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Book review: 'Coal in Our Veins' a sobering story of underground power

Published: Saturday, June 23 2012 2:00 p.m. MDT

"COAL IN OUR VEINS: A Personal Journey," by Erin Ann Thomas, Utah State University Press, $29.95, 253 pages (nf)

Everything you ever wanted to know about coal and the children — yes, children as young as 5 — and men and women who worked in the dark underground is in this well-researched volume.

From the Welsh miners to West Virginia to Utah's Carbon County, and from tragic disaster to slow industrial change, author Erin Ann Thomas has shed new light on the industry that keeps the power on in the United States and around the world.

She probes the cost against the payoff without flatly raging against the realities.

She details the stories of her ancestors (and dedicating her book to her grandfather, Robert K. Thomas), based on four years of extensive research and family journals.

The result is a sobering treatise not written for entertainment but for enlightenment.

From the story of 5-year-old Evan Thomas going into the mine piggyback with his father to help load the coal into a cart to the description of what coal mining does to a town physically and to its people, this history is a sad saga.

Childhoods were given over to the work. Families were broken when men died in deep collapsed tunnels.

There's harrowing description of counting the dead after a serious explosion in a mine on May 1, 1900, near Scofield, Utah, that was dubbed "Winter Quarters." The disaster resulted in 107 widows and 268 fatherless children. Evan Thomas' parents were paid $2,240 when Evan and his brother died in the Scofield mine explosion.

Interwoven in the tale are the stories of conversion to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, their faith, visions and courage, and their journeys to America to seek a better way of life and a kinder occupation.

Utah residents will recognize stories about Scofield and the families in that coal town, along with the accurate description of places like U.S. Route 6 through Price and Castle Gate.

Included is a story of a payday robbery that netted Butch Cassidy and his partner $7,000 in gold.

Most of the book's stories are rich in details about the time period and the miners and their families, including the story of Zeph and Maud's romance and marriage, the coal miner strikes and their consequences and passages about fathers being ripped from families while still in their beds.

There are stories of lynchings and prejudice and poverty, followed by more recent stories of success and good lives built on the sacrifices of the past.

That's good and bad.

It's interesting but it takes forever to read through it and some is wrenching.

Toward the end, the story shifts from a look back at mining history to a book about the politics of energy and the policies that keep people, even today, in the mines.

The author has clearly done her research and worked to craft accurate stories of her ancestors and their legacy.

It's just kind of unsettling.

If you go ...

What: Erin Thomas books signing

When: Thursday, June 28, 7 p.m.

Where: Orem Public Library, 58 N. State St., Orem

Web: www.oremlibrary.org

Also ...

What: Presentation followed by book signing

When: Friday, June 29, 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.

Where: Malad Valley Welsh Festival, LDS chapel, 1250 N. 1100 West, Malad City, Idaho

Web: www.welshfestival.com

Also ...

When: Saturday, June 30, 1-2 p.m.

Where: Malad Valley Welsh Festival, LDS chapel, 1250 N. 1100 West, Malad City, Idaho

Web: www.welshfestival.com

Also ...

What: Erin Thomas book signing

When: Sautrday, June 30, 7 p.m.

Where: Weller Book Works, 665 E. 600 South (Trolley Square), Salt Lake City

Web: www.samwellers.com

Sharon Haddock is a professional writer with 35 years experience, 17 at the Deseret News. Her personal blog is at sharonhaddock.blogspot.com.

Email: haddoc@desnews.com

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