R.S. Sukle has brought to light a subject that is as important to the history of the United States and its development as any other chapter of our history where our wealth was created on the backs of laborers. The coal mines of western Pennsylvania were no different and certainly no better than the coal mines of West Virginia and Virginia. The conditions were barely tolerable, and the workers and their families had no rights up to the coal mining strikes of the early twentieth century. These famous coal strikes were called “Bucket of Blood,” when bloodshed was spilled in the attempt to form a workers' union. These union strikes were long and violent. Sukle illuminates one story in her book, The Ragman’s War.
Sukle is the daughter of a coal miner, and the events in this book are part of her family’s history. She is also the daughter of an organizer for the union, and her book reads like she was there watching it all unfold. Russellton, Pennsylvania, was the town where a “Bucket of Blood” occurred during 1927-1928. The Ragman was a coal miner whose tale weaves her book together. From being an immigrant worker who came over and later sent for his bride on the promise of work in the coal mines to a striker who watched his wife wither as he took up the job of a junk collector to survive during the strike, he has a keen sense of emotion and preservation during these times.
The Iron Police were sent in to control the strikers while they watched new workers take up positions in homes that were previously theirs, earn their wages and be allowed to have a livelihood that would feed their families while the strikers lived in shacks, caves and scrambled for food. The Iron Police were uncaring, hard men who had no intention other than to use brute force to stop the union from forming.
The strikers also had an iron will after several generations of breaking their backs and souls to provide the coal this country needed to propel the Industrial Revolution. They found ways to survive by stealth of day and night. Some found no way to keep on, and death found them or their families during these long years. The Ragman found a way. He kept his family intact, and he watched by day and night the Iron Police and their foul doings. The secret of these immigrant families and the inhumane treatment of them, comparable only to the times of indentured servants and slavery, has never before been revealed as well as Sukle does in her book. In order to fully grasp the people’s of the coal mining states and their place in history I can think of no better book than The Ragman’s War.