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William H. Berge Oral History Center Coal Company Towns Project Interview with Vestil Perry October 25, 1981(1982oh035) Conducted by Anna Perry Transcribed by Laurie Wilcox

ANNA PERRY: The following is an unrehearsed taped interview with Vestil Perry retired factory worker. The interview was conducted by Anna Perry, a student of oral history for the Oral History Center of Eastern Kentucky University. The interview was conducted at Whitley City, Kentucky on the 25th of October at 2pm.


ANNA: First I want to thank you for the interview really for letting me tape it. What is your given name, your real name?

VESTIL PERRY: Vestil Perry.

ANNA: How do you spell that?


ANNA: V-E-S-T-I-L [tape interference]. You mind telling me when you was born?

VESTIL: Third day of June 1919.

ANNA: Where were you born?

VESTIL: Kettle Lila, Kentucky.

ANNA: Where's that?

VESTIL: That's in Bell county about six miles out of Pineville.


ANNA: Oh okay. What was your daddy's name?

VESTIL: Ester Perry.

ANNA: How do you spell that?


ANNA: And what was your mother's name?

VESTIL: Sadie.

ANNA: What was her maiden name?

VESTIL: Hatmaker.

ANNA: Do you know where they were born?

VESTIL: Let's see Dad was born hear in McCreary County and mom was born in Coal Creek Tennessee.

ANNA: Do you, when did you move to uh Creech's?

VESTIL: Oh see now I can't recall that date.

ANNA: About how old were you?

VESTIL: Oh I was about six years old.

ANNA: Do you remember why he moved up there?

VESTIL: Yeah Dad left McCreary County because he didn't have any unions to get 2:00better wages.

ANNA: Where did he work?

VESTIL: When he left there?

ANNA: [unclear]

VESTIL: This mines worked out now. He worked in the mine [unclear] creek behind the church.

ANNA: It was a coal mine, right?

VESTIL: Yeah it was a coal mine. It wasn't company one see.

ANNA: And then he went to work up at?

VESTIL: Creech's coal company.

ANNA: How do you spell Creechs?


ANNA: Was the man that owned the coal mine was his name Creech?

VESTIL: Yes, R. W. Creech.

ANNA: Do, can you remember moving up there?

VESTIL: No I can't recall moving.

ANNA: What's what's the first thing you remember about up there?

VESTIL: Starting school that's when I was six years old.

ANNA: Can you remember the school house?

VESTIL: Yeah it was a mining school. At that time there was only three rooms.

ANNA: How many grades?

VESTIL: Up to the eighth grade.

ANNA: And well were there three teachers?


VESTIL: Yeah they had this man and his wife and another teacher. Professor Spurlock and his wife and a woman by the name of Little taught some.

ANNA: Do you remember which on taught you in the first grade?

VESTIL: Miss Little.

ANNA: Was there just first grade in your room or was there more than one grade?

VESTIL: There was more than on grade. I think she taught up to the fourth grade.

ANNA: In the same room?


ANNA: I be that was fun. You learned your lessons and theirs too

VESTIL: Yeah. [laughing]

ANNA: Can you remember what some of the things you used to do like at recess.

VESTIL: Well mostly we just played ball, tag, anything. Then we had a set of swings, wrap around swings they called them. Played on that

ANNA: Did you eat lunch at school?

VESTIL: No I went home for lunch. The rest of them did but I wanted to go home.


ANNA: Do you remember exactly where you lived? Did you live in company houses?

VESTIL: Yeah up in a place called Shotgun Holler.

ANNA: You lived up there; you lived next to than Truman didn't you?


ANNA: Cause he said he was born in Shotgun Holler. Where there many houses in Shotgun Holler?

VESTIL: Yes there was about uh, well at least twenty houses or more. There was two rows and then farther up the road run right beside the mountain.

ANNA: Oh okay. I never been out there and I'd like to go.

VESTIL: You'd never be able to make it now. I've been up there, it's all grown up you can't tell where it was.

ANNA: How old were you when uh when you left Creech's?

VESTIL: Let's see I was 21.

ANNA: Oh so you were there for a good while.

VESTIL: Yeah I left there when I was drafted in the service, 1941.


ANNA: Well then you went to the school there through the eighth grade.

VESTIL: Yeah I went to the eighth grade there then I went to Wallins Creek to High school in Wallins Creek.

ANNA: Do you remember, I guess you started dating up there didn't you?


ANNA: Do you remember how old you were when you first started dating?

VESTIL: No I don't I'd say about 15.

ANNA: How old was the girl?

VESTIL: She was about the same age as me.

ANNA: Do you remember who she was?

VESTIL: Yeah. Mabel McKnight.

ANNA: Where did you take her?

VESTIL: Well car mostly, there wasn't many places to go but the theater.

ANNA: Did they have a church at Creech's?

VESTIL: Yeah they had two of them they had a Baptist and a Holiness church.

ANNA: I know one thing I wanted to clear up, Creech's post office was called Twila.


VESTIL: Twila Kentucky.

ANNA: And that's T-W-I-L-A.


ANNA: Did you go to church?

VESTIL: No. Only to pick up a date. [laughing]

ANNA: That's quite a bit there. Do you remember when your Daddy was; when he first started working in the mines? Do you remember uh when the mines union met?

VESTIL: No not when they first come there.

ANNA: About what year did the union come in?

VESTIL: I'd say the union comes in about uh '37.

ANNA: Do you remember that?

VESTIL: Yeah I do.

ANNA: Did they just come in and form a union or?

VESTIL: No they had quite a bit of union trouble, There was quite a few people 7:00fired and then they, they thought they'd broke the union and then they reorganized. Then in about the year '36 or '37 they come on strong and got they first union contract. I'd say Creech's went union about 1936, either '36 or '37.

ANNA: Well was your daddy a union man?


ANNA: Did, did they picket or what, what, how did they, what did they do when they tried to get the union?

VESTIL: Well they come out on strike and had picket lines up to keep people from going to work.

ANNA: Did your daddy ever run into trouble when he was on the picket line?

VESTIL: No see my father at the time, see he'd got his back broke in the mine; he was a guard there in the mine. So the guards never did come out on strike.

ANNA: Oh okay. When, when did he get his back broke, about?

VESTIL: Let's see, I'd say about uh 1928.

ANNA: Can you remember how that happened?

VESTIL: Yeah it was a rock fall.


ANNA: Was he digging coal or was he outside?

VESTIL: Yeah. No he was inside. He was digging coal.

ANNA: Can you remember when that, did you find out about it; was he already out of the mines? Or how did you find out about it?

VESTIL: Well they'd already had him to the hospital when, they'd taken to Harlan to hospital then.

ANNA: Did you all have a telephone to call anyone?

VESTIL: No. we didn't have any phones. The only ones who had phones were the superintendents and the coal operators.

ANNA: What did somebody came in the house?

VESTIL: Yeah, told her.

ANNA: Do you remember who come to tell your momma about it?

VESTIL: Ellen Birk.

ANNA: Were you there?


ANNA: I guess it scared your momma to death didn't it?

VESTIL: Yeah I guess.

ANNA: Did you ever work in the mines?

VESTIL: Yes. Creech Coal Company. Last place I worked was in '47 in Blue 9:00Diamond, last coal mine I worked.

ANNA: How old were you when you started working at Creech's?

VESTIL: I'd say around 17.

ANNA: What's it like to work, you know to work in a coal mine?

VESTIL: Well at the time I was glad to get to go to work. It wasn't bad it was just dark and damp and wet was all, then I can recall more than anything else.

ANNA: What did you do, did you dig the coal or?

VESTIL: At first I started breaking coal then I went to breaking.

ANNA: What's that?

VESTIL: Coupling they called it.

ANNA: I don't.

VESTIL: Setting cars in for the others to load.

ANNA: Oh okay.

VESTIL: And pulling them out after they load. Working with the motor crew.

ANNA: Okay. One of your one of your uncles got hit with, run over by a motor is that right?

VESTIL: See I don't know about that. See I went to work with Uncle Raymond, he's 10:00the one taken me in. See my mother and father signed for me and I had to work with him because I didn't know anything about mining and he told me the safety rules. So I worked with him until I got on the breaker. And he told me to take that breaking job, it was a lot easier and it was safer at that time the ways the mines were crumbling in.

ANNA: So then how long did you work for Creech's?

VESTIL: Until 1941 when I went in the service. And then when I come out of service I didn't go back to Creech's coal company I went to Blue Diamond Coal Company in Inzlo, Kentucky.

ANNA: What, where is that again?

VESTIL: It's in Bell County just across the line from Harlan.

ANNA: I've heard of Blue Diamond Coal Company, I don't know why. Were there any 11:00accidents while you were working in the mines?

VESTIL: None that I can recall.

ANNA: Was it pretty safe?

VESTIL: Well at that time it really wasn't too safe but uh. . . The night, the night after I quit and went in the service there was two men got killed. The day before I left for service.

ANNA: How'd that happen?

VESTIL: In a rock fall.

ANNA: Was that the most common accident?

VESTIL: Yeah, usually that was most common a rock fall.

ANNA: Is that like the roof comes in?

VESTIL: The roof caves in.

ANNA: Was that because maybe the timbers weren't strong enough or?

VESTIL: Yeah timbers wouldn't be string enough. Or they'd get the room too wide and they wouldn't have no cross beam and it would fall from the center.

ANNA: How many of your family worked in the mines.

VESTIL: In my family there were three of us. My father and brother.

ANNA: What about your father's brothers?

VESTIL: Oh my fathers brothers?

ANNA: Um hm. Did they work in the mine?

VESTIL: Yeah, they they all worked in the mines. He had two brothers that worked 12:00there in Creech's Raymond, and Roy, three of them Raymond and Roy and Laurence.

ANNA: You had brothers and sisters?


ANNA: How many?

VESTIL: I have two brothers and two sisters.

ANNA: What are their names?

VESTIL: Eunice, and Weldie and Christial.

ANNA: You want to spell those for me? Eunice

VESTIL: Eunice, E-U-N-I-C-E.

ANNA: And Weldie?

VESTIL: And Weldie, W-E-L-D-I-E and Christial C-H-R-I-S-T-I-A-L.

ANNA: And what are the brothers?

VESTIL: E. C., Estil Clayton.

ANNA: Is that E-S-T-I-L?


VESTIL: E-S-T-I-L C-L-A-Y-T-O-N and Othel.



ANNA: Are they older than you are and younger, are you in the middle?

VESTIL: Yeah I'm the middle, Othel's younger and E. C. was the oldest.

ANNA: I know Weldie and Christial are gong to kill you for this but are they older than you are?

VESTIL: No. [laughing] Weldie is the youngest and Chris is next to me.

ANNA: Okay, You wouldn't dare admit it if they were older than you.

VESTIL: She's two year. See Chris is eighteen months younger than I am.

ANNA: Did they all grow up in?

VESTIL: Creech's yeah.

ANNA: Can you remember what you all used to do?

VESTIL: There really wasn't much to do in the coal camp. There was a town down 14:00there was Wallins Creek had a theater and a country kitchen and a candy kitchen. So that's about the only place for us to go.

ANNA: Well when you were like eight and nine you didn't get to go down there much?

VESTIL: No. Then there wasn't anything to do but play in the mountains, make swings, chase ground squirrel.

ANNA: Do you ever remember any trouble, trouble in the mining camp?

VESTIL: No only just the kids. One camp used to fight the other one as kids, Just ganged up and had little gang fights. We used to go to number two to fight with them and they would comer up the next weekend to fight with us. [laughter -- Anna]

ANNA: Did anybody ever get hurt?

VESTIL: No just little bloody noses.

ANNA: What about your mother's people, the Hatmakers did they ah?

VESTIL: Well them I didn't know too much about them.

ANNA: Well did your mom work at home or mostly just stay at home or?


VESTIL: Yeah mostly just stayed home kept up the house keep.

ANNA: Were your, you'd remember I suppose some of the younger ones were they born in a hospital or were they born at home?

VESTIL: They were born at home.

ANNA: Did they have a camp doctor?


ANNA: Do you remember his name?

VESTIL: Dr. Percival.

ANNA: How do you spell that?

VESTIL: I don't know how do you spell that?

ANNA: He don't know either.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's when mommy uh she was his housekeeper.


T: And then she met Daddy.

ANNA: did that's oh was this your mothers sister, was the doctors housekeeper?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Three brothers married three sisters.

ANNA: So do you remember much about when your dad worked in the mines?

VESTIL: Not too much.

ANNA: So he got hurt?

VESTIL: Yeah he got hurt early. I was only about six or eight years old when he 16:00got hurt. I'd say he got hurt about '28 or '29.

ANNA: And the mines were already union when you went to work.

VESTIL: Yeah when I went to work.

ANNA: Do you remember how much you got paid when you started?

VESTIL: Oh I think I made around $4 a day.

ANNA: That was pretty good money back then wasn't it?

VESTIL: Yeah it was in '41.

ANNA: Well did you pay anything out of that, you know like health?

VESTIL: Yeah you had to pay the doctor and school fund, union; no you didn't cut union dues out of the office. You paid them out of your pocket.

ANNA: But you was cut for the doctor.

VESTIL: Doctor and school fund union they didn't cut union dues since you paid them out of your pocket.

ANNA: How much money did they cut for the school?

VESTIL: I think they cut $2 a month for each person that worked there.

ANNA: Did they have a store there at Creech's.

VESTIL: Yeah had a commissary, combination hardware, grocery, furniture.


ANNA: Did you live anywhere in Creech's other than Shot gun Holler?

VESTIL: Yes we moved, we moved out of camp in 1929 to a place called number one. Ford's company worked out. Creech's coal company bought the houses and we moved down there and stayed till after the Depression and we moved back after the Depression.

ANNA: Did you move back to Shotgun Holler?

VESTIL: No we moved to a place called Chewing Gum.

ANNA: Where was this number one outside the camp was it?

VESTIL: It was about two miles from Creech Coal Company. They had two camps that worked at. One called number one and one called number two and Creech bought their homes.

ANNA: Were they towards uh.

VESTIL: Wallins Creek. Up towards Wallins. Between Wallins and Creech Coal Camp.

ANNA: Was there anything up, you come out of Wallins Creek go and Creech's was 18:00above Wallins Creek then if you went through Creech's was there anything?

VESTIL: Nothing, no that was the last mine. You had number One, and then Kentucky King, then number Two Coal Company then Creech Coal Company and that was the last.

ANNA: What was it second; number one and what was Kentucky what?

VESTIL: Kentucky King Coal Company.

ANNA: Was it, was it worked out? I've never heard of it.

VESTIL: No it was still working. Number one and number two, the two Ford Companies they'd closed their mines down.

ANNA: But somebody else, Creech didn't own this Kentucky.

VESTIL: No he didn't own it. It was owned by some outfit in Middlesboro.

ANNA: Can you remember any, playing any jokes on people you worked with in the 19:00mines or your Uncle Raymond play any jokes while he was working?

VESTIL: No not too much in the mines.

ANNA: Just went to work, how long did you work a day? How many hours a day?

VESTIL: We didn't have a quitting time; we worked what you called clean up. When you got your room ready for another cut. And that was called cleaning up. Some got to quit early and others had to work late according to if you goofed around you might be in there for eight hours. Some of them would get out less than that and some would work twelve hours. They worked until they got the room ready for the next shift.

ANNA: Okay so you weren't paid by the hour?

VESTIL: No not when I'd load coal. But now when it was breaking I got 63 cents an hour. I believe it was 63.

ANNA: Was that better pay or was that worse pay?

VESTIL: Well some of them thought it was better and others would make more by 20:00loading coal. But I wasn't heavy enough to load much coal so it paid better for me.

ANNA: So it just depend on how much coal you could load than?

VESTIL: Yeah how many tons you could shovel in a day.

ANNA: So if you were loading coal you was paid by the ton?

VESTIL: Yeah you was paid by the ton. Like I came and called him after we got a ton.

ANNA: You didn't work very long inside then mine you worked mostly on the carts.

VESTIL: No my work was inside all the time. I was gathered and taken empties to the loader and pull them out.

ANNA: Okay so you took the cars into the mines.

VESTIL: We stayed in. We were never out until quitting time. And later on then they got the eight hour shift I think. They'd run a mine trip at a certain time, I'd say about a year after I worked.

ANNA: I guess you got a pretty good bit of coal dust on you?

VESTIL: Yeah it was dusty in there.

ANNA: Did you have any showers or anything outside the mine?


VESTIL: Yeah we had a bath house and that was another thing they cut you for, if you used the bathhouse. I thing that was a dollar a month. But most of them just had a tub at home didn't use the bathhouse.

ANNA: Did they have the bathhouse, do you remember, if they had it when your daddy first started working in the mines or did that come later?

VESTIL: No they had it then. That, bath house and the boarding house was together. They had it on account of the ones that boarded there but anyone could use it though if they wanted to pay for it.

ANNA: Was it close to the mine entrance or?

VESTIL: No it was, well they had two of them. One set, well one of them was close to the landing where you'd come off but the other one was down mostly in camp next to the tipple.

ANNA: When you was a kid did you ever play in the mines?

VESTIL: No, usually didn't play in them.

ANNA: Did they have signs up, the owners or was it just your parents?

VESTIL: No they had guards there, to keep you out of it. Keep from going up 22:00there on Sundays. We used to go up there tried to play with them motors but we'd always got chased off.

ANNA: Well I guess you could have got hurt real bad on them motors. Why don't you tell me some more about dating?

VESTIL: About what?

ANNA: Dating.

VESTIL: Wasn't much to that.

ANNA: Were there a lot of girls?

VESTIL: Yeah there was quite a few girls. Each coal camp, but you was taking a chance getting your head beat in if you dated a girl from another camp.

ANNA: Oh they didn't like it if somebody?

VESTIL: They didn't like it no.

ANNA: Were what were you all that way if somebody came in from outside?

VESTIL: Yep same way. They'd get chased too.

ANNA: Can you remember ever getting into trouble because you wanted to date a girl from another camp?

VESTIL: No but I can remember my brother getting throwed in the creek swimming 23:00hole over it.

ANNA: Tell me about it.

VESTIL: Well the National Guard had moved in there to guard them strike breakers and so this girl she had been dating a national guard and after they left they said anyone that'd ever dated her they were going to work them over. So he was taking her home from church and they got him and threw him in the creek one winter day. And they stop that girl from dating I've heard.

ANNA: Did he get even with them?

VESTIL: No he couldn't get even with them it was men he worked with.

ANNA: Was there any trouble when the National Guard was in there protecting the strike breakers?

VESTIL: Not a Creech coal company, he never used them. He just let his men come 24:00out. They didn't even have to picket a picket line there because when they was on strike he told them that was it he just did not; want no trouble. And yeah there was trouble down here. I had one friend Dot Conwell he was employed in Creech's most of his life and he quit and went top Lou Ellen, Mary Helen, and the National guards killed him.

ANNA: How did they kill him?

VESTIL: They shot him when he was on the picket line.

ANNA: You mean he wasn't doing anything he was just on picket?

VESTIL: He pulled a pole off of a motor to keep from pulling the man trip in keep from taking them in, they shot him.

ANNA: Okay what he did, he disabled the cars and.

VESTIL: Yeah and just taking the electric from it when he pulled it loose.

ANNA: Well did they ever do anything about it?

VESTIL: Yeah they killed the guy that killed him, the pickets did. And shot the Captain, I think the captain lived though.

ANNA: But there never was any trouble over a Creech's?

VESTIL: Never was any there, not over strikes.

ANNA: Well then Mr. Creech then, he didn't really mind the union that bad?

VESTIL: He was, he was a snake in the grass. When it all come out that he was 25:00the president of that outfit that was hiring all them gun thugs to kill the miners but he was treating his men right to throw suspicion off of him. But when the FBI came in there they found out he was president of it. He was a main leader in it but he was treating the other men right to throw suspicion off him. Nobody thought he was ever involved in it.

ANNA: What was this like a group of mine owners?

VESTIL: Yeah. They go together and hired gun thugs, they called them.

ANNA: Yeah.

VESTIL: To shoot the union men. And when it all came out he was the president of it but nobody knew it at that time till the FBI men come in.

ANNA: So he kept them out of like Creech's and Twila?


ANNA: They weren't in there.

VESTIL: He didn't hire any out there but he was president out there at Harlan.

ANNA: I didn't know that. Who is, who was Mr. Reynolds?


VESTIL: He was part owner of Creech's Coal Company. He and Creechs owned it together.

ANNA: Do you remember anything about them getting together and playing music or anything ?

VESTIL: Yeah I recall that very well.

ANNA: Well was that mostly miners or was that your kids?

VESTIL: Well my uncle Raymond and Roy they played music. And they played for that Mr. Reynolds, he loved music, so they had parties at his house, also they'd play up at the house on Saturday nights. Usually on Saturday nights they'd all get together and play. But most time they played at Mr. Reynolds home.

ANNA: Did uh did, your uncles, did they own their instruments or did they?

VESTIL: Yeah. I think Mr. Reynolds bought, I know he bought Raymond's banjo for 27:00him and I don't know I can't tell if he bought Roy's instrument or not. I know he bought that banjo for Raymond. And I think didn't Raymond and Aunt Bonnie stay with them a while didn't he.


ANNA: About what year would that or did it just cover the whole time?

VESTIL: I don't know, yeah I don't know the year they got married in.

ANNA: About what year would it be that you can remember when they used to play music?

VESTIL: Oh in the thirties, in the early thirties.

ANNA: When they used to play at your house on a Saturday night, did they did they ever drink any?

VESTIL: No. They very seldom ever drink.

ANNA: Was there much drinking in the mining camp?

VESTIL: Yeah they used to make their home brew their own beers. Yeah there was quit a bit of drinking in all the mining camps.

ANNA: Was there much fighting when they?

VESTIL: No. Not a Creech Coal Company I never did know one deliberately killed. 28:00I know a couple that was killed accidentally. And I don't think either one of them when it happened was drinking.

ANNA: What kind what kind of accidents?

VESTIL: Guns, like guns go off.

ANNA: Like cleaning?

VESTIL: No. One man was showing another man a gun in the store. It was a clerk by the name of Seals and had it go off and kill John Cox. And Frank Beard, the barber, he had a gun and let it go off and killed him and that was the only two I know killed in eh camp with guns.

ANNA: So all this stuff you hear about how tough and rough it is in a mining camp is not necessarily true huh?

VESTIL: Well not a Creech's. We had some people worked at Creech's got killed 29:00outside the camp. Now I'm talking about right in the camp that lived you know neighbors that lived right nest door to each other. They had quite a few killed in Wallins Creek that worked at Creech's. There was one place they called Dead Man's Corner, where quite a few killed around. Where they'd all set to talk and all that and have gun fights.

ANNA: Would just about everybody go down to Wallins Creek when they wanted to go somewhere?

VESTIL: Yeah on Saturday nights and Friday nights it was loaded. They had beer joints there. So that was where they all go drink their beer.

ANNA: Did you ever take any of your girls down there dancing or anything?

VESTIL: There wasn't any dancehalls. There was a skating rink but I can't recall any dance halls.

ANNA: Did you have a car when you were dating?

VESTIL: No, No we most of the time walked.

ANNA: How far was it to Wallins Creek?

VESTIL: About five miles.

ANNA: Did you walk to Wallins Creek?



ANNA: You were telling me, about taking, taking your cousin Truman on a date with you, tell me about it.

VESTIL: Well I was going with this girl from Kitts Kentucky. Well I was getting tired of going up there so she had to come down to see me. So she'd come down every Saturday night and Truman spent the night with me so we taking him out with us. So he was setting out on front and he was going to get some popcorn and I believe I told him as soon as he gets back ask her what makes her breasts so big. And instead of saying breasts he said what makes her titties so big [laughter].

ANNA: What did she say?

VESTIL: I don't think she answered him.

ANNA: [laughing] Did she smack you?

VESTIL: [laughing] No.

ANNA: You was telling me about this McKnight girl. Is that her name?


ANNA: How long did you date her?

VESTIL: Oh about five or six, no see I dated her about two years. And then uh 31:00they caught us in bed together and made us get married. [laughter]

ANNA: Who caught you?

VESTIL: Her mother and father.

ANNA: Well at least they didn't shoot you.

VESTIL: No they, they let me go home. First they made me stay there two days, I believe.

ANNA: They made you, at their house?

VESTIL: Yeah Dad and Mom.

ANNA: How did they do that?

VESTIL: They was, they told me not to get out. Dad and Mom were on vacation, they was down at my uncles, so I stayed over them two day and then went on home. And then about two weeks later we got married.

ANNA: Well did they uh they tell you they was going to shoot you if you didn't marry her or did they just say they though it would be best or what?

VESTIL: They just said they thought it would be best if I stayed in till they 32:00figured out what they was going to do [laughter].

ANNA: And they figured out that you all ought to get married right?


ANNA: How long did you stay married?

VESTIL: Oh about six months I guess.

ANNA: Did you divorce her or did she divorce you?

VESTIL: I divorced her. We never did live together.

ANNA: How old were you then?

VESTIL: About seventeen or sixteen I'd say. Sixteen yeah.

ANNA: Okay so when you got divorced you didn't leave, you still were there at Creech's?


ANNA: Cause you said you still were there till you were 21.

VESTIL: I was 21 when I left.

ANNA: Well is that when you went to work for the coal mines, when you got married or was you already working?

VESTIL: No I worked for [unclear]. That was after we was divorced before I went 33:00to work. I went to work just before my eighteenth birthday. Cause I remember Dad and Mother they had to sign four me before they let me go in. Mother and father had to sign for you then you had to get someone who was willing to take you in and take the responsibility before the company would let you work for them.

ANNA: That was if you were what under 18?

VESTIL: If you was under, I imagine it was 21 now I don't know I think they sign up anyone under 21 years of age.

ANNA: Probably.

VESTIL: Because that was safety. They hadn't got organized, they was pretty well organized then.

ANNA: Before the union come in did they or do you know if they had to sign?

VESTIL: Yeah I think I believe they had to still to sign. The parents had to sign and release the company because there were no state compensation, I don't think, at that time. To keep the company from being sued if the person got killed or hurt.

ANNA: Um, you said you went to school at Wallins Creek, how did you get to Wallins Creek to go to school?

VESTIL: A bus run. You had to ride the bus or you could ride a cab, one. We had 34:00to ride a cab I think the first year. The second year the bus run so we rode the bus from Creechs to Wallins.

ANNA: Do you remember how many there were in Creech's going to school in Wallins Creek?

VESTIL: I'd say there was about 25 to 30 of from Creech's. And each coal camp they'd stop and pick up more. They had to make two runs daily. Two runs in the morning and two runs in the afternoon. There was two bus loads by the time we got to Wallins Creek.

ANNA: So then Wallins Creek had pretty good, pretty large high school.

VESTIL: Yeah, pretty good size. It had a gym, which other camps didn't have. Our basketball was played on dirt. If you had to play at Wallins after you got in high school you could play in the gym, they wouldn't let know grade schools play. Only in tournaments, they were allowed to play tournaments there.

ANNA: Well did you have, at Creech's, did you have an like eighth grade basketball team at Creech's?

VESTIL: Yeah. Had girls and boys both but it was on a dirt court.


ANNA: Outside?

VESTIL: Yeah outside court. It had, they'd plow it and then roll it. Put a roller and water on it and it made it just like cement. [unclear]

ANNA: [laughing]

VESTIL: Once you got it rolled out.

ANNA: [unclear] What did you play like other camp schools?

VESTIL: Other coal camps yeah.

ANNA: Did you play any?

VESTIL: Yeah I played basketball. I played basketball as far back as I can remember. In fact after when I went to high school I didn't make the team there.

ANNA: Did Creech's ever enter the tournaments when you was playing?

VESTIL: Yes they had tournaments every year but uh they never won a state tournament. But they twice when I remember they got to go to the state tournament.

ANNA: That's pretty good for a small, small school.


VESTIL: Well Creech's coal company it was one of the large coal company.

ANNA: About how many were there?

VESTIL: I'd say they employed about 300 people. They had two mines worked at one time. Here in '40. I'd say well it was the biggest coal company up around Wallins Creek. It had more people than Fiord's or Kentucky King. Benham and Lynch they employed more people and the section of Creechs was large.

ANNA: Did they, did you have any other? I've heard somebody else talk about playing softball and baseball. Was that the miners?

VESTIL: Yeah they had, the miners had a baseball team. They'd go to other camps 37:00and play too. Every other Sunday they played at home, the other Sunday they was away. They'd go to [unclear] or Cheverly or Blue Heron or some other coal company to play then every other Sunday they had a game at home. And then later on they put up a ballpark at the place called number one. They put up a regular stadium there. But they started charging people and it fell through. No one would go when they had to pay so it went flop on them.

ANNA: Where did they play before they got the stadium?

VESTIL: In a place at the bottom called [Harko Gride?] Bottom.

ANNA: Did they lay off the field or just put down?

VESTIL: They just had a large bottom. They laid off the field and they just put down bases for you to mount.

ANNA: Did just about everybody go to the ball games?


ANNA: How about the basketball games, did most of the camp go?

VESTIL: Yeah they had a crowd. Most of the people they supported the basketball 38:00team. And if you played Black Star you didn't go by bus you had to walk across the mountain. You'd walk over there and play long and walk back across that mountain. [laughing]

ANNA: [laughing] How far was it?

VESTIL: I'd say it was about three miles across that mountain.

ANNA: You'd go up the mountain and down the other side. . .

VESTIL: Down the other side into another coal camp.

ANNA: Well then how long would you get to rest before you had to play?

VESTIL: If you beat them you had to leave pretty quick. [laughter] Cause there was going to be a fight. If you lost you could take your time.

ANNA: But if you lost you didn't want to take your time, you wanted to get out if there.

VESTIL: No if you won you had to get out fast because it would always start a fight.

ANNA: Well did you usually make it out pretty, pretty good?

VESTIL: Yeah I always got a head start on them if I'd seen they was losing.

ANNA: I say if you needed to get out you got out.

VESTIL: Yeah if we seen if we seen we was winning we always, we would leave, the 39:00game was over there'd be four or five of us, we'd just take off up the mountain.

ANNA: Well that's one thing about having the field, the basketball court outside.

VESTIL: Yeah and plus that you'd leave other staff to leave to carry the equipment too. [laughing] You got away quick.

ANNA: Oh I forgot about that that you had to carry your stuff.

VESTIL: Yeah you had to carry your balls and everything and uniforms with you. So we'd usually just run back across the mountain and come on home.

ANNA: Was there a road across the mountain or just a footpath?

VESTIL: No there wasn't any, you just made your own way up one side and down the other you didn't have to fallow no trail. Because the way the mountain run when you got top it dropped over you had to come out in there camp. Coming back it was the same thing coming across the mountain it didn't make a difference where you come across at you'd ended up in Creech's.

ANNA: Oh so you didn't really need a path you just [unclear].

VESTIL: No you really didn't have to follow no paths.

ANNA: Was it, was the mountain wooded, you know was there a lot of trees?

VESTIL: Yeah it was wooded and rough too. It was a large mountain.

ANNA: I've heard of Black Star but I didn't know what it was.


VESTIL: Well it come through Bell county. You had to go, if you went the highway you had to go through Bell County to it. But then it'd come like in a circle and they it'd come back up in Harlan county.

ANNA: So it really was just a mine on the other side of the mountain.

VESTIL: A mine on the other side of the mountain was all it was.

ANNA: After you'd gotten divorced did uh did you start dating right away?


ANNA: Didn't, didn't learn anything huh?

VESTIL: No not too much.

ANNA: When you were younger, when you were six and seven when you first moved to Creech, did you all have a radio?

VESTIL: Yes I remember when the first radio we had was a Majestic. There wasn't 41:00very few radios in Saturday night everybody would gather in at the house to get to hear the radio.

ANNA: What did you listed to, do you remember?

VESTIL: Mostly Grand Ole Opry.

ANNA: Did you have a record player?

VESTIL: [laughing] Yeah we had a record player. And I think the first record player I can remember was RCA.

ANNA: Can you remember any, your favorite record was?

VESTIL: No I just listen to what Dad and them had in, mostly them uh it was Carter family and mostly fiddling and [unclear] banjos [unclear] and a bunch of fiddlers.

ANNA: Were there a lot of cars in the mining camp? Did very many people own cars when you were first?

VESTIL: No. There wasn't too many cars there. When I first went there, there 42:00wasn't no highway. They run a passenger train. They run it for years after I lived down there after, I don't know how man years but before the highway came through Creech's had their own passenger train.

ANNA: Oh so there wasn't a road at al from Wallins to Creech's?

VESTIL: Yeah he rode it from Wallins to Creech's.

ANNA: Can you remember when they when they built the roads?

VESTIL: Well I'd say they built that road, I'd say about 1930.

ANNA: Can you remember the first cars that come into Creech's, that you saw?

VESTIL: The first on I can recall let see. I guess the first on I recall the doctor had it.

ANNA: That doctor Percival?

VESTIL: Doctor Percival, we all [unclear]. I remember the name. I know him and 43:00his wife both had cars, and that's the first one I can recall. You know to be in to look at it. Then after they got the road paved then there was quite a few people who bought cars. And after '37 there was quite a few cars up there. About anyone owned a car.

ANNA: Did you ever own a car before you went into the army?


ANNA: Did your dad [Sound Malfunction]?


ANNA: That's right his back was hurt.

VESTIL: My brother, he did. Me and him bought one together but he had taken it over. I was selling papers, I was just helping make payments on it and he got the car.

ANNA: How old were you?

VESTIL: At that time I was about 14, 12 to 14.

ANNA: And you had a paper route?

VESTIL: Yeah I had a paper route.

ANNA: Well what paper was it?

VESTIL: The Knoxville Sentinel. Delivered it during the day and it came once a week.

ANNA: Which brother was this, would this be E. C.?

VESTIL: Yeah, that was E. C. and he went to work in the mines when he was about 17.

ANNA: Was he working in the mines when you all bought the car?



ANNA: Did he ever let you use it?

VESTIL: When I'd put gas in it he'd take me out every once in a while, but that's about the only time when he was broke.

ANNA: Did he teach you to drive it?

VESTIL: No I wouldn't touch it.

ANNA: [laughing] Half your car huh, got to ride it? What kind of car was it?

VESTIL: It was some kind of convertible, it had the rumble seat. I can't remember. I believe it was Chevrolet though, if I'm not mistaken.

ANNA: What year would that be?

VESTIL: What year did the rumble seats come out in?

ANNA: Just a minute, if you were about 14. . . About 34, '36. . . Was it a new car?

VESTIL: No it was second hand.

ANNA: [unclear].

VESTIL: See it opened up in back. The top went down on this one but it still had 45:00that back seat too. Called them a roadster.

ANNA: Did you and E. C. ever work in the mines together? Same time?

VESTIL: Yeah, Creech coal company. When one mines worked out he went to Lu Ellen he worked up to, oh he come back to there in about '39. Come back to Creech coal company and went back to work with them.

ANNA: So he was working there when you started.

VESTIL: Not at Creech Coal Company, he was working at Lu Ellen when I went in the coal mines. He comes back right after I did.

ANNA: When he come back did he work inside, digging coal, I don't know what to call it, digging coal?

VESTIL: Yeah, he was loading coal.

ANNA: So he was working for so much a ton?


ANNA: And you were working for so much an hour.

VESTIL: So munch an hour.


ANNA: Did you ever get in any fights?

VESTIL: Oh quite a few fights. Every Saturday night I guess and sometimes during the week went to town often.

ANNA: What did you fight about?

VESTIL: Mostly just going to get together and arguments come up. Usually you was fighting with a boy right there in town you went to school with you know.

ANNA: Were you and your brother usually on the same side?

VESTIL: Brother never would fight. He was good starting them but he wasn't very much to end them. He'd start them then I'd have to fight and I'd usually end up getting whipped [laughing]

ANNA: [laughing] No one would take care of you after got hurt?

VESTIL: No. The next night he would start another one. But he never would fight 47:00then. But he'd argue quite a bit.

ANNA: Just get him mad huh?

VESTIL: Yeah he as always the main leader starting it.

ANNA: Did you ever do anything to make your sister's mad when you were little just for meanness?

VESTIL: [laughing] Yeah I did. Just tear their play houses down and their doll houses and they'd have, like the girls all go on a picnic and I'd throw rocks and rock them home. [laughter -- Anna]

ANNA: What did they do to you?

VESTIL: They'd mostly go home and tell on me.

ANNA: Did you get a whipping?

VESTIL: Yeah, dad or mom one time.

ANNA: Did, did your daddy spank you more or your momma?

VESTIL: I guess Dad did, mom we could talk her out of it, but you couldn't talk him out of it.

ANNA: Did you all have a garden when you was down there?

VESTIL: Yeah always had a garden.

ANNA: Did you have any cow, and chicken?


VESTIL: Yeah we usually kept a cow. Most time had chickens, not always.

ANNA: Did you work in the garden when you was little?

VESTIL: Yeah we'd all have to in the garden.

ANNA: Would that be after school?


ANNA: Did you have to milk the cow before you went to school?

VESTIL: No I never did milk the cow. My brother did that, Othel. He always wanted to do the milking so we let him we let him have at it, he was a milker.

ANNA: He liked to milk?

VESTIL: Yeah him and Mom they done the milking.

ANNA: Did your momma can, put stuff up?

VESTIL: Yeah we lived on that stuff we had a place called it the cellar. Put all canned stuff in the cellar.

ANNA: Was it under the hose?


ANNA: Did you all have running water in the hose when you were young?

VESTIL: No. No we never had no running water at Creech's, not at Creech camp. I 49:00guess some of the homes might have had it but, I mean we didn't.

ANNA: Did you have well or a pump or?

VESTIL: Most of the time we had a well.

ANNA: Would it be like in your back yard?

VESTIL: No it always set out and cemented in where they'd dig and cement and make a well. But it never have one in the yard it was always us set out to where everybody could use it, really.

ANNA: Oh okay.

VESTIL: Not just one family, all of them could. And the miners always got their water out of it going to work. Come to that well and get their water.

ANNA: About how far was it that you carried the water from the?

VESTIL: Oh it was about a block, it was close. Both places we lived it was close to that.

UM: [unclear]

VESTIL: Um hm.

ANNA: Did your daddy or your momma make?

VESTIL: My daddy used to make the kraut and everybody used to cut cabbage, then you put a rock over it to hold it down.

ANNA: What did they put it in?

VESTIL: In a big crock they called it. You'd make uh home brew in the summer in 50:00it then kraut in the winter.

ANNA: Guess it made good kraut [laughing]


ANNA: Would you keep that in the in the cellar then?


ANNA: Did you put it in jars at all?

VESTIL: No, most of the time just leave it in the crock till it was time to make homebrew. You used the same crock for his home brew in the summer months. We wouldn't hardly make home brew in the winter months it was hard to keep the house warm enough for it to work they called it.

ANNA: Do you know how to make homebrew?

VESTIL: No it's not something that I have.

ANNA: I don't even know what goes in it.

VESTIL: You have to have malt syrup, well malt syrup and sugar and yeast. [unclear] now they've outlawed malt syrup, I don't think you can buy it anymore. Not in the state of Kentucky.

ANNA: What it made, what's malt?

VESTIL: It's uh something to make it work off, you get part of you alcohol from 51:00it, and your sugar. I think that's what you get the alcohol. I've seen Dad make it, He'd out it on the stove, boiling. It has to be boiled first and then poured in the crock.

ANNA: And it's supposed to be warm for it?

VESTIL: Yeah, and they when warm it starts working it would bubbling. And when it stopped bubbling we'd bottle I. If we bottled it too quick it'd burst the bottles. It would blow them up.

ANNA: Well what kind of bottles did he put it in?

VESTIL: That, they was called homebrew bottles.

ANNA: Oh you can buy bottles to put it in?

VESTIL: Buy bottles and cappers. At that time you could buy your cappers and your bottles and everything that was needed.

ANNA: What was this like the thirties, forties, thirties?

VESTIL: Yes in the thirties. Yeah our own homebrew was legal you could make it.

ANNA: Well did they sell the stuff to make it in the commissary?

VESTIL: In the commissary, yeah. You could buy all you wanted to. Quite a few 52:00people made it and sold it too. Still guys bootlegged they wasn't supposed to sell it but they did. But they didn't say anything to them, they was just selling homebrew.

ANNA: Anybody up around there, anybody around Creech's have a still making any harder than homebrew?

VESTIL: Yeah, John A. Saver. He had a moonshine still set up there in Rock Hollow and he's the only one in Creech's that I can remember that made booze.

ANNA: Did he work for the mines?

VESTIL: No he'd lost a leg when he was just a kid so he didn't work in the mines. So he made his living in bootlegging and driving cows.

ANNA: Did he did he make good corn liquor or did he make moonshine?

VESTIL: No he made good whiskey where you couldn't get poisoned on it. He had 53:00copper. And the Creech Coal Company I think furnished him with his first copper still. [laughing -- Anna] to keep the men from leaving the camp I guess to go other places to get it.

ANNA: Well they had good corn liquor.

VESTIL: Yeah. See Ted Creech see, they all drank. So I think he made his still and he paid him off in moonshine. Pretty sure he told they give him so much moonshine after he paid for the copper still.

ANNA: Ted Creech, would that be the son of R. W?

VESTIL: Son of R. W.

ANNA: Do you now id Creech's is it still in operation or is it worked out?

VESTIL: No it's been it's worked out in, oh, I'd say about '45, 1945.

ANNA: Well you said when you came back from the army you went to work in Blue Diamond. I guess it was worked out then?

VESTIL: No it was still working but they was paying better wages, you could make more money at Blue Diamond.

ANNA: Was it a larger mine?

VESTIL: No it wasn't as large as Creech mine. And I went over there because they 54:00needed men and they couldn't get them out there. And so they was paying more and you'd get about a dollar more a day if you'd go to work for them. So that's how come I goed to them instead of going back to Creech's.

ANNA: Were you drafted into the army?


ANNA: Had, had the Second World War started yet?

VESTIL: No I want in the Thirteenth of November and they started [laughing] the 7th of December.

ANNA: You went in just in time.

VESTIL: Just in time.

ANNA: Well when they drafted you did you have any idea [unclear] you were going to war?

VESTIL: No when they drafted, then was squawking they'd been drafted for a year 55:00and then they raised it to eighteen months. So we was squawking about the others only had to stay a year and we was going to have to stay eighteen months. But then after Pearl Harbor we knew we was in there for the duration so it didn't bother us too much.

ANNA: Did the draft anybody out of the coal mines after the war started?


ANNA: They did.

VESTIL: Yeah they run draft right on through till the war was over.

ANNA: I thought maybe the coal miners were exempt.

VESTIL: The older ones, you know ones with kids they didn't draft any of them, but all the single boys they were all drafted. Very few was kept out, I knew an electrician, the only one I knew was kept out on account of the draft.

ANNA: Yeah. I didn't know I thought maybe.

VESTIL: He was the only person who I ever knew [unclear] of the draft.

ANNA: So it wouldn't have made any difference when you started, before it started, you'd still been drafted.

VESTIL: No. But before the war I well when I was messed up. I went and slipped off and joined the army under the name Martin.

ANNA: I hadn't heard this tell me about it.

VESTIL: Stayed there and there was some old boys that went with me and they'd 56:00keep forget and call me Perry till one day they pinned one of them down and he rated on me. So they sent me back home.

ANNA: Well how would [unclear].

VESTIL: Well that was just after my shotgun wedding; I guess I was about 17.

ANNA: Is that the reason you?

VESTIL: Yeah that's why I joined the army.

ANNA: Did your ex-wife, after you and her go that divorce, did she stay in the coal camp too.


ANNA: Did you all get along?

VESTIL: Yeah we got along.

ANNA: What about her momma and daddy?

VESTIL: I never did get along with them. He was my boss down at the coal mine and I never did anything wrong.

ANNA: Did he try to make it hard on you?

VESTIL: No he couldn't then on account of the superintendent he was, he was superintendent, but the union wouldn't hold still for it and he knew not to try to do anything. He just never did speak or anything we could do to each other.

ANNA: Were you married when you was drafted?

VESTIL: No. No I was single then.


ANNA: Well I believe we're about to run out of tape again Rowdy. I want to thank you again for letting me tape you.

VESTIL: Well you're welcome anytime.

ANNA: I might If you don't mind I might need to talk to you again I know I know I didn't ask the right questions.

VESTIL: Okay. That's alright. Making me think more. That's why Roy was wanting to come over. See now Roy can tell you more about organizing and all than I can.

UM: He can tell you all the dirty stuff.

VESTIL: He can tell you all the dirty work they pulled.