Fork Creek Memories West Virginia Highlands Voice May, 2012

Fork Creek Memories West Virginia Highlands Voice May, 2012

My sainted grandma Barker told me of the rich Mr. Skinner riding his horse up and down Coal River buying mineral rights. Sometime back then someone got the bright idea to divide a piece of land into two parts–the surface and the minerals beneath. That was the beginning of the end of our mountains. Fifty cents an acre sounded like a fortune to subsistence farmers. Before bulldozers, steam shovels and draglines, there didn’t seem to be any harm in the deal.

My prescient ancestor looked Mr. Skinner in the eyes and said, “You are Skinner by name and skinner by trade, but you will not skin old Isaac Barker.” Consequently the forty acre farm with mineral rights intact (almost unheard of on Coal River) is still in our family. I was born at Emmons near the mouth of Fork Creek on the Boone County side of Big Coal River. When I was toddler we lived in the ARMCO coal camp in Nellis. Dad was a coal miner in the mines under Fork Creek. His coal miner days were ended when his eye was cut open by a piece of flying coal while working under the very area that is now threatened with massive destruction. As I write this ARMCO’s descendent companies want to blow away the mountains and bury the streams just over the ridge from our home place in what was the Fork Creek Wildlife Management Area. While living with Grandma in 1972 my mule escaped and I ended up walking, dragging and riding him back across nine miles of the Fork Creek protected forest land.

About Sam's Branch

I joined the Peace Corps in 1961 as West Virginia’s first volunteer. Go to to order my book Imagonna: Peace Corps Memories. I am the eighth generation of my family born in the Big Coal River Valley of West Virginia. My father and grandfather were underground coal miners. I have a chemical engineering degree from West Virginia University (WVU). After training to make sidewinder missiles, I joined the Peace Corps and taught chemistry and coached the track team at a secondary school in Nigeria. Since that time, I was WVU’s first full time foreign student advisor and worked in urban outreach, organic farming, construction labor, and high school teaching. I recently retired from the board of directors of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy (, and recently retired from the board of directors of the West Virginia Kanawha State Forest Foundation ( I am still on the board of the Labor History Association and the West Virginia Environmental Education Association and recently joined the board of the West Virginia Civil Liberties Union. I am active in the campaign to stop the destructive practice of mountain top removal strip mining in the Appalachian Mountains. You may contact me at or my blog samsbranch.wordpress.
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1 Response to Fork Creek Memories West Virginia Highlands Voice May, 2012

  1. Jackie says:

    Fork Creek was supposed to be a protected area………spent a lot of time there as a child, enjoying fresh spring water, nature, swinging on grapevines…..sad what the mines have done

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