Harley Rayann Moses

“[My brother and I] will argue, and if he hits me, I’m going to hit him back. Twice as hard, because that’s what I do. And then he’ll go tell mom, which I think is a mistake because he won’t tell what he does. When I tell on somebody, I always make sure I tell what I did.”

Harley Rayann Moses, Age 11; Harlan, Kentucky:

“I have lived in Harlan my whole life, but I’ve lived in different parts of Harlan. I was born here and this is basically where my dad and my mom grew up so it is special to me because my family’s been living here for quite a while. I haven’t been out of Kentucky. I’ve been on the borderline of Kentucky and Tennessee though. That was the farthest I‘ve ever been out of Kentucky though. 

I usually just like to sit in my room and watch You Tube and watch TV. But in the summer, I like to go to my cousin’s and swim, and I will play with my friends on Bailey Hill.

I just mainly watch videos and listen to music. I like rap mostly. I like Eminem rap because that’s the only rap I’ve grown up with, Eminem rap.

I like living in the mountains because it is easier because you don’t have to put up with all the noises in big cities and that is where most famous people actually grew up, is in the mountains. I know there’s a few famous people from here, but I don’t know their names. 

I go to school at Harlan Middle School. It’s really great, but having seven periods all in one day is really hard. Two of my teachers I have twice a day so that kind of makes it hard because I am used to going to another class for rotation. 

I like that I have a lot of teachers that know my name and that I can always come here [Harlan County Boys & Girls Club] and play with my friends. I‘d say my favorite subject is science. Right now in science we are mixing chemicals. My teacher put a mark with a marker on a sheet of paper and cut it up and put it in a glass of water, and she is going to let it sit there all weekend and see what it does. 

Well, my mom, if she doesn’t like you, she will straight out tell you. I don’t like you, leave me alone, get out of my face. My dad is more like, easy, and he’ll try to tell you it in a soft way. 

He does construction with my papaw. My dad is not around a lot anymore because he got sent off for a while to Bell County Forestry Camp. I go and visit him occasionally. If he plays with us, they search him longer than they would regularly, so he doesn’t want us playing. He doesn’t want to get up and play with us because he is afraid if he gets searched too long that if they don’t find anything that they are going to be really angry because they expect to find something. My dad just wants to talk to us. We are allowed to sit in my dad’s lap. We are allowed to sit by our dad. It is a little square table. My dad has to sit here. Me and Randy have to sit across from each other because we’re both by my dad, and my mom and my mamaw have to sit right straight across from him. The regular visiting hours, if you get up really early in the morning and make it there on time, you are able to visit him for two hours, at the most. What I miss most is that he would help me with my homework and if I always had something wrong, he always would know. My mom can’t tell because my mom and me never hang out. We’ll text each other, but we live in the same house. We won’t really talk as much anymore. It is just my dad and me. We used to talk all the time so that’s the hardest part for me. 

[My brother and I] will argue, and if he hits me, I’m going to hit him back. Twice as hard, because that’s what I do. And then he’ll go tell mom, which I think is a mistake because he won’t tell what he does. When I tell on somebody, I always make sure I tell what I did”.

(Do you love your brother?) Yes. We will watch You Tube on my phone together. We will watch You Tube on his phone together. We will take turns playing games on his phone because my phone has no games yet. We will just play all kinds of games. We play Xbox together

[I have at least four grandpas]. I really don’t have a favorite. My one papaw does construction with my dad. We have a family business. It’s construction. He likes to play the piano and he is a guitarist at my church, and he just works all the time. I am more around him than I am with all my other papaws. He will take us outside and he will let us play with Zeus and let us give Zeus a bath. Zeus was my cousin Peyton’s dog that lived at my mamaw’s. He ran off. We don’t know if he died or what, but he used to let me get the water hose and spray him down to wash him. My papaw would also take me to his room and he’d show me his guns. He has several guns. He promised me that one day he is going to let me shoot one of them. I already am registered to shoot a gun. I already have my hunter’s license. 

My papaw Randy, he can’t talk right now because he just got over a stroke that messed his voice up real bad. So he is still recovering, and I am really hoping he can talk better soon. You can hardly even understand him. He kind of stutters a little bit now. I really want him to get better. But one thing I really feel bad for him now is he is grieving over his stepson dying, my uncle Brandon. He was doing electrical work, and he fell like a 100 feet out of the air. He was one of the three people that fell out. The other two lived because the truck didn’t smash them. He got crushed by a truck. It was only a few months ago. 

One day I might actually leave for Hollywood or something because I’ve always wanted to go to Hollywood. I want to be a doctor. A professional doctor for movie stars and stuff because that would mean I got paid a lot. And it would be really nice to work with some movie stars I’ve known since I was little. 

The worst part of living here though, the worst part about it is all the drugs. Harlan used to be a good town until people started bringing drugs over here. Then it turned into something awful. This is why the population in Harlan is going down. That’s why all my family is moving to Florida and Indiana and it is almost my mom’s time to choose between Indiana and Florida. 

I just got in contact my best friend, and she goes to whole different school and if I move I won’t be able to contact her at all again. We get to meet each other at (at the mall. I sing there, she dances. I sing every year though, since fourth grade. That’s the only time I get to see her and her mom always hands out these little cards for her dance place. I’ve always wanted to go, but I can’t because we cant afford it. 

I get stage fright if I’m singing by myself. I am okay if I am around people that I’ve sung in front of before I’m okay because I have to sing in front on my church. I hope to be the one that plays the piano in church because I’ve always wanted to do that. My papaw’s going to teach me. He promised to teach me, but I don’t know when.

[Music] is important to me. I don’t care what other people think, but it is important to me because a lot of songs actually mean things to me. Some songs remind me of stuff that I love. Some songs are just hilarious that I want to sing again.
Like there is this song, it’s on Super Mario Smash Brothers, it has Pikachu and it is a video too. And Pikachu’s going “nyuck” and it is so cute because his little paws are just waving in the air and it’s adorable. I just want to keep watching the video over and over because it’s really catchy. And what music means to me for rap and stuff, it’s because that’s the only thing I have grown up around mostly and the one I’ve always heard about is, ‘I’m Friends with the Monster Under My Bed.’ I love that song. I sing it all the time. 

Saddest time in my life was a few days after my birthday and my granny died. That was worst because she gave me all of her jewelry and all of her porcelain dolls, but what hurt me the most is I didn’t get anything left after she died because they mystically decided I got the least expensive stuff and [my cousin] would get the more expensive stuff. My cousin has dolls, Barbie dolls, just hanging in a place with all these creepy dolls. They don’t belong in there. They belong in my room hanging up. What her will said is give all the porcelain dolls, jewelry, and Barbie dolls that’s she’s collected over the years to me. It didn’t happen. 

She was really nice. She was really sweet. I never got to see her much because she had mold in her house. I’m highly allergic to it. If I breathe it in, I would most likely die. She had to move into her game shed. She had this shed that if I invited a friend over we could sleep in there and we could party all night. My granny would have a microwave in there, and she would give us microwave food so we could have fun in there and stay up all night. And there was a big TV and a bed. It was a queen-size bed, so two people could sleep on it. She had to move into that and add a porch because there was mold in her old house. 

My happiest time in my life was basically when I didn’t kill my little brother (laughs). I was two. He was only a baby. I hated him. I wanted to be the only child for the rest of my life because I was only two. I didn’t know better. I tried to throw him off the couch. My mom was vacuuming the floor and put him in his baby player, I couldn’t climb in and out those things though. That’s why she got him one of those and he slept in that and I slept in a crib. I could climb in and out of a crib and if he had a crib I’d be able to climb into his. I could not climb into his little thing because it was over my head. She put it up on the couch where I was sitting. I knew this little trick where I could climb on the back of the couch and get into it. I got into it, grabbed Randy started to throw him and mom came by and I don’t know how, but she automatically caught him and she didn’t even know. 

Appalachia is special to me because this is my hometown, and I will never leave. I’m more country than I am city. I like listening to country music. I see a lot of country movies and that would explain why I’m country, because basically half my movies are country. It is just natural to me because I have always been used to country stuff, except rap. Rap I’ve grown up with in my life, that’s something else.”

William “Buck” Wade

“That coal ain’t going anywhere. It don’t eat and it don’t sleep. It don’t cost nothing. It’s just sitting in that mine. If they go in there twenty years from now, that coal will still be there just like they left it. It ain’t going to grow any more, and it ain’t going to draw up. That’s why coal operators feel safe… it ain’t dead gone yet, it just ain’t come back to itself.” 

William “Buck” Wade, Retired Miner; Keystone, West Virginia:

“I was born and raised in the town of Eckman, West Virginia. It was pretty large during that time when I grew up there as a boy. I guess it was around six or seven hundred people, and that was a pretty good crowd for then. Nobody lived around in that area but coal miners and their families.

My uncle and my parents came out of North Carolina where they were regular farmers. One of my uncles walked all the way here. His name was Sam Harrison. Uncle Sam and my daddy’s cousin to my uncle, Peter Giles, they wanted to come here to the coalfields where you could make some money. They heard about the good times, and that life was better for people in the coalfields if they were willing to work. I had it written down what route they came, but I remember this much, they walked all the way here. They traveled mostly in the day, and they slept at night in the mountains. It took them two weeks to walk from Martinsville, Virginia, to Eckman. They were the first ones that came here. After they worked a month or two, they went back home, and my father came back here with them, and he went to work in the mines. 

When we were kids, we were crazy about riding sleds, and I took a lot of interest in sports. I played football down at Eckman High School and I played basketball down there. 

Yeah, they had sports, and that’s when you saw most of the kids assembling. They all loved to come to the games. And now the girls, they done got on the page with the boys. Yeah, these girls play basketball as good as these boys. When I first started going to school, when I got about the fifth grade, I started getting a little interest in basketball, and I found out then, and it come to me years later, Keystone Eckman had such big boys. The boys were big, and could play so good, that the junior high school was playing high schools. 

Most people, my relatives and the people I knew all around us, they loved moonshine better than they did bonded whiskey. A lot of times the one that was making it wasn’t selling it. They were buying it from the maker, and they were selling it by the pints and the half a pints. 

They’d throw the bottles away once they got done drinking them. I’d hustle those bottles because the bootleggers that were selling it to you by pints and them half a pints, they needed some bottles to put it in, because they didn’t want them drinking the liquor there at the house, because they might get caught. They sell you a half pint, and they sell you a pint, you’d get it and go, you know? He didn’t let you drink it in the house. 

I’d go out and I’d get bottles, and they’d buy them from me for a penny a piece, and sometimes I’d have a hundred. Man, when I got a dollar, I was ready for the movies. (Laughs) We sold milk bottles for a nickel, and pop bottles, we’d sell them for a penny. You know what a loaf of bread was? Ten cents. Bottle of pop was a nickel. 

When I was a kid coming along, when my mother got ready to have children, and I believe this took place with a whole lot of others, too, the doctor would come to our house, you know, and see my mother. Before the baby came, my mother would tell us, ‘You’re going to have a new little brother or sister, one.’ [We would say,] ‘Oh, we are? Where are we going to get it?’  Mother would say, ‘The doctor is going to bring it.’ So, we thought, well, the doctor is going to bring us a new brother or sister. 

We weren’t paying any attention to the size of mama. And oh, we’d just be talking about our little brothers and little sisters coming. Now, what made us a real believer out of it, I didn’t see any baby until the doctor came. There wasn’t any baby there when he came, but he carried that black bag and when he left, there was a baby when I went in the house. Yeah, now that made it conclusive, that the doctor brought that baby there. (Laughs)  They never told us any better. (Still laughing.) I never found out anything like that until I went to school. 

I remember my brother finding a statement that my dad had drawn some money; I think he’s still got it. He paid house rent. I believe the house rent was ninety-five cents. Ninety-five cents a month; that’s what he paid for the company house they lived in. He paid the juice bill. The juice bill would sometimes be seventy-nine, eighty cents; Appalachian Power controlled that. And daddy had to pay the doctor bill. The doctor bill was fifty-cents a month. You paid a hospital bill back then, and you listed all the children you had or whoever was your dependents. Then, they could go to the hospital free of charge, because you were paying hospital bill. You were paying the hospital whether you went or not, so if you ever had to go, any of you had to go, you were all right. 

You paid the doctor. Now, the company employed the doctor, and he lived in one of the houses. I think the doctor bill was around a dollar and something. You get sick, you needed the doctor, a woman was having a baby, you could call and the doctor would come. He had an office, but he’d come in the middle of the night if somebody went down to his house and asked for him and needed him. He knew everybody on the job, as they called it. The doctor knew them, knew them by name, and brought most of the kids in the world. I never looked at it like I would look at it now. I tell somebody that, and they would think, ‘that’s so unusual. A doctor was living on a coal camp, and doctoring on people.’  But he was. Yeah, he really was. And I think he enjoyed it because he stayed. They stayed so long. I know Dr. Hughes delivered me and [when] I was grown, Doc Hughes was still there, and he had raised his family there. That was one thing I never heard anybody write about or talk about, you know?  

Christmas was a joyful time, mostly. We couldn’t afford much, but we would have a wagon, a sled, or a scooter. They had made scooters with two wheels, a wheel on the back and a wheel in the front, and you would push it would get to drifting; you could stand on it. We would have nuts, candy, and them apples. Usually, my father, a farmer like he was, would raise three or four hogs every year. Yeah, and around Christmas time was when he’d kill them, and you’d grind up sausage. 

He made souse meat out of its head, and he’d had liver and lights. We loved that kind of cooking, you know. We’d take it right out the hog and wash it, run water on it, and take it in there before he even cut the hog up. He’d cut that liver and lights up and put it in a pot and start it to boiling. We’d eat it that evening. Then, he’d grind up the hog. After you cut up the hog, you grind up the sausage and separate the bacon, and cut the hams, trim them up and salt them down. I used to see him pour the salt in and take his finger and just job it down, job it down into the meat, and just work that, work that salt into him, because he ain’t going to spoil if you keep him in salt. Keep that salt in the middle, it would work all the way down into the bone, and that meat won’t spoil. We’d have a ham, and have some chitlins. Don’t leave those chitlins out, see I might get me some this winter. Yeah, I still eat them. Have those chitlins, and cakes. Mama sometimes would make three or four cakes. Then, we’d take eggnog and mix the moonshine liquor with that eggnog. (Hearty laugh.)  

Oh, it was wonderful. The only thing I ever dreaded was when I found out there really wasn’t any Santa Claus. 

[After my mother passed away,] my Father raised us, me and my two brothers and my two sisters. My father taught me how to comb my sisters’ and them hair, and how to get them ready for school. He taught me how to cook. He taught me how to wash, iron, keep a house clean and see after the children. He taught my brother and me that. Me and my brother, and my Daddy, we raised the two girls and the one other boy. There were three of us boys and two girls. My father taught me how to cook as good as any woman. He could cook. He could do just about anything. 

Anybody that wanted to work could get a job in the mines. They worked one-legged people. They worked young boys. They had what they called trapping in the mines. They had trap doors on the main entry there. What they were doing was trying to control the ventilation. Whenever the mules would be pulling a car, loaded with maybe four or five tons of coal, the trapper, the young boys, twelve, thirteen, fourteen years old, they’d open the trap doors. They were opening and shutting the doors, because they were ventilating. They didn’t have fans spotted over the mountainside putting air in the mines then. They put all the air in the mines. 

When I was around twelve or thirteen years old, I knew I was going to work in the mines. I would go to the mine site at Eckman. They had what they would call the Number Two Mines. It went all the way round the mountain, and you could go up the hill, right there when you come out of Keystone, and them houses right there on the left side, you could walk up that path and go on all the way up that path. There were around a couple of hundred men working in there, day and night. 

One of my cousins and myself would go to the moving picture show. We would come around that tram road, where they were hauling coal where the motor was bringing it almost from Keystone on to Eckman to the tipple to dump it. They’d clean it through the tipple and dump it into the railroad cars, drop it on down the railroad track for the Norfolk and Western Indians to pick it up, and they’d haul it on away. My mother let me go to shows every Sunday after I’d come from Sunday School, and I’d go around there and I’d run back there in the mines and I’d go so far back in there until I could see the little bit of daylight. But, when I walked a little bit and I was in total darkness, I’d turn around and go to running!  I done got scared now!  So I think there wasn’t no doubt in my mind that I would go to work in the mines, because I just had a love for it. Most kids wanted to be like their fathers. If their father was this, they wanted to be that. If he was a schoolteacher, they wanted to go to school. And if he did different things, mostly they normally liked the things their father liked. 

I remember when President Roosevelt declared war. A lot of people came to settle round in the coalfields. Most of them came from the Southern states. After after war was declared and they got to drafting men, I really wanted to go in the mines then. I was in high school, and I started to work first job. They had drafted so many men, the railroad needed men bad, they wouldn’t let me work [in the mines]. I’d come out of school, and I’d work on the railroads sometimes in the evenings for the Norfolk and Western Railroad, and on Saturday they let me work all day. That was my first work experience; with the railroad. After I got used to money, you know coal miners, they weren’t making money like they make money now. 

But getting back to when I got ready to go into the mines. It was in 1943, because I went in the service in 1944. My daddy had to sign a paper. This was the state mining law then; I could not work with nobody but him. If he didn’t work, I didn’t need to be going, because I wasn’t going to work. I had to work six months with him, and then I got a miners’ certificate. After I got the miners’ certificate, I could work by myself, or I could work with somebody else other than him. 

Now, my first experience of loading coal was a number five shovel. Big Fist Shovel; that was the name of that shovel. Them things were about that wide. I never will forget it. When you get one of them brand new, and you’re shoveling on that slate, on that rock bottom, you know, you used to have to say you got to break it in. After you used it so much shoveling it on that rock bottom, it got slicker and you could just grab it, and shove it up in there and pull it back. 

When my daddy first carried me in there, I wasn’t afraid. There was nothing but timber; there weren’t any roof bolts or anything like that. They set mining collars. I forget what the gauge of the track was, but they were longer than the gauge of the track. They came on both sides, and so they were setting collars and setting timbers to keep the slate rock from falling on you. When we got in there, they had what they called a auger, and this auger is about six or seven foot long. You were going to drill a hole in this coal and it had a little short thing, what they called a breastplate. You had to get over and put that breastplate under there, under your legs and hold the auger up, and you go to winding it, and it would cut a big round hole in that coal. 

Now, before you could go to work for the company, you had to have a battery, and a shooting cable. They didn’t have any shot firemen; you shot your own coal. You had to have an auger and a breastplate. You had to have a slate bar, and you had to have a pick and a shovel. Let’s see, was there anything else? No, that was a set of tools. If they came around and saw you didn’t have a full set of tools, they would want send you home because they wanted everybody to have a full set of tools. Now a lot of guys, a lot of them in the mines would steal each other’s tools. 

Dad had a chain, a long chain, that he would put all his tools on some kind of way. He’d have it where you couldn’t take it apart without you broke that lock and took that chain off. There was no one stealing his tools. Every man had to have a full set of tools. The reason I make mention of that is because years later, the company was required to furnish tools. It came in through negotiation with the United Mine Workers, an international union whose President was John L. Lewis. The company had to furnish tools for you, but now, when they went to furnish those tools, they quit paying attention to whether everybody had a full set. (Laughs)

When I first went to loading coal, my father asked me, said, ‘what hand are you? The hand you shovel with.’  I said, ‘well, I shovel this way.’ He determined I was left-handed because I picked the shovel up with the left hand. I pushed it with my right hand, but I picked it up with my left hand. And he said, ‘well, you get over there on the other side. You get over there on the right side.’ I said, ‘but you said I’m left-handed!” He said, ‘before this shift is over, you’re going to know how to shovel both ways, left-handed and right-handed. So, you start off right now. Get over there, and shovel with your right hand.’  

Well, at first when I went to shoveling, it seemed like I was shoveling crossways. But when you really get used to it, you can shovel like this and you get a little tired, you can switch over to this way. You get tired shoveling right-handed, you can switch hands and shovel left-handed, that way you don’t have to stop to rest yourself, because what gets tired mostly is the hand that picks up the shovel full of coal. And the shovel, I’d hate to show you one of them because they're so big. After we loaded the first car, I didn’t think anything about it. 

Every miner had a check. You put your check on your car when you load it. They’d put motors in the mines when I went in. There weren’t any mules in there then. They carried it outside and the motors took it to the tipple and they’d dump it, and then they’d take your check off of it, and that’s how they gave you credit for the coal you loaded. 

The coal would be about twenty-three or twenty-four cents a ton. That’s what they paid a coal miner for loading a ton of coal after he shot it down. The cars would hold about five ton of coal, maybe four. Most of the time, it’s safe to say it was about four tons of coal. If you cribbed it up like they say, ‘you crib a car,’ you load the car until it’s level, then take the big lumps and put them it all the way round the car. Then you had some more room on top, so you could pitch the coal over that little ridge you made around the car so that you could get you another ton or a half a ton more. Give you more weight on your coal. So if you cribbed a car good, most of the time you could put five ton on them. 

My father, he checked the first car, and I had my checks in my pocket. When they put the second car in there, I lit in on it like a tiger because this was going to be mine!  As I kept shoveling, I started to catch on it really was just a slight to loading coal. It wasn’t easy, but it really wasn’t backbreaking like you might think if you hear people talk about it. You just get used to it, and most men that worked in the mines were strong. If you didn’t have a lot of grit in it, you couldn't work in there, you know?  Some people were even afraid. I come to meet a lot of people who were afraid in there. They got claustrophobia, and couldn’t stand the closeness. 

So, we got to put the second car in there. I went to get my checks and [dad] said, ‘No, you don’t check yet. I tell you when you check. You just keep on going to loading.’ I can’t say nothing back, you know, so I just said, ‘All right, dad. All right.’ I just went right back at it, and we got the second one loaded, and we put the third one in there. I thought, “now I know he’s going to let me check this one.’  And he said, ‘just go ahead on and load. I told you I’d tell you when you can check.’  Now we done loaded three. We loaded three, and now he got all three of them!  I haven’t got any yet!  Then he said, ‘well, I’m going to get you out of that suspense. When we load this one, I’m going to let you check it, but you ain’t putting as much in there as I am.’  And then he said, ‘then you are going to pay abode now, now since you’re working. You are going to have to contribute something to the house. Your abode bill is going to run you a dollar a day. Now you are through getting everything for nothing. Now you have to start to paying.’  He let me check the fourth one. We loaded six; I got two, he got four, and that’s the way it was the whole time I worked with him. 

When I got my money, I didn’t have to give him any because he done already got it. (Laughs)  I thought that, but I had just started getting around a little bit, and I think I had drawed $42. I left $20 there at the house, and I took $22 with me up to Cinder Bottom. Well, I spent that in no time. I came back home to get that twenty I left. I asked for it, and he told me, said, ‘now you done got started already. You are going to throw away every damn thing you get your hands on. Here you are, done come back, going back up there, hard as you are working, throwing your money away.’  And I said to myself, ‘now it’s mine. It ain’t none of his!’  He felt like everything was his, you know? I reckon he wanted me to have some nickels and dimes. 

I’ve had people ask me about how it was in the mines then. Was I ever discriminated against? You know something? I’ve never known anything about discrimination the whole time of my life, long as I was down here in West Virginia. I’ve worked in the mines. When I retired, I got elected to three terms as Mayor of Keystone, and white always did outnumber the blacks when we worked in this section. When I worked in the mines, a lot of white friends I had, we all competed. If you wanted to run, you could run, you know. And I always won by a large margin, when the majority of them were white. Now, that doesn’t sound like discrimination to me. Some of the best friends I ever had were white. I live around them. I worked with them. I meet them every day, and I don’t know what people are talking about. But, I’ve told several different people coming from cities about that, and you know they’ll be talking about discrimination. I never had any discrimination. I never had it. I know that we worked together like a team, and at the mines, we all looked out for each other. 

Since talking about that, when I was a boy there they had a big community building [in Eckman]. We called it the pop stand, and a lot of the miners used to come in there, hang around there, because they sold beer, and pop, and chewing gum, and candy, and all that stuff. And a lot of us kids, both black and white, we’d hang around in there. I remember the partition they had in it, and they said, ‘the whites come on this side, the blacks comes on this side. They didn’t have any sign or nothing up in there, but that’s what the company told them, you know. The president of the local was a fellow named Bob Cawley. He was a white fellow, nice man. He said, ‘this ain’t right.’  He got some of his committees with him and he went to the Superintendent. They told the Superintendent they wanted him to take that partition out from in that building. The Superintendent said, ‘are you sure?’  Cawley said, ‘we want it taken down. We work together, we’re going to assemble together.’  They took it down. 

See, a lot of times companies discriminate against people. They’ll make things to get a difference between you. I was told this; I don’t know how true it was, but I believe it…they said when they first started bringing blacks in to work in the mines The Union had just started out, started getting organized. The companies figured that if the whites struck, they could get the blacks to keep working, so they put the word out everywhere that they were hiring. And that may be how it got down into Virginia, down in North Carolina, down in there where my Daddy come from. 

That’s how a lot of people from the south started to come in here. But what they did was, blacks got to working with the whites. When the whites struck, the company was surprised. The blacks struck with the whites, because the blacks made the same money that the whites made. And when the whites said, ‘well, I ain’t going to work any more. I ain’t going to work for this,’ the blacks said, ‘well, I ain’t either.’ So they followed them all off. (Laughs)  

I got drafted in 1944, and I went in the service and I stayed in there four years. I went to the Mariana Islands, in the south part of the South Pacific. I served about a year and a half on the island of Guam. I stayed a few months over in another small island that’s right over across the ocean from it. I forget what the name of it was, but after Japan surrendered, they sent me into Japan, and I stayed in Japan. I been there for two years, and I was there when they hung [Hideki] Tojo. Tojo was the War Minister for Japan. I think he orchestrated the war, the thing that caused them to bomb Pearl Harbor. They blamed him for it, but I was there when they tried him, and they killed him over it. 

I saw natives over there with jungle rot. I’ve seen them with the holes, just eating their legs up. They’d have some leaves off of a tree, and they were laying that on it. That’s the way they would doctor it. They didn’t have food, didn’t have clothes, or hardly anything. American soldiers and the Marines went in there first and took possession of the island. I guess they just ate bananas and coconuts, and they had stuff like, fruit like that growing around on the island. But when it came to meat, you know, they fished. I guess they ate the fish, whatever they could, whatever thing else they could find, but they led a horrible life. 

A lot of those Japanese, I guess they’re pretty decent now, but they were really bad about ravishing women. There were a lot of native women on there, but they told us plainly when we got there, that those women had some type of disease. They said, ‘don’t touch them because if you fool with them and you contract that disease, you’re going to stay on this island until they find a cure for this disease they got because you ain’t going back to America and carry any disease back there.’  That kept most of them from messing with those native women. (Laughs) I know I didn’t hardly look at them! 

When I got to Japan, the war just had been over, and they were pitiful. Their country was tore all to pieces most of it, and the people…I had never seen people look like they was half-clothed.  They had little wooden shoes and things fit between their toes, and they had these things wrapped on around them, and that way they were cold in the winter. The Army told me they want me to pick up a trade before I went back home, so they sent me to a little factory that they had there, where they, the Japanese were making things. They were still trying to build their industry back, you know, and they taught me how to weld. I learned how to arc weld on a piece of aluminum. They were really good. 

I came away from [the military], and I went back to the mines. A lot of the mines had changed over the years. The mines had mechanized themselves. They put a lot of loaders in there that really loaded the coal, and they had big machinery and all that. I [couldn’t go] back to coal loading [because] they had done away with coal loading then, so I went to running one of their tram motors that brought coal out of the mines, to the tipple. 

[I was never injured in the mines, but] I know of a tragedy that never left my mind. The boss’s name was Bill, and a lot of times the boss would come run a piece of equipment while you went to eat dinner. The men didn’t care cause he was helping. Bill was running that loader, and he had his hands on the gears that made this loader go backwards and forwards, backwards and forwards. Then slate fell, caught him and pinned his arms, both of his hands. Pinned them down where they were on that Joy. Slate was falling all around him. 

They called to try to get a doctor inside the mines. They were going to have to cut him loose, because you couldn’t get up under that slate. It was going to cover him up and kill him. All of them were down there trying to do something and everything, trying to get him out. They couldn’t get him out. That piece of slate, that rock was just too much and he almost lost consciousness. After that, they said the doctor was on his way. They were bringing him in the mine. The men were scared that worked there. They were afraid that [the doctor] might not get there in time. Bill was going to get covered up. They took a knife and cut his wrists. Cut both his wrists and his hands off. They did that to save his life. They got him out, and as soon as they cut them off, and they got him out from up under there, they said the whole thing fell in. The only reason Bill didn’t get killed was because of that guy. They gave everybody a hawkbill knife for when you had to cut those cables. They say he cut [Bill’s hands] off with that hawkbill.

I got involved in union affairs. The mines had really grown from what it was when I first started, and we had around five or six hundred men right there working at the mine in Eckman. I started going to union meetings, and I got to be an officer in it all, and after a few elections I got to be the President of the local. I was on the committee that handled all the disputes that came up between the union and the company. The union was just so wonderful. I don’t see how working people would want to fight against the union, because I don’t think I could have worked in the mines without the union. 

I don’t care how good a businessperson is. I know a lot of them have been successful, and I know a lot of them have had employees working for them. But we, the union, negotiated contracts where we could get a vacation pay, a ten day vacation, and we’d get five, six, seven, eight hundred, a thousand dollars vacation pay. That was negotiated, because you can believe this; I don’t care how much money a businessman makes. If he keeps making money and making money, do you think he’s going to wake up on morning and say, ‘well, people working for me have made us so much money, and we’ve been doing so good this year, I think I’m going to go down there and just give them all $1000 of vacation, and give them ten days off and pay them?’  Do you believe one would do that?  (Laughs) I don’t care how much money he’s made now. He ain’t going to voluntarily give you anything.

Now, the union looks at it in a different way than other people do. The union actually causes companies to profit, because the union helps keep people working. They’ll agree to terms that you have to work, and if you miss certain days you get some type of discipline. Action will be taken against you, if you are not a good employee. They go along with discharging you for just cause. If you got a reason that you’re a bad employee, the union won’t stand there and try to protect you. They’ll just tell you, ‘well look, you done made it bad for yourself. You’ve got a bad record, and if we go to arbitration we couldn’t win this for you.’  If you want to go, they go on to arbitration and let an arbitrator settle the disputes. 

I don’t believe any businessman in this country would look after their employees like a union looks out. Unions are not hard to deal with, because you know we’re representing the working people. I got to be a district official. I was a Coal Mine Safety Inspector. And then I got to be a member of the District Executive Board. I arbitrated cases like I’m talking to you about, and I settled disputes by meeting with the company. Like, if the company lays one of the employees off where they did something wrong, I’d meet with the company and we’d try to settle it in a peaceful way. We would agree if he had a bad enough record, they’d let him go or else we’d put him back.

I got laid off in the mines, back in the ‘60s. I stayed off for two years, and I went to the city and worked. I went to New York and then I went to Columbus, Ohio, and I worked up in there. I’d come home at Christmastime, and my local union, from when I worked with it in Keystone, they would bring to my house a basket with oranges, apples, ham, turkey. What the workingmen that was working had contributed to, as well as our local union, and they made it available to every one of us that had been laid off. They never forgot. Union people don’t ever forget each other. I always have had a lot of likeness and love in my heart for coal miners and their families. I always have. 

[Speaking of Christmas], there was a lady that lived next door to me. I was grown then. And she got hold of a half a gallon of regular, corn liquor, made out of just runs out of the corn. She told me, ‘Buck, I got a half gallon of corn liquor. I’m scared to take that liquor home, because my husband will recognize it and get it. I’m going to let you carry it home.’ I was bringing her home from up Keystone in the car, and I said, ‘well, all right, I’ll keep it.’ Then, she said, ‘he told me he was going to give me another half a gallon. I’m going to give you that one when I get it, too.’  

I carried the liquor on home the same day she gave it to me, to put it up, and Old William Foster saw me coming home with a bag. He yelled, ‘Hey! Hey, kid. What you got there?’ I said, ‘oh, nothing, Mary Liza gave me some liquor she wanted me to put up for her until Christmas Day. She is going to make some eggnog with it.’ Foster asked what kind, and I told him that regular, straight out corn. He said, ‘oh shew, we ought to take a little taste of it. It wouldn’t hurt. Come on.’ I said, ‘man, we better not…well, all right.’ 

Foster was hoggish, you know. I opened it and poured me some in a glass, and poured him some. We were setting out there on my porch. Him and me got to talking, and we drank that whole damn half a gallon up. I said, ‘well, daggone. What in the world am I going to tell that woman?’  And I said, ‘well, when she gives me that other one that she said she was going to give me, I’ll tell her that she can keep that, because I drank through it.’ (Laughs)  

She never did send for it or anything. That Christmas Day, my Dad came over to my house. He said, ‘Mary Liza told me to come over here and get that half a gallon of corn she left over here with you because she wanted to fix eggnog with it.’ I confessed, ‘I done drank that liquor. I drank that up about three weeks ago.’ He said, ‘you oughta be shamed of yourself!’

(Laughs)  Man, I was gone on that corn liquor. When I was drinking it, I could get drunk and lay down and sleep a few hours and get up, and I’d get started again. And most people, most guys that worked in the mines, they would be inviting each other from your house to mine, and his house, and ever house you’d go to had some liquor. Most of them would buy liquor for Christmas, just like they bought food. They would have a good time among each other just drinking. 

When I was cut off I went to New York because a lot of my cousins were up there. I went up there and tried to get me a job, and I was going to work until I got called back. Every Saturday, when we sat down and got to drinking, we would end up talking about home and the mines. Don’t you know that when they had been up there so long, that when the mine jobs did open up and they could go back to work, they wouldn’t come back? They had gotten well-established, and most of them were working construction with the construction union. 

Their construction union worked like this; if a crew, or a foreman, or a company needed five or six men, bricklayers, or whatever, he didn’t hire them. He’d go to the union, and he’d tell the union he needed some men and what he wanted, and then the union got the men. The union had a panel and they would get the men off of their panel. So, the union actually took care of all of the hiring. I don’t know what the name of that union they were in, but I knew they had a union up there, and they were making as much money as we were making working in the mines. And they wouldn’t come back. 

I remember one of them coming back, but he wasn’t kin to me. He lived down there in the bottom, and he could have been back two or three years before he came. He come to the office there, and asked me when he could get his job back. I asked if they ever sent him a recall back. When he said no, I instructed him to go on over there, and tell them he wanted his job.

They had him to sign something that they would put him back to work, but they wouldn’t back pay him. He said he’d take the job then, and they just didn’t want to have to pay him all that back pay. If they had missed you on that panel, and put somebody else to work and you had seniority on them, you could have made them pay you for every day that you didn’t work. 

[Eventually,] I got to be the director of one of the union’s field offices down at Welch, and I retired when I was sixty-two years old. I worked in the coalmines thirty-six years all total. I served three years as a Coal Mine Inspector, and then I served twelve years as a District Board Member. I never really met [John L. Lewis] personally, but I did go to Washington to the international office that they have, and I’ve got that far. I knew Sam Church personally. Sam came from District 28 right over in Virginia. I knew Sam real good, because Sam was vice-president of UMWA when Arnold Miller was president. (Laughs Sam was tough. He’d fight in a minute. Yes, he was a nice fellow, but you know you couldn’t talk to him any kind of way. But he was a nice, principled kind of guy. I met Tony Boyle. They say he hired people to kill Yablonski and his wife. I met Arnold Miller personally. That’s how I got to be an official with the union. I met him. And I met Richard Trumka.

You’ll see Trumka on the television a lot. Whenever they would have a ‘no lost time accident,’ they’d have a dinner for all the officials and all of the union’s personnel who was in safety. I was the first black to be a member of the United Mine Workers Safety Inspectors. I really met some nice fellows. You know, I’ve often thought of this, but I’ve had people to ask me this. I grew up down here in the coalfields, and am still down there. I still work with the union that I was in when I worked in the mines. 

When the union got autonomy, and started to elect the officials, even though I got elected, the International sort of relaxed their grips on the men. You didn’t have any grip on the men, you know, because it got to be that sometimes the elections does the wrong thing to people. The elections almost got some of them like the way politics is around here. See, politics started getting into the union. Before they started electing officials in the union, if a District Field Officer told a guy, ‘well look, you got to do what the boss tells you, man. You know you got to follow the contract. We got a contract you work by, and you have to work by that. There isn’t anything I can do to help you.’  But see, when they got to electing them, most of the guys, you tell them about that, then you got to be elected, and they say, ‘well, he doesn’t want to see about it, I’ll remember him at election time.’  

Politics got into it, and the men start feeling that, too, that freedom. You know, ‘I can put you in office, and I can take you out.’  But before politics got into it, the international officers appointed them. Then, the men couldn’t threaten you, and tell you, ‘I’m not going to vote for you,’ or something. That way, you had a little bit of edge on him, and you didn’t have to worry about, or really try to do something that you couldn’t, or be arguing about something, when you know you don’t have any arguments to come. You know the contract and he doesn’t. 

Of course, I found out over the years contract words have got two terms. You got some people, men that go this way. In other words, some people can read a sentence and get one understanding about it, and it sounds right. Another one can read the same thing, he’ll get a different opinion from you, and it all relates to the understanding of the words. You might read it and it might tell you one thing. I read it, it’ll tell tell me something else. They have words that describe the difference in them; It’s ambiguous and unambiguous, and that’s what really, that’s what it hangs on. That’s how the union got all balled up and they didn’t have control over the organization, like they had before they gave them autonomy.

The company brought on a whole lot of stuff with all those Baldwin-Felts men, and all that stuff. It was a war back here years ago. The companies did some good things, you know. They didn’t do everything bad. They did some good things, but they played some games with us. They didn’t want anything good down in the coalfields. You didn’t see any stores, or a whole lot of recreation. Just a little bit for the kids, a ball and a glove or something like that. But you would never see any restaurants like you would see if you came in areas like this. They bought baseball uniforms, and bats and balls, and gave them to the men, the young men there, on the job, so that they could play and stuff, but now, here’s the catch to it. They didn’t want any other industry down there. They gave them things, so that they could have some recreation, get some more children, and raise them so they could put the children in the mines. See?  That’s what happened with my and my daddy. I wanted to go [in the mines] so they put me on in there. But do you think I’d have gone in there, if there’d been a factory over there? 

[The economy] has really changed, and [we need to diversify.] I tried to bring this up when I was a Mayor, but right after my wife died I just resigned. I didn’t want any more, you know? I tried to get them to teach children in school Home Economics. They taught me Home Economics in the school, and they’re still doing it; children, young people, girls, boys all learning how to sew and all that. Before they can really get on their feet and out of some of this unemployment, you got to have something that’s got a root to it. And what I mean by a root, you got to have something that you can start now, maybe with five people, four people. 

Here’s what I was thinking about; four or five people sewing. You got to have something that you can really put your teeth into, from the ground up that will last for years and years and years, and it’s got to be something that is useful. You start a sewing factory. I tried to get them to do this in McDowell County. You let it grow. You may not have but four people now, maybe a month or a few more months you have five. You might get six, where you can make clothes. You got to buy clothes. I have been buying clothes since I came into the world. Yeah, you got a starter right there, and it will go on and grow, and maybe fifteen or twenty people. It’s not going to be an overnight thing. Nothing that’s worthwhile happens overnight, you know. It takes years to build it and let it grow, and then they would have something that could probably give employment to everybody right here, because we have smart-minded people. 

Young people right now like the clothes with some type of logo on it. You see them cut the knees out of the pants, clothes that they wear. They want something written on the back of their jacket or sweater, and you see they buy all that kind of stuff. Good people, just salesmen, could go out and get companies to go out and sell your product and stuff. Give it some years, and you’d have something that you birthed into the world like a child, and grew it up to be a man. But these here overnight things, somebody comes and invents something better, then you lost. That’s one thing about the coal industry. 

That coal ain’t going anywhere. It don’t eat and it don’t sleep. It don’t cost nothing. It’s just sitting in that mine. If they go in there twenty years from now, that coal will still be there just like they left it. It ain’t going to grow any more, and it ain’t going to draw up. That’s why coal operators feel safe. You see where some of them are buying up a lot of mining operations because they know it ain’t dead gone yet, it just ain’t come back to itself. This is a great nation, and there’s a lot of other things you can do with coal, and they’ll find something else to do with it and then you’ll see them going back down there, going back in the mines to get the coal out, and the operators will go back to getting their money again. 

I remember when they closed the mines plumb down. My daddy went to work on what they call the WPA. I remember when they used to have a little, old, lard bucket, and mama would put him a biscuit and a piece of fried bacon in there because we were done killing the hogs. The mines were shut down, and that’s when they went to building highways.

See the government got into it. The government doesn’t want to do anything for the people now. They don’t want to do it. They vote against organizing something like that, rebuilding. Barack Obama hasn’t done anything, but he did try to rebuild this country, do away with some of these bridges that’s forty or fifty years old. He was trying to get them to do something like what Roosevelt did, you see. 

When Roosevelt got elected, I heard him say, when I was a little, old boy there, sitting around there, sitting around the radio, he said in ten years you won’t know a rich man from a poor one. You would pass a poor man and a rich man walking along together, and you would think both of them were rich. And it happened, but heck, if you got something broke you try to fix it. These guys aren’t trying to fix this. They’re arguing with one another. 

A good company would look out for its employees, but one thing I have learned is, if you don’t ask for something, you won’t get anything. Look at the amount of coal that was mined in McDowell County. They mine more coal taxes, put more tax money down there in Charleston than anybody. What did they get in McDowell County?  Nothing. They didn’t get anything!  We didn’t get anything, because we didn’t go down there and ask for anything. 

When Arnold Miller gave me a job as a Safety Inspector, I wanted the job, but don’t you know I was reluctant about leaving that mine. I liked most of the fellows I was working with, and all of them at the mine. We had so much fun working together, and on the outside talking and laughing, playing jokes on each other. I missed those guys so much. I just never got over it, because I didn’t go back, and it was on account of the men I had worked with and got to know over those years. I could have given that job up, and thought nothing about it.

I never get too tired talking about the mines. When my first wife was living, we’d go somewhere there in McDowell County, and somebody would stop me, and we’d get to talking, and she’d just go ahead home. She said, ‘I might not have been around the mines and things with you, but I know one thing. You must have been a pretty good person, because if you weren’t, as many people stop you to talk with you, they wouldn’t be doing that. I know you have been a pretty good fellow to them. You thought a lot of your friends, and they thought a lot of you, because we can’t go anywhere without somebody stopping you.’”

Katie Caudill (aka Katie Didit)

“My favorite kind of music is old-time music, and a lot of times people will get confused. They’ll ask, ‘what’s the difference between Bluegrass and old-time?’ I like to tell them that old-time is mountain music. It’s not really structured the same way. It’s not gospel and precise the same way that Bluegrass is. I feel that old-time is more of a lifestyle era, a feeling even, that it means that you came from somewhere hard, you came from somewhere original.”

Katie Caudill (aka Katie Didit) Musician/Moonshine District, Music Teacher; Letcher County, Kentucky:

“Katie Didit was something that my dad and mom used to call me when I was a little girl and then, in all honesty, when I first started playing music by myself as a solo act I heard of other people having stage names and I kind of wanted one, so I threw it up there and then it stuck and it never went away. 

I grew up in Crases Branch, which is beside of an old college called Calvary College, in the middle of a holler. I have a brother and a sister, both older than me. Whenever I was growing up, I liked animals a whole lot and I liked going to my grandparents a whole lot. The banjo that I play now is actually my grandfather’s. 

My grandparents lived in Roxana, Kentucky, and I would go over there every weekend. Whenever my parents split up, I ended up being over there quite a bit because my father moved back over there. It was a special place because they had a barn and they had lots of land and a garden so I got to do all that. Of course, my grandfather played banjo, so I remember being really little and being able to dance around the living room and listen to him and think, ‘That’s pretty cool. I’d like to do that one day.’ He played for himself [not in public.]  [Laughing] One time, he tried to learn how to play the fiddle, but my grandmother said if he didn’t stop that she’d leave him, that he was only allowed to play the banjo. 

I guess I got into music because when I entered into high school, I got involved in drama and in theater so that by the time that I was a senior, I got the role for Rizzo in ‘Grease,’ which was the first musical that they had done. Of course, I had to learn singing. I had a vocal coach during that time. I wasn’t really playing guitar, just picking on it here and there. When we performed ‘Grease,’ it was the first time I ever sang in front of a crowd, and I sang in front of 800 of my peers. 

That gave me a sense of longing for the stage, and wanting to feel comfortable there because it’s kind of the only place where you get to be whoever you want to be, and you’re not anybody that you’ve ever been before. I felt that, and then afterwards I thought what can I do to still do this, instead of theater, and music was the option. When I was 18, I started playing guitar and with the guitar just came the banjo and with the banjo came the fiddle and I wanted to learn all of it, anything that was string music that I could sing with. I can play the guitar, the bass, the banjo, and the fiddle. I used to play a little bit of piano, but not so much anymore, mainly it’s just string instruments now. 

My favorite kind of music is old-time music, and a lot of times people will get confused. They’ll ask, ‘what’s the difference between Bluegrass and old-time?’ I like to tell them that old-time is mountain music. It’s not really structured the same way. It’s not gospel and precise the same way that Bluegrass is. I feel that old-time is more of a lifestyle era, a feeling even, that it means that you came from somewhere hard, you came from somewhere original. It’s slave music, you know. 

A lot of people don’t even realize that that banjo came from Africa. It’s a drumhead, and that’s part of the reason why I want to teach these kids all this stuff and I want them to know how cool it is and how it’s a part of their heritage and part of who they are and it runs through their veins as well. 

When I was around 18 or 19, I lived in Leslie County and I met a few musicians over there and they had a lot of influence on me. I thought, ‘Hey, I could maybe start doing this.’ I was living in a house where it was going on all the time. I was listening to it and I was getting to watch it and we were going to shows and so, just through that and being around it and hearing it, I picked up small things here and there. Then, I wanted to take it to the next step, so a guy named Paul Kuczko told me that I should enroll in the Old-Time Mountain Music Program at Mountain Empire Community College (MECC), so that’s what I did. I moved to Virginia and I took lessons under Adrian and Julie and under Chris Rose who’s a pretty good locally known guitar player around here. That really helped shape me to what I needed to do. 

Paul was a big influence on me. He introduced me to Sue Ella Boatright, who was the head of the Old-Time Music Program when I went there. He also introduced me to a lady named Kelly Williams, who is a program manager and business manager at Pro-Art Association, which is the non-profit that is in Southwest Virginia. Kelly was asking for any local musicians that wanted to come and perform enrichment, which means basically just come and play for an hour in front of these kids that we were teaching music to, so Paul gave her my name and then also my friend Tyler Emory’s name. Me and Tyler started going to Coeburn and to Norton just to play for the kids for the first few times, and then after that, Kelly actually asked because they had one of the guitar instructors leave is there any way that you would want to come and teach. I said, ‘Yeah, sure, that would be great,’ and then through teaching for about a year and a half to the kids, a position at Pro-Art came open for graphic design. While I was going to college for old-time music, I was taking art classes and graphic design classes as well, so then I thought, ‘Hey, that’s a good reason for me to be over here in Southwest Virginia even more,’ so then I took the job. Knowing Paul it gave me a whole kind of inter-connection in Southwest Virginia, and now it kind of feels like this is my second home. 

Pro-Art is a nonprofit organization, and we try to bring cultural acts and music, ballet, symphony, art galleries to the area that otherwise wouldn’t have it. We do a lot of work with local artists and musicians as well. We help with home craft days, we help with the Fall Fling here in Wise, but also we bring in acts like Dave Eggar, and we bring in acts like symphonies, we bring in the Richmond Ballet, the Virginia Opera. That way the area and the people here can have the low cost way of reaching that art and it being accessible in an area that otherwise would not have it. 

I was teaching for a year and a half, and they actually had to shut the program [JAMS] down because of financial issues, so us at Pro-Art, which is basically me and Kelly, the lady I talked about earlier, we thought to ourselves, ‘This can’t happen, there’s no way.’ It can’t shut down. They stopped it last semester, and this is when we started the Country Cabin String Band at Norton. Larry, who’s the other guitar instructor, came to me at my office and sat me down and he was like, ‘Look, I know we’re not going to get paid to teach these kids, but for some of them it’s all that they have, we have to keep doing it.’ And I was like, ‘I’m right there with you, 100 percent. Let’s volunteer our time every Tuesday. Let’s have a two-hour session for the kids that we know still want to be a part of it.’ 

That’s what we’ve done this entire past semester without Wise JAMS. In the meantime, Pro-Art has taken over financial responsibility. We’ve talked to the Crooked Road, we’ve made meetings, we’ve done this, we’ve done that, we’ve gathered our instruments, we’ve made out a budget plan as far as money’s concerned so it can happen. And so, now, it’s going to start back next week in February and the program’s wonderful because it gives kids, even kids in poverty, an opportunity to learn an instrument because not every parent can go out and afford a $150 guitar and then to also pay $20 for an hour lesson to learn this kind of music.

Through our program, they don’t even have to buy an instrument. They can pick the instrument, we’ll provide an instrument for them and even at that it’s a two-hour lesson for either $5 or $10, or we also offer scholarships for parents that can’t even make that kind of budget cut. There’s nobody we turn down, because we see how important it is, especially because so many arts and music programs have been defunded in the past year. We’re trying to find a way to not only fight to have that back, but to also have that intertwined in a cultural way, a heritage way, that gives the kids a sense of pride, of where they’re from, who they are and what they can do. 

I’ll use Emma [Gilley] as an example, because she’s really been one of my students who has grown significantly in the time that she’s been with me. Whenever I first met Emma, she was brought to the program and I went over to her…actually Kelly came and got me and said, ‘We have another shy one, you’re going to have to come and work with her and pull her out of the shell.’ I said, ‘Okay, no problem, that’s fine, that’s what I’m good at.’ 

I went over to her and I bend over and I’m like, ‘Hey, what’s your name?’ you know, and she was so shy that she stood behind her mother and she wouldn’t even speak to me. I was like, okay, that’s fine we’re going to work with her. I would take her back into my class just day by day, week by week, slowly but surely and in just one year, Emma has grown to the point where she gets on stage in front of the entire school, in front of her peers, and she’s picking out solos on the guitar and her and her sister singing together. I think it’s given her, and her sister both, a sense of confidence, and a sense of something they can offer back up to the world that they would not have had otherwise. It’s not just solely just about learning music and learning chords and learning notes. It’s about learning who you are, and how to be comfortable with who you are, and knowing you have something special to give back to people. 

The Advanced Band, which is the one that the volunteer teachers come to every weekend at the Country Cabin, we named it The Country Cabin String Band. If the kids have been in the program for at least a year and they show us they’re dedicated and they’re advancing a little bit faster than the rest of them, then they get invited to be here, which is basically no longer just a one-on-one learning situation, but more of a string band class, so you actually have a stand-up bass, you’ve got your banjos, you’ve got your guitar, you’ve got your fiddle, you’ve actually got a band that you’re playing with. To be 12 years old, and playing in a string band is pretty cool, I think.

The kids’ biggest reward is a sense of self. I feel like that’s what music always gives all of us; a sense of self. Like I was talking about earlier, I see it in these kids when they perform on stage. I see they leave the things they have to worry about: that awkward stage of growing up; that stage of not wanting to be rejected in this and that. When they get on stage, I see them bloom into something that they get to be what they choose to be. I see it giving them a sense of confidence, something that they’ll get to have for the rest of their life. They can carry this forever. Whether they choose to go on and be in a band and travel and do this or that, or even teach, it doesn’t matter. They’ll still have that gift that they can share with people and that they have for themselves for the rest of their life.     

Whenever I was little, I was very shy and I was very insecure but when I found theater and I found singing, all of that changed. Everything did a 180 and I went from being that shy, introverted girl to the girl that wanted to be noticed and to be on stage and I see that happening with these kids and it’s the greatest reward that I can see, 100 percent.

[Ten years from now] I would definitely hope with all my heart that I’m still teaching little kids music. As much as I love to play music and I hope that goes somewhere as well, I feel like just giving that gift away is more important.

Now, I’m a musician. I try to be full-time. I work 25 hours a week at Pro-Art, and I also teach music 10 hours a week through Wise JAMS. Every weekend that I don’t have a Pro-Art event, I go and play with my band, Moonshine District. This past summer, we went all the way from New York to Illinois down to South Carolina and then back up all in between the states that would go in between there, playing music. So that’s definitely been a ride. It’s not been easy, but it’s been worth it. 

Moonshine District is my first actual band. I used to play a solo act a lot. I would do a lot of singer/songwriter stuff with my guitar, kind of sad, John Prine inspired stuff and I always wanted other people to play with, but I’d never found that right click with anybody, you know? I’d always kind of felt like it was kind of a hard thing to find somebody that wanted to be dedicated enough. I got booked at a festival that my friend created called, Super Moon, and then also at that same year Maggie [Noelle] got booked as a solo artist as well, so we were the only two females at the festival that actually got to play music. We were both solo acts who did singing, and then after we played that festival, Jared Hamilton, who’s now my mandolin player, got the great idea that we could get this really bluesy sounding girl and this really, you know, pop-folky sounding girl together and somehow mesh them and make a really good sound. 

We started practicing with just us three. We had our first show at Summit City, and then that night we actually had a washtub bass player come into our show and watch us. He had known Jared through the punk scene a long time ago, so we met Eric and Eric was like, ‘Hey, I want to be a part of your band,’ and we realized well, we need a bass player, and then it kind of formed from there and then it took off like a snowball. Maggie is definitely the bluesy one, and I am definitely the traditional one. We kind of like to joke and say that she’s all blues and I’m all folk so you get a bluesy sound [laughs]. The band has been together for one year and two months now. 

Moonshine District is a five-piece band now. We just added a lead guitarist named Mike O’Malley, and he’s from Louisville, Kentucky. We’ve got Maggie, and me, which are the main vocalists in the band. I play banjo and fiddle back and forth. Maggie’s our guitarist and then Eric Smith is our washtub bassist. And then of course, Jared Hamilton is the mandolin player. I think that the band, especially in my opinion, and my opinion alone…everybody’s open to their own, we take an element that is old-time, but it’s not strictly. We’ve not put ourselves in a box of traditional music. We’re actually using those elements to do what we want and do what we feel, which means, you know, having fun. And a lot of that’s punk inspired, because whenever we were younger and teenagers a lot of us were into that scene. 

You get a lot of fast-paced things going on in the band, and it’s not solely put in that box of old-time music. What I teach the kids is different from what I play in the band. I feel like the band is the part of myself that I get to express however I want to. I don’t put us in a box and when people ask us what our genre is, we’ve heard everything from Appalachian punk to just solely mountain music to trash folk. I feel like it could go any direction from that. It’s something that I deeply, deeply care about. I care about my band mates and I think that when we play, people see not anybody sitting on a pedestal. They just see five young kids having fun. And that’s what they like about it, you know? It’s just about bringing people together and having a good time. 

 [The original four members have deep mountain roots] Maggie’s from Clintwood, Jared’s from Pikeville, Eric’s from London, and I’m from Whitesburg. That’s all very close knit in the mountains, and whenever we first started the original four-piece band, we would always meet in Whitesburg, which is my hometown, to practice. We started getting booked at a lot of shows in Lexington because there’s another band called Restless Leg String Band who actually took us and put us under their wing a little bit so we could get a good boost. After we started playing all these shows in Lexington and stuff, we met a guy named Mike O’Malley, who would later become our lead guitarist. He was just a part of that crowd. Even though he’s not from the same areas as we are, and he’s not really turned the same way, he still knows how important art is. 

He’s a glass blower Monday through Friday. He’s been playing guitar ever since he’s been a little boy. Some people could look at him and call him a hippie, if you will. Longhaired, beard kind of guy. So we let him sit in on a show with us, just one time, because he came and he asked to. Well, the vibe that happened, you know, he really filled out our band in a way that we hadn’t had yet. We’ve always had strong vocals, we’ve always had a strong sense of uniqueness, but we’ve not really had somebody that’s been an outstanding soloist. So that’s what Mike gave us. He gave us that little edge to push over. And, you know, people kind of like the way me and Maggie talk on stage and what not, so all Mike has to do is play the guitar. He doesn’t have to drop his Louisville accent.

(Who are your big influences?) Musically, definitely John Prine. One hundred percent. I’ve been listening to John Prine for a long time. Also, I would like to say, Doc Boggs, just because he’s from this area, and he keeps the old-time part of me very strong. Another one I would mention would be Melanie Safka. A lot of people don’t know her by her name, but she’s the lady that sung the hit record ‘Roller Skate’ back in the ‘70s. I look to her a lot for vocal inspiration. Also other just guitar pickers…I look to local musicians as well. I mean, other people like Restless Leg String Band and Driftwood Gypsy and Bloodroots Barter and all these string bands that I had seen over the course of being 18 and on have really pushed me to be like that’s what I want to do too. I want to feel what they’re feeling.

My favorite gig that we’ve had was definitely when we went on tour and went to Illinois. On the way back in the van, we were all tired because we had to play for Friday and Saturday all day. On the way back, we got to stop at Lake Erie and I’d never seen any of those and we went swimming. We just jumped in with all our clothes and we were in a place that we had never been before and I kind of had that moment of realization and I looked around and I thought it doesn’t matter if anybody ever doubted us, because the only person that it matters that doubts us is ourselves, and look where we are and look how we’re happy and we’re sharing this. That was definitely my favorite. 

I don’t necessarily like the term, hillbilly. What I like to say is that you’ve got your stereotypical on-TV-hillbillies, and then you have mountain people. I would like to say that I’m a mountain person. So, if that means wearing cowboy boots and playing fiddle and playing banjo and having a garden and loving your neighbor and, you know, taking them a cup of sugar when they need it and supporting your area, then by all means I am a mountain person and very proud to be one. 

I feel like the crafts, and the arts, and not only that, but just how people interact with each other in general makes the Appalachian culture special. I’ve traveled a lot, especially this past year, and everywhere you go, people, they’re different, and a lot of times they’re not so willing to reach out to you and to bring you in and take care of you the same way that I know the folks from the Appalachian area do. I feel like we’ve been willing over the past decade after decade to share, to share, to share and to give, and to give, and to give and we’ve actually been taken advantage of a lot, and a lot of the times, we’ve been unknowingly been taken advantage of. 

Whenever I start to think about the economy, and I talk about it, I always go back and reference a John Prine line, ‘The coal companies came with the World’s Largest Shovel and they wrote it all down as the progress of man.’ When I was growing up, my mother was an RN, which is a very typical job for a woman in this area, and then my father was a coal miner, which again is a very typical job for a man to have in this area. Well, now as a lot of people know, coal has been leaving, it’s been declining for a while now and we’ve all known that it’s going to leave and after it’s left, what are we left with? 

The area, these people that have given up so much, where are our resources back into this? My father had been working at the same mine for a very, very, very long time and then just last year, he got laid off. He was so close to his retirement that it didn’t really affect him, but I know personally that it has affected a lot of people, a lot of young men, a lot of young families. As much as it hurt us in the long run, I always like to say blame the coal operator, not the coal miner, because it was really the only option that we’ve had around here for a long time. 

Then, it kind of gets into a fierce debate when people from out of town want to come in and help us, which is a beautiful thing, but at the same time I feel like you always have to do it in a way of empathy and not sympathy. We’re not looking for sympathy; we’re looking for answers, for empathy. We’re looking for other options that we can do. If coal is gone and we can no longer do that, what can we have to be better again? 
I read an article the other day in the New York Times, and it was saying that maybe the Appalachian people needed to realize that the only way to save Appalachia was to leave it, because there’s nothing left here. I don’t believe that at all. I actually believe wholeheartedly in the opposite of that. I believe that there are a lot of things here, special things that need to be brought back to life. I’m not sure what those answers are or what it entails for our future, but I know for me, personally, I don’t want to leave. I moved off once to Colorado and that was fun, it was great, fantastic, but even after living there for a while I yearned for home. 

A lot of people have this thing that says if you are from Kentucky and you’re away from Kentucky, you’re either thinking about Kentucky or you are wanting to go back to Kentucky. And I was doing both, so I moved back home and I realized that this is where I want to be and I don’t want to give up on this area. I’d rather be one of the people that are trying, in fact, to enrich it and make it better.

I don’t think coal will come back, and like I said before it’s a really sensitive debate and you know, coal mining paid for me to go to college, so I’m on that side. But I’m also on the side that I have gone and played shows for Mountain Justice people, who are people who come here to protest mountain top removal, which I think [protesting] is a great thing. I think we never should have taken away from our land, we should never have let them come in and take advantage of us like that, but it’s an iffy topic and I don’t think it’s going to come back. I think it’s gone, I feel like we need to, as a community, and as an area, to find a different way that’s not going to harm our water, or that’s not going to take away our mountain tops, not going to take away our wildlife, not going to take away our pride. There are other options, I feel, that can be found. 

A lot of people have came into this area, and I’ve heard the term, ‘poverty porn’ as far as like, especially media, coming in and wanting to really highlight the downfalls of the area and everybody knows that there are downfalls everywhere and there are also highlights as well. The side you stand on the fence, you know, it’s not really me versus you. It’s us versus them, and we have to come together and find a way for it all to work together. I wholeheartedly believe that the only people that can fix the area are the people that know the area. We need empathy, we need understanding between each other to make it better. 

I’ll never forget the first time that we went into New York State. Maggie and me walked into a gas station and she took her items up to the counter and asked to pay and the person behind the counter was like, ‘You’re not from around here, are you?’ and Maggie was like, ‘Of course, you know I’m not.’ It was kind of like the person behind the counter was being a little bit…degrading…to the way that she was speaking and kind of poking fun, which I feel like if you’re from Appalachia you’ve gotten that your whole life. 

I’m always fearful that when people hear me talk and they hear my accent then they’re not going to worry about what’s in my mind anymore, because all of a sudden when they hear a certain tone that is related and associated with being ignorant, and I know so many people in this area that they are the farthest thing from ignorant. But, of course, you know they’ve got their slang, we say our words a little slower. We have what I like to call a twang, not so much a drawl, but a twang. But I think, in my point of view, it gives us more character. It makes us more beautiful and more authentic. I like to use the word, bonafide, even. 

I feel like a part of our area is secretive from the rest of the world, in a sense, and I feel like when they come here, they honestly see e a culture that is separate in itself from the rest of the United States. So, if you think on a worldly scale and different cultures being here and there, if someone from outside of our country came here the culture that is in Appalachia is completely different from the culture that is, in let’s say, LA or New York City or even Nashville, a city that’s five hours away from here. It’s completely different, and it’s hidden, and we have a lot of arts and crafts that we still practice here that aren’t practiced anywhere else in the world, I feel. One of my good friends from Whitesburg once told me that there were only two places left in the United States that had culture still, and that was down in Louisiana, with the Cajun culture, and then Appalachia, where you’ve got your old time culture. 

My grandmother, Phyllis Caudill, is my biggest influence. She is probably the best woman that I’ve ever met in my entire life. She’s strong, but she’s loving. She’s quiet when she needs to be, but she speaks when it’s necessary. She worked and worked for years and years and never complained. She’s always had a garden. She’s always worked outside. She’s always been in tune with the animals and things like that. She represents a way of life that hopefully I can get to eventually. 

(Where do you see yourself 10, 20 years from now?) Hopefully, I will be able to say that I have traveled more, so that I can have a better perspective as far as how to make it better here and just how to make myself better as an individual. Hopefully, I’m still making music. Hopefully, I’m still making art. Hopefully, I’m still teaching kids. 

I want to be here, though. I want to be here. I want to make this place better. I feel like it has a lot to offer. I want to show the world that we’re more than just backwards, moonshining hillbillies that they see on TV.”

Emma Gilley

“They call us weird. They call us hillbillies. They say that we’re poor. They say all that stuff. I would want them to know that we’re not poor. We’re ordinary. We’re just like them. No different.” 

Emma Gilley, Age 11; Pound, Virginia:

[Growing up in the mountains] is fun because you have a lot of free area and a lot of hills. If you know how to ride a bike, it’s really fun, because you can ride down the hills and everything. And then you can play a lot, and it’s fun to swing on swings. When it comes winter, there’s a lot of snow, so when you go down the hills on the sled it goes like super fast. I would say that it’s really cool. You can do what you want, you can yell as loud as you want, and you can go anywhere you want. 

I don’t do sports any more. I’m a pretty ‘not normal’ person. If we were all normal, that would just be weird. But I don’t do a lot of stuff. I’m boring. 
I wouldn’t say that I’m a hillbilly. My mom and dad say that I don’t have as much of a country accent as them, and they say that I have a modern accent. I don’t do country stuff. I don’t like to go hunting. I don’t like to do all that stuff. I’m just not like my parents and or my sister, at all. 

My parents’ names are Scarlett and Forest. I love them so much. [My dad] hasn’t told me what he does. I asked what he did, and he said he doesn’t know what he does. I think he’s a surveyor, like a coal miner and all that stuff. My mom is an artist. She paints stuff for people. She’s an at-home mom. 

Painting is her job. She painted a portrait for my friend Avery, and when she gave it to her dad, her dad cried, and it was really sweet. She paints flowers and landscapes, and stuff like that. And they’re really pretty.

My grandparents live a little up the road from us and they’re very nice. I go there a lot. I love them very much. They have a big house. Well, it’s not that big. They have a normal size house. They have really big hills, and they have a dog named Milo – he’s black and white and he’s really big. They have a swing set, they have a slide and they have all this stuff we can play on, but we don’t usually play on them anymore because we’re a little too big. And they got good food. 

When we stay with them, they cook chicken and dumplings sometimes. And then in the mornings they cook biscuits and gravy with bacon and sausage, and it’s really good. I love it. 

My mamaw tells stories about how underprivileged she was when she was little because we are always on our phones and stuff. She says when she was little she didn’t have a stove or a refrigerator, and that her mom had to put water inside a cinder block thing and it would be really cold water so it would make everything cold. She said she was twelve she got power, and when she was fifteen, she got a TV. 

My papaw, he taught me some on guitar before I went to Jams, before I even started learning music. They actually got me my guitar that I use. My mamaw taught me my multiplication table. And, they taught me to be good to people. 
My papaw told me when he went to North Carolina, I think, he said that he got to be in a lot of stuff and he got to learn music from popular people. They were like old stars and stuff.  

My papaw showed me three chords. I think he showed me D, A and E minor, but those ended up being wrong. My dad taught me G and C before I went to Jams. Then I went to Jams. It was really fun there. When I first went to Jams, I was a really shy kid.  When I first walked in, I would hide behind my mom, and I wouldn’t even tell Katie [my teacher] my name. So that was a little bit weird. I’m a lot more outgoing now.  

Jams is something where you go and you learn about music. They teach you chords, they teach you songs, and at the end of the semester, everybody gets to perform in front of everybody you know. Every single semester, if you get better, then you get to move up. I started out in beginner. I’m a really fast learner, so the next semester, I went into intermediate. The intermediate people are just like four people. They get to have their own little group. The beginners are in another group. They perform differently, but on the same day. We all get to perform different songs. The beginners get to perform ‘Skip to My Lou,’ and then the intermediate people get to perform like, ‘Freight Train’ and picking songs.

I got the guitar for my eighth birthday, and I never touched it. I did not know how to play anything, and that’s what I had. I would rather play fiddle because that is a really, really pretty instrument, but I’m glad that I chose guitar because I just love my guitar. It’s fun to play. It’s awesome. If you get good, you get a lot of privileges. You get to play everywhere. You get to play for people. You get to play shows. You get to play for tips. And that’s like, awesome. 

Our band is the Country Cabin Band. They gathered everybody that went to Jams, in the intermediate class, and they brought them here. This band gets to play like five times a month at different places. You just get to learn more songs. 

[My teacher, Katie] has taught me a lot. I was her student for a year at Jams. She’s really nice, and she knows a lot about music and she’s a really good singer. She’s come up to our house and we’ve played cards. We’ve done a lot of stuff. She’s the one who told me to go to Mountain Music School, which is something that I did before this. It’s what got me into flat-picking. It’s where you pick really fast. 

Right now, my favorite song to play is, ‘Don’t Threaten Me With A Good Time,’ by Panic! At the Disco, or ‘Uma Thurman’ by Fall Out Boy. [I would like to be a] professional musician. I wouldn’t put it into a specific genre. Pop punk, maybe. I don’t know. I like Appalachian old time music. I wouldn’t say I Iove country music. I don’t like country music a lot. I don’t listen to it a lot either. I like the music that we play. I want to have a band with my sister and her two friends. They said I would be on guitar; Shelby, my sister would be on singing, and her other two friends would play bass and drums.

The mountains are special to me because I’ve grown up here. A lot of childhood memories. Almost every day is happy. There’s no sad times every single day. Happy times, happy times. 

[My happiest time was] when we went to The Wilderness. It’s like Dollywood, but it has water parks. It’s like a cabin hotel. You get free pizza. There’s a wave pool. There a full water park and it’s really fun. We stayed there for a week. We went to the pool every single day. It was really fun. My sister ate a lot of pizza, and she ate fun dip, and she ate cotton candy and then she ate a lot of Skittles and M&Ms, and she ended up throwing up. 

My mom said that we’re going to live in our house right now for as long as ever, until she dies, and then she’s going to give one of us the house.  I really want to live in California though, because it has oceans and beaches and it’s really sunny over there. But the thing that I don’t like about it is it gets earthquakes a lot.   

(Outsider view of Appalachians) Some people call stuff differently. Like, in New York, they call them license plates and we call them tags. We call buggies, buggies, and they call them shopping carts. That’s a little difference. And city kids, they don’t have a lot of grass. They live in a place where there’s a lot of traffic. They don’t get to ride bikes and all that stuff. 

They call us weird. They call us hillbillies. They say that we’re poor. They say all that stuff. I would want them to know that we’re not poor. We’re ordinary. We’re just like them. No different.”