Sixteen Tons

Sang by Tennesse Ernie Ford


Some people say a man is made outta mud
A poor man's made outta muscle and blood
Muscle and blood and skin and bones
A mind that's a-weak and a back that's strong

You load sixteen tons, what do you get?
Another day older and deeper in debt
Saint Peter don't you call me 'cause I can't go
I owe my soul to the company store

I was born one mornin' when the sun didn't shine
I picked up my shovel and I walked to the mine
I loaded sixteen tons of number nine coal
And the straw boss said "Well, a-bless my soul"

You load sixteen tons, what do you get?
Another day older and deeper in debt
Saint Peter don't you call me 'cause I can't go
I owe my soul to the company store

I was born one mornin', it was drizzlin' rain
Fightin' and trouble are my middle name
I was raised in the canebrake* by an ol' mama lion
Cain't no-a high-toned woman make me walk the line

You load sixteen tons, what do you get?
Another day older and deeper in debt
Saint Peter don't you call me 'cause I can't go
I owe my soul to the company store

If you see me comin', better step aside
A lotta men didn't, a lotta men died
One fist of iron, the other of steel
If the right one don't a-get you, then the left one will

You load sixteen tons, what do you get?
Another day older and deeper in debt
Saint Peter don't you call me 'cause I can't go
I owe my soul to the company store

This song could definately be the battle cry of the American Miner. Miners were usually paid monthly. By the end of the month, they owed the company for the company house they were living in, for the tools they used to mine, for groceries to feed their family, and for any doctor bills. Miners had no choice but to buy from the companies. They were paid in scrip, not real money and this could only be spent at the company store.
Naturally this enabled the company to charge the miners whatever they wished. Most miners with families were constantly in debt to the company. When the miners did get paid at the end of the month, if there was any money left after they paid their employers, it was certainly not enough to last them another month. So it was a viscious cycle, and the next month, they again had to pay the company first and were lucky to have anything left for their families.

Back to The Early Years

Back to WV Coal Mining

USGenWeb WV USGenWeb

Copyright Notice
Page designed January, 1999 BY Gracie Stover