Eveline’s Senior Year: The Weight of Mining

I shared a photo of my grandmother Eveline Coates’ high school graduating class in Mystic, Iowa a few weeks (now months!) ago. Along with the photo and her diploma, a couple of other mementos were saved. One is the program for the Junior-Senior Banquet in honor of the graduating Seniors. It was interesting to see how World War I seemed to be the overarching theme of the festivities. I decided to take a deeper look at what her life may have been like during the 1917-1918 school year. There was a lot going on, a war and the beginning of an influenza pandemic to name the two biggiesThe list of related posts is getting long, so I’ll link them at the bottom.

When I wrote my last post, I completely forgot about Eveline’s brother Joe! When Joe registered for the draft in 1917, he reported that he worked for Thomas Lee – not the same employer as his brothers.

Thomas Lee was one of three brothers who owned the Lee Brothers Coal Company. Thomas managed the Twin Mines, where he employed 300 men in 1916. Twin Mines had two 40-feet shafts, one on either side of the railroad tracks that led to long tunnels to two mines. I updated the map I shared last time to indicate the two mines where Eveline’s brothers, and probably her father, worked. The Coates family lived southeast of the #12 mine, less that 0.3 of a mile away.

Red = Diamond Block/Lodwick Mine #12
Purple = Twin Mines
Arrow is an approximate of location of the Coates’ home

During the days while the mines were operating in full swing, the lives of the miners’ families were practically ruled by the mine whistle. At 6 a.m. the whistle signaled the miners should be up and getting ready for the days’ work. The 7 a.m. whistle meant it was time for the day’s work to begin. The noon whistle signaled lunchtime for both the miners and the school children. The 3 p.m. whistle signaled that the miner would soon be home and that it was time for his wife to start the evening meal. One long blast at 4 p.m. meant that there would be work tomorrow, and three blasts meant no work.


One can imagine the Coates home – and most of the community – rousing with the 6:00 whistle. Although I suspect many of the wives and mothers were up earlier, preparing a hearty breakfast and hot coffee for their miners and packing lunches for them too. For Eveline’s mother, that meant breakfast, coffee, and lunches for the four miners in the family plus feeding Eveline and her five younger siblings and getting them off to school. With no electricity, no running water, and a coal stove. As the oldest daughter, Eveline may have had some morning duties before leaving for school, perhaps helping the younger children. Joe had a longer walk to work, so he likely left home earlier than the others. As a side note – when Eveline married, her husband (my grandfather) also worked in the coal mines. Even long after retirement in another city, she seemed to keep that early schedule. Up very early (I never ate breakfast with them when I lived in their home), the evening meal around 4:30, and off to bed at 8:00.

Eveline’s father, Joseph Coates, is sometimes listed in the census and other records as a miner and sometimes as a carpenter. I was always told that he was a carpenter in the mines, although I now know that there were years that he was shoveling or picking coal. After some time working at both mining and carpentry, maybe he was hired to do carpentry work in the mine. His own father was a joiner (carpenter) in a coal mine in Durham, England. In the 1910 federal census, Eveline’s brother Carl is listed as a mule driver in a mine. In other years, he is listed as a miner.

When the whistle wailed day or night, it was a frightening sound because it was a danger signal. It might be a warning of a fire so that everyone would grab a bucket and rush to the scene. At night the wailing sound might warn of an approaching storm so that people could seek the safety of their storm caves. However the sound that was seldom heard, but could send shivers up one’s spine was the six long, sad wails that told that a miner was dead. All the women came out to find out if their loved one was a victim of one of the many underground dangers.


The quote above implies that the whistle signaled a death only when the death occurred in the mine. Many injuries would have been minor and not requiring a stretcher lowered into the shaft to bring up the injured miner, but that was obviously not always the case. Living in a small mining community, everyone surely knew everything that happened in the mines – and not just the mines in Mystic. The miners had a union and the newspaper reported injuries and deaths throughout the county. My limited research found some serious injuries and some deaths in Mystic during Eveline’s senior year of high school. Fortunately none in her family.

In June of 1917, a Mystic man died of injuries sustained at the Horridge Mine. Did the whistle wail six times? Probably not, as he was alive when he was pulled out of the mine and died in the hospital three hours later.

Semi Weekly Iowegian, Centerville, Iowa
18 June 1917

Charles Mickey, also of Mystic, was injured at the Porter mine in January of 1918. He died in April.

Semi Weekly Iowegian, Centerville, Iowa
04 April 1918

Another death at the Horridge Mine, this time in April 1918.

Semi Weekly Iowegian, Centerville, Iowa
15 April 1918

There were also reports in the news of more minor injuries and a couple of lawsuits brought by miners for injuries sustained at work.

Not only was coal mining a dangerous job – there were other difficulties. Wages were low; there was not always work, especially during the summer; there were layoffs and strikes. The war also impacted the work and wages of the miners. I’m not going to attempt to delve into any of that.

Below is an undated photo of my grandfather, Thomas Hoskins (Eveline’s future husband), and Miles Bankson (her sister Blanche’s future husband), sitting atop some structure along a track at one of the coal mines. They are not dressed for work – looks like their Sunday best.

Thomas Hoskins and Miles Bankson, undated, Mystic, Iowa

Another mining related family photo – Eveline’s sister Blanche, who married Miles Bankson. Were they on a date?

Miles Bankson and Blanche Coates, undated, Mystic, Iowa

The video below offers a glimpse into mining in Appanoose County. The New Gladstone Mine was in operation until March 1971, when it closed for highway reconstruction. The Gladstone Mine was the last pony mine operating in the United States. Shetland ponies were used to haul coal from deep shafts to the surface. Before the mine was completely closed and sealed, Iowa State University in Ames made a 23-minute documentary of the mine. Mine workers re-opened the mine and started the machinery long enough to make the film. One of the miners said that he began working in the mine in 1916. He is the man with an accent that differs from a typical Iowa accent – and is a reminder of the many immigrant families who migrated to Appanoose County to work in the mines. There is electricity in the mine in this film – lightbulbs strung throughout, which was not the case in 1918. There may be a few other improvements that occurred over the years, but it looks like it must have operated very much like it did when it first opened, even into 1971.

Miners were paid by the weight of coal they produced each day. Everyone bore the weight of potential injury or death of themselves or loved ones. Often that injury was caused by the weight of a large piece of coal falling. Coal mining families bore the weight of little, or no, income. Needless to say, coal mining was work that could “weigh” on a person.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday, where the prompt photo suggests we consider weight.

Please visit other Sepia Saturday participants here: Sepia Saturday. And if you would like to read other posts about Eveline’s Senior Year, you can find them here:
Eveline’s Senior Year, Part 1
Eveline’s Senior Year: The Draft and a Carnival
Eveline’s Senior Year: A Look Around Town
Eveline’s Senior Year: Musical Notes
Eveline’s Senior Year: Smallpox
Eveline’s Senior Year: What are you Serving?
Eveline’s Senior Year: Root Beer on the 4th
Eveline’s Senior Year: Miners, Miner and Maps

Sepia Saturday: An Uncle I Never Knew – Letters of Condolence

The month of January and a health emergency declared in the state of Washington because of a measles outbreak had me thinking about an uncle I never knew.

This is a continuing series about my uncle Wilbur Thomas Hoskins, who died at five years of age due to complications following measles. You can catch up here:
A Tow-headed Boy
Who was with the family?
Funeral Record
The Salvation Army Offers Assistance

As the extended family learned the news of Wilbur’s death, some sat down to write words of condolence to Tom and Eveline. Two of Tom’s three siblings were with Tom and Eveline in Rockford, Illinois, so most of the letters were from Eveline’s siblings.

The first to write were Eveline’s brother, Carl Coates, and his wife, Nellie Metcalf Coates. Carl and Nellie wrote individual letters on opposite sides of one piece of stationery. Wilbur died early on the morning of January 18th. Apparently Carl and Nellie had just received a letter telling of Wilbur’s illness when they learned of his death. They sat down to write on January 19th, but instead of sending their letter to Rockford, they sent it to Joe and Alice Coates (Joe was Carl’s and Eveline’s brother), probably assuming that the family would return to their hometown of Mystic, Iowa for the funeral.


Burlington Iowa

Dear Brother & Sister

We are certainly grieved to get the sad news of Wilburs Death. And my heart goes out in Sympathy for both of you. as this is an awful shock for you both. We would like to be with you at this time to help comfort you in your hour of need. but as we cannot our Sympathy is with you and Love to you all

Brother Carl.

Dear Brother and Sister:-

My we were so shocked to get the news of poor little Wilbur’s death. We never knew he had been sick until about half and hour before when we rec’d a letter from your Mother.

I am not a very good letter writer when it comes to a case like this. I never know just how to express myself, but when you read this you will know I am sending you all the sympathy that one can possibly give.

With love to all,

Alice Tingle Coates wrote a letter on January 21st. Alice was the wife of Eveline’s brother Joe. She and Eveline were in the same high school graduating class and had been friends for many years. I think they also attended normal school together.

Joe Coates, Jr.











Alice Tingle Coates

Mystic, Ia
Jan 21-1930

Dear Eveline & Tommy –

So shocked & very, very sorry to hear of little Wilbur’s death & know that both of you are finding it very hard to bear up from the loss. It is doubly hard to give him up at such short notice. Words of sympathy cannot help you much I know at this time & I am a very poor hand at giving comfort but dear old chum, Eveline, please know that I certainly do sympathize with both of you in this terrible hour. It is a heavy cross indeed to shoulder.

It came as a great shock to Joe as he didn’t even know he was sick. So we both send our heartfelt sympathy to you & hope that time will help to heal this great hurt.

Alice and Joe

I am enclosing a letter from Carl & Nell that they sent to me to forward. Nellie is forwarding this dollar that came from Blanche. She thot you were bringing him back here & she sent it for flowers.

The Nellie who sent the dollar for flowers was Eveline’s sister, not to be confused with her sister-in-law.

Blanche Coates

The final letter is from Eveline’s sister Blanche Coates, who looks like she might be expecting one of her several children in this photo.

Jan. 23, 1930

Dear Eveline and Tommy

Our hearts sympathy is with you both.. If we had only know you were not taking the little fellow home we could have been there Monday, By driving as far as Elgin in the car then taking the bus. But we did not know and I’m very, very sorry. It’s hard to reconcile ourselves to his leaving. But we know we must carry on, with the one and only consoling tho’t, that he’s one of God’s little angels, he’ll never have the suffering an heartaches that we have.

If there’s any thing we can do to help you financially or otherwise, don’t be afraid to let us know. 

Miles has been out of work since Christmas, but we still have a few dollars and if you kids need them your more than welcome to part of them.

It’s been comforting to know  that Margie has been with you doing the little acts of kindness that I would have been glad to do, you have always been so good to me. An I know you realize how hard it is for me to get out with four little ones and the weather staying 26 below. 

Write when you can Honey. I know your poor heart is broken and I grieve with you & for you.


Blanche and her family were living in Wheeling, Il – outside of Chicago – at the time of Wilbur’s death. She realized too late that he was to be buried in Rockford, Il and not in their home town of Mystic, Iowa.

The final bits of ephemera that I will classify as correspondence are two postcards. They are not postmarked, so may have been included with letters that are no longer with the others, or perhaps given in person at another time.

On the back is the notation
Wilbur Hoskins

Vivian was Wilbur’s cousin, daughter of Tom’s sister Edna Hoskins and her husband, John Martin. Vivian and Wilbur were very close in age – she would also have been about five years old at the time of Wilbur’s death. I don’t recognize the handwriting. Maybe her mother, Edna wrote it and this was Vivian’s way to participate in expressing sadness at the loss of her cousin.

The last postcard has nothing written on the back except “Wilbur.” I have no idea why this particular postcard was chosen or who it was from. I don’t readily recognize my grandfather Tom’s handwriting like I do my grandmother’s, but this does remind me of his writing.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday. Please visit other participants who likely responded to the prompt with dancing and good times.

Sepia Saturday provides bloggers with an opportunity to share their history through the medium of photographs. Historical photographs of any age or kind become the launchpad for explorations of family history, local history and social history in fact or fiction, poetry or prose, words or further images. If you want to play along, sign up to the link, try to visit as many of the other participants as possible, and have fun.

Notes to Self

Could a blog post function as a lazy person’s research log/research notes?

There wouldn’t be any papers or notebooks to lose.
If I tag well, I could find notes about individuals or places or sources easily.
Somebody reading my notes might have some information I need.

Think I’ll give it a try. I’ve been working on a few things.

* Uncle Don sent me a brief biography Aunt Wilma wrote about Joseph and Mary Harris Coates. One bit of new information I need to research – she said that Mary’s uncle, Matthew Harris, traveled with them from England to the U.S., but he left and went to Australia. Thanks, Uncle Don!  🙂

* Cousin Wilda sent a link to an article about the Hatfield family. We have Hatfields way back on my Webber side. The TV show about the Hatfield and McCoy feud prompted the article here.  Thanks, Wilda!

* Heard from a new cousin – grandson of Joseph Robert Coates. Prompted me to get in touch with the other grandchildren of Eveline’s siblings that I have had contact with in the past. Want to collect death records for all Eveline’s siblings.

* The anniversary of Joseph Coates’ birth is coming soon and I want to do some blog posts about him. Need to email family for any stories they might have.

* Found images online of St. Stephen’s Willington Church in Durham, UK – where Joseph’s parents John Coates and Ellenor Richardson were married.

* Received letter from USCIS stating that my records index search request for Joseph Coates came up with 0 results.  🙁 I was hoping to get info that would lead to date of immigration, ship, etc. Dead end.

* Checked ancestry.com for more records for John Coates. Found 1911 census I had not seen before. Actual image! and it looks like he even signed it – so I have an image of his signature, address, etc. The next image shows that he is living with daughter Nellie (Mary Ellen), her husband and their children. There are separate entries. John has a page to himself and lives in one room. The family is the next image 5 people in 3 rooms (4 crossed out).

* The census find led me to check google maps on a whim and see if I coud get something from their address.  Sure enough, from the street view it looks like the house is still standing. Couldn’t read the house numbers and not sure exactly which was theirs but picked one that looks most like a photo I have. I had assumed that this house was where John Coates lived in Durham, UK, but it isn’t identified. Now I’m pretty sure.

* Looked up a bit more about jobs in mining.  Joiner. Cartwright.  = Carpenter. Cart Maker

* Tried to find John Coates in 1861 England Census. Found a boarder the right age in Gilesgate, St. Giles, Durham, born in Willington, working as a Journeyman Cartwright (at least I think that’s what it says.) Another John Coates the right age living as a boarder in Hartepool, Durham. The one in Gilesgate seems more likely?

* Ellenor Richardson. Where and when was she born?  Who are her parents? From marriage record, her birth would be 1845. Census records confirm that. But location varies with each census. 1881: Fitches, Durham. 1871: Willington, Durham. I also have an IGI record from FamilySearch that has an Ellen Richardson b. 21 Feb. 1845 in Brampton, Cumberland, England, parents William and Jane. Looked up Cumberland and it is adjacent to Durham, so possible. ???

* Google search for Fitches doesn’t come up with much. Finally concluded that it might be Fitches Grange – located near Witton Castle in Bishop Auckland, County Durham. Not that far from Willington, I guess. I’m a little confused by the place names in England. Maybe a census that says Fitches and one that says Willington could mean the same general location?

* Christina says I should probably rescan all the old photos I’m wanting to preserve/archive as tif files.