Coal Creek history lesson
at Lake City Middle School...
from a Welshman who lived it...

17 September 2015

One of the four eighth grade LCMS classes where
the rich Coal Creek history came to life

Lake City Middle School eighth-grade students got a lesson on Coal Creek history from an individual who lived it, David R. Thomas. 

Bore da (good morning).  My name is David R. Thomas and I was born in Carmarthen, South Wales.  In my youth, I was a coal miner in Wales and later in Coal Creek when I came here after the Civil War.  I lost my job at the Knoxville Iron and Coal Company Mine to convict labor in 1877, but went to work in the Fraterville Mine where I got the opportunity to be an apprentice to Engineer C. G. Popp.  I am now a mining engineer for Provident Insurance Company, assessing the risk potential for accidents at mines insured by Provident.

Mr. Thomas asked, “Do you see me standing against the elm tree in this photograph from 1891 where Coal Creek residents are all wearing waistcoats and jackets even though the photo was taken in July of that year?  Men wore waistcoats back then to hide their suspenders, which we considered underwear.  After all, a gentleman would never be seen in public with his underwear showing.” 


Mr. Thomas took students through the time when miners captured convict stockades in Briceville, Coal Creek, and Oliver Springs to disrupt convict leasing and raise public awareness about the practice, which saw primarily young black men being arrested for petty crimes so the state could generate revenue by leasing convicts to mining operations.

Students then got to travel through time to Fort Anderson on Militia Hill, which was built by the Tennessee National Guard to restore order to Coal Creek during what was later called the Coal Creek War. 

One of the historic characters portrayed by Barry Thacker was
David R. Thomas, as seen in his traditional Druid robe after returning from
judging a Welsh Eisteddfod competition in Coal Creek.
His bardic name was Gwalch Gwalia (Welsh Rascal).

According to Mr. Thomas, “It was a strange war because in those days, we had no TV, Internet, or smart phones.  In fact we didn’t even have dumb phones.  In those days, men belonged to lodges that met weekly.  At the end of a day’s fighting, soldiers and miners laid down their weapons and attended lodge meetings together in the 300-seat Coal Creek Opera House.” 

Thomas continued with his story by saying, “Your generation thinks it invented all the latest fads, which is not necessarily true as illustrated by this selfie I took at one of our lodge meetings in 1892.” 

By that time in the presentation, most students realized that David R. Thomas was merely being portrayed as a character from Coal Creek’s past, but one student jumped up and shouted, “Hold on, I am totally confused.  You mean to tell me you were alive in 1892? 

Barry and Tanner -- The "selfie" picture of the Odd Fellow
Lodge meeting really threw Tanner off...!!

The historic photo of an Odd Fellow Lodge meeting in Coal Creek
with the TN Militia AND the miners at the same meeting... featuring the
character of David R. Thomas in the front taking a selfie!

A few of the students who have Welsh surnames in their families
received a red bandana in honor of the Coal Creek miners

After stepping out of character to explain it was a portrayal, students got to travel through time to the Great Fraterville Mine explosion and the Cross Mountain Mine explosion and rescue. They learned how David R. Thomas donated a collection of Welsh language books to Harvard that served as references for the 2012 publication of “The Welsh of Tennessee” by Dr. Eirug Davies.            

Those with Welsh surnames from each class were given bandanas—soldiers wore uniforms during the Coal Creek War, so miners wore bandanas to show they were part of the army of miners.

Eighth grade teacher Christopher Enix with Carol Moore
and Barry Thacker of the Coal Creek Watershed Foundation

More students with Welsh surnames in their families

This class had two former Dixie Eisteddfod competition winners
from their days at Briceville Elementary School

Carol takes a selfie with one of the classes

Students watching Briceville native Tony Thomas' YouTube video as he
sang his Coal Creek War song at the cannon dedication on Militia Hill in May 2015

More possible Welsh descendants with Welsh surnames

The Coal Creek Labor Saga is now part of the Tennessee education curriculum for fifth, eighth, and eleventh graders.  Here is a recap of the state standards for eighth graders covered during this lesson:


Explain the movement of both white and black Northern entrepreneurs (carpetbaggers) from the North to the South


Explain patterns of agricultural and industrial development after the Civil War as they relate to use of natural resources, markets and trade


Explain the restrictions placed on the rights and opportunities of freedmen (African-Americans), including racial segregation and Jim Crow Laws


Trace the rise of the Ku Klux Klan and vigilante justice, (compared to the Welsh of Tennessee who mentored African-Americans and helped end convict leasing).


The role of railroads during Reconstruction and Westward Expansion.

Contact us if you are interested in a classroom history lesson OR a history field trip to the historic sites in Coal Creek!   CONTACT CAROL MOORE at or office at 865-584-0344 Ext. 102 or her cell at 865-660-2620.


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