Ramp Hollow the Ordeal of Appalachia by Steven Stoll

Steven tells a story through linked facts. A tale of theft, lies and violence. Land where coal is discovered, it's there for grabs. Who wins - the bosses. Who loses - the miners and their families who lose their health hacking the coal out, who lose their homes migrating from one mining shanty town to the next and who get cheated out of their pay by having to pay high rents for rotten housing and worse plots to grow their vegatables than if they never left home.

The land becomes destitute. Human identity becomes devalued. From the 'heroes' of the wild frontier to 'hillbillies' with their reputations for drunkenness, violence and hopelessness. 'Isolation' is blamed. But there were trade routes along rivers and along mountain roads. The only isolation is that distorted truths; of big corporations grabbing small farmers' land, their source of food and then of everyone with vested interests, plus 'the world and it's wife' blaming the dispossed for being poor.

Steven lifts this sorry story above doom and gloom by use of intelligence and wit. He draws connections, he provides illustrated plates of families, of landcapes. In Short Cut, painted by George Inness in New Jersey (1883) a figure crosses a ramshackle bridge while the steam train powers across the distant fields in the opposite direction.The artist and the author ask who is going where. All we really know is that the train is powered by coal, loaded by a stoker, driven by a driver. The train is running on rails built by badly paid navvies.

We hear the voices of those who live there: 

'You go to the counties (in West Virginia) where they have strip mining - that's where they have the worst of everything. They've got the worst roads; they've got the worst schools; they've got the highest unemployment rate.'(Julian Martin 1988 page 284).

From Country Roads (John Denver 1971) to Ramp Hollow, Steven Stoll 2017. This a book I needed to know.


interesting, the railways were built by china men. 


Thanks for the info, CM. There seems to be someting about mining that leads to exploitation and violence in the uk too. The desparate grab for minerals and wholesale disregard for human life.