On This Day: Marriage of David Williamson and Anna Young

David Williamson and Anna Young were married on September 26, 1872, in Perthshire, Scotland

David and Anna Young Williamson were my great great grandparents.

Scotland as it would have looked at the time of my great great grandparents’ births.
Map of Scotland – Tallis, John & Frederick (fl. ca. 1846-1850); drawn & engraved by J. Rapkin

David Williamson was born June 27, 1846, in Crawford, Lanarkshire, Scotland. He was one of seven children. He and at least one of his brothers were coal miners. His brother William Williamson, who attended University of Edinburgh, reportedly managed a coal mine for Queen Victoria!

Anna M. Young was born April 11, 1851, in Cargill, Perthshire, Scotland. She was one of eleven children. She married David Williamson in Perthshire.

Post card of mining site – Galena, Cherokee County, Kansas (ca. 1890-1910)

The couple and their five children immigrated to Crawford County, Kansas, in 1887. Their sixth child, my great grandfather, was born shortly after the family’s arrival. David’s brother William immigrated at about the same time. The two brothers worked in the mines of Southeast Kansas.


Anna Young Williamson, surrounded by her children and family dog. Photo taken shortly after the birth of my great grandfather in 1888. He is the toddler, clutching his mother’s skirt.
The Pittsburg Headlight – Pittsburg, Kansas – 12 May 1892

Family lore has it that David had some issues with alcohol (and perhaps owned a saloon at one time?) Local newspaper accounts of the time paint a picture of an immigrant who had money troubles and who ran afoul of the law, serving time in Girard, Kansas, as well as in Leavenworth. It appears he abandoned his home and family on several occasions.

His oldest son appears to have been involved with his father in a scheme of cashing out their business, skipping town, and leaving their creditors in the lurch.

The Leavenworth Times – Leavenworth, Kansas – 22 Jan 1898

At some point, David ended up living with this son and his family in Witt, Montgomery County, Illinois.

The Pittsburg Daily Headlight – Pittsburg, Kansas – 1 Sep 1893

Besides David’s own misfortunes, the brother that had journeyed with him from Scotland to America—William—was tragically killed in a mining accident in Scammon, Cherokee County, Kansas, seven years after the brothers’ arrival in America.

David Williamson died in Illinois in 1908 at the age of sixty-two.

Anna Young Williamson passed away in 1934 at the age of eighth-three.

Whatever unhappiness Anna experienced in her married life, she seems to have been blessed with loving and devoted children who, along with their own children and grandchildren, spent many happy moments with Anna.

Four Generations: Anna Young Williamson, her daughter, Jean Williamson Oliver, her granddaughter Anna Oliver Russell, and her great grandson William Oliver “Bill” Russell

David and Anna Young Williamson are buried in Olivet Cemetery in Pittsburg, Kansas.

Intergenerational Solidarity

Ernest Arthur Laney (1889-1958) was my father’s paternal grandfather. He was a miner in the lead and zinc mines that at one time dotted the landscapes of Kansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma.

One generation further removed on my father’s maternal side, his great grandfather, David Williamson (1846-1908) was also a miner. David Williamson, along with numerous brothers and sons, had been coal miners in Scotland before immigrating to this country. They worked in these same mines and, as recent immigrants, they were probably particularly desperate for this work and qualified to do little else.

While the working conditions and health hazards of this particular segment of workers has not gotten as much attention as has the plight of coal workers, those who mined ore were no less vulnerable to exploitation by their employers.

 

Eagle-Picher Mining and Smelting Company was a conglomerate that owned many of the mines in the tri-state area. My great grandfather Laney worked for this company. At least one of his assignments was to a mine near Picher, Oklahoma.

While those who worked in lead and zinc mines did not suffer the effects of Black Lung disease, there were inherent dangers in their work environment nonetheless.

My father remembers as a child playing, climbing up and sliding down the huge piles of “chat”—the detritus brought up with the ore. The toxins contained in these erstwhile playgrounds of by-product had yet to be discovered.

A mountain of waste rock—“chat”—outside a zinc concentrator near the Eagle-Picher plant near Cardin, Oklahoma, in 1943.

 

Eventually, Picher was declared a Superfund site, and the town in which my father was born is no longer in existence. My father and I shared a heart-breaking documentary that details the environmental destruction wreaked by the tri-state mining industry upon Picher and the subsequent abandonment and condemnation of this once vital community. The film is entitled The Creek Runs Red, and I highly recommend it.

My grandfather, his mother (my great grandmother) and my great grandfather Ernest Arthur Laney holding my father, David Arthur Laney.

As members of a collective bargaining unit, my great grandfather and fellow Eagle-Picher miners had the backing of a labor union in combating such environmental work hazards and in negotiating for better pay on their behalf. Eagle-Picher miners were members of Local 861 of the International Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers (which later merged with United Steel Workers of America.)

I am proud to have recently discovered, through researching newspapers of the time, that my great grandfather was personally involved in negotiations on behalf of those Eagle-Picher miners, successfully securing a new collective bargaining agreement in 1946.

Joplin Globe – April 21, 1946

My great grandfather, seated second from left, and his co-workers.

On this Labor Day, as a member of American Federation of Musicians Local 802, I am very proud of the history of organized labor in my industry, in my orchestra, in our country, and in my own family.