“This was known as Bloody Tug Valley in West Virginia, one of the bloodiest places in the United States. My family started this community. My 5th great grandfather, Richard Ferrell, hunted this land with his dog, Mate. They walked in from Nre Garden Settlement Fort about 90 miles southeast of here. He named the creek Mate Creek after his dog was killed by a black bear. He was Irish and that is the word for pal. Ferrell moved his family here about 1810 and owned 7,000 acres. It was a peaceful time and the worst lawsuits were over slander or adultery. He was Devil Anse Hatfield’s great uncle. When the Civil War came to this valley, the bloodshed started and didn’t end until the 1930s. South of the Tug River is Kentucky and they were with the North, we were with the South, and above the valley was the North. We were stuck in the middle. This was Confederate territory because John Floyd, who was once governor of Virginia, moved here and was a politician who people knew and loved. We were still part of Virginia and the people here were putting him in the governor’s mansion. He was made a general for the South and the people went with him.
We are still fighting today. The miners don’t like the environmentalist. They are taking our jobs. We don’t go to New York and tell them to take their skyscrapers down even though they tore up the environment to build those. I understand both sides and have friends on both sides. I started out in my dad’s Hungarian bakery and then went into the coal mine in 1984. If you wanted to have anything decent, that is where you went to work.
The mystique of mountaintop removal is that they picture us destroying the world. Have you seen any of the destruction since you have been here? It exists, but it is not the destruction that outsiders think is happening here. Some mountains have been destroyed, but they will never be able to mine a fourth of these mountains because it’s not feasible. The cost of rock to coal ration removal is too much and the market price will not support it. The golden age of coal mining is over. That means a lot of people who lost coal mining jobs left the state. Don’t drive here in an SUV and tell me coal is bad. You have to have coal to melt the iron to make the vehicle
I am still in the coal mining business, I just don’t go underground anymore. I started in the dog holes. It is as high as a table and 20-feet wide and you are in that tunnel all day, miles underground, laying on your side operating equipment and drills and cutting bars. It is eight hours a day underground. Five to six days a week. It is rough on your body but I didn’t care, ain’t none of us getting out of this life alive.
We are different here. We are Scotch-Irish, the ones not wanted in England. This is dead center of Appalachia and the people here descend from more patriots that fought in the American Revolution than anywhere else in this country. On my mom’s side alone, I have six who fought in it. We are a people who helped create this country and hold the Constitution dear to our hearts. We respect firearms and were brought up with them. We don’t randomly kill people. We have vendetta killings and kill family members. I only know of two random murders and that is only in the last two years.
I was four years old when I shot my first rifle but while I was shooting I saw a blue jar and dug it up and got obsessed with history. I worked in the garden to find flint Indian points. The more I hoed the corn, the more points I found. I am going to open an Appalachian culture and heritage museum with the relics I have found. I also started this Appalachian Lost and Found store to sell local crafts, help preserve our history, and bring a little more life to downtown Matewan.
The opioid crisis is a true story in West Virginia and many people you have driven by are addicts. We are a people of habit. If you live here, you will become depressed because of the lack of sunlight because the mountains are so steep they block the sun. One day I went on top of a mountain with a wide open view and it felt so good. When I dropped back down it felt like they dropped a blanket around me. I realized it was a lack of vitamin D. There aren’t many opportunities here and there are generations who have never done anything but work in coal mines living next door to people worth a million dollars. You aren’t going to ever have money like that, but you it in your face all of the time because the land is so limited you have to live together. It is a hard place to live.
I don’t like when people have a stereotype of us and come here with the idea of changing what we are and who we are just because we don’t have the same culture and lifestyle. We are freedom and our ancestors fought to create this country. If history is not rooted deeply, you can’t respect where you are from. Our culture comes from our 5th great grandparents and we are close to archaic roots and being the Americans of 200 years ago. If the toilet breaks, we don’t panic, we go outside. We were settled by people who came here before the Revolution. My 5th great grandfather was killed by Indians in the Revolution. His son settled this area. I am a bridge between the past and present. I will not let it die.”