-photograph of Grover Gartin and Dorrie Adkins accessed September 10, 2021 from a public tree on Ancestry. Picture was posted by Joseph Gartin on February 17, 2019.
folklorist George Korson traveled to southern West Virginia in 1940 to meet
coal miners and record the coalmining and union songs they sang, he found
Gartin (known to him as G.C. Gartin) on Buffalo Creek in Braeholm, Logan County,
working as a coal miner as he had done at least since 1930, after leaving his
family farm at Harts in Lincoln County.
On the day
of Korson’s visit, Gartin sang “The Hard Working Miner,” a hymn-like song in
the southern gospel tradition, as Angus K. Gillespie observed in his biography
of Korson. At the age of fifty-two, Mr.
Gartin sang in a powerful and musical voice, and he told Korson that the song
dated back at least thirty years. At
that time, he was the President of UMWA Local 5850.
impossible to say where Mr. Gartin learned this song, which is also known as
“Only a Miner.” It was widely known
across America by men working in coal, copper, silver, and gold mines, and
apparently singers had been familiar with it at least as far back as 1888. It was popularized even more widely beginning
in 1928, when a string of commercial recordings began to appear. But not all of these versions exhibit the
hymn-like quality of Mr. Gartin’s.
Cleveland Gartin was born on 17 May 1888 in Harts, Lincoln County, to a farming
family. In 1910 he was working on his
parents’ farm, and in 1917 he listed his occupation as “minister” on his WWI
draft card. In 1920, he was farming with
his brother, but by 1930 he was married and working as a timberman in a mine at
Braeholm in Logan County. He was still
there when Korson heard him sing in 1940 and on his 1942 draft card he
indicated that he was working for the Amherst Coal Company there.
died at Logan General Hospital on 21 November 1953 at the age of 65, and he is
buried at the Gartin Cemetery in Ranger, Lincoln County, West Virginia.
Goodwin Raheja, February 2021
Garson’s “The Hard Working Miner” may be heard on The Library of Congress
Archive of Folk Culture album Songs and Ballads of the Bituminous Miners. This
album is comprised entirely of field recordings made by Korson.
Angus K. Folklorist of the Coal
Fields: George Korson’s Life and Work. The
Pennsylvania State University Press, 1980.
Archie. Liner notes to the Folkways
album Tipple, Loom & Rail: Songs of the Industrialization of the South,
Sung and Played by Mike Seeger. 1966.
Archie. Only a Miner: Studies in
Recorded Coal Mining Music.
University of Illinois Press, 1972.
George. Coal Dust on the Fiddle:
Songs and Stories of the Bituminous Miners.
University of Pennsylvania Press, 1943.
A trip to Grover's Grave at Ranger
On May 5, 2021, Brandon Ray Kirk led me to the Gartin Cemetery at Ranger. The cemetery sits in a quiet spot in the woods, and a good distance from any homes. Following an old logging road up the hollow behind the site where the Gartin home once stood, we initially walked past the cut that led down the hillside to a little spur of a ridge on which the cemetery is situated. We eventually wound back around, retraced out steps a bit, and found the correct path. There was some uncertainty about Grover's being buried in this spot, as the owner of the land on which the cemetery sits thought he was buried in Hamlin. Alas, we found Grover's small headstone--nothing like field checking the information! As I didn't haul my banjo or fiddle out to this location, Brandon took a video of a video made at the site of the old Gartin homestead, where Jewell Pack's home now sits. I was playing a banjo tune for Jewell, and we thought it would a good offering for Grover--it will have to suffice until I can learn his songs and make the trek back there to sing one over his grave.
Watch a musical offering for G.C. Gartin at this link:
- The Gartin Cemetery at Ranger, WV. Photograph by Chris Haddox, May 2021
-Headstone of G. C. Gartin, at the Gartin Cemetery, Ranger, WV. Photograph by Chris Haddox, May 2021