‘‘Woodhick’’ was a common term for loggers and woods laborers during the heyday of West Virginia logging, from about 1880 to 1920. ‘‘Lumberjack’’ was not commonly used in the state. The woodhicks worked in isolated, remote locations, and they made a colorful reputation for themselves. There were few settlements and sometimes not even roads in the larger tracts of timberland. The woodhicks lived in temporary shantytowns built along the narrow-gauge railroads that were used to move logs to the sawmills, which were located in larger towns such as Cass and Rainelle.
In the early decades most woodhicks came from outside West Virginia. Many were bachelors who lived in the camps for weeks at a time. Others were married men who attempted to return home at the end of each week. Some were immigrants who found jobs as loggers until they could pay off their debts and better themselves; by 1910, immigrants had become significant minorities in Randolph, Tucker, and Pocahontas counties, in the heavily timbered mountains of West Virginia. Other woodhicks were skilled loggers from Canada or from the northern states, who came to West Virginia to work and planned to return home when the work was done. Whatever their geographic origins, most of them had been brought up on farms before taking to the woods.
Although hard workers, most of the woodhicks had not had an opportunity to attend school, and many of the immigrants had only a slight command of the English language. The rough life of the woodsmen sparked folk tales, especially by townspeople who decried the rowdy behavior of loggers on their visits to town after being confined to a camp in the wilderness.
The origin of the term is probably self-explanatory. Loggers were looked upon as unsophisticated persons working in the woods, and since at least the 16th century the word ‘‘hick’’ has meant an ignorant country person. Perhaps it was for this reason West Virginia woodworkers were called woodhicks or timberhicks.
This Article was written by William H. Gillespie
Last Revised on November 19, 2010