The Diary of a Murray City, Ohio  Resident and Coal Miner

John Holt

Clifford Holt, Forrest Holt, John Holt, Mary Alice Lee Campbell Holt, Clara Campbell

photo submitted from Bill Garrett and Richard Buchanan, descendants of John Holt family, c. 2000

John Holt was a coal miner and early resident of Murray City, Ohio. He kept a journal of his daily life which can give us a glimpse into what a coal miners life was like in the early 1890's to the early 1900's . The complete journal was transcribed by his descendant Bill Garrett, and I was given permission to place an excerpt on this website. I, a relative of the John Holt family, Sandy Mitchell-Quinn, have tried to condense the journal to it's highlights. John had a tough life, and he was a very hard worker, and a good man that cared about his family. Life was complicated in 1900, and John records in his diary the harsh realities of life as a coal miner. The John Holt diary is the sole copyright owned by Bill Garrett 1999-2002. It may not be reproduced or copied by any individual or commercial entity without written permission from Bill Garrett.

Legacy of a Coal Miner, written from the diary of Coal Miner John F. Holt

John Holt was the son of William W. Holt and Lydea McCoates, they married in 1860. John was born soon after. They lived in Gore in Hocking county where John went to school at the Terell school house. His father worked horses in the iron ore mines there.

By 1887 his father had died and his mother moved to Greendale in Hocking county where John went to work at the Furnace when he was 17 years old. He worked taking the hot iron away from the furnace. He got good wages for the very hard work he did, but he failed to save any of it. In 1889 he worked some on one side of a mine owned by his brother in law Almer Simons at Redfield Perry County.

In 1889 he worked at the New York Furnace situated at Shawnee, Ohio. It was there that John got hurt when his head was crushed above the left eye. Doctors said he would not live but he did. He could not do any work in 1890 but in 1891 he was ready to work again and went to work in the Mine known as the Syndicate Mine at Sand Run in 1891. He joined the POS of A Patriotick Order of Sons of America, the organization broke up in 1893 or 1894.

Marriage and Trying to Find Work

In 1893 , John met his first wife Miss Jane Davis. Her father lived near Greendale. He married her in 1894 and took her to live with his mother in Greendale. After marriage they joined the Donaldson United Brethren Church and he worked at what was called the Lost Run Mine. The work was very poor and he could hardly exist on it.

His first son was born William Clifford Holt. He was very happy in his family with his wife and son. He left the Lost Run Mine and went to work at Sand Run at what was called the Big Four Mine operated by Jacoby and Green Brothers. In John's own words, the work was worse and he left and went back to Redfield to work for his brother in law Almer (Elmer) Simons. He did not do any good there and quit and went to Clarksburg WV, but did not like the mines and did not go to work. He instead visited relatives and then returned home and went to Shawnee and worked at the Furnace and it stopped in February. He could not get any work so in May he went to Indianna to work at an oil field for Jay and Black Company. He could not get any work and came back home. He did not get any work until July when he went back to work at the Lost Run mine. He did not. make more that $8.00 in two weeks working there and worked there until Nov. 26, 1896

Wife Ill, and Wife Dies

Things were not well at home. His wife Jane had a baby girl Forest Jane Holt. They did not know if the baby would live. Then his wife was ill for a long time with child bed fever for nine days.

His wife then got pneumonia. John was with her day and night but got wore out, he had no help and he did all he could for her but she got worse and departed this life in Feb. 1897. "My wife died as she had lived a true hearted Christian singing praises to the Lord."

Trying To Find Work and Get Ahead

John moved to Longstreth in what is known as the hollow and lived in a company house. This was in 1897 and he worked in what was known as Fire Hill. Coal had caught fire in the old works and was about to burn into the solid coal. "We took everything out for the space of 40 feet wide from fire clay to the rock clean through the hill ahead of the fire then filled it full of water by turning the creek into it. It cost the company a lot of money but we got very small wage considering the work danger. "

The next spring 1898 he got a contract cleaning up a fall of slate on the main entry on what is known as Rock Hill belonging to Buckeye Co. RailRoad by Ed Shute. Then afterward he worked in the Mine at Sand Run as a filler. He met Miss Clara Booker who worked for him for a while caring for his children, he was interested in her as a future wife, but then she married John Gears.

In the spring of 1899 the Sand Run Mine shut down and he went to work for Johnson Coal Co. in the Hawthorne Mine. While there he saved $40 dollars and bought property in Longstreth what was know as the Baker house. It had been a store house and dwelling. He paid $40 dollars down and $60 dollars a year. In August he went back to Sand Run to work until the summer of 1900 when the mine stopped again, and then he came back to Jobs to work for two months until the Sand Run mine started again. With good work John was able to pay in full for his house and for the repairs in total $250 dollars for the property.

In 1901 Mrs. Alice Campbell came to work for him to care for his mother and children. Miss Clara Brooker had previously helped him but she married John Gears in the fall of 1901.

In January of 1902 John's mother died. He paid her funeral expense with the $125 dollars he had saved and now he was broke again. Mine officials Samuel Hannah, Charles Cooper, Zell Buffington, Milton Sweezy, James Hensil, James Nixon and Samuel Shuttleworth at Sand Run Mine owed him $60.00 at the time of his mothers death.

"I Joined the Knights Of Phythius in fall of 1900 in fall of 1902 I Joined Odd Fellows both orders being Buchtell O. I like each one of them vary Mutch and have purchased me a nice combination Pin. I guess I wrote everything that I want to up to the present and can only ad that my life has been far from pleasant and a good deal has been caused by Relations and so called friends. Really my life has been awfull since my wifes Death blessed is the man that can say I have No friends or relations ".

With no means to care for his children he took his daughter to his Aunt Nancy Nuzum's in Harrison Co., WV to live and his son was left with his brother Samuel Holt in Sand Run. Six weeks later he had to borrow money to go back and get his daughter. "I worked at the Sand Run mine until late in the Spring when said mine officers Samuel Hannah, Buffington and others had me turned off." I then went to work for H. C. Funison selling in Maps and other Charts. I made a great success and made lots of money but the company was not prompt in their shipments which caused me trouble and strike levy for an article region making times hard here. I quit selling for the Maps company and went to work in Mine No. 7 situated at New Pittsburg operated by Johnson Co. I did not do any good here on account of not getting track and failure to get water out of the mine, it appeared to be very poor management."

Back to Jobs, Ohio

He went back to Jobs to work. He was able to pay on bills he owed to Dr. Roads $5 dollars for waiting on his mother, and Dr. Donaldson, he owed him $85 dollars at 6 percent interest for taking care of his wife. He began renting rooms in his house. He rented the downstairs to Boom Hutchinson who was a widow, and Mrs. Little. A man by the name of Cooksey moved in when Hutchinson moved out.

His father in law died leaving a will for a new United Brethren Church to be built on his place and divided up his land. He left the children $10 a piece.

The last six months John had spent boarding at the widow Alice Campbell's house. Others boarding there were Joshua Mower, Alonzo Denny, and William Brooks. Alice had a daughter Clara aged 10 years.

In Feb. of 1903 it was pay day but he did not get to draw any money because of a mistake in the store account. He was in Murray City and got a certificate of $150 dollars from the Murray City Bank which he gave to Mrs. Campbell to keep for him.

Two photo's of John Holt and the coal miners he worked with outside of the mine in Murray City. Photo's contributed by Bill Garrett, descendant. copyright 1999

The Small Pox Epidemic

March 10th of 1903 "Small pox was very bad, an epidemic in Nelsonville and one case in Greendale. People are getting very excited at this time over the small pox."

April 13, 1903 John quit mine work and went to day labor. He did not like it, he was getting paid $2.36 cents for 8 hours of work.

John Marries the Widow Alice

May 30, 1903 John married the widow Mrs. Alice Campbell of Jobs. He quit work outside of the mines in August of 1905. After he was working inside the mine filling coal and getting 48 cents a ton for loading and drilling.

In Jobs in Jan. of 1906 John paid Dr. John Donaldson administrators $70 dollars leaving a balance of $34 dollars. For Christmas John had bought his wife a water and berry set, and also a coat for nine dollars. He had a note or Certificate of Deposit in the Murray City Bank for $150 dollars. Since work was good he also bought a house from Mr. Witham that adjoined the house he already owned there. It was a one story and a half 6 room frame house with a slate roof and rented for eight dollars a month and he had no trouble renting it.

My Family

"My wife Alice is the daughter of Peter and Lydia Chaney Lee."

Peter and Lydia Chaney Lee of Burning Springs, Wirt county, WV to Nelsonville, Athens county, Ohio

photo copyright of Richard Lee Buchanan

She was previously married to John Campbell of Scotland who died in Murray City. She has three children by him, Harry Campbell who is married and has three children of his own and lives in Murray City; a son John Campbell who has very poor eyesight and drinks hard not being able to work; and a daughter Clara. My family also consists of my children by my first wife Clifford and Forrest Holt.

Alice and Clara, photo copyright of Richard Lee Buchanan

Mike Dunkle works with John and rents in one of John's houses. Also renting from him are Lewis Evans and Rothie Dixon. He rented the vacant part of the house at Longstreth to John Spence.

Jan. 26, 1906 Jobs, John tried to rent a farm from Jackson heirs but could not agree on a price. Dr. Cox of Murray City came to see Alice who was sick with pnuemonia.

The Coal Mine Strikes

April 1906 to June 1906- "there was a coal mine strike. Miners and operators failed to agree. The Pittsburg mines have been working as they paid the price from the start, since then some others have gone to work. He heard the mines in Indiana and Illinois had signed up and gone to working except the mines of Ohio. In Ohio none of the mines were working except the Pittsburgh coal mine and in eastern Ohio who are not paying, there they are known as scab mines or are operated by non union labor. There are Pinkerton Guards there guarding the men working. There have been trouble with the miners there and the guards got the worst of it. The company appealed to the Governor and he sent in the state militia or soldiers. Miners and operators are having a convention right now", he thought they would settle and he could go back to work.

April 1907- "The miners here geting 57 cts per ton for screened coal and two dollars and fifty six cents per day for day work inside of mine 236 for outside work 8 hours to be one days work. I went to work day work in mine no 2 but onely work a short time when I got contract of picking up coal at mines no 1, 2, and 3 had to furnish my own horse bought one from the coal company Paid $60 dollars for him and he was well worth it as he is a vary good horse but old. Also bought a cow a young one first calf for $30 dollars. She is vary good. Later in September I think, I bought a two seated surray for one horse or I paid $50 dollars for it later I bought a one horse wagon and buggy or runabout of John ???? for $25 dollars 2 get 90 cts per ton that being Pick price for picking up coal and cleaning tracks. I made $70 dollars the last half of July. That being my first start and the month of August we made $203 dollar s with my son Clifford working with me till school started in September. Then he went to school. There is 8 months school. Since then I have not made less than 120 dollars per month till month of March we had hardly any work and of course that throwed me out too. I onely Made about $45 for the whole month and I don' t think I will get vary mutch this month either as work is poor we all have had fair health the past year. "

The Flood of 1907

April 14, 1907-John states, "the flood commenced about 7 o'clock on the 13th of March and thundered and lightnening'd like summer time and the rain fell fast until the streams and rivers were running wild. Several houses and part of the trestle washed away at the mine. Some mines were filled up with water and towns along the Hocking River were flooded bad. Buildings washed away and people drowned. Towns that suffered the most were Nelsonville, Athens and Logan. It took peoples furniture and caused lots of suffering and would have been worse except for the warm weather. The railroad was damaged something like $100,000 dollars. Mail was unable to be delivered for a week." 

  (Photo postcard of damage to the Hocking Valley Railroad Bridge, looking towards the Nelsonville Depot.)

  (Photo postcard of damage to the South Bridge across the Hocking River , people gathered there, water to the roofs of homes.)

How the river looked normally. Photo taken from opposite side of the bridge.  

Flood debris March 14, 1907 in Glouster, Ohio

(Photo's of Flood from photo postcard collection of Sandra Mitchell-Quinn) See more photo's of the flood at user your browser back button t return.

There was a new coal mine boss at Mine No. 2, the one that was here Mr. Thomas Bradley taking charge of a new plant in Guernsey Co. and Mr. Ferrel took his place here.

John sold his house in Longstreth to John Galantin for $350 dollars in payments of $14 dollars a month. He sold the other one to James Davis.

Wife's sister Mrs. Myers a widow moved to Nelsonville with members of her family and worked in the brick factory. John gave them $20 dollars to move from Wirt county, WV to Nelsonville. Alice's father came with them. His name was Peter Lee and he died shortly after, almost one hundred years old and he was buried in the Carbon Hill Cemetery. Peter Lee had fought in the civil war. (Richard Lee Buchanan, descendant grandson has Peter Lee's Civil War pension papers)

" My wifes sister in law Mrs Emma Lee Died in October she lived at Longstreth O. 2 months later Alice's Brother Truman Lee died, that is 2 weeks ago and was the husband of Emma Lee that died. Well he took sick on Saturday evening Died Sunday evening sick 28 hours he had Peritonitus Thay neither one had a will. It was my wife place to act as administrator but she chose a friend of mine by the name of Dan Soliday thay had about $1700 Dollars in notes and real estate value about $800 Dollars Chattle Property $150 all told worth about $2650 Dollars. It will go to a girl and boy thay had adopted. I have not done near as well this last year as I expected but we have $1400 Dollars in Cash now. Jan 11th 1908 this Sunday a dark dreary day Protracted Meeting is going on here at present I was at My wife brothers administrator sale yesterday things sold vary well amount to something like $350 dollars we are onely working about one day a week at the Mines now. I was in Columbus Sunday looking at some lots man came down yesterday and I bought one gave him $117.50 in cash he give me a contract calling for one when lots are drawn of".

John Builds a House in Murray City

March of 1909 John bought a lot and a half in Murray City and he built a 6 room house there and an outhouse, it cost him lot and all $1100 dollars. They were able to move in at the end of May. John sold his horse and quit gathering coal outside of the mine and went to work on a machine. His brother Samuel Holt of Sand Run was crushed to death in the coal mine. There were protracted meetings held in Murray City by one Holiness preacher by the name of James McKee. It was held in the skating rink, ( the skating rink is now the site of the Murray City Church of Christ) John and wife Alice joined with about 50 others. John helped organize a class and also a Sunday School since the preacher left. They were hoping to build a new church by his house and Mr. Bryan's the next door neighbor. They were both going to donate a piece of their lot for the new Holiness church. Clifford Holt his son was in his first year of high school at Murray City at this time.

"My onely brother Samuel Holt who lived at Sand Run O. got crushed in mine at Carbon Hill O. In Dec 1909 he died 20 hours afterwards frome the effects was buried at New Gore Ohio So I am the onely one of My Fathers family living. We moved here to Murray City in May 1909 to the house I built. We like it vary well but cost us a good deal to live owing to poor work and extra expense about house. We have went behind considerable Since we came here. We now have the lot in Columbus this place here and about $500 in Money $100 dollar note all told worth about $1800 Dollars in all. Has been a protracted Meeting held here by one Holiness preacher by the name of James McKee. Held in skateing rink I and wife Joined was about 50 found God. Since he left have organized Class also Sunday School we want to build a Church talk of building here by our house Mr Bryan My next Neighbor".

April 21 1910- "Work at the Mines espacialy Sunday Creek Mines were vary poor year of 1909." Mrs Susan Francis a cousin of John's Died at Carbon Hill in October 1909. Step daughter Clara Campbell was Married Oct 17, 1909 to Daniel Buchanan in Murray City, Ohio.

John's daughter Forest Holt married Edward A. Watson in Murray City in 1914. They lived in Murray City for about 1 year and then moved to Dayton, Ohio until 1915. They moved back to Murray City and lived there until 1919, after her father John Holt died she moved back to Dayton.

Will Of John F. Holt

"First Will and last will I being in My right mind to here with bequeath all my Possession to my Wife Alice Holt to hold in trust and the use of while she lives, to be divided in to 3 three Parts as set forth first part to be given Clifford Holt being known as the Rutherford building, second Part to be given to Forest Watson or better known as the Church Building, the last to Clara Buchannan known as the home Place, the Property in Columbus to be sold and divided in to 3 three parts each one to receive one third of same."

This completes the excerpts from the Journal written by John Holt

John Holt died in 1918 and was buried in the Murray City Cemetery which overlooked Murray City coal mine #5.

Tape recording of John Holt's son Clifford Holt transcription by grandson Bill Garrett.

William Clifford Holt on his 90th birthday

The following is a transcript of a tape recording made in December 1982.

The main speaker is Clifford HOLT (William Clifford HOLT 10/1894 to 3/1985) Mr. Holt lived in Hocking County until he moved his family to Columbus in the 1930's, and he was being interviewed on a tape recording by his son Jim Holt.

This story was instigated by a discussion of wool blankets.

Mr. Holt " Well I'll tell ya when I stayed with Aunt Ivy over at Sand Run, one day we came over to Carbon Hill. Forest stayed with my Aunt and Uncle there, we called em Aunt & Uncle but they were my dad's cousins. (Note his mother died in 1896 and the children lived with relatives for some time). But she stayed there with Uncle Jimmy and Aunt Sue. Anyhow our family stayed the night at Francis's. They had a basement that they used in the summertime all the time for their meals unless they had special company. And then they would go upstairs and eat on the first floor. But this was wintertime and cold. I slept with Edna, she was the oldest girl in the family, she was a pretty good age she was old enough to be my mother. She had one of the stickiest blankets I had ever seen. You would touch it and it seemed like it had splinters in it or something, it was that rough. That it was warm no doubt about it. They had a big family, I don't know what Francis family that was. She was a cousin to my Dad. It was after my grandmother died. I was stayin with Aunt Ivy, Forest stayed with Aunt Sue."

Rats, Floods, and the Mines.

The conversation turned the mines, Mr. Holt continues: "When we lived at Jobs in that big house, we had a lot of sunflowers. Something had happened that the mines hadn't worked for awhile and the rats came out of the mines. The came out because they were hungry ya know. They ate all those sunflowers. When the mines aren't workin there ain't nothin in there for em to eat."

Question by his son Jim Holt "When the mines were working did people drop things for them to eat?"

Mr. Holt " They have horses in the mines when there workin. They have horse feed. What they throw out and what have you.

Do you know corn grows in the mines? I seen corn standin that high, but it's pale, it's not green, you might say it is yellow. It grows fast, the water speeds it up.

When they had horses you know they took horse feed in with them and I suppose they (rats) eat horse manure when they get real hungry. And there was another thing they would do.

In those days we used a thing they called lard oil in the mine. We never used any oil that would make smoke you know. It was against the law to use coal oil and stuff like that. If you had certain job s you could use coal oil because when the wind blows it would blow the lard oil out ya see. If you had it ( coal oil) on a horse or moving car they would mix the lard oil with coal oil, but this lard oil a lot of people would take a gallon can in the mine and leave it there and some would have a flask to bring it back and forth from home. But some would leave a gallon can in there. But some rats would get smart enough if the spout was big enough they would push their tails down the spout to get the oil and lick it off their tails. Nature is a funny thing they take care of themselves


Then there's another thing a horse. A horse was in the mine and when he goes to the barn they feed him one meal a day in oats. Oats is one of the best horse feeds there are . Then they eat corn. The rats would eat that too and some of the drivers would take in a little bit of hay too. (Photo postcard showing horse pulling cart of coal out of the coal mine.)

Corn Growin in the Mine

The first time I was in the mine I walked in with a guy that boarded with us, Bill Brooks. Dad had to stay outside for awhile to make arrangements for tools or somethin, I don't know why. But he came in later. I walked in with Billy Brooks. We did not go in the driveway. You know every mine has two sets of entry. Air goes down one and up the other. Well on this other entry all there was in it was air that went back and forth and that's where I seen that corn that was growin in that. In this entry it was like goin in the basement, it was not disturbed. You were safer in it than on the traveled way on account of the cars. Then there would be great big patches of mold you've seen it on basements and such. That mold is similar to mushrooms."

John and Mary Alice (Lee-Campbell-Palmer) Holt were wonderfully portrayed at the Murray City Chautauqua festival the summer of 2001 by Kenneth Bowald and Kathy Devecka, Little Cities of Black Diamonds organization members..

Photo taken by Sandra Mitchell-Quinn

copyright 1999-2003 Sandy Mitchell-Quinn