Fire up the Christmas pudding!

Posted by Dave Tabler | December 7, 2016

Not every place has the distinction of being named after a Christmas treat. Tradition holds that Pudding Ridge, NC, in western Davie County, got its name one rainy day in February 1781 during a Revolutionary War engagement. British General Cornwallis was driving his troops through the soggy hillsides in hard pursuit of American General Nathanael Greene, before finally battling his rival near the current day site of Guilford College in Greensboro. The crossing at Dutchman Creek, until the early 1900s the main crossing toward Yadkin County, was so boggy and thick with mud that it reminded the British of pudding (by which they meant “Christmas pudding.”)

The name stuck with the colonists, who would have been as familiar with Christmas pudding as their rivals and understood the reference immediately. Fortunately most Appalachian traditions associated with this classic seasonal treat have a much more positive connotation than that of being chased by enemies through the mud.

1876 ad for plum pudding reads: “Head of the family, try Atmore’s mince meat and genuine English plum pudding / Clay, Cosack & Co., Buffalo, N.Y.”

In many of the region’s households, part of the fun of eating Christmas pudding is finding a trinket that predicts your fortune for the coming year. For instance, finding a coin means you will become wealthy. Find a button, you’ll remain a bachelor, find a thimble, you’ll stay a spinster, but find a ring —ah!— find a ring, and you’ll be married soon enough. The idea of hiding something in the pudding comes from the tradition in the Middle Ages of hiding a bean in a cake that was served on Twelfth Night. Whoever found the bean became “king” for the rest of the night.

There are more symbols tucked into that luscious black dessert. A traditional Christmas pudding contains 13 ingredients representing Christ and his disciples. When you light the brandy that is poured over the pudding (or in the case of Carolina Christmas pudding, the whiskey) the flame represents Christ’s passion, while the garnish of holly is a reminder of His Crown of Thorns. A proper Christmas pudding is always stirred from East to West in honor of the three Wise Men. Puddings are traditionally prepared five weeks before Christmas, most frequently on the Sunday of the week before the start of Advent.

sources: “Christmas at Biltmore Estate/Asheville NC”

Christmas+in+Appalachia Christmas+pudding Pudding+Ridge+NC appalachia appalachian+culture appalachian+mountains+history

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Worst mine disaster in US history

Posted by Dave Tabler | December 6, 2016

At 10:20 a.m., December 6, 1907, explosions occurred at the No. 6 and No. 8 mines at Monongah, West Virginia. The explosions ripped through the mines at 10:28 a.m., causing the earth to shake as far as eight miles away, shattering buildings and pavement, hurling people and horses violently to the ground, and knocking streetcars off their rails. Three-hundred and sixty-two men and boys died. It remains the worst mine disaster in the history of the United States.

The Monongah Mines Nos. 6 and 8 were located on the West Fork of the Monongahela River, about six miles south of the town of Fairmont, West Virginia. The mines were connected underground and were considered model mines, the most up-to-date in the mining industry. Electricity was used for coal cutting machinery, locomotives were used to haul coal, and the largest areas of each mine were ventilated by mechanical fans.

Monogah mine disaster 1907For a time pandemonium reigned. Every local mine official was missing. It was impossible to fathom the nature and extent of the catastrophe, or to tell whether either mine was on fire or full of gas.

Soon after the explosion, four miners emerged through an outcrop opening, dazed and bleeding but otherwise unharmed. The stunned survivors could tell nothing of the fate of the others still underground.

With the hundreds of shrieking, half-crazed women and crying children came every man left in the town. Volunteers were willing and anxious to help with the rescue work.

Frantically, they cleared away the wreckage at the entrance and tried to force their way into the mine. They soon began to succumb to the toxic mine air and had to be rescued themselves.

The explosion filled the mine with “black damp”, an atmosphere in which no human being could live. It blocked the main heading with wrecked cars and timbers, and demolished one of the fans, which greatly restricted ventilation.

Choking coal dust, rubble, and wrecked equipment impeded the progress of volunteer rescue teams. The No. 8 mine’s huge ventilation fan had been destroyed, and a smaller fan was used to ventilate both mines. Brick stoppings, the partitions used to direct air through the mines, had been blown out. As rescue parties slowly advanced, they used canvas curtains to restore ventilation, dilute gas, and disperse dust.

At the bottom of No. 6 slope, debris from a wrecked trip was found scattered for 250 feet along the headings. Cars were smashed and piled on top of each other nearly blocking the entry. The trip had been pulled up the slope and stopped at the knuckle a short time before the explosion causing the coupling pin on the first car to break. The entire trip consisting of eighteen loaded two-ton cars went down the incline. The explosion occurred before the cars had gone into the pit mouth and before the trip had reached the bottom of the slope.

At 4:00 p.m., moaning was heard near a crop hole, and a rescuer was lowered through the hole on a rope. About 100 feet below, he found miner Peter Urban sitting on the shattered body of his brother, Stanislaus, staring glassy-eyed into space as he sobbed uncontrollably. He was the last survivor of the Monongah disaster.

Exhausted volunteers found conditions in the mines almost unbearable, heat was intense, and afterdamp caused headaches and nausea. In some headings, ventilation materials and bodies had to be hauled 3,000 feet over massive roof falls and wrecked machinery, mine cars, timbers, and electrical wiring. The stench of death was barely tolerable, and became overpowering as the search dragged on.

Searchers never lost sight of the fact that there might possibly be some men in the mine alive. They continued to explore all parts of the workings with all possible speed, leaving unnecessary work for another time.

Embalmers worked around the clock in shifts. Caskets lined both sides of the main street. The bank served as a morgue. Churches conducted funeral services several times a day as dozens of men dug long rows of graves on nearby hillsides. Disputes flared over identification of victims, and more than once, a body was claimed by two families.

By December 10, the number of people killed was over 175. It was obvious to most rescue workers, but not to relatives of missing men, that Peter Urban would be the last man to be brought out alive. By Thursday, December 12, all workings had been ventilated and searched and 337 bodies recovered. Twenty-five more victims were found during cleanup operations.

Monogah mine disaster 1907A special graveyard, soon filled, was laid out on a bleak hillside. Company houses flanked the burial ground. Rows of open graves were dug in the sodden, half-frozen, rain-drenched and snow-flecked West Virginia soil.

The 362 casualties of Monongah’s coal mine disaster left more than 1,000 widows and children.

The Marion County Coroner’s Jury, after hearing from numerous witnesses, concluded the victims of the disaster died from an explosion caused by either a blown-out shot or by ignition and explosion of blasting powder in Mine No. 8.

“Mining Disasters – An Exhibition,” Mine Safety and Health Administration; online at

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The West Virginia Mine Wars Museum: Getting Stronger by the Member

Posted by Dave Tabler | December 5, 2016

Lou MartinPlease welcome guest author Lou Martin. He is a board member of the West Virginia Mine Wars Museum. He earned his Ph.D. in history from West Virginia University, and his research has focused on steel and pottery workers in northern West Virginia. His most recent book is Smokestacks in the Hills: Rural-Industrial Workers in West Virginia, published by the University of Illinois Press last year.


The West Virginia Mine Wars Museum officially opened its doors on May 16, 2015. Over the decades, there have been many who have worked to preserve this history, but it has always been a challenge. This is the history of workers meeting violence with violence, and the consequences were tragic. This is the history of workers fighting for basic rights and a life of dignity and being defeated. It is a history that many have wanted to forget.

Front of the West Virginia Mine Wars Museum. Photo courtesy the author

Front of the West Virginia Mine Wars Museum. Photo courtesy of the Mine Wars Museum.


The Mine Wars Museum is dedicated to the idea that we need to remember the days when gunfire filled the valleys of the southern West Virginia coalfields, the days when miners and their families struggled to survive, and the days when martial law was declared and civil liberties were ignored. And we need to learn from it.

The Grand Opening was attended by more than 500 people and featured speeches by Matewan Town Council member Francine Jones, historian David Corbin, and UMWA President Cecil Roberts. Roberts said, “I submit to you that it is time for working folks not only to stand up and fight back and keep the middle class [relevant], it’s time to stop the millionaires and the billionaires telling us what our kids can read and learn in the schools.” (Mingo Messenger, May 23, 2015)

The museum features permanent exhibits on coal camp life, the Paint Creek-Cabin Creek strike of 1912-1913, the 1920 Battle of Matewan, the Miners’ March, and the 1921 Battle of Blair Mountain. Some of the artifacts include a miner’s canary cage, scrip and check tags, and bullet casings and a rifle recovered from one of the battles. Historical photographs and film strips help tell the story of these turbulent times. The museum has attracted tour groups from colleges and universities, from volunteer organizations, and from local schools.

We also hosted events this year that include a “May Day Matinee” screening of the PBS documentary “The Mine Wars” and an hour with Dr. Fred Barkey who shared his father-in-law’s memories of the Battle of Blair Mountain.

Cecil Roberts, UMWA President, and Charles "Hawkeye" Dixon, UMWA Local 1440, at the Grand Opening, May 16, 2015. Photo courtesy the author

Cecil Roberts, UMWA President, and Charles “Hawkeye” Dixon, UMWA Local 1440, at the Grand Opening, May 16, 2015. Photo courtesy of the Mine Wars Museum.

And we added one new exhibit this year: the Miners’ Memorial Exhibit. The memorial was inspired by Shirley Henson Mattox, whose father died in a mine accident 62 years ago.

Ms. Mattox contacted the museum to recommend we find a way to remember those who lost their lives in the mines, and the result is a three-sided display constructed by retired coal miner Dan Collins.

It includes historical information on the dangers of coal mining and a board of check tags bearing the names of fallen miners. At the dedication of the exhibit, Dr. Paul Rakes spoke of his years in the mines. “I learned that courage was important,” he said. “There is a bond between miners that you don’t see in academia. That bond comes from working together in dangerous conditions, and being able to rely upon one another.” (Mingo Messenger, August 12, 2016)

This summer, we also published the first issue of In These Hills: The West Virginia Mine Wars Museum Journal, which includes articles on the history of the Mine Wars and stories from the museum itself.

This year, the West Virginia Humanities Council provided funding for the journal, and we hope that it will be a way to spotlight ongoing research on the Mine Wars and keep readers informed about the latest developments at the museum. The journal’s title is a tribute to the late James R. Green, author of The Devil is Here in These Hills: West Virginia’s Coal Miners and Their Battle for Freedom (2015).

One of the things that gives me and the other members of the board a great sense of pride is the way that the community of Matewan and the surrounding Tug Valley has embraced the museum. From the beginning, it has been a collaboration between residents of communities involved in the Mine Wars in Mingo and Logan counties and in the Tug Valley as well as people like me who live outside of the area.

May Day Matinee audience watching the PBS documentary "The Mine Wars," May 2016. Photo courtesy the author

May Day Matinee audience watching the PBS documentary “The Mine Wars,” May 2016. Photo courtesy of the Mine Wars Museum.


We have been thrilled to incorporate many local residents—whether they are carpenters, local business owners, or local historians—into the efforts of the museum. Our summer fellow, Kim McCoy, whose position was supported by the West Virginia Humanities Council, spent some days educating visitors about the Mine Wars and evenings starring in the Hatfield-McCoy drama “Blood Song” just across the Tug River.

We are particularly excited to have the support of UMWA Local 1440 and the UMWA International Office. Local 1440 has donated time and resources to the museum, allowed us to use their beautiful hall for events, and has always been there to encourage us when we needed it most.

Now, we are holding our very first membership drive, which we believe is critical to the future of the museum. In the months leading up to our May 2015 Grand Opening, some four hundred donors—many of them readers of—helped make this museum possible, and we operated for eighteen months largely on the money that the organization received in that initial fundraiser, small donations from visitors to the museum, and grants we received from the National Coal Heritage Area Authority and the West Virginia Humanities Council.

Retired miner Dan Collins stands beside the Miners' Memorial Exhibit that he constructed, August 6, 2016. Photo courtesy the author.

Retired miner Dan Collins stands beside the Miners’ Memorial Exhibit that he constructed, August 6, 2016. Photo courtesy of the Mine Wars Museum.

Since then, the museum board members have thought a lot about how to make it a permanent institution in the Tug Valley so that it can continue to share this history with visitors, host events, educate students about the Mine Wars, and promote heritage tourism. To do that, we are hoping to build a foundation of support from members who believe in this mission as much as we do.

New members will receive an awesome membership card, a free issue of In These Hills, and the pride that comes with supporting these efforts to preserve this important history. We have not set a price for membership, but we are encouraging people to donate $5 per month. And it only takes a couple of minutes to enter your name, address, and credit card information into our secure website:

The Mine Wars Museum is now closed until spring 2017, but we will still open the museum for tour groups and you can contact us through our website ( I am excited about the future of this museum, and I believe that keeping the history of the Mine Wars alive is more important now than ever.


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Dashing through the snow

Posted by Dave Tabler | December 2, 2016

Stephens’ “Book of the Farm” (1840) says “Winter is the especial season of man – our own season. It is the intellectual season during which the spirit of man enables him most to triumphantly display his superiority over the beasts each day that perish.” In winter, the countryman plays a conqueror who sets forth each day to battle the elements, and winning, returns to the rewards of his harvests. It’s a daily game, beyond the ken of the city-dweller whose comings and goings lack the flavor of make-believe.

The coming of winter in the old days was heralded by a “banking-up season,” when the north sides of houses and barns were stacked with proper insulation. Corn stalks, hay, leaves, or sawdust shouldered the base of the farmhouse against winter’s blast; cow dung did the job at the barn.

The first of December was Sled Day wherever winter and snow were synonymous; that was the day when sleds of all sorts were readied and sleigh bells were made to shine. Just over sixty years ago there were real sounds to winter: steel-shod runners squeaked over the packed snow and the almost constant music of sleigh bells filled the crisp air everywhere. Winter was a season of bells.

sleigh scene in wvTime was when you could recognize a neighbor’s approach by the sound of his sleigh bells, even tell which neighbor it was. Some farmers made up their own sets of bells and others preferred to use inherited sets. For those who wished to buy, however, there were Swiss Pole chimes, Mikado chimes, and King Henry chimes; the Dexter Body Strap of twenty-four bells was a popular buy. At first, sleigh bells were made from two half-globes of metal soldered together, but one-piece bells were later cast and sold separately, ready for fastening to harness. A matched set cost about $1.50.

The reason for using bells on a sleigh was not only for merriment but primarily for safety. A sleigh was a silent vehicle and a fast one, which its driver often found the greatest difficulty in stopping. Furthermore, everyone wore ear muffs or some other sort of ear-covering in the early days, so that winter pedestrians were practically deaf. Just as lights and horns are now required on the highway, bells were once a “must” for all winter traffic.

“The Cracker Barrel”
by Eric Sloane
(Funk & Wagnalls, 1967)

appalachia appalachian+culture appalachian+mountains+history banking+up Eric+Sloane Sled+Day sleigh+bells winter

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Double murder in Vinton County, part 2

Posted by Dave Tabler | December 1, 2016


On November 11, 1926, young neighbor Manville Perry noticed the living room door of William and Sarah Stout’s farmhouse open, and was shocked by the sight he saw. He ran to a nearby coal mine and called for several miners to accompany him back to the farm.

Mrs. Stout’s body lay in front of the living room stove. Her face, neck and portions of her body were burnt and charred beyond recognition. One arm was extended on the floor in front of her and was not burnt, suggesting that she had not tried to extinguish the flames of the fire. All her hair was burned off except where her head came in contact with the floor.

It was obvious to the gathered group that the body had been placed in front of the stove. Local Prosecuting Attorney Blake was called in, and he and Dr. O. S. Cox and Dr. A. E. James studied the scene. Their post mortem concluded that Mrs. Stout died of strangulation, not burns. The body was then covered with kerosene and set fire, they declared.

double murder in Vinton County OHSarah Stout was last seen alive in McArthur, two days prior, when she had sworn out a warrant against Arthur Stout, her stepson. The adultery charge cited his illicit relationship with one Inez Palmer, who had been co-habiting with him for three years on his family farm about three miles east of Sarah & William’s farm. It was rumored that Inez and Arthur had had a child since they had been living together.

The young Stout had been bailed out of jail by his father. Mrs. Stout feared that Arthur would kill her on account of her actions, Stout neighbor Mrs. Lucy Gibbs later testified.

Sarah, age 60, and her husband, age 65, were recently wed and were respected, well-to-do farmers in the county. We don’t know Sarah’s exact motive for turning in her stepson, especially if she realized it would be a life-threatening move.

One view is that for her to allow the situation to fester would undoubtedly have tarnished her and her new husband’s reputations and thereby threatened her future security. Another view is that she was a gold digger, looking to eliminate any competition for the old boy’s money. We just don’t know.

William Stout immediately called for the arrest of his son. “I shall demand his punishment,” he said. “It was an awful thing to do, to murder the woman who had raised him even if she was only his step-mother.” Interestingly, before his own death William Stout hired the law firm of Woolley and Rowland to defend his son.

Bloodhounds followed the trail of the murdered woman’s stepson from a wagon he had unhitched in the yard to the room in which Sarah Stout was slain, which in turn led to Arthur Stout’s arrest. In early February 1927 a Grand Jury indicted him for first degree murder.

When Stout was taken to jail, Palmer became a housekeeper for the elder Stout. So apparently William didn’t suspect her of any wrongdoing. Or maybe he did and wanted to keep close tabs on her!

Here’s where the Athens Messenger account becomes confusing: “Coming from Bellaire several years ago, Inez Palmer first took care of Mrs. Arthur [sic] Stout. Mrs. Stout had been ill for some time. There she met Arthur Stout.” So far so good. “Mrs. Stout died and William Stout remarried.” Now wait a minute! We’re not told why the death of his daughter-in-law coincided with William Stout remarrying. But the red flag here is that the elder Stout said he was angered that his son murdered the woman who RAISED him. The newspaper accounts shed no light on this inconsistency.

So to recap, at the time of her own arrest in mid-March 1927, Inez Palmer was in the Stout farmhouse with Artie and William Stout, Arthur Stout’s sons, who’d been living with their grandfather for some time, while Arthur was behind bars.

Inez Palmer didn’t say anything about Sarah Stout’s death when she was first arrested. She did confess that she killed William Stout because he made advances toward her. She explained that she attempted to cover up the crime by putting on a pair of her victim’s shoes and had made footprints near the repaired fences. And yes, she said that she’d forgest the will placed it in the dinner pail under a tree.

When Arthur Stout learned of Palmer’s confession, he confirmed her story, and furthermore declared that she had killed Sarah Stout. Palmer had instructed him to burn the body, he said.

Arthur Stout and Inez Palmer were tried for the murders. On the stand, Arthur Stout, Jr. informed the prosecutor that his father was the person who proposed the idea of murdering Sarah Stout, because she’d had him arrested for living with Inez Palmer without the benefit of marriage.

Arthur Stout was found guilty of second degree murder and Inez Palmer with first degree murder in April of 1927. They both were sentenced to life terms.

Sources: Athens [OH] Messenger, 11/18/26, 11/19/26, 3/14/27, 3/18/27, 5/1/27 issues
Profiles of Ohio Women, 1803-2003, by Jacqueline Jones Royster, Ohio University Press, 2003
Vinton County, Oh, by Family Heritage (Firm), Turner Publishing Company, 1996

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