PICKENS — Jesse L. Jones was a “coal minin’ man,” a hard worker, someone fellow miners could always count on.
On Sunday afternoon, Jones, who died last week in the Sago Mine disaster, was one of six miners laid to rest. The 44-year-old father of two girls was buried here in a small, snow-covered cemetery across Buck Ridge in Randolph County.
As an icy wind whipped up the mountainside, Jones’ mother, daughters, brothers, sisters and other relatives and friends recited the Lord’s Prayer. The wooden casket was lowered into the ground beside the grave of Jesse’s father, who died in 2001.
“Jesse was, he is, a coal minin’ man,” said the Rev. Donald Butcher, pastor of Sand Run Baptist Church in Upshur County, referring to a Ricky Skaggs bluegrass song by that name. “I’ll tell you true,” go the lyrics, “There’s nothing else for me to do / But to make my livin’ underneath this land / And live and die a coal minin’ man.”
Earlier, about 100 mourners packed the Tomblyn Funeral Chapel in Buckhannon for Jones’ funeral.
Butcher began by reading the names of the dead. Twelve men. Friends. Twelve miners who died together when the mine exploded at Sago.
He read Jesse Jones’ name last.
When he wasn’t at the mine — and he spent half his life working underground — Jones hunted and fished, pitched horseshoes and dug ramps from the mountains.
He came from a family of coal miners. His grandfather died in a coal mine blast, Butcher said.
Jones’ brother, Owen, also worked at the Sago Mine. He was part of a second group of men headed into the mine when the blast erupted. He escaped after fighting through smoke and dust.
“None of us here knew this was going to happen,” Butcher said. “How could anyone know?”
Butcher said his own grandfather also was a coal miner. The pastor remembered how his grandfather went to work with nothing more than two hard-boiled eggs in his pail for lunch. He remembered once sticking a raw egg in the pail, a prank that brought the leather strap, and he never did it again.
During the service, Butcher pointed to a light at the front of the church, a light surrounded by flowers. We can thank coal miners for that light, he said. We can thank them when we’re warm at home, and when we have a headache — aspirin is made from a byproduct of coal, Butcher said.
“We have coal miners to thank for all of that,” Butcher said. “We have Jesse to thank.”
After the funeral, a procession of about three-dozen cars and trucks twisted through the countryside to the cemetery, the smell of wood smoke coating the air. The procession passed by pastures with cows grazing on brown grass, across a one-lane bridge, through stands of pine.
It was the same route Jesse drove home at night when he returned from the mine.
On the outskirts of Pickens, the road climbed, and a gray-haired woman stood at the end of her gravel driveway, keeping warm beside a barrel fire, watching as the hearse passed. The woman had her right hand pressed across her heart.
Butcher said it was important to know that Jones didn’t suffer. He especially wanted Jones’ mother to know that.
He pulled out a copy of a note that one of the dead miners, Martin Toler Jr., had written in the last moments before death. He told his family he would “see them on the other side” and that he “just went to sleep.”
“They went to sleep,” Butcher said. “Jesse went to sleep.”
Funeral services for Toler, Alva Martin Bennett, Jerry Groves, David Lewis and Jack Weaver also were Sunday. Services for Thomas Anderson, James Bennett, George “Junior” Hamner, Terry Helms, Fred Ware and Marshall Winans will be today and Tuesday.
To contact staff writer Eric Eyre, use e-mail or call 348-4869.