West Virginia Coal Mine Wars

Chronology of the WV Coal Mine Wars

1912 – West Virginia Miners strike in Paint Creek and Cabin Creek, and are evicted from their houses; tent colonies are set up.

1913 – The Blue Moose Special train passes through the encampment of Cabin Creek and opens fire on the unarmed inhabitants. A reconciliation between the coal operators and the miners leads to the right to organize in Cabin Creek and Paint Creek.

1919 – An armed march by some 5,000 miners is organized on Lens Creek with the intention of overtaking Logan county and establishing a union. The march was abandoned some days later when the miners learned that federal troops would be sent in.

1920 – Seven Baldwin-Felts detectives, two miners and the Mayor Testerman are killed in the Matewan Massacre. Sid Hatfield, the Chief of Police of Matewan who was involved in the shooting, is charged with the deaths of the detectives.

1921 – Matewan Chief murdered in public. Sid Hatfield and Ed Chambers are gunned down on the steps of the McDowell County courthouse by C.E. Lively, a Baldwin-Felts (Pinkerton) detective. Lively is never convicted of the crime.

Though tensions had been simmering for years, the immediate catalyst for the uprising was the unpunished murder of Sid Hatfield, police chief of Matewan, At a rally on August 7, Mother Jones called on the miners to march into Logan and Mingo counties and set up the union by force. Armed men began gathering at Lens Creek, near Marmet in Kanawha County on August 20, and by four days later up to 13,000 had gathered and began marching towards Logan County. Meanwhile, the reviled Sheriff of Logan County, Don Chafin, had begun to set up defenses on Blair Mountain.

The second armed march of the miners took place, with the same intent as the first; to reach Logan County, overthrow the crooked Sheriff Don Chafin and organize a union. What would become known as the Battle of Blair Mountain was composed of some 10,000-15,000 armed miners in total, marching from Lens Creek in Kanawha County, to Logan County, some sixty-five miles away.

The WV Mine Wars end at the Battle of Blair Mountain where Don Chafin and 1,500 men were waiting for the miners. There was sporadic fighting for a week with hundreds of deaths. The miners eventually disbanded when 2,000 troops, aerial forces as well as chemical warfare troops converged at Blair Mountain. The rebellion was forced to surrender, and lay down arms.

The Battle of Blair Mountain was the largest armed insurrection since the Civil War, and the largest organized armed uprising in American labor history. It led almost directly to the labor laws currently in effect in the United States of America. It was the final act in a series of violent clashes that have also (confusedly) been termed the Red Neck War, from the color of neck-scarves worn by the miners, and the likely impetus of the common usage (originally Scottish term Red-neck) in the vernacular of the United States.

*

During the American Mine Wars of the 1920s, and the period that followed, liberal Union moderates (Democrat Centrists) argued they could produce concrete benefits for workers much sooner than radical Socialists who planned to overthrow capitalism in the future. Left Wing politics began to move right towards Center, as unions negotiated with company bosses; union leaders began to get paid more as they demanded more dues from paychecks, and workers began to see less effective representation.

In the 21st Century, Mayor Kip Stowell of Harpers Ferry, WV and other local liberals and historians voted to preserve the Charles Town Jailhouse. The modern jailhouse building was used to jail General Bill Blizzard, during his trial for ‘Treason’ (armed insurrection terrorism like John Brown). It was scheduled to be demolished by the Republicans in office. The jail was saved by replacing them with Democratic County Commissioners.

In 2005, the West Virginia Archives and History Commission voted unanimously to recommend to the National Park Service that 1,600 acres of Blair Mountain be included on the National Register. Coal mining companies and nearby landowners promptly sued to overturn the nomination. The Sierra Club moved to join the suit, and in May 2006 a West Virginia judge granted the Club’s participation. That same month, the National Trust for Historic Preservation placed the Blair Mountain battlefield on its list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Places. The United Mine Workers union also came out in support of the National Register listing because of its importance to the labor movement.

(more research to come….)

SCOD audio reading of this Essay on Mixcloud

PBS Video Documentary of the WV Coal MINE WARS – covers much of the history

Coal Mine Wars

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