Monday, September 3, 2012

Jasper Newton Cox - Coal Mining Experience

Jasper Newton Cox

Coal Mining Experience – Ohio Co. KY

After being discharged from the army in 1905, my grandfather, Jasper Newton Cox (1884-1974), returned home, where he got a job working at the Broadway Coal Mining Company at Simmons, Ohio County, Kentucky.  He was working there when he and my grandmother married, although he only worked in the mines a few months.  My grandmother, Eva Caroline Smith (1889-1988), daughter of James Thomas Smith and Sarah (Sanders), didn’t like for him to work in the mines because it was simply too dangerous.  The Hartford Herald and The Hartford Republican frequently reported mining accidents, which were all too common.

In 1907, the Broadway Coal Mining Company in Ohio County, Kentucky, where he worked, began operations that lasted until 1934, providing a livelihood for some 250 employees, who dug, loaded, and hauled tons of bituminous coal daily from its depths.  The daily capacity was about 1100 tons, from Vein Number 9, a seam of coal about four to five feet in thickness.  Coal seams were not called by names, but were given numbers as a form of identification.  The trade name for the Broadway Mine was the Lewis Creek Mine.

Every day, equipped with hard hats and carbide lights on their forehead, the miners descended a vertical shaft on a lift, about 40 to 50, maybe 60 feet or more, down to the bottom.  Underneath, in the miles of tunnels, they spent ten hours a day without seeing sunlight.  Once on the floor, they wound through a maze of shafts to begin the day’s work at the seam of coal where their shift had ended the day before.  Each night, using dynamite, the  shift’s miners blasted out the next day’s work.

Granddaddy said he went back many nights to blast out coal after finishing his day job and worked to make extra money.  The next morning the day shift miners, using picks, began digging out coal from seams formed more than 300 million years ago.  After it was dug, the coal was loaded in cars on rails.  Tons of coal were dug, loaded and hauled out daily from the depths of the mine.  It was dirty, grueling work.  At the end of the day’s shift, every man emerged to the surface, bone-tired and covered thick with dust “as black as coal.”

My grandfather told me:

      "In the coal mines, I ran a machine to cut boards. Worked eight hours a day
       and went back lots of nights and worked extra, blasting out the next day's work
       so loaders could work the next morning taking coal out. When the coal mines
       went on strike, I went to farming on Ben Amos' farm. Raised mostly corn and
       tobacco.  I did that for two or three years and then went back to the mines."

The second time he worked in the mines about two years later was at the McHenry Mines for nearly three years, more or less, during a period from about 1911 to 1914.

One morning when I was visiting my grandparents and my grandfather was telling me about his life, Grandmother had come out on the screened-in back porch and sat down in her rocking chair and was listening to what Granddaddy was telling me.  When he said he went to work in the coal mines after they were married, she said:  

“He only worked in the coal mines for about three months, as I didn’t like for him to work in there.  It was too dangerous.”

At this point, it reminded Grandmother about a real incident that happened in the coal mines to her.  She described how she and my daddy (as a young child) went down in the mines with my grandfather once, and she told this story:

“One time your daddy and I went down into the coal mines with him at night when they were to blast out a section so there would be coal to dig out for the next day’s work.  We wore carbide lights on our foreheads.  When the blast went off with a huge and deafening noise, we stood behind one of the coal pillars.  And after it was over, we were all covered with coal dust and were black as could be.  And I had worn my new red dress.” 
Grandmother laughed at her remembrance, and continued:

“I had to give all of us a bath in a zinc tub, and it took lots of scrubbing to get clean.”  

The large pillars of coal, that she mentioned, were left to support the rock between the mine’s roof and the surface.  There were times when coal pillars were removed that it caused the ground to collapse.


As mentioned, it didn’t take long for my grandmother to realize that she didn’t want her husband to be a coal miner. And she didn’t like being a coal miner’s wife.   Her husband’s work was much too hazardous.  Every morning she handed him his lunch bucket as he started to leave and said a prayer to herself that he would return home safe and sound at the end of the day. 

The family was listed in the 1910 census living near Rosine: Jasper N. Cox, age 24; wife, Eva, 21; and one child, Gilbert O. Cox, age 1.  Living next door to them was John Henry Stewart and his wife, Susannah Miranda (Cox); sons, Roy T.(hompson), 17; Warren C., 15; and Ethel C, age 13.  Susannah was my grandfather’s oldest sister.  

When he left the coal mines after they went on strike, Granddaddy bought a little farm
near Cromwell from his brother-in-law, John Henry Stewart, and went to farming.  My grandparents were living on their new farm when their first daughter Eula Mae was born in April 1912.  (Two more daughters were born in Texas after 1922.)  He was working over in his corn field, shocking corn with a neighbor, when the horse kicked their three-year old son (my father) in the head down at the barn lot.  (But that’s another story.)


Granddaddy said there was no money in farming.  Farmers are at the complete mercy of the weather and perhaps the seasons had not been kind to farmers in the area that year.  So when Auntie and Uncle, (Lizzie and Everett Sandefur), came home for a visit, they talked my grandparents into moving to Louisiana.  Her sister begged my grandfather to come live with them in Edgerly, so that he could get a job in the oil field, where a lot of activity was going on at the time.

Grandmother sold all her things at auction in preparation for their move.  They had handbills printed about the auction – date and place – and grandmother and her sister went in the buggy and tacked the handbills up on trees to advertise their auction. It turned out great, she said.  On some things they received more money than what they had paid for them originally, such as her dining room table, which she said was a really nice one. 

They left Kentucky for Louisiana by train from Beaver Dam in October 1915.  In about 1919, they moved to Texas.

Courting Days and Marriage

After an absence of about five years while he served in the army, my grandmother saw Newton Cox, as he was called by family and friends, for the first time after he came to join several friends and young people at her home in about 1907.  My grandfather had brought her a rose, which she later pinned on his coat.  She was eighteen and he was twenty-three.  He had come “calling” out to her home near Select and she said she had
no idea of going with him, but, she said, “I pinned the rose on his coat.”  And that very night he asked to start courting. 

In a taped oral interview with family around the table, she told me about her first time to go on a date with my grandfather. 

“We went to Bald Knob Church.  And then I thought, well, I wasn’t going to go with him at all.  But then he asked for a date the next day, and I went with him the next day to Mt. Pleasant.  (Laughter.)  But really, I didn’t have any intention of going with him.  But we just kept on, and the second date was better.” 

When I asked how they met each other and about their courting days, Grandmother told this:

“We were raised in the same community, being neighbors, and we attended the Select School together.  The first date we ever had was to
go to church.  Daddy did not have his own buggy and always hired one to go courting in.  I always thought he tried to pick the wildest horse he could get at the livery stable.”  

(My grandmother called my grandfather “Daddy” and he called her “Mama” because that’s what they got used to saying to each other when their children were small.)

Thus began a courtship that lasted about a year.

At this point in my interview, I asked Granddaddy to tell me about his marriage.

“Well, after I asked her to marry me, I went to our Baptist preacher by the name of Preacher Gordon and asked him to marry us at a certain hour of the day.  The preacher told me he was sorry but that he had already promised to marry somebody else at that particular hour.  Preacher Gordon said, “Could you wait until another time so I could have time to marry both couples that day?”  Granddaddy said he told him:  “No, I can’t change the hour, but I can change preachers.”  And I did, and so Pendleton Taylor, another Baptist preacher, married us.  We had a home wedding at her house with just family and friends there.”

"Aunt Pru, my step-mother, (formerly Prudence Taylor) prepared a wedding supper for us and we spent the night at my father's house after we were married, before going to the mines the next day.”  (His father was James William Cox.)

They set up housekeeping in one of the company houses that were rented to the miners and their families, and they traded at the company store.  The pay scale was a little above average, but hardly enough to live on by the time they paid their bills at the company store.  Goods at the company store were marked up higher and workers had very little choice but to trade there. 

My beloved grandparents were married on Sunday, September 6, 1908 and had been married sixty-six years when my grandfather passed away in his sleep at home in September 1974. My grandmother died at Tyler on December 4, 1988.

Jasper Newton and Eva Caroline (Smith) Cox
Photo from Golden Wedding Anniversary
September 6, 1958


Ohio County Coal Mining Facts

In an internet article about Kentucky Coal Heritage, concerning coal camps and communities, Ohio County was listed with mines at Aetnaville, Beaver Dam, Center- town, Coffman, Deanefield, Echols, McHenry, Prentis, Render, Reynolds, Rockport, Simmons, Taylor Mines and Whitesville.  For the period of this report, 14 communities represented 27 different coal companies, spanning operations for 49 years from 1903 through 1952.

Between the years of 1903 through 1952, 27 mines operated in various sections of Ohio County in various years, although mining had been going on prior to the turn of the century.  Four companies began operations in the county in 1903: Deanefield Coal Company at Aetnaville; Taylor Coal Company at Beaver Dam; Central Coal and Iron Company at Render; and Taylor Coal Company at Taylor Mines. Williams Coal Company at McHenry began operating in 1904; Green River MM&T Company at Coffman began in 1905 and closed in 1906. 

McHenry Coal Company at McHenry, where my grandfather worked for about two or three years, operated from 1905 through 1921.  Greenriver Coal Mining Company at Coffman began and ended their operations in 1907 under that name;  Broadway Coal Mining Company at Simmons, south of McHenry, also began operations in 1907 that lasted through 1934, a span of  27 years. 

Taylor Coal Company of Kentucky at Beaver Dam employed the largest number of miners/employees with 350 working there (1911-1915).  Next was Williams Coal Company at McHenry operating from 1904-1915 who employed 300 workers.  Two hundred and fifty employees worked at Beaver Dam Coal Company at Beaver Dam (1916-1937); 250 were reported as being employed at Beaver Dam Coal Company at McHenry (1916-1937), and at Simmons where my grandfather worked for a few months, the Broadway Coal Mining Company employed 250 workers (1907-1934).  The year 1952, the latest year of operation listed in this particular report, was for Central Coal Company at Render (1948-1952). 

In my research about coal mining, I found that the Western Coal Field Region included all of Butler, Daviess, Grayson, Hancock, Henderson, Hopkins, McLean, Muhlenhberg, Ohio, Union and Webster Counties, and parts of about seven other counties, although not all of the counties contained coal.

The most successful weapon of the miners to obtain safer working conditions and better wages was the strike.  A strike meant that all workers quit working and refused to return until their demands were met by company officials.  Business conditions also affected the miners’ paychecks, especially in summer months when the demand for coal decreased, so most miners were often unemployed for a period of weeks in the summer.

For the local Ohio County area, the job of the modern day coal miner has above average benefits, due to the risks involved. Mining continues to be a dangerous occupation.

Today, mines still operate in Ohio County, including strip mines, where coal is located less than a hundred feet or so deep.  Much coal information can be found on the internet about the Western Kentucky Coal Fields.


To learn more about coal mining history, a number of websites are available with information about the towns, the coal camps, working conditions, and Kentucky mine photos, as well as pictures of the miners.  Browse some of these websites at:

                                                      ~  by Janice Cox Brown
oldest granddaughter of  Jasper Newton & Eva Cox Tyler, Texas – August 2012


The topographic maps below reflect the mining area at Simmons, where my grandfather first worked at the Broadway Coal Mining Company mines, and the area of Select and Cromwell, where my grandparents were born and lived in Ohio County, Kentucky.

1 comment:

  1. Really interesting post - thanks for sharing with us all!