Saturday, March 16, 2013

Mr. George Wooton: Man, Judge, and Hero of the common man

The Hurricane Creek mine disaster occurred on December 30, 1970, shortly after noon, and resulted in the deaths of 38 men. As was often pointed out in coverage of the disaster, it occurred a year to the day after the passage of the Coal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1969. Recovery was complicated by the fact that a foot of snow fell on the rural mountain roads at the time of the accident.[1]
It was the most deadly mine disaster in the United States since the Farmington Mine disaster in 1968,[2] and is the subject of Tom T. Hall's song, "Trip to Hyden". Another song about the disaster, "The Hyden Miners' Tragedy", by J.D. Jarvis, was issued as a 45 RPM on the independent Sunrise label (Hamilton, Ohio).

On December 30, 1970, the 38 day shift workers entered the 36" tall mine shaft at 7 A.M. and crawled to a depth of about 2,400 feet. The explosion occurred at about 12:10 P.M. The bodies were removed within 24 hours and the mine was sealed until an investigation could begin.[3] A lone survivor, A.T. Collins, was reentering the shaft after a lunch break and was blown out of the mine by the explosion. Collins was one of three miners who testified that he had seen primer cord – an illegal fuse – at the mine site.[4]
Illegal primer cord was found in the December 30 blast site, as well as at the site of a December 22 blast at the mine.
According to a memoir by James D. Ausenbaugh, who was editor of the Courier-Journal's state desk at the time of the disaster, one of the mine owners complained at the mine site about the 1969 mine safety law and those who had supported it.

One of the bystanders, Leslie County Judge George Wooton, confronted the owner and beat him bloody. The owner was carried from the mine site and Wooton never faced any charges.[5]

Leslie Co. Judge George Wooton and Richard Nixon

The obituary of Mr. George Wooton
Officiating Ministers: Rev. Billy Joe Lewis and Keith Bowling

Mr. George Wooton born October 16, 1915 departed this life on April 9, 2010 at the age of 94 years. He was born at McIntosh, Wooton, Ky Kentucky the son of the late Curt Wooton and the late Catherine Begley Wooton. George was a graduate of Buckhorn High School & attended Witherspoon College. He was a veteran of World War II, having served honorably in the United States Army. He was very proud to have served under Gen George Patton. George had a very distinguished political career in Leslie Co. He served one term as sheriff & three terms as county judge. He was a true mountain politician & was well-known for his political & public speaking ability. George always had a sincere interest in the progress & development of Hyden, Leslie Co., & eastern Kentucky. He was responsible for the initial construction of many roads & infrastructure of Leslie Co. He served on numerous committees & boards: he was the first chairman of the L.K.L.P. program, served on the University of Kentucky agriculture committee, the soil conservation board, started the first food bank in Leslie Co., & was instrumental in organizing the Work Experience Training Program "Happy Pappy" program. George was a member of the Central Presbyterian Church of Hyden, the Leslie Co. D.A.V. Chapter # 133, Harlan V.F.W., & Hyden Masonic Lodge # 664. George always stated his occupation was a farmer. He received many state awards for the production of shell corn with irrigated water per acre on his beloved Camp Creek Farm at Wendover, Ky. George had a wealth of knowledge of the history & geneology of Leslie Co. & eastern Ky., & was always very willing to share this with anyone who would ask.

Mr. George Wooton was preceded in death by his parents: Curt and Catherine Wooton, four Brothers: Clarence Wooton, Don Wooton, Sherman Wooton, Edwin Wooton, two Sisters: Nannie Blair and Dora Macie. He leaves surviving the following relatives; his devoted and loving wife of 65 years: Sally Melton Wooton of Hyden, KY, one daughter: Marlene Feltner & William of Hyden, KY, three Grandchildren: Alyssa Bowling, Amy Melton and Greg Feltner all of Hyden, Ky, one brother: Paul Wooton of California , one sister: Eliza Rogers of Lexington, KY a special little farm friend: Trendon Keen of Tyner, KY. Mr. George Wooton is also survived by a host of other treasured relatives and friends.

Funeral services for Mr. George Wooton will be conducted at 2:00 p.m. Tuesday - April 13, 2010 at the Dwayne Walker Funeral Home Chapel with Rev. Billy Joe Lewis and Keith Bowling officiating. The military rites will be observed by the Leslie Co. D.A.V. Chapter # 133, immediately following the funeral. Burial will be in the Wooton Family Cemetery located at the Wooton Family Farm, Wendover, Kentucky. Friends may call for visitation at 5:00 p.m Monday - April 12, 2010 at the funeral home chapel.

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