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None dared stop overnight at the Betts house

Posted by | December 9, 2016

The Charleston Daily Mail
Dec. 27, 1925

Grantsville, Calhoun County, W. Va., March 24, 1886. The following history of the haunted house, situated on the bank of Little Kanawha river, about three miles from this place, is presented to the scientist for explanation. The skeptical reader is frankly and honestly referred to any one of the persons named herein for verification of their share of the history.

Although it is one of the strangest and most unaccountable stories written on this subject within a quarter of a century, every detail is well authenticated. A solution of the mysteries connected with this history will be received with gratitude and pleasure by hundreds of the respectable and honest citizens of Calhoun, Ritchie and Wirt counties. But to the history:

Grantsville, WV in 1918.

Grantsville, WV in 1918.


About three miles from the county seat of Calhoun county there resided, and still resides, Mr. Collins Betts, a farmer, who is well known throughout this section of the country. His house is a one-story, rambling affair, close to the banks of the stream and but a short distance from the highway. But for the reputation of the house it would be a frequent stopping place for the wayfaring; as it is, there are now but few men, in a country famed for its nervy and physical giants, who would dare to stop over night at Betts house.

The reputation of the house as being haunted was acquired some years since. By some – many in fact – it is ascribed to the disappearance of a peddler in the neighborhood and never to be heard of more. It is whisperingly surmised by the most cautious that the peddler was known to have had over $1,000 in his possession at the time; and was probably murdered in the vicinity. Others say his horse had been left and no one ever came for it. Be this as it may, from that time forward Collins’ house has borne the reputation of being haunted.

Article continues HERE…



How Cherokee stone crosses came to be

Posted by | December 8, 2016

Early one day long ago from time out of memory the people of a Cherokee town awoke and faced east to say their morning prayers to the Creator in heaven (Ca-lun-la-ti). In the distance could be heard the cry of an owl, a sign of death and bad luck. The eastern sky began turning many colors, and it looked as if a storm was about to take place. Indians from other villages joined them and there was a feeling of sadness.

Soon, the Little People (Yun-wi T-suns-di — dwarfs or fairies with long black hair) who lived deep in the forest appeared to the Cherokee; they were only two feet tall and often brought messages to the people. They spoke first to the tribal elders and then to everyone who had assembled in the town.

staurolite crystalThey told a story of both greatness and sadness. Many years ago, a new star (no-t-lu-si) had appeared in the eastern sky beyond the big salt water. A special boy-child had been born to a tribe chosen by the creator. He had grown into a man of wisdom and had taught his people the ways of the Creator and the straight white path of peace.

He was a man of kindness and brought strong medicine (nu-wa-ti) to his people. Although he taught purity and harmony with the creator, he had many enemies who would not hear his message of peace. They would not believe that his medicine made sick people well. Thus, on this day, they would torture and kill this wise man, and he would walk towards the nightland (death).

As the sky grew dark, the Indians sang a death song to honor this beloved man of peace whom they called the Son of the Creator. All of the animal nations of the forests soon came and stood by them. Because of their sorrow, the Cherokee began to cry. Their tears soon covered the ground. When their weeping had ended, they looked down and saw that their tears had been changed into small stone crosses.

For the Indians, the cross design had always represented the cardinal points or the four directions. Now it had a new religious meaning. The Creator (E-do-da) had heard their prayers and songs and had given them a gift. The Cherokee kept these stone crosses and always honored them.

The Chiltoskey family of Cherokee, NC has preserved this Cherokee legend of the stone crosses.


Cherokee+myths Cherokees Christmas+in+Appalachia appalachia Appalachian+tales appalachian+history appalachian+mountains+history


Fire up the Christmas pudding!

Posted by | 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


Worst mine disaster in US history

Posted by | 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


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

Posted by | 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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