TEACHERS GO TO SCHOOL
 IN COAL CREEK

22 July 2014

SEE PHOTOS OF OUR ADVENTURE!

See photos below and more on Flickr at:
www.flickr.com/photos/95516223@N08/sets/72157645484732369/



Teachers gather at site above the trenches with the view of the
town of Coal Creek in the background. Fort Anderson was built
here during the Coal Creek War of 1891-1892.

TURN UP YOUR SPEAKERS!!

If you need some inspiration, you can listen to the beautiful song written
and performed by Sarah Pirkle and Jeff Barbra about the Fraterville Mine
disaster for the original Actors Co-op Play,
 "Measured in Labor: The Coal Creek Project"
at http://vimeo.com/35218399.

Also, view Briceville native and well-known performer Tony Thomas performing
"When the mines grew still in Fraterville" on youtube at:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VOGogr6Ykp4

History came alive for twenty-five teachers participating in a Tennessee Tech continuing education class when they visited sites associated with the Coal Creek labor saga.  Joining them on the tour was Travis Loller of the Associated Press, as well as Father/Daughter -- Fred and Sumner Brown who are researching Coal Creek for articles and books.      

A “textbook” of the history can be found at http://www.coalcreekaml.com/Legacy.htm.  Here are some of the lessons taught during the tour:

POST-CIVIL WAR DEVELOPMENT

The Civil War destroyed Knoxville along with much of the rest of East Tennessee.  Community leaders of that day saw development of the area’s rich natural resources as the way to rebuild, but they lacked the skill to do so.  That’s when they recruited Welsh miners and iron workers who possessed those skills because the industrial revolution had started in Great Britain 50 years before it did in America. 

What attracted the Welsh to East Tennessee?  They were viewed as second-class citizens in Great Britain, whereas they could practice their religion as they saw fit in America.  What attracted East Tennesseans to become miners in Coal Creek?  The Welsh miners and iron workers offered a first-class apprenticeship program, which attracted younger sons of farmers and others seeking new careers as evidenced by the fact that African-Americans comprised 16% of the population in Coal Creek by the 1880s. 

In their day-jobs, the Welsh were miners and iron workers, but in their spare time, they wrote and published books in their native language.  One of them, David R. Thomas, later donated a collection of those books to Harvard University where they are used as references by students today.


An American Chestnut tree was planted during
our visit to Militia Hill.  Before the chestnut blight of the
early 1900s, one in four trees in Appalachian forests
was an American chestnut.
 

The industrial revolution in East Tennessee was fueled by coal and Coal Creek had lots of it on property owned by Henry Howard Wiley, whose story is told at http://www.coalcreekaml.com/BricevilleFieldTrip2014.htm.

Another community leader was Major E.C. Camp who came to East Tennessee during the Civil War and decided to stay.  He was an attorney who killed a Confederate colonel in a duel on Gay Street in Knoxville, long after the war.  Did Major Camp go to prison?  No, that was during the administration of President Grant who promoted Camp to district attorney of East Tennessee.  In addition to being an attorney, Camp was a businessman who negotiated contracts with experienced miners at his mines at Fraterville and Thistle.  Those miners later taught his son George to be a miner in the Fraterville Mine. 

 

A 1540 expedition through the Appalachian Mountains
led by Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto captured their
awesome prevalence by simply saying,
"Where there be mountains, there be chestnuts."

COAL CREEK WAR AT MILITIA HILL

Teachers were asked if they love their jobs and chosen careers so much they would go to war with the Tennessee National Guard to protect them.  That’s what Coal Creek miners did when their jobs were threatened by the convict lease system.  They came to Coal Creek from as far away as Wales for the opportunity of a new life for themselves and their families. 

Although the miners lost the final battle, they won the war when the state abolished convict leasing. 


A few of the Tennessee teachers stand at the site of the 1902 Fraterville
Mine portal - www.coalcreekaml.com/Legacy4.htm

FRATERVILLE MINE EXPLOSION AT
THE ABANDONED MINE PORTAL

Mining was a dangerous profession in those days, but it was the miners who accepted the risk, not their families.  They could have picked up and moved west for opportunities as many others did, but that would have also subjected their families to dangers.  Some of the miners lived long and productive lives in Coal Creek, while others died in mine explosions such as the one at Fraterville in 1902.

Most of the Fraterville miners had long-term relationships with Major Camp’s Coal Creek Coal Company.  The name of the town, Fraterville, means village of brothers.  Fathers brought their sons to work with them, along with their brothers and cousins.  Edith McKamy, Mary Vowell, and Liza Childress each lost their husbands and three sons in the explosion.  Elizabeth Dezern lost five sons and two sons-in-law in the explosion.  The Fraterville Mine explosion taught a sad lesson about the perils associated with families working together that was relived during WWII when the five Sullivan brothers were killed during the sinking of the USS Juneau.  

The teachers each received a red bandana
in honor the Coal Creek miners,
which is what they wore
as their uniform during the Coal Creek War.

Fraterville was a large mine that needed various numbers of miners depending on market conditions.  Therefore, the mine routinely employed itinerant workers when additional miners were needed.  Newspaper accounts reported 216 miners who died, but the names of only 184 were recorded.  The additional 32 miners were itinerant workers.  Because no one claimed the bodies, they were buried beside the old railroad spur that led to the mine.  In 2012, a ground penetrating radar study identified the likely locations of those 32 graves.   

Why did the Fraterville Mine explode?  It became too large to ventilate with the equipment of the day.  When mining penetrated unventilated works of the abandoned Knoxville Iron Company (Convict) Mine, an explosion of methane gas triggered a coal dust explosion.

Farewell messages written by the miners trapped in the mine were published in newspapers nationwide, raising public awareness of the dangers of early 20th century coal mining, leading to the formation of the U.S. Bureau of Mines.  Has coal mining become safer?  In early 1900s, 2000 coal miners died each year compared to 20 last year.  The disasters that happened at Fraterville in 1902 and Cross Mountain in 1911 led to this dramatic improvement in mine safety.  


We visited both Leach Cemetery (shown above), Longfield
Cemetery, and Briceville Cemetery where a large number of the
Fraterville miners were laid to rest in 1902.
 

TURN UP YOUR SPEAKERS!!

If you need some inspiration, you can listen to the beautiful song
written and performed by Sarah Pirkle and Jeff Barbra about the
Fraterville Mine disaster for the original Actors Co-op Play,
 "Measured in Labor: The Coal Creek Project"
at http://vimeo.com/35218399.

Also, view Briceville native and well-known performer Tony Thomas
performing "When the mines grew still in Fraterville" on
youtube at:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VOGogr6Ykp4


Barry Thacker PE, discussed the rich history of Coal Creek inside
historic Briceville Church which was built in 1888 by Welsh
immigrant coal miners. 
 


Excerpt from March 1912 issue of Popular Mechanics
recognizing the advances in mine rescue documented
during the rescue at Cross Mountain.

 

CROSS MOUNTAIN MINE EXPLOSION
AND RESCUE AT BRICEVILLE CHURCH

We read the farewell letters over the miners who wrote them, but the historical significance of those letters is that for the first time, the public throughout the U.S. learned the names of coal miner when those letters were published.  They raised public awareness about the dangers of early 20th century coal mining, leading to the formation of the Bureau of Mines in 1910, which had a mandate to improve mine safety and rescue in this country.

Where did the Bureau of Mines have its first successful rescue?  Where was the use of canaries to check air quality first used?  The answer to both questions is during the rescue at the Cross Mountain Mine, which exploded on December 9, 1911.    


Photo of canary being used to test air quality in the
Cross Mountain Mine after explosion of December 9, 1911.

 

 

LEGACY OF THE COAL CREEK MINERS AT
LEACH AND LONGFIELD CEMETERIES

Stories about the Fraterville miners were told at these cemeteries where most of them are buried.  Teachers read farewell messages over the graves of those who wrote them.

 


A page from Jacob Vowell's farewell message to his family


The farewell message of Jacob Vowell is read at Longfield Cemetery
where he and his son Elbert are buried in the same grave next to Jacob
and Ellen's son little Eddie.  This was Jacob's request in his farewell message.

 

SEE ADDITIONAL PHOTOS OF OUR ADVENTURE!

See additional photos on Flickr at:
www.flickr.com/photos/95516223@N08/sets/72157645484732369/

 

 


ASSIGNMENT FOR THE TEACHERS

At one of the many headstones with the inscription, "Gone but not forgotten," the teachers were given their assignment... Teach your students about these miners who fueled the industrial revolution, ended convict leasing in Tennessee, and made working conditions safer for miners today as a way of validating the inscriptions on their headstones.

Writer Travis Loller of the Associated Press (second from right)
joined us on our adventure today...
Pictured here at the area of the Fraterville Mine portal.


Teachers visited the graves of
Condy and Powell Harmon
in Longfield Cemetery

 

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