Historic Photo Prize
Hundreds of headstones in the Coal Creek watershed bear the date May 19, 1902, when approximately 200 miners were killed in the Fraterville Mine Explosion. Many contain a common epitaph: gone but not forgotten. Others include poignant farewell messages written by the miners before they perished from noxious gases formed from the explosion.
On the 99th anniversary of the disaster, 120 descendants and guests remembered the accomplishments and sacrifices of these men by visiting their graves and the site of their death, the abandoned Fraterville Mine. In their youth, many fought the Tennessee Militia over the use of convict miners during the Coal Creek War of 1891 to 1892. According to the program Chain Gangs on THE HISTORY CHANNEL: "the free miners of Coal Creek are credited with abolishing the convict lease system in the South, an institution that was worse than slavery". Younger brothers, sons, and nephews of Fraterville miners were among the 84 men and boys who died in the 1911 Cross Mountain Mine explosion in Briceville.
Increased public awareness over the hazards of coal mining, from disasters like Fraterville, resulted in the formation of the U.S. Bureau of Mines in 1910. Five miners were rescued from the Cross Mountain Mine Explosion by engineers and apparatus crews from the Bureau of Mines, their first successful mine rescue operation. In the early 1900's, thousands of coal miners died each year. In 2000, coal mine fatalities in the United States numbered 38. Today, coal mining is no more dangerous than many other professions.
The legacy of the Fraterville miners....abolished the convict lease system in the South, made working conditions safer for future miners, and fueled the industrial revolution.... rivals that of any comparable group its size in history.
Click on image to enlarge
|Mr. Owen Bailey (right) telling how his father walked from North Carolina in 1895, to find work as a blacksmith in the mines of Coal Creek. Transient miners killed in the Fraterville Disaster are buried in his backyard. They are not included in the fatality list because their names were not known.|
|Tony Thomas and Linda Gunderson performing songs about Coal Creek beside the field stones marking the graves of the itinerant miners.||Hike from Fraterville Itinerant Cemetery toward the old Fraterville Mine along the route of the previous railroad trestle.|
|Hike across gob pile (waste rock mined with the coal from the Fraterville Mine) toward the abandoned mine entrance.||Foundation of steam engine building (foreground) that was used to pull coal cars from the Fraterville Mine (background).|
|Hikers standing in front of the steam engine building foundation (left) and the abandoned mine entry (right).||Tony Thomas and Linda Gunderson performing "When the Mines Grew Still in Fratersville" at the headstone of Powell Harmon in Longfield Cemetery. Powell Harmon's farewell message ended with "My boys, Henry and Conda, never work in the coal mines". Conda Harmon, who is buried next to his father, died in the 1911 Cross Mountain mine disaster.|
|Barry Thacker reading the farewell message of Jacob Vowell who asked to be buried in the same grave as his 14-year old son Elbert who died in the Fraterville Mine with him. They asked to be buried next to Jacob's younger son Eddie. Jacob and Elbert share a common headstone next to the headstone of Edward Vowell in Longfield Cemetery.||Scouts from Troop 120 (left) talking to Carl Webb, the grandson of Conda Webb who died at Fraterville. Mr. Webb explained that "Conda" was a common name among the Welsh, and that his family moved to Ohio after the death of his grandfather.|
|Exploring Longfield Cemetery.||Drew Justice (right) talking to Mr. George Sipe (left), the great grandson of William Murray who died at Fraterville. Drew is doing his Eagle Project on the Fraterville Miners who are buried in Leach Cemetery.|
|Mr. Carl Fritts from Georgia (center) is a descendant of Nicholas Massengill who died at Fraterville. Mr. Fritts has developed a web site about the Fraterville Mine Disaster.||Hollywood Whaley (left) and George Sipe (right) making a rubbing from the Fraterville Disaster Monument in Leach Cemetery.|
|Justin Rhea making a rubbing from the monument.||Farewell message of James Elliott from his headstone in Leach Cemetery.|
Exploring Leach Cemetery....
List of participants:
Bailey, Linda Sun
Hensley, Rev. H.C.
Tour Guides: Lynn Bostic, Carol Moore, Gwen Justice, Dale Bostic, Barry Thacker
Musicians: Tony Thomas and Linda Gunderson
Photographers: Dale Bostic, Hollywood Whaley, Carol Moore, Barry Thacker
Special thanks to Mr. Owen Bailey and Ms. Nancy Montgomery for giving us permission to visit historic sites on their property, and M&R Bus Company for providing transportation. Also, thanks to Lake City Cracker Barrel and McDonald's for allowing all of us to bombard them for a mid-tour break.
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