A few years ago, I remember hearing a true central West Virginia folksong about Eugene Butcher, a brakeman for the railroad. I got to thinking about it a few days ago, and decided to do a little research on it.
I believe our folk hero was born Eugene F. Butcher and that he was the son of Granville & Madura Butcher. Eugene was born in October of 1890 in the Salt Lick District of Braxton County, WV. He married Bessie Beatrice Butcher, daughter of J.N. and Margaret Butcher on July 21, 1909 in Weston, Lewis County, WV. Eugene’s father Granville went mostly by his initials G.S.M. Butcher, and he worked at the lumber company’s planing mill in Weston, so I’m sure Eugene grew up near the lumber industry and the mills, and that he was very capable at his job.
After the horrible accident that claimed Eugene Butcher’s life, there seems to have been several children (both boys and girls) born in that area of West Virginia that were named after Eugene Butcher. I found several instances of boys with the first and middle names of Eugene Butcher, and even several instances of girls with the first name of Eugenia or with their first and middle names being Eugenia Butcher. I even found one instance of a middle name of a girl being Eugene. The births of these children all fell within a 15 month window of Eugene’s death, so I’ve no doubt they were named in his honor.
Here is a link to a recorded version of “The Ballad of Eugene Butcher” that was performed by Georgie Carr of Gilmer County, WV in 1986. The recording comes from the Oral History Collection at Glenville State College in Glenville, WV.
Below I’ve transcribed the words to the Ballad and I’ve done my best to get them correct. I may be off a few words here or there, but I think it is complete.
The Ballad of Eugene Butcher
Eugene Butcher was a brakesman,
Toiling for the B & O,
While enlisted, 33 wrecked,
And threw him far below.
When his comrades found him later
He was fastened ‘neath the rod
“Release me, please,” he pleaded
And in prayer he turned to God.
“Lord, receive my soul in Heaven,
Give to me a home on high,
Where I’ll meet my own dear mother,
God, protect my wife and child.”
Yes, he had a wife and baby,
Toiling for them day by day.
And perhaps for him she is kneeling,
“God have mercy” hear her say.
Someone brings to her the message,
See her kiss her darling babe,
as she reads the fateful story,
“Killed last night on Hawkins Grade”.
In obedience to the engine,
O’er the icy rails he sped,
Twas the first of February,
And he was carried back home dead.
It was the first of February,
In the year of Nineteen and twelve,
It was in the town of Weston
that Eugene he did dwell.
To the home of Melvin Meadows,
he was taken that fatal night,
and there he lived eleven hours,
and as though asleep he died.
And we trust he entered Heaven,
Earnestly, he prayed while here
And we hope sometime to meet him
Up there with our Savior dear.
And it was his brother trainmen,
That greets him as he rushes by,
Though it may be our last greeting
‘til we meet again on high.