Samantha Riggin October 23, 2018
Appalachian Studies Association
2019 Conference Summary Submission
Medals of Dishonor
Mingo County Politics and Coal’s Connection to The Philippine-American War
During the late 1890’s, thousands of acres of mineral rights in Logan and Mingo counties were purchased by operators and syndicates who, otherwise, had no connection to West Virginia. Consequences emanating from these instances of absentee land ownership have been felt in coal country for decades; it is a familiar tale of industrialists and coal barons stripping the land, paying out a pittance to landowners, and using the land and its people before abandoning both.
My research adds a new facet to familiar and accepted scholarship about Appalachian history based on an unlikely source: brothers Julien and Antoine Gaujot, Medal of Honor recipients from Williamson, West Virginia. Scrutiny of their actions, resulting in their being awarded America’s highest military honor, provoked more questions than answers. Three years of exhaustive research utilizing archival repositories in Washington, Boston, Charleston, Rochester and Carlisle allowed discovery of connections between the coal fields of West Virginia and international policy that, prior, had not been investigated.
My conclusions, all founded on primary source, look to answer the “how and why” two, otherwise unremarkable young men from West Virginia were able, or had the power bestowed on them, to allow them to blackmail a United States president and military officers in their quest for America’s highest military honor for bravery.
The story of the Gaujot brothers is one that ties together powerful economic and political interests West Virginia, New York, Washington, D.C., and overseas, with unfettered mineral extraction prevalent in Southeastern West Virginia in the late 1800s. The King Land Case centered on the Robert Morris tract, and the Supreme Court ruling on West Virginia School Tax laws resultant from the fight over Morris’s 500,000 acres, directly in the midst of the story.
The research uncovers direct connections between the drive to obtain coal lands in West Virginia and Kentucky and the impetus for the Philippine-American War. It is a convoluted story, but one that puts Appalachian history under a new lens, illuminating a theory, all couched in primary source, as to why and how West Virginia played such a crucial part in international policies.