Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with William B. Sturgill, August 29, 2002

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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00:00:00

 BIRDWHISTELL: Okay, Mr. Sturgill, it's August 29, 2002. And I think this is our fourth session, and you said you might want to talk a little bit about your senior year in college --

STURGILL: Yes.

BIRDWHISTELL: -- today.

STURGILL: College experience for me was great, and my senior year particularly. Things were going well. I was an officer in the fraternity. I was an officer in some student organizations. I'd been taken into ODK. I was on the basketball team. And a lot of people seem to have forgotten, but that team won for Kentucky its first national championship.

BIRDWHISTELL: That's right.

STURGILL: And I didn't have much to do with their winning or losing 00:01:00[chuckle-Birdwhistell] because I sat on the bench most of the time. But I nonetheless was a member of the team.

BIRDWHISTELL: You were part of that team. That's absolutely true.

STURGILL: And I've always been pleased about that.

BIRDWHISTELL: Umhmm.

STURGILL: And happy about it. And those guys who were teammates of mine and I for years stayed in touch with each other. And now most of them have passed away, but it's still nice to see Wah Jones, it's still nice to visit with Ralph Beard. Those are the ones that I see most.

BIRDWHISTELL: Umhmm.

STURGILL: But that was an important phase of my life.

BIRDWHISTELL: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely.

STURGILL: And it brought me into touch with people I otherwise would not have known.

00:02:00

BIRDWHISTELL: Umhmm. Umhmm.

STURGILL: It was fun. And that year my academic work improved as well as my social life. [Chuckle-Birdwhistell] So my --

BIRDWHISTELL: Which was already pretty good, wasn't it?

STURGILL: It was pretty good. [Chuckle-Birdwhistell] And my senior year was good.

BIRDWHISTELL: Uh-huh. Well, you'd hope your senior year would be good because it's sort of a culmination of everything you'd been doing, you know, academically, socially, athletically.

STURGILL: Yes. It kind of came together at a good time.

BIRDWHISTELL: I was looking at an interview that Ned Breathitt gave a little while ago, and he recalls the two of you while you were in college sitting out 00:03:00on the stoop warm nights sort of just talking about things.

STURGILL: Ned and I were good friends in school. And the night he probably has reference to was when he was saying, "Which one of us is going to run for governor?" [Chuckle]

BIRDWHISTELL: When you were in college? STURGILL: Yeah.

BIRDWHISTELL: So you all actually would talk about that.

STURGILL: Yeah. And I said -- of course, the rest of it -- he went on to become governor, and I went to east Kentucky to go to work.

BIRDWHISTELL: Huh.

STURGILL: But we were friends and are friends now. We had some disagreements when he was governor, but I guess I've had disagreements with most governors.

BIRDWHISTELL: [Chuckle] Well, you know, public policy debates are real, you know, and that's -- there's nothing wrong with that. He says -- he's asked, 00:04:00"Did you know Bill Sturgill at UK?" "Oh, yes, I knew him well. His brother and I used to date girls over at the same sorority." [Chuckle] He said, "Bill and I would sit on the curb at night and talk politics. And we would talk, not issues such as -- " -- what he's referring to later is the strip mining and those kind of things -- "as this, but Democratic politics. He was an old New Deal Democrat." [Chuckle]

STURGILL: Well, I was.

BIRDWHISTELL: So was he, wasn't he? STURGILL: Sure. Sure. And it was popular to be that at that point in time.

BIRDWHISTELL: Sure. Sure.

STURGILL: But Ned and I -- since he mentioned strip mining, the only difficulty we've had was about strip mining.

BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah.

STURGILL: I re-named it surface mining because -- Mrs. Bingham said that I did 00:05:00that to ease my public conscience. But for -- it was strip mining.

BIRDWHISTELL: Umhmm.

STURGILL: But I had a little different slant than a lot of people did. It was my livelihood. As long as I could do it legally and lawfully, why, it was something I had to pursue. I enjoyed it. I knew what I was doing.

BIRDWHISTELL: What did you enjoy about it?

STURGILL: Putting it together.

BIRDWHISTELL: Umhmm.

STURGILL: I didn't enjoy the controversy that went with it.

BIRDWHISTELL: No. No. Who would?

STURGILL: I had controversy with the union. But you have a different feeling towards the union than you do over a land problem. Because you understand what 00:06:00value those people put on it.

BIRDWHISTELL: Umhmm.

STURGILL: And you have to weigh that.

BIRDWHISTELL: Umhmm.

STURGILL: And when we were going through that controversy, particularly in the mid to late `60s, it was a trying time for me.

BIRDWHISTELL: Sure was.

STURGILL: Because you were talking to your friends and your neighbors and people you had known and a lot of your employees. People who worked for us was either involved or their parents were or their brother or sister with the land problem. And I always worked with our land people and tried to get them to be very conscious of the fact that they were friends that we were dealing with, and to treat them fairly.

BIRDWHISTELL: Umhmm.

STURGILL: I think the agitators did more to stir it up than anything else.

00:07:00

BIRDWHISTELL: Umhmm.

STURGILL: Certain people in that did it for personal gain.

BIRDWHISTELL: Hmm.

STURGILL: And did it because somebody else dictated to them.

BIRDWHISTELL: Umhmm.

STURGILL: And the guy who was the ringtail leader did it, primarily because coal companies wouldn't hire him.

BIRDWHISTELL: Who's that?

STURGILL: Harry Caudill.

BIRDWHISTELL: Harry Caudill. You mean they wouldn't hire him as a --

STURGILL: As a lawyer.

BIRDWHISTELL: Umhmm. Now, Breathitt knew Caudill in college. Did you know Caudill, too?

STURGILL: Yes. I knew Caudill in college.

BIRDWHISTELL: And did you all sit around and talk politics as well?

STURGILL: No, he was not the fellow you could buddy-buddy with. My father and his father were very good friends --

BIRDWHISTELL: They were?

STURGILL: -- and officeholders at different times; one in Letcher County, the 00:08:00other one in Floyd County.

BIRDWHISTELL: Umhmm. This is what intrigues me a little bit about your story, Mr. Sturgill, is that when you see what's been written so far, it's just sort of this laid out there. But the nuance is missing. You know, the fact that you and Harry Caudill have connections that go, as you're pointing out, all the way back through your families, and from the same region. You and Ned Breathitt and Bert Combs, you know, were tight.

STURGILL: Yeah.

BIRDWHISTELL: And so this is all -- this is part of the story, I think, that has to be -- you know, the detail needs to be filled in a little bit, you know, in terms of in Kentucky, this huge debate that came up, everybody knew everybody. Everybody was very familiar with each other.

STURGILL: And it was -- yes, you identified it correctly. But it was a little 00:09:00more than that because of the fact that I mentioned, your livelihood was involved.

BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah. Yeah.

STURGILL: And the opportunity to earn for your family a good livelihood.

BIRDWHISTELL: Umhmm.

STURGILL: And all of a sudden in this controversy, I woke up and realized that I was the big kid on the block in this.

BIRDWHISTELL: Umhmm.

STURGILL: I was mining more tons, employed more people in the strip mining business than any other person in Kentucky.

BIRDWHISTELL: And that's a question I have, too. You see an opportunity in the coal business and you take it, right? I mean you're there in Hazard, you're making opportunity. Maybe it's not sitting there on a silver platter, [but] you make the opportunity, right?

STURGILL: Right.

BIRDWHISTELL: There are other people who want to be in the coal business. There are other people who are already in the coal business. What is it about 00:10:00Bill Sturgill and the way you went about the approach to surface mining that made you so much more successful than the others?

STURGILL: Well, I had good contacts. People who ran the land companies, for instance, were long-time friends of mine. The people in the railroad I met and cultivated. So I tried to do the things that would put me in a position to get reserves, to get machinery, to get utility contracts, and to get freight rates. And that was a big part of what you had to do. Because we only merchandized our coal north and west of the Ohio River.

BIRDWHISTELL: Okay.

00:11:00

STURGILL: Until the late -- we didn't have any rates into the South and the Southeast.

BIRDWHISTELL: Until the TVA.

STURGILL: Until the TVA contract. And I made the first contract in east Kentucky with TVA. And I was scared to death [chuckle-Birdwhistell] that I couldn't get this done, and here this guy was offering me a contract. [Chuckle-Birdwhistell] And best I could tell, that would be the foundation for me to get other contracts.

BIRDWHISTELL: Sure. So you were, in essence, using those political skills that you thought you might use to run for governor some day, like Ned Breathitt did, except you ended up using yours at that time to build a business.

STURGILL: To build something that I thought was good for Kentucky, too.

BIRDWHISTELL: Umhmm.

STURGILL: We were mining a product that was left from underground mining. It's in the outcrop. And anytime an underground miner runs into two things, bad top 00:12:00and water, he turns back.

BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah.

STURGILL: And as a result, he leaves three to eight hundred feet of coal in most instances --

BIRDWHISTELL: Really?

STURGILL: -- all around the rim of the mountain.

BIRDWHISTELL: Hmm.

STURGILL: And it was not my concept, it was Dick Kelly's concept that there was miles and miles. Well, it's now proven that there's miles, miles, and miles.

BIRDWHISTELL: And more miles. Yeah. So when you and Dick Kelly talked about this, say you're sitting around one night or one day, and you all are saying, "This is what we're going to do," now, did you know at the time that this would lead to political contro--- not just political, but controversy, that political and social controversy? Did you anticipate the reaction that you would get over the next ten years?

STURGILL: I never thought that it would get to the point that it did.

BIRDWHISTELL: Really? Hmm.

00:13:00

STURGILL: Because I thought that we were making the landowner a legitimate offer of paying them so much a foot -- lineal foot around the high wall.

BIRDWHISTELL: Umhmm.

STURGILL: And that amount varied by seams. And -- but it was based on the thickness of the coal. I figured that fifty cents a lineal foot, you never had any trouble with the people who had a lot of footage. [Chuckle-Birdwhistell] It's always the guy that had the small footage that caused you problems.

BIRDWHISTELL: Where you were going to go through and take that off, but he wasn't going to get all the amount of money that he wanted.

STURGILL: Yeah. And that got to be a conc--- we had to buy a lot of people's land. I guess I own -- well, I know -- comes to mind real quickly, two hundred acres. And I was -- I still own it. And I was by there about a year ago, year 00:14:00and a half ago, I said, "I believe I'll run up here and see what's happening." Well, it's a little cove, two hundred acres, some flat land and some mountain hillside land, and some fellow said, "Hey, buddy, where are you going?" I said, "I'm going up here and see." He said, "Well, look up there. All these houses are there." Trailers had been moved in.

BIRDWHISTELL: On your land?

STURGILL: On my land. I just turned around and left, and I've never been back, [chuckle] except to pay the taxes, and I mail those in.

BIRDWHISTELL: So you have land in eastern Kentucky and people are living on it?

STURGILL: Yeah. That's the only instance. The rest of it I either own, it's just there, or I've sold it.

BIRDWHISTELL: That's funny. Umhmm. So you -- is that all the land you owned in eastern Kentucky at this point?

STURGILL: Yes, all the -- I own some mineral.

BIRDWHISTELL: Umhmm. But not the land.

00:15:00

STURGILL: But not the land.

BIRDWHISTELL: Now, when you got into this business "Happy" Chandler's governor, right? At the time you started?

STURGILL: No.

BIRDWHISTELL: No.

STURGILL: We got in the business in `57.

BIRDWHISTELL: Well, he's governor then. Combs comes in, in `59.

STURGILL: Well, I -- Chandler was elected in `33.

BIRDWHISTELL: Thirty-five, I believe; and again in `55.

STURGILL: Well, I guess that's right.

BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah.

STURGILL: But he -- "Happy" never played much of a role in it.

BIRDWHISTELL: That's what I -- that was part of my question, is that as you're getting this up and running, this doesn't come up during that -- what would have 00:16:00been the Chandler administration. And so -- but running for -- and, of course, the person who ran against Chandler in the primary in `55 was your friend Bert Combs.

STURGILL: That's right.

BIRDWHISTELL: Now, had you been for Combs in that `55 primary?

STURGILL: Sure. Sure. Actively.

BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah. And how was your relationship with Chandler then during that administration?

STURGILL: Friendly.

BIRDWHISTELL: Umhmm.

STURGILL: Chandler and I -- my family had not been supporters of "Happy" Chandler. But when I was in school I got acquainted with him because he and Rupp were big buddies.

BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah. [Chuckle]

STURGILL: And he was around practice, and I'd see him on campus, and I liked "Happy."

BIRDWHISTELL: Umhmm. But this controversy wasn't surfacing --

STURGILL: It wasn't a blown controversy.

00:17:00

BIRDWHISTELL: Right.

STURGILL: It wasn't breakfast talk.

BIRDWHISTELL: Right. So when -- in `59 Combs runs again -- of course, he's the Democratic nominee -- and he wins the race for governor, and I think your brother Barkley maybe drove him or was active in the campaign?

STURGILL: Yes. He was.

BIRDWHISTELL: And so here you are getting your business up and running and you have a friend in the governor's office. And back then, if you had the -- [chuckle] we talked about this before, if you had the governor, that's about all you needed because the legislature didn't really -- [chuckle] they would fall in line behind the governor, right? So --

STURGILL: Always.

BIRDWHISTELL: So what I want to ask, then, is this sort of -- it sets up an interesting situation. Bert Combs runs with the support of The Courier-Journal, and he's known as a sort of a reform candidate, you know, as sort of a person 00:18:00who's going to change things. And here the surface mining issue is starting to heat up. How do you and Governor Combs deal with that as friends, as business partners and --

STURGILL: Well, in the beginning Combs built a wall around himself about it.

BIRDWHISTELL: Did he?

STURGILL: And he -- it wasn't the kind of the controversy it was.

BIRDWHISTELL: Right, it was --

STURGILL: It was just brewing.

BIRDWHISTELL: Right. Right.

STURGILL: And he didn't want to get involved in it because even attorneys were a lot of coal companies.

BIRDWHISTELL: He couldn't win that personally, could he? Because he had -- he was an attorney for coal companies, he had friends like yourself who were involved in this, and then he had friends like the Binghams on the other end, right?

00:19:00

STURGILL: And they were the big promoters of anti-strip mining, were the Binghams. They led the parade. And Mrs. Bingham --

BIRDWHISTELL: Umhmm.

STURGILL: -- was very active in it. They came to Hazard in the late `50s and I entertained them. I like John Ed Pearce today. He and I get along. And he wrote those -- all those editorials. He said, "It's a mystery to me that we can get along as well as we do."

BIRDWHISTELL: [Chuckle] That's probably to your credit. [Both chuckling] STURGILL: I said, "Well, many times you didn't make my eggs taste good, I'll tell you that." [Both chuckling] But the Binghams, they had influence in east Kentucky. The Courier was the leading newspaper in east Kentucky in those days.

00:20:00

BIRDWHISTELL: It was a statewide newspaper, no question about it.

STURGILL: Yeah. And it got to be quite an influence. And everybody began to -- and on our side, if there were sides, they dreaded the Courier. I -- the Binghams were always nice to me, except Barry Jr. He got so tied up in it that he -- he got to be -- to a point where, you know, he and I couldn't get along.

BIRDWHISTELL: Really?

STURGILL: Yeah. But I met with their editorial board and always got along with everybody there.

BIRDWHISTELL: So was this -- as the surface mining issue was sort of heating up 00:21:00in the Combs administration, would you go to Frankfort and talk with him and try to see where things were on this at that point? Or how did you all handle it?

STURGILL: I tried to keep him advised of what I would see the pitfalls would be. And that we needed - and this is also the early conversation I had with Breathitt - we need rules and regulations, --

BIRDWHISTELL: Right.

STURGILL: -- rather than somebody dreaming what we can do.

BIRDWHISTELL: Umhmm.

STURGILL: Hell, I know a fourth grade child would know you can't dump material from 1,840 feet up in the air to the creek bed. That used to be my argument -- J.O. Matlick, you remember that name?

BIRDWHISTELL: No, I don't.

STURGILL: He was a big Department of Natural Resource commissioner under Breathitt and Combs.

BIRDWHISTELL: Hmm. I don't remember that name.

STURGILL: And he used to say, "What are we talking about?" I said, "We need 00:22:00some guidelines." And I preached that from the beginning. And I asked them to give us some guidelines. Not unreasonable, but something that we could sit down together and work out. I resented the `66 law for one reason. They let the emotions get into it. And they let the people that Harry Caudill brought on a bus down here walk into the House chamber, and it was embarrassing. Because it wasn't any longer a question of what's proper and correct, but they let emotions get to it.

BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah. Now --

STURGILL: But I always tried -- Bert Combs, I always tried to keep him advised. 00:23:00And he had a sly way of not doing what he didn't want to do. [Chuckle-Birdwhistell]

And he didn't want to get involved in the strip mine issue or in coal issues. He called me one day and he said, "[Inaudible], I'm going over to Kingdom Come to dedicate that park." Said, "I want to fly into Hazard, and you pick me up." And said, "Drive me over there. I want to talk to you." [Chuckle-Birdwhistell] And we had the best conversation on that trip.

BIRDWHISTELL: Umhmm. About mining?

STURGILL: About what was going on, what I envisioned happening. And I told him it was going to grow.

BIRDWHISTELL: Umhmm.

STURGILL: Because number one, the market's tough, this is fairly cheap coal. 00:24:00We're making a conservation effort on a reserve and a mineral that otherwise is going to be lost forever. And we're giving good employment with good wages. And it's something that's good for the economy. And God knows, east Kentucky has needed some economic improvement since the beginning of time. [Chuckle-Birdwhistell] But Bert was mindful of it. But he kept a fence around him. He kept it to himself.

BIRDWHISTELL: Hmm.

STURGILL: Ned was different because he thought he could make brownie points with the Courier.

BIRDWHISTELL: Do you think people yet appreciate what a subtle politician Bert Combs really was?

STURGILL: Yeah. After he was defeated, they did. [Both chuckling] Not only 00:25:00was he subtle, he was a smart man.

BIRDWHISTELL: Smart and subtle, yeah.

STURGILL: He wasn't the most polished guy you ever saw, but pretty deep.

BIRDWHISTELL: Umhmm.

STURGILL: And pretty thorough. And he had the ability to analyze things. And that's what made him a good judge.

BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah. Yeah. Now, the other thing that comes up in the Combs administration that you have a stake in are these community colleges and where they're going to be put.

STURGILL: Well, it caused a big rift in the Kentucky River Valley.

BIRDWHISTELL: It did?

STURGILL: Because Combs and Breathitt and the administration had promised folks in Letcher County that they would put it at Blackey where there used to be a 00:26:00Baptist institute.

BIRDWHISTELL: That's why they chose Blackey?

STURGILL: And a campus. And I got into it and said, "It's not centrally located. It needs to be at Hazard."

BIRDWHISTELL: How far is Blackey from Hazard?

STURGILL: Twenty miles.

BIRDWHISTELL: Is it really? I've never been to Blackey.

STURGILL: Well, it's on Route 7 as you go out of Hazard or out of Isom. Well, out of Hazard, you go into it -- up in Letcher County. And I felt strongly about it. So I talked to Combs about it. He said he was committed. And I 00:27:00talked to Breathitt about it.

BIRDWHISTELL: Was that a political commitment they had made to Letcher County?

STURGILL: Yeah.

BIRDWHISTELL: Who in Letcher County was --

STURGILL: Archie Craft was the state senator.

BIRDWHISTELL: Okay. They'd made the commitment to him, hadn't they?

STURGILL: And Judge Caudill was the kind of a Democratic leader, he was county judge up there. And they were both on Combs' team. And he had made a commitment to them when he passed the bill and signed it. And I got into it. And he didn't like that.

BIRDWHISTELL: Combs didn't?

STURGILL: Neither did Breathitt.

BIRDWHISTELL: But you would have to -- I mean, Hazard, you'd think that you could argue for a community college in Hazard.

STURGILL: And -- well, they didn't know that I could go to -- the board of trustees was going to make the recommendation.

BIRDWHISTELL: Umhmm.

STURGILL: And it wasn't going to be Combs, it wasn't going to be Breathitt.

00:28:00

[Chuckle-Birdwhistell] And I had some good friends on that board like [Louis Cox?] and Smith Broadbent and Mr. Wright. And so I lobbied the board pretty hard.

BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah, you had some powerful allies on that board.

STURGILL: And then I had the ability to raise the money. See, the university or the state cannot buy the land --

BIRDWHISTELL: Umhmm.

STURGILL: -- where the community colleges are. Private foundations --

BIRDWHISTELL: So the local foundations had to do that.

STURGILL: So we organized the Hazard Independent College Foundation.

BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah.

STURGILL: And I was its president for a good many years even after I moved here. And it's still got money. I don't know how much or what they do with it, but I tried to put it all in a scholarship fund.

BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah.

STURGILL: And Hazard turned out to be, because of surface mining creating land 00:29:00where the hospital is today, where a lot of the expansion is.

BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah.

STURGILL: Where the airport is; new airport.

BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah. Yeah.

STURGILL: And they had enough room up there. I got all the right-of-way [inaudible] the abandoned railroad track up there to give to them.

BIRDWHISTELL: Where the college is today?

STURGILL: Yeah.

BIRDWHISTELL: Now, had that been mined right there?

STURGILL: No, not where it --

BIRDWHISTELL: Not where the college is today.

STURGILL: -- not where the college is, but all adjacent to it.

BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah. Yeah.

STURGILL: And there used to be a railroad right at the foot of that hill --

BIRDWHISTELL: Really?

STURGILL: -- that ran up to 4 Seam and Algoma Block. And I got -- when they abandoned that line, or those mines worked out, I got CSX to deed that to the 00:30:00Hazard Community College. Hazard is growing in population because it's centrally located. It always was the merchandizing hub for that area. And it's where the college should have been. Then I later played a part in getting the Southeast Community College to put a branch in Whitesburg. [Both chuckling] I -- that didn't go over very well in a lot of quarters, but [chuckle] --

BIRDWHISTELL: Well, I think people -- I can remember, Mr. Sturgill, years ago doing interviews back in the `70s with different people about the development of the community colleges, and that Blackey location always came up.

STURGILL: Well, there was a strong effort to put it at Blackey. They just 00:31:00missed one point, that -- and Oswald was very helpful to me.

BIRDWHISTELL: Umhmm.

STURGILL: I'd had him up to Hazard and took him and showed him what we were talking about.

BIRDWHISTELL: What did he say?

STURGILL: And he had been to Blackey; not on this trip. And I could tell he was impressed. And the fact that we had the money also helped.

BIRDWHISTELL: [Chuckle] Never hurts to have the money ready to go, does it? STURGILL: On anything.

BIRDWHISTELL: Now, where did you get the money, from the local business?

STURGILL: We raised it. I guess our company put in more than anybody else.

BIRDWHISTELL: Really.

STURGILL: I'm pretty sure we did.

BIRDWHISTELL: So what's the motivation for Bill Sturgill, at that point in your life and career, to spend so much time and effort, literally spending money and influence, to get a college at Hazard?

STURGILL: I was convinced that the step that east Kentucky had to make was to 00:32:00understand the value of education. And the only way to understand the value of education is to have it improved to the point that people appreciate it. When I grew up, people out in the county, they didn't care whether their kids went to school or whether they didn't.

BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah. Yeah.

STURGILL: And I think Otis Singletary brought the message stronger than anyone who had been here preceding him of the value of education.

BIRDWHISTELL: Umhmm. Umhmm.

STURGILL: And the community colleges spread that word as they grew.

BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah.

STURGILL: I doubt if we've improved ourselves by the merger of the technical schools. We had 28 technical schools and 14 community colleges. And the 00:33:00increased enrollment they're talking about that happened last year or the year before or whenever they started it, it didn't come about because they have organized the technical schools and the community -- it was because of that merger, --

BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah.

STURGILL: -- and putting those students under one banner.

BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah. Yeah.

STURGILL: That was the reason for the increase.

BIRDWHISTELL: So with the support of the members that you had in the UK board, Oswald's support, so when they go to designate the locations, Hazard gets one. That must have been a great day for you.

STURGILL: Well, I just got on my plane and went back to Hazard. [Chuckle]

BIRDWHISTELL: Were you in the meeting?

STURGILL: I was the only fellow that attended the board meeting --

00:34:00

BIRDWHISTELL: Really?

STURGILL: -- as a supporter.

BIRDWHISTELL: Wow.

STURGILL: And it didn't take -- they had a pretty good discussion about it.

BIRDWHISTELL: Umhmm.

STURGILL: But it didn't take long.

BIRDWHISTELL: How did -- what did the governor think of your being able to make that happen?

STURGILL: Combs was always saying, "You just took us to the water hole."

[Chuckle-Birdwhistell] But I don't think they thought any worse of me because of it.

BIRDWHISTELL: Oh, no, I wouldn't --

STURGILL: After the -- after all, we were on the same page as far as education was concerned.

BIRDWHISTELL: Trying to do the same -- yeah, same goals.

STURGILL: And I believed, Terry, ever since I went back to east Kentucky, that education was the future for east Kentucky.

BIRDWHISTELL: Umhmm. That's a great story. And, of course, that only enhanced 00:35:00your standing in the Hazard community, the fact that you could make this happen.

STURGILL: Well, I'm not sure I either wanted or got the kind of credit that I made it happen. There were more prominent people who wanted more --

BIRDWHISTELL: Wanted the credit? STURGILL: -- credit.

BIRDWHISTELL: Like who?

STURGILL: Like Dewey Daniel, for instance.

BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah.

STURGILL: He was a great friend of mine.

BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah.

STURGILL: But "Uncle Dewey" ran the bank, and he was kind of the kingpin.

BIRDWHISTELL: Right. But he had a problem in this fight. It was the Democrats were in control of all this.

STURGILL: Oh, yeah. He wasn't a political factor, except he buddied them all.

[Chuckle-Birdwhistell] But I was pleased about that.

BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah. Well, you should have been.

STURGILL: And I thought everybody was pleased.

00:36:00

BIRDWHISTELL: Now, how come, Mr. Sturgill, when I read these things about you, in these books and things, that when they're talking about your life and career, they don't talk about your advocacy for education? [Chuckle] That would seem to be a fairly important part of your legacy, wouldn't it?

STURGILL: It is to me.

BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah.

STURGILL: Because I've always supported education.

BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah. I mean you've been clear on that --

STURGILL: And there has been no doubt about it in anybody's mind.

BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah.

STURGILL: And I have no apologies for it.

BIRDWHISTELL: Right. Right.

STURGILL: And when [Wendell] Ford appointed me to the board in `72, I had been for Combs.

BIRDWHISTELL: Sure.

STURGILL: And they -- he called me and asked me, said, "What do you want out of this?" I said, "To be left alone." [Chuckle-Birdwhistell] He said, "I always heard you wanted to be on the board of trustees." I said, "That's correct." He 00:37:00said, "I'll appoint you."

BIRDWHISTELL: Wow.

STURGILL: Said, "You'll be the first appointment I make."

BIRDWHISTELL: The very first one.

STURGILL: So he appointed me, I think it was in `72.

BIRDWHISTELL: It was. It was.

STURGILL: And he appointed me -- you can leave this on the record or you can't, he appointed me to succeed "Happy" Chandler. [Both chuckling] Well, that didn't upset me until I read it.

BIRDWHISTELL: That's a little historical footnote, isn't it?

STURGILL: Yeah. So after I got on the board, got to be chairman, "Happy" got back on the board. Julian [Carroll] appointed him. He called me Billy Boy. [Chuckle-Birdwhistell] And he'd sit right there, "You can't do that, Billy Boy."

BIRDWHISTELL: [Chuckle] So once you get the -- Hazard designated for a 00:38:00community college, did things go pretty well in terms of getting things up and running with the college?

STURGILL: Yes. Yes.

BIRDWHISTELL: Because you had the money, you had the land.

STURGILL: We took the page out of the Henderson Community College --

BIRDWHISTELL: Really?

STURGILL: -- as to the foundation and as to how the implementation of that whole thing. And a guy named John Gray had put it together. And it worked well. The community college system, in my opinion, Terry, is the best education tool that ever happened in Kentucky.

BIRDWHISTELL: Umhmm.

STURGILL: And all I have to give you is evidence of that. When this merger came about, we had 28 technical schools, so-called vocational schools, and 14 00:39:00community colleges. And in the community college, there was 44,000 students going to college who otherwise --

BIRDWHISTELL: Wouldn't have --

STURGILL: -- wouldn't have gone, and wouldn't have the opportunity to go.

BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah.

STURGILL: And that's true today.

BIRDWHISTELL: Right. You know, I think people forget, your good friend Otis Singletary went to a junior college.

STURGILL: Yeah.

BIRDWHISTELL: You know, people find access where it's available.

STURGILL: That's right.

BIRDWHISTELL: Of course, Bill Gorman today, I think, would say that the dream of Hazard had always been -- or has been or is, to get a four-year college there in Hazard. Was that ever your dream?

STURGILL: No. I always thought the community colleges should be attached to the university.

BIRDWHISTELL: And then somebody -- by that time, if they wanted to do the last two years, they come to UK.

00:40:00

STURGILL: Come to UK, and UK would grow and the whole system would grow. I never envisioned a four-year school. Two reasons for that; the drain for educational dollars in Kentucky at the elementary, secondary, and college level is pretty tight. And we don't have the economic base to increase taxes.

BIRDWHISTELL: Right. And it was too late to move Eastern Kentucky University to Hazard, wasn't it?

STURGILL: That's what should have happened.

BIRDWHISTELL: Where it should have been in the first place. Of course, it was in Richmond because there was a campus there, a defunct campus of Central University.

STURGILL: Yes.

BIRDWHISTELL: And Shannon, the representative when that bill was passed in 1906, was from Richmond. [Chuckle]

STURGILL: Well, it should have been further east, whether it was Richmond or where, and Morehead the same way.

BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah.

STURGILL: Ashland had a community college. The city ran a community college 00:41:00there for years and years.

BIRDWHISTELL: Were you worried about the impact of the community college system on the private colleges? I noticed you have a Pikeville College emblem on your license plate now, and I think the private colleges back then used to worry about the competition from those.

STURGILL: Well, that worry's over. That concern is over.

BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah. But it was -- there was a concern.

STURGILL: And when I -- they wanted me to help Pikeville College long years before I ever did. And I did only after I -- I had left helping the university or being interested in the university.

BIRDWHISTELL: Umhmm. Sure. Sure.

STURGILL: When we put the medical school in Pikeville --

BIRDWHISTELL: Umhmm.

STURGILL: -- I made it clear in everybody's mind that I would not be a 00:42:00supporter for it if we couldn't do it in the private sector. I didn't want us to go for public money.

BIRDWHISTELL: Umhmm.

STURGILL: I couldn't help what Benny Ray [Bailey] did about trying to get matching money on student fees --

BIRDWHISTELL: Umhmm.

STURGILL: -- which helped Pikeville. And that came out of public fund dollars. And that's all the public fund money we got in Pikeville. Pikeville makes a real contribution. And the second biggest problem we've got -- education being first -- is health care.

BIRDWHISTELL: Right.

STURGILL: And Pikeville is going to make a big dent in that fender of health care.

BIRDWHISTELL: Umhmm. The reason I bring it up is because, you know, your record with the community colleges, your record with the University of Kentucky -- let me turn this over real quick.

[End of Tape #1, Side #1]

[Begin Tape #1, Side #2]

BIRDWHISTELL: -- your record building community colleges, your record leading 00:43:00the University of Kentucky, and your interest in pub--- private colleges, and it shows to me not that you just picked one segment where you just want to have an interest in it, but you're -- a broader interest in education.

STURGILL: Yes.

BIRDWHISTELL: Because those represent the three building blocks of Kentucky's educational system. And that's why I raise it, because I found it interesting, because I'd always thought of you in terms of public education, but I didn't really know about your interest and support for private colleges.

STURGILL: I think Pikeville and the private institutions, Georgetown, 00:44:00Cumberland, they play a role --

BIRDWHISTELL: Sure.

STURGILL: -- because they're in communities where they can. And they're addressing the subject of education.

BIRDWHISTELL: Umhmm.

STURGILL: And some of them are pretty good.

BIRDWHISTELL: Umhmm. Umhmm.

STURGILL: And some of them are not so good --

BIRDWHISTELL: Umhmm.

STURGILL: -- in my view.

BIRDWHISTELL: Sure. Sure. So as you're going through the Combs administration, I want to get back to that. Of course, you have a personal relationship with Bert Combs. You all -- as you pointed out, you could talk about what's going on. And I guess as we get older, we think these administrations just fly by, but four years isn't very long. And so even in the midst of the Combs administration, you're continuing to build your operation, the controversy is starting to flare up even more, and you're facing another 00:45:00gubernatorial election. What are you thinking? Who's your -- who's the guy that can protect your interests, protect the interests of surface mining in Kentucky? Is it Breathitt?

STURGILL: Yes. In my mind, it was Breathitt.

BIRDWHISTELL: In your mind at that -- Ned Breathitt's your guy. Because you know that he's emerging -- after some infighting within the administration, some trial balloons, he's emerging as the leading candidate, right?

STURGILL: And I was one of his proponents of that.

BIRDWHISTELL: Okay. Because, you know, I don't know if people understand that it wasn't just a given that Ned Breathitt was going to be the man to beat in `63.

STURGILL: Oh, no.

BIRDWHISTELL: I mean the person coming out of the Combs faction. Chandler was going to be the -- make a run, but it wasn't just a foregone conclusion that Breathitt was the guy.

STURGILL: At the time Breathitt wanted to run, and did, I supported him not 00:46:00because I thought he would favor my business affairs, but we were friends.

BIRDWHISTELL: Right.

STURGILL: And that was the paramount reason. There -- I wanted some guidelines for surface mining. And I thought I could get Ned to get good people.

BIRDWHISTELL: Umhmm.

STURGILL: And he did. He got a guy named Elmore Grimm.

BIRDWHISTELL: What's the last name?

STURGILL: Grimm. G-R-I-M-M. He was the nuts-and-bolts man. And he was good. He wasn't -- and I used to say to him, "Elmore, what we need is some good supervision. And make us put up a bond that we will do reclamation." I put the first bond up --

00:47:00

BIRDWHISTELL: Hmm.

STURGILL: -- that was ever put up in Kentucky to guarantee my ability to reclaim the land.

BIRDWHISTELL: You wanted to make it work.

STURGILL: And didn't get much support in the industry. A lot of people didn't like that.

BIRDWHISTELL: Were you the largest surface mining operator at the time in the area?

STURGILL: Yes.

BIRDWHISTELL: Who would be like some of the other operators?

STURGILL: Well, some other people like Elmer Whitaker and the Sigmon boys.

BIRDWHISTELL: Okay.

STURGILL: They were the ones who had good-sized surface mines.

BIRDWHISTELL: But you were the largest.

STURGILL: But we were the largest.

BIRDWHISTELL: So when --

STURGILL: In fact, we were the largest by some several hundred thousand tons.

BIRDWHISTELL: Umhmm.

STURGILL: We got up to be two and a half million tons, and that was big tonnage 00:48:00to load through single-car tipples.

BIRDWHISTELL: By this time, around `63, had you already started to diversify your business interests at that point? Had you -- you'd already started to buy other businesses in Hazard by that point?

STURGILL: No.

BIRDWHISTELL: That hadn't started yet.

STURGILL: No, that hadn't.

BIRDWHISTELL: You focused all -- your energies focused on the --

STURGILL: Concentrated strictly on surface mining and deep mining.

BIRDWHISTELL: So you had both operations going at the same time.

STURGILL: Umhmm. But eighty percent of our tonnage was always surface.

BIRDWHISTELL: Okay. So when Ned Breathitt comes and talks to you and says, "Looks like I'm going to get this -- get the nod from the Combs administration," and, "Can I depend on -- I know I can depend on you for help." Is that the way it went?

STURGILL: I don't remember where -- but he came to Hazard and stayed with us. 00:49:00And I made arrangements for him to go to some bathhouses when they changed shifts. That's where the big crowds were. And we didn't have many conversations, except my desire to have him get people who were knowledgeable and who were good administrators. And, Terry, the breakdown is first getting the kind of rules and regulations passed.

BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah. Yeah.

STURGILL: And secondly, to get the people to enforce them.

BIRDWHISTELL: To do it.

STURGILL: Competency in the Department of Natural Resources today is the biggest problem they've got.

00:50:00

BIRDWHISTELL: Really?

STURGILL: And I've said that to every secretary.

BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah. Did you think Breathitt could beat Chandler?

STURGILL: I really did.

BIRDWHISTELL: Did you? Because a lot of people didn't.

STURGILL: I really did. I thought the Combs machine and Combs philosophy, I thought, would win, up until the last week, week and a half.

BIRDWHISTELL: Umhmm.

STURGILL: Floyd County was Breathitt's biggest county. That's my home county.

BIRDWHISTELL: Was it? I didn't know that.

STURGILL: It was Brown's biggest county.

BIRDWHISTELL: [Chuckle] So Breathitt wins that primary, and little did he know that he's going to have a fight on his hands in the general election. You know, 00:51:00a lot of times in the past in Kentucky history, you win that Democratic primary, you --

STURGILL: You're a governor.

BIRDWHISTELL: -- you just walk right in. You can start planning your inaugural speech. But lo and behold, Louie Nunn, this Republican operative out of Glasgow, who had run a lot of campaigns but not run any on his own statewide, gets the Republican nod and runs a tough, tough race against Ned Breathitt. Puts -- scares him to death, I guess.

STURGILL: Oh, yeah.

BIRDWHISTELL: What'd you make of that?

STURGILL: Well, I thought you was going to hear from Louie Nunn again, and you did. [Chuckle-Birdwhistell] I thought he handled himself well in the campaign. And when he ran against Henry Ward, I felt like Ward was a weak candidate.

BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah.

STURGILL: And that was the big reason I think Louie won. I -- Louie was a good 00:52:00candidate. Louie was a good governor.

BIRDWHISTELL: Umhmm. I think history will show that you're right on that, that you have to run -- if you're a Republican in Kentucky, you have to run a perfect campaign, but you also have to have a little help. [Chuckle]

STURGILL: You have to have a lot of help.

BIRDWHISTELL: A lot. [Chuckle]

STURGILL: And it's the same way today. The national organization has helped Kentucky and the Republican Party --

BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah.

STURGILL: -- be more prominent than it would have otherwise. The [Mitch] McConnell race that we're involved in now, he's so far ahead of Lois Combs, in my opinion, and it's mostly personalities, but nevertheless, it's the fact that 00:53:00the national administration and the Republicans in the state have got a pretty good organization.

BIRDWHISTELL: Umhmm. What's your relationship with Lois Combs?

STURGILL: Of course, I've known Lois since she was a child --

BIRDWHISTELL: Sure.

STURGILL: -- and like her, and going to support her and vote for her. But I don't have any visions of her winning. In fact, she got kind of peeved at me --

BIRDWHISTELL: Recently?

STURGILL: -- when she came to me about running. I said, "Lois, you're going to 00:54:00run on your father's name and he's been dead many years, and people come of voting age every year."

BIRDWHISTELL: Umhmm. Umhmm.

STURGILL: "And they probably outnumber those who are dying. And so that's going to lessen your chance of that name recognition. He lost his last race statewide."

BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah.

STURGILL: "And your husband lost his race statewide, and you're running against a tough man."

BIRDWHISTELL: Hmm.

STURGILL: "And it's -- ." I said, "You look across the valley at that mountain from your front porch, and it's 2,240 feet. And that's what it's going to take 00:55:00you to climb."

BIRDWHISTELL: Hmm. Well, of course, you were right.

STURGILL: She didn't like it. And who would have thought that [Tom] Barlow would have gotten as many votes as he did?

BIRDWHISTELL: Surprised me. So Ned Breathitt defeats Louie Nunn, becomes governor in December of `63. How soon was it after Breathitt became governor that you started to see the wheels coming off in regard to the surface mining debate?

STURGILL: Very soon.

BIRDWHISTELL: Was it? Why was it so sudden? Was it --

STURGILL: It wasn't exactly surprising to me because I knew and felt as though 00:56:00the Courier would dictate to him, and the Binghams would dictate to him what policy he should have about it. And John Ed indicated without telling me that they were working on him. And all I kept saying, "Give us good regulations and laws and good administrators. That's all we ask." But as the emotions got in it --

BIRDWHISTELL: Well, it starts building, because you have the now-famous Widow Combs incident. And tell me about that from your perspective, how that developed, how it happened, and what you thought.

00:57:00

STURGILL: Widow Combs was a mountain lady with mountain pride. And she was being enthused by Caudill to make a stand. And it was my dozer she laid down in front of.

BIRDWHISTELL: How well did you know her before the incident?

STURGILL: Oh, just casually. I didn't know --

BIRDWHISTELL: You knew who she was.

STURGILL: I knew who she was. I knew where her property was. But they cultivated the thing. They set it up, Caudill did. But it was a trying moment for me because I didn't tell the state police to go up there and arrest her.

BIRDWHISTELL: Were you there that day?

STURGILL: I was close by.

BIRDWHISTELL: Uh-huh. You knew it was going to happen.

STURGILL: I knew it was going to happen because the magistrate who issued the 00:58:00warrant worked for me.

BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah.

STURGILL: I didn't tell the sheriff, who was [Bud Helton?]. I didn't tell him to go up there and do that, or indicate that he do it.

BIRDWHISTELL: Why'd he do it?

STURGILL: He was enforcing the law.

BIRDWHISTELL: Okay. So your equipment's up there moving earth, right?

STURGILL: Yeah.

BIRDWHISTELL: And then she comes out and literally lays down in front of the bulldozer?

STURGILL: Literally lays down in front of the dozer.

BIRDWHISTELL: And the press is there?

STURGILL: Oh, yeah. They're -- this was all set --

BIRDWHISTELL: And what had you told your operators to do if she did that?

STURGILL: I didn't anticipate her doing that.

BIRDWHISTELL: Oh, you didn't know she was going to do that?

STURGILL: I thought she'd try to stop them and tell them she hadn't made a settlement, which she really had. She had made a settlement with us.

BIRDWHISTELL: What do you mean? You made her an offer for the --

STURGILL: For the footage.

BIRDWHISTELL: -- for the footage and she agreed to it?

00:59:00

STURGILL: She agreed to it. And then they --

BIRDWHISTELL: And you had a contract?

STURGILL: It hadn't been signed.

BIRDWHISTELL: Ah, okay. So that put you in a bind.

STURGILL: Yeah. And we weren't trespassing because we had the right to go where we were.

BIRDWHISTELL: Right.

STURGILL: But she -- this was all pre-planned without my knowledge.

BIRDWHISTELL: Umhmm.

STURGILL: And they put her in jail.

BIRDWHISTELL: So you're out of -- you're not on the spot, but you're within --

STURGILL: I was --

BIRDWHISTELL: -- proximity of the place.

STURGILL: Yeah, I knew it was going on.

BIRDWHISTELL: Uh-huh. Were you on, like, a walkie-talkie with your people, or --

STURGILL: Yeah, I -- on a two-car radio.

BIRDWHISTELL: Two-car radio.

STURGILL: We knew what was going on.

BIRDWHISTELL: So when she came out and laid down in front of your equipment --

STURGILL: I didn't know about that happening until after it was over.

01:00:00

BIRDWHISTELL: Oh, you didn't. Okay, so you're not on the radio --

STURGILL: No.

BIRDWHISTELL: -- hearing that right then.

STURGILL: I didn't make that my day -- my activities that day. I had other things to do.

BIRDWHISTELL: Oh, okay. That's a good point because, see, I thought maybe you were, you know, laying back and monitoring this from a distance.

STURGILL: No, I was not.

BIRDWHISTELL: You were trying to just stay out of it.

STURGILL: Well, I wanted to get it settled. I didn't want it to come up.

BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah.

STURGILL: Because I knew that it would gain in momentum.

BIRDWHISTELL: So who told you what happened?

STURGILL: I guess our right-of-way people came to me that afternoon.

BIRDWHISTELL: And said, "You'll never believe what she did. She laid right down in front of our --"

STURGILL: Three times.

BIRDWHISTELL: Three times.

STURGILL: Yeah, we -- the sheriff put her in jail, she got out by posting bond, and she came right back up there and did it again.

01:01:00

BIRDWHISTELL: I didn't know that.

STURGILL: Yeah.

BIRDWHISTELL: And did it a third time?

STURGILL: The third time. Then she stayed in jail. And it was Thanksgiving weekend, and they were going to have her hearing on Friday.

BIRDWHISTELL: What year is this? I should know that, but I don't know that I do. Is this like --

STURGILL: Sixty-five.

BIRDWHISTELL: Sixty-five?

STURGILL: And I didn't want that hearing to be held on the day after Thanksgiving. So I went to the judge, who was a friend of mine, I thought. And he said, "I know why you came." I went to his house. He said, "I know why you came." And he said, "I'm not very happy about it because we're not going to 01:02:00talk about it."

BIRDWHISTELL: Hmm.

STURGILL: "Well," I said, "the only thing I was going to say to you, I'd rather you wouldn't hold that hearing tomorrow, the day after Thanksgiving." He said, "I'm going to hold the hearing." So I went back down to my lawyer's office and I said, "Is there any legal thing we can do for a continuance in this?"

BIRDWHISTELL: Umhmm.

STURGILL: He said, "We haven't got time."

BIRDWHISTELL: Hmm.

STURGILL: So they had the hearing. I did not go.

BIRDWHISTELL: Why would the judge not -- if he was a friend of yours, why wouldn't he -- was he feeling pressure from some other place?

STURGILL: Yes.

BIRDWHISTELL: From where, do you think?

STURGILL: From [inaudible].

[Interruption in taping]

STURGILL: -- in the mail. I said, "Oh, hell." [Both chuckling] You asked me 01:03:00if we had a contract on the Widow Combs land.

BIRDWHISTELL: Umhmm.

STURGILL: Basically, we operated under the broad form deed.

BIRDWHISTELL: Right. You had access to the mineral rights.

STURGILL: We had -- and the surface --

BIRDWHISTELL: And the surface.

STURGILL: -- under the broad form deed.

BIRDWHISTELL: Right.

STURGILL: But I never did like the broad form deed in the sense that I had to force my way over it, or I used that. I always tried to compensate the surface owner.

BIRDWHISTELL: Beyond the requirements. There were no requirements for the broad form deed. I mean you didn't have to pay them a dime.

STURGILL: Didn't have to pay them a thing. But I kept telling the landowner, the land companies, that as long as this surface problem grew and mounted in the public eye, it would be the downfall of the broad form deed.

01:04:00

BIRDWHISTELL: Hmm.

STURGILL: And sure enough, it was.

BIRDWHISTELL: Well, now let me go back for just a second on the hearing on the day after Thanksgiving. Where was the judge feeling the heat, the pressure, to go on and have the hearing?

STURGILL: I think he was feeling the heat from the Courier and the pressure of public opinion.

BIRDWHISTELL: In Hazard and Perry County?

STURGILL: In Hazard and Perry County. He was a -- he's a very intelligent fellow.

BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah.

STURGILL: And he thought that the Courier was the molder of public opinion.

BIRDWHISTELL: Okay. Who's the judge?

STURGILL: Don Ward.

BIRDWHISTELL: Don Ward. Is he still in Hazard?

STURGILL: No, his -- he died. His son is at Wyatt, Tarrant & Combs.

01:05:00

BIRDWHISTELL: Oh, really? Did you -- so you felt like you sort of had a public relations problem with this Widow Combs?

STURGILL: I knew I had. And we went ahead and pulled back. And then the company I later sold to mined it. That was the vehicle they rode to pass this `66 strip bill.

BIRDWHISTELL: But, now, something I read, I'm trying to remember where I read it. Oh, it's -- Breathitt says that, "Caudill was a great guy for ventilating 01:06:00an issue through a speech or a letter to the editor or an op-ed piece or letters to activists and leaders in the state." That sounds right, doesn't it?

STURGILL: Umhmm.

BIRDWHISTELL: "He would scold. When I became governor, Caudill would scold me, but he was my ally when I passed the strip mining bill. In fact, he was critical. He brought the Widow Combs to the legislative hearing, and when she got through her tale and he was up there, the coal miners in the gallery just shook their heads. They knew the ballgame was over."

STURGILL: Talking about us.

BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah.

STURGILL: Coal miner -- coal operators.

BIRDWHISTELL: Coal operators.

STURGILL: But Breathitt came up on the -- that morning, after they had arrived there.

01:07:00

BIRDWHISTELL: Umhmm.

STURGILL: What I was doing in the Senate chamber, I don't know. But I was sitting at Wendell's desk, and Wendell was sitting up on the desk. And the governor came in. Very unusual for the governor to come upstairs when the legislature was in session. And he said, "Bill, I had nothing to do with these people being here today."

BIRDWHISTELL: [Chuckle] What did you say?

STURGILL: I don't remember what I said.

BIRDWHISTELL: You were probably mad. [Chuckle]

STURGILL: Yeah, I was mad. [Chuckle]

BIRDWHISTELL: It's hard to remember what you said when you're mad. I can't ever remember what I say when I get agitated.

STURGILL: But I'm dumbfounded that he would have said that [chuckle-Birdwhistell] when I knew damn good and well, because a state trooper 01:08:00had told me they were marshaling. But I don't remember what I said. I think I got up and left.

BIRDWHISTELL: [Chuckle] That would be about right. Where was Ford on all this? How was he trying to maneuver this?

STURGILL: Well, Ford was wanting to be my friend, but he knew who he -- he had to play. [Chuckle-Birdwhistell] He didn't like it.

BIRDWHISTELL: Breathitt goes on to say, "Harry was a strong supporter of two issues, eliminating the broad form deed, and strip mining control. Also for education. He called the broad form deed bill the Widow Combs Bill." Is that right?

STURGILL: That's right.

BIRDWHISTELL: "I was wiped out on that one. I twisted every arm, promised every job, and did everything I could. It was a knock-down, classic struggle. 01:09:00No governor had ever taken on those three powerful economic interests. So you know I had to have allies, the press, mainly The Courier-Journal, and in Lexington, the morning Herald, Herndon Evans was the editor, and he supported me. But the Binghams and The Courier-Journal were the great support I had."

STURGILL: True.

BIRDWHISTELL: So what does he mean when he says, "I was wiped out on the Widow Combs broad form deed bill?"

STURGILL: Well, the first time he tried to pass it, why --

BIRDWHISTELL: Would that be in `64?

STURGILL: That was in `66, it failed.

BIRDWHISTELL: So it was in the same --

STURGILL: But his bill to pass these regulations --

BIRDWHISTELL: Uh-huh.

STURGILL: -- passed at that time.

BIRDWHISTELL: Okay. So there were two separate --

STURGILL: Yeah. Two separate issues.

BIRDWHISTELL: And the first one was to eliminate the broad form deed?

STURGILL: Yeah. They eliminated it as to its authority. And then it was 01:10:00adjudicated in court, and the courts ruled -- upheld the legislature.

BIRDWHISTELL: Umhmm. But he says he failed on that, but later on.

STURGILL: Later on.

BIRDWHISTELL: Later on. Okay.

STURGILL: I don't remember when he -- while he was governor or is it after he was governor? But the rules and regulations and law was tightened. And then, as I mentioned earlier, the competency in the surface mining area about enforcement was very poor because of knowledge.

BIRDWHISTELL: Now, Harry Caudill would write in that book that became very well-known, Theirs Be the Power -- you're very familiar with that and the controversy -- that'll come up again when we talk about your UK service. He 01:11:00calls you in here -- he says, "The power of the combine in the 1980s is shown by the career of William Sturgill. If anyone in the state deserves to be called Mr. Coal, it is he, though Mr. Kentucky might be more appropriate. Sturgill is almost certainly the most powerful Kentuckian with influence that reaches into coal, oil, gas, insurance, banking, tobacco, construction, real estate development, fertilizer, higher education, and railroads." He goes on to say -- now, this is Harry Caudill, "He listens to the mineral overlords, and they listen to him." [Both chuckling] "He has been subjected to severe and prolonged criticism in the media, and he has survived unscathed." He says, "His strip mines produced landslides that wrecked houses. An aged woman from Knott County told Governor Edward Breathitt that Sturgill's bulldozers shoved the coffins of her children down the slope and reburied them under the tumbling spoil." Do you 01:12:00know about that?

STURGILL: Oh, I know all about it.

BIRDWHISTELL: Hmm?

STURGILL: The woman was named [Ritchie?].

BIRDWHISTELL: [Ritchie?].

STURGILL: And the fact is that we mined on the opposite side of the valley from where the cemetery was.

BIRDWHISTELL: Okay.

STURGILL: We didn't tip the cemetery. I wouldn't have tipped the cemetery. I remember an instance to support that. My land people came to me once and said, "We want to move a cemetery." And we were standing in the parking lot behind my office. And I said, "Charlie" - his name was Charlie Cornett - I said, "Charlie, I've got enough trouble with the living. I'm damned if I'm going to disturb the dead."

BIRDWHISTELL: [Chuckle] That's a good one.

STURGILL: Yeah. I wasn't -- and I've always resented them telling a story 01:13:00about moving the babies with a dozer.

BIRDWHISTELL: Why did they tell that story?

STURGILL: I don't know. Caudill's gone, you can't ask him.

BIRDWHISTELL: No.

STURGILL: But that is not true.

BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah, I didn't think it was.

STURGILL: And I've said repeatedly that's not true.

BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah. Yeah.

STURGILL: To start with, I wouldn't create that kind of controversy. And if it had been true, it wouldn't have died there.

BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah.

STURGILL: You'd have heard about it later.

BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah. Yeah.

STURGILL: And secondly, I couldn't do that.

BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah.

STURGILL: I'm just not constitutionally made.

BIRDWHISTELL: So for future historians trying to understand this, what is it, Mr. Sturgill? They need to understand that people just make things up? Is that --

01:14:00

STURGILL: Emotions.

BIRDWHISTELL: Emotions.

STURGILL: Emotions got into it, and they make things up to suit their cause and their purpose.

BIRDWHISTELL: And if you're not careful, that becomes the history.

STURGILL: That's right. And a lot of things that is history about surface mining gets away from what I always promoted, rules and regulation of laws.

BIRDWHISTELL: Umhmm.

STURGILL: And gets tied up in such things as we're discussing. And that, at the end of the day, defeats many of their arguments.

BIRDWHISTELL: Well, Caudill takes that on in -- later in the next page, he says, "The governors heard the complaints, but heeded Sturgill who characterized the critics as emotional, and the floods as acts of God." [Chuckle]

STURGILL: You know, I think a flood is -- I never said it was an act of God in 01:15:00my life.

BIRDWHISTELL: [Chuckle] I'm sorry to have to read that stuff to you, but it --

STURGILL: Oh, that's --

BIRDWHISTELL: I mean I know you've heard it. And for this record, what I'm trying to do is put it all in con--- you know, in the right perspective, because you know, some people will just read that and say, "Well, that's it. That's what happened." And --

STURGILL: You know, people always said Harry Caudill wrote Night [Comes] to the Cumberlands. I've always been told that Adeline [Adele] Brandeis wrote it.

BIRDWHISTELL: Who?

STURGILL: Mrs. Brandeis --

BIRDWHISTELL: Oh, really?

STURGILL: -- who was an editorial writer for the Courier. And Harry sanctioned it. I think Ann Caudill had more to do with it than anybody.

BIRDWHISTELL: Really?

STURGILL: But I don't know that for a fact. I've just been told that.

BIRDWHISTELL: So when the legislation's introduced in Frankfort and you're 01:16:00trying to organize the opposition to it, how do you go about working against the emotion and The Courier-Journal and Harry Caudill? How do you get mobilized to try and defeat that legislation?

STURGILL: Well, it's not an easy task.

BIRDWHISTELL: I wouldn't think.

STURGILL: We got all the land companies together and told them that this was their battle, and they should see their legislators. And we told them that they are the ones who should carry the load.

BIRDWHISTELL: Umhmm.

STURGILL: And we got the operators together. And we told them that they had a responsibility in this, not only to keep their skirts clean, and a lot of them didn't like the idea I promoted, improving the rules and the regulations, and 01:17:00give us some guidelines.

BIRDWHISTELL: They were afraid that would erode --

STURGILL: They couldn't live with it.

BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah. But you knew that was the only route.

STURGILL: I knew that was the only route. And the bond, people didn't like putting up a bond.

BIRDWHISTELL: Tie up their money, right?

STURGILL: Tie up their money, their resources.

BIRDWHISTELL: Resources.

STURGILL: And I guess that's true, because they forfeit a lot of bonds. That's why Congress created the Orphan [Bank?], see, the Abandoned Mine Land program, because it happens throughout Appalachia.

BIRDWHISTELL: Hmm. So you've got the land companies, the operators --

STURGILL: Operators. And then we had a few legislators who were sympathetic to our cause.

BIRDWHISTELL: From the region?

STURGILL: From the region and from other places. And most of them -- Gib 01:18:00Downing, for instance, was a state senator from Fayette County. He was one of our good supporters. And he had no -- I was not a friend of his in college, he came after me. I knew him, but people -- that's how we mobilized. And we hung around and lobbied and did that kind of a thing, and wrote letters and --

BIRDWHISTELL: But what you're up against is the power of the administration, as Governor Breathitt himself said, that promised jobs, roads --

STURGILL: And did.

BIRDWHISTELL: And did. [Chuckle] And bring the -- you know, the force of the administration. Of course, in `66, you know, Governor Breathitt had a hard time in the `64 legislative session because he didn't have the votes. But with the 01:19:00election of Wendell Ford and other people in `66, he gets control. But this is still a tough --

STURGILL: Tough sell.

BIRDWHISTELL: And so were you all tempted then to -- I mean, what could you all promise a legislator for supporting your side?

STURGILL: We --

BIRDWHISTELL: You had to be careful with that, I would guess.

STURGILL: Local guys used to want us to give people jobs.

BIRDWHISTELL: Umhmm.

STURGILL: And we could do that. But we had to be -- we didn't have much to offer, except to do right, do so- -- [chuckle-Birdwhistell] -- support the economy of the area.

BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah.

STURGILL: They only beat us one vote in the Senate.

BIRDWHISTELL: Well, that's what I'm leading up to, is that I think it's an interesting case study, you know, of how public policy is decided in a 01:20:00legislative setting. And they had public opinion; they had the Widow Combs present, testifying.

STURGILL: And the [Ritchie?] woman.

BIRDWHISTELL: And the -- they -- she was there, too?

STURGILL: Yes.

BIRDWHISTELL: So did you attend the sessions where they testified?

STURGILL: I don't think I heard them testify, but I was in the building.

BIRDWHISTELL: Umhmm. Hmm.

STURGILL: And I probably made a mistake by being that close to the scene. I was still the controversial guy. I was still the whipping boy for that crowd.

BIRDWHISTELL: As they say, the lightening rod of --

STURGILL: And yet I'd be in the middle of the road where they could see me and look at me and -- [chuckle-Birdwhistell] of course, that was -- I was scared. 01:21:00My future and my money was all invested in it.

BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah. Let me turn this over.

STURGILL: My --

BIRDWHISTELL: Hang on just a second.

[End of Tape #1, Side #2]

[Begin Tape #2, Side #1]

BIRDWHISTELL: Okay.

STURGILL: I had a strong feeling for the industry, Terry. And I felt as though that if they won completely, and they passed and promulgated rules and regulations we couldn't live with, then I felt as though the industry, in the long run, would suffer. And that was of great importance to me; not only 01:22:00selfishly, but for the area. Somebody had to promote the coal. And these guys who have investments that live in Pittsburgh and Chicago and Cleveland, they're not near as concerned as those of us who live in east Kentucky, was reared there, and have their heritage there. And that was of concern to me.

BIRDWHISTELL: Setting aside your financial interest and your interest in the industry, you -- I guess you understood how the emotional side could play. I mean if --

STURGILL: Sure.

BIRDWHISTELL: -- if you're not -- if you don't have the stake in it that you have, or the interest in the industry that you have, and somebody says that these surface miners are -- what would they say; destroying the land, ruining 01:23:00people's lives, I mean, it just went on and on, right?

STURGILL: Wrecking their future.

BIRDWHISTELL: Wrecking their future. That's hard to combat in a way, isn't it?

STURGILL: Very hard.

BIRDWHISTELL: Umhmm.

STURGILL: But if you don't combat it, they win without a vote.

BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah.

STURGILL: And if you don't make a presence -- and I felt strongly that being the biggest producer and now being the best-known [both chuckling], if I didn't do it, nobody would.

BIRDWHISTELL: Well, let me ask you this. And this might be too personal a question. But by 1966, had you made enough money that you could have just said, "Okay, here take this. I'm fine. I can take my money." You know, because you've proven in subsequent years from `66 that you could be successful in many 01:24:00different kinds of businesses, right? So could you have just walked away in `66 and said, "Fine, you all have this."

STURGILL: The thought never entered my mind --

BIRDWHISTELL: Really? Wasn't an option.

STURGILL: -- to walk off and leave it.

BIRDWHISTELL: Wasn't an option.

STURGILL: I guess I was too dumb and too scared. [Chuckle-Birdwhistell] But I -- it never entered my mind. Every morning I thought, "What can I do today to get a new job going?" [Chuckle-Birdwhistell] I went to Breathitt County in `62, and TVA bought the coal, and it worked out well for me.

BIRDWHISTELL: Umhmm.

STURGILL: Security, I had just a few years before had begun to feel financial 01:25:00security. I had two children and a baby, and that was the baby you saw [chuckle] -- you met this morning. No, it was never an option. I worried about my safety.

BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah.

STURGILL: I traveled alone. It never occurred to me to take somebody with me. I traveled all hours of the day and night. I had a regular routine I kept, and it always bothered me that I should be more careful.

BIRDWHISTELL: In this legislative fight, did you think to the end that you had a chance to win?

01:26:00

STURGILL: Yes.

BIRDWHISTELL: Thought you had the votes.

STURGILL: Yes. And I had the guy presiding over the Senate in Governor [Harry Lee] Waterfield, that had it been a tie, we would have won.

BIRDWHISTELL: Really? Hmm. Did you lose some votes you thought -- did you lose a vote you thought you had?

STURGILL: Two.

BIRDWHISTELL: Two votes. What happened to them?

STURGILL: They left.

BIRDWHISTELL: Somebody got to them? STURGILL: Either that or -- and they both were from eastern Kentucky.

BIRDWHISTELL: Were they?

STURGILL: Umhmm. They -- the emotions in that crowd stirred them.

BIRDWHISTELL: So you think they could have just been won over by the emotions and not by promising stuff.

STURGILL: Oh, I think one of them was won over by promises and fear. They 01:27:00threatened his next election.

BIRDWHISTELL: Umhmm. Hmm.

STURGILL: But I don't think that -- I don't believe for a minute that they had any better opportunity, from an argument standpoint, than we did. You remove the emotions out of it and we'll win hands down.

BIRDWHISTELL: But it was all about emotions.

STURGILL: You take a guy from Louisville. He didn't understand that -- the economic issues involved in that. Oh, we could tell him and send him and mail him and all this, do the propaganda thing with him. But he didn't understand it because he didn't rub elbows. And those guys that rubbed elbows understood it.

BIRDWHISTELL: Umhmm. So were you in the chamber when the vote was taken?

01:28:00

STURGILL: In the Senate.

BIRDWHISTELL: In the Senate chamber.

STURGILL: In the gallery.

BIRDWHISTELL: Tell me about sitting there and watching that.

STURGILL: Well, I don't remember. Oh, yes, I do. It was agonizing.

BIRDWHISTELL: Vote by vote.

STURGILL: Agonizing. And then I wondered what the hell I was doing there. And soon as they voted, I got up and left. Wasn't any more I could do. And I went out through the side door. My car was parked over there on the side of the office buildings, the State Office Building?

BIRDWHISTELL: Umhmm.

STURGILL: And they didn't have the basement part of it then.

BIRDWHISTELL: Umhmm.

STURGILL: So just as I turned the corner to go out I ran into Breathitt. I 01:29:00said, "You won, but I don't know what the hell you're going to do with it. It cost you what?" He said, "Plenty." I said, "Are you going to give me the totals?" He said, "Some day." And I walked on.

BIRDWHISTELL: Hmm.

STURGILL: But I remember that he was the first guy I met. I left and went to Hazard. [Chuckle]

BIRDWHISTELL: Did you? Hmm. So was your -- did you plan then become to try to make a go within these -- within the law then, within that new legislation?

01:30:00

STURGILL: Yes. I said to the press, "I'll stay in the business as long as I can do it legally and lawfully."

BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah.

STURGILL: And I meant that.

BIRDWHISTELL: Umhmm.

STURGILL: And I did. There's been certain things that I've appealed. There's been certain rulings that I didn't agree with, but I've lived by them. I've just asked them to give me good, competent people.

STURGILL: Umhmm.

BIRDWHISTELL: You told me one day at lunch about going into Breathitt's office and asking how much it was, right?

STURGILL: Yeah.

BIRDWHISTELL: Was that later? STURGILL: No, this was in this conversation.

BIRDWHISTELL: That was in this conversation where you asked him that?

STURGILL: Umhmm. And he told me, either in that conversation or later, it cost 01:31:00him $80 million.

BIRDWHISTELL: Eighty million. I assume that's more than you all put into it. [Chuckle]

STURGILL: Much more. Much more. Well, I know the Morehead gymnasium was one of them because Bill Sample told me.

BIRDWHISTELL: Really? The Morehead gymnasium. Hmm. I think that's called the Edward T-- .

STURGILL: Hmm? BIRDWHISTELL: -- that's called -- that's named for Governor Breathitt, isn't it?

STURGILL: Yeah. But Breathitt, to his credit, always wanted to stay visible.

BIRDWHISTELL: Umhmm.

STURGILL: But he never ran for public office.

BIRDWHISTELL: Not after that. Were you upset with him personally at the time?

STURGILL: Yes, very.

01:32:00

BIRDWHISTELL: You felt like he let you down?

STURGILL: Very upset. I didn't think he let me down. I felt like he should have come to me and said, "Bill, we've got a big difference about this. And I'm going to take the side I think is right, and I don't think you're right," or some such conversation. If he'd just come to me and talked to me --

BIRDWHISTELL: But he didn't do it.

STURGILL: -- I would have felt better. But sending people like [Edward F.] Prichard and --

BIRDWHISTELL: He sent Prichard to talk to you?

STURGILL: Oh, I don't remember whether it was before or after the session.

BIRDWHISTELL: Uh-huh.

STURGILL: He should have done it, was my point.

BIRDWHISTELL: What did Prichard have to say to you? STURGILL: Oh, Prichard didn't make much of an impression on me. [Chuckle-Birdwhistell] I liked to hear him talk and -- but I didn't really think there was much substance.

BIRDWHISTELL: [Chuckle] Oh, goodness. But much is made of that 1966 vote.

01:33:00

STURGILL: Well, those are still the laws. They're still the governing regulations.

BIRDWHISTELL: So how did it -- in practical terms, how did it change how you did your business?

STURGILL: We had to gear up for it. They didn't immediately go into effect, what -- the head-of-hollow fills, for instance. I made the first head-of-hollow fills, and I couldn't get the administration to approve it. That -- those kind of things. I said, "Just give me competency."

BIRDWHISTELL: Umhmm. Did it cut into your profit margin?

STURGILL: Yes. Yes.

BIRDWHISTELL: Umhmm.

STURGILL: And we couldn't adjust some of the contracts, because I believed in 01:34:00long-term contracts.

BIRDWHISTELL: So you had long-term -- you were locked in, so to speak.

STURGILL: I was locked in. I did organize a construction company and thought about starting building roads.

BIRDWHISTELL: Really?

STURGILL: Umhmm. And I qualified with the state; hired an estimator, engineer. And when the Mountain Parkway was being built I said, "If I've got a good strong company, I can get two or three of those sections and get in the construction business."

BIRDWHISTELL: Sure. That'd be a springboard, so to speak.

STURGILL: And somewhere along the way, from having set it all up and actually 01:35:00doing it [chuckle-Birdwhistell], I said, "This is not my cup of tea."

BIRDWHISTELL: Really?

STURGILL: And here I sit today with --

BIRDWHISTELL: Road building. [Chuckle] Well, you had -- you know, you were heavily into that other operation.

STURGILL: Yeah. We had long-term contracts with obligations to them. And --

BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah.

STURGILL: -- a lot of people thought they were too cheap. A lot of people glad to see me out of the industry. [Chuckle-Birdwhistell] But I decided not to get in the road construction business at that time.

BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah. Yeah. Other than your relationship with Ned Breathitt, were there any other personal fallout from the -- was there any other personal fallout from that `66 legislation that came between you and other people?

01:36:00

STURGILL: No, not fallouts. Differences in --

BIRDWHISTELL: I mean where it hurt your personal relationship with people. No?

STURGILL: And really, my personal relationship was strained with Breathitt.

BIRDWHISTELL: Well, that's what I mean. I mean it just couldn't be the same right then. I mean you --

STURGILL: No, it didn't get the same.

BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah.

STURGILL: I went to his first wife's funeral.

BIRDWHISTELL: Umhmm.

STURGILL: And he expressed surprise seeing me there.

BIRDWHISTELL: Really?

STURGILL: But I liked her. I liked him.

BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah.

STURGILL: And I thought it was the thing to do. So I flew down to Henderson. And that started us mending --

01:37:00

BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah.

STURGILL: -- what was broken. And I don't think you can hold a grudge. A grudge will eat you up quicker than anything else. [Chuckle-Birdwhistell] Really, it --

BIRDWHISTELL: It's negative. It's a negative thing, isn't it? STURGILL: Yeah, it will. It'll --

BIRDWHISTELL: And you had a lot more to do. So, I mean, you know, what we're talking about today is an important part of your career. But, you know, we've got -- your business goes on, you diversify your businesses, you make your contributions to the University of Kentucky. I mean there's so much more. But this is the part that ends up written about. That's what my point is today is that I want to get this covered, and then I want to put it in the context of your total career.

STURGILL: Well, of course, it's always tough to get going. And the beginning 01:38:00of my life was the tough part.

BIRDWHISTELL: [Chuckle] It was a front-loader.

STURGILL: Yeah. [Chuckle-Birdwhistell] And we were instrumental in getting the biggest inloaders. We were interested in getting big machinery to haul overburden.

BIRDWHISTELL: Umhmm.

STURGILL: We made the first head-of-hollow fill. We did the innovative things that I thought would not only cut cost, but reduce the efficiency -- reduce the exposure we might have for criticism.

BIRDWHISTELL: Yeah. Yeah. Hmm. This mountaintop removal issue is still such a big issue. If you talk to people in Hazard today, if you go down there and ride around with the people involved in development in Hazard, they'll show you 01:39:00development after development after development from mountaintop removal. And I think the same is true in other locations. Isn't that right?

STURGILL: Yes. And if Judge Haydon's ruling stands in West Virginia and now Appalachia, it would eliminate -- flat land's at a premium in east Kentucky and Appalachia. And mountaintop removal is the only way that I know you can make a lot of flat land and do such things as you see in Hazard and Manchester.

BIRDWHISTELL: Umhmm. I'm not as familiar with Manchester.

STURGILL: Well, I know where that hospital is, is what brought to mind. But other places.

BIRDWHISTELL: Hmm. Well, I've about taken up my allotted time today, Mr. 01:40:00Sturgill, and I appreciate --

STURGILL: Well, I enjoyed it. I just hope I'm telling you what you want.

BIRDWHISTELL: Well, I appreciate your patience in going through this because I know you've been -- I know you've thought about this issue we've talked about today a lot, I know people have written a lot about it. And in my business, what we do is go to the person who was involved with it and ask them. [Chuckle] So I appreciate that.

STURGILL: Well, I've given you the best shot I've got --

BIRDWHISTELL: There you go. [Chuckle]

STURGILL: -- thus far.

BIRDWHISTELL: I appreciate it.

[End of interview]