with $10 and 90 cts and the rest of my belongings is at G John Souls house such as trunk and clothes So please notify my father and restore everything safely to him So God being my helper I will close.”
Powell Harmon, another victim of the Fraterville mine disaster, wrote simply: “Dear Wife and Children -My time has come. I trust in Jesus. He will save. It is now ten minutes to 10 o’clock, Monday morning, and we are almost smothered. May God bless you and the children, and may we all meet in Heaven. Good-bye till we meet to part no more.”
Raymond Simmons was laid to rest at the Memorial Park Cemetery at McConnell. It was promised by owners of the cemetery that a percentage of money paid for the grave plots was to be set aside to forever provide perpetual care of the graves and grounds. The cemetery became so neglected that many people moved their loves-ones to other cemeteries. There was a Black and a White cemetery at Dehue, but both have been lost forever. The White Cemetery was located on the mountainside up Magazine Hollow. I remember picking pawpaws around the headstones when I was in grade school. When I put together the Dehue History Book in 1994 only one headstone remained, and it had slipped off the hill onto the road. Time had eroded the inscription making it difficult to read.
d. April 1, 1929
Mrs. Arthelia Mills said she sat on her front porch and watched helplessly as the Black Cemetery vanished before her eyes. Men with heavy equipment were cutting timber just above the small cemetery. Suddenly dirt and stone came crashing down the mountainside leveling all the headstones and graves with tons of debris. There are no known records of either cemetery. Sadly many other grave sites of men who lived and died in the bowels of the earth have suffered the same fate.