and those who shared it with him.
The Life and Times
of a Mountaineer
I was born near the Appalachian Mountain coal mining town of Norton, Virginia, on May 25, 1898, the fourth child in a family of nine boys and four girls. My father was a wandering Irishman named William Joseph (Billy) O'Neill, from Newburg, New York. He was a railroad construction foreman and one of the best-known, best-liked men in Wise County. We learned very little about his family or his early life, other than that he had a brother named Jack and a sister named Kate, of whom he was very fond. He ran away from home as a boy of fifteen, in the wake of an argument with his father. As he left his father told him, "Don't ever darken this doorway again!". He didn't. Billy O"Neill (called "Pop" or "Uncle Billy" by his children) lived until 1934, becoming addicted to alcohol in his later years. I remember him as one hell of a man.
My mother was the former Henrietta Nickels, the only child of David and Clara Beverley Nickels. She was born at Cornville, in Scott County, Virginia, and later lived at the Nettle Patch, in Wise County, at the head of Clear Creek. The Nickels and the Beverleys were descended from the Scotch-Irish pioneers who settled the Appalachians several generations back. There was said to be a trace of Indian blood in the family---but the same is said of most old families in that area. The Indian blood may or may not be there. My mother was a very tall, strong, God-fearing woman who somehow managed to smother each of her thirteen children with more love than most people know in a life time. She outlived my father by some twenty-five years.
grew up in
times much harder than exist anywhere in this country
today. I left
to work in the coal mines when I was nine years old,
and there was
out of the ordinary about my doing so in that time and
place. Nor was
anything unusual about seeing a nine-year old boy get
in the mines. It happened all too frequently.
William Joseph "Billy" O"Neill,
15, 1861-died September 15, 1934) and Henrietta
11, 1874-died September 26, 1960)
Their children were:
The family of William and
at the "Old Home Place" near Norton, Virginia in
Excerpts from The Book
|In the Coal Fields of Kentucky|
|Off to Join the Navy|
|The Philadelphia Years|
|The All American Laundry|
|Open Season on Game Wardens|
|Friends and Family|
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