Mining Bloody Harlan

Bethany W. Pope recounts the complex politics of her mining family in Kentucky


Harlan County is a moist county located in the heart of Kentucky, a series of towns sprawled around Black Mountain like a skirt. I say moist because while the sale of alcohol is prohibited on a town-by-town basis, people can still buy bottled booze in the city of Cumberland, and most people do. Those who do not feel like paying high taxes or driving fifteen miles over unkempt country roads can knock on the nearest farmhouse door and purchase a jar full of moonshine, provided that they can prove they are related to the person who opens the door. It isn’t considered a crime to sell liquor to cousins.

The mountain is peppered with mines, although the vast majority are closed now and the once-raucous culture that they were known for is slowly flattening out, absorbed into the TV-sponsored homogeny that, for good or ill, is slowly overwhelming the South.

My grandfather, Daniel Pope, was born in 1926. He is the youngest son of Henry Harrison Pope, a local farmer and co-owner of the Pope and Cawood Lumber Company, a logging concern which supplied the local mine owners with lumber that was primarily used for the construction of company housing. Between 1916 and 1918 the US Steel Company purchased enough lumber from Pope-Cawood to furnish housing for approximately 5,000 people in the city of Lynch, Kentucky. Henry Harrison Pope thrived in the teens and was a millionaire by 1920, before losing the vast majority of his holdings in the Great Crash...

Read more in the latest issue - click here to buy