William H. Berge Oral History Center
Coal Company Towns Project
Interview with Lemmie Wright
April 20, 1982(1983 OH 049)
Conducted by William Berge
Transcribed by Lela Moore
Comments: There are no lead-in comments for this interview. An occasionalsqueaking sound can be heard in the background, possibly a rocking chair. An unidentified woman adds several remarks.
Those participating in the interview will be hereto designated with thefollowing initials: William Berge, WB; Lemmie Wright, LW
WB: Your name, Mr. Wright and tell me when you were born.
LW: L.A. Wright, born eighteen and ninety-one.
WB: Eighteen ninety-one?
WB: So that makes you about eighty-one, ninety-one?
LW: [mumbling] Yep ninety-one years.
WB: Where were you born?
LW: Little Crab, Tennessee.
WB: Where is that sir? What county?
LW: That's about twelve mile west of Jamestown, Tennessee.
WB: And what was your father's name?
LW: John L. Wright.
WB: And what was your mother's name?
WB: And what was her maiden name?
LW: She was a Claiborne.
WB: Claiborne, were they Tennessee people?
LW: Ah yes, Claibornes my, let me give you the history first of my father name.He was a my great grandfather was a full blooded German. He come from Germany.
WB: Was he born in Germany?
WB: Do you happen to know where?
LW: and he landed in North Carolina. Well, my grandfather growed up there and1:00married and moved to Tennessee.
WB: And that's when he met you, that's when he started living in Tennessee?
LW: Yes. That's, that's when we--
WB: What kind of work did your father do?
LW: A carpenter.
WB: He was a carpenter?
WB: Did he make, build, build the houses and things?
LW: Anything, yes he took planes and planed the lumber, the rough lumber, theydidn't have no planing built then. And tongue grooved the lime and sealed a house.
WB: Did you ever work with him at all?
WB: Did you learn that trade?
LW: No I never worked as a carpenter see, I started in the mines.
LW: William Siding.
WB: In Tennessee?
LW: No, in Kentucky.
WB: Oh, William Siding.
LW: See we left Tennessee in eighteen and ninety-eight. I was, I was seven years old.2:00
WB: Did you go to school at all when you were living in Tennessee?
LW: I went to second grade. Until, until--
WB: In Tennessee?
LW: Pulled me out the second grade.
WB: But you went in Tennessee then?
LW: Well, I went in Tennessee first, when I was a little boy, but the firstschool I went to was a log cabin. Had no floor in it.
WB: Do you remember the name of that school?
LW: Had one book, no, and the old blue back spelling is all we had.
LW: And I remember the teacher we had a feller by the name of Gary was theteacher. And, then in eighteen and ninety-eight why my uncle was elected trustee. He collected tax.
LW: Back then the trustee did Tennessee. Well, he was a good man. But his woman3:00was a sporty woman. She would dress in silk and lace and she spent a lot of that money. Well, Dad was on his bond.
LW: Well, two other men was too. Took three men to one. So, they said when theycome up short with the state and county they said, "well we'll penatent chya'". He said, "No". He said "give me a few days and I'll pay it off." That time we had a farm. We was getting along fine. Well, when we sold our farm and paid the debt off, we had thirty dollars and a milk cow.
LW: Then when we come to Kentucky.
WB: With thirty dollars and a milk cow?
LW: Yes, we give the thirty dollars to two men to bring us to Flat Rock in acovered wagon.
WB: Do you remember that trip?
LW: Oh yes. Why I remember when I was two years old.
LW: So uh we moved in Bo Barren Fork.
LW: And the boys all went to work at the sawmill.
LW: Well, then in nineteen hundred, Mr. Williams opened up a mine was called4:00William Siding. And Dad a being a carpenter, took in there, he built a camp. And that's how come me to get to work so early.
WB: You were eight then, I guess?
LW: I was nine years old.
WB: Nine years old,
LW: And uh so.
WB: What was your first job, do you remember?
LW: Ye, trapping. I called it trapping. See what they boys then the coal wasgathered in mules. And the air was controlled by doors.
LW: And they had to have somebody to open them doors and shut them for themules. Well, they couldn't afford to pay a man, and they paid a boy fifty-four cents a day. That's about six cents an hour.
LW: Well I, I trapped at, I went to trapping. Nine years old, and I trapped5:00three years. Nine hours for fifty-four cents a day.
WB: Did you ever get a raise all that time?
LW: No, no, no, no--
WB: [chuckle] Then what'd you do after you trapped?
LW: Digging coal. Went to digging coal then.
WB: Uh-huh, you were twelve?
LW: And with my brother, went to digging coal. We had a contrary committee,course naturally we have a union in the mines. The contrariest man they can find they'll get him on a committee. Well, they kept after us we was loading so much coal, you see, they'd be saying now a we was leading the bunting. He said, "This is the wind of Knoxville". See, back then, why, they was a feller, a president at Knoxville and they made the settlement there. Well he said that "it'll go now down there, boys is a making that much" and he said "they'll cut us down next time."
LW: Well, I come in they told me, said you going have to take half a turn, and6:00pay a initiation fee. [in a low deep voice] I said alright. Well, we just loaded that much more coal. See, what we was doing, us boys, we was making coal and they was sitting out yonder on the powder cans at the mouth of the room when they got the car loaded and talking about how the government ought to be run.
WB: Yeah, and the rest of you were digging coal?
LW: Yeah, and so we was up there making coal and getting ready and we neverrefused a car. See, they'd get cleaned up before quiting time, but we didn't. Well, I come back and they wanted to take my numbers away from me. [in a deep voice] "Noooo--" I said, "you made me take them and I'm gonna keep them, you're not a taking them." I wouldn't let them have them, so.
WB: That was still in that same mine that Williams?
LW: Yes, it's still Williams Siding.
WB: How long did you stay at Williams Siding Mine mining?
LW: Oh I don't hardly know they was a feller by the name of a feller from7:00Knoxville that owned it, that run it and they'd come out on this tract there along about the quit them. Long about, I guess, along about nineteen and eight.
LW: We went down to [unclear] H.L. Cory's at the Indian Head.
LW: He was running the mines down there. And of course, Knoxville too. Nineteenand nine, he shut down.
LW: Well, we didn't have no, they was four mines around there then, they wasParis, Parkers Lake, Indian Head, William Siding, and Wireburg. And everyone of them shut down. You couldn't sell the coal.
LW: Well, we had to go to timming. Well, I went to timming. I was uh, in8:00nineteen and eleven. I was twenty years old you see, well, back then a boy worked for his father until he was twenty-one years old before he was free and give him everything he made.
WB: What were you making then, do you remember?
LW: Well, in the mines the most me and my brother ever took home, we took home9:00one time sixty-four dollars and something in a slip. They paid you money then, see in the slip, but we gave it to our father, we never even kept the change. And then uh when I went to timing he told me when I got twenty years old he said, "I'm gonna set you free." I said alright. He said, "I'm gonna take you over and have Tobacker measure you up a suit of clothes." Well, they measured me up a suit of clothes, tailor made suit, cost twenty-two dollars [emphasized cost], and it cost a lot more than that now.
WB: That was a good suit then for twenty-two dollars.
LW: Oh Lord, it was, well--we-- we, John and Bob decided they'd go to mining.And they went to Four Mile and leased a mine. They leased that one where the Louis brothers are running and road up and killed twenty-four men. Well, me, me being free I went with them. Was the meanest place you nearly ever seen. Shooting and killing and everything else. I didn't like it. It was the first time I'd ever been away from home well, I got money enough I got a ticket back home--
LW: And then that time JC Walker come in and started up Indian Head again.
LW: Got to putting a grade in the road, and they paid a dollar and thirty-five10:00cents for nine hours a day for grading road. Well, I got a job a grading. Well, John he said the boss, he said, "Now I'm a gonna place you men first that done this grading".
LW: I said alright. John told me, said, "Get two places Pat", my, they nicknamedme Pat, said, "And I'll work with you." I said alright so I told the boss and he said, "Alright, I'll give you two places." We worked there a while and John, he decided go to school. See, he was twenty-three years old when he was married, and they didn't know A from B he didn't have didn't have no education.
LW: But when I went to Four Mile we took a feller by the name of Edmond Haynes11:00that'd went to school all the time, at Williams Siding. And we thought, they thought he had a good education. Got over there, why, Bob his oldest brother he got a tablet and pencil throwed it down said "Edmond," said "I want you to write a letter to our wives." "Why I can't sign my name" [laughter]
LW: And he couldn't he really couldn't sign his name and had went to school allthe time. And course Dad took me out when I was about the second grade, and put me to timming. He said all a man needs to know was to be honest and truthful and a good worker said to get through this world.
LW: And that worked pretty good then, but don't go now.
WB: Wouldn't work now, would it?
LW: No, well I uh worked on there until they shut down.
WB: Do you remember when that was?
LW: Yes nineteen seventeen they shut down. JC Walker shut down there and wentover to what I don't know what they was there they called Straight Creek over close to Pineville
LW: Well, I had a got in as a repairman before he left and he owed me a hundred12:00and fifty dollars a month wrote me and told me if I'd come he'd give me a hundred and fifty dollars a month. Lord, a hundred and fifty dollars a month then meant a lot. Himaner Coal loader when he's running the mines why he made thirty-two dollars a month at average loading coal.
WB: So, so that was really good.
LW: Yeah, at that time it was. So, everything was cheap. Well, I didn't go cause13:00I didn't want to go cause I that was a mean place over thereand I didn't want to go so I worked me and Bob then--we went to Wireburg [Wartburg] after they shut down there. And uh he leased a mine from John L. Walters. And he was putting it in the car for three dollars and twenty cents a ton. J. C, I mean uh Wa--uh [unclear]. The man was a getting thirteen dollars and a half a ton. John L. Walters getting thirteen dollars and a half a ton for that. See, it's war time then.
WB: Uh-huh, and you were probably making three dollars.
LW: He's a making, he's a making ten dollars and thirty cents clear on every ton14:00we put in. Well, we got up and got to running two hundred ton a day. And uh, but he come down after we'd run a while and .he got them a stake got a lot a money bought them a stake in a home over there in a Chattanooga. And he come down and he said, "Well boys," he said, "when you come here" says, "I was one jump ahead of the devil." Said, "Now I've got me a good home in Signal Mountain," and said, "I got plenty money," and said, "I'm alright."
LW: Well, he saw me.
WB: [with a chuckle in his voice] He's making two thousand dollars a day, Iguess he was.
LW: [chuckle] I say he was these old these old mules was all old.
LW: Mules gets old his teeth goes like that, you see he can't bite can't crushcorn. Well I uh, the man had been run two men been running it before was feeding them wheat straw. Well, they was no substance in wheat straw at all.
WB: No, no they'll die in that.
LW: Well, when he come out and we took it over I was standing out there at the15:00barn, he come out and he said, well, he said "Now is that wheat straw up there, is it as good to feed them as anything else?" I said, "I don't want your wheat straw" I said, "I has got plenty of sweet feed and hay a coming on local." Well, they had an old mule turned out to be called Gus. Big mule an awful good natured mule wouldn't fight you, wouldn't kick, wouldn't do nothing. Well, he come up a nickel, they'd turned them out to die. Well, now local run, I'd took them out about half a canning bucket full of feed--and give to them. He said, "Now you was just a well throwed that out." Said, "He ain't worth nothing and never will be." "Well," I said, "he's spent his days a working and he deserves to be fed." And I said, "I'm a going to feed him." Well, I got to feeding him and I see'd he was a mending. Well, I put him in the barn then went to feeding him hay and sweet feed. He got fat. And I worked him every day. And when we left, we sold him for forty dollars. [laughter] And they'd turned him out to die--said he weren't no count.
WB: Because of what they were feeding him?
LW: You know they was a many of them, as a many of them a good mule or horsethat's starved to death--
LW: by people.
WB: Sure yeah, if you can't if won't feed something you shouldn't have it.
LW: Ohhh Lord'em.
WB; When, when what year did you go to work for the Stearns Company?16:00
LW: Well, I first went there in nineteen and fourteen. Barthell driving a mulenine hours a day for two dollars. Well a fella by name a Scott Tate where I was living up there we lived beside Norma Diggs' store. And he'd me and him hunted together was well acquainted so, he had his wife to ask my wife was I satisfied down there she said, "No, no, he ain't satisfied at all". Well, said, "Tell him I said to come on back up here." Said, "I'll feed him and take care of him till the mines starts up. Well, I quit and come back, course at was all against me.
LW: Well, I went up there and stay, I stayed something like a year before I17:00started back. Me and him fished and hunted [laughter] Had to pay to eat just the same but it's all a adding up on me. When I went to work I had to pay that.
LW: Well, I paid that. By then after I went to work you see, in them littlemines up there. One of my brothers bought H.L. Quarry out. He bought all of his land and his houses and everything. And uh, through war time we robbed it.
WB: Robbed the pillars?
LW: Yes, we went and pulled the pillars. And, that's before we went to Wireburg.
LW: And we robbed it. And then when war time was over and .this slump all come Iwent to Stearns. Had to get a job.
LW: Of course is only job up there. Well I went down there and I got a jobdriving a mule first. I drive a mule a whilen I laid track--I run a machine, I 18:00run a motor, I repaired, I finally got on as repairman all over the road. Well, my brother had John, I was telling you about at went to school there didn't have no education. Well, he went before the Board and made papers, and he got him a job there at Barthell. Well, Merlin McGuffey was superintendent, but he had never place leased out to two men two old men hit a roll and they said to John, they said, "Now, Mr. Wright," said, "if we go through this roll can we keep this place?" He said, "Yes sir." Well, whenever they went through the roll and got up 19:00where's getting along fine, hit good coal Taylor brothers come around and going to take it. John said, "Nope, you're not a taking it" says, "I told them they'd keep it" and said, "I aim for them to keep it." Well, we see that they didn't have any satisfaction. We walked down to see the old man head. He's superintendent over Mine 10, Mine 11 down at Yamacraw. Head said, "Yes", said, "I got a man down here on Mine 11 that I don't like says his name is Smith." And said, "I'm going to fire him." And he said, "You come down here a go to laying track." And he said, "I'll put you on then as boss." Well, John said alright. But now said, "Listen," said, "if you can handle that mine," said, "I can use you." And said, "If you can't, I ain't got no use for you." Well, John said, "Tell me first, before you tell anybody else." Well, John picked the mines up 20:00getting along fine with it. But Bob, my oldest brother was up at William Siding in business running the mines. So he decided he'd go up with Bob and they'd form a company, and run coal their self.
Well, Mr. Butler was general manager then. Sure then, he's superintendent too,he's over the whole thing. They had about seven or eight mines going then. And he come down and said to old man Head, said, "Where's John?" Oh said, "He's quit" said, "He's going up to work with his brother" said, "They're going to form a company. Well, he said, "I want to see him." He said, "Won't do you no good." Said, "Well whether it does any good or not I want to see him anyway." Well, he went home, he see'd John and said John, he said, "I want you to go to Fidelity to be a superintendent over them two mines." And John said alright. So 21:00he went and in a nineteen and twenty-two, he told John, he said "I want you to be general superintendent over all the mines on the road." John said alright. Then John said to me, he said "Pat," he said, "do you wanna keep this general repairman job or do you wanna go into foreman for us?" I said I'd rather go into foreman for us. Well he said, "Now there was one thing I want you to understand before you go in " said, "as long as I'm general superintendent," said, "you'll never be superintendent." I said, That's alright. I knowed I was worthless as a pup. [laughter] I wouldn't a worry none about that, so they put me over at North Side and where they was running four fifty, four sixty, four seventy-five a day they thought they was really doing good.
Well, I went over there and I didn't put on nary day man, but I picked the22:00tonnage up to five hundred and fifty ton a day. I run five hundred and fifty ton a day. Well, John always went in and talked to Mr. Butle before he went home tell him what all he learnt down the road. He went in and Mr. Butler said to him, "John," said, "Lemmie's made you good man." "Yeah," said, "made me a good man." "Well, I say put him up." Well, I was getting five dollars a day then bossing. When they put me up that give me seven, seven dollars a day.
LW: Well I stayed there till they worked the mines out in thirty-eight. Then Iwent up on the river to eighteen that new mine.
WB: Uh-huh. Were you the one that opened that mine?
LW: No, they was they had some of the places open, they was running around two23:00hundred and fifty ton a day when I went there. But when I went there I picked it up to two thousand to about two thousand ton a day.
WB: When did they build that tipple?
LW: Oh, they built that tipple in uh about thirty, about thirty-six I guess.
WB: Right before you went up there?
WB: Just a couple years before you went?
LW: They build the tipple and was a running.
WB: When, when you went up there Mr. Wright, when you went up there, uh when youwent up there how many houses were there? You remember?
LW: Oh no, I don't know, but I'll tell you one thing. They had a big enoughcamp, they had a high school.
WB: You're talking about where now?
LW: At Fidelity.
WB: Oh at Fidelity I'm talking about Mine 18.
LW: Well, at Mine 18 they had twenty-two houses.
WB: Twenty-two houses at Mine 18?
LW: Never did have but twenty-two.
WB: Were they all there when you went there?
LW: No, I think they only about a had about three when I went there.24:00
LW: But they built twenty they was had twenty-two houses they moved some oldhouses from Worley up there.
WB: Uh-huh. Let me ask you a couple questions before you start telling me aboutthis. [phone ringing] Now when you went there they had just a couple houses.
LW: [door opening] three.
WB: And the tipple was getting, had just been finished--
WB: at that time? Now, how many men did you work there?
LW: Lord, I'd just couldn't tell you the we, we was a working when we was onhand loading. I guess sometime maybe, probably two hundred and fifty men.
WB: Uh-huh, and did most of them come in on the train?
WB: Did most of them come in the train to work every day?
LW: Well, they did after we built the road. They come in on a car they'd come inon a train first down to Yama Grove. I mean to River Curve, and walked a mile up to the mines.
WB; Yeah, uh-huh.
LW: Then Mr. Bruce, he, he wanted a road built see they weren't making no money25:00out of the train, and he told me, said, "Now Lemmie," said, "I tell you what I want you to do, I want you to meet that--fiscal court out there, and see if they won't set that road up." I said alright. Well, course I met all of them and talked with all of them before the court opened. One man, they all was for me but one man. He said, "I don't care if they all vote for it, I'll vote against it." And I didn't say nothing. I just let it go I know'd, so I went in and set down. I could see every man come in and vote where they got their vote. Every one of them voted to set it up. [laughter] But the man that was over it though, a feller by the name, let's see what a was his name? I forget now, but anyways it was in Somerset. But he told me said, "If they don't set your road up" he 26:00said, "I won't build nary foot a road in McCrery County this year." I said alright, so they set it up. Course I give a hundred dollars on it and Luther Ledbetter give a hundred dollars help build it. Well, they built a road in there and then the boys ride in on their cars.
LW: And they cut the train off.
WB: When you uh went there and they just started having those few houses, didthey have a store there then?
LW: No, no they didn't have a store there then.
WB: When'd you get the store?
LW: Well, I don't know exactly what year they got the store do you know? [askingsomeone in the room and they reply]
UI: "They got the, you went there in September thirty- eight, they got the storeabout thirty-nine".
LW: Well Bob.
UI: Load the groceries up on the pushcar.
LW: Yes, they hauled the groceries up on a pushcar. But to, we had to haul all27:00our supplies up on a pushcar for a while.
LW: Finally I called Mr. Bruce, told him, I called and talked to Butler andButler told Bruce, set a car up there with stuff in it.
LW: Well, that's what they done. They set a car up there. Well uh, Bob Sternscome down there one day and they was an old little old house up over there they'd moved up there and said, "Lemmie what you think about them putting a store in that?" I said it'd be alright. Be fine. So, he put a store in there.
WB: Where abouts was the store? Say to the tipple.
LW: Well it was pretty close to the tipple. It was on the right, as you go upRizer Road as you go up.
WB: On the river side?
LW: On the river side.
WB: Yeah, right before you got to the tipple there?
LW: Yeah, so uh.
WB: What was in that store? Just a store where they, did you have an officethere or anything?
LW: No I didn't have no office nowhere I uh, I had an office up in the tipple.28:00
LW: See they had that tipple it really was a fine tipple it was a good set up.
LW: But I had my office here in the tipple. Well, so Johnny said, "Lemmie," said"I believe it'd be better if we'd build a --put a stove over on the other side and build a little room let men all go over there and set there and room and come in your office." I said alright.
WB: Hold on just a minute Mr. Wright, let me turn [tape ends on first side]
[interview resumes on side 2]
UV: had the store in the timekeeper's office.
WB: So they had the store in the timekeeper's office?
WB: Who was the timekeeper, do you remember?
LW: Well, they had two timekeepers there. They had Hobert Stevens and they had--uh.
UV: Theodore Childers.
LW: Yeah, Theodore Childers.29:00
WB: How long did you stay down at Blue Heron?
LW: Sixteen years.
WB: So you stayed down there until, fifty-four?
LW: Yeah. See what was, [clearing throat] they wanted to break the union.
LW: And uh, of course I reckon they thought I was a little too nice to the men.And you see, when they broke the union they'd have to get rough with them. And they put me off, and put another man on and cut the men six dollars on the day. See when I was a working when I was on, it is union and the, the prices eighteen dollars and thirty-five cents was uh and uh. So when they put me off cut them all six dollars on the day.
WB: Six dollars on the day.30:00
LW: And now, when I was running when I was there course we had joinds. We hadfour joids before I quit. And I was averaging a hundred and twenty-five tons to each joid. See we had to shoot top or shoot bottom keep up with them, keep the road up. So uh, then later when the other man went on, he run eighty-fives ton to the machine. [chuckle] Now you see how much they gained by cutting me off.
WB: Yeah, yeah.
LW: Where they gained was the six dollars a day on the men.
WB: On the salaries.
LW: They'd a went busted hadn't been for that.
WB: Uh-huh. Let me just ask you this now, where was your
house when you lived there?
LW: Oh, it was down the road a piece it was on the left of the road, up on the bank.
WB: Down toward that little railroad bridge that goes across the creek?
LW: Yeah, it was down a piece.31:00
UV: Next to the tipple, the steps are still there.
LW: And uh.
WB: I've seen those steps.
LW: So they built me a house, they asked me. John told me. We come down thereand picked out a place where to build it. And they build me a six room house and I paid twenty-six dollars and ten cents a month rent on that house at that time. [chuckle]
WB: That was well that was a lot of rent then, wasn't it?
LW: [laughter] I know, but, Lord you think about now.
LW: What'd you pay now.
WB: And where's the water come from? You said you had running water?
LW: Oh We didn't have no water we had one river, one spring down way down towardthe railroad. And then we had what they call the Roaring Springs cross the river under the bluff. Well, we built a three C Camp there. I mean not a three C camp, a Boy Scout camp. Built eight houses well they said where'd we get the water? I 32:00said from that Roaring Spring up there. Well, the one fella that was running it, he'd been in the army the young man, he said, "Well, just lay a pipe from that spring across the river here over to the camp." I said, "What would you do if it come a tide and washed that pipe out? What'd you do and how'd ye hold a boy down in it--? I said, "I say build that, dig that pipeline round here above the jumps move these big rocks, and put it under them and put them big rocks down so it'll never wash out" And we put water in twenty of the houses. They was two of them we never did put none in. That's back this side from the bridge.
LW: They was two, but we put in twenty houses. And boy, we had fine water.33:00
WB: What else did you have down there, did you have a church?
LW: Oh I built a church house.
WB: Where was that?
LW: Up the river there from the bridge.
WB: Down toward the jumps?
UI: Up above the jumps.
LW: Yeah, toward the jumps.
UI: [unclear] foundation's still there.
UI: between the railroad and the bridge.
LW: I made it forty-eight foot long and thirty foot wide and I had blockstwenty-two hundred blocks, laid here for the school rooms needed Sunday school rooms--
LW: and then I got on top of that and built the church.
WB: Uh-huh. Now look at, if we went in the road now and we'd go down towardtipple the store would be on the right there near the tipple. Now where was the school? Where was the church from there?
UI: Right above the tipple on the right, between the river and railroad, thechurch is above the tipple
WB: So you say you go under the you go past the tipple and then that was wherethe church was--
WB: down on the right there?
WB: Okay, I know, I know exactly where it is.34:00
UI: That schoolhouse was there.
LW: It'd washed; they sold it after I left there.
WB: Did they have a school there?
LW: Oh yes, we had a school we had a little old oil house there.
WB: How long did they keep that school?
LW: Oh--I don't know.
WB: Until they closed the mine?
LW: I don't know about that.
UI: No they closed the school first, Dad.
LW: They did? I don't know it's.
WB: Were you still there, when they closed the school?
LW: See I left there in fifty-four we had school.
UI: You did?
UI: Well, they got to running the school bus in there though, and
they closed it.
LW: Well, they didn't run it while I was there. But to what I went to tell you,we moved up there and converted it we worked it over had the carpenters to and made a schoolhouse out of it. And then they taught the kids right there all the kids. And the kids come off of the hill they was a lot of people lived up on the hill up on the mountain.
LW: Up and down there.
WB: They was a lot of people went to school there who didn't live in the camp.
LW: Yeah, that's right.
WB: Because that was a small camp, just twenty-two houses?35:00
LW: It was a small camp but it was aw it was pretty. What we done, we kept thatthem weeds and everything cut out, and we'd whitewash them trees up about five foot high and uh oh, it was really pretty.
WB: Did you have a garden there?
LW: Yes, I did until they built another house moved another house in there andwhen they did that they took it away from me.
WB: Took your garden spot, huh?
LW: Yeah. [chuckles]
WB: Did you ever keep a cow?
LW: Oh Lord yes, I kept a Jersey cow.
WB: Did many people keep them down there?
LW: Well, not too many, but anybody wanted to keep one, kept one.
WB: Uh-huh. Alright, let me just get this straight now, there, there was astore, and there was the school, and there was a church, and there were about twenty-two houses. Were there any other buildings?
WB: Were there any other buildings besides that?
LW: No, no they was only twenty-two houses there.
UI: Did you build the church, yourself?36:00
LW: Well no I, I worked on it and give a hundred dollars on it to start it butyou see, I made, I took a paper, I passed a paper to all the men for them to pay so much each month till we paid for the church. And uh, so we had it just about paid for when they cut me off. And I told this other feller, I said, "Naw, you got you a good church if you'll finish paying for it." Yeah, I will. But of course he never did do nothing.
WB: They never paid for it?
LW: They sold it, sold it and had it torn down.
WB: And that was the last church down there?
LW: That was the only church they was in that holler down there.
WB: Who preached in it?
LW: Carmel Stanley was our preacher.
WB: Where'd he live?
LW: He lives down somewhere about Winfield. And so, he only charged ten dollars37:00per trip, but that is the only church that I'd ever knowed of in my life that they didn't take up a collection. We wouldn't have taken up no collection. No, no passing, no passing a pan around to nobody-- [voice gets quiet]
WB: How'd you pay him the ten dollars?
LW: I paid it out of my own pocket. [pause] Now the question is what I thought Ithought, now that the people didn't have no money, would be embarrassed to pass it around and them not give nothing.
WB: So you figured that way they'd be more people that would come.
LW: That's right. That's right. Figured then that a man would have a chance thento come if he didn't have no money, why, he could come anyway.
WB: Back in the years when you were at Blue Heron, Mr. Wright, did uh, how longof shifts were you working?
LW: We was a working first nine hours, but then they cut it down to seven.38:00
WB: You'd work one shift?
LW: Two oh, we worked two shifts.
WB: Two shifts?
LW: Yeah, we worked two shifts.
WB: Did anybody help you or were you, were you really the superintendent forboth shifts?
LW: I was superintendent over all of it. Which I had twelve bosses.
WB: Uh-huh, twelve bosses you had.
LW: Yeah, you see, you had to have a boss at every machine.
LW: And uh, then you had to have a boss with loading. Now load hand loadin' too,but I was the only superintendent.
WB: You have, who were some of your bosses down there?
LW: Well uh, Bob Davis was one and this Enman Newport was one, Otis Tucker was39:00one, Silas Ross was one. Lord, I don't know who all now.
WB: Did they stay fairly long or did they?
WB: Did the people come down there to work, stay right there or did they withyou did they change a lot? Did they quit and go--
LW: [long no] No.
WB: get more or.
LW: I had some men that worked for me for thirty years.
WB: That long?
WB: And, and uh most of them were they local boys or did they come in fromsomewhere else?
LW: Well, they was local boys we don't, don't never hire a boss to go in on menalways get you a boss out of the bunch you a working.
LW: and he'd get along with them. If you'd bring in a stranger, well they, theydon't like that.
WB: Uh-huh, you think it's best to bring somebody out of the?
LW: Pick your man right out of the, your bunch. If you bring in another man--
LW: they is nobody don't like that.
WB: The fact that there were so many miners worked down there and there were40:00just twenty-two houses.
WB: Did people want to live there or did they not?
WB: Did the houses stay full?
LW: Oh yes, we kept the houses full. They had, they had houses stayed prettyfull. But if we had a man moved out I studied about that a whole lot if a man moved out of a house they never was a window light broke out of the house.
LW: Up where I lived just as soon as a man moved out, they whooped the windowlights out, them boys did, with rocks.
LW: Well, when we built the church house, Fay Baker said, "Now we got to get41:00some rat wire, put over these windows keep them boys from breaking these glasses out." [In a low voice] I said, "They won't break them out" [louder] I'm going to tell you something about boys. I guess you know all about them whole lot of them too, but I been here a little while. If you treat a boy right he's not a going do you no harm. If you treat him wrong, he's not a going to forget that.
LW: He's going to stay even with you.
WB: When somebody moved out and somebody else going to move in that house, whodecides who would move in that house, did you decide?
LW: Yeah, I was the one.
WB: Or was that up to the superintendent?
LW: Yeah, I rented all the houses.
WB: About what'd you rent those houses for?
LW: Lord, I couldn't tell you now wouldn't, wouldn't be very much. They was onlyfour roomed houses. But I really don't know how much, now how much they was.
UV: I know me and Vergil paid five dollars for two rooms. A two
WB: There at Blue Heron?
WB: Uh-huh [cough].
LW: Now just get two rooms [chuckle] Look what you pay for it.
UV: We lived in one until they built us another one.
LW: Now a.
UV: stayed there five years.
[there are voices of two people talking in the background at this time.]
LW: What I went to tell you, and what I wanted you to know see, my oldest42:00brother I mean older than me he wasn't the oldest he's seven years older than me. And he was twenty-three years old when he married and he couldn't read and write.
LW: Well he, decided to quit there at Indian Head when I got them rooms had towork a while, and go to school he went over and asked Ernest Webster [in a mocking voice] "How much ye charge to teach me?" Why said, "Mr. Wright, I won't charge you nothing." Well, he got him a primer and started in. And them little kids, they had the awfullest laugh ever was in the world.
WB: About that man in there?
LW: Yeah, the man had a wife and two kids and going in a primer. [laughter]43:00Well, when the school was over he had his education he could read, write, and figure everything then in the world he wanted to. Well, he, he got in other words he got enough education that he held the general superintendent over all the mines.
WB: Uh-huh, so he did alright? It was worth going to school, wasn't it?
LW: Oh I tell you it's what you, determination. If you aim to do something andset your mind to do that why you'll, you can do it. But you take anybody that knows what education means and they can go to school, why then he's going to learn something. Cause you take a kid now and send him to school why he's going to get by taking anything in the world he can. But John was there to learn everything in the world he could. Well, the school was over, he'd done gone. He had his education.
WB: Who, who in all the years you worked for the Stearns Company who were someof the good people you thought were good coal people that worked for them with you? Really knew how to mine coal? Who are some of them?
LW: Oh, we had one; we had some of the best men that ever was in the world.44:00
WB: Who would some of those men be?
LW: Well, they just anybody, they, lots of them dead and gone now.
LW: But we had some of the best men that ever was in the Country. Now we've got45:00one man that lives in Oregon I got a letter from him the other day, Luther Mar. He worked for me for years and uh they were all good men. I tell you what's the truth a man is what you make him. Now if you uh if a man does something wrong, and you jump on him right in front of the crowd, and bawl him out you've killed his spirit. Well if you wait call him off to his self and say "you made a mistake here the other day". When he's in good humor then, he can see it. See?
LW: And he know that you meant to treat him right.
WB: When you were a young fella down there, running that mine down there at BlueHeron, were you one to hunt and fish or anything like that?
LW: Oh Lord, I hunted and fished, a sight in the world. Now I'm going to tell46:00you something about that river too. And I'm going to tell you something about this what this wild river's doing. Now they've went up six mile above the Devil's Jumps, and build a camp building a camp building the headquarters up there, going to have a big time up there. It's a nice place, and mine are a level rock and all, but they is no place to fish. You see that there creek comes in there is got Bear Creek, got coppers water in it, the fish can't live in it. Now I've gigged all above there, many times of the night, and they is no fish hardly above there. You see, this Devil's Jumps, falled about six, seven feet, well these big fish out of this lake has got about fifty-eight mile a water there they come up here to the Devil's Jumps and they can't go no farther. And uh.
WB: So all the fish are down the other side of Devil's Jumps?
LW: All the fish, good fishing is down below. So they've left they building thiscamp where there is, where there's nothing.
WB: Uh-huh. When you fish down there, what kind of fish did you catch there?
LW: Oh, I catched any, all different kinds. When they built that first start,you could go up there to the Devil's Jumps and that hole would be black, the backs of bass. You could catch your limit just in a few minutes.
WB: It was a really good place, huh?
LW: Oh Lord, fishing.
LW: they'd catch walleyes, they was walleyes up there too.
WB: I think walleyes are the best.47:00
LW: Oh they is good fish. But then, my choice is a catfish.
WB: Uh-huh they're good too. Walleyes are awful good I think.
LW: Yeah, but uh Lord, I fished there. I had the best time in the world there.48:00But I've fished nearly all my life. I fished on Cumberland River, all around. Fished on what they call Shad Shoals. It used to have a shoal over there, that they called Shad Shoal was seven mile long. Well this one, see it'd go through a slough here there was water on back on each side and then the next thing I know I just go through a nothing, and back then I shot with a thirty-thirty and boy, I could knock them fish they is no use in talking [laughter] I could kill 'em. But there was a feller by the name of Meece, game warden up there at Somerset and of course I dodged him all the time and we had a camp we had it fixed so if he is at the camp before I come in they would give me a sign a certain sign and I'd know to do away with my rifle and everything he never did catch us.
But, I went to Florida my brother sick down there and I went down there and ofcourse back then they had no welfare then, and they had no food stamps and he got destitute. Well, I went to work, I got me a job in an orange plant, working for a dollar and five cents an hour. [chuckle]
WB: When was this?
LW: That is, in, in fifty-eight. He died in fifty-eight. But I worked there and49:00give him what I worked out, and took care of him, mowed his lawn, mowed his orange grove. Gathered his oranges, took them and and he got full price for them me and his boy did. And I waited on him until he died. He died in fifty-eight. Then I come back up here. Well, I come back up here, stayed a little while, then I went back, and worked for an old man's had a dairy. Old man, a fella by the name a Carl. Had three-hundred cows. Now he was awful good to me, I worked for him about a year.
WB: What'd you do in that dairy?
LW: Done anything in the world. See they had two crews at that time, they hadtwo crews to milk.
LW: Just got one now. But they had two crews. Well, if they was nary a man short50:00on the last crew I filled out till the old man come back he'd go over Tampa and trade and do his trading over there. He left me in there in charge of things. Well, if they was a man short, I filled out till he had some boys going to school, after school was out then they'd come there and work.
WB: You did that for a year?
LW: Made it fine. So, he was awful good to me, I thought a lot of him. And I51:00quit though and come back up here. Then I went back and worked about two or three weeks again, but when I went I was up in seventy then, and they give me a job. First I'd a, first day I went there put me to work [chuckle] and me seventy years old. So, but he had a barn they'd built the first first building they built they didn't build it high enough. And they built two others, one on each end about three foot higher. Well, a truck couldn't back in, you see, and unload the feed. Well, he told me, he said, "Mr. Wright," said, "let's go, let's get in our truck, we'll hunt up some lumber," said, "we're going to raise this room up with the others." I said alright. Well, I went with him and I got up there and raised it. And he told some of them, he said, "You know he climbs around up there like a gray squirrel." [laughter]
WB: You got that way from hiding from the game warden, you got [unclear] [laughter].
WB: Let me ask you a couple more things about when you lived in the coal camps.Of all the coal camps you lived in, which one do you like the best?
LW: Well, I liked Fidelity.
WB: That was a big town, wasn't it?
LW: Because they had more houses and had more people.
WB: Wasn't that a big town, they had a big high school?
WB: and everything?
LW: They had more people in other words.
WB: Do you remember Fidelity, pretty good?
UV: That's where I went to high school.
LW: To be fair with you--
UV: best basketball team in the district. We had an outside court no gym, you know.
LW: we had a good bunch of men they'd of a night, they'd sit down there on the52:00railroad, maybe, or at the store till eight, nine a clock, and talk out fishing and hunting and everything, and then they'd go to bed.
LW: And then we'd work next day. And.
WB: The prettiest place though, was probably Blue Heron, wasn't it?
LW: Well, we kept.
WB: By the river.
LW: We dress, yes it's the prettiest.
UV: Rock Creek was pretty too, there.
LW: Yes, we dressed it up, but then Rock Creek, see that uh Fidelity's on Rock Creek.
WB: Yeah, I've been over there.
LW: And they had a boarding house there one time. I'll tell you about that. It's53:00built on right down next to the creek. Well, it come a big tide and I knowed I'd went down on Sunday morning and I looked and I see'd the water coming up, it'd go up about a foot and then the next time it'd go on up, you know. I told them, I told them in the boarding house I said, "I'd get out of there right now." I said, "It's already coming around," and I said, "It's going to be in a few minutes till you can't get out." Well, they said, "We going to eat breakfast." And I said, "Ah now you go ahead, but you'll see what I tell you." About time they got to eat their breakfast, why it'd strung a horse from them it's a rough as it could be. Well, they couldn't get out. Well, they I went and got a rope though, had a crab motor, and I cut that rope off the crab motor, and I went in at one window at the boarding house and I round and then into another one, and wired it good, and I pulled it up and tied it to a white oak at the end of that store over there. Well, just about the time I got it tied that went over and that wire went tiiing! [chuckle]
WB: It broke?
LW: It picked a tune on it [chuckle] that's all saved that boarding house.54:00
LW: Another man lived out there in a house, him and his kids, and he's stranded55:00too. So I made a boat. Would you know--they wouldn't let me take that boat, but I'd handled her, boats and rivers, cause I knowed rivers. I know water. I can handle a boat anywhere. So, Charlie Davis, he's--he had to be a smart aleck he said, "Oh, you can't swim, you can't won't go" I couldn't swim a lick. Never could swim. Never did try to swim. Where I was raised it didn't have enough water we could swim in. So I said alright. So he went over, him and Paul. Do you know what they done? They had a rope tied to the boarding house for to pull, the boat to cause they couldn't paddle it, it's too swift. Well, if it'd just one a held it and let that boat played up and down, they could a made it fine. Got over there and I loaded it up--both of them pulling that rope. Well, when I got out there that water's turning that boat over. [chuckle] There they was in the river in Rock Creek.
WB: Swift water too, wasn't it?
LW: Yep, but we got them all out. Didn't get nobody drowned.
LW: So, we had one just about dead though, when we pulled him out. He's justabout out of it.
WB: When you were over at Blue Heron, was there much game around there then?
LW: Uh yes, they was a right smart when we first went there.
WB: What was there?
LW: Well, there's a whole lot of coons--
LW: and squirrels, but uh.
WB: Were there any birds there?
LW: No, no wasn't no.
WB: Trees are kind of.
LW: Wasn't no birds from out that way, and they was plenty of minx.56:00
WB: Oh yeah?
LW: All kinds of minx.
LW: Brown ones, black ones, and.
WB: Did you trap them?
LW: No, but I had some boys that did, had some, worked for me.
LW: They catched them. So uh that when they shut down, they shut down innineteen and fifty-three. See, they aimed to break the union.
LW: Well, they put me in one more man to take care the mines, till they got57:00ready to start up. See, they had they was going round talking to all the men having the men talk to them for to break that union. Well, me and that man course we had a we had a good time we rid up and down that river we had some tracks that went three mile up the river on a motor. We killed groundhogs, we kept us a automatic shot gun on the motor all the time. [chuckle] Groundhogs, squirrels, everything else we had we had a good time. So, then when they started up, they had a feller by the name of Blevins, Marsh Blevins, they had retired John in fifty-two, my brother and , John had a farm, had about a hundred acres. He raised cattle, and they give him a hundred fifty dollar pension.
LW: Well, he got along fine. Well, he died in May. And if he lived till July theninth, he'd be ninety years old.
WB: And he died, he died right before he was ninety?
LW: Uh-huh. So I'm the oldest one of the whole bunch only one that's living.58:00They was nine of us in the family, five boys, five girls. I mean four girls. So, nine of us. But in thirty-five they came out on a strike. Never told you about that.
WB: Let me change this tape here a minute, cause I'm going to run out.
LW: [Chuckle] I went smoking when I was about twenty years old
WB: How'd you get them down there? Did you have them bring them down to you onthe train when you were down there at Blue Heron? Did they keep you in cigars?
LW: I used to smoke twelve and fifteen when I was working. Now I don't smoke,some days I don't smoke at all. But of course the doctor, I had a heart attack when I was seventy-five years old.
WB: And he told you not to smoke?
LW: And doctor told me I had to quit that smoking. Well I just didn't say59:00nothing. So, when I got out, and when I took a dose when I smoked I smoked. Now I smoke, some days I smoke two. Some days one. Some days I don't smoke any. I've slowed down on it. But uh I don't think it hurts me.
WB: Not if you don't smoke too much, hu?
LW: Well if you don't inhale. Now here what here what gets a cigarette person.They inhale that smoke, well that goes down their lungs. That sticks. Now, we had a boy at twenty-one about twenty-one years old. Lord, he smoked cigarettes a sight in the world. Just kept one in his mouth all the time. Well he died and the nicotine rot out his mouth.
WB: Just from smoking so much?
LW: [quietly] smoking so much.
WB: What did the men do uh well not only the men, but the young people, do at60:00Blue Heron? Did they have a ball team or anything like that or was it too small a place?
LW: No, we didn't have no ball team at Blue Heron, but we did at Fidelity. Nowwe had a ball team and now we had a first-aid team at each place. And now we had a first-aid team at Fidelity and we had a ball team and a basketball team. And you know we beat Stearns one year, all three sports!
LW: [chuckling] That made them mad. He got mad. [still chuckling occasionally]61:00We had a little feller, a left-handed feller. A throwing. If I'd give him a job, the boys told me, said, a feller by the name of Harold Macnamery said "Lemmie," said "He's a good pitcher," and said "if you'd give him a job it sure would help us a sight." Well I did, I gave him a job. And we went out there. Oh, and we was standing up there and one said, "He'd blow up there in a few minutes," and I said "you'll see how it blows up!" He'd play us some balls around there and they couldn't hit them. And we beat them.
LW: Boy that made them so mad they couldn't stand it.
WB: Because of the, when uh, like you've said at Fidelity that men would sitaround at night and talk and that sort of thing. What, what was there at Blue Heron? Was there anything to do?
LW: [quietly] No, no there wasn't.
WB: That was more of a place, I guess, for you than it was at Fidelity?
UV: No, no our husbands worked of a night. I was married and after he'd go towork I got with the young people and we'd fish. He had a boat. We'd prowl the river and then they'd meet up there in the bottom. All the young people and two people would choose teams. You know fixing to play ball.
LW: Fishing. [unclear] would fish. They had baskets. He'd catch fish.
UV: He trapped.
WB: I sure want to thank you for letting me come down to talk to you about this uh.62:00
WB: I hope I can come again some time.
LW: Well, if I live. I'm ninety-one years old.
WB: You look like you're going to make it longer than I will! [chuckling] Youlook in a lot better shape than I am!
UV: He gets around a lot better than most.
WB: You sure look good.
LW: Well, I thank the good Lord.
WB: I thought you'd be a lot older looking you know.
LW: [interrupts Berge] The Lord has always blessed me all my life. In otherwords, when I was young, when I was seventeen years old I joined the Church. [quietly] when I was seventeen years old.
WB: How old were you?
UV: What church was it?
WB: Which church did you join?
LW: Baptist. Belonged to the Baptist Church. I still belong to the Baptist Church.
WB: What year did you marry?
LW: I married first in 1911. In 19 and--.
LW: 1911. I don't know why been. She was dead in nineteen and seventeen. Sixyears back. I married first and she had two kids. A boy and a girl. And my wife died. Well I took them two kids to my mother and father. And I got them to take care of them. The little girl was just a little over a year old. The boy was older. I got them to take care of them until I got ready to marry again. When I married again I married a girl by the name of Ruby Lewis.
WB: Where was she from?
LW: That's Desde's mother. And uh she had a good education. She was a lot of64:00help to me. She could do she could read, write, figure, do anything in the world and was a lot of help to me. And we had eight kids! Four girls and four boys. So that made me five boys and five girls.
UI: What was your first wife's name?
UI: What was your first wife's name?
LW: Minnie. Minnie Bornett. Bob Bornett's daughter.
WB: Where was your mother from?
UV: She was raised in the North end. Back up around Parker's Lake.
LW: She was back up from Parker's Lake.
WB: And she was a Lewis?
LW: Yes, she was a Lewis.
LW: So uh she died in '49. And left me with a little boy that lacked six days of65:00being twelve years old. They was all growing by then. Well she told me, said "Now Lemmie," said "you'll have to marry again." I never did tell her if I would or I wouldn't. But I didn't. cause one reason why. You couldn't marry no woman that would love all your children.
WB: Not when you have that many [chuckling].
LW: And you couldn't marry no woman that they'd all love her.
WB: That's right.
LW: So, the way I got it figured. I may be wrong. I'm an old-timer. I've got itfigure that mother's love controls the home.
WB: I think you're right. I really think you're right, Mr. Wright.
LW: And uh if you marry again, you've torn that up.
WB: Uh-huh. I think it would be very hard with a family as old as yours was.
LW: Yeah, well the question was you see what I thought I thought that, if66:00anything happened, that I could be more help to my children than I would to marry. And then another thing is that if you married somebody that was my age, she'd be set in her way. I'd be set in my way. And it wouldn't suit. See young people, they can adopt their selves to one another's ways.
WB: You know what his problem was? He didn't want to marry a fifty-seven yearold woman. That was what your problem was!
[Loud Group Laughter]
UV: he kept house, though, till '54.
LW: Me and the boy we stayed there. I can cook. I can cook as good as far asthat part goes; I can cook as good as any woman. And uh I sometimes I would walk around where Desde's cooking and she would say "I know how to cook now!" [chuckles]
UI: You stayed at Mine 18 until 1954, right?
WB: Yeah, he stayed there for around five years.
LW: Yeah, 1954.
UV: No, he stayed there sixteen years.
WB: [Answers her] No, I mean five years after your mother died.
UV: Yeah, then he moved in with me. Then he went to stay with my brother in67:00Florida. He was free to go and come, you know.
LW: I was free. All I'd have to do is get my suitcase and pack and I'd goanywhere I wanted to. You know.
WB: You just didn't want some old woman running around after you [chuckling].
LW: [laughingly] I didn't want to marry some old woman that was going to tell meI had to mow the lawn, or I had to mow this, or I had to move that.
WB: That's the truth. That's the truth.
LW: So, you know why they marry today. They marry so they can get the man to dothe work. To boss.
WB: I've been married for thirty years. I'd give anything for the one I have.But I don't know if would want another one.
LW: You take on a greater responsibility.
WB: You really do don't you.
LW: when you go to marry a second time.68:00
WB: You really do.
LW: Now, if you'll notice, the history of people. There's a lot of peopleseparates that a way.
LW: After they marry, they don't get along.
WB: After the second time, you mean.
LW: That's like I told you a while ago, she's set in her way and I'm set inmine. We can't both have our way.
WB: No, no, it's hard enough to have your own way, let alone two.
LW: That's right. So, I've had my wife tell me many a time that I was thehardest head feller she'd ever see'd.
WB: Well, listen, I've got to get back to Richmond. I wonder if some time ifyou're feeling good I could come back and see you again?
LW: Oh, yes.
WB: Well, I'd sure appreciate it.
LW: Any time you want to.
WB: Well, thank you very much.
UI: Thank you Mr. Wright.
[End of interview.]
Wright, Lemmie BH1 April 20, 1982