The year was 1742 when John Salley and his team discovered a portion of coal along a tributary to the Kanawha River. That tributary would be named Coal River by Salley and his compatriots. This is the first reference to coal in what would become the State of West Virginia. As industry grew in the country people began to descend upon the untouched terrain of the Appalachian Mountains and pull back the layers of her beauty to harvest the black rock hidden beneath the lush landscape.
June 20, 1863, West Virginia became a state. In 1867 only 490,000 tons of coal were produced in the state. Within 25 years WV was producing 5 million tons of coal annually. And 25 years after that it was 90 million tons. West Virginias coal production began while we were still Virginia. As the railroad grew and the demand for coal to be used for energy increased so did the demand for workers. Those workers were used like cogs in a machine and countless numbers gave their lives to mine that coal.
Large scale disasters were common due to roof collapses, explosions and fires that killed scores of men each year. And who did it benefit? Companies owned by outside interests that would plunder the state to make themselves rich literally on the back of others. Eventually the people had enough and began to fight back in what became known as the Coal Wars and this led to the formation of the UMWA and the fight for workers rights. But this story of outside interests coming into the state and taking from its resources continues to happen over and over. Look no further than the recent laws passed in regards to growing hemp to see how that will benefit large outside corporate interests, and leave West Virginians with nothing. One has to wonder when is enough, enough?
And that is the question Philip Bowen asks in his new track Vampire in Appalachia. Bowen teamed with Josiah and the Bonnevilles on a folk track that tells the story of growing up in a state that has been used and abused for its entire existence and the impact that has on the people here. Outside groups come in and bleed us dry as Bowen laments:
And so the sick keep getting sicker, While the rich keep getting richer, There’s a vampire in Appalachia, and we’re running out of blood.
Bowen and Josiah continue on to talk about the poor education due to a lack of teachers juxtaposed with the abundance of drugs. It happens right in front of our eyes on a daily basis and Bowen wants to know how much longer we can take it. The answer is not much longer. Listen to this haunting track here: