BY MARGARET BLAKE ROBINSON, NEW YORK
Editor of the Herald of Light
One summer day, when the temperature was so many degrees above zero that
I was becoming skeptical as to whether there really ever was a zero, I
stopped and rang the bell at a little house in a mining town in Illinois.
A man came to the door smoking a comfortable looking old cob pipe and
holding a well-thumbed Bible in his hand. He was small of stature, with
coal black hair, well-tanned skin, intelligent features, and a pronounced
English accent. I announced that I was holding evangelistic services in
the little Methodist church a few blocks away, and that I would like to
have him come to some of them.
"It's rather hot to preach and visit," he said; " but, then, I like the
visiting preacher. I tell you if it was not for a preacher who visited
me, I would be still a drunken miner--as bad as the rest of them."
Then he told me his story. It was not strikingly novel, but it gave me
a new light into the hearts and lives of a class of people that I had
almost come to believe were as incapable of being made spiritually white
as was the coal they mined. His father had been a Methodist clergyman
in England and his grandfather a local preacher ("a loaferin' preacher,"
as his little boy phrased it), and he himself had had a good education
and religious training. He came to New York City when he was twenty one,
and after vainly seeking employment in the more "genteel " occupations,
he turned his face to the West and soon became a coal miner.
"Talk about the man with the hoe and the brother to the ox," he said,
" well, the poor ox can't always choose his relations, but if he could,
I believe he'd have cut me dead. I made good wages, but the bad influences
of the mine and the saloon, which is as much to the average miner as his
dinner, soon set their mark upon me. I married a good wife, but neither
she nor our children could save me from my evil habits. One day a preacher
called. He was not good looking (say, wife, do you remember the red carrot
head and the pug nose on that fellow?)--he looked like a small edition
of John L. Sullivan--but I tell yon he knew his Bible, and he was a friendly
sort of a chap that you couldn't get mad at. I told him that it was none
of his business whether I was a Christian or no, and said a lot of other
things of the same kind, but he hooked me all the same. I gave up drink,
and then I joined the Church. Now I help to pay the preacher, and I bought
this house, and am paying for it little by little, so that my wife and
children will have a home if anything should happen to me."
With great pride he showed me the little English garden in the rear of
the house, and his wife, who was a Swede, said in broken English, but
with such feeling in her voice that it was positively musical: " He's
good von year now, an' 'tish like Hefen; but, oh! de udder poor miners'
wifes. Oh" (going over and putting her arm on his shoulder), " my Art'ur
is chanshed so--he is so goof, so very goot!"
Arthur seemed to like that sort of treatment, and lit his pipe afresh.
Within a radius of ten miles of Danville there are several mining-towns,
Westville and Kellyville being the most prominent. The men who live at
a distance from the mines go to work every morning in a railroad car especially
run for them by the mining company. It is a dirty, grimy car, inhabited
temporarily by as dirty looking a lot of men as can be found outside the
realm of "Dusty Rhodes" and " Weary Walker." Every man of them carries
his pipe--a dude with a cigarette would be ridiculed in Polish, Swedish,
Russian, and murdered English, and would probably be compelled (like chimneys
in the East) to consume his own smoke. It seems as if every man's ambition
is to have a pipe more disreputable looking than those of his neighbors,
and when all are smoking in concert it is difficult to tell on which end
of the train is the engine. The same scene is repeated in the evening,
and a rush is made for the saloon the moment the railway car door is opened
and its coal smeared passengers are back from their day's toil in the
bowels of the earth.
"'Tis mighty easy to preach temperance," said a Westville
miner, discussing the saloon question and the miner one day, " but it's
the only decent place we fellows have to go. We have a newspaper to read,
another fellow to argue with, and we can put our feet on the table and
eat all the free lunch we want. We have a blooming fine fiddler who plays
for us--say, wot's a fellow livin' for--all work ? Some of us ain't got
no wives, and them that has--oh, say! Story books is all right for love
stories, but I've seen enough of that sort o' lousiness among the miners,
an' I know better'n blamin' the fellows wot doll's go home."
I might moralize with that man, but he had hard, sad facts for my theories.
I could only think: " God knows it all, but the wealthy city churches
do not want to know it." If they did they would reduce the salaries of
their pastors and the amount of their own luxuries, and send some strong-limbed,
earnest, noble young fellows out here to do for the miners what the Y.
M. C. A. has done for the railroad men, only to do it better by making
the atmosphere more free and easy, and to pay more real attention to the
spiritual work. It will take years of lectures and paintings and classical
music to educate a man up to the point where he winces at his beloved
scratchy fiddle and objects to have paint stores that are prodigal of
their colors supply his artistic needs; but get that man truly "in tune
with the Infinite," and he will reach out after the noblest and best as
naturally and instinctively as a child seeks for its milk bottle.
"I never saw a converted tramp who did not take to washing
himself and buying decent clothes and patronizing the book stores," said
a Christian worker to me recently. A man has to be convinced that what
yon have is better and more to be enjoyed and coveted than what he has
before he will want an exchange.
Westville is a small village of less than a thousand inhabitants, but
it has sixteen saloons--there is an awfully dead sameness about the place;
dirt, squalor, and the houses all shaped alike, of the same size, fashioned
according to the same utilitarian and unartistic principles, and all owned
by the mine owners. Since the formation of a miners' union the men only
work eight hours a day and receive fair wages. The miners (those who dig
for the coal) average about $2.50 a day, while the rock men, timbermen,
cagers, and trackrmen get about $2.10. Accidents are so frequent that
a miner's wife said to me: " A natural death is such a strange thing here
that when one hears that So and-So is dead, they ask at once, 'When was
This being true, it would seem that there would be a leaning to religious
things among the men, but, on the contrary, they become so inured to danger
that the fear of death has no terrors for them--they live in the midst
of it; it is a common visitor, almost as well known as the time keeper
and cashier who appear with their accounts every week. Added terrors and
added proofs of a final reckoning do not save men. "If they hear not Moses
and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if one rose from the
dead," is as good an argument as it ever was.
Womanhood is degraded in the mining communities. A large proportion drink,
and the worst examples of absolute human depravity ever forcibly or otherwise
brought to my notice were two women and a man who rode on the train, near
me, from Danville to Westville. Their language and actions bespoke unspeakable
degradation, and I never realized until then how a woman could become
so besmirched within and without and so befouled that onlookers would
long for a spiritual Board of Health to remove the filth.
|"The city has nothing as bad as this," said a young woman
who was traveling with me, and who had worked in the slums of Chicago. The
city civilization and refinement modifies its sin, but in a country mining
town these elements are lacking, and the sin speaks its native language
and uncovers its face in the midst of its fellows. A public school, an occasional
local preacher, and a formal church service offer what spiritual aid they
can for the miners, but little permanent good seems to be done. Some of
the women and a smaller number of the men are truly desirous of better things,
and only a changed personal environment will bring them. A few strong Christian
men and their wives who would do personal work among the men, live among
them, and open places to which they could resort, so as to break the dul1
monotony of work, would do more good shall by any other agency and method.
The true reformer must be an individual seeker, and his " personal work
" must not consist merely in teaching, but must also be full of brotherly
sympathy, free from bigotry and cant, ready to concede a point often, willing
to be patient, ready to look et things from the other man's point of view,
and full of the love such as Jesus had when He had compassion on the multitudes.
Nor is it only the coal miners that need the light of the Gospel. The spirit
of recklessness and the lack of moral character that pervades the coal pit
finds its way into the iron, copper, gold, and silver mines too. A Colorado
woman, speaking of the mines, told me that most miners who lived in and
around El Dora " knew religion mostly as a help to express themselves when
they got mad." This terse remark contains a sad and universally acknowledged
truth for those who have visited the average mining camp. |
However the coal strikes are settled, I know that I will
in future see more in the flame of the winter coal fire than science or
the newspapers say is there. May you, too, see there the crying need of
these workers in the heart of the earth for the riches of the everlasting
Gospel of Jesus Christ. Work and pray that the Lord of Harvest send forth
sowers and reapers into His harvest.