“Such a snowstorm I never saw!” (Elinore Rupert, Part 2)



Image Credit: N.C. Wyeth, Letters from a Homesteader

September 28, 1909

Dear Mrs. Coney,—

… it was still snowing, great, heavy flakes; they looked as large as dollars. I didn’t want to start “Jeems” until the snow stopped because I wanted him to leave a clear trail. I had sixteen loads for my gun and I reasoned that I could likely kill enough food to last twice that many days by being careful what I shot at. It just kept snowing, so at last I decided to take a little hunt and provide for the day. I left Jerrine happy with the towel rolled into a baby, and went along the brow of the mountain for almost a mile, but the snow fell so thickly that I couldn’t see far ….

Sincerely yours,
Elinore Rupert

In this second episode of a multi-part series about Elinore Rupert, the author and her daughter Jerrine venture out into the great wilds of Wyoming.  When their explorations take a scary turn, a new friend helps them find their way.

The letters of Elinore Rupert are in the Public Domain.


“Everything is just lovely for me.” (Elinore Rupert, Part 1)



Image Credit: Sweetwater County Historical Museum

Burnt Fork, Wyoming
April 18, 1909

Dear Mrs. Coney,

There is a saddle horse especially for me and a little shotgun with which I am to kill sage chickens. We are between two trout streams, so you can think of me as being happy when the snow is through melting and the water gets clear. We have the finest flock of Plymouth Rocks and get so many nice eggs. It sure seems fine to have all the cream I want after my town experiences. Jerrine is making good use of all the good things we are having. She rides the pony to water every day.

I have not filed on my land yet because the snow is fifteen feet deep on it, and I think I would rather see what I am getting, so will wait until summer. They have just three seasons here, winter and July and August. We are to plant our garden the last of May. When it is so I can get around, I will see about land and find out all I can and tell you.

Sincerely yours,
Elinore Rupert

In March 1909, Elinore Rupert moved from Denver, Colorado to Burnt Fork, Wyoming to be a housekeeper for widowed homesteader Clyde Stewart. The Homestead Act of 1862 gave tracts of land to male citizens, widows, single women, and immigrants who pledged to become citizens; Rupert hoped to have a homestead of her own someday.

After moving, Rupert began a years-long correspondence with her former employer, Mrs. Juliet Coney, a widowed schoolteacher. The letters would eventually be published in the Atlantic Monthly, and then in a book. Over several episodes, we’ll hear Rupert’s own words about her adventures in Wyoming.

Rupert’s letters are in the Public Domain.


“They’re going to bomb us!” (Mine Wars, Part 3)



Lick Creek Camp Dwellers, 1922 (Image credit: Library of Congress)

“You know our rights under the Constitution, that no man should be condemned or jailed until we have had a free and impartial trial. We claim to be citizens of the United States and we ask for the rights of citizenship ; we claim to be loyal to our country, and we are loyal to our country, and all we ask is that we shall have our rights. We claim that we are citizens of the United States of America, according to the amendment to the Constitution. You know that that guarantees us free and equal rights and that is all we ask.”

–Testimony of George Echols, miner and UMWA organizer

The West Virginia Mine Wars were a series of armed conflicts between coal mine operators and employees in the Mountain State.  The first episode in this three-part series was about the conditions in the West Virginia coal fields in the years leading up to the Mine Wars.  The second episode discussed Paint Creek and Cabin Creek strikes that ended in 1913.

For several months, the nation’s attention was focused on the war raging across the Atlantic. West Virginia was the second largest producer of the coal needed to fuel steel mills and Navy ships. The higher demand for coal, along with the labor shortage, lead to an increase in miners’ wages.  But the increases were not permanent, and many of the issues that had sparked the Paint Creek and Cabin Creek strikes remained. And the violence returned. It culminated in the Battle of Blair Mountain, which was the largest armed insurrection in United States since the Civil War.

I referred to several sources, including the following–

The Devil Is Here in These Hills: West Virginia’s Coal Miners and Their Battle for Freedom, by James Green

“A union man: the life of C. Frank Keeney” by Charles Belmont Keeney III

Struggle in the Coal Fields: The Autobiography of Fred Mooney

West Virginia Archives and History

West Virginia Coal Fields, Hearings Before the Committee on Education and Labor U.S. Senate, 67th. Congress, First Session Pursuant to S. Res. 80

Written in Blood: Courage and Corruption in the Appalachian War of Extraction, edited by Wess Harris


“They hit me and threw me down.” (Mine Wars, Part 2)



“Mother Jones was then about 80 years of age.  Her hair was snow white, but she was yet full of fight.  With that brand of oratorical fire that is only found in those who originate from Erin, she could permeate a group of strikers with more fight than any living human being.  She fired them with enthusiasm, she burned them with criticism, then cried with them because of their abuses.  The miners loved, worshipped, and adored her. ” — Autobiography of Fred Mooney

The problems that had been brewing in West Virginia coal fields came to a violent boil during the Mine Wars. For years, WV mine operators had employed guards from the Baldwin-Felts detective agency. The guards were often “clothed with some semblance of the authority of the law, either by being sworn in as railroad detectives, as constables or deputy sheriffs.”* They were accused of harassing, beating, and even killing miners with impunity.

Like workers all over the country during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, WV miners railed against long hours, low pay, and what some called un-American living conditions. And like many laborers during this tumultuous period, they found comfort and courage in the fiery words of Mary Harris Jones, aka Mother Jones.

This second episode in a three-part series focuses on the Paint Creek and Cabin Creek Strikes, during which martial law was declared three separate times. At least 20 people were killed.

I referred to several sources, including the following–

Autobiography of Mother Jones

Conditions in the Paint Creek District, West Virginia Hearings Before a Subcommittee of the Committee on Education and Labor, U.S. Senate


“The worst of the explosion occurred in the No. 8 mine.” (Mine Wars, Part 1)



Trapper Boy, Turkey Knob Mine, Macdonald, W. Va. Boy had to stoop on account of low roof, photo taken more than a mile inside the mine. Witness E.N. Clopper. Location: MacDonald, West Virginia
Trapper Boy, Turkey Knob Mine, Macdonald, W. Va.
Image credit: Library of Congress

“My first work in the mines was at Borderland, WV, and I was 13 years old.  Back then, people think now, when you say you were 13 years old and start in the mines, they think something funny about it. Back then, there was no such thing as a social security card.  All you had to do was be big enough to do a days work.  I went to helping my Daddy on the track and I was kind of thin and  he told me to put on extra pair of pants and on an extra shirt to look big and we worked on the outside the first day I started to work.  I got hot and started shedding the pants and shirt.” — Frank Brooks, Retired Coal Miner at age 71, 1973

The West Virginia Mine Wars were violent conflicts between mine workers and mine owners, that took place between 1912 and 1922. In all there were five armed battles over that 10-year period:
Paint Creek-Cabin Creek Strike
Battle of Matewan
Battle of Tug
Miners’ March on Logan
Battle of Blair Mountain

One violent exchange took place on February 7, 1913, during the Paint Creek battle. Coal operator Quin Morton and Kanawha County Sherriff Bonner Hill rode an armored train through a miner’s tent colony at Paint Creek. Guards opened fire from the train and killed Cesco Estep, one of the miners on strike. Later, miners attacked an encampment of mine guards. In the ensuing battle at least 16 people, mostly mine guards, were killed.

This first episode in a three-part series focuses on the history of the mining industry, and the conditions that led up to the Mine Wars.

I referred to several sources, including the following–

Black Coal Miners in America: Race, Class, and Community Conflict, 1780-1980, by Ronald L. Lewis

The Devil Is Here in These Hills: West Virginia’s Coal Miners and Their Battle for Freedom, by James Green

Oral History Interview:  Frank Brooks

West Virginia Archives and History

Written in Blood: Courage and Corruption in the Appalachian War of Extraction, edited by Wess Harris


“We lived with constant fear.” (Encore: Freedom Summer, Part 2)



Image Credit:  The Guardian

John Robert Lewis was born on February 21, 1940, in Pike County, Alabama. As he learned during a filming of Finding Your Roots, his great-great-grandfather, Tobias Carter, registered to voted in 1867, 2 years after the abolition of slavery.  But almost 100 years later, Lewis, his sharecropper parents, and thousands of other descendants of enslaved people were prevented from voting.

Inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Montgomery bus boycott, Lewis organized non-violent protests such as sit-ins, and joined the 1961 Freedom Rides. He assumed leadership of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in 1963.  In ’64, SNCC and other civil rights groups led an effort to educate African Americans in Mississippi, and register them to vote.  Reflecting on it in 1985, Lewis wrote,

“The Mississippi Freedom Summer was an attempt to bring the nation to Mississippi, to open up the state and the South and bring the dirt of racism and violence from under the rug so all of America could see and deal with it …
During the summer many churches were bombed and burned, particularly black churches in small towns and rural communities that had been headquarters for Freedom Schools and for voter registration rallies. There was shooting at homes; we lived with constant fear. We felt that we were part of a nonviolent army, and in the group you had a sense of solidarity, and you knew you had to move on in spite of your fear.”

Lewis’s advocacy for the disenfranchised, marginalized, and oppressed continued beyond Freedom Summer into the rest of his life.  He was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives (GA-5) in November, 1986.  His numerous awards include the Medal of Freedom, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Non-Violent Peace Prize, and the John F. Kennedy “Profile in Courage Award” for Lifetime Achievement.  Congressman Lewis died Friday, July 17, 2020.

This episode was originally posted on September 7, 2019.

Many letters and narratives in this series were read with permission from the Wisconsin Historical Society and the University of Southern Mississippi.  The letters of Cephas Hughes are accessible via the Miami University Libraries Walter Havighurst Special Collections and University Archives.

The following sources were also used:

Finding Your Roots:  John Lewis and Cory Booker

Freedom Summer, Mississippi 1964, snccdigital.org

Freedom Summer:  The 1964 Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi, Susan Goldman Rubin

Hands on the Freedom Plow: Personal Accounts by Women in SNCC

Letters from Mississippi, Elizabeth Sutherland Martinez

Mississippi Freedom Summer–20 Years Later, Dissent Magazine

Mississippi Freedom Summer Events, Civil Rights Movement Veterans

Freedom Summer, Bruce Watson


“We have to be shot down here like rabbits.” (Encore: The Great Migration, Part 1)



28.1942.20
“The Migrants Arrived in Great Numbers,” Jacob Lawrence
Image credit:  Museum of Modern Art

“…the slave went free; stood a brief moment in the sun; then moved back again toward slavery.” — W.E.B. duBois

The Civil War was supposed to mean the end of slavery and the beginning of freedom, franchise, and full citizenship for African Americans. And in the decades after the war, many blacks did make legislative, educational, and financial gains.  But as we learned in the first episode of American Epistles, many more formerly enslaved people and their children faced limited economic opportunity and the constant threat of violence.

With the outbreak of World War I, immigration to the United States decreased and production demands increased.   Low unemployment in the North meant that African Americans had a new opportunity to escape life in the South.

Men and women, the young and the older, regardless of education level, wrote letters to the Chicago Defender newspaper, the Chicago Urban League, and other organizations.  The following letter was one of many that expressed their desperation:

Macon, GA
April 1, 1917

Dear Sir:

I am writing you for information. I want to come north east, but I have not sufficient funds, and I am writing you to see if there is any way that you can help me by giving me the names of some of the firms that will send me a transportation, as we are down here where we have to be shot down here like rabbits for every little [offense], as I seen an [occurrence] [happen] down here this after noon when three [deputies] from the [sheriff’s] office [and] one Negro spotter come out and found some of our [race men] in a crap game. And it makes me want to leave the south worse than I ever did when such things hapen right at my door, hopeing to have a reply soon and will in close a stamp from the same.

This was the first episode of a three-part series on the Great Migration.

Recommended Reading
The Warmth of Other Suns:  Isabel Wilkerson took 15 years to write this book, and it shows. The book is THOROUGH. Think of it as Everything That You Didn’t Know That You Didn’t Know About the Great Migration.

The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow:  Richard Wormser covers a lot of ground in a relative few pages.  It opens with Reconstruction and ends at 1954.

I referred to several sources, but used the following most heavily–

Black Workers and the Great Migration North,” Carole Marks

Blowing the Trumpet: The ‘Chicago Defender’ and Black Migration during World War I,” James R. Grossman

The Civil War:  The Senate’s History

The Great Black Migration:  A Historical Encyclopedia of the American Mosaic, Steven A. Reich

Land of Hope: Chicago, Black Southerners, and the Great Migration,” James R. Grossman

The Other Black Wall Streets

Race, Class, and Power in the Alabama Coalfields, Brian Kelly

Separate is Not Equal:  Brown v. Board of Education

Slavery by Another Name, Douglas Blackmon


“His Intelligence from the Enemy’s Camp were Industriously Collected…” (James Armistead Lafayette, Mini Episode)



JAL
James Armistead Lafayette (image credit:  Virginia Historical Society)

“This is to certify that the bearer by the name of James has done essential services to me while I had the honor to command in this state. His intelligence from the enemy’s camp were industriously collected and most faithfully delivered. He perfectly acquitted himself with some important commissions I gave him and appears to me entitled to every reward his situation can admit of.” — Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette, 1784

In the spring of 1781, General George Washington sent the French general, the Marquis de Lafayette, to Virginia to thwart the advancing British army.   An enslaved man by the name of James Armistead responded to the marquis’s call for spies.  Serving at the table of British General Charles Cornwallis, Armistead overheard valuable information that helped the Americans win the Revolutionary War.  Armistead was eventually granted his freedom for his service.  Once a free man, he added “Lafayette” to his name.

This episode is dedicated to Belmont Station Elementary’s fourth grade classes, who studied Virginia history this year.  You are STARS!

Recommended Reading

Young listeners to today’s episode might enjoy Black Heroes of the American Revolution.


“The more I read, the more I fought against slavery.” (Slave Narratives and the Pursuit of Literacy, Part 3)



old grimes_001
William Grimes authored the first book-form slave narrative printed in the United States.  (Image credit:  New Georgia Encyclopedia)

“It was my great desire to read easily this book. I thought it was written by the Almighty himself. I loved this book, and prayed over it and labored until I could read it. I used to go to the church to hear the white preacher. When I heard him read his text, I would read mine when I got home. This is the way, my readers, I learned to read the Word of God when I was a slave. Thus did I labor eleven years under the impression that I was called to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, the ever-blessed God.” — Rev. Peter Randolph, 1855

For enslaved Americans, literacy was a path to freedom.

Those who could write forged the “tickets” that both enslaved and free blacks needed to move about.  Some of these tickets took enslaved people all the way to free states, and even to Canada.

Literacy provided spiritual freedom.  It enabled people in bondage to read the whole Bible, and not just the sections that enslavers quoted.  The Bible represented liberation, both on earth and in eternity.  Enslaved Christians identified with the Israelites, whom Moses led out of Egypt and into the Promised Land.

And in sharing their stories, people who had escaped slavery hoped to awaken sympathy in their fellow Americans and achieve freedom for all enslaved people.

This is the final episode in a three-part series on enslaved Americans’ pursuit of literacy. I have relied on several sources, but used the following most heavily–

Bly, Antonio T. “Slave Literacy and Education in Virginia.” Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Humanities, 24 Jun. 2019.

Cornelius, Janet. “‘We Slipped and Learned to Read:’ Slave Accounts of the Literacy Process, 1830-1865.” Phylon (1960-), vol. 44, no. 3, 1983, pp. 171–186. JSTOR.

Monaghan, E. Jennifer, “Reading for the Enslaved, Writing for the Free: Reflections on Liberty and Literacy,” American Antiquarian Society, 2000.

Williams, Heather Andrea. “Self-Taught: African American Education in Slavery and Freedom,” University of North Carolina Press, 2009

Additional Sources:

Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936 to 1938

University of North Carolina’s North American Slave Narratives Collection


“It was only by trickery that I learned to read.” (Slave Narratives and the Pursuit of Literacy, Part 2)



Webster's Blue-Backed Speller
Noah Webster’s Blue-Backed Speller 
Image credits:  worthpoint.com and historyisfun.org

Very early in life I took up the idea that I wanted to learn to read and write. I was convinced that there would be something for me to do in the future, that I could not accomplish by remaining in ignorance. I had heard so much about freedom, and of the colored people running off and going to Canada, that my mind was busy with this subject even in my young days. I sought the aid of the white boys, who did all they could in teaching me. They did not know that it was dangerous for a slave to read and write.” — Rev. Elijiah P. Marrs, 1885

Throughout the South, it was illegal for white people to teach black people–enslaved and sometimes free–how to read.  Some whites taught blacks anyway: at times motivated by kindness, other times by self-interest.  But even without the assistance of white people, enslaved Americans learned to read and to write.  Facing the threat of whippings and worse, they learned under cover of night, and in “pit schools” in the woods.  They hid books in their dresses and under their hats so they would be ready for a lesson at any moment.

Today I am continuing a series on enslaved Americans’ pursuit of literacy. I have relied on several sources, but used the following most heavily–

Bly, Antonio T. “Slave Literacy and Education in Virginia.” Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Humanities, 24 Jun. 2019.

Cornelius, Janet. “‘We Slipped and Learned to Read:’ Slave Accounts of the Literacy Process, 1830-1865.” Phylon (1960-), vol. 44, no. 3, 1983, pp. 171–186. JSTOR.

Monaghan, E. Jennifer, “Reading for the Enslaved, Writing for the Free: Reflections on Liberty and Literacy,” American Antiquarian Society, 2000.

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Written by Himself

Williams, Heather Andrea. “Self-Taught: African American Education in Slavery and Freedom,” University of North Carolina Press, 2009

Additional Sources:

Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936 to 1938

University of North Carolina’s North American Slave Narratives Collection