The curtain rises on the front room of a two-room log cabin farmhouse somewhere on the right fork of Beaver Creek in Floyd County, Kentucky, the home of George and Bertha Baldridge and their two young sons.
Bertha is bent over the hearth scooping hardboiled eggs out of a kettle while George sits at the table with a rusty file sharpening a hoe that he has wedged between his thighs.
Bertha: When you go back down to the garden I want you to take them boys these two hardboiled aggs. They’ll get hungry agin adder while and I won’t have supper ready till the shade comes over.
George: (filing) You just got them two aggs is all?
Bertha: Uh huh, just these two’s leftover. Let the boys have ‘em. You’ve got backer to chew.
George: Chewin backer ain’t the same thing as chewin victuals, Berthy.
Bertha: (playfully) I know but just swaller ye a little bit o’ the juice now an’ agin an’ make do with it.
George: You ain’t tellin me sumpum I don’t already do sometimes, if ye want to know—
Bertha: (further teasing him) Yeah, I’ve seen ye swaller it sometimes, making that quare look ‘at comes on ye face when it hits ye gullet.
George: (joking back) Ha, ha, Berthy—not like that quare look at’ll be comin on yore face when I turn ye over my knee an’ tan ye hide. Fotch me my belt!
Bertha: No, I ain’t fotchin ye no belt. I’ll take that hoe away from ye and put a bump knot on ye head with it first.
George: (laughs at her) You just think ye will, ol’ girl.
Bertha: (makes a move toward the table) Oh, I know I will. You thank I wont?
George: (rises) Well, I guess I better get down to the garden then while the gettin’s good.
Bertha: Hure. Take these two aggs with ye. (he puts them in his overalls’ pocket) And I want a kiss afore ye go.
George: Kiss, kiss, kiss. That’s all ye think about, woman!
Bertha: Afore ye put ye chew in is better.
George: (puts one arm around her waist giving her a look) Then how’s about we do more then just kiss whilst them boys is busy down thar in the garden?
Bertha: (coy) You reckon?
George: Yeah, I reckon. I tol um not to come back up the house lessin theys snake bit.
Bertha: But I’m a-piecin my quilt together in yonder on the bed.
George: (leans hoe against the wall, pulls her closer) Then we’ll just have to move them quilt pieces summers else.
As they start to embrace a voice is heard in the distance through the open front doorway.
Voice: Hello, up there!
George: (surprised, goes to door) Two riders a-comin.
Bertha: (joins him) Who you reckon they are?
George: I hain’t got no idee, but they’re pickin up the pace. Looks like they’re ridin livery stable nags to me.
Bertha: Wait! Look! Ain’t that that Mayho man? Who was hure awhile back?
George: Yep, that’s that Mayho, alrighty. Wonder what he’s a doin back up hure? And bringin t’other man with him.
Bertha: I guess we’ll soon find out.
George: (steps in doorway, calls out) Come on up, boys!
Mayo: (from outside) Whoa, Onion Head. Whoa now. Howdy there, folks.
Bertha: (calls out the door, looking around George’s shoulder) Howdy. Is that ye horse’s name? Onion Head?
Mayo: (saddles leather creaks as they dismount) If ever a rented horse traveled so rough that he can bring tears to ye eyes, this is it, Ma’am. Ol’ onion head.
Bertha: ‘At’s a good name fer em then.
George: (pleased to have visitors, men to talk to; he moves back from doorway as Mayo is heard stepping upon the porch) Well, tie up out yonder summers you fellers an’ come on in an’ have ye-uns a seat in hure at the table.
Mayo: (appearing in doorway without his glasses, wearing a derby hat, his three-piece suit a little rumbled and dusty, but clean shaven) Thank you very much, Baldridge. I’d be mighty glad to sit down on something that doesn’t move for a change. (over his shoulder) Hitch um someplace, Milton, and come on in.
George: (tall and lanky, nearly a shoulder taller than Mayo, ushers him on in with a handshake) Well, come on in, Mayho, and set yeself down in a chur.
Mayo: (takes off his hat, nods and smiles at Bertha) I recall your name is Bertha, right?
Bertha: (has stepped back toward the fireplace) That’s right.
Mayo: (to George as he takes a seat) And George. Right?
George: Yeah, but I don’t recollect your first name, Mayho.
Mayo: (amused) I go by Calhoun, Calhoun Mayo. That’s May-o now. There’s no H in it. Just an O on the end.
George: Oh, just a O, not like a hoe you use.
Bertha: (interrupts) You all hungry, Mister Mayo?
Mayo: That’s Calhoun, now Bertha. And thank ye, no. We had a fine dinner back down at the Praters just a while ago. They sent their regards.
Bertha: Ain’t seen ‘em in a while. Not since I had to ride the mule down to borry some far from ‘em a few weeks ago. It’s aggervatin up hure if ye far goes out.
Mayo: You got no flint and iron piece?
Bertha: Yeah, we got flint an’ iron. But goin down to borry far is a good reason to go a-visitin ye know.
Mayo: Ah yes, I see.
George: (eager to talk) So—where you fellers a-comin from today?
Mayo: We’re coming from the mouth of Beaver. Down at the logging camp.
George: Not much goin on down thar this time o year, I’d say.
Mayo: No, just a push boat or two on the river now and then. Water’s way too low yet for the big boats.
Bertha: (looking out the door) Looks like ye brother’s out thar by the well with his boots off rubbin his toes.
Mayo: His boots ain’t broke in good yet. Throws um off every chance he gets.
George: Well, he’ll have to do more walkin an less ridin.
Bertha: (leaning against the door jam with her arms crossed) My poppy used to say the best way to break in new boots is to run from a bha. (grins)
Mayo: (a polite chuckle, briefly glancing her way) I’d say that’d work for sure. Any bear left up in this country?
George: Ain’t hurd tell a-one fer yurs an yurs around hure. They say thars still a few over in Knott County, Kintucky, though. You ain’t a bha hunter are ye, Calhoun?
Mayo: No, no. I’m not looking for bear.. But I’m kind of glad there’s not many around as much traveling as I do back in the woods. But I ate bear when I was a boy a time or two.
George: Yeah, I did too, and deer meat. My pap shot the last deer they was hure abouts. Ain’t nothin but squirrels and possums in the woods to eat now days. Berthy won’t eat a possum but me and the boys like ‘em.
(Bertha makes a face)
Mayo: It’s all a matter of what you get used to I guess. But if I were out in the woods lost and hadn’t eaten in a few days, I’d durn sure eat the first possum I came upon.
George: (a little suspicious) What-a ye do back in the woods so much? You aint diggin ginsang are ye?
Mayo: No, no, I ain’t digging ginsang. But I am looking for something.
George: What’s that?
Mayo: I’m looking for coal, George.
Mayo: I’ve been following a seam of coal that runs through this ridge according to a survey map I have. And it runs through this property of yours and right on as far as this ridge goes. So you may have some coal underground on this place.
George: But they ain’t no outcroppings of coal no wheres on my land that I know of.
Mayo: You don’t necessarily have to have an outcropping to have coal under your land. So according to the geological survey I have you should have some pretty good seams of it running through here. Maybe a couple of four-foot seams.
George: How’d ‘at map know about that?
Mayo: Well, some government men were in here years ago exploring for it. And wherever they determined there was coal they put it on a map.
George: I’ve never hurd-a anything like that?
Mayo: The thing about it is, you may be able to get some money out of it.
George: (he and Bertha exchange a quick look) How’s at?
Mayo: By selling it to have it mined. A coal company could come in here and pay you so much an acre to take the coal out.
George: What coal company?
Mayo: Well, not any coal company in particular as yet. But there are some big companies interested in buying this coal, not just your coal but this whole seam, starting back down there with the Praters at the mouth of the branch, following this ridge all the way out.
George: What would I git out o’ hit?
Mayo: Now this is not something that’s going to happen overnight, George. Nobody’s going to be riding up the branch out there with a sack full of money anytime soon.
George: (disappointed) Oh.
Bertha: (moving closer to the table, hopeful)) Well, when then?
Mayo: (looking around at her) It all depends on several factors, Bertha. It could be quite a while or sooner than you think depending on those factors.
George: What kind o facters?
Mayo: Okay, for one thing I noticed some mighty big stumps on the side of the hill on the way up here. So tell me just how those logs got to where they were going?
George: You mean how we tuck ‘em out o’ hure?
Mayo: Yes. Got um to market.
George: The creek o course. That was back when Grandpap and my Pap was alive. Thar was him and my Pap and his brother Nathan. I was just a big chap then but I worked right along with um, doin whatever they’d let me do. But ol man Prater and his boys was in on halfers with us cause they had the two teams o oxen and wagon to haul the logs. Withouten them we couldn’t a done it. And as it turned out we shouldnt a done it. Nathan got hisself kilt. Got penned twixed a big log and the wagon. Busted his lungs. After that Grandpap quit the whole deal and said they’d never be another tree cut offen this place. Adder a couple o weeks Prater wanted to start back but Grandpap wouldn’t hure o hit.
Mayo: Logging’s dangerous work. It’s too bad your poor uncle had to go that way. But the point I’m trying to make is that in the future things like that can be made a whole lot easier. Logs could be loaded on a flat railroad car with a crane and they would no longer have to be manhandled, least when you got um to the tracks. And you’d no longer have to have boom dams to halt them before they got away down river and lose part of um.
George: (shrugs) So. What-a ye sayin by that? I ain’t never seen no railroad train excepten in a pitcher in a winder down at Prestonsburg.
Mayo: Well, suppose you had one of those trains running alongside the Big Sandy all the way up river, and a spur coming off that main line running up the right fork of Beaver. Wouldn’t that solve the transportation problem?
George: Yeah, if ye had such a railroad.
Mayo: And that’s why you don’t have a way of getting your coal out of here, and why you don’t see anybody riding up the branch out there with a sack full of money.
George: Well, first of all you said I could get some money for the coal, now you’re sayin I haint. Then what’s the difference then?
Mayo: The difference is that I can just about guarantee that eventually there’s going to be a railroad running up Right Beaver and probably all the way over into Knott County.
George: It’d have to come through Prater’s big bottom down thar ifen it did. When?
Mayo: That, I honestly can’t say. All I know for sure is that in the past year the C and O railroad has proposed building a track all the way to the head of the river into Virginia. But when they plan to get started on it is anybody’s guess. It takes time to organize such a project, over seventy some miles of railroad track through these mountains. Money to be raised. Surveys to be done. Right-of-ways to be bought. Not to mention finding the manpower that’ll be needed to do all the work. And even when they start laying track it could take several years just to reach the mouth of Beaver, not to mention a spur line up this way. So who knows how long it could take? But most certainly they will eventually build it. You can bet on it.
George: Then it could be years and years afore we could sell the coal.
Mayo: Well—not exactly, George.
George: What-a ye mean?
Mayo: There may be another way. And that’s where I come in. I could help you sell the rights to the coal a whole lot sooner. Before the railroad drives the first spike.
George: How can ye do that?
Mayo: Okay, there’s a lot of big companies up north that need this coal as soon as they can get it. Not just your coal, but all the coal they can get from all over this country. But they’re going to have to wait on the railroads too, you see. But the smart ones, some of the ones that are looking to the future, are looking to buy this coal ahead of time, to get the jump on the others. And I’m going to try and get in contact with some of these big companies. Therefore, I may be able to sell your coal sooner than you think. So what I’m saying is you wouldn’t have to wait for the railroad in order to sell your coal.
George: When ye thank ye could do that?
Mayo: All I can truly say is a whole lot sooner than the railroads getting here. But maybe within a year or so or longer. Or I could get real lucky and you could be paid for this coal by Christmas time. But now here’s something else to keep in mind. If down the road I’m unable to sell your coal to somebody, and if at that time I’m in the position to, I may go ahead and buy the coal myself. Now all I can say is that that’s a distinct possibility.
George: First o all, how much money you talkin’ about?
Mayo: That depends on how many acres you have, George.
George: Theys two hunert and fitty acres o this place.
Mayo: Okay. Now another factor, maybe the most important thing is your deed. Do you have a clear deed to the place?
George: Shore do. Grandpap bought this from ol man Praters granddaddy and had a deed made o this land years ago. Hits down nar in the courthouse at Prestonsburg.
Mayo: So that means you’ve been paying taxes on it every year? Right?
George: Yep, it’s the only time we ever go to town, onced a year. After my ginsangs good an’ dried, all four o us walk down to the mouth o Beaver and catch one o the steamboats. Most all the captains lets us ride on credit till we git to Prestonsburg. Then whilst they’re loadin the boat fer down river I take my ginsang to the dealer then run back and pay the captain. An adder that go straight to the courthouse am pay um a doller thirty-five cents fer the taxes. O course we stay fer a while and git what supplies we need. Sometimes we’re lucky and catch a push boat goin up river an I help pole to pay our way.
Mayo: That’s good to hear, George. Because people doing business have to go by what’s actually on record at the courthouse.
Bertha: (to Mayo) Then if everthangs on record, how much money you think we’d be gittin fer it?
Mayo: Well, I expect you’ve seen those coal mines down around Prestonsburg that supply coal to the steamboats and whatnot?
George: Yeah, they’s three or four o them little bank-mule mines.
Mayo: Okay, the coal in those mines was leased, which means the land owners don’t get any money until that coal is sold, and they get very little percentage of it then. Now the difference is that you’d be selling your coal outright before it’s ever to be mined and you’d be paid the going rate of fifty cents per acre.
George: (perks up) What? Fifty cents an acre! Thatd be— (looks at Bertha)
Bertha: Over a hunert an sum dollars, George.
Mayo: That would be a hundred and twenty-five dollars to be exact.
George: (to Mayo) You shore you can sell hit for that?
Mayo: I’d try my best. And like I said, depending on the circumstances, I may be able to buy it myself, if nothing else.
George: Then would you be the one coming to mine it?
Mayo: No, if I bought it I’d still be trying to sell it to one of those big companies, along with all the other coal rights I’ve been able to acquire, but I’d have a better chance if I already owned the rights to the coal. And, of course, you all would be getting your money sooner. But now that fifty cents would be for all the minerals underground here. Like if there were natural gas or oil or something, then that would have to go along with the deal.
George: So we wouldnt get nothin’ extry fer that.
Mayo: No, but here’s the thing. There’s not much oil and gas up here in these high hills. It’s just the coal they want up in this country.
George: Then why do they want the other stuff too? Ifen they only want the coal?
Mayo: It’s just something that has to go along with the deal. Eventually this whole country in here is going to be bought up because of the coal. And in some places there may not be any coal at all underground. So the companies are taking a chance in some places. So in that case they want something to fall back on. They may then drill for oil and gas to make up for not finding coal. Most people who’ve agreed to sell their minerals don’t object to this. Certainly the Praters down at the mouth of the branch didn’t.
George: The Praters ar in on this?
Mayo: Yes, as well as most of the landowners down below the forks here. You see the coal companies want complete access to all the coal in a particular seam. So the more land I can put together in one place the better chance I’ll have of selling it.
George: (to Bertha) Whadda you thank, Berthy?
Bertha: If the Praters are in on it we mightuz well too.
George: Well, the Praters always wuz after the almighty doller. (to Mayo) So whadda we do now?
Mayo: Well, there’s one more factor. I’d have to have some kind of guarantee that I’m the only one that you’d be dealing with. Otherwise, I could have a buyer lined up ready to buy it, then come to find out you’ve changed your mind. Then I would’ve wasted all my time on it for nothing.
George: My word ud be my bond, Calhoun.
Mayo: But suppose somebody comes along and offers you sixty or seventy cents for it? That’d be awfully tempting.
George: I reckon I’d still have to say no ifen I promised hit to you.
Mayo: There’s other things that could happen too, you know. Just like your uncle getting killed that time. That changed that whole timber deal, didn’t it?
George: Yeah. It shut it down. So nobody made any money. Ol man Prater stayed kinda mad for a while, and so did Grandpap cause Prater wanted to start hit up again. Grandpap felt like any money that was made from cuttin trees would be agin Nathans life. He thought hit was a omen not to cut anymore o these big trees. He never cut another live tree as long as he lived and wouldnt let none o us neither. So on account o Nathan I ain’t never made a penny offin them trees. I caint go agin Grandpap just fer money.
Mayo:That’s understandable, of course. You know money’s a funny thing, George. Some people can’t even trust themselves with money. There was a feller with a wad of money in his left hand and his right hand wanted to take it from his left hand. But all of a sudden his other hand reached out and took it from both of um. (chuckles)
George: Whered you ever get that, Calhoun? (laughs, looks at Bertha, and in a high voice) People ain’t got but two hands!
Mayo: (chuckling) I knew I couldn’t fool you, George.
George: You didn’t fool me to start with but at uz a good joke.
Mayo: Okay, all joking aside, you all, here’s what this boils down to. (takes folded documents from inside coat pocket) This has to be a business deal, and it has to be done in a business way. So in order to satisfy me, and satisfy you as well, we’re going to have to sign a legal option. An option is a legal agreement on paper authorizing me, and me alone, to sell your coal, or, as the case may be, buy it myself. This just means you can’t deal with anyone else but me regarding your coal.
George: So I couldn’t sell hit to anybody else but you or whoever you get to buy hit?
Mayo: That’s right. I have to have that option to protect me because like I said, I’m going to be spending time working on your behalf. Now let’s suppose later on you all decide to change your mind—
George: We wouldnt do that.
Mayo: But just suppose for a moment you did. But if you’ve signed this option agreement I have here in my hand, I would have a legal right to go before the county judge and he could make you stick to the agreement of the option no matter what. So it’s legally binding, you understand.
George: Well, hit’s like this, I don’t see nobody else settin hure atelling me I can get money for coal I didn’t even think about.
Mayo: That’s right. Now this option form includes the price of the coal and the conditions of the actual buying of the coal when you get paid for it. This option binds you to the deed you’ll have to sign when you’re paid for the coal. Now also I’m required to pay you something today for signing it, a kind of bond to seal the deal. Usually you get the price of one acre for signing it, but I’m going to double that. (takes a one dollar gold coin from his vest pocket) I’m going to give you this as payment for signing the option.
George: (reaches out for it) God. A shiney gold piece—whata ye know.
Mayo: So you want to sign this for that gold piece? There would be a hundred and twenty-five more of those coming down the road.
George: Whata ye thank, Berthy?
Bertha: (reaches out) Okay. Just let me hold it.
Mayo: (handing it to her) Sure, it’s all yours. Just sign your alls name to this. But first you’ll need to read the deed that’s separate from the option that binds you to it. That’s the deed you’ll have to sign when the coal is actually bought. You needn’t worry about that now. But you do need to read and understand it before you sign the option.
George: But I can’t read a word, ner write neither.
Mayo: (looks around at Bertha, holds it out to her, but she shakes her head) Okay, then, don’t worry about it. Let me get Milton in here to read it to you. He has to sign it too and notarize it to make it legal. (turns toward the door and Bertha) What’s he doing out there anyway? Could you holler at him?
Bertha: (goes to doorway) Looks like he drawed em up a bucket a water for a drink. (yells at Milton) Hes a-wantin you in hure!
Mayo: Well, while he’s reading this (removes cigar from pocket), you mind if I light my cigar from your grate. It’d save me on using one of my matches.
Bertha: Theys some hot ashes. Just stir um up a little.
Mayo: All right. (lays the documents on table and goes to fireplace and kneels)
Milton: (appears in doorway) Howdy do, you all. You need me now?
Mayo: (rises, puffing on cigar) Yeah, you need to read that deed to um. This is George and Bertha Baldridge. (to Bertha) I’m going to step outside on the porch and watch those two fine young chaps of yours hoeing that second crop of corn down there and smoke.
Bertha: Go right on ahead.
Mayo: (to Milton) They’ve agreed to sell all mineral rights to two hundred and fifty acres for one hundred and twenty-five dollars. Just insert their names and the dollar amount and my name in the blank spaces just to make it clearer to them. (to George) Adding your name to this blank deed when he reads it is just to show you how it will look when you actually sign it for real. I just find it makes it easier for people to understand it better that way when it’s read aloud. That all right?
George: Yeah, I guess so.
Milton: (as Mayo exits) Okay, you all ready?
George: Ready as we’ll ever be.
Milton: (unfolds deed and begins to read while standing stock still facing George at the table) This deed of conveyance made and entered into this day of August, seventh, eighteen ninety one between George and Bertha Baldridge, party of the first part, and John C. C. Mayo party of the second part. Witnesseth, that said parties of the first part, in consideration of the sum of two hundred and twenty-five dollars, cash in hand paid, receipt whereof is hereby acknowledged, the said amount being the total amount due and to become due under a certain title bond or agreement for rights contained in a written instrument executed on the seventh day of August, eighteen ninety-one by party grantor herein, to John C. C. Mayo, and pursuant of said terms of said bond or written agreement for rights, and for further consideration of two hundred and fifty dollars for all property rights and privileges herein bargained, sold, granted or conveyed, not included within said title bond or agreement for rights, if any such there be, receipt whereof is hereby acknowledged, have bargained, sold, granted and conveyed, and by these presents do hereby bargain, sell, grant and convey unto the said John C. C. Mayo, party of the second part hereto all coal, minerals and mineral substances and products; all oil and gasses; all salt and salt mineral waters; all fire and potters clay; all iron and iron ores; all stone; all slate; all ores and mines; and all subterranean substances and products; and all considerations of the same; situated, lying and being in, on or under the hereafter described land, or that hereafter be found thereon, therein or thereunder, and such of the standing timber thereupon as may, at the time of the use thereof, be, or by the party of the second part, his successors or assigns, be deemed necessary or convenient for mining purposes, or so deemed necessary or convenient for the exercise and enjoyment of any or all property, rights and privileges herein bargained, sold, granted or conveyed, including timber necessary for damns that may hereafter be located on said land by parties of the first part, their heirs, representatives or assigns, or by the party of the second part, its successors or assigns, or by any person or corporation with or without the authority of either of said parties, their, or its, heirs, representatives, successors or assigns, and also the exclusive rights to enter upon said lands and drill thereupon for oil and gas, and to pump for and store the same upon said land, and remove, pipe and transport the same therefrom; and to use and operate the said land and surface thereof, and any and all parts thereof, including the right to use divert, dam and pollute water courses thereof in any and every manner that may, by party of the second part, its successors or assigns, be deemed necessary or convenient for the full and free exercise and enjoyment of any and all the property, rights and privileges hereby bargained, sold, granted or conveyed, including, but not limited to, that of drilling, mining pumping and therefore removing or otherwise utilizing the said roads, ways, timber, coal, minerals, slate, oil, gas, salt water, clay, iron, ore, mines, stone and subterranean substances and products thereof, and any and all other property and rights hereby bargained, sold, granted or conveyed, and for the transportation therefrom of said articles; and also the right to build, erect, alter, repair, maintain and operate upon said land, and at its option to therefrom remove, any and all houses, shops, buildings, tanks, derricks, inclines, tipples, dams, cokeovens, store and ware rooms and machinery and mining and any and all equipment, that may, be party of the second part, its successors or assigns, be deemed necessary or convenient for the full and free exercises and enjoyment of any and all the property, rights and privileges hereby bargained, granted, sold or conveyed; the right thereupon to convert, reduce, refine, store, dump and manufacture the said, or any or all of said property, in, upon or under said land, or other land owned or hereafter acquired by said party of the second part, its successors or assigns, by purchase, lease or otherwise; and the right to store, dump, and leave upon said land any and all muck, shale, bone, water, or other refuse from said mines, wells, ovens or houses, and any and all matters and products that may be excavated from mines, or produced by the exercise or enjoyment of any and all property, rights and privileges hereby bargained, sold, granted or conveyed; and the right to remove all pillars and other lateral and subjacent supports without leaving pillars to support the roof or surface, and the right to use said land for removal or storage of products taken out of any other land owned, or hereafter acquired by party of the second part, its successors or assigns by lease or otherwise; and the right to erect upon said land, and maintain, use, repair and operate, and at their pleasure remove therefrom, any and all buildings and structures, and machinery and mining and any and all equipment, whether specifically enumerated herein or not, that may, by party of the second part, its successors or assigns, be deemed necessary of convenient for the exercise of enjoyment of any and all property, rights and privileges herein bargained, sold, granted or conveyed; and also the free access to, upon and over said land for the purpose of surveying and prospecting for said property and interests.
Milton: (stops to take a couple of breaths) Just a little more.
George: Theys more?
Milton: Yeah, this is the last of it: And in the use and occupation of said land and surface thereof in any and all manner hereunder, and in the exercise of the rights and privileges herein bargained, sold, granted or conveyed or any or all of them, by party of the second part, its successors and assigns, it, said party of the second part, its successors and assigns shall be free from, and it and they are hereby released from any and all liability or claims or damage to the said parties of the first part, their heirs, representatives and assigns, occasioned by or resulting directly or indirectly from such use of occupation, or the exercise of said rights or privileges, or any or all of them. But there is reserved to the parties of the first part all the timber upon said land except that necessary for the purpose heretofore mentioned, and there is also reserved the free use of said land for agriculture purposes so far as such use is consistent with the rights hereby bargained, sold, granted and conveyed, and the right to mine and use coal for their own personal household and domestic purposes. Parties of the first part do hereby grant, bargain, sell and convey unto the said parties of the second part, its successors and assigns, the free right of ingress, egress and regress in, on, to, over, upon, under and through said land hereafter described for all purposes hereunder, and for the purpose of fully exercising and enjoying any and all property, rights and privileges hereby bargained, granted, sold or conveyed; and it, said party of the second part, its successors and assigns, have unlimited time in which to do so, and shall not be limited to commence the exercise or enjoyment of all or any of said property, rights and privileges at any particular or reasonable time; and when so commenced shall not be deemed to have abandoned nor forfeited the same, nor any part there of ,by a, or any, cessation thereof, or any part thereof. (Takes a breath) Okay, just one more thing: Said land is situated in the county of Floyd and state of Kentucky, more particularly described as follows: (Milton stops reading and lays deed flat on table) Now your boundary lines will have to be filled in when you sell the coal and sign this. But all you have to do right now is sign the option agreement. (over his shoulder to Calhoun on porch) Okay, Calhoun.
Mayo: (entering, cigar in mouth) You all ready?
George: (shifts in his chair and leans back) Yeah, but I don’t know about all this now.
Mayo: Why? What’s the matter, George?
George: What’s this about cuttin the timber in that thing he just read, for one thing?
Mayo: What that says, George, is that the timber is reserved for you, the landowner, the only timber the mining company is allowed to cut is that that may be necessary to open the mine. But I don’t think that will really affect you.
George: But I don’t want no timber cut atall.
Mayo: Okay, here’s why chances are none of your timber will be cut. Any drift-mouth opening will always go nearest the point of transportation. And in this case that would be on Praters’ property. They would go into the hillside on him, not you. So I don’t think you would have anything to worry about. Listen, George. I know this deed is long and complicated, but a lot of the provisions in it won’t even apply to you all. Those things about iron ore and clay and stuff. Most of that is in the deed to entice the people I’m going to be trying to sell your coal to, to make them think they’re getting more than just the coal. There’s no fire-brick clay or iron ore up in this country worth fooling with. You find materials like that down around Carter and Rowan counties, which is a different geological area where they don’t have much coal to speak of. Here they just want your coal, just your coal. It’s Praters’ timber that will be cut. And he’s okay with that.
George: But if theys still a chance—you just said chances are—I dont thank I can sign hit. (to Bertha) Just give him that doller back, Berthy. (she looks at him in wonder but hands the coin back to Mayo)
Mayo: Are you sure you want to pass this up, George?
George: I caint go agin my grandpap. He’s buried out yonder on the side of the hill with Nathan an the rest of my folks. I have to pass his grave ever time I go out through thar a ginsangin and I’d be ashamed to look over at him if he knowed I’d let somebody cut trees offen this land. So in my heart I just can’t do it.
Mayo: But if they do, and like I said it’s not likely to happen, they’re not going to be cutting trees for profit off your land, George. Just for specific purposes in mining the coal, like for mining props and such.
George: But it’s still cuttin down trees for the mining peoples profit.
Mayo: (sighs through his nose, removes his cigar) Well, if that’s what your conscience tells you to do, George. But just suppose that when they do start mining coal in here, they never even come on the surface of your land. It’ll all be underground and they can go underground for miles right under your feet and you’ll never know it. Believe me, there is a great possibility that not a single tree will be cut off your land.
George: (looking worried, indecisive) Yeah, but still you caint say for shore with a guaranteed promise.
Mayo: No, I can’t make you that promise. I honestly can’t. All I can truly say is that it’s not very likely. So with that said, I’d like to give you this gold piece back, George. (holds it out, pinched between his thumb and forefinger) All it takes is your signature on this piece of paper.
George: (lowers his head and shakes it slowly back and forth while looking intently at the floor) I just caint go agin grandpap. I just caint—
Mayo: Okay, George, here’s what I’m going to do. (takes another gold dollar from his pocket. holds one out to Bertha and continues holding the other in front of George) I’m going to give you all two one dollar gold pieces for signing the option. Would that make a difference to you?
Bertha: (reaches out and plucks the coin from Mayo’s fingers as though plucking a red ripe apple from the branch of a tree)) We’ll take it.
George: (looks up surprised) What? Whata ye mean we will take it?
Bertha: Your grandaddy never tol me not to cut no trees. Why caint I put your X on that paper and then the curse will be on me, not you. I don’t go out yonder to the graveyard anyway whur all them Baldridge haints are.
George: You better hush up.
Bertha: No, I ain’t hushin’ up. We have to do this for them boys, George. Your grandpap wutn thanking about them boys when he said that.
George: But they wutn alive then.
Bertha: That’s what I mean. He didn’t know what was comin in the future. And he sure wont know if hit’s my X or your X on that paper. I’ll take the blame for it all. I can do that caint I? (looks at Mayo)
Mayo: Well, an X is an X. If he says you can sign his X for him, I don’t see why not. Can you, Milton?
Milton. As long as he agrees to it, it would be legal in my book.
Mayo: So what do you say, George?
George: Okay, I guess. (looks up at Bertha) But I wouldn’t advize you to be going out around that graveyard at night, Berthy. Sumpunll get you fer shore.
Bertha: I’ll take my chances.
Mayo: (offers the other gold piece to George) Here, George.
George: Just give it to her. I don’t want to touch it.
Bertha: (accepts the other coin and drops both in her apron pocket) Okay. Whur do I sign? You got quill n ink?
Milton: (steps forward and gives her a fountain pen from his coat pocket and folds back the papers, points with his finger) Right here.
Bertha: (looks curiously at pen) What’s this thing?
Milton: It’s called a fountain pen. It holds the ink inside o it. It’s the newest invention from way up in New York. You don’t have to press down too hard now.
She signs, as do Mayo and Milton, then Milton blows on it, folds it and hands it along with the broad form deed to Mayo. George watches and kind of shrugs.
Mayo: Okay, that’s it. All that remains is to register this at the courthouse down in Prestonsburg. Thank you, George. And I especially thank you, Bertha. You saved the day, I might add.
Bertha: Well, I ain’t about to turn back loose a this free money.
Mayo: You did the right thing. Wouldn’t you agree, George?
George: I guess so. As long as Grandpaps on her conscience now.
Mayo: Well, it seems she’s willing to take on that burden.
George: Yeah, I guess. But when will we know about the big money?
Mayo: Now that may take a little while or sooner than you think, like I said. But you will someday look out the door and see somebody coming with it. Perhaps even me. (reaches out to shake George’s hand) Well, we’ve got a long ride back and old Onion Head is waiting to bounce me out-a here. You take it easy, George. (reaches out his hand to Bertha, squeezes her fingers) You take care now, Bertha. And God bless you.
An anteroom at the side entrance to the Mayo’s temporary house across the street from the mansion. A place Mayo sometimes goes to smoke and have a glass of whiskey. There is a settee and a couple of comfortable arm chairs arranged around a small table on which sets a half empty bottle of bourbon whiskey and an ashtray. At the window the curtains are open revealing a view of the mansion just up and across the street. The room, though sparsely furnished, has a look of elegance.
At rise Mayo is sitting, Buckingham is looking out the window. Both have gold-rimmed whiskey glasses in their hands, cigars in their mouths, and are nearly tipsy drunk.
John: (viewing the mansion) So Alka couldn’t wait to have a party over there, huh?
Mayo: No, she just couldn’t wait, wanted to have little Margaret’s birthday party over there today. There’s still finish work to do. It’ll still be a month before we can move in.
John: Well, you can’t blame her for jumping the gun. Especially for little Margaret’s birthday. It’s been seven years after all. I guess another month will go by like a breeze.
Mayo: I hope so, yes. (looks around at him) But you know if she weren’t having that party over there we couldn’t be sitting here so freely enjoying this good bourbon. Come over here and sit back down and let me fill your glass again.
John: (comes over to take a seat) Don’t you think we ought to let up a little.
Mayo: No, nonsense, John. Here let me fill you up again.
John: (holds out his glass as Mayo pours) That should be a plenty.
Mayo: (keeps pouring) I invited you over here to drink, John, and we’re going to drink! We hardly ever get a chance like this.
John: Well, it is hard to refuse such good bourbon.
Mayo: (pouring his own glass full) This is twenty-year-old bourbon from the heart of the bluegrass sent special to me from a distiller whom we democrats tried to put out of business a few years ago. That was a mouthful to say, so don’t ask me to repeat it.
John: I wouldn’t dare. (takes a drink)
Mayo: (looking at his glass) You know how to test whether it’s good bourbon or not?
John: I guess you just have to taste it.
Mayo: No, that is not the way, my friend. Here’s what you do. You take a rabbit and give it one drop of bourbon. Just one drop now. Then you set it down in front of a bulldog. And if it won’t fight that bulldog that bourbon’s not worth drinking.
John: (Chuckles along with Mayo) That’s a good’n, Calhoun.
Mayo: Yeah, I heard that from a Kentucky congressman standing on the capital steps in Washington one time. You talk about a bunch of drunken fools; they’ve got um in that capital building. Good thing we’ve got Wilson in the White House now, somebody with some good sense about him.
John: I think he understands what the banking business needs.
Mayo: Yes. Some kind of centralized system to oversee everything. But the best thing about Woodrow Wilson though, is he’s a southerner and wants to see the south progress.
John: That’s good for Kentucky then. When are you going back there and take up that appointment he gave you? You going to do that or not?
Mayo: Now you know I’m not going to do that, John. What do I want to be ambassador to Argentina for? Although there’s probably some easy pickings down there. They say there’s oil. But no, no dice. He’s just wanting to pay me back for making sure he carried Kentucky. But all I want him to do is do right for the country and keep it growing and using more coal.
John: Well, it’s still a big honor. An ambassadorship.
Mayo: I just wouldn’t be suited for something like that. Now they’re wanting to chip off a chunk of Pike County and name it after me, from yon side of Bent Mountain to the Tug Valley and call in Mayo County. Yeah, it’s flattering but I’m not encouraging that in any way. In fact, it seems a little embarrassing to me. What I really care about in Pike County is that I’ve got most of the minerals leased out to good coal companies.
John: Well, you know you could be governor now, just like that! (snaps his fingers)
Mayo: Yes, but as you know, John, I’d rather pick the man I think would do the best job and then make him governor. Like McCreary. It’s not the people in the spotlight but the people pulling the strings behind the scene that matters. That’s what I like. I get more satisfaction out of that. But, of course, you do have to throw a lot of money around.
John: You can throw around just about as much as you want now, can’t you? The Louisville Courier Journal named you the richest man in Kentucky!
Mayo: Now how do they know that?
John: Do you think you are?
Mayo: I’m fairly certain I am. Especially after that Elkhorn Fuel sale.
John: Yeah, that was the biggest payoff I’ve ever been involved in.
Mayo: But I’ve spent a lot of money, John. A hell of a lot.
John: I know you’ve spent a heap of money here in town. Paintsville’s now the only city in eastern Kentucky with paved streets, thanks to you.
Mayo: (grins) Yes, but there may have been just a little self-interest in that, John, since I own property on just about every street in town. And Alka certainly didn’t want a muddy road running along the front of the mansion over there.
John: The bank building and hospital didn’t hurt either though. We’ve got electricity, water and sewage, good roads out of town, all with your help. Paintsville’s the jewel of eastern Kentucky now.
Mayo: I consider Paintsville my hometown and I love it. I’ve lived here since I was five-years old. Everything I’ve done here in town is as much for myself, as it is for everyone else. Thankfully, the good Lord has blessed me to do it.
John: But it’s not just Paintsville. Every town up and down the river is thriving now. Who would’ve thought twenty years ago all this would ever happen?
Mayo: I did.
John: I didn’t mean you didn’t. You made it happen! I’m just saying it seemed like an impossible thing back then that it would all come to this. It’s unbelievable that we’re supplying the biggest part of the coal that’s running this county right now.
Mayo: Well, we knew as soon as the railroads came all this would just start falling into place. Especially after I took that caravan of investors and railroad men up Elkhorn Creek. Remember how amazed they were to see all those eight and ten foot outcroppings.
John: That’s a trip I’ll never forget. When those fellows got off the train in Elkhorn City and got in those covered wagons and buckboards headed to Ashcamp they thought they were headed to the middle of nowhere.
Mayo: Jenkins was the middle of nowhere then. There was nothing there but old General Hunt Morgan’s long dead campsite.
John: I know, but they thought they were going to have to sleep on the ground and eat beef jerky. But when we got to the first campsite there were rows of brand new tents all set up with bunks, and Oscar from the Waldorf busy preparing one of his famous seafood dishes. He had three buckboards iced down with everything you could image to eat. We ate like kings; there wasn’t no roughing to it except for climbing a few hillsides.
Mayo: That took a lot of money and organization but it accomplished what I wanted. Getting the C and O and the B and O to build branch lines closer to my middle-of-nowhere coal seams and the bankers to finance um.
John: That was slick as a ribbon the way you bluffed the C and O.
Mayo: Well, that’s what turned a wilderness into the town of Jenkins—with a thriving bank that you’re the president of.
John: But I had to make that same trip in a buckboard under armed guard to get the seed money up there. I don’t think I would have accepted that position way up there if they hadn’t wanted me for vice-president of Pikeville National about the same time. That made it worthwhile to run up there when I need to.
Mayo: You know something, John? A lot of money’s going out of this country right now.
John: Yeah, there’s a fortune going out of here everyday.
Mayo: The banks here at home even now have not amassed the assets needed to have financed all this. We had to depend on the eastern and English investors.
John: I don’t think the whole state had that kind of money at that time. This part of the country would have continued to stagnate. The population was growing, making land scarce, and with the end to open foraging it cost more to raise the livestock people depended on. Families just couldn’t subsist the way they once did. Selling their minerals was the only way a lot of them could survive..
Mayo: The fact is that no individual landowner has ever owned all the land overlaying a particular seam of coal. That’s the whole situation in a nutshell, right there. It all had to be consolidated. I’ve had to put together as many as fifty different tracts of land to form one small company. This is the only way it could have worked out. I knew that in the beginning. Otherwise it would have been pure chaos in here. .
John: You’re right, of course. All kinds of new business ventures are starting up too.
Mayo: Like you, for instance. Mister West Van Lear.
John: (grins) I did name one of the streets after myself if that’s what you mean?
Mayo: Tell me true now, John. How mad did you get at me over that deal?
John: It kind of unnerved me at first; I didn’t know what I was going to do with that Billy Stafford farm. I thought I was just doing you a favor by picking up your option when it was about to expire—while you and Alka were over in Europe.
Mayo: I thought Consol would want the land because it was just across the river from Van Lear, and when I found out they didn’t I was just going to let the option drop.
John: So you stuck me with a ten thousand dollar farm that I didn’t want.
Mayo: Well, tell me? Are you upset about it now?
John: No, cause I ended up shucking you in the end. (slaps him on the back and chuckles) Those miners who don’t like living in a company town have just about bought up all my lots over there; plus what I sold the hillside land for. Little West Van Lear has made me about sixty thousand so far.
Mayo: That’s a pretty penny. I might have known you’d turn it in to something. In fact, I knew you would. You know how to make money as well as I do. In fact, you bankers will end up with all the money in the end anyway.
John: I don’t know about that, but I’ll drink to it anyway. (raises his glass)
Mayo: So will I. (clicks John’s glass) Salud!
John: Salud! Whatever that means.
Mayo: It’s Spanish to your health or good health, something like that.
John: Must be something you picked up at the Waldorf. By the way, did the doctors up there ever figure out what happened to you at the Waldorf that time?
Mayo: That attack I had? No. The doctors couldn’t figure it out. Some kind of little spell. It left me weak for a few days but I’m not going to let it worry me.
John: You never know about those things though.
Mayo: Maybe not. But we’re just now hitting our stride, John. You and I.
John: You mean health wise or money wise?
Mayo: Both, both. What I’ve got planned now is going to take all my time and effort for the next couple of years.
John: The southeast project?
Mayo: Yes. It depends on getting the railroads to build into Perry County, to Hazard. Which I know I can do. From there it’s going to open the door to the southeast along the Kentucky River into Harlan and Bell counties along the Tennessee border A lot depends on Slemp and Desha Breckenridge and the companies I can merge. And if all goes well I could have controlling interest in nearly a million acres. This is going to big, John. Huge!
If I can pull this off, which I know I can, in five or six years there’s no reason why I can’t be in the same class with J. P. Morgan.
John: Are you serious?
Mayo: Yes. The man who once loaned the U. S. Treasury sixty million dollars in gold. It’s astounding to me too what this may bring me. But calculations don’t lie.
John: Then all I can say is forget Kentucky. You’ll be one of the richest men in the whole USA. That’s amazing, Calhoun.
Mayo: Let’s drink to that—salud.
John: (Holds out his glass for Mayo to click) Salud.
Mayo: (After taking his drink, he seems reflective) But you know, John. It’s still all about what I set out to do in the first place. Make this part of the state as economically prosperous as the Bluegrass. That means more to me than the money. Look up and down the Big Sandy now. The average person is making more money than he ever dreamed of.
John: That’s true, that’s true. But I just wish they’d save a little bit more of that money though. They seem to spend it as fast as they get it.
Mayo: Well, that’s the tightwad banker in you talking. Let umm enjoy their prosperity. They deserve it. The smart ones will start saving later on. The coal companies are building new towns everyday. More banks for you to organize.
John: Yeah, they want one up at Fleming now. I have to get up there as soon as I can.
Mayo: That’ll be a Consol town, which is good. They’ve got the money. Some of these companies trying to operate on a shoestring aren’t providing adequate housing. You work a man down in a mine he needs a comfortable place for his family to live.
John: There’s a good margin on coal now, especially coking coal. There’s no reason not to treat your workers fairly. A lot of these small companies working these short seams are going to pull out anyway as soon as they’ve mined them out. They’re just in here to make what they can and get out, not caring what they leave behind.
Mayo: That’s the big thing in the courts now—access verses surface damages.
John: And they’re favoring the coal companies over the farmers now.
Mayo: In most cases they are. The lower courts usually favor the surface owner but their decisions get reversed at the appellate level. The make up of the appeals court is changing. As the state gets more industrialized the new judges coming in are naturally more industrial minded. Harkins, who keeps up with the legality of what’s going on, says the broad form deed is being interpreted just the reverse as before. The appeals court is saying the deed intends for the surface owner to have only such rights on the surface that do not interfere with the mineral owner.
John: So how’s this going to turn out?
Mayo: Well—the courts now contend that in cases where there is ambiguity in the deed it is construed in favor of the grantee. It all hinges on the word convenient, John. Unless the coal company acts maliciously or wantonly, the surface owner has no right to complain. Before he can claim any damages to his property he has to prove to the court that the company acted excessively. So what it boils down to is the court has to decide between what is convenient and what is excessive. And that can never be an objective decision.
John: I hear some judges refuse to even hear a case when they know they’ll have to favor a coal company over a landowner, one who has a lot of political pull.
Mayo: Here’s the situation. Suppose a coal company wants to run a transmission line through a farmer’s garden. And suppose the judge deciding on this case has lived all his life in Louisville, and anytime he wants vegetables for supper all he has to do is walk down to the corner store. Now do you think that judge realizes how much that farmer up here in the hills depends on that garden, how important his sass is to his family?
John: Well, there you go. That judge probably doesn’t even know what sass is.
Mayo: Precisely. He doesn’t know that come fall a dirt-poor farmer has to dig a hole in the ground, put his vegetables or sass as it is commonly called into that hole and cover it with hay or straw hoping to save that sass through the winter if possible. Now I’m not saying that judge is necessarily going to rule against that farmer, but being unable to see how important that garden is, has to have some bearing on his decision.
John: (shrugs) Well, of course.
Mayo: Now if you were that farmer, would running a transmission line through your garden seem excessive?
John: To me that would probably depend on how much money I got when I sold the coal.
Mayo: But if you only got enough to buy a good mule, a decent harness for em, and a good sturdy turning plow—just so you could grow a better garden to feed your family?
John: Then destroying the garden would be excessive to me.
Mayo: But convenient for the coal company that’s providing fuel for the entire nation, the crucial coal that’s running this country. Many people would say what’s one puny farm to stand in the way—
John: Then who’s going to win?
Mayo: Just like I got through saying. It depends on the frame of mind of the judges. But sooner or later they’ll come up with some kind of stare decisis to settle these cases by.
John: A precedent of some kind, huh?
Mayo: Yes, a precedent that they’ll all be obligated to blindly follow
John: Well, that’ll make it easier for um to rule, of course—one-way or the other
Mayo: Whatever their preference, one way or the other—coal or sass. So we’ll see. But Chief Justice O’Rear coming off the bench and going to work as the chief attorney for Consol is definitely a sign of what’s to come.
John: I suppose so. That would be only natural since he’s the man who ruled against Hillhouse and got the land grants set aside.
Mayo: Like I said, it’ll come down to coal or sass.
John: Well, speaking of sass. Your brother Washington and I were on horseback one time way out in the country looking for some timber he wanted me to help him buy. Well, it got dark on us and we commenced looking for a place to put up for the night; it was getting cold. Finally, we saw the flare of an oil lamp in a window up ahead. So we road up in the yard and gave out the usual hello. So a man came to the door and said howdy strangers. Well, after a few friendly words we asked him if he could keep us overnight, and he said we were perfectly welcome if we could put up with their fare. That they were kind of running short on things to eat. But the excuse he gave I’ll never forget. His exact words were (as he begins to giggle) the ol’ woman’s sass hole as froze up! (both giggle) Washington and I would have laughed out loud but the man was perfectly serious when he said it—the old woman’s sass hole as froze up! (again giggles)
Mayo: That’s a good one, John. I’ll have to tell that one to Walter. Here let me fill your glass up.. (picks up bottle)
John: Oh, no, Calhoun, no more.
Mayo: Yeah, just a little more.
John: I’m going to have to stagger through the back alleys to get home as it is and hide out from Nolie someway.
Mayo: But you won’t have to go home. There’s twenty-two rooms in this house, bedrooms that’ve never been slept in. Just go up and sleep it off and Nolie will never know the difference.. So let’s finish this bottle. Whadda ye say? You with me?
John: Let’s just finish what we’ve got left in our glasses.
Mayo: (stares at him with a grin) John, I’ll make a deal with you. You want a deal?
John: You’re not going to stick me with another farm are you?
Mayo: (chuckles) No. Not a farm. Finish this bottle with me an I’ll give you this house.
John: What? You’re drunk, Calhoun. You don’t mean that!
Mayo: Course I mean it. Will you take this house if I give it to you?
John: It’s an awful big house to take care of, Calhoun.
Mayo: But we’ll be neighbors then, John. Won’t that be fun?
John: I suppose it would be. But you’re drunk and—
Mayo: Then I’ll give it to you tomorrow when I’m not drunk. How’s that?
John: Then let’s just wait until tomorrow and see if you really want to do this and I really want it to take it. How’s that?
Mayo: That’ll do. But what about this bottle? Think we ought to finish what we started?
John: I guess we might as well.
Mayo: So do I. (picks up bottle and pours into both glasses, then raises his) Salud!
John: (raising his glass) Salud!
The curtain falls
Kentucky's Richest Man, The Life of John CC Mayo