Coal Mining In McCreary County


Coal Mining was a way of life for a whole lot of people in Southeastern Kentucky for many years.
McCreary County, at one time, was dotted with mines. In the early 1900s a great many people came to the area simply for the purpose of finding work in the mines. Some of the mines were small operations and a few were rather large. The one at Worley may have been the largest in the county. Throughout its period of operation, from about 1905 to 1958, the Worley mine maintained an employment force of about 300 men at any given time.


Names of Some of the Mining Companies that
Operated in the County
Strunk's Lane Coal Company Stearns Coal Company
Premier Coal Company Eagle Coal Company
Bauer Coal Company Comargo Coal Company
Paint Cliff Coal Company Ky Coal & Mining Company
Fidelity Mining Company Rowmont Coal Company



Mining was an extremely dangerous job. Men died in accidents in the mines
and still more died in years to come with the "black lung". McCreary had its share of both. There were not many men of an old age who worked in the mines. The average age of those killed was 32. Most miners were not eligible for life insurance, even if they could have afforded it. Of those who survived the mines, most were crippled or their health greatly impaired in some way, for life. Widows and orphans of miners were almost commonplace.

One of the better-known mining accidents in McCreary County mines occurred at Barthell in 1910. Apparently seven men were in the mine together when an explosion occurred. Six of them died.

E. Rye West, age 87, (in 1979) remembered his days in the coal mines and a disaster at Barthell as follows; "My first job was in the coal mines when I went to work for L.E. Bryant at the Bear Creek Coal Company [Winfield, TN]. When Bryant opened up the Barthell Mine with the Stearns Company I went to that mine and I was working there when the explosion killed six men. I was the only survivor. That was in 1910 or 1912 I believe. There were only seven of us in the mine at that time, about a thousand feet from the drift mouth. We were shooting from the face and had just finished loading the holes. I remained behind to fire the fuses while the other six were on the way out. I don't know what actually happened but two of the men had been drinking. At first I felt a slight shock or jarring sensation and I stepped back into a "manhole" beside the entry, thinking it might be a rockfall. About that time there was a deafening roar and blasting wind, fire and dust filled the mine with flying brattice lumber, tools and everything. It hit the face and the return blast was worse than the first. I was blinded by the dust but I knew I had to get out of there fast or not at all. Holding my coat over my face and mouth I groped my way toward the outside and as I did so I stepped on the dead bodies of each of the other six men. There was nothing I could do and I just barely made it to the outside, more dead than alive. By that time a crowd of men and women had gathered at the mine. When I was able I went back inside to find the other miners. They had been killed instantly by the explosion. It was a dust explosion and I don't know what set it off. I would have been killed too if I had been in the path of the blast. After that I went to work for St. Mehiel Coal Company at Oz and I was working there when Stearns bought them out." [Source: McCreary Conquest by L.E. Perry, 1979]

From Dawn Strunk at the McCreary County Museum at Stearns, McCreary Co., Ky., I received the following in connection to the explosion at Barthell;

Article From 'The Crossville Chronicle', Crossville, Tn., 18 Feb. 1910;

Dust Explosion at Stearns, Ky. Kills Six Men [8 February 1910]
(Special to Chronicle from Pomona)

The sad news received here last Tuesday that Fred Compton, had been killed in a coal mine at Stearns, Ky. He with five other men had quit work and were on their way out about ten o'clock at night when an explosion of coal dust took place and they were all instantly killed. So terrific was the force of the explosion that the mine was swept clean of everything and had it taken place in the daytime when the mine was full of men, not once could have escaped. All bodies were burned and mutilated beyond recognition.

Frederick Eugene Compton was born in Harbor Springs, Mich. He came to Tennessee with his parents when a small boy and had spent his boyhood and young manhood in Pomona. He was married to Nellie Philo [note: the family says that the marriage date is a mistake and should be 1897] on Christmas day 1907, and was 33 years and six months old at the time of his death. The funeral was held this place, Rev. Perkins conducting the services. Fred had a happy, cheerful disposition and many friends.

He was working day and night for he said, "I want my children to have an easier life than I have had," but the toil-worn hands are folded, the strength is gone from the strong right arm that would have shielded the dear ones from sorrow and trouble, the loving heart is stilled forever and the faithful wife and five little children are left alone.

There was an explosion in the Fidelity Mines in 1917 that killed two people, and one at Yamacraw's mine 11 that also killed two people in 1921. An explosion at the Worley Mine in 1931 killed three men.
I am trying to obtain the names of all of these men and if I do I will add that information.

Last Update Sunday, 30-Dec-2012 11:55:43 EST

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