Hallowed Ground: From Cook Mountain to Blair Mountain and Beyond

Posted by JW Randolph | May 25, 2011 at 2:56 pm


>>Friends, we are honored to have this post by Boone County, WV resident Dustin White. THANK YOU Dustin, we hope you continue to share your amazing voice with our readers. I hope everyone will join Dustin and App Voices in the effort to save Blair Mountain- jw<<

Hallowed ground. It is a term most do not think about these days. In these so called modern times we tend to forget words like hallowed, honored, or consecrated. One might ask, what makes something like land hallowed? This is a question that can be difficult to answer directly. Sometimes it is an object of a great historical event. It can be something or somewhere memories are made and held. Sometimes it is simply where individuals have passed on or even are laid to rest. And sometimes it is part of a great struggle or even a conflict where blood has been spilled. It is always something that should be honored. In any incarnation, it is something that should not be destroyed. These words, in their own right should make anything above profit, something to be cherished without a monetary value. To those who have a great connection to the land, what makes ground hallowed can mean so much more. This is why we of Appalachia struggle to protect the land from ravages of things like mountaintop removal. However, to those like the coal industry, nothing is sacred but the dollar sign.

To many of who have been raised, like myself, in the Appalachian Mountains, they are hallowed ground. The Appalachian Mountains was a haven during the last Ice Age and helped reseed the planet after. For early Native Americans, they honored the land for they felt it gave them life, seeing the Appalachian Mountains as fertile and used it as hunting grounds. They never raped the land and gave back to it when they could. To the early Europeans settling the new land they called America, it was a new beginning filled with the mystery of the mountains in the horizon. And as a new nation was born, the United States of America, the Appalachian Mountains became its first frontier filled with adventure and struggle. The mountains developed a history as vivid as that of the “Old West.” A history of life and death, of struggle and prosperity. These mountains became home to its earliest pioneers, and like the Native Americans before them, many were laid to rest in them. I am proud to be descendant of some of Appalachia’s earliest settlers. Like the Native Americans before me, I feel the land of these beautiful mountains gave me life. They hold my heritage and sense of home, and their essence is my very core of existence.

My quest to protect the land and the mountains started with Cook Mountain in Boone County, West Virginia. The mountain had been settled in the 1840s by my 8th great grandfather, Floyd Cook. The early Cooks built a life on the mountain. They were farmers with little need for flat land. The fertile soil of the ancient Appalachians brought them prosperity, and with it the family grew. Even a raid on Cook Mountain by Confederate troops during the Civil War did not hinder my family. At the time of his death, Floyd Cook had over a hundred grandchildren. Those of my ancestors who passed away on the mountain were buried there. That land held the history of the Cook side of my family along with the 200 year old graves of those who laid to rest there, including a Civil War soldier. The mountain became revered by my family. Without that mountain and the prosperity it brought to the Cook family, my own mother may not have come to exist.

The mountain was rich in history locked in its soil, richer than the coal beneath. However, when Patriot Coal Company decided they wanted the coal inside, they began blowing it up bit by bit. As they inched closer to the graves of my ancestors, members of my family had to act quickly to protect this part of our history. When confronting the mine site foreman about their plans, his response was simply “what cemetery?” They were close to destroying it. I had always been taught a cemetery was hallowed ground, meant to be respected, but to the coal industry it was just something in their way of their pursuit of profit. With some major effort of myself and my family, we were able to protect the graves of my ancestors, but they are now perched atop a high rock wall surrounded by a barren, lifeless plain. I had lost much of my family history, the hallowed ground where my ancestors were buried in is now tainted by greed. Other cemeteries have succumb to such fate. Cemeteries on Kayford Mountain and Moncoal Mountain are now surrounded by moonscapes and many others have already been destroyed or slated for similar. Myself and others now have to do what we can to protect other cemeteries and places we feel are sacred from a dishonorable fate.

Another such place endangered my mountaintop removal that must be protected is Blair Mountain, site of one of the largest civil uprising in U.S. history and the largest armed insurrection since the Civil War. In 1921, in an attempt to unionize the West Virginia coalfields, tens of thousands of coal miners began a march to Mingo County. While en route, they met with resistance in Logan County at Blair Mountain by local police and anti-union forces. A five day battle ensued with gunfire and even bombs being dropped from the air. Hundreds were left dead by the time the U.S. military intervened. Of those to survive this epic battle was my great grandfather, Milton White. After having served in World War I, he marched along side of his fellow unionized miners to combat coal industry tyranny and fight for the right of other miners to organize. He said it was a shame that he had to come home straight from war only to have to pick up another gun and fight on his own soil for his rights and the rights of others. Having survived and returned home to Boone County safely, Milton would later go on to adopt my father and raise him as a son. However, Blair Mountain became a symbol of a peoples struggle to organize and one of the major events of the birth of the UMWA.

The soil of Blair Mountain is consecrated by the blood of those who died there. It is hallowed ground to many who still honor those brave enough to put their lives on the line to fight for what is right. Now, in 2011, we find ourselves planning yet another march to Blair Mountain, this time to protect the mountain itself and its history from the same tyrannical industry that now uses explosives and heavy machinery to rob miners of their job. Blair Mountain’s history alone should make it hallowed ground, yet it is taking the organizing of citizens who know its importance to try to protect it. It should be honored for its history and for those who lost their lives there, not ravaged by mountaintop removal.

I directly owe my existence to these two mountains. If Cook Mountain had not allowed the Cook side of my family to flourish, would my mother have been born? If my great grandfather had perished at Blair Mountain, who would have raised my father? I am a child of the mountains and they should be honored and pray I do not lose Blair Mountain like I have lost Cook Mountain. These mountains not only contain a part of my personal history but the history of the world. To those who have lived and died and are buried in these beautiful mountains, though we may not know all their names, they deserve to be honored and respected. If these mountains have taught me one thing, it is that I must always right for what is right. I look to all of Appalachia as hallowed ground and will continue to join my friends and family from far and wide to protect her. It is my hope that Blair Mountain may now again make history by ushering in a new future for Appalachia without mountaintop removal.

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More from Mari-Lynn Evans:

Appalachians segment on Blair mountain from jordan freeman on Vimeo.


5 Responses

  1. Floyd Cook was my 3rd Gt Grandfather. I was not born on the mountain, but your story broke my heart. I have the bio of Floyd and the brave men from that mountain. The haven he created for his family was burned during the civil war. He rebuilt his mountain home afterward, but now the mining companies have won out. I am so thankful you saved the cemetery where Floyd is buried. How, in this country of ours could this happen. I pray Blair mountain is saved. God bless you and future generations who have to fight greed to save these beautiful mountains. I hope it is not too late.

  2. [...] the 90th anniversary of one of the greatest labor battles in American history. Both groups want to protect this historic mountain from the efforts of coal companies to obliterate parts of the battlefield in order to conduct [...]

  3. [...] groups want to protect this historic mountain from the efforts of coal companies to obliterate parts of the battlefield in order to conduct [...]

  4. Vickey Powell says:

    I was born and raised at the foot of Blair Mountain up Kelly hollow. I love the things I learned there and think that the Mountain should be preserved as it is part of mountain history. I also think it should be kept as a part of history because of the battle that happened there. Thanks to all who are trying to protect it. I was part of a large family there. My father, Riley Toler had a sawmill there and raised 15 children in this part of West Virginia. The history for me and my family is very important. There is little left there and I fell It should be left alone.

  5. Nancy Nash says:

    Floyd was my third G Grandfather. I was so thrilled to find many tellings of the Cook family and their mountain. I hope it will be alright with you, that I post a link to this in my Ancestry.com tree. Thank you for this wonderful and enlightening recollection.

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