Pivotal People: Stunkard and Barrick

David C. Stunkard

David C. Stunkard

The real beginnings of the coal and clay industries that were to soon remake Macksville and Sugar Creek began after the Civil War.

Perhaps the first real underground mine was begun by Stunkard and Barrick along Sugar Creek just west of Macksville. Their operation foreshadowed the future of Sugar Creek mining in many ways. They were absentee owners who never lived west of the river. They worked the miners hard. Their mine was a scene of early labor strife.

David C. Stunkard was born to a roving family in Ohio in 1824. After moving to Illinois, the family settled near Brazil, Indiana around 1839. Stunkard served as a sergeant in the Mexican War. He started as a farm laborer around Vigo and Clay counties. Energetic and clever with money he soon became a successful businessman. He was a man with many interests. He was credited with opening the first coal mine in Clay County north of Brazil in 1858, later adding an iron smelting furnace there to his holdings.

He had an interesting Civil War. He evidently had some Southern sympathies. Though it is sometimes overstated there was a strong Copperhead faction in Indiana, particularly the southern third of the state. Copperheads were pro-South and against the war. He sided with the anti-Lincoln, anti-Emancipation Proclamation parties in the 1864 election. Sometimes known as Peace Democrats or Union Party, these dissidents wanted a negotiated peace with the Confederacy that did not include freeing slaves. The leader was a much despised (during the time) senator from Ohio, Stunkard’s home state, Clement Vallandingham.

His views did not deter Stunkard from eventually joining the Union Army. In 1864 he enlisted as a “Hundred Day Man.” With enlistments and the draft unable to fill the manpower needs of the army, the idea was to form volunteer regiments from state militias. Hurriedly and poorly trained, these regiments were to provide rear echelon support, as laborers or guards, to free up regular troops for contact. Few Hundred Day Men saw any real combat. Stunkard joined the 133rd Indiana Regiment, some of them sent to guard rail crossing in the South, as a 2nd Lieutenant and served his time.

After the war he moved to Terre Haute. In 1868 he bought the Buntin Hotel and looked into other business opportunities.

William Barrick was a fascinating character. Born in North Carolina in 1821, his family moved to Vermillion County Indiana when he was six. By 1860 he was a hotel keeper in Terre Haute, which is likely how he later met his future business partner. He was a vibrant entrepreneur with many interests. He was a steam ship captain who owned several ships plying the Wabash River. He served in several county offices, including sheriff. He diversified by opening grist mills and sinking that first shaft just outside Macksville in 1870.

In August, 1870, Barrick’s partner, DC Stunkard announced they had sunk a shaft along Sugar Creek that was 7×15 feet wide and 60 feet deep. In doing so they had discovered a rich vein of high quality coal. It was free of sulfur, they said and was thus suitable for any use, including smelting ore. It promised to be the most extensive mine between Terre Haute and St. Louis.

The Slunkard-Barrick partnership ended suddenly and tragically in 1871. On July 15th Slunkard awoke early and was strolling the streets by his hotel. He had absentmindedly put a Smith & Wesson revolver in his pocket, because, some said, he was worried there might be trouble due a rowdy group of circus men who would be staying at his hotel. He returned to the hotel porch at 5:00 am. As he sat down “…. the right pocket of his pants exploded, inflicting a painful and mortal wound.” For some reason the gun barrel was sticking up. As Stunkard sat down the gun’s hammer hit the chair rail and fired. Taken to a hotel room, he died within six hours.

Ironically, Stunkard’s one time political leader, Clement Vallandingham died in a similar manner. While defending an accused murderer, Vallandingham was keen on proving that the victim had accidently shot himself. The night before the trial Vallandingham gathered friends in his hotel room and was showing friends how it might have occurred. As he tried to pull the gun from his pants pocket the gun discharged, killing him.

David C. Stunkard died at age 47, leaving behind a small fortune, many friends and business colleagues, and a rich widow who remarried the next year,

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