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Wilder-Davidson Coal Mining Complex

Located in the rugged, isolated area at the juncture of Fentress, Overton, and Putnam Counties, the five communities of Wilder, Davidson, Twinton, Crawford, and Highland Junction comprised the Wilder-Davidson Coal Mining complex which flourished from 1903 until the mid-1930s. This was the first major industrialization in an area of hardy, independent people used to subsistence farming and logging, and it introduced the company town along with its attendant culture.

Mining in the region reached its apex during the 1920s (with two thousand people in Wilder alone). A local labor union existed between 1919 and 1924, and labor relations were generally good, with the exception of short strikes in 1919 and 1924. During a period of great economic depression and very low labor union membership, United Mine Workers Local 4467 negotiated a one-year contract in Wilder on July 8, 1931, only to see that contract canceled on July 8, 1932. A strike initiated by the local union on July 9, 1932, spread throughout the Wilder-Davidson complex, and gained national attention during a year of violence, killings, and an especially bitter winter. The strike attracted nationally prominent political and labor leaders as well as religious and social organizations that brought aid to the workers. When, on April 30, 1933, company guards Shorty Green and Doc Thompson killed local union president Barney Graham, it effectively broke the union, but coal mining in the area never quite recovered, with the exception of a short period during World War II. Horse Pound, the last active mine in the area, closed on June 1, 1951.

Suggested Reading

Perry C. Cotham, Toil, Turmoil & Triumph: A Portrait of the Tennessee Labor Movement (1996).

Published » December 25, 2009 | Last Updated » January 01, 2010