West Virginia Coal Miner

Russell Bailes, about 12 years old

Russell Bailes, about 12 years old

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Russell Bailes, my great-grandfather, was born 31 March 1900 in Harrison, Clay County, West Virginia, the third child and first son to John Solomon Bailes, a merchant in a general store, and Rachel Louisa Bragg.  Before him came Vivien and Mamie; after, Clarence, Baird, Beatrice, Addie, Kittie, and Locie.

On the 1920 census, at age 19, Russell is still living at home with his parents and siblings.  He is working as a laborer on the Railroad Grade.  On the 16 March 1921, he married Matilda Comer.  By the 1930 census, they have four children, their oldest daughter (age 7), Kathleen (5), Carl (3), and Doris (1).  Russell is working as a miner in a coal mine in 1930 and living in Widen.  Two boarders, also miners, live with them as well.  It appears Russell rented a house in Widen for $8 per month.  The 1930 census asks if there was a radio in the home and Russell’s family did indeed own a radio.

Coal was found in Widen in 1911 and the Elk Coal and Lumber Company extended

it’s operation there.  My research shows there were no elected officials, no law enforcement. The town was owned by the coal company and it became the largest non-union mine in the U.S.  Much of the coal mining union wars were battled out in Widen in 1952, just four years after Russell’s death.

If you would ever like to tour a coal mine and coal mining town, check out Exhibition Coal Mine in Beckley, West Virginia.  Visiting places like this can be a fun way to introduce children to family history.  I have added it to my own list of places to take our kids someday.

Russell Bailes' family home

Russell Bailes’ family home

By the 1940 census, the rest of the children have been added to the family, Janice, Chessie, and Chelsie.  Russell owns his own home valued at $1000.  His oldest daughter states they had a 77 acre farm and orchard on which they grew apples, peaches, pears, and blueberries.  She recalls one year her father sold 100 bushels of pears in Widen.  They also had horses, cows, pigs, and chickens whose eggs they sold.  Russell is still listed as a coal miner.  His daughter states he was a foreman.  This seems plausible as his income is $1716 for the year, the ninth largest in his census district with most coal miners in the area making between $250-700 per year.  Russell also gave land and money for the building of a church.  My understanding is that the church is no longer standing.  However, his oldest daughter owns a lamp from the church.

Russell passed away 27 May 1948, at the age of 48, from Black Lung, a common ailment of coal miners during this period which is caused by prolonged inhaling of coal dust.

Russell Bailes

Russell Bailes

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