THE HURRICANE CREEK MASSACRE
MASSACRE, n. 1. The killing of a
considerable number of human beings under circumstances of atrocity or cruelty, or contrary to the usages of civilized people. 2. Murder, especially of a helpless person.
'-'iiWebster' s New International Dictionary, 2nd Edition
Coal and -Leslie County
Leslie County, Kentucky, is one of the four or five poorest counties in the United States. More than three-fourths of the county's expenses are paid by federal and state agencies; the county pays less than 10 per cent of its school budget. Most Leslie County adults never got beyond the sixth grade, and more Leslie Countians are on welfare than working. Average annual family income is less than $3, 000, and housing surveys show that only one house in ten is fit for habitation by national standards, National standards are a luxury in Leslie County.
The county has only one industry of importance: coal. Timbering was once important, too, but the great trees have long since been cut and the best topsoil has long since washed away, leaving only scrubby second growth to cover the hills. Coal is the only remaining resource, and mining is the only available work, except for a scattering of service jobs.
The county is in the middle of Appalachia, but at the edge of the recoverable coal reserves. The coal is high-quality but diffic%it to mine because it lies in narrow seams, sometimes less than three feet thick. To work in seams like.that, a man must lie on his side and travel in a crawl. Mechanization came late to Leslie County mines because of the difficulty of developing heavy-duty,
battery-operated, rubber-tired machines less than three feet high. Most of the mines in the county are primitive operations in which the work is still largely done by hand.
Partly because of the narrow coalbeds, Leslie County traditionally has been last to feel the benefits of a boom and first to feel the effects of recession. There is a second reason: Decades back, coal prospectors working for Henry Ford bought up more than two-thirds of the county's reserves. The idea was that they would be held in reserve until Ford needed them to make steel for his cars. Both the coal and the county were kept in reserve --a private colony, a little feudal fiefdom -- until the great day when the call would come from Detroit. It never came. The company bought coal from other, more convenient sources, and the colony was left undeveloped. Until the 1930's there were no paved roads, and still today there-is no railroad line into or out of the county --which means that the cost of mining is increased by having to truck the coal over the county's miserable roads to railroad loading points in neighboring counties. Along with a few other baronial operations, Ford Motor Company still holds onto its coal -- exactly how much, no one knows, because the county tax assessor has no system for determining holdings, and accepts whatever figures Ford happens to give him. He does not believe they are accurate, but once when he tried to increase the assessment, Ford went to court and beat him. Meanwhile Ford leases its coal to small truck-mine operators. Federal figures indicate that Leslie County produces about 1.8 million tons of coal per year, worth about $6.5 million. Ford pays the county about $1, 700 per year in taxes. . .
Once, when coal was king, it was possible to make a decent living in Leslie County (although the hourly wages there for miners always seemed to run about a dollar be-
by Tom Bethell