Articles & Stories


Tragic Accidents Claimed Many Lives

In East Kentucky Coal Mines

Young Perry County Boy Watched As His Father's Body

Was Carried From The Blue Diamond Coal Mine In The 1940s

By Joe E. Wright - 2002

My father, Alex Wright, was a Kentucky miner. His family had been and were coal miners. He and his brothers worked in the Blue Diamond Mines during the 1940s. It was the only life they knew. They had seen loved ones killed and injured in the coal mines. They continued to work in the mines, for it was their way to make a living and survive. When my father got home, after long hours in the mines, coal dust covered his face and hands. My mother, Myrtle, had a washtub full of hot water waiting for him. He would step into the tub. As they washed the coal dust off his body he would tell Mom about his day in the mines. It seemed like a miner was hurt every day. It was a difficult, dangerous, and a hard way to live. After Dad's bath Mom would set the kitchen table. We would sit down to a good country meal; consisting of pork chops, mashed potatoes, green beans, corn on the cob, fresh tomatoes, cornbread, and fresh cherry or apple pie. This was a typical miner's dinner. Mom made sure we gave thanks for our father, farm, health, family, and food.

Myrtle Wright was one of many young women of Eastern Kentucky whose husband was killed in a tragic mining accident.

Dad was a tall, muscular, and handsome man. He was very strong. I recall him carrying me on his shoulders for miles as we walked our land. He was a great musician. He played the banjo, guitar, and had a good voice. He loved bluegrass music. Saturday nights during the summer were fun on Second Creek. He would get out his banjo, sit on our front porch, and begin playing. In just a few minutes we could hear neighbors on Second Creek playing their guitars and fiddles. It was time to gather on our front porch to play, sing, and dance. We would stay up all night. I remember the men drinking from a jug and passing it around. At first I thought it was water. Later I discovered it was moonshine. The more they drank, the better they played. We did a dance called the Kentucky Stomp. It was easy to learn. We let our legs and feet follow the beat of the music. We stomped the night away on our front porch. Early the next morning the women would fix a Kentucky breakfast. Eggs, bacon, sausage, biscuits, gravy, fried potatoes, fried apples, and fresh coffee were prepared with loving hands. Stomping and singing all night made us hungry. The children and men ate first. The women didn't mind. That's a different story today.

Alex Wright, right, with his brother, Noah Wright. Alex died at the young age of 29 in a mining accident at the Blue Diamond Coal Mine in Perry County, Kentucky, in the late 1940s. He left behind a young wife and four sons.

Miners had to be in the mines by 6:00 a.m. Mom and Dad set their clock for 4:00 a.m. each morning. While Mom cooked breakfast and made Dad's lunch he fed the pigs, chickens, and cows. We were in bed by 8:00 p.m. and sound asleep in a few minutes. This was the normal routine for miners who had farms. Most miners lived in homes provided by the mines. They didn't have to get up so early. They also didn't have to worry about feeding livestock and taking care of a 60-acre farm.
I remember Dad always kissed each of us before leaving for the mines. One morning he left and returned. He had never done this before. He was running late. He was always on time. He had been gone an hour. Mom had gotten us out of bed, and we were having breakfast. When he walked in the door we were surprised. He acted so strange. He came around the table and hugged and kissed us. He had tears in his eyes. He told us how much he loved us and he hugged and kissed Mom and walked out the door. We ran to the front door. We watched him disappear as he walked down that old dusty, country road.
Three hours later we heard a truck coming up Second Creek. It got nearer and nearer. It stopped in front of our house. Ed Napier, my uncle, was driving the truck. We wondered why he had come to see us. He had just come from the mines. Coal dust covered his face. We sensed something was wrong. Ed got out of the truck, walked up to Mom, and held her tightly. He whispered something in her ear. Mom began crying and fell to the ground. We knew something horrible had happened. Neighbors from across the creek ran over. They also sensed something bad wrong. Ed and Mr. Williams, our neighbor, carried Mom into the house. No one told us what was wrong. We could hear Mom crying. Ed decided he had to tell us. He took Fred, Don, and me down by the creek. Saul was only one year old. I was seven and old enough to realize the news was bad. "Boys, your dad has been injured in a mining accident. You have to be brave for your Mom. She is having a difficult time." These were Ed's comments. His comments gave me hope. Dad had to be alive.

The Wright Sons. These boys are the sons of Alex Wright, who was killed in a mining accident, and Myrtle Wright. Joe, the tallest in back, is the writer of this article; next to him is Don; in front is Fred and the youngest son, Saul. All these boys are now living in California, except for Joe, who resides in Bargersville, Indiana.

Ed decided to leave and drive across Grapevine Mountain to Blue Diamond. He wanted to get a report on Dad's condition. Mom was still in shock. She couldn't go. I asked Uncle Ed if I could ride with him. He checked with Mom. She gave him permission. The ride to Blue Diamond took a long time. The roads were mountainous. Just as we got there my dad's body was brought out of the mines. I ran as fast as I could to the motor car that carried him. I saw my dad as the motor car passed. He looked lifeless. Uncle Noah, Dad's brother, held me. I wanted to go to Dad. The motor car carried him to an ambulance. I overheard miners talking. They said that Dad and another man had been killed. They didn't see me standing next to them. I cried out for my dad. Uncle Ed and Uncle Noah held me tightly. I didn't know until that moment that Dad had been killed. What a sad day. I will never forget it. I don't remember the ride back to Second Creek with Uncle Ed. Mom was waiting on the front porch. I couldn't hold back the tears. I ran to her. She knew right away. We held each other on the front porch and cried. It was a sad day in Kentucky. Our father died at such a young age. He was only 29 years old. He left four sons and a young mother. He left us a 60-acre farm and lots of love. The farm he left helped us survive. We missed our father. His strong and kind hands would always be missed. His spirit and love is with us now and forever.
As I reflect on that day I believe my father had a premonition something was going to happen. My mother and brothers also believe this. When he came back and hugged and kissed us I felt something bad would happen. The man who died with him was Mr. Wilson. He left four daughters and a young widow. I heard they were inspecting the ceiling of a mine. The ceiling gave way and tons of rock and coal fell on them. The first miners reaching them told Mom that Dad was alive when they found him. He died on the way out of the mines. He was dead when I saw his body pass me at Blue Diamond. We were told he was praying when they found him. This made us feel better. Someday we hope to see our dad in miner's heaven.

Joe E. Wright, Box 114, Bargersville, IN 46106, shares this article with our readers.

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