Coal miners in Wilder in the 1920s
PHOTO: Kendall Morgan
County Seat: Jamestown
Fentress County was the site of one of the most infamous strike-related murders in American history.
In July 1932 workers at the Fentress Coal and Coke Co. mine in Wilder went on strike to protest low pay and unsafe working conditions. The company hired replacement workers (derogatorily referred to as scabs) to work the mines. But during the next few months several of the bridges used to haul coal from the mines were damaged or destroyed, and there were many violent incidents against strikers and scabs.
Barney Graham's tombstone, which we found in the corner of a quiet cemetery near Wilder
Then, on April 30, 1933, company guards shot and killed union president Barney Graham in the streets of Wilder (a company town owned by Fentress Coal and Coke). No one was ever convicted of Graham's murder.
A famous labor ballad entitled "The Ballad of Barney Graham" was written about the incident. Many believe his death galvanized organized labor in the South, and the incident convinced Myles Horton, the organizer of Grundy County's Highlander Folk School, to step up efforts to organize workers in that part of the state. "If I hadn't already been a radical, that would have made me a radical right then," he said.
Wilder in the 1930s
PHOTO: Kendall Morgan
The town of Wilder is entirely abandoned now. The only signs that there was ever a town there are bits and pieces left behind by the people who lived here during coal mining days, buried under trees that have grown where all the houses used to be.
Alvin York's family. Alvin is the tall boy in the upper right.
PHOTO: Alvin York Historic Park
Fentress County was also the home of Alvin York, one of of the most famous heroes from World War I.
He was drafted into the U. S. Army in 1917. The next year, in the Battle of the Argonne Forest, he is said to have killed 25 Germans and captured 132 prisoners almost single handedly.
When he came home from the war, parades were held in his honor all over the country. Because he was so famous, York was constantly offered large amounts of money to make speeches or to endorse products. However he refused to accept money for speaking about the war or writing about it, because he thought it was wrong to profit from what he had done.
The grist mill at Alvin York State Historic Park
For our virtual tour of the Alvin York State Historic Park, click here.
There are waterfalls all over the Cumberland Plateau. Fentress County has its share, including Northrup Falls.
Not long ago this waterfall was privately owned, but was donated to the state by Arnold and Rudy Colditz a few years ago. So now it is known as the Colditz Cove State Natural Area!
Here's a picture of the Fentress County Courthouse.