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August 2021 Issue [Readings]

Which Side Are You On?


From interviews collected in On Dark and Bloody Ground, which will be published this month by West Virginia University Press.

grace jackson: In the days of prosperity, you know, those coal operators, they came in here and built themselves a fine hotel. And they brought in harlots by the carriage-full for them operators. Didn’t care about no religion or nothing. They say that there was no religion this side of Thurmond, nor no Sabbath either. Wasn’t uncommon to see five thousand dollars on the roulette wheel at one time. And if a man refused to pay up, why, they’d just shoot him in his tracks, yes they would. Nobody would even miss him in the morning, but there he’d be, floating facedown in the river. In 1912, they didn’t have a union in here at that time. The miners were in bondage. Many were killed all along Cabin Creek here, and some are buried in the graves here at Eskdale. They were striking. The governor of the state sent in the National Guard, which the union men called “yellow dogs.” The miners called them everything but a gentleman, because they was for the company, and against the men. They bodily threw the people out of their company houses, into all kinds of weather. They even threw one woman out of her house—she was a neighbor to my grandmother—who had just had a baby.

mandy grandma porter: In 1919, my brother, Ezra, was working over in Mingo, on the Tug River. Well, he was a real strong union man, and they was out to get him. One day, some men come along and started taking pictures of him, wanting to identify him later on, you know. Well, he was a brave man, and kind of funny too, and he just yelled at them and smiled, and said, come right ahead boys, I’d be happy to pose for you, and he looked right into their camera. Well, the next week he was getting on the train, and a car drove up that was filled with armed men. He took off to his house to get his gun, but they must have taken it or something, because it wasn’t there. He took off out the back door and up the hill, but they shot him. The bullet hit him in the leg and splintered the bone all up and down the length of it. He never did walk the same.

lana blizzard harlow: The companies would post guards up at the church, tell you if you could go in or not. They’d tell you if you could catch a train. If they thought you was going somewhere, spend your money, they’d beat you up, send you back where you come from. It was war. They was fighting and killing, the whole time we was growing up.

john wilburn: I had a man raise his gun on me, and I was looking right down the muzzle of his gun, and he shot, and the same instant I dropped down, and he killed the man behind me. I’m telling you, I was scared, real scared. There are some things that good Christians don’t remember having happened.

camden mcdornan: One fellow, I remember, he just hid under his cabin—it must have been for a week or so. We were all pretty nervous, you know. We’d just shoot at anything that moved. We didn’t want to surrender, but the troops was there, and they had a whole regiment of soldiers, and we just all figured that we had no choice. You know, you just can’t fight the U.S. government.

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August 2021

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