Looking forward to Sundays at Banner Hill

Published 7:30 am Saturday, February 25, 2023

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When I was a little girl, my daddy let me join him on a Sunday afternoon visit to Banner Hill, an abandoned mine site.

It was a quiet lonely place, a field blanketed with bushes and lots of butterweeds. Sometimes I found a few patches of wildflowers. There were hardly any trees. Daddy wandered around picking up a bolt or screw or a scrap of wood or some other things my mother labeled junk. I focused on scrounging rocks that appealed to me, like their color or shape and the way they felt in my hand. Now and then, a butterfly flitted by and in the distance I could hear bird calls.   

Looking back I wonder why I looked forward to a Sunday time at Banner Hill with Daddy. Maybe it was just the sheer joy of riding along with him, safe and sure, as he followed the dusty curves in the rough road.

Daddy whistled as he walked, so even if I was not at his heels, I knew he was close. Even when he stopped whistling to catch his breath, I shouted for him with without hesitation. His answering whistle came in a reassuring whistle.

The little community where we lived was not quiet. A depot sat next to train railroad tracks across the road. A company store and post office were near the depot. A mail/passenger train ran twice a day providing the day’s excitement. A work crew maintained the tracks. Steam engines stopped at nearby water tank to take on water. Sometimes at night I awoke with a start when a blast of steam was released and the glow of a train’s engine lit up the sky.

It was years later after we had moved from our community near Banner Hill that I learned Banner, the abandoned mine site Daddy and I visited was the scene of one of the worst coal mining disasters recorded in the United States in the early 1900s. It exploded in April 1911, killing 128 people.  The victims were convicts, many of whom had been placed there by contract from prisons in other states. We had only known that Banner was once convict canp. It is hard to believe that the quiet place Daddy and I wandered on Sunday afternoons was the scene of such a tragedy.