Introduction to The Soviet Union and Lincoln County USA

This is an edit of a rough draft of the introduction to “The Soviet Union and Lincoln County USA.” I hope to have that memoir published in the next couple of months.

Lincoln County officials have a reputation for rigging elections, putting politics first in the educational system and state police thievery, brutality and even a rumor of murder. A seven stitch scar in my eyebrow is a reminder of a terrible evening confronting the political bosses.
Although Lincoln County politicians are often simply a bunch of crooks the rest of the people are a mix like anywhere else. They are friendly, helpful, shy, aggressive, passive, tentative, athletic, confused, enlightened, skilled, humorous, and all have great stories to tell. There was mostly honesty and a little thievery– twice we caught people stealing money from the Lincoln Raiders youth football program.
There were wonderful times living in Lincoln County, strange times, and frightening times. There was the special day when two Gillenwater brothers in their seventies drove up with a load of firewood and stacked it and wanted no money. They just wanted to talk and told me of the dying off of hardwood trees on their forested lands. And after my divorce, friend Timmy brought me a James Taylor record and said everybody likes James Taylor.
Three times “they” (“they” being politicians) tried to fire me. My students, parents of my students, friends, and three Jesuit priests, helped save my job when the politicians were demanding total subservience–I will never forget the joyful cheer of my supporters when we beat one of those plans.
Hundreds of people joined together to resist forced consolidation of schools and increased natural gas rates. And there was a calm ease with which youth league coaches and parents accepted that it was just fine that Lisa Runyan wanted to play baseball and football with the boys. My visiting friends, he an African-American and his wife a small blond beauty, were accepted with grace at a Lincoln Raiders football practice session.
Several principals and vice-principals presided over Duval High School during my twenty-two years as a teacher. In this memoir, I don’t usually call them by name but identify them as simply Principal and VicePrincipal.
After twenty-five years in Lincoln County and two generations of students, I feel like a native. My youngest son Luke is named in honor of a Lincoln County friend and grandson Levi in honor of another. There have been numerous weddings, funerals, school sports and youth baseball and football games. There was the delight of watching Duval win three state high school football championships and make it to within one last minute touchdown of going to another championship game when my son Luke played. I am in touch with over two hundred former students on Facebook and always check the sports page of the Charleston Gazette for how Lincoln County teams are doing.
This memoir is based on my remembrance of the truth. There are many truths and many stories about Lincoln County, not all of which are in this memoir. These selected memories of mine are small time, small county, small state. Many others have lived more interesting and exciting lives, but I claim to be the only person who walked alone down the middle of Hamlin’s midnight darkened main street with a bloody face and a tire iron in hand.

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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