Family member recalls Powell and Condy Harmon


Growing up in a coal miner’s family was a hard scrabble life. My grandmother, Myrtle Harmon Shaver, was Powell Harmon’s daughter and I’m proud to remember a few stories that she told me. Myrtle told me about one time when she was little and was standing in her parent’s bedroom. Powell had taken his wallet out of his pocket and laid it on a bureau in front of the window. My grandmother looked up to see a man’s hand coming in through the window and grabbing the wallet. It scared her enough to remember it and tell her grandchildren 60 years later.

When Powell Harmon was killed in the Fraterville mine disaster, he left his wife and eight children: William Conda (Condy), 15 yrs. old; Henry, 14 yrs. old; Ida, 12 yrs. old; Elizabeth (Lizzie), 11 yrs. old; Myrtle, 8 yrs. old; James Jacob (Jake), 5 yrs. old; Silas, 2 yrs. old; and Alice, less than 1 yr. old. One of his daughters, Mary, had died as a toddler. Myrtle would often talk about her sweet sister, Mary. She said that little Mary’s stomach hurt so much that she would start crying from the pain. Myrtle would tell Mary to “Sing honey, and the pain will go away. Sing louder.” Mary would fold her hands over her tummy and sing louder and louder but the pain did not go away. Mary Harmon died when she was about three or four years old. Many years later Myrtle found a doll that reminded her of her sister and kept it in memory of Mary. His youngest daughter, Alice, had just been born in 1902.

Powell had just reached his 49th birthday the week before the Fraterville mine exploded. The explosion occurred at 7:30 in the morning on May 19th, 1902 just after the men had gotten into the mines. By 10:00 am Powell Harmon was writing his last words. (This is a literal translation with misspelled words intentionally included.)

“Dear wife and childen

my time is come to Dye

i trust Jesus

he wil say [or save]

teach the children to beleev in jesus

may god Bless you all is my prare

Bless jesus

It is now 10 minits tell tenn and we are all most smothered

Dont know How long we will liv But if it is our time to go I Hope to meet you all in Heaven

May god Bless you all wife And children Fore jesus sake

good By tell we meat to Part no more

Powell Harmon

my Boys never worke In the coal mines

Henry and Condy Be good Boys and stay with your mother and live for jesus”

Josie Harmon was an herbalist and midwife. Midwives were often not paid for their services in rural Appalachia. According to my grandmother, she was out tending to women and the children had to help raise each other. Within a year or so of her father’s death, Myrtle Harmon quit school in the 4th grade to help raise her siblings. (Jake quit school too but need to ask Carolyn McCafferty about when.)

Even though his father’s last wish was for his sons to never work in the mines, Condy felt that he needed to provide for his mother and siblings. Coal Creek Mountain mining operations were known to be one of the safest mines so he must have assuaged any guilt he felt by knowing this and knowing that he was doing what he needed to do. Powell’s son, Jake, also worked in the mines. (Need to ask Carolyn McCafferty about details for Jake. Did he feel guilty about going against his father’s last words?)

Coal Creek Mountain mine explosion…

In about 1966, my grandmother, Myrtle Harmon Shaver, told me that when her brother Condy’s body was found only his right shoe was off. She said her mother always believed that Condy was trying to tell her that he had gotten “right with the Lord”. For me, it’s interesting to see how much his mother thought about how his body was found and what the significance of a shoe being off might mean. Also, I’m impressed that the rescuers noted the details of how his body was found and told her as much as they could. (Bill: I wrote this before talking to you. I would love to see you write about what you told me about how important it is to record how bodies are found and what messages might have been left.)

Condy Harmon was a member of the fraternal Improved Order of Red Men (IORM), Delaware Tribe #60 instituted in Briceville, TN in 1902. The Tennessee Red Men surrendered their state charter in 1986 and no records were kept of the organization. His headstone was probably paid for by the tribe as its insignia and motto are on his headstone. You did not have to be of Native American descent but Condy happened to be and that is probably why he joined. Condy Harmon’s grandfather, Hiram Harmon, married Rebecca Roach who was a Cherokee Indian. Powell Harmon was one of their sons. (Carolyn McCafferty can tell you her father’s recollections of visiting his Cherokee grandmother.)

Josie’s midwifery experience spurred one of her daughter’s interests in nursing. Ida Harmon left Briceville for New York where she went to school to become a registered nurse. She later practiced nursing and raised a family in Columbus,.Jake, Henry, and Silas all went on to join our military forces. Jake & Henry Harmon married and settled in Akron, Ohio where they raised their families. Lizzie Harmon married and was the only one to stay in Briceville. Alice chose Urbana, Ohio to live in along with her family; Myrtle Harmon raised her family in Columbus, Ohio.