Front Porch Blog

First Archeological Work Done on Blair Mountain!!!

This work greatly increases the chances that we will be able to save Blair Mountain, one of our most historic treasures, from the coal companies who have an MTR permit applied for Blair Mountain.
Learn more about Blair Mountain, and see it in Google Earth at the National Memorial for the Mountains

“You can’t put a mountain back,” says Sarah Tonkin, an Appalachian State Universiry graduate student. Tonkin knows first-hand after spending this summer in southern West Virginia doing an internship with “Coal River Mountain Watch,” (CRMW) who work to stop mountaintop removal coal-mining.
One of the mountains currently being slated for removal is nearby Blair Mountain in Logan County, WV. On this mountain in 1921, roughly 10,000 union miners clashed with a force of 3,000 troops led by anti-union coal company operators. The “Battle of Blair Mountain” is noted as the largest post-Civil War battle in United States history, and the only time that bombs were ever dropped from the air by Americans on Americans.
“Currently,” says ASU Anthropology professor Dr. Harvard Ayers, “people into historic preservation have proposed a 10-mile battle site on the Spruce Fork Ridge for listing on the National Registry of Historic Places.”
Coal companies, however, have come out in stark opposition to the historic designation.
“There are currently mountaintop removal permits pending for areas on Blair Mountain,” says Dr. Ayers. The National Trust for Historic Places has even recognized Blair Mountain as one of America’s most endangered historic places.
In order to protect the mountain, Dr. Ayers, along with ASU history major Zan Rothrock and Blair Mountain advocate Kenny King spent three-weeks this summer doing the first ever professional archeological surveys of the Blair Mountain battle-sites. They uncovered 942 shell casings, coins dated from before the battle, and batteries and wires used for communication during the battle. The biggest find was archeological evidence that union miners had broken through the defensive line.
According to both Tonkin and Ayers, coal companies have a different idea of what Blair Mountain symbolizes. “Coal companies oppose the historic designation because they want to blast the mountain apart to get the coal underneath,” says Ayers. “Its worth a fortune to them.” Tonkin adds that “Blair Mountain represents a part of coal companies’ history they would rather blow up than have people know about.”
Tonkin’s co-workers included individuals whose family members had been killed at Blair Mountain. To her “Blair Mountain represents a time in West Virginia history when people stood up to coal companies, and it needs to represent to us that we can STILL stand up to them.”
Employment data from West Virginia shows a huge loss in jobs since the advent of mountaintop removal. Tonkin says that “With the advent of surface mining, you don’t need the amount of people. The boarding houses in the Coal River Valley were full of outside employees who were being shipped in from Kentucky. So, not only is the job market being decimated, but the workers are being shipped in from elsewhere. People are seeing the places where they grew up being blown to pieces. I’ve seen grown men cry and tell me that they can’t believe what coal companies are doing to the places that they used to hunt and fish.”
Tonkin says that other problems with MTR include home foundations cracking because of blasting, flooding because there is nothing on the hillsides to hold back rainwater, blackwater spills, sludge dams breaking, and polluted groundwater. “Coal waste is injected into abandoned underground mine sites. This causes acid mine drainage which pollutes drinking water. Places like Mingo County, WV have poisoned water, and have been forced to live off of bottled water for bathing, drinking, and eating for years.”
Dr. Ayers feels as though they are close to saving the area around Blair Mountain. “The state Archeology Office approved it last year.” The application was denied last year by the National Parks Service, who contended that there was not any archeological evidence for the permit boundary that had been submitted. Ayers thinks that with the archeological work he, King, and Rothrock did this summer, that issue can be put to rest.
Tonkin joined Dr. Ayers’ crew for one afternoon this summer and helped mark these artifacts that are nearly a century old. “It was really awesome to think we had been where all that happened. And actually living in the community and getting to work with the people, I feel more strongly connected with the people,” she says. “Many times people would come to me and private and say that they supported what I was doing, but they couldn’t say anything or speak out because of their families safety or their job. But then there are people who don’t care what they lose, because they’ve already lost so much that its better to fight than to do nothing, because they have so little left. Presently, the economy is extremely depressed, but if there is nothing left after mountaintop removal comes through there is going to be no basis for building a new economy. That’s the bottom line.”
It is allowed to go on because the rest of America doesn’t know about it, hasn’t seen it, or they don’t see that the people are worth saving.





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