Arthurdale today does not, at least on first glance, seem to be much of a place at all.
—Michael Byers, Preservation1
The story of Arthurdale begins just outside of Morgantown, West Virginia, in a five-mile long hollow* called Scotts Run. Like almost everything wretched, the tragedy that was visited upon the people who lived in Scotts Run was birthed in the turmoil of war, specifically in this case World War I, fought mostly in Europe from 1914 to 1919. Historian Niall Ferguson wondered aloud in The Pity of War why America does not seem to take much of an interest regarding that conflict’s “effect at the time on American society.”2 He is correct; we have yet to take full measure of what President Woodrow Wilson’s crusade cost us.
War of a modern scale continues to claim victims long after it ends and far from where it was fought. So it was that on a cold winter day in 1932 America a writer for the New York Times witnessed the burial of a little Scotts Run girl—she had died of exposure, a condition brought on in her case through a fatal combination of bitter winter and a lack of warm clothing.3 Without a doubt, although she was born long after the Guns of August had fallen silent, it would have been entirely accurate for her family to say “She died in the war.” If the innumerable contemporary accounts of all that took place in that hollow are to be believed, she was far from the only one.
The immense suffering experienced by the coal-mining peoples of America, a cataclysm ...