Happy Labor Day

Posted by Dave Tabler | September 1, 2014

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No Appalachian History Weekly podcast today

Posted by Dave Tabler | August 31, 2014


A Happy Labor Day celebration to you all! Back next week with a fresh podcast.

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New Historical Marker Marks Graves of 2 in Hatfield-McCoy Feud

Posted by Dave Tabler | August 29, 2014

The Kentucky Historical Society will unveil a new historical marker today at a cemetery with ties to the Hatfield-McCoy feud. The marker tells about Nancy McCoy Phillips and her husband, Frank Phillips. The 4 p.m. unveiling will be in Phillips Cemetery, 899 Phillips Branch Road, Phelps.


One side of the marker notes that Frank Phillips was instrumental in the capture of the Hatfield family and others involved in the 1882 shooting death of three McCoy brothers. In 1888, Gov. Simon Bolivar Buckner sent Phillips as a special envoy to West Virginia to arrest them.

Information on Nancy McCoy Phillips is on the opposite side. She was the youngest daughter of Asa Harmon McCoy, the first man killed in the Hatfield-McCoy feud. When she was 15, Nancy married Johnson “Johnse” Hatfield, son of Anderson “Devil Anse” Hatfield. She later married Phillips.

The Pike County Tourism, Convention and Visitors Bureau sponsors the marker.

More than 2,200 historical markers statewide tell Kentucky’s history. More information about the marker application process, a database of markers and their text and the Explore Kentucky History app, a virtual tour of markers by theme, is at history.ky.gov/markers. KHS administers the Kentucky Historical Marker Program in cooperation with the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet.

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App State Project Archivist Shares Thoughts on His Early Career

Posted by Dave Tabler | August 28, 2014

The following piece by Trevor McKenzie appeared August 20 on Annotation: the National Historical Publications and Records Commission blog. McKenzie is the Project Archivist for the W. L. Eury Appalachian Collection, Appalachian State Special Collections and Archives. The article is reposted here with permission.


Trevblog-208x300When I came to work as the Project Archives Assistant on the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) grant at Appalachian State in the Fall of 2012, my only prior experience working in the archives was limited to a few months as a student.

My interests lie primarily in absorbing knowledge concerned with the history and folklore of the Appalachian Region through music, literature, arts, material culture, and—perhaps most useful of all— conversations and word of mouth.

This desire to understand the history local to the region drew me to attend Appalachian State in 2007. The deciding factor in my choice of university was the existence of the W. L. Eury Appalachian Collection, the largest and most comprehensive collection of Appalachian materials anywhere in the world.

To say I was “a kid in a candy store” when wandering around in the collection would be putting it lightly. Within the open stacks I could find materials on anything from archaeological surveys of ancient Indian Mounds to records of Kentucky fiddler Marion Sumner to a video on Virginia architectural influences in southern Ohio.

As if that was not enough, just on the other side of the wall in the Dougherty Reading Room I could view documents from the ballad collections of I. G. Greer, W. Amos Abrams, and Cratis Williams or read the letters of E. B. Olmsted, a ginseng buyer in 19th Century western North Carolina. After spending time in the Eury Collection, I was determined that, if I could not eventually work there, I would at least try to work towards finding a job in a similar collection somewhere within the region.

The NHPRC grant to process the backlog within the Appalachian Collection’s archives coincided with my graduation with a degree in Appalachian Studies in 2012. I applied for the University Library Specialist knowing I would have much to learn concerned with archival practices but I was excited at the prospect of handling and helping to preserve historic documents as part of a daily routine.

In processing the backlog I determined to balance my previous experience as a researcher with the practical constraints and time limitations of the grant. I began each collection by asking the same key question: How can I arrange these materials in a relatively short amount of time while still making it easy for researchers to find the items they need?

William Leonard Eury. Courtesy W. L. Eury Appalachian Collection/Appalachian State University

William Leonard Eury. Courtesy W. L. Eury Appalachian Collection/Appalachian State University

Tackling many of the larger collections within the backlog, I learned that each collection features a particular set of quirks dissimilar to others. To work out how to best process a collection I found that a hammer/anvil approach—hammer being the processing guidelines and anvil being the shape of the collection itself—is needed in order to address the problems within each collection.

My supervisor and the grant writer for this project, Cyndi Harbeson, was a constant sounding board for my concerns and questions regarding how best to process or reprocess a collection and helped me in balancing processing times with creating researcher friendly collections. Fellow Processing Archives Assistant Anita Elliot also picked up the slack for me in helping with processing grant materials, including knocking out a large number of the small collections as well as offering advice from her own experiences in processing.

Aside from the practical duties of processing, working on the grant introduced me to materials which reignited my enthusiasm for Appalachian history. Some of my favorite finds (as well as other eye catching items) are included on the Backlog Blog which I will continue to update until November when the grant is completed.

Perhaps the most invaluable experience from the grant (along with the obvious benefits of exclusive access to rare documents) was that it allowed me to work in close contact with a Special Collections team whose members possess both scholarly and personal knowledge of Appalachia’s landscape and culture. I am indebted to the jumpstart the NHPRC has given to my career and I hope to continue to use the knowledge I have gained through this grant to preserve and explore more collections valuable to the study of the history of this region and its people.

Backlog Blog

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Book Excerpt: ‘Lost at Thaxton’

Posted by Dave Tabler | August 27, 2014

Michael JonesPlease welcome guest author Michael Jones. Jones was planted in West Virginia and cultivated in South Carolina, with roots extended deep into Virginia soil. He is a graduate of Clemson University, author, entrepreneur, technology consultant, and history lover. His book, Lost at Thaxton, recounts the terrifying 1889 train wreck in Thaxton, VA that took place on the section of track managed by his great-great grandfather, Tandy Jones.


The handsome old fellow you see below right is my great-great grandfather, Tandy Jones. This particular photo hung in an old, oval frame on the wall of my grandmother’s home in Thaxton, VA. As a young boy, I always felt those eyes were following me no matter where I went in the room. You might chalk that up to the active imagination of a child, but I will bet that if you take just a moment to stare into those eyes, you just might feel the same. If you were like me, you would at least pause before getting into any mischief while you were in the vicinity of that watchful gaze.

Tandy Jones

I did not know much about Tandy. In fact, I really knew only one piece of information my grandmother had told me. He was a railroad section master for Norfolk & Western in Thaxton, whatever that meant. Little did I know that Tandy’s chosen occupation would lead me to spend the better part of two years researching and writing Lost at Thaxton.

It started one summer evening in 2011 while on a beach trip with family. The discussion turned to history, as it often does when I get a chance to steer it that way, and at some point someone mentioned a terrible train wreck at Thaxton. Tandy was in charge of the section of rail where the accident took place, but I had never heard any mention of the wreck in my lifetime. I wanted to know more about the story.

As I began to dig into the history of the wreck, I was surprised to find that there was significant loss of life, and the details of the accident were unbelievably terrifying and heartbreaking. Yet there seemed to be no particular memorializing of the wreck or of those who lost their lives that night in 1889. The wreck of passenger train Number Two at Thaxton seemed to slip away completely from the pages of history.

Historical markers in Virginia are located at the sites of the “Wreck of the Old 97″ in Danville and the “Wreck at the Fat Nancy” in Orange. The markers describe those wrecks as two of the worst in Virginia history, although both paled in comparison to the number of lives lost at Thaxton. The events that transpired after the wreck that night raised the horror of this deadly accident to unimaginable heights.

Lost at Thaxton was written to give a fitting memorial not only to those lives that were lost, but also to those who lived on and carried the scars of this tragedy with them in one way or another. It is common for us to focus on the details of the wreck and the train itself, but often we lose sight of the actual people who were part of it. I reviewed over four hundred individual sources of information to compose their story. Those sources included historical newspapers, books, court documents, personal letters, state and federal records, and personal interviews with descendants of passengers and Thaxton area families. I researched each of the seventy-four known passengers and crew on the train that night individually in order to provide the most accurate telling possible of a story long forgotten.

"The wreck at Thaxton, viewed from the northern side of the washout." Photograph courtesy of Norfolk and Western Historical Photograph Collection, Norfolk Southern Archives, Norfolk, Virginia. Digital image courtesy of Special Collections, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Virginia.

“The wreck at Thaxton, viewed from the northern side of the washout.” Photograph courtesy of Norfolk and Western Historical Photograph Collection, Norfolk Southern Archives, Norfolk, Virginia. Digital image courtesy of Special Collections, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Virginia.


Excerpt from Lost at Thaxton, Chapter 4, “Forewarning”:

When the train stopped at Blue Ridge, Baggage Master William Ford was still at work sorting the passengers’ luggage. He could hear rain pelting the tin roof of the baggage car, and he peered through the door to get a look at the weather. Water was covering the tracks, and Conductor Johnson was nearby, standing in the rain with an umbrella. It sounded like Johnson was speaking with the Blue Ridge telegraph operator.

“What is the matter?” Johnson cried out to the operator.

“The track is flooded to Liberty, run with great care, there is great danger!” came the reply. The telegraph operator was reading a telegram sent from Thaxton. It was the message sent less than an hour earlier that night by Conductor Butler, after his freight train had run into a fallen telegraph pole just beyond the Thaxton station.

Inside the mail car, Postal Clerk Lewis Summers overheard the somewhat distressing conversation between Johnson and the Blue Ridge telegraph operator. He surveyed the condition of the track from the door of his mail car. Water flowed over the rails, and he could barely make out the track as the water rippled over it. Several men scurried about with lanterns to inspect the condition of the road.

As Summers returned to his work, he mentioned what he had overheard to his assistant, James Rose. Summers was not overly concerned about the situation, but Rose looked a bit nervous. Rose decided he would stay extra alert as they pushed forward. If the train did run into trouble, it was not uncommon for those who had enough warning to jump from the train at the last moment. A desperation jump in the midst of a wreck could mean going home with just a broken leg instead of inside a wooden box. Rose was taking no chances.

Lost at Thaxton cover

Conductor Johnson stepped out of the rain and onto the second-class coach, where he met with Superintendent Cassell. The telegram reported flooding east of Thaxton, and communication was down at least from Thaxton east to the town of Liberty.

Liberty was about five miles from Thaxton, and that stretch of rail had no communication at the moment. Cassell gave instructions to Johnson to stop the train at the next depot, which was Buford. Once he arrived there, he hoped to determine the location of any trains that were east of Thaxton and make sure they managed the situation properly to avoid collisions.

With this plan in mind, they pressed on for Buford, about five miles east of Blue Ridge. Cassell headed back to the first-class coach to discuss the situation with DuBarry while the engine struggled to get going. The steep incline through the mountains was a challenge, especially when the train started from a complete stop. It was the first battle that engine Number 30 waged against the elements that night. In this case, man-made horsepower was up to the task and conquered the challenge presented by the mountain. They were further behind schedule, however, because the train pulled away six minutes late from the Blue Ridge station.

They had not gone far before Mother Nature once again taunted the train. About halfway between Blue Ridge and Buford, a watchman stood alongside the tracks and signaled with his red lantern for the train to stop. They were near a small community known as Ironville, and once again there was water running over the track. It was half past midnight, and it was becoming clear that the weather was determined to torment train Number Two for a while longer. Cassell got off the train to inspect the latest issue.

He noticed that the water was up over the wooden railroad ties but not over the track itself. Since the area was part of his division, Cassell was familiar with it, and he had seen the water higher at Ironville on several occasions. He decided that it was safe for the train to proceed cautiously through the high water. They crept along as if they were working through an invisible traffic jam until the entire train had cleared the flooded area.

"Interior photo representing First-class coach Number 63. This was the coach where most of the passengers were killed." Courtesy of Delaware Public Archives

“Interior photo representing First-class coach Number 63. This was the coach where most of the passengers were killed.” Courtesy of Delaware Public Archives

Unfortunately, they were still not ready for “full steam ahead” to Buford. Cassell knew that there was a road crossing just ahead where the section crew frequently battled with dirt and rocks washing down across the tracks. The crossing had been a nuisance recently thanks to all of the rains during the spring and summer. He asked Conductor Roland Johnson to step off and walk in front of the train with a lantern to examine the crossing just to be on the safe side. Roland tried his hand as a track inspector and found no issues. They quickly resumed the trip toward Buford.

After eavesdropping on the telegram conversation at Blue Ridge, Postal Clerk Lewis Summers had decided to sit by the door to his car until they cleared the heavy incline. Once he was comfortable that the train had made it through the trouble spots, he made one final check to ensure no letters were left to handle. His work for the night was done.

He put away his supplies and tied up the remaining sacks. Summers wanted there to be no delay when the time came to board his return train home at Lynchburg later that night. Once he had everything in order, it was time for a quick nap. It was a little known fact, but sacks of United States mail made a mighty fine mattress when stacked just right on a table. Summers had already learned this trick, and blissful sleep quickly arrived for him near the back of the postal car on his own handmade bed stuffed with fluffy correspondence.

He was already fast asleep when the train pulled into Buford about twenty-seven minutes behind schedule. Any passengers still awake were likely frustrated by the slow pace and frequent stops. It had taken nearly twenty minutes just to cover the five miles from Blue Ridge to Buford. One of those restless passengers was Frank Tanner, and he was ready for a smoke.

He nudged his friend John Kirkpatrick and asked if he would like to accompany him to the second-class car to relieve some stress through the time-honored tradition of burning tobacco rolled in paper. Kirkpatrick was mentally and physically tired from his long day of wrestling with the bad check issue in Roanoke, and he just wanted to go back to sleep. He handed Tanner a cigarette, and unknowingly the two friends spoke to one another for the last time.

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