Dancing in the Cabbage Patch Is a joyful and personal description of life at Pine Mountain seen through the lens of the author and that of my family’s involvement with the school. The narrative centers on four main themes: farming, foodways, families, people, and celebration, — all reflective of many generations of family whose roots are deep in the soils of Eastern Kentucky. The narratives explored by the writer cover the years 1913 to the present and are broken into running topical sets that relate thematically.

Dancing in the Cabbage Patch contains photographs, manuscript material, oral histories, artifacts, and external links largely derived from the PINE MOUNTAIN SETTLEMENT SCHOOL COLLECTIONS .and family records. These tangible mementos of times past supplement my personal recollections and reflections. The reflections and ruminations are mine alone. This Cabbage Patch of memories largely pulls from the early formative years of my youth (1940’s) when dancing in this enchanted Cabbage Patch of Appalachia. The memories are nuanced by the later years of association with the School as a member of the Board of Trustees. Those memories are seasoned by all that life has generously added in the years in other geographies

The fiddle tune and often the dance shared here, are mine alone. Music and dance are metaphors and not intended to necessarily represent the performance of the orchestra that is Pine Mountain Settlement School. The sometimes personal song and dance are not intended to define the many peronal ballads and folk dances, or the larger culture (if it is even a singular culture)  Pine Mountain Settlement and the community people and region is the ever-present orchestra, but it is one orchestra among many.

As a story of place, the Dancing in the Cabbage Patch blog is written with the hope that some will identify with the feeling of dancing in a cabbage patch of memory and place.  Dancing in the Cabbage Patch is also a reflection on a region consumed by reflection. There will be many dances and songs as the future is shaped at Pine Mountain Settlement and beyond. Across the world, more cabbages will be grown and somewhere a child may dance among them and sing and dream of lands across the seas, and stream their story in song and dance and in 0’s and 1’s. Some will hold their stories close, but many will want to be singers, fiddlers, dancers, and storytellers… the makers of history and of place. Appalachia is story of place and a place of story — and of history.


Pine Mountain Settlement School

[Playing in the snow] mccullough_II_059d


In the early winter years of Pine Mountain Settlement School snow was a frequent and seasonal visitor.  Snow still visits the School, though not so frequently and it rarely sticks around for long. The climate of the planet is shifting and it is getting warmer worldwide. Snow, if it falls, can now fall at alarming rates — as can rain. These unexpected, rapid and sometimes overwhelming amounts, are becoming more frequent. Sometimes snow fails to stay on the ground for a long stretch of time. Sometimes it is a soft and gentle visitor, and sometimes it is wind-driven and icy.  Today, there seems to be little to no sensible planning for how snow will present itself. “Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.”

Sometimes snow falls as rain. It is difficult to imagine there could be a cloud burst such as the one that recently dumped record amounts of water on Eastern Kentucky. The rapid and deep torrents of Troublesome Creek that quickly rose to inundate Hindman Settlement  School and the surrounding valleys, and the fierce and unprecedented rapid rise of the river that rushed through the town of  Whitesburg, Kentucky, were unprecedented recent events. Christmas in Buffalo, New York this December 2022, has shown us what damage massive amounts of snow can do to a city. The climate is changing.

What would the raging water of  July 2022 have looked like had it fallen as snow? Is it even possible? The recent December snow in Buffalo, NY suggests it is certainly possible — perhaps not in July, but possible, nonetheless. Snow and ice in the coldest regions of the globe, such as Antarctica, are rapidly melting away. Iceland’s glaciers are pouring into the sea. Kilimanjaro, K-2, and Everest, no longer have their deep winter snow caps. The world is warming and temperatures are going up.

The climate is changing and with the change comes a growing human uncertainty regarding our relationship with snow and water — and many believe — with each other.  The United States Environmental Protection Agency reminds us

Climate change can dramatically alter the Earth’s snow- and ice-covered areas because snow and ice can easily change between solid and liquid states in response to relatively minor changes in temperature.

Further, the EPA tells us that

Between 1972 and 2020, the average portion of North America covered by snow decreased at a rate of about 1,870 square miles per year, based on weekly measurements taken throughout the year. Recently, there has been much year-to-year variability. For example the length of time when snow covers the ground has become shorter by nearly two weeks since 1972, on average.

The EPA describes a warming planet where 

Across all sites, snowpack declined by an average of 23 percent during this [recent] time period. Peak snowpack is happening earlier in the season at the majority of sites, as higher temperatures cause snow to melt sooner. Snowpack season length decreased at about 86 percent of sites analyzed, decreasing by an average of more than 18 days.

The message in these indicators is that the climate is warming and there are environmental  consequences and causes

As the Earth’s climate warms overall (see the U.S. and Global Temperature indicator), the number of frozen days has decreased in most parts of the United States. Continued reduction in frozen days could lead to a variety of effects on ecosystems, drought, wildfire risk, agriculture, natural resources, and the economy.

The progress of global warming is erratic but scientists are clear that the speed of global warming is accelerating. Snowfall is no longer a predictable winter visitor as it was 100 years ago. 


We did not wait for a schoolhouse to begin teaching; the House in the Woods took care of the children till snowfall until 1918, when they were distributed in the living room of various cottages; or the first three years at the Masonic Lodge over Mr. Nolan’s store.

From the biography of Elhannon Murphy Nolan

The House in the Woods was an open-air classroom built of log posts with a roof cover and no walls — essentially a pavilion. It was located on the south slope above the valley, just up from where the School’s Barn is located today. The pavilion served as a community meeting place, as well as a classroom. Like snow, it slowly melted into the earth and by the late 1930s it was unusable and was fully taken down. It is hard to imagine such an open-air classroom in today’s world of air-conditioning, digital heating sensors, and comfort engineering that monitors our interior dwellings and their relationship to the environment.

1916 Winter

By 1916, enclosed classrooms were available and the attention of the Pine Mountain workers was focused outward on the community at large. In the winter of 1916, Evelyn Wells and another co-worker, Helen Strong,  walked three miles in the snow down Greasy to Joanna Turner’s, “where we collected her horse.” Snow was a familiar part of the ecosystem of the region and the change in the seasons became for the workers a part of both the joy and challenge of living in Appalachia. (See  EVELYN K. WELLS 1916 Excerpts from Letters Home

 Evelyn K. Wells, a native of Montclair, NJ, and Co-director of Pine Mountain in its early years, was no stranger to snow. She often wrote in her letters home of the snow in the Pine Mountain valley. But, it was with new eyes that she begins to write home about the snow in the Pine Mountain valley. Clearly, she seems to have developed a new relationship with snow. She recaptures snow as an exotic visitor, and as a beautiful blanket covering a place of primitive conditions but of exquisite beauty.  Her literary picture of her early years at the School, now in its third year of evolution, is of a Shangri-la “hidden” in a white snow-filled valley. where the visitors take a “lovely” trip in the snow and find the warmth of paradise. The enchantment of Wells is not quite James Hilton’s 1933 Lost Horizon, but it is an exotic projection on a region that yearned for discovery and re-invention.

Today, nature’s earlier gifts continue to be mythologized and pursued in the remote Pine Mountain valley. While we will never again see winter through the lens of the early twentieth century, we continue to push the “beautiful” rural scenes and wrap ourselves in nostalgia.  We long for lost horizons, but we are slowly forgetting what those horizons might look like . We share our longings for a Shangrila, while forgetting that the snow of Hilton’s novel was not within Shangrila, but was a cold wasteland surrounding the paradise. We join millions searching for those quiet and deep snow-falls that wrap us in beauty, but fail to remember the treachery of cold snow. We sit within our warm buildings and look out at peaceful snow falling while watching events unfold in Ukraine and Buffalo, New York. Our horizons are no longer clear and our ability to negotiate them, less certain.

Evelyn Wells writes

Helen Strong [Teacher 1916-18] and I had a lovely trip recently. We started Saturday morning, in the snow, the weather having changed in the night, walking by turns the first three miles down Greasy to Joanna Turner’s, where we collected her horse. I rode Bobby, Miss [Ethel] de Long‘s horse, and I thoroughly enjoyed it all the way, for he paced and was full of spirits. Joanna told us not to let any horses get ahead of hers, as it made him mad, and Joanna’s maw told us not to let any horses get behind him, as that made him mad! However, he turned out to be a lovely horse, full of spirits and not “mean.”

Greasy grows wilder as you work down towards the Middle Fork of the Kentucky River, and the houses are miles apart. We had dinner by the side of the creek, building a fire to cook bacon and heat a can of soup. Such lovely hillsides, covered with beech forest on one side and laurel growth on the other. There are flat bottom-lands further down Greasy, which in a thickly settled country would not have escaped the inevitable corn crop, but here they were quite unspoiled. We got to Henry Chappell‘s, where we were to stay over night, about four, and the sun had been down for an hour and a half. Henry Chappell is an old man who is rather progressive, and he has a fine farm, and a nice house. His wife is a lovely gentle woman, full of humor, and so hospitable to us. Their children, except one son, are married and have moved away from the mountains, and one of them edits a paper in Middlesboro. We saw Mrs. Chappell‘s quilts and woven covers, and for the first time I acquired an interest in quilts. She had one which was beautiful – a design of red palm leaves on a white background which had a Scandinavian effect. The kitchen was a big room with a fireplace big enough for five-foot logs, and a very modern range beside it. At the other end was a well, with good water, served from a gourd dipper.

When we sat down to supper three men came in, cattle men from New Mexico. It is a stopping place for all kinds of people. we slept in rather a dressy room, with straw matting and wallpaper, but it was the only exception I have seen to the mountain rule that every room has a fireplace. It certainly was cold that night!

As we sat round the fire after supper, they were very anxious to know all about us. They told me all about the Wellses over on Cutshin — how I needn’t be ashamed of ‘ary one of them, and they found many points of resemblance in my folks to the general Wells cast of features.

Another beautiful ride, starting at 8:30 on Sunday, coming up the frost-bound river, where we had to break the ice several times. Such stunning gorges, and big rocks in the stream, and some snow on the holly and evergreen trees and Main [mountain] Laurel, is exceptionally beautiful. One little house, very small, was two stories high and painted white with green trimmings, and had an upstairs balcony fairly hanging over the creek. The little clearing was practically surrounded by a holly grove, such staunch, stylish little trees.

We stopped for a call on 109-year-old Uncle John Shell, whom we found splitting kindling. He was most entertaining, telling us all about the game one used to be able to catch, and conditions when the country was really wild. [See:Uncle John Shell to read the real story of this “oldest man in the world]

Also see: Evelyn K. Wells 1916 Excerpts from Letters Home 

1917 – 1927

From the transcriptions of other early worker letters gathered by Evelyn K. Wells when she served as Secretary at Pine Mountain Settlement in the 1930s, comes a chilly account of how the mail traveled to the remote School. The letter describes how mail was delivered in the wintertime by rail to a station on the South side of the tall Pine Mountain and then packed by horse across a snowy mountain. The mail came daily from the rail line and up and over Pine Mountain in the beautiful but challenging wintertime. All visitors would have to make the journey by foot unless a horse or a mule could be sent to fetch them. Until the road, called Laden Trail, was completed in the mid-1930s, crossing Pine Mountain in winter was an adventure.

Twenty sacks of mail today. They took five horses to fetch it — what a picture, crossing the snowy mountain! EVELYN K. WELLS 1916 Excerpts from Letters Home 1917 Winter. [034-p.1]  

Winter and snow also brought many children and staff under one roof for long periods of time. Colds and allergies ran rampant and so did the full cycle of childhood diseases. Secretary Wells records this outbreak of Chicken-pox at Far House, the girl’s dormitory, during one early snowy winter.

       Chicken-pox. Six cases at Far House, including my little roommate, who broke out tonight.

Rail fence in the snow at Pine Mountain Settlement School.


In January of 1922  Marguerite Butler a worker at Pine Mountain Settlement School experienced a particularly harsh winter in the shadow of Pine Mountain as she assisted in the establishment of a satellite settlement at Line Fork in nearby Letcher County. She wrote to her mother about her experiences coping with the weather and her responsibility for developing the new medical and educational satellite, approximately eight miles from the main Pine Mountain Settlement School. The following describes the preparation of a well for the new facility.

Dear Mother — 

Yesterday it was 10 degrees above zero, today it must be up to 60 degrees above. Such a change overnight. I had sixteen at Sunday School. They were so excited over the [photographs] pictures of play. I let each family pick the one they would like a print of.

Yesterday I had to go to Line Fork and I tell you I wore all the clothes I had. It was bitter cold and a high wind but I didn’t get cold a bit. It was beautiful with everything white with snow. The sun made it so brilliant I could hardly see. I have to go over to Line Fork again to-morrow for several days to fix the well. When I was home it just stopped running. I am afraid a joint has cracked letting in air. It will be a job to fix.

         Marguerite Butler

Line Fork Settlement, an 8-mile hike or an equally slow horseback ride up over a small mountain and into the adjoining  Letcher County, was a challenge in any weather. Marguerite Butler, a graduate of Vassar and an eager young and talented woman, was assigned by Director Katherine Pettit to take charge of developing the new satellite settlement and she made the journey frequently in the snow. 

One of her first tasks at Linefork was overseeing the construction of a well for the settlement and for preparing a small cabin for the staff at the new facility.  A doctor and a nurse would soon join Butler at the facility where she was preparing to serve as the Industrial Training teacher. By offering community classes and medical support for the remote location, Pine Mountain hoped to duplicate its model services and create five more sites in the region.  Marguerite had a daunting mandate, but one she engaged with enthusiasm.

Remarkably, the job of supervising the digging of the well at Line Fork was one of Marguerite’s first assigned duties in the development of the new settlement. It was a complicated task, but a critical one as the facility could not function without clean and nearby water. She was not charged with the actual digging of the well, but Marguerite’s letters indicate she gave that task a go in the company of ready workers from the community. It was a difficult task. It would have been daunting in any season, but in winter, it was unimaginable to many of Pine Mountain’s hardiest workers. Apparently, Katherine Pettit could imagine the young Marguerite suffering a bit as she nudged the hardy Marguerite onward.

Lutrella Baker Album. The Cabin at Line Fork, in snow, distant view. line_fork_003b.jpg

On January 23 Marguerite tells us about the broken well and the working conditions

Sunday, January 23, 1922

Dear Mother — 

… Last Monday morning I started out early for Line Fork to fix the water. For two days we worked and at 4 Tuesday once more had running water. The settling of the ground at the well had bent the pipe so it broke right in half under the elbow. Henry Creech came Tuesday to help us cut and thread the pipes. When we found the trouble I had to send him back to the school for a new elbow (pipe). He left on Queen [the PMSS horse} at 10:30, getting back at 1:05 – said he never was on such a good horse before. He told me to tell Jeannette if she picked a husband with as much judgment as a [the ] horse she’d get a good one.


When Harriet Crutchfield came to Pine Mountain as a worker in the early 1920s, she left her home where there was every advantage. Her father, James S. Crutchfield, a School Trustee, was President of the American Fruit Grower’s Association and she was used to the many comforts that financial security brings. She was not prepared for the rugged life at Pine Mountain, especially winter and she sent a steady stream of letters to her home asking for small comforts and for items of clothing that would get her through the Grip of Winter.  She seems to try to accommodate the environment when she finally bravely says in one letter, “This can wait for a long time …” Her want list, in one memorable letter, however, starts with “alligator shoes & rubbers” …

4. Alligator shoes & rubbers to fit. All the shoes I have down here are the kind that you can’t get rubbers over and I understand that in December it gets pretty sloppy — more rain than snow in winter here. You will have to get my alligators sewed up in the places where they’ve broken apart and have taps put on the heels. I believe there are some rubbers in the house that would fit them, but I have no idea where. This can wait for a long time.

crutchfield_journal_032.jpg  page 4    Harriet Crutchfield, Correspondence  1921 Undated – n.d.

Crossing the mountain at 5:30 a.m., joining Lucretia Garfield and K. [Kay] Wright on the early train from Lynch, where they had been Girl-Scouting all week. At Harlan took another train, rode six miles and connected with what had been described as a “motor car,” which turned out to be a little truck that ran by gasoline engine on the railroad tracks six miles further, to the Head of Lick Branch, a coal mining district, We rode lickety-split, hanging on to each other, to the end of the road, where we bumped into the mountain. We were met by two little boys who took us over the low ridges to the Smith valley, only three miles, and such lovely country, winding instead of straight like ours.

We were to visit the Community Life School, a Presbyterian center (in Harlan County). Palatial houses where the people have black walnut sets and pianos and the ladies come to Ladies’ Aid meetings in plumed hats. At the creeks and hollows nearby are full of cabin homes and their neighborhood problems are much like ours. The buildings of the school are very plain little cottages, neat and comfortable and perfectly unimaginative, but there are fine workers. At a funeralizing, we saw the neighborhood gathered. The Presbyterian minister from Harlan came to officiate, and we returned with him, starting out on foot, changing to the hand-car for six miles, walking another three because the train wasn’t due for a long time, and being picked up by a very luxurious automobile parishioner of Mr. Michel for the last few miles to town.

After a night in the only hotel in town we came across Pine Mountain in a light snow, joined by a lot of children returning from vacations. Also, two little boys who ran away a month ago whom Lucretia and Kay had found in the poorhouse on their travels and who were now being returned to us by the County Judge.

See: HARRIET CRUTCHFIELD Journal Transcribed Part 1

Pine Mountain Settlement School Series 09: Biography – Staff/Personnel  Series 05: Administration – Board of Trustees HARRIET CRUTCHFIELD Journal Transcribed Part 1 TAGS: Harriet Crutchfield Journal I Transcribed; Harriet Crutchfield; Harriet Crutchfield Orndorff; education; Pine Mountain Settlement School; Pine Mountain, KY; Mrs. Lewis; Mr. Lewis; Marian Kingman; Marguerite Emerson; Practice House (Country Cottage); Infirmary; Laurel House; Katherine Pettit; Alice (Pilkington) … Continue reading HARRIET CRUTCHFIELD Journal Transcribed Part 1

See also:  Evelyn K. Wells 1916 Excerpts from Letters Home  and Evelyn K. Well Excerpts From Letters Home 1921


Medical Settlement - Big Laurel, late 1920s

Medical Settlement – Big Laurel, late 1920s

During the 1920s snow showed a darker side.  To some of those who supported the School and sought to alleviate the poverty they saw or perceived to be in the region, snow offered a means to reach into the conscience of the rich.  To many wealthy supporters of the School, the pervasive and severe living conditions in the remote areas of the Central Appalachian mountains was made even grimmer by the imagining of cold snow. The exposure to snow and to the cold compounded by poverty was and is considered an inhumane event but a solid fund-raiser. The realities of the 1920s can uneasily be recalled when we read of winter miseries such as the current events of the 2022-23 winter in Ukraine. 

Snow adds to the misery of poverty in the minds of many — an observation not without cause.  At Pine Mountain Settlement in the 1920s the combination of snow and poverty was a means of reaching donors and friends of the School. Winter was also an opportunity to plead for programs and for workers to “uplift” the people of the Central and Southern Appalachians from their perceived treacherous environment.  By providing money and educational resources the edge of Winter could be softened for mountain children. A school like Pine Mountain could shelter the mountain children from their harsh habitat and move the mountain dwellers out of the “misery of poverty” that was made so obvious while in the grip of winter snow. It was a cynical but effective means to capture the sympathy of donors.

Blanche Rannells, a visitor to Pine Mountain and a leader in the “uplift” movement,  wrote a short article, “Our Mountain Neighbors,” that describes the austere environment of winter in Appalachia. From her brief first-hand encounter with winter and her efforts as a staff worker at the second satellite settlement, the Medical Settlement at Big Laurel, Blanche Rannells pulls on the heartstrings in one of her 1924 letters to prospective donors

Those of you who are interested in welfare work for children may be shocked by the statement that ” … last Sept. 30 children who entered this school together were nearly 450m pounds underweight. In two weeks regular rest and wholesome food had produced a gain for the group of 147 pounds!” If you could see the homes these children come from and know the character of their food, you would no longer wonder at the statistics reported by the school nurse.

Let me try to picture to you one of these homes. Imagine if you can the utter solitude and loneliness of a life spent in a windowless log cabin “at the head of a hollow” with none but the sounds of nature to break the sepulchral stillness. No traveler ever chances to pass the door for the winding footpath which leads to it does not extend beyond it.

Within it [the home] is even more cheerless, especially in winter, for sunlight cannot penetrate solid walls of logs. The fireplace must serve the double purpose of furnishing light and heat. A touch of color is lent to the interior of strings of “burney” red peppers and hanks of wool of various colors suspended from the rafters. Long ropes of “shuckey beans” decorate the walls waiting to be shelled when needed for food. [The writer was obviously not familiar with “shucky beans” or “leather britches” which did not require shelling to be eaten —as most times, the beans were cooked with shell and bean.]

Blanche Rannells, “Our Mountain Neighbors,” 1924


Some of the most detailed early records of snow and cold came from the extension centers of Line Fork and the Medical Center at Big Laurel. The Stapletons who supervised the Line Fork facility in the late 1930’s and early 1940s, described many winters at the remote Line Fork Cabin. They also captured the lives of their neighbors around the clinic and the isolation of those families.  But, they also capture the beauty of winter shared by many who lived in the Line Fork community.

Lutrella Baker Album. The Cabin at Line Fork, in snow, distant view. line_fork_003b.jpg

In 1927 Dr. Ida Stapleton and her husband the Rev. Stapelton arrived at Linefork. They describe the first four months and their first winter 

Before night the rain began again and continued thru our own Christmas Day which we spent in the Cabin. It was the first one spent alone by the Stapletons for many years. The schools had but one day for vacation and so on Monday the lessons began again and singing was taken up with the idea for closing exercises in February. New Year’s Day was a winterly one and a regular blizzard was the weather program. Thru out the day only one caller came to the Cabin and he was our neighbor who brought us the milk.

Stapleton Correspondence 1925-1927

The Stapletons had many winters (1925-1944) at the Line Fork Cabin and their informative reports and letters detail the extremes in weather they experienced while living there. See Stapleton Correspondence Guide

1933 REPORT – December  “Dear Friends: — At the peak of the Year — and we are having our first snow storm which did not last but half an hour.  The Fall has been about as perfect as we could wish. Just cold enough so that a moderate fire is sufficient…” [6 pages]

At Christmas, we found all the country covered with a thick white blanket of snow. The evergreens were so lovely it seemed quite unnecessary to have any further decorations – but in the schoolrooms it was quite different and the trees were trimmed in the usual way with candles, tinsel, holly wreaths and bells….

It has been too cold and frozen to do any more digging [of coal] so Johnny is splitting palings to fence in some land of his own. He has about five acres and has recently sold a half acre to a younger brother for fifty dollars on which to build a house for his newly acquired wife and in order to pay for it he tried unsuccessfully to beg a load [of coal] from the Cabin.

The next day I went up Jake’s creek to see Orrie who had been to the Cabin a week before for medicine. Now I called to see how she was getting on. She had been much better for a few days. Then she had to go foraging for coal while her father-in-law stayed in the house and nussed the baby. Why hadn’t he gone? The neighbors laughing say “That Dick would sit and freeze to death before he would pack coal”. Not quite as bad as that I reckon but at this time he wouldn’t, so Orrie rode the mule a mile to the coal bank where a quantity of coal had been taken out and after filling two pokes with it she loaded them on to the mule and walked back. She had another heart spell and was in a faint for some hours. I had warned Dick that she must not get wood for a month or two but he wouldn’t [warn her], and her brother, a young man, wouldn’t, so she had made the effort to keep her babes from freezing. Some families are helpful to their relatives, then again they are quite heartless.

[STAPLETON REPORT 1930 – January.]


Another ambiguous response to snow is found in the correspondence of Katherine Pettit writing to a former staff member, Lucretia Garfield in January of 1927. She speaks to the beauty of the snow and wishes that Lucretia could see the snow at the Pine Mountain School

I wish you could see Pine Mountain today, with a new, fresh fall of snow. It’s so beautiful it’s a demoralizing and makes everybody want to stay outdoors and not work at all. But this is the first day of the new term and so we all have to plunge in to it again after our good vacation.


Alice Cobb, another worker at the School, gathered many stories of families in the community as they struggled with harsh winters and the cold and drafty cabins in which many of them lived. Cobb remembers with some poignancy, one conversation on her “Farewell Trip” to visit community friends as she prepared to leave Pine Mountain after many years of service

“I wish I could remember all the stories — perhaps I will from time to time and can jot them down. I tried so hard to memorize them as he [Abner] went along but you just can’t remember all Abner’s nice little sayings, and fancy words. One thing I remember, when he spoke about a cold winter, with the snow and tree branches a poppin’ and a crackin’. And then he asked me about you [Cobb’s Mother, her correspondent] and…
…how many children there were at home. I said you [her Mother] had to be there alone most of the year. He was quite severe — asked how often I went home. I said only once or twice a year. He shook his head and said “And you don’t stay home no more than that — and them without ary chick nor child?” You see his idea is that a family should stay together, and he doesn’t want his children to come even as far as Pine Mountain school. He feels that their family circle must be unbroken — it’s a beautiful affection they all have for each other, and while in any other family I wouldn’t like it, in his it is different.”

Alice Cobb’s Farewell to Line Fork,
  June 14, 1937
(Via Little Laurel, Big Laurel and Turkey Fork)

[Pettit to Garfield, January 10, 1927]


Lela Christian, Nan Milan, Stella Taylor, Nancy Jude. Student Community Service Workers, c. late 1930s – early 1940s. [duplicates_069.jpg]

The academic programs in the late 1930s and the 1940s pushed the older students out into the Community where they would experience the life of the people and provide much-needed social service supports as Community Service Workers. This program, designed by Director Glyn Morris was ground-breaking in the rural setting of Eastern Kentucky and led to expanded development in the later regional Rural Youth Guidance programs initiated by Morris. I t was also a model for the Frontier Nursing service that later was developed nearby. The students seen above were trained by Grace M. Rood, who at the end of her life wrote of her work training students in the nursing field. 


While the School program was rigorous, it also made room for students to revel in the joy of play, and snow afforded the perfect playground.  In this article from the 1944 Pine Cone, some of this revelry is described. It is a description familiar to any child who has had the joy of pummeling their schoolmates, no matter their age, with snowballs.

Boys’ House in the distance and Girls’ Industrial in the foreground with deep snow. c. 1940s

The deep, wet, and heavy snows that were, and are, common at Pine Mountain, provide perfect playgrounds for students to engage in snow-ball fights like the one described below by student, John Deaton

BATTLE OF THE YEAR” by John Deaton – Snowball fights among students from the various dormitories.” 1944 Pine Cone

As snowball fights were to be the order of the day with Boys’ House challenging Far House and West Wind offering to battle Big Log, everyone went home and changed into warmer clothes.

The scene of the boys’ skirmish was Far House lawn, which Boys’ House captured at will. The luckiest break for Boys’ House was the charge that netted us a panful of snowballs manufactured by Far House. Neither side can be declared the victor but Far House firmly declined an invitation to continue the fight on the playground which is nearer to Boys’ House.

The girls did not turn out in large numbers, but they surely created more excitement. The bandannas which were worn to protect their hair slipped off. The result was a generous amount of mud and snow in the hair of the participants. The mud was thicker and more plentiful than the snow, and much mud was mixed with the snow balls. this fight should go to West Wind, which was greatly outnumbered but kept on the offensive almost all afternoon. We are all looking forward to another afternoon of slinging snow.  

[John Deaton, January 1944, Pine Cone, pp.12-13]


“Daffodils and snow do not mix well. Still they are trying…”

Like the daffodils and snow, H.R.S. Benjamin, the new Director of Pine Mountain in the Post-War years was caught in an equally incongruous event. As the Pine Mountain boarding school teetered on the edge of collapse following the financial downturn following the war and the departure of former Director Glyn Morris, Benjamin faced overwhelming challenges. Buffeted by the shifting economy and by the consolidating educational framework in the early post-war years, Benjamin found himself in a blizzard of enormous challenges.  But, with the promise of the beautiful and unique building  West Wind nearly finished, he set about trying everything he knew to find the right mix of despair and enthusiasm. 

The rapid shifts in climate only added to Benjamin’s anxiety about the many looming shifts in the educational and economic climate that would have to be addressed, and as the bills for West Wind crossed his desk, he stepped up.  The sizable building project of West Wind initiated by Morris to fill the need for a girl’s dormitory, was now a huge financial burden for Benjamin.  Further, as the boarding students dwindled and the post-war economy grew more fragile, the boarding school was deep in a snow drift. But, as Benjamin walked out of the Office he saw the beauty and potential of Pine Mountain ….”… the daffodils pushing their way up through the snow.”

One can perhaps imagine that he was also thinking of Mary Rockwell Hook, the School’s architect sitting in the sun of Sarasota, Florida, with her daffodils and palm trees as the snow filled his disintegrating horizon. We will never know if his remark was one of despair or hope, but it was certainly an apt description at the time. It is still a common sight at the School to see the early daffodils keep trying to bloom through late winter snow …  joyful yellow in a sea of white.

In February Benjamin wrote another letter of seasonal change and longing to a former Pine Mountain worker

February 5, 1947 an

Dear Miss Sparrow,
I guess the near-zero temperatures this week are more in keeping with the season than the spring breezes which we enjoyed last week, and most of the winter, but they are scarcely as pleasant! We think often in this weather of our many Pine Mountain friends basking in Florida Sunshine.

H.R.S. Benjamin, Director

This signals that while despair was lurking, change held promise.


Pine Mountain in the grip of winter. [Arthur Dodd, Photographer ?] 1940s


The migration of Joe Wilson and his family from Pine Mountain over Laden Trail to Harlan in the depths of winter is one of the most memorable snow stories of the School’s third decade. Alice Cobb, who accompanied the family describes the caravan that set out in the snow to cross the mountain in an overloaded truck and the adventure that ensued. Cobb captures both the social and the physical misery of the transport and of change, in this clip from her short story Migration from the Hinterland to the Industrial Area [Harlan]

When the morning came it followed a sleet storm, and we awakened to a new world, coated with ice, every little branchlet of every little tree glorified, shimmering. One was shocked by so much beauty, so lavishly displayed and I thought with embarrassment for mankind and the things he is proud of, — the glass flowers in the cases at Harvard University, tenderly buried underground in case of fire — when here was this inimitable glory, a thousand miles from anywhere at all, blooming for a day, and careless of existence.

I slipped and slid over the cinder path to the office, to see what was going to be done about the trip over the mountain.  Brit [was …? …?] said certainly he would go and hadn’t he been up since four o’clock out to the Wilsons, loading their house plunder on the truck.


Alice Cobb, Migration from Hinterlands to Industrial Area, c. 1940.
View down the Pine Mountain valley with snow. The Road to Harlan crosses the mountain near the gap in the far left mountain range seen in the image. [kingman_034c]


Books, Horses, and Place

Pine Mountain Settlement School
Books, Horses, and Place

Pine Mountain Settlement student Ruth Shuler on horseback, delivering books as part of the Co-op library program. c. 1941. garner_006 (120)


In 1941 the Co-op Program was a well-tested and central part of the educational curriculum at Pine Mountain Settlement School. As an important part of the progressive curriculum, it was a community outreach program that included many aspects of the popular WPA librarians on horseback or packhorse librarians initiative.

In addition to bringing books and magazines to the surrounding Community, the Pine Mountain Settlement program also checked on the health and well-being of the families it served. Many of the visits were in countrysides so rugged that the only means of reaching the home was to travel along streambeds or over roadless mountains. Horses and mules were the only viable transportation. The visits of the Co-op students and often their staff monitors were eagerly anticipated in the homes and they opened the way for families to connect to the Pine Mountain Settlement School and for the School to expand its services.

While the program was conceived under the direction of Glyn Morris, the young Settlement School Director, it was not implemented until the mid-1930s and ended in 1949.  While not unique in the many mountain programs of Librarians on Horsebackt, it touched the lives of many children and their families. While established for very pragmatic and often life support reasons, the idea of young women on horseback traveling through difficult mountain terrain, in the rain, sleet, and snow also had a romantic over-tone.

Perhaps it is the romantic notion of a young girl and her horse facing the world together that appealed. In older generations, the story of Black Beauty still lingers with romantic nostalgia. Perhaps it is the Kentucky horse ambiance. Whatever the inspiration, the stories surrounding the workers and “librarians” who participated in the packhorse program have, in recent years, begun to proliferate. The reasons for the recent uptick in interest in the WPA Librarians on Horseback are many. But, the message, one of service, sacrifice, selflessness, and literacy is important to any generation.

The many selfless hours spent doing community work by women while dependent on the courage and coordination of a horse has far more practical lessons than many contemporary children’s book themes. Further, getting lost in the imagination while on the pages of a book seems far more productive than the passive clicking on electronic media.

A new book has just been published by Little Bee Books, written by noted children’s author Emma Carlson Berne, and illustrated by Italian artist Ilaria Urbinati. It fires up the reader’s imagination. What is so very special about this delightful book is that it is written for and about rural children who are often more removed from libraries. The rural in this case is based on conversations with people from the Pine Mountain Settlement School and the valley is in one of the most remote areas of  Eastern Kentucky.

The book quickly brings the reader into a very accessible tale of Edith, the young “Librarian” who sets off to deliver books while riding Dan, her trusted horse. As the story gallops along, it is sprinkled with local references such as pawpaw pudding, mountain springs, a fierce and  unexpected thunderstorm, and even a familiar mountain family name, “Caudill.” The possible nod to Caudill is perhaps an oblique recognition of noted Appalachian children’s author, Rebecca Caudill, a winner of the National Young Reader’s Award and also a Newberry Honor Book in 1950.  Caudill was a frequent visitor of the Pine Mountain Settlement

The second delight in Berne’s book are the beautiful illustrations by Italian artist Ilaria Urbinati. Ilaria, who lives in Turin on the northern mountainous edge of Italy, has captured the dual nature of mountain living with its beauty and its danger. Her images nearly gallop off the page with energy that competently matches the romping narrative. While Edith looks a bit like a modern Pippi Longstockings, the artist has captured the energy of horseback riding and of the fearlessness of so many Appalachian girls in their native mountains.  The author and illustrator have both grasped many of the natural obstacles that the women on horseback often faced in delivering their “libraries.”

Edith, the librarian in this little book, as Berne explains in her Author’s Note, is not the typical urban librarian that families may know in their city and town settings. She’s a very special librarian, and one that historically existed in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky. Edith, like the other “librarians” that were often called “Packhorse Librarians” in the WPA (Works Progress Administration 1935-43) offering, was special. In the Appalachian region, young girls were often hired from the local community to fill the librarian role. They knew the mountains, the weather, the dangers that come with the rugged countryside, and the lives of the isolated families.

In her notes, Emma Berne places the story within the genre of WPA Packhorse Librarians in the Appalachians, but she makes the nature of the program locally intimate in her description of the mountain librarian, as well universal in the bravery of women generally. She describes how her local interviews and personal background helped her to shape her story. What she offers up is an inspiring and beautifully illustrated tale that will capture the imagination of young children of both genders, will enchant the parent reader, and bring the public into close contact with rural America.

Pine Mountain thanks Emma for her interest in the Settlement School and for the inclusion of interviews in the region while developing her book. This book is highly recommended for all libraries. While other reviewers have pointed out that the book is “White”, suggesting that it was purposeful in excluding people of color, they have most likely not traveled in the most remote regions of Appalachia. Yet, it is a book that gives dignity to all peoples, particularly rural America, and which is independent of race, ethnicity, and class.





EDUCATION Pack Horse Library Service at PMSS


CAUDILL Family  



Pine Mountain Settlement School
Feed Sack and Fashion


“Sewing with Cotton Bags: Style Thrift,” says the sewing instruction booklet. The cloth was indeed thrifty, durable, and easy to handle, but it was limited in size. [feedsack_007.jpg]



Poultry and feed sacks often go together. One could almost say many a feed sack has been present when chicken and dumplings were being prepared. Feed sack aprons were a common household item in Appalachia and other areas of the country beginning just before the War Between the States.

These early “feed bags” were not the colorful and patterned items that most of us are familiar with today. The early bags were generally tightly woven and more like contemporary canvas. They were neutral or white and without patterns but often stamped with the supplier or owner stamp. Some of the earliest bags may be recognized by a circular pattern that was commonly used to identify the manufacturer of food staples such as flour. The early bags could be re-filled and patched and used until they were no longer of service. They were instituted to reduce the cost of the standard wooden or tin containers that were problematic due to rust and leakage. But, the new bags were not without their issues — some physical and some societal. 


The beginning of the popularity of the cotton bag is generally agreed to have been around the 1840s. When a “stitching machine” was invented and the bags could be sewn tightly closed using a double locking seam, the cotton bag was adopted for a variety of carrying processes and their number increased. As cotton became more available and reduced in price, and with mechanized weaving, the sewing machine, and the low cost of slave labor, cotton bags proliferated. During the Civil War, the “feed bags” were used for various transport jobs. The second half of the eighteenth century saw creative industries start to add decorative prints to the bags. By the end of the century, several mills were experimenting with the production of inexpensive and attractive cotton cloth.

Further, the cloth bags were now being produced in a variety of sizes — not just in barrel size — and for more far-ranging uses. The barrel was, however, still in evidence on some bags as the circular imprimatur of the manufacturer was often the same size as the barrel top. The stamped name of the company was often hard to remove and there are many instances when the stamp of the company was left on a homemade shirt or a kitchen apron. During this time the weave of the cloth began to become more varied. The sturdy “canvas” weave gave way to a variety of less heavy and dense weaves and took its weave from the intended use and size. Depending on the contents, the bags could vary greatly. The lighter weave, such as that found on flour sacks was ideally preferred for home sewing.

As the uses of the bags expanded, so did the bag variety. The flour sacks, meal sacks, sugar sacks, salt sacks, as well as animal mash and grains — sometimes called “scratch” sacks — could all be recognized to some degree. The flour sack was the most common of the bags produced, as flour made up around 42% of the bagged goods; 17% of sugar could be purchased in a bag. Both these home staples meant that women could shop with a sewing project in mind. Women also learned quickly which bags were the most durable and could withstand continuous washings. They could also purchase similar patterns to expand their creative needs or aim for larger bag sizes. The manufacturers paid attention. 


When the cotton market collapsed in the second decade of the twentieth century it was due in part to the invention of rayon and other synthetics and new weaving inventions that allowed for woven patterns, not just stamped printed patterns. The drop in cotton increased the market for cotton bags and from around 1914 forward there was a proliferation of the cotton sack. 

With the increased manufacture came a sensitivity to the re-purposing of the used bags and new and more sophisticated patterns imitating contemporary trends began to appear on the sacks. Women were often the household shoppers and many saw the recyclable potential of the sacks almost immediately. Matching patterns and competition for popular patterns were common. Households with large families or farming families with many livestock could accumulate bags rapidly and soon there was a market for “surplus” bags. Many stores would re-purchase and re-sell surplus bags. This activity only increased the creative designs and the manufacturers began to produce booklets with patterns for bags or made suggestions for the use of string for crocheting. Coming up with an inventive apron was a favorite diversion and conversation piece for many women who regularly relied on aprons. 

Today, the handmade apron has largely become a rarity in the household. The versatile feed sack is even rarer. The many household items made from recycled feed bags were remarkable: Aprons, dishtowels, pot-holders, pajamas, dresses for growing children, pillowcases, quilts, curtains, pajamas, tablecloths, dishtowels, and a myriad of other useful household items. The uses of this second-hand material were endless for many families. The original bags that often held chicken feed — hence the name “feed sack” — and other animal foods were prized enough to often be squirreled away in hopes they would go into a quilt. Feed sack from the mountain home has long been a favorite “treasure” for many descendants who “remember the days…”

According to the brochure “Sewing with Cotton Bags,” cotton bags were inexpensive and could be relatively durable cloth. It “could be” relatively durable due to the variation of cotton quality and the weave which could be quite loose and prone to snag and wear quickly or tightly woven of strong thread and with good stability. Homemakers looked for more durable bags. For many household needs, the feed sack was a bonus when feeding livestock and it was not unusual for farm families to brag about the utility of the cloth and how they had used it in their home. \When everything on the clothesline was made from feed sack — that was utility AND craft!

Imagine, if you will, a clothesline of the patterns below waving in the afternoon sun and a gay, handmade apron on the woman gathering the laundry that smelled of Ivory flakes… That is how I remember my Grandmother Hall. Many of the patterns below came from her collection. 


Identifying feed sack fabric is not as easy as you might think. The paper labels were easily removed from a feed sack and even with older ones the label has often been removed. A course weave is not a good indicator as a fabric like this could also be bought off the bolt as well. The best indicator is a line of holes from the chain stitching that once held the sack together. However, this tell-tale indicator might be the first thing removed by the sewer.

GALLERY: Feed Sack and Fashion


  1. Adrosko, R. J. (1992). “The fashion’s in the bag: Recycling feed, flour, and sugar sacks during the middle decades of the 20th century. In Reconstructing daily life through historic documents.” Symposium conducted at the Third Symposium of the Textile Society of America.
  2. A Few Sacks More. Textile Research Center, Leiden, Netherlands. EXHIBIT.How Feedsacks clothed and warmed Americans during the Depression, and later.6121192805298418.
  3. Banning, Jennifer Lynn. “Feed Sack Fashions in South Louisiana, 1949–1968: The Use of Commodity Bags in Garment Construction.” Baton Rouge, La.: Louisiana State University, 2005.
  4. Blair, Todd, and Karen Garvey. Flour Sack Dresses and Victory Stamps: Tales from the Good Old Days in Roanoke and the New River Valley of Virginia: a Treasury of 20th Century Memories. 2016. Pages 63, 117, 134, 161, 208.
  5. Brandes, Kendra (2009-01-01). “Feed Sack Fashion in Rural America: A Reflection of Culture”Online Journal of Rural Research & Policy4 (1). doi:10.4148/ojrrp.v4i1.59ISSN 1936-0487.
  6. Connolly, Loris (1992). “Recycling Feed Sacks and Flour Bags: Thrifty Housewives or Marketing Success Story?”. Dress19 (1): 17–36. doi:10.1179/03
  7. Glass, Fr. Floyd. Children in Guilin, China, 1948. The University of Southern California. Libraries, n.d.
  8. History of Flour Sack Towels – from 1800s to 1950’s [sic]”Mary’s Kitchen flour sack towels.
  9. Jones, Lu Ann; Park, Sunae (1993). “From Feed Bags to Fashion”. Textile History24 (1): 91–103. doi:10.1179/004049693793712213.
  10. Mable and Ethel’s Quilt Shoppe “History of the 1930’s Feedsack” Accessed March 10, 2021. Thanks as well to the Buchanan County, Ohio Historical Society for their contributions to the history of feedsack cloth.
  11. McCray, Linzee Kull (2016). Feed Sacks: The Colourful History of a Frugal Fabric, Calgary: Uppercase Publishing Inc.
  12. National Museum of American History Behring Collection Example of dress made by Mrs. G. R. (Dorothy) Overall of Caldwell, Kansas, in 1959 for the Cotton Bag Sewing Contest sponsored by the National Cotton Council and the Textile Bag Manufacturers Association. 
  13. Nixon, Gloria (2015). Rag Darlings: Dolls from the Feedsack Era, Kansas City: Kansas City Star Quilts.
  14.  Onion, Rebecca (2017-07-21). “How Depression-Era Women Made Dresses Out of Chicken Feed”Slate Magazine. Retrieved 2020-03-20
  15. PK: Our first hundred years. (1985). Percy Kent Bag Company, Inc.: Kansas City, MO.
  16. Rhoades, R. (1997). “Feed sacks in Georgia: Their manufacture, marketing, and consumer use”. Uncoverings, 18, 121–152.
  17. Shaw-Smith, David, Conor McAnally, Jolyon Jackson, and Sally Shaw-Smith. Irish Patchwork. 2003.
  18. The Vintage Traveler. “Sewing With Cotton Bags” Accessed March 10, 2021
  19. Walton, Frank L. (1945). Thread of Victory, New York: Fairchild Publishing Co.
  20. Onion, Rebecca (2017-07-21). “How Depression-Era Women Made Dresses Out of Chicken Feed”Slate Magazine. Retrieved 2020-03-20.
  21. Banning, Jennifer Lynn. “Feed Sack Fashions in South Louisiana, 1949–1968: The Use of Commodity Bags in Garment Construction.” Baton Rouge, La.: Louisiana State University, 2005.
  22. Brandes, Kendra (2009-01-01). “Feed Sack Fashion in Rural America: A Reflection of Culture”Online Journal of Rural Research & policy4 (1). doi:10.4148/ojrrp.v4i1.59ISSN 1936-0487.
  23. “History of Flour Sack Towels – from 1800’s to 1950’s [sic]”Mary’s Kitchen flour sack towels.
  24. “Feedsack Dress”National Museum of American History. Retrieved 2020-03-20.
  25. Unidentified. Man wearing pants made out of a flour sack, China, c. 1905 – 1910. University of Southern California. Libraries, 1904.
  26. Glass, Fr. Floyd. Children in Guilin, China, 1948. University of Southern California. Libraries, n.d.
  27. Shaw-Smith, David, Conor McAnally, Jolyon Jackson, and Sally Shaw-Smith. Irish Patchwork. 2003.
  28. Nixon, Gloria. Rag Darlings: Dolls from the Feedsack Era. Kansas City Star Quilts, 2015.
  29. Lee, Heather Vaughn. Make Do: Feed-Sack Fashion in the First Half of the Twentieth Century

See Also:





Pine Mountain Settlement School
Series: Dancing in the Cabbage Patch 
Helen Hayes Wykle


TAGS: disease, rural health, WWI, Harlan County, Kentucky, hospitals, health, pandemics, Spanish Flu, mining camps,  COVID 19, coronavirus, typhoid, diphtheria, tuberculosis, scarlet fever, flu, measles, spinal meningitis, Harry Garfield, Frank J. Hays, UMW, United Mine Workers of America, Federal Fuel Administration Office

“Carrying sick person to railway. 18 Mile trail [to Laden], Pine Mountain, Ky. “[kingman_010a]


The Pine Mountain Valley is isolated. There is little to dispute this fact. It was extremely remote in 1913, the year the School came into being. Today, there are roads but the multiple circuitous routes and the distance from towns and a hospital (the nearest is in the town of Harlan 45 minutes away) continue to be dauntung and isolating.

The health of people who live in the valley and in the hollows that branch off from the deep Pine Mountain valley is, like so many rural areas of this nation, daily put at risk from limited access to health services. Formed by the steep north-slope ridge of the long Pine Mountain that sits atop the Cumberland Plateau, the valley is faced by a south slope that joins a sea of low mountains, mostly sparsely inhabited. In the Central Appalachians, a mountain is both a barrier and shelter, yet, almost everyone who has visited this geography agrees that the undulating landscape of mountains, valleys and hollows is beautiful, peaceful —- but not easily accessed. This forced isolation in paradise is both a curse and a blessing.

When Katherine Pettit left Hindman Settlement in Knott County near Christmas in 1912, she aimed to establish the Pine Mountain Settlement in nearby Harlan County. She was already familiar with the terrain, having trudged through it many times over the years visiting with mountain families and looking for “kivers” and seeking support for more educational opportunities for the local populations. She had developed a deep respect for the native intelligence of the mountain dwellers and for their craft skills and their self-sufficiency. Her search for “kivers” or coverlets, the handwoven craft of many families, was a personal passion. However, this will to collect woven and other crafts in the area was consistent with a personal tendency to isolate herself from the many changes coming with industrialization.

Pettit saw the changes instituted by railways, logging, and mining as a threat to a unique culture and people. She saw in the mountain people a promise for the sustainability of the heritage of the region. In many ways, she saw her role as an “emergency” worker for an underserved and endangered population; someone who would protect the culture while rapidly educating for the coming industrial change. She had witnessed disease, poor health choices, and a lack of educational opportunity devastate mountain communities. But high on her list of needs for the people in this isolated region was medical care and health education. The many diseases that were coming to the area with the growth in timbering, mining and general industrialization, the new railroads, and the growing movement away from the land, she found disturbing. The change would come. She did not doubt that. She believed that education could mitigate those rapid industrial changes, but she also believed a greater threat to the core culture and people of the Central Appalachians were the many diseases coming along with industrial change — particularly in new timbering and coal mining populations.


The health issues of the region were growing when Katherine Pettit and Ethel de Long came from Hindman Settlement to establish Pine Mountain Settlement in 1913. While Pettit and her staff were very familiar with the health issues of the region and had anticipated the increased threat of the coming railroad and growing lumbering and mining towns, they were constantly startled by the persistent primitive conditions in remote homes.

In 1914, the year following Pettit’s departure from Hindman, it suffered a major typhoid epidemic. While the cause, it was revealed, was not that the school was unclean or that nurses were not available to the school and community; it was an infrastructure problem. The School’s toilet system was poorly planned and constructed and had contaminated the water supply. The faulty toilet and water system was a problem that had been pointed out by the State Board of Health in 1912, but the rapid growth of the school and the many costs associated with its maintenance of educational programs were expensive. Further, the existing system was deemed adequate until the large remediation expense could be covered by Hindman’s budget. The operational budget dominated. Typhoid was the result.

The typhoid epidemic at Hindman sickened a third of the adults at the school and almost half of the boarding students. One student died. The failure of Hindman to identify infrastructure (water and toilet) inadequacies and to address them, resulted in both a “health and a pubic relations disaster” suggests the School’s historian, Jess Stoddart [Stoddart, Hindman …p.79]. The health crisis also created a deeper economic crisis for the school as revenues declined by 36%. By 1915 Hindman was questioning if they could continue to exist. Pettit was concerned about her previous school, but she was already at Pine Mountain shaping her own version of the model settlement school. She had brought with her one of Hindman’s most competent educators, Ethel de Long, and recruited other Hindman staff. She was now even more motivated to build a school and community resource that would address some of the short-comings she had seen at Hindman. Medical support and health education were primary building blocks in her plan.


Katherine Pettit was a seasoned and meticulous observer and actor on potential problems. She was determined to not repeat the infrastructure mistakes of Hindman in her plans for the new school at Pine Mountain. She placed health services at the center of her proposed programs for the new school and foregrounded health and safety for students and staff at the new school. The physical design of the campus was created with an eye to easy quarantine and she sought the assistance of engineers to advise on toilets and water within the first two years. In conversation with the newly appointed architect, Mary Rockwell Hook, she evaluated potential health issues and long-range growth. Hook, who was charged with the design of the new institution, was a skilled architect and one of the first women architects in the nation. The planning of Hook, Pettit and, co-director, Ethel de Long resulted in one of the nation’s most beautiful and well-planned rural settlement schools in the country.

Harriet Butler, nurse and Dr. Grace Huse with cat at Big Laurel. [X_099_workers_2497b_mod.jpg]

Health staffing was the important institutional insurance that Pettit immediately put into her planning at Pine Mountain. Part of this insurance plan was Harriet Butler, one of the first nurses at Hindman who was, like Pettit, a person committed to regional health. The insurance plan was a good one as Harriet Butler was also committed to the educational side of health which would produce the optimum long-term outcomes for the people in the remote region. While at Hindman, Harriet Butler and John Wesley Duke, who then served as Hindman’s physician, and also the county medical officer, instituted a vaccination program and gave lectures on various health issues to the community. These talks included how to establish good personal hygiene regimes but early-on provided the community with information on how to deal with contagious diseases. Butler had instituted many of these changes in health care at Hindman, but for her, the changes did not go far enough. Butler was an admirer of the work of Pettit and had been increasingly discouraged with the pace of health education at Hindman. She and others in the region wanted more health education engagement in the community and increased public awareness. Like Pettit, Harriet Butler was an energetic pragmatist like her friend Pettit. At Hindman the staff lamented in their newsletter, “… it seemed as if, however fast we run, we could never keep up with the pace she [Pettit] had set.” They did not realize that Butler would soon follow Pettit to the new school at Pine Mountain. The combination of the two dedicated and energetic pragmatists assured that progress would be rapid.

By 1918 Harriet Butler had made her decision to leave Hindman and by 1919, at the invitation of Pettit, she joined Dr. Grace Huse, a smart and energetic young physician from North Carolina hired by Pettit and de Long. The team of Pettit, de Long, Butler and Dr. Huse was dynamic and their progress was rapid. In essence the process of planning two new health centers associated with Pine Mountain and prospecting for building out to seven more facilities had been percolating since Hindman. Organizationally, Huse and Butler would head the Medical Settlement at Big Laurel and would consult on the development of the Line Fork Settlement in nearby Letcher County and would be medically available to the Settlement School at Pine Mountain. The Big Laurel and Linefork sites were to be created as satellite locations for Pine Mountain Settlement School and were to be focused on medical and health education and industrial training. The staff at both satellites would also work with the local one-room schools to improve their standard educational programs. All programs would be under the general direction of Kathrine Pettit whose base would remain at Pine Mountain Settlement School. The plan was a lofty one. The execution was sobering.

As a doctor and nurse, Harriet Butler and Dr. Huse were a superior pair. They were given the opportunity to build an important model program that Pettit hoped would be replicated in the surrounding counties. Their resulting model at Big Laurel was indeed exemplary but was crippled by cultural obstacles and by the economics of maintaining multiple sites and expenses. Reigned in quickly by the growing expenses, Pettit’s plan for seven new satellite settlements never materialized as exemplary models are expensive —-forward-thinking — but expensive. The cultural obstacles also did not dissolve readily and access to patients and traditional models of medical care were slow to change and could not be pushed.

What was lasting in these initial programs were the myriad new ideas that the experiments introduced into the communities, albeit slowly. The ideas of Butler, Huse, Pettit, and others who took on the health challenge, were positively contagious even as a slow contagion. If it had not been for problems of the economy of scale, and a reliable revenue stream, the ideas of these women might have lasted much longer and adjusted to the in-coming industrial era. Many of the earlier programs and ideas did, however, persist in the later work of other visionaries such as Mary Breckenridge and her internationally recognized Frontier Nursing Service.


By the spring of 1916, another kind of health threat loomed; World War I. Thousands of Appalachians served in this war, and Kentucky had more volunteers in the fight than any other state. Many men and women died in the merciless war and thousands came home with deep wounds both physical and psychological. New diseases also took their toll. Women from Appalachia were eager to join the war effort and quickly drained local resources. Women’s work early in the war as Canteen workers, Red Cross nurses and workers in France and other locations was vital to soldier’s health and morale. Later in the war women held key positions in the hospitals established to care for the sick and wounded both abroad and in the United States. Many of these women were also pulled from the Appalachian region. [See: Brumfield, Nick, The Forgotten Nurses of Appalachia’s Spanish Flu, March 17, 2020.]

In addition to health concerns, the Great War also brought on enormous economic concerns. A coal shortage emerged as industry ramped up its steel operations while the domestic supply of fuel for heating and electricity, and for ship and rail transportation stretched the uncoordinated and competitive supply system to a breaking point. In 1917 President Woodrow Wilson asked Dr. Harry Garfield to serve as the Director of a new Federal Fuel Administration and charged him to develop a plan for dealing with fuel shortages, particularly coal. By 1918 Garfield, the son of former President James Garfield came from the Presidency of Williams College to his new federal position. Harry Garfield had a direct connection to the coalfields of Appalachia. He had served on multiple boards that had coal interests, revitalized communities in which he lived, and negotiated many thorny labor settlements as a lawyer. Of important interest to the Eastern Kentucky region and the bituminous coal fields, his daughter, Lucretia Garfield briefly worked for Pine Mountain Settlement School in Harlan County, Kentucky as a community worker in its evolving health and education programs — arriving in 1918. It is clear that she also worked for her father and served as his eyes and ears for local issues, particularly in the important and growing Harlan County coal mines. Unfortunately, her correspondence from Pine Mountain is not available, but likely would be very revealing.

In May of 1918 Frank J. Hays President of the Executive Board of the United Mine Workers of America while meeting in Indianapolis, drafted a letter to Dr. Harry Garfield declaring that the coal production of the country was

“… far below the nations’ lowest possible estimated requirements, and that because of enforced idleness, miners who through their various organizations pledged their full support and co-operation to the fuel administration, are being forced to leave the mines in the industrial centers, where the car shortage [train coal -cars] shows no sign of improving.”

Coal Mining Review May 1, 1918, p. 4

The “forced idleness” was not just in the industrial center delivery points, but affected all coal-related industry, specifically mining of coal in the coalfields. The labor stoppage impacted most of the 500,000 mine workers. Further, the labor shortages brought about by the departure of foreign workers who had flocked to the new mining operations. The growing and severe economic hardship and pressure on the miners and their families in the Appalachian coalfields and coalfields began to be felt and noticed across the country. The “forced idleness” referred to in Hays’ letter reflected the practice of arbitrary pricing of coal that had to be negotiated. The negotiation process then idled workers while lengthy negotiations took place between operators and buyers. The price of coal was never consistent. With no pay coming in for miners while negotiations were underway, the workers could not take care of their union dues, and more importantly their health needs and debts. Many men left mining and those who stayed did so at great peril.

It was a tenuous and fragile economic existence for miners in 1918 and by May it had reached a crisis. There was no clear path as the world began to teeter on the edge of a health disaster. Hays, the UMW President asked Harry Garfield to help the union negotiate the minefield of rogue operators and the growing disregard for the lives of the mining workforce. Garfield set to work, but the journey quickly became more complex than just negotiating labor contracts.

In May of 1918, the War had ended but the residue was just catching up. Following the war, as if the ravages of battle had not taken the lives of enough Appalachians, another threat was building; that of economic instability and an enormous mining workforce weakened by unattended health issues and poor morale.

In 2008 the CIDRAP (Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy) at the University of Minnesota drafted a paper on the crucial preparedness gaps in the United States where electricity and the coal supply meet. The paper asks,

What’s the link between pandemic influenza, electricity, and the coal supply chain? And why should anyone care?

Osterholm, Michael, PhD, MSPH, Nicholas S. Kelley, MSHP, CIDRAP REPORT; Pandemic Influenza, Electricity, and the Coal Supply Chain: Addressing Crucial Preparedness Gaps in the United States, Nov. 2008. CIDRAP, University of Minnisota. [ACCESSED May 30, 2020]

The CIDRAP researchers had done their homework and there was good reason to care at the time — as there was in 1918. Today, coal is still crucial and particularly to many underdeveloped countries that depend on supply coming from the U.S., but, the demand for coal in this country is steeply decreasing while the country and the world is deeply dependent on electricity. All the threats cited in the CIDRAP report were present in 2008 and in 1918 and many remain today and are potentially deadly if not addressed.

In 1917 when Dr. Harry Garfield assumed his leadership role in the new Federal Fuel Administration office, his role was vital to the survival of mining and miners but he had not yet encountered the other deadly threat —- a pandemic. Neither he nor the miners could imagine this even greater threat; a mysterious virus — deadly and with no cure. Popularly called the “Spanish Flu” because it was believed to have originated in Spain, the new threat created a storm of suspicion and exaggeration. The name “Spanish Flu” was, first of all, not accurate, but then news traveled slowly in August of 1918.

“Spanish Flu” did not originate in Spain, but its path of death was real with any name attached to it. In reality, the disease first appeared in the army barracks of the United States. The “Spanish” name had come quickly on the heels of an announcement that King Alfonso of Spain had come down with an unknown and untreatable flu or “la grippe.” The King’s illness was widely reported in news throughout the world. The “Spanish Flu”, then became the common name for what was not a “flu” but an H1N1 virus that had its origin in birds. Like the current disease, COVID 19, the “Spanish Flu” was a coronavirus with pandemic written all over it. The virus rapidly spread throughout the world in a manner similar to the current COVID 19 virus and also an earlier epidemic called the Black Death that killed 50 million Europeans in the Middle Ages or some 60% of Europe’s population at the time. The Black Death’s vector, or spreading agent was rats and fleas and it was not the first such outbreak through the earlier centuries.

The common practice of giving pandemic viruses easily recognized names is all too common, but it does little to describe the medical devestation such a virus wreaks on the populations of the world. Today we have linked COVID 19 with China where it apparently first appeared. China did not invent the scourage and blame will not take away its power. Linkage of the 1918 virus with Spain and the current association of COVID 19 with China do little to stop the spread of such virulent diseases. The Black Death described the color of the corpse when affected by the bubonic plague. That is perhaps as personal as “naming” can get.

Camp Funston, Emergency Hospital. Otis Historical Archives, National Museum of Health and Medicine / Public domain

Most historic accounts point to the first identification of the 1918 virus in U.S. military personnel. A recent (2005) paper suggests that the first cases were in New York, but a more accepted historic origin was thought to be in Haskill County, Kansas at an Army Camp called Funston. The two H1N1 virus strains , 1918-19 and 2020, are linked by their similarity. There was and is no known medical intervention that will halt the progression of the disease. Like the COVID 19 virus now rampant across the world, the 1918 virus was resistant to treatment and no known vaccinations were on-hand to stop the pandemic. As soldiers and nurses and immigrating Europeans flooded into the United States at the end of World War I, the extensive and busy railway system carried the multitudes of persons back and forth across the country. The 1918 virus exploded in the army barracks, in the cities, and eventually in most corners of America. In Appalachia, the mining communities were the first to be devastated.

As the war in Europe heated up, the coal mines in the Appalachians were frantically mining anthracite coal to supply the need for manufacturing iron for the war and bituminous coal for ships and trains and home heating. In the East, anthracite coal mining was generally centered in Pennsylvania, while bituminous coal was almost exclusively mined in the coalfields of West Virginia and Kentucky. While delivering coal and coke for the war effort, and supplying home heating and electrical needs, shipments of millions of tons of coal crisscrossed the country’s rails and new railroads were created and new laborers flooded in to fill the labor gap. The demand for miners and down-stream workers was enormous and miners came from all areas of the country and from Europe and Mexico and other locations looking for work. But work was demanding and often dependent on an operator’s negotiation of pricing and cars to carry the coal.

Following the common story that the flu spread in the United States with the return of soldiers from the war, the first instance of the disease in Kentucky was reported in September of 1918. The first appearance of the disease had occurred just the month before. In Kentucky the infection has been blamed on a train carrying troops from Texas which stopped at Bowling Green where several army soldiers who were carriers of the disease got off the train and then transmitted the disease to local people in Bowling Green. From there the disease exploded in the regional population and promptly moved into the mountains of Kentucky through the very mobile mining population.

With no vaccines to slow its progression, the world-wide pandemic took hold of the tightly packed and transient mining camps of Appalachia in the late Fall of 1918 and began a deadly march on the lives and livelihood of miners and their families. World-wide the virus left a long trail of death. In 1918 the world population was about 1.8 billion of which an estimated 50 million deaths occurred. That would be approximately 2.7% of the world population. The higher estimate of 50 million deaths would suggest the 1918 virus killed 2.7% of the world population. Though the exact number and percentages are not fully known.

While an exact number count of deaths cannot be tallied, it is known that the death toll in WWI was smaller than the 1918-19 pandemic human toll. Across the country, with the devastation of WWI, still fresh in their minds, the people now found themselves facing an enemy even more frightening than guns and bombs and mustard gas; more frightening than the epidemics of typhoid, diphtheria, tuberculosis, scarlet fever, mumps, whooping cough, and more. The new disease, created dis-ease and fear as it had no face and its weapons were new, stealthy, and deadly.

The 1918 world-wide pandemic lasted until the early summer of 1919 and while short-lived, it is estimated to have infected over 500 million people, approximately one-third of the world’s population. Of this infected population, some 50,000,000 or more died of the virus, or, according to other data gatherers, some 3%-5% of the world’s population. No matter the incomprehensible numbers, Appalachians soon found that the world was smaller than they had imagined and that they were not as isolated as most in the Appalachian region believed to be the case.


Appalachia in 1918, was both fortunate and unfortunate with regard to the influenza pandemic. Kentucky death estimates are believed to be in the range of 14,000 deaths, though the exact number will never be known. The death registers of funeral homes often listed the cause of death as pneumonia but the course of the disease which resembles the current respiratory distress path of COVID 19 is often defined as a type of pneumonia. While the death records are difficult to untangle, they tell an unfortunate story that centers on the devastating toll the 1918-19 virus took on the crowded mining towns in the coalfields of Appalachia. The fortunate story is in the remote hollows and the sparsely populated agrarian or subsistence farming valleys of the region. There the story is one of social distancing.

Today we are looking at race and ethnicity in our data tracking of the COVID 19 deaths. In 1918-19 there was no consistent account kept of the race and ethnicity of miners and families. The Immigration Act had just passed in 1917 which required a literacy test for immigrants from the southern and eastern European groups, that aroused suspicion as the war in Europe heated up. Author Mina Carson tells us in her well-researched book Settlement Folk: Social Thought and the American Settlement Movement 1885-1930, (1990) that when the U.S. entered the war, “new legislation was proposed to coerce ‘100% Americanism’ by eradicating all signs of immigrants’ lingering loyalties to their native countries. The National Federation of Settlements was opposed to this government action suggesting that such an action would breed “misunderstanding and bitterness.”

Mary McDowell, a Kentuckian and leader in the Settlement Movement was a friend of Pine Mountain Settlement School’s Director, Katherine Pettit. McDowell’s co-worker, and Settlement Movement leader, Mary Simkhovitch, and many others in the movement opposed the use of such terms as “Americanization” and instead aimed for what they called “transnationalism” or the concept of a “new kind of nation of many peoples ‘whom God hath made of one blood.'” [Carson, p.159] This sentiment was to be heard often from Berea College, a Kentucky school founded in 1855, and a long-time advocate for the people of Appalachia as well as the world. The college motto: God hath made of one blood all peoples of the earth (Acts 17:26)” Is remarkably close the transnationalists.

Pine Mountain Settlement did not enter into this “transnationalism” debate directly, but later history demonstrates that many within the School who had served as missionaries or medical workers abroad understood the threat of coerced acculturation and its possible potential for ethnic cleansing such as that seen in Armenia. [See: Edith Cold, English Teacher]. The program at the School and its mountain founder William Creech strongly evidenced the commitment to “peoples acrost’ the seas.” [See Uncle William’s Reasons]

In 1914 when WWI began, many of the miners in the coalfields were immigrants. They had hired-on in the booming years in the coalfields of the Appalachian mountains. Many immigrants came just for this economic opportunity. However, as more and more countries in Europe were pulled into the growing European war, many immigrants fled the War. Yet, many were pulled by patriotism back to their country of origin. The need to fight the war in their homelands was a noble action, but the impact on mining in the American coal fields was devastating as miners headed “home” and new immigrants headed for the cities.

By 1917 those immigrant miners who chose to remain in the United States and who fought with the American Expeditionary Forces numbered near one million. Also by 1917 many foreign-born males were required by law to register between June 5, 1917 and September 12, 1918 with the government. Most of the foreign males required to register were from the following countries

German Empire158,80904.09
Turkey 81,60802.10
Bulgaria 19,87300.52
Holden, Arthur C. The Settlement Idea A Vision of Social Justice, New York: McMillian, 1922. Appendix p. 197

From numbers compiled from the Foreign Language Information Service of the American Red Cross, it is also known that nearly one million immigrants from the following groups joined the American Expeditionary Forces to fight in the Great War

Greek 60,000?
Lithuanian 35,000500
Jugoslav 20,000?
Russian 20,000?
Ukrainian 18,000500
Hungarian 7,000200
Holden, Arthur C. The Settlement Idea A Vision of Social Justice, New York: McMillian, 1922. Appendix p. 198

German immigrants of German birth were not listed but were estimated to comprise between 10-15% of the American Expeditionary Forces according to the War Department. Males engaged in mining between the ages of 18 -45 comprised a significant proportion of the figures on the two tables. Interestingly, mention is not made in these statistics of the large number of Mexican miners who were engaged to fill vacancies in the mining operations. In 1919 this brief note appeared in the Mining Weekly stating

No more permits for the importation of Mexican labor, which has been used to considerable extent by bituminous coal operators recently, will be granted, the Labor Department announces, and permits already granted will be void after January 15. Mexicans permitted to enter the country temporarily for war work will be “repatriated gradually,” but there is no intention to deport such laborers.

Mining Weekly, 1919.

President Wilson’s announcement of “no more permits,” had been misinterpreted and there was great fear that deportation would start immediately. The enormous contributions of immigrants during the years of the Great War and during the Spanish Flu epidemic are seldom recognized but they often made the difference in maintaining both economic productivity and security and bolstering the American Expeditionary Forces.

The immigrant departures, internments, and injustices just as the war was ramping up and again as it was winding down and while the nation was faced with a pandemic are often overlooked, but there are many descendants in the Appalachian coalfields who still remember. The increasing demand for coal to fire the steel mills energized an economic emergency created by a labor shortage. Of those who left at the beginning of the war to fight for their countries, not so many returned to America at war’s end to resume work in the coalfields of Kentucky, Virginia, Pennsylvania and, West Virginia. At first, this exodus was an economic catastrophe played out in a labor shortage but little has been made of those immigrants who left to fight as patriots in the Great War. There is no debate, however, that when the pandemic infection took hold in the coal camps, it did not look at race, ethnicity, or patriotism and the human and economic catastrophe escalated in scale and misery.

As the virus took hold in the tightly packed coal camps, the crisis in the coalfields was not blamed on foreigners or foreign infection but was recognized as a problem that was home-grown and familiar but was incomprehensible in scale. The rapid infection-point of the virus could be directly associated with poor hygiene, a distracted population, and the slow-to-act or greedy industrial elite. The infection blame point was more insidious and blame was rarely sought and infrequently handed over to political rivalry.

Strangely, when the disease swept through the camps, it did not target the weak but was particularly deadly to a population that was thought to be the healthiest. Adults between the ages of 20-40 years of age died in great numbers. Men with weakened lungs from coal dust were remarkably susceptible. An unusual number of young Caucasian women also seemed to be particularly vulnerable. The death toll of both sexes was enormous in the mining towns and camps of Eastern Kentucky. One observer noted that in one camp he visited there were coffins on nearly all the porches in the camp placed there for those struck down or waiting to die from the virus. Finding able-bodied men who could dig graves was also a major problem for production as the maintenance of a work schedule at the mining camp could not be maintained nor enforced. Miners in the affected camps were rapidly becoming sick or assisting with the burials of family or neighbors and family. These efforts took precedence over the mining. In addition to the squabbles regarding coal pricing instability, the coal economy began to further deteriorate.

The rapid burial practice in the rural areas of Kentucky also had another side-story. The push for quick internment created tracking issues as there were insufficient records being gathered in the time of crisis and assembling an exact number for those who contracted the virus and who died of the pandemic was difficult to pull together and target. Most authorities who have looked at the mortality data from the eastern coalfields doubt its cumulative totals. It is likely that the numbers that were finally put together and that are fixed in the historical record were well below the actual deaths that occurred during the 1918-1919 years.

Remarkably, while history has not recorded those difficult years in a comprehensive and efficient manner, it has quickly forgotten the lessons of the pandemic. While few families in the Eastern coalfields escaped the contagion and the harsh suddenness of death and loss of a loved one, the historical record for the region is very slim and warrants only a brief treatment in history books about the region.


In Harlan County, the coal camps were running enormous mining operations in the 1916’s and 1917’s. The imperative to supply the war effort continued to be extreme and men and machines were pushed to a breaking point when contracts were settled. There were coal operators who tried to strike a balance in the enormous demands placed on their operations and there were others who saw their profits soar and felt no obligation to share the accruing wealth with their workers — many of whom were foreign-born. But there were exceptions to the rule of most coal camps. The exceptions were largely those operations that were well funded by mega-corporations. For example, great care had been given to infrastructure at Inland Steel’s company town, Benham, and at the International Harvester’s coal camp at Lynch, and at a handful of other well-run camps. These camps set an example for a high level of sanitation, pay, and for their medical support.

These two towns in Harlan County, Benham, and Lynch, were models of health care, and, in later years when Pine Mountain encountered medical emergencies they could not meet, they often called on the physicians and services available in the two coal camps. In the 1918-19 pandemic, the numbers of dead at the efficiently managed towns and camps were not as great as those that failed the health needs of their populations. Still, mitigation of the new “flu” created failure after failure. The bottom line was that in the pandemic of 1918-1919, common protections and practice and skilled medical knowledge were sometimes not enough, especially in densely populated centers.

By 1932 many of the coal camps in Harlan County were still lagging behind in their commitment to health needs and the grave health needs and great disparity within the county of Harlan are clearly documented by the study of health needs conducted by Dr. Iva M. Miller for the Save the Children Foundation in the 1932 Health Survey of Harlan County, Kentucky —just 12 years following the pandemic.

The scenario of the entry of the 1918 pandemic into Harlan County can be traced from a record of one of the earliest coal towns of Appalachia, Kaymoor in West Virginia. It was here that the story of the contagion played out so cruelly and that under-scores the tragedy of close-living, inadequate hygiene, and managerial and economic insensitivity. It is a story that became all too familiar in the coal dominated economy of the Central Appalachians in the 1918’s – 1920’s. Many coal towns like those of Kaymoor became the vectors for the pandemic in the surrounding region.

Kaymoor was one of the first company coal towns. Belonging to Lo Moor Iron Company, the coalmining operation supplied its black gold to the pig iron plant of Lo Moor Company located near Clifton Forge, in Alleghany County, Virginia. Abiel Abbot Low, a wealthy investor, and owner of the Lo Moor Iron Company, was a board member of the C&O rail line which was the new and only access to the Lo Moor Iron company and to its rich iron deposits. Abiel Abbot Low owned four thousand acres of iron ore in Alleghany County, Virginia, and the associated rail line linked to the southern West Virginia coal country where he had purchased eleven-thousand acres of coal land in Fayette County, West Virginia. With his transportation system in place, he then proceeded to build out his empire by establishing a series of coal town communities. The cooperative communities, aggregated under the name Kaymoor were begun in 1899. A full description of the Kaymoor communities may be found in Crandall A. Shifflett’s informative and deeply researched book, Coal Towns: Life, Work, and Culture in Company Towns of Southern Appalachia, 1880-1960 (pp. 38-40).

When the Spanish Flu and other diseases came to Appalachia, the closely packed coal towns, such as those like Kaymoor, were the most vulnerable sources for infection. The Spanish Flu was not the first epidemic to strike Kaymoor. It was particularly suited for infection. First it was smallpox in 1904 which was addressed by the community physician by inoculation — but not for all. When the company realized that inoculation would cost $60,000.00 to include all in the community, they parceled out the shots to those who could afford to pay or were cronies. It was selfish and a deadly mistake. The epidemic took off. It quickly killed hundreds of miners and their families. When the Spanish Flu arrived there was no vaccine to quibble about and the Company, guided by the large fatality numbers in the smallpox epidemic, mandated what is now call “Social Distancing.” Shifflet tells us that there were

“… drastic curtailments of activity to prevent its spread. Schools were closed, the theater was shut down, only one customer at a time was allowed in the barber shops, and all public meetings were discouraged as company doctors at Kaymoor One ‘… worked day and night to prevent the inexorable spread of the deadliest influenza epidemic in American history.’ “

Shifflett [p.56] notes the following correspondence as his source: E.R. Price to Dr. Don J. Schleissmann, Public Health Service, series 7, box 17, Wheelwright Collection, King Library, University of Kentucky, Lexington.

Their efforts were, however, too late. It is interesting that the physicians of the day and even later historians initially blamed the Kaymoor pandemic infection on the water supply and the lack of adequate sewers, not realizing until too late that the main culprit was human contact. The failure to grasp the transmission process was at first not unusual, as there were so many diseases in the coal camps that were caused by poor hygiene and by inadequate water and sewage systems, like that seen earlier at Hindman School. But, while the new disease was not directly associated with personal hygiene its spread was eventually determined to be directly tied to a personal hygiene regime — especially hand-washing. So many of the diseases in Appalachian communities could be and were directly associated with poor personal hygiene and inadequate health education and poor medical support systems. But the Spanish Flu, like the current COVID 19 was unfamiliar and more elusive in its contagion process.


Outside the coal camps and the towns and cities in Harlan County, associated with the mining of coal, the 1918 contagion found that it had to fight a myriad of stubborn obstacles. One of them was Katherine Pettit — a force to be reckoned with. She reported in a note to a Pine Mountain Board of Trustee member, Mrs. Morton, who lived in Lexington, Kentucky, that while the flu was all around Pine Mountain School, it [the School] was untouched. She writes

Dear Mrs. Morton,

It was so good of you to be anxious about us … We have no influenza now, though it is still around us. Three-hundred have died in Harlan County, I hear …

Pettit, Katherine. Letter to Mrs. Morton, PMSS Collections. [pettit_1918_007.jpg] November 13, 1918

As Katherine Pettit relayed in this note to Mrs. Morton, Pine Mountain was spared the ravages of the 1918 pandemic. If any reason may be pointed to, it would be that the School had practiced quarantine many times in the past.

Katherine Pettit writing to her sister “Min” on November 8, 1918, notes that

“…tomorrow Miss Gaines [Ruth Gaines], comes from Massachusetts, and Miss Parkinson from Kansas. They are all to be isolated in Miss Butler’s house up on the mountain until we are sure they haven’t brought influenza. And I am wishing you could come now, and do the same thing…”

Letter: Katherine Pettit to Mrs. Waller O. Bullock, 8 November, 1918. PMSS Archive. Pettit Correspondence 1918. [pettit_1918_009.jpg]

Evelyn Wells writing about the pandemic in 1928 in her RECORD OF PINE MOUNTAIN SCHOOL 1913-1928 remarked that

Quarantine of the School in the fall of 1918 prevented a single case of Spanish Influenza from breaking out, though neighbors, showing a low immunity, were ravaged This was a most effective lesson to everybody on the value of quarantine. We have not always been as fortunate in keeping out contagious diseases and measles (1920, Boys House needed to take care of the 40 cases), mumps (worst in 1926, when they overflowed to the Country Cottage) and whooping cough (1924) have been our worst epidemics. There have been two deaths from sickness, among the children of the School. In 1923 Harry Callahan died of spinal meningitis resulting from severe injuries to the head when he was thrown from a moving train, and in 1924, James Gilbert died, also of spinal meningitis. There has been a steady decrease in colds and minor epidemics as underweight children have been built up by extra milk, rest [and] other special care, which has reacted upon the[ir] physical vigor.”

Wells, Evelyn. Wells Record 11 PMSS Health 1913-1928. Unpublished early history of Pine Mountain School that includes an outline of health care at the School from 1914 to 1928.

As reported by staff member Evelyn Wells in December of 1918

“And, influenza everywhere, though no cases at the school yet. Only one or two children are going home for vacation. We are rigidly quarantined, an object lesson we hope for the whole countryside.

Wells, Evelyn. 1918 Excerpts from letters home. Decembre 19, 1918. [050-p.6]

Influenza, typhoid, diptheria, gun-shot wounds, snake bite, birthing babies, teaching children how to brush their teeth, wash their faces and hands, how not to hold the water dipper over the water bucket as they drank from it, teaching food preservation, food storage, how to bandage a wound, which herbs were harmful, which helpful …. the list is a long one in the diaries and letters of the nurses and doctors who worked in the two medical clinics that were managed by Pine Mountain Settlement. The first-hand accounts of treating a wide range of medical issues give some sense of the demands placed on those medical doctors and nurses who served the Pine Mountain Valley and beyond from the two clinics that were established to the east of the Pine Mountain Settlement School in Letcher County and to the west at Big Laurel on Greasy Creek. A Red Cross nurse, Frances Palmer, who had survived WWI and the 1918 pandemic came to Pine Mountain to assist with the development of two satellite health centers at the School in 1920.


Frances Palmer (Conquist) only stayed at Pine Mountain for six months before returning to Minnesota to be married. She was one of the first nurses to be placed in the new health settlement at Line Fork, in the neighboring county of Letcher. She describes an incident remembered from one of her tasks at the Line Fork Settlement which involved the removal of bullets from a young man caught up in a local feud. The Frances Palmer story is a short but revealing tale of a small Eastern Kentucky community at Line Fork and Frances Palmer’s lessons learned in the horrors of WWI in France. There, in the later years of the war along with 23,800 other Red Cross nurse volunteers, she treated soldiers injured by trench and gas warfare. These war injuries were some of the most ghastly of that merciless war. It was a new challenge and Frances Palmer was heroic and she excelled. In 1919, as a Red Cross nurse, she won a commendation from General Pershing for her “conspicuous service at Chateau-Thierry and at St. Mihiel”, two of the hospitals serving the most vicious battles fought by Americans serving in the war. She later worked in Coblenz, Germany as the war came to an end. There she again, she demonstrated her superior nursing skills while taking care of the multitude of gravely wounded and disabled soldiers. WWI was one of the most brutal wars in history. Frances Palmer lived it. When Frances returned home, it was to a country devastated by a pandemic but she volunteered to come to Eastern Kentucky to address another war that was being waged in Eastern Kentucky. A public health crisis that was evolving there and it had reached the attention of the nation. Experienced and in-experienced women workers looked to their own country and many came to the Central Appalachians..

Like Katherine Pettit, Frances Palmer was committed to serving the needs of the country’s health. A practical idealist, she had demonstrated that she could tolerate difficult environments and that she could do so at grave danger to herself and with courage that was commendable. Her service to the health of her country was a commitment made by so many other women serving in the Red Cross corps.

This is Frances Palmer’s brief account of one incident in her service to the Line Fork Settlement, a satellite health and education center near Pine Mountain Settlement School. A bullet-wounded young man …

It seems that several attempts had been made to “git” one of the young men of the community; and one Sunday night when he was alone in the store at Bear Branch [page 10] some one fired at him and filled his back and side full of shot. Word was soon brought to us, and Miss Dennis and I hurried to the store, where we found him lying on a cot. Most of the shots were superficial, but they were numerous. Nancy, who lives near the store, held the only light which was a miner’s lamp; and in the midst of first aid she fainted, and left me in the dark! Soon the light was burning again and after poor Nancy had had several dippers of water poured over her, she was ready to help again. I tried to persuade them to call a doctor, but they did not think it necessary.

For six or seven days the patient stayed at the store, as he lived some distance up the mountain side. Dressings were changed twice a day, and each time, more shot would be removed. When time came for him to go home, several of the boys cut two tamaracks, cleaned the trunks, and made a stretcher from a quilt and coats: they then carried him up the mountain to his cabin where he was confined to his cabin and bed for several weeks. Between his banjo and book and magazines from the settlement, time passed quickly until he was up and about again.

TO READ MORE: Frances Palmer Conquist, 1920, Line Fork Notebook, p. . Pine Mountain Settlement School Collections.

Another health tale from Frances Palmer.

On my way home from this place, I was called to see a “risen” [boil] on a girl’s arm. She had had it for weeks, and the poultices of red sumac root, or apple and vinegar, of lim [?] root and sweet milk, of buckeye bark and cornmeal, and of hot oatmeal, did not seem to help it. All I could do at this time was to show them how to use the hot salt packs and say I would return in the morning. The next day I applied glycerine and gauze dressings and was informed that they didn’t like the salt packs and had put Vick’s salve on. [When I came to apply] the third poultice I found the oatmeal poultice on again and was almost ready to give up. But the girl had lost so much sleep and was in such pain, that she finally consented to have it opened and glycerine applied again. The next visit found things as I had left them and the “risen” draining well with the patient free from pain.

Frances Palmer Conquist, 1920, Line Fork Notebook, p.4 . Pine Mountain Settlement School Collections.

Pine Mountain Settlement is remote. It was spared the rapid infection seen in the close living of the coal camps in Harlan County. This was because a quarantine was initiated. “A stay at home mandate.” The community of Pine Mountan Settlement reflects a history of valuing the quarantine of infected persons and all the health benefits that go along with it. Quarantine is now a medical necessity in a virulent epidemic. Pine Mountain is a remote community, but it is a disciplined community. The people know how to survive hard times. Social distancing has been the lifestyle in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky for most of its history. Social distancing is in many ways not a mandate but a social pride that people enjoy. Social distancing is a solitude and an independence not found easily in urban environs. Most of Harlan County is now a rural culture well-versed in survival and “make-do” though less so than in years past. But, what remains within the culture of the families of the area are the memories of hard-times and the “make-do” of parents, grandparents, and relatives. Rural America, generally carries this recent memory of the skills to survive hard-times. What is less certain is how the current pandemic will test those skills of rural America including Appalachia and how that divide — rural and urban — will be re-shaped by surviving this hard-time.

Today, courage equal to that shown by Frances Palmer Conquist, is tbeing shown by many health professionals in this country, and by the many workers in Doctor’s Without Borders, workers for WHO, and a multitude of other health care providers here and abroad as they engage the hidden enemy of COVID 19. Today, when we social distance it is women and men like Frances Palmer and her cohorts that WE need to protect with masks and with respect. This is — and it should be — our contribution to this war against the hidden enemy, COVID 19. Wearing a mask and remembering that the six-feet needed for social distancing is our respect for quarantine and for each other. It is not too much to ask in “hard-times.”


Brumfield, Nick, The Forgotten Nurses of Appalachia’s Spanish Flu, March 17, 2020.

Emergency Hospital [Image],Camp_Funston,_Kansas-_NCP_1603.jpg [Accessed May 31, 2020]

Carson, Mina, Settlement Folk: Social Thought and the American Settlement Movement 1885-1930, Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 1990.

Coal Mining Review and Industrial Index , 1918, 1919 []

Conquist, Frances Palmer, Line Fork Notebook, n.d. [1918], Pine Mountain Settlement School Archive, Pine Mountain, KY.

Crandall A. Shifflett, Crandall A. Coal Towns: Life, Work, and Culture in Company Towns of Southern Appalachia, 1880-1960.

Garrett, Thomas A. Economic Effects of the 1918 Influenza Pandemic, [Accessed May 10, 2020]

Holden, Arthur C. The Settlement Idea A Vision of Social Justice, New York: McMillian, 1922.

Osterholm, Michael, PhD, MSPH, Nicholas S. Kelley, MSHP, CIDRAP REPORT; Pandemic Influenza, Electricity, and the Coal Supply Chain: Addressing Crucial Preparedness Gaps in the United States, Nov. 2008. CIDRAP, University of Minnesota. [ACCESSED May 30, 2020]

Wheelock, David C. What Can We Learn from the Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918-19 for Covid-19?, Economic Synopses 2020/05/18







Pine Mountain Settlement School
Environmental Education

SALAMANDERS at Pine Mountain Settlement School

Plethedon cinereus. Red-backed Salamander
[Brian Gratwicke [CC BY 2.0 (] Wikimedia Commons

TAGS:  salamanders, green salamander, Pine Mountain Settlement School, Clifford H. Pope, Harlan County, Kentucky, Plethdons, Plethodon Aneides aeneus, Greasy Creek, Limestone Creek, 1928 , ecological life histories, chestnut trees, ecological history, eggs, hibernation, salamander aggression, red-backed salamanders,

The salamanders of Pine Mountain Settlement School are some of its most fascinating residents and like the School, they have an engaging history —- one that has captured the attention of herpetologists through the years.

In 1928 Clifford H. Pope a herpetologist and conservationist with the American Museum of Natural History engaged in a field study of salamanders from the mountains of North Carolina to the Cumberland Plateau of Kentucky. His study was far-ranging and one segment took place at Pine Mountain Settlement School in Harlan County, Kentucky. Funded by the Douglas Burden Research Fund, Pope was at the School for the purpose of a field study to determine the relationships of four species of the genus Plethdon — P. glutinosus, P. shermani, P. jordani, and P. metcalfi. The focus of Pope’s work at Pine Mountain was a species within the Plethdontidae family, known as Aneides aeneus. Also called the “green salamander,” it is today a rare lungless salamander seldom encountered in the region.

The Plethdon salamander genus

Green salamander from Breaks Interstate Park
[Brian Gratwicke [CC BY 2.0 ( ]Wikipedia

In his published research in American Museum Novitates, No. 306, April 14, 1928, he noted the hospitality he received at the School from “Mrs. Ethel de Long Zande and her colleagues who made me feel very much at home while collecting …” Pope was at Pine Mountain Settlement for five days, from July 20th until the 25th and a return for one day on the 28th. He was assisted in his search for salamanders by a Pine Mountain student, Evans Compton. Evans, a thirteen-year-old, was familiar with the local terrain and acted as an assistant in the collection of the salamanders.

The salamander search is described in Clifford Pope’s notes from his field diary:

July 20. We hunted for part of the afternoon on the School grounds just below the reservfoir in damp, thick woods and found one specien inside of a large, decayed log.

July 21. during the morning we hunted in the forest along the Laden Trail, a wagon road that crosses Pine Mountain about a mile southwest of the School, and found five specimens (A.M.N.H. Nos. 25583-25587) as follows:
(a) a small one under the very loose bark of a solid log lying beside the road. Only a little bark remained on the log;
(b) two small ones under the bark of a limb of a large, prostrate water oak. The log was solid and the specimens were about five feet above the ground;
(c) one more under the very loose bark of a large, prostrate, solid, chestnut log lying by the road;
(d) the fifth under the bark of a large, solid, prostrate log embedded in a thicket above the road.

A long unt in the afternoon, along the base of Pine Mountian about a mile northeast of the School, netted only one specimen. It was taken on the edge of a clump of scrub trees under the bark of a solid section of a log lying in a dry, overgrown pasture. The log was exposed to the sun.

July 22. Our morning’s search was fruitless but in the afternoon we found one specimen a mile below the School near Greasy Creek under the bark of a section of a solid water oak lying exposed to the sun in an area devestated by lumbermen and another (A.M.N.H. No. 25589) under the remaining loose bark of a solid, prostrate log also well exposed and lying in the same devestated area.

July 23. Hunting in the forest near the base of Pine Mountain about two miles southwest of the School we found four specimens (A.M.N.H. Nos. 25590-25593), the first two under the loose, decaying bark on the upper side of a huge, prostrate chestnut log and the last under the loose bark of another fallen chestnut tree four or five feet in diameter and not far from the first. Both logs were solid.
The third specimen was found with a batch of fourteen eggs ina prostrate water-oak limb eight feet long and one foot in diameter. The eggs were in a long, shallow cavity one to three inches wide by one deep and near one end of the limb. Much of the bark was missing and the log, though still solid, had a thin layer of decayed wood under the bark where the eggs were found. The cavity was on the side of the log and so the eggs, though virtually suspended, actually rested against the cavity’s bottom or the side of the log.

[Discussion of egg cache]

July 24. During a long half-day’s search we found only one specimen (A.M.N.H. No. 25594). It ws taken in the forest near the base of Pine Mountain some two miles southwest of the School under the very loose, decaying bark of a chestnut limb or small tree barely a foot in diameter leaning against other trees. The salamander was aout five feet above the forest floor.

July 25. It was not until this date that we really found the true habitat of A. aeneus. On this day our first three hours netted twelve specimens and yet we hunted just where we had worked before with little result. Searchig in the forest along the Laden Trail we found:
(a) one at the base of Pine Mountian under the very loose bark of a solid chestnut stump five feet high and ten inches in diameter;
(b) six or seven more not far away under the very loose bark of a solid white walnut limb some twelve fee long and eight inches in diameter lying near a strea in heavy shade with one end propped against small trees and the other resting on the ground;
(c) two more only twenty feet away on a solid, poplar log placed much as the white walnut just described;
(d) two more under the bark of the end branches of a large, solid, basswood log lying in a tangle of weeds and bushes about halfway up Pine Mountain, three to four feet above the forest floor;
(e) two more under the bark of a large, solid chestnut limb lying across a fallen tree; and finally,
(f) four more under the bark of a large, solid, maple log lying near the road about halfway up the mountain.

July 28. In about an hour’s hunting alone in the woods between the School and the reservoir I found five specimens:
(a) two of which were under the loose bark of a slender, solid, chestnut log leaning against some living trees;
(b) one more three feet from the ground under the loose bark of a small, solid stump about four feet high; and finally,
(c) two more, one large and one small four to five feet from the ground under the loose bark of an upright, dead white walnut tree still quite solid and only four to six inches in diameter.

Aneides aeneus,then lives under the loose bark of dead trees.

Pope, p. 8


It is interesting that Pope’s assessment that the habitat of the Aneides aeneus was “under the loose bark of dead trees.” This has been questioned to some degree by more recent articles that suggest the preferred habitat of many green salamanders is indeed in some cases under the loose bark of dead trees in arboreal areas but they are also regularly found in the crevices of rocks. For example, a 1952 article by Robert E. Gordon, a Naturalist at the Highlands Biological Station in North Carolina managed by the Biology Department of the University of Georgia, Athens, he describes crevices to be the preferred habitat. The abstract of Gordon’s study states

Limestone Creek, Pine Mountain Settlement School. Photo by HWykle. [P1130801.jpg]

In eastern Kentucky, southwestern Virginia and adjacent portions of Tennessee Aneides aeneus is found to occur in an arboreal or arboreal-rock crevice habitat. Its habitat in all other portions of its range is chiefly rock crevices. The region of arboreal habitat coincides with the undifferentiated mixed mesophytic forest [of Emma Lucy] Braun,] while the rock habitat generally occurs in regions of segregated forests of the mixed mesophytic type. 

Robert E. Gordon. The American Midland Naturalist Vol. 47, No. 3 (May, 1952), pp. 666-701

While Pope focused on the arboreal habitat, he seems to have had some difficulty identifying the names of trees in his field notes and relied on the information given by one of Pine Mountain’s students. He says

Unfortunately, only the popular names of the trees on which my series were taken can be given though these may be relied upon because they were verified by an advanced student of the Settlement School.

12 examples were living in chestnut
8 or 9 examples were living on white walnut
5 examples were living on water oak
4 examples were living on maple
2 examples were living on poplar
2 examples were living on basswood
1 example was living on pine
1 example was living in a decayed log

Three additional specimens were found on logs which I failed to identify. The names of at least two of these undetermined logs would be included in the above list. The great number of fallen chestnuts on Pine Mountain mayaccount for their heading the list.

Pope, p. 8

While salamanders have the reputation of being indestructible — going through fire and not being burned, etc., today their numbers are on the decline. In the mid-1970’s the Aneides aeneus that Pope and other found fascinating, started to experience a decline and some call it a population collapse in many of it common ranges. Those who have been monitoring the main 7 green salamander populations have documented “… a 98% decline in relative abundance since 1970.” The decline is remarkably rapid and a novel agent is suspected. Some agents under consideration are climate change, epidemic disease, and over-collecting by pet enthusiasts. [See: Corser, Jeffrey D. “Decline of disjunct green salamander (Aneides aeneus) populations in the southern Appalachians,” Biological Conservation 97(1):119-126.