COAL CREEK REBELLLION
When the story of America's industrial growth is told, the blemishes, the sores, the wounds and the pain are often ignored. While canals, railways, bridges and factories rose from the sweat of millions of men and women who struggled through brutal working conditions for little pay and much suffering, we mostly hear of the great leaders and inventors who receive the credit for turning this country into an industrial giant.
The Coal Creek Rebellion never made its way into mainstream history textbooks. Even though the Rebellion thrust thousands of miners into a pitched battle against thousands of soldiers, the story has never been widely told.
I first learned about the Rebellion while reading Pete Seeger's Incompleat Folksinger back in 1974. Because Pete mentioned the Rebellion as an example of history protected by folk music while ignored by history books, I began researching this novel to give the story the attention it deserves.
Coal Creek, Tennessee, has been renamed Norris Dam, Tennesse, as the TVA built a huge dam nearby, but if you visit the town today, you will find that the sons and daughters of the miners have not forgotten the story.
The creek that runs through the valley has not changed names, and the story has been handed down through the generations so that both grandchildren and great-grandchildren speak proudly of their ancestors' stand against the system of using convict labor to replace miners in the coal mines.
The mines have been abandoned and many of the original families have moved on, but you can still climb Militia Hill and find the earthwork trenches where the militia established a fort to hold an entire valley captive.
If you listen very carefully, you may still hear echoes of a battle fought upon that hillside over a century ago as miners charged with rifles and revolvers against the field guns and Gatling guns of the Tennessee militia.
In addition to Pete Seeger's book, I learned a great deal about this event thanks to an M.A. study by Andrew Hutson, excerpts of which were published in 1935 by the East Tennessee Historical Society, "The Coal Miners' Insurrections of 1891 In Anderson County, Tennessee."
Another great source was Archie Green's Book, Only a Miner (Univeristy of Illinois Press, 1972). He provides a full chapter concerning the rebellion along with excellent photographs and illustrations from Harper's Weekly and other publications.
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