Ducktown Smoke: The Fight over One of the South's Greatest Environmental Disasters

By Duncan Maysilles | Go to book overview

5
THE DUCKTOWN
DESERT AND
GEORGIA’S FIRST
SMOKE SUIT

On January 24, 1904, Attorney General John C. Hart boarded a train for the six-hundred-mile trip from Atlanta to Washington, D.C. The occasion was his first appearance before the U.S. Supreme Court in Georgia’s fight for an injunction against the copper companies. His companions included Ligon Johnson, a young Atlanta lawyer he hired to serve as special counsel on the case, and Farish Carter Tate, a Georgia congressman whose district embraced the smoke-damaged counties. The journey across four southern states gave Hart many hours to consider his two-phase strategy, a plan that combined legal and technological approaches to reduce or, better, to eliminate sulfur pollution from the burning roast heaps of Ducktown.1

The first phase of his strategy was the Supreme Court lawsuit, filed under the caption State of Georgia v. State of Tennessee; the Ducktown Sulphur, Copper & Iron Company (Ltd); and the Pittsburgh and Tennessee Copper Co. (Hart’s caption contained a factual bobble that he soon amended: the Tennessee Copper Company purchased the holdings of the Pittsburgh firm before the suit was filed.) Georgia’s case rose from a welter of smoke suits filed by scores of Georgia mountaineers in the Tennessee courts. The suits were, at the moment, bogged down in a procedural and substantive morass of motions and appeals because of the skillful and determined defense by James G. Parks for the Ducktown Company and Howard Cornick for Tennessee Copper. Hart intended to circumvent the Tennessee courts by filing Georgia’s lawsuit directly in the U.S. Supreme Court as an original jurisdiction action, and he needed the Court’s permission to do so. It was to that end that he and his companions traveled to Washington for a hearing on his motion for leave to file bill of complaint.2

The Court’s approval to file the bill of complaint would indicate that it was willing to consider a smoke injunction. Hart needed the threat of an injunction to accomplish the second, technological, phase of his strategy, the elimination of the traditional practice of open heap roasting of copper ores. As he stated from the outset, “It was not the purpose of the State of Georgia to suppress and drive out of business this enterprise, representing an invest

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