GPR study, Coal Creek ghosts,
and B. Rule Stout tales

Oh My!

 Briceville Elementary School’s
12th Annual
Mining History Field Trip

18 May 2012


Most students merely study history in textbooks, but at Briceville School, we also uncover forgotten history on field trips.    

If you doubt it, read the book, The Welsh of Tennessee by Dr. Eirug Davies of Harvard University.  It documents our discovery on a past field trip as to who donated a rare collection of Welsh-language books to Harvard’s Widener Library more than a century ago.  For the past 8 years, Coal Creek Scholars have assisted Dr. Davies in research, enabling him to tell the story about The Welsh of Tennessee

Briceville students assist UT archaeologists
in marking the grid of the Itinerant
Miners' Cemetery for the GPR study

On Friday, 18 May 2012, Briceville students began a new adventure.  This time, they are assisting writer Fred Brown with research for his new book about Coal Creek, its mines and people. 

We started the field trip at Drummond Bridge where Dick Drummond was hanged during the Coal Creek War.  Legend has it that his ghost comes out at night, looking for revenge against the soldiers who lynched him.  We now have a photograph of Dick Drummond to put a face to the story.  Do you know that to see Dick Drummond’s ghost, you must visit the bridge at night wearing a uniform and sporting a handle-bar mustache? 

Drummond Bridge from which
Dick Drummond was hung during the
Coal Creek War of 1891-1892

Knoxville Sentinel and Clinton Courier News articles from 1902 reported that 216 bodies were removed from the mine after the Great Fraterville Explosion, but the monument at Fraterville Miners’ Circle contains the names of only 184 of those miners.  The rest were reportedly buried beside the railroad spur that led to the Fraterville Mine after no one claimed their bodies. 

Read Bob Fowler's story about today's
adventure in the Knoxville News Sentinel

Story was picked up by Associates Press!!
Sample in The Tennessean

The backyard of Mr. Owen Bailey (seated)
where graves of itinerant miners
were found by GPR study

Are there 32 graves (i.e. 216 – 184 = 32) buried beside the old railroad spur?  To answer that question, Briceville students assisted archaeologists from the University of Tennessee in a ground-penetrating radar (GPR) study to assess the number of graves in the Fraterville Itinerant Miners’ Cemetery.  The cemetery is located in the backyard of Mr. Owen Bailey whose father worked as a blacksmith at the mines in Coal Creek during the time of the Great Fraterville Explosion.     

The non-intrusive GPR method was used to conduct the study so as not to disturb the Spirits of the Fraterville Itinerant Miners that supposedly call for family members to identify them.  And yes, the study may have identified as many as 32 potential grave sites there.

University of Tennessee archaeologists with
their Ground Penetrating Radar

During a hike to the abandoned Fraterville Mine, students heard about the Premonition of Lizzie Pratt.  At the abandoned portal, we learned about the Ghosts of the Convict Miners.  After eating lunch at Cracker Barrel, we visited Briceville Church and heard about the Legend of the Tennessee Hollow Miners.

Throughout the day, students learned about life in Coal Creek more than a century ago from stories written by B. Rule Stout.  “Ye Old Poet”, as he called himself, was a school teacher in Anderson County in the 1890s, and later studied civil engineering before becoming General Manager and Director of Coal Creek Mining and Manufacturing Company.  After 50 years with the company, he retired at the age of 88, and became its “Consulting Engineer for Life.”  In his spare time, he penned the book, Visions in Verse, and became a legendary fox chaser as documented in the book, Gray Ghosts and Red Rangers: American Hilltop Fox Chasing by Thad Sitton.

Read sampling of B. Rule Stout stories

We ended the field trip by challenging Briceville students to continue the “Engineering Better Readers” initiative they started this year over the summer.  Reading the books and stories we discussed today will let them “hit the ground running” when school resumes in August.

Visit to Drummond Bridge where Dick Drummond was hung during Coal Creek War:


Itinerant Miners' Cemetery in Mr. Bailey's backyard to perform a
Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) study:


Hike into woods to visit the actual site of the Fraterville Mine Explosion of 1902:

Lunch at Cracker Barrel and then on to historic Briceville Church which was built in 1888
by the Welsh Immigrant Coal Miners and listed on the National Register of Historic Places:


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