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Mine Wars Survey looks at W. Va.’s past

By Staff | Mar 28, 2014

A Survey of West Virginia’s Mine Wars is currently being hosted by Shepherd University’s Lifelong Learning Program in conjunction with Coal Country Tours.

Mining expert Doug Estep is guiding students through about 20 years of West Virginia history that he said has been largely brushed under the rug.

The six week class covers events beginning in 1900, following the early days of coal in mining, the 1902 New River Strike, the 1912-13 Paint Creek Strike, the Matewan Massacre, the assassination of Sid Hatfield, the Battle of Blair Mountain and the 1922 Charles Town treason trials.

Estep, who grew up in a family of coal miners in Mingo County W.Va., the setting for much of the conflict, said he only learned about the areas controversial history by chance as a freshman in college at WVU.

“I was just stunned,” he said

“I grew up right in that area and never heard anything about it.”

Since then, he said investigating and sharing that history has became an obsession.

“I’ve really just been digging around in this history for about 30 years,” he said.

Estep, who work as a Tax Specialist in Martinsburg by day, said he interest in the history grew along with his activism in preserving historic spaces.

Estep said he first got involved in a effort to save the historic jail in Charles Town, behind the Jefferson County Courthouse.

After successfully fighting for nearly a decade to save the jail, Estep then got involved in the effort to keep Blair Mountain on the national registry of historic places –as it has recently faced threats from coal mining interests.

Estep said he knew he wanted to find a way that an everyday citizen could serves the state’s interest moving forward, and that’s when he created the Coal Country Tours.

“One of the arguments we had been making in terms of preserving the history is that in addition to being historically important, its (West Virginia) also just a wonderful tourism resource,”

“I didn’t really know if it would work,” Estep said.

“But it took off.”

Estep began with just two bus trips in 2010, then four in 2011.

“Since then its been running six or seven trips a year,” he said

Trips now depart from locations including Pittsburgh, Pa. and Baltimore, Md.

Estep said it was during a tour last year that he met a couple involved in West Virginia University’s Lifelong Learning program, who encouraged the development of a course on the topic.

Estep began teaching his six week class at WVU and then Shepherd University.

“Our state has a very important history,” he said.

“To make your way in the future, you have to understand where you came from.”

Estep said these stories are especially important as they relate to the present issues in coal country like poverty, political corruption and environmental damage.

“Things in a lot of ways have not changed since the 1920s,” he said.

Estep said part of his ultimate goal is to help generate tourism dollars for the southern West Virginia, money that will stay in the communities.

It’s a nice clean, “green,” type of business, he said.

The next Coal Country Tour will depart Shepherdstown for May 16 through 18. A tour will also leave Morgantown for June 7 to 8. All tours are open to the public.

To find more information visit coalcountrytours,com or call 540-233-0543.