Federal Writers' Project - Life Histories/2017/Fall/Section 26/Charley Ryland

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Charley Ryland
Bornc. 1870
Talladega Springs, Alabama, U.S.
Died?
Cause of death?
ResidenceTalladega Springs, Alabama (on the Coosa River)
NationalityUnited States
Other namesUncle Bud, The Coosa Fisherman
OccupationCoal Miner in Alabama and West Virginia
Fisherman on the Coosa River
Home townTalladega Springs, Alabama
SpouseMrs. Ryland
(m. ? - died c. 1918)
Children7
  • Doc Ryland

Overview[edit]

Charley Ryland, also known as Uncle Bud, was an Alabamian fisherman who lived on the Coosa River during the Great Depression.

Personal Life[edit]

Early Life[edit]
Location of Talladega Springs, Alabama

Charley "Uncle Bud" Ryland was likely born near Talladega Springs, Alabama around 1870. Ryland grew up near the Coosa River and had little to no education in his formative years and remained illiterate for the rest of his life. Ryland was raised as a Christian.[1]

Working Years[edit]

At some point in his early adulthood, Ryland began working as a coal miner in Alabama. Due to a mining incident, he lost sight in one of his eyes. Ryland was married at an unknown date. He and his wife had seven children, three sons and four daughters. Due to some unknown problems occurring in his home state, he moved his family to West Virginia where he would continue to work in the mines. He described his life in this state as "comfortable," and would continue to live here for some several years.[2] However, around 1918, his wife contracted pneumonia and died. He only worked for a short while after this, then left West Virginia to return home to the Coosa River. All but one of his children stayed in West Virginia. Two of his sons also worked as coal miners and his four daughters married coal miners.[3]

Retirement and Later Years[edit]

Ryland spent the rest of his days as a hermit fisherman on the Coosa River. His later life consisted mostly of artisanal fishing and homebrewing whiskey. He only left home to visit his children in West Virginia once for about a month. When he overheard his son Doc discussing with his wife about plans to keep him in West Virginia, Ryland left unannounced and never returned. Communication with his children in West Virginia was limited, as he could not write or read any letters they sent him. One unnamed son, whom Ryland described as "weak-minded," lived in Alabama near his residence and was kept under close watch by Ryland. [4] A writer named Jack Kytle interviewed Ryland in his home on September 21st, 1938 as a part of the Federal Writers' Project. Kytle met with Ryland at least once in 1932 prior to this interview. [5]

Ryland was known to carry with him at all times a pistol or a rifle for a period of about seven years. The reason for this is vaguely explained by Ryland saying, "I was afeard I might do something that'd send me to the chain gang." [6] Alabama was going through its second period of prohibition while he was living in Talladega Springs. [7] Ryland operated at least one copper still to brew his own whiskey and fear of prosecution may have inspired him to keep armed during this time. [8]

Charley Ryland died at unknown date.

Social Context[edit]

Illiteracy[edit]

The United States was reported as one of the most illiterate developed countries according to 1920 censuses.[9] Illiteracy throughout the southern United States was especially rampant during the early 1900's. Alabama in particular had some of the highest rates of illiteracy in the country. Rural regions of Alabama had upwards of 20% illiteracy in 1920.[10] The Nashville Tennessean stated in 1913 that “Nine and nine-tenths out of every 100 native white persons in Alabama are illiterate…” [11] Steps were taken by the Alabama state and Federal government to increase literacy rates, such as educational reform rallies to promote free schooling. [12] Due to these efforts, illiteracy rates were on a decline with statewide illiteracy decreasing from 22.9% in to 16.1% in a period of ten years. [13]

High illiteracy rates still remain a problem in Alabama today. In 2015 the Literacy Council of West Alabama estimated that one in every four Alabamians are functionally illiterate. [14]

Mining Conditions[edit]
West Virginia miners displaying a bomb dropped during the Battle of Blair Mountain, the largest labor rising during the West Virginia coal wars.

Conditions for miners in West Virginia during the early 20th century were often reported as harsh. It was reported that, “Poverty and starvation are staring many mining families in the face and tales of pitiful suffering are emanating from various parts of the state.” [15] This same report suggested the living standards for miners in 1932 were comparable to mining conditions in 1893.[16] Disputes between miners and mine operators sometimes led to riots and strikes. Demands on behalf of the miners most often included better wages and improved conditions. [17] On four separate occasions, the U.S. Army was ordered to intervene in rising conflicts between miners and mine operators. [18] These strikes and hostile conflicts endured from 1912-21 and came to be known as the West Virginia coal wars.

Most miners would be remote from normal contemporary society to live near their labors in mining communities. [19] Approximately 11% of all homes inside mining communities had eight or more family members. [20]

Prohibition[edit]
The increasing amount of "dry" counties in Alabama during prohibition movements, from a newspaper in 1913.

Prohibition was a prevalent issue in Alabama during the early 1900's. The state was first under statewide prohibition in 1909 with the Carmichael State Prohibition Law. [21] The set of prohibition laws enacted by the Alabama State Legislature was reported to have been "the most drastic ever enacted by any Legislature in the Union." One act known as the Fuller bill consisted of over twelve-thousand words and made it a misdemeanor "to dally with any demon rum."[22] This law was considered a huge success for temperance and prohibition movements in Alabama, however the success was short lived. The revenue produced from liquor and saloon fees made up a large portion of state revenue. As a result, the state increased taxes and licensing fees in other industries. [23] By 1910, a majority of Alabama's counties were against the prohibition laws, with reports of 61 to 64 of the 67 counties being against the amendment. [24] The Carmichael State Prohibition lasted only until 1911. Alabama still leaned heavily against the distribution of alcohol, but could not afford to enact prohibition laws due to the financial dependency on alcohol licensing fees. However with the creation of federal income tax in 1913, Alabama depended less on liquor fees and prohibitionists were able to push for prohibition once again. [25] Prohibition forces who controlled the state legislature passed a bill to reenact statewide prohibition laws. The state would under what was known as the "bone-dry" law of 1915. [26] This was prior to the enactment of the Eighteenth Constitutional Amendment which brought about national prohibition. Under the laws of prohibition, owning any sort of alcoholic beverage or storing alcohol on one's property were grounds for investigation. The implementation of prohibition was often hard to truly enforce. According to the United State's Brewer' Association, nine out of every ten prohibition violators brought to court would not be convicted under the jury. [27] Prohibition in Alabama ended with the ratification of the Twenty-first Amendment, repealing the Eighteenth Amendment.[28]

Works Cited[edit]

Kytle, Jack. "The Coosa Fisherman." Federal Writers' Project Papers, 1936-1940. (21 September, 1938)

"Alabama Governors—Charles Henderson." Alabama Department of Archives and History. (7 February, 2014)

RYAN, W. CARSON. "ILLITERACY IN 1920." The Journal of Education 94, no. 16 (2352) (1921): 433.

Nashville Tennessean and the Nashville American. “ILLITERACY IN ALABAMA.” The Nashville Tennessean (1913) 14.

Graham, Joseph B. "Current Problems in Alabama." The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 22 (1903): 36-39.

Jackson, Nancy Mann. "Redefining Literacy for Alabama Families." University of Alabama at Birmingham. (30 June, 2015)

The China Press. “Suffering and Hunger Rampant In W. Virginia: Mine Workers’ Living Standards Lower Than In 1893.” (1932): 9.

Lynch, Lawrence R. "The West Virginia Coal Strike." Political Science Quarterly 29, no. 4 (1914): 626-63. doi:10.2307/2142011.

Laurie, Clayton D., "The United States Army and the Return to Normalcy in Labor Dispute Interventions: The Case of the West Virginia Coal Mine Wars, 1920-1921" West Virginia History, vol. 50 (1991)

Obenauer, M. "Living Conditions among Coal Mine Workers of the United States." The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 111, 12-23. (1924).

"Prohibition in Alabama" The Year Book of the United States Brewers' Association. New York: United States Brewers' Association. pp. 197-203 (1910).

Bélanger, Sarah. Davis, Kamara Bowling. "North Alabama Beer: An Intoxicating History." Arcadia Publishing, (28 August, 2017) ISBN:9781439662205

References[edit]

  1. Kytle, Jack. "The Coosa Fisherman." Federal Writers' Project Papers, 1936-1940. (21 September, 1938)
  2. ibid.
  3. ibid.
  4. ibid.
  5. ibid.
  6. ibid.
  7. Alabama Department of Archives and History: Alabama Governors—Charles Henderson. (7 February, 2014) https://perma.cc/K7RU-SU5P
  8. Kytle, Jack. "The Coosa Fisherman."
  9. RYAN, W. CARSON. "ILLITERACY IN 1920." The Journal of Education 94, no. 16 (2352) (1921): 433.
  10. ibid.
  11. Nashville Tennessean and the Nashville American. “ILLITERACY IN ALABAMA.” The Nashville Tennessean (1913) 14.
  12. Graham, Joseph B. "Current Problems in Alabama." The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 22 (1903): 36-39.
  13. Ryan, W. Carson. "ILLITERACY IN 1920."
  14. Jackson, Nancy Mann. "Redefining Literacy for Alabama Families." University of Alabama at Birmingham. (30 June, 2015)
  15. The China Press. “Suffering and Hunger Rampant In W. Virginia: Mine Workers’ Living Standards Lower Than In 1893.” (1932): 9.
  16. ibid.
  17. Lynch, Lawrence R. "The West Virginia Coal Strike." Political Science Quarterly 29, no. 4 (1914): 626-63. doi:10.2307/2142011.
  18. Laurie, Clayton D., "The United States Army and the Return to Normalcy in Labor Dispute Interventions: The Case of the West Virginia Coal Mine Wars, 1920-1921" West Virginia History, vol. 50 (1991)
  19. Obenauer, M. "Living Conditions among Coal Mine Workers of the United States." The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 111, 12-23. (1924).
  20. ibid.
  21. "Prohibition in Alabama" The Year Book of the United States Brewers' Association. New York: United States Brewers' Association. pp. 197-203 (1910).
  22. ibid.
  23. Bélanger, Sarah. Davis, Kamara Bowling. "North Alabama Beer: An Intoxicating History." Arcadia Publishing, (28 August, 2017) ISBN:9781439662205
  24. "Prohibition in Alabama." The Year Book of the United States Brewers' Association
  25. Bélanger and Davis, "North Alabama Beer: An Intoxicating History."
  26. Alabama Department of Archives and History: Alabama Governors—Charles Henderson.
  27. "Prohibition in Alabama" (1910) The Year Book of the United States Brewers' Association.
  28. Alabama Department of Archives and History: Alabama Governors—Charles Henderson.