Slate Fall Kills Neddie Herald

By Stephen D. Bowling

February 26, 1939 – Providing for a family has always been hard work. In the early decades of the 20th century, Breathitt County families relied on what they could produce on their farms. Hog, corn, and children all had to be worked to grow. Most homes relied on wood cut on the farm to heat the home and to sustain a “cooking fire.”

By the 1930s, coal burning fire grates and stoves made keeping a family warm much easier. Farmers relied on small coal seams they owned to harvest small amounts of coal to heat the home. These seams, usually known as a coal bank, were often high sulphur and poor quality bituminous coal or hard packed “channel” coal that burned too hot for stoves. Miners crawled back into these small and damp openings in the hillside to gether coal.

The sad results of the dangerous practice of “picking out” coal were often printed in the local paper, including this story of the death of Floyd Little on page 8 of the July 23, 1953 edition of The Jackson Times.

Lying on their sides in water or on the damp floor of the shaft, amateur miners would use a small pick to undercut the coal by hacking out a six or eight inch tall seam that went back into the coal a foot or more. Using an auger to bore a hole in the top of the coal seam, a homemade stick of dynamite made of blasting powder rolled at home in newspapers was ignited by a long fuse, giving the miner time to scurry out before the small blast. The result would be large blocks of coal that could be transported to the coal pile near the home.

This process of “picking out” coal was dangerous and often resulted in injury or death to the miners who did not always use beams to safely “prop” the ceiling after a blast loosened the black rock. The Jackson Times, The Mountain Eagle, and The Hazard Herald are filled with many sad stories of men who did not make it out in time or died due to falling rocks or slate that crushed them.

One of those men who died while picking our coal on his family farm was 33 year-old farmer Edward “Neddie” Herald. The Jackson Times printed his sad story in 1939.

Edward “Neddie” Herald

Slate Fall Kills Neddie Herald, 33

Neddie Herald, 33, son of Wm. and Ann Herald was killed instantly while picking out coal in a small mine near his home at Wolf Coal, February 26.  His five-year-old son and 12-year-old brother were with him at the time of the accident and summoned aid.  Harvey Turner with his NYA workers and other neighbors, assisted the family.

Mr. Herald’s father and an older brother and sister-in-law removed the fallen slate and rescued the body.

Funeral and burial services were held Monday, February 27, at the Buck Herald cemetery.  A wife and four children, his parents, five brothers, and three sisters survive.

The Jackson Times, March 2, 1939, page 1
Conditions in the mines varied from place to place. They might have been slightly better in this Kentucky Union Mine at Elkatawa in 1890. Small family mines lacked the required safety procedures that saved many lives.
Neddie Herald with his wife and children about 1936 – (l to r) William Herald, Edward “Neddie” Herald, Samuel Herald, Kash Herald, Lizzie (Raleigh) Herald holding James Herald. A son, Neddie Herald, Jr., was born 18 days after his father’s death. – Source

Neddie Herald was one of the untold number of eastern Kentucky men who died in the side of a mountain working to provide for their families. Many more men died working in the coal industry for professional mines that were supposed to be safer for labor. Neddie Herald’s grave at the Buck Herald Cemetery has a new tombstone that does not mention the sad death that took him from this world, but does list the five reasons he was in the mine that day in February 1939.

Neddie Herald’s tombstone at the Buck Herald Cemetery lists the names of his five sons.

© 2023 Stephen D. Bowling

About sdbowling

Director of the Breathitt County Public Library and Heritage Center in Jackson, Kentucky.
This entry was posted in Breathitt County, Coal, Mining, Tragedy and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s