Barry Thacker, portraying Welsh coal miner David R. Thomas, waves to others in the crowd who attended his talk about the Coal Creek War and other highlights of a turbulent history of coal mining in Anderson County. Thacker spoke to students in Roane State assistant professor John Brown’s Modern U.S. History class.
Oct. 10, 2018
By Bob Fowler
Roane State staff writer
The tumultuous and tragic history of coal-mining in East Tennessee came alive recently when an expert in that era, dressed in period garb, enthralled a large audience.
Knoxville engineer Barry Thacker, portraying Coal Creek miner David R. Thomas, told students in Roane State assistant professor John Brown’s Modern U.S. History class about events ranging from the Coal Creek War to the disastrous Fraterville Mine explosion, when 216 men and boys were killed.
“I wanted to include these events since they are very significant nationally, but also very relevant locally,” Brown said in an email.
Brown said he learned about Thacker’s portrayals and presentations during a visit to the new Coal Creek Miners Museum in Rocky Top, formerly Lake City in Anderson County.
Thacker spoke to Brown’s students last year “and was a big hit, so I definitely wanted him to come back,” Brown said. “Many of our students are from mining families,” Brown said, “and likely had relatives impacted” by events in the Coal Creek area.
Along with Brown’s students, Thacker’s presentation on Roane State’s Oak Ridge campus was attended by many local residents.
The Coal Creek War was an armed uprising in Anderson County in the early 1890s by coal miners after they were replaced in the mines by convicts leased out by the state prison system. The miners attacked and burned state prison stockades and mine properties.
Thacker called the uprising the “absolutely craziest war in the history of America.”
Thacker founded the Coal Creek Watershed Foundation, Inc. in 2000 to improve the quality of life in that area. For years, the foundation has awarded college scholarships to deserving students who earlier attended Briceville Elementary, a tiny school within the watershed.
Roane State Community College is a TBR and AA/EEO employer and does not discriminate against students, employees, or applicants for admission or employment on the basis of race, color, religion, creed, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity/expression, disability, age, status as a protected veteran, genetic information, or any other legally protected class with respect to all employment, programs and activities sponsored by Roane State. View full non-discrimination policy.