West Virginia, Coal Resources,

American Citizens

West Virginia coal miners, 1929

 

“Absolute power corrupts, absolutely.”

                                Niccolo  Machiavelli

 

“Human hopes and human creeds

  have their roots in human needs.”

                          Eugene Fitch Ware

 

“This is new, and it is also very old.  We have come from the tyranny of the enormous, awesome, discordant machine, back to a realization that the beginning and the end are man – that it is man who is important, not the machine, and that it is man who accounts for growth, not just dollars or factories.  Above all, that it is man who is the object of all

our efforts.”

                                                                                                                                                                                          Pablo Casals

 

 

I don’t recall that my schooling taught us anything about the history of West Virginia or the plight of the coal miners in the first half of the 20th century there; I do not recall ever hearing about it as a student in college and I might not have believed it had they told me, since, of all coincidences, I have relatives who were among the principals in these events.  I do recall, in my youth, that John F. Kennedy, President of the United States, commented, “. . . those who ignore the lessons of history are doomed to repeat histories mistakes.”  At the time he was not addressing the issues of coal mining but the substance of his comment applies to those who shaped and conducted the West Virginia Mine Wars.  I pray that no citizen in America will ever suffer as the miners in West Virginia did during the first half of the 20th century.  

This section of text appears within the Notes under Charles Everett Lively for the special reason that he alone, by his notorious act, turned history on its ear.  We certainly will not categorize this bit of history as “good”; yet we recognize that without his initiative the “bad” of West Virginia coal mining may not have ended for a very long time.  In a true story of angst, exploitation, and ambition we discover a people who tried, struggled and suffered, and would rather have preferred an older, freer way of life.  It was not to be.  The 20th century was upon them, perhaps too fast, but it was not to be denied.  Few people in life will ever make a difference in the big picture of history as Charles Everett Lively did.  Be patient when reading this; context is necessary to understand what happened and C. E. Lively emerges quite late in this historical episode.

With that I offer this brief dissertation.  

Many times throughout history we have seen the exploitation of certain societal segments for the purpose of profit.  Consider the history of mining in Wales and England, diamond mining in South Africa, and the American Natives when oil and gold were discovered on their deeded reservations, and we should acknowledge a similar plight for the early 20th Century West Virginians.

Virginians, and eventually West Virginians, long recognized that coal deposits ran in seams throughout the mountainous portions of the state.  It is unlikely anyone before the 1830’s knew of the extent of these coal deposits, yet, Thomas Jefferson wrote in his “Notes on Virginia” in 1785, “Coal is known to be in so many places as to have induced an opinion that the whole tract between the Laurel Mountain and Ohio yields coal.” He was correct in his speculation, as we now know.

In the period before the Civil War, only 185 mines employing less than 1,600 workers existed in Virginia.  Most of Kanawha County was engaged in subsistence agriculture and cottage industry, very much in harmony with the 18th century vision of Thomas Jefferson for America.  Yet, even in Jefferson’s time society was changing in Virginia; the eastern regions of Virginia lent itself to profitable agriculture and a resulting acquisition of capital. In the mountainous south and southwestern part of the state, a subsistence lifestyle reigned which lent itself to slow social change if any change at all. Eastern Virginians considered the southern/southwestern highlands “debatable lands” in contrast to their own holdings.  The result was a social stratification which was apparent to most West Virginians in the conduct of regular business with the Virginia State government, but it manifested itself in an obvious manner to all, when in 1863 Virginia voted to separate from the Union to join the Confederacy, and the counties that make up West Virginia mostly disagreed.   The state of West Virginia was born and the people there never looked back.

This wasn’t the first attempt at statehood by West Virginians; in 1783 settlers west of the Allegheny Mountains attempted to create the State of Westsylvania. Their published complaint then was that they carried the burden of government without the corresponding benefits.  Representation in Virginia State government was partially based upon the numbers of Negroes, and since western counties did not have many slaves in the population, they felt under-represented. The decision against a division of Virginia was finally made by popular vote, which predictably tilted in favor of the Virginia eastern counties.  In 1863 circumstances were very different.

The lifestyle of West Virginians in the 1880’s was described in a quote from an eyewitness observer in Fayette County, published May 1973, “. . . beautiful fields of waving corn and wheat.  Herds of sheep and cattle roamed the hills and were guarded from wolves and bear by the men and boys.  They spent their winter months hunting and trapping the plentiful deer, bear, and other wild animals.  From their pelts they made clothes and feasted upon their meats.” Idyllic?  Perhaps, yet it was the observation of this man and it was not an uncommon observation.

Coal would not become the subject of major development until the railroads provided access to the coal producing regions. Before railroads, flatboats floated the Kanawha River in a slow and often precarious effort to ship coal.  This inefficient method was favored until March 12, 1883 when the first carload of coal was freighted from Pocahontas in Tazewell County via the Norfolk and Western Railway.  The success of the Norfolk and Western rail system attracted the attention of nearly every capital-venturist of the time including J. P. Morgan, John D. Rockefeller, E. H. Harriman, Collis P. Huntington, Henry H. Rodgers, Abram Hewitt, Peter Cooper and John Camden; all of them competed to build railways and develop the West Virginia coal industry. By 1900 West Virginia was a network of rail lines, tunnels and bridges, and they weren’t finished even then.

Railways invited coal speculators into the area.  The Logan county newspaper, The Banner, said in June 1902, “. . . capitalists were flocking from all parts of the country to make investments.”

The stage was set; the first personal right of the region’s citizenry to fall by the wayside was property ownership rights.  Many land owners had gained title through a federal government program rewarding Revolutionary War veterans with land grants in this “wasteland” of the Virginia Mountains, mostly because the State and Federal government had little money in which to pay stipends.  Title was handed down from father to son, or to descendant generations.

Early speculators also held title to considerable land, having purchased it from a cash strapped State of Virginia at a time when just the ownership of a tract of land meant wealth to the individual.  Complications arose in the form of clouded titles to these tracts when many deed holders neither registered these land acquisitions (a technicality) nor paid taxes as required by law.  In defense of subsistence farmer/hunters living and surviving on their own homesteads; they were not active participants in a commerce based on cash, rather they engaged in a barter system most often, and could not always raise the money required for taxes.  This gave rise to all sorts of “quick cash” incomes enterprises, such as “moonshining”.

By the 1880’s these clouded-titled lands were re-acquired by both West Virginia and Virginia.  After clearing the clouded titles on these lands, both states sold the land back to the people who had settled there and the issue should have been settled then and there.

Complications set in. During this period, latter day speculators sought to acquire ownership of as many of the “original deeds” as they could before the titles were clear, consequently, much of this territory had “two” deed holders.  Huge tracts were involved. Twice the U. S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the people who occupied this land.  What happened next was a grave misfortune to many long-time homesteaders.  According to a letter from Willey Sizemore to Woodrow Wilson, February 27, 1915 describing what happened fifteen and twenty years earlier, (item 1655095-57, file 50, Record Group 60, General Records of the Department of Justice, National Archives) “Northern Speculators then found local federal judges who were noted for their tender concern for the rights of non-resident landowners.”  There was an expression of concern about bribery.  These judges ruled that ownership of the “original deeds” held by non-residents were valid and, even though the law was on their side via the U. S. Supreme Court, most of West Virginia families involved could not afford the legal fees and they gave up.  Many longtime West Virginians moved off their lands, going to other states and regions.  Sizemore said they were “swindled”.

The seeds of distrust for the judiciary had been planted; an already stratified West Virginia population began to solidify against outside influences as they began to feel the effects of culture shock from the combined forces of wealth and greed.

Speculators from outside West Virginia continued to acquire huge tracts of land, some from outright purchases, and some from other means.  Hubleton and Company bought 25,000 acres at Loup Creek in Fayette County; the Flat Top Land Association purchased 600,000 acres from West Virginia; the Norfolk and Western Railway acquired 295,000 acres which equaled four-fifths of the entire Pocahontas coal field; J. P. Morgan purchased 32,600 acres in Logan and Mingo Counties, and another 50,000 acres in McDowell County.  Even Andrew Mellon, secretary of the Treasury at the time, owned mines in Logan and Mingo Counties.

 

   West Virginia Coal mines and railroad lines.

 

In 1890 the United Mine Workers, newly formed from the Knights of Labor and the National Federation of Miners, designated West Virginia as District 17. Michael F. Morgan was the first district President.

The development of coal mining hit West Virginia like a tidal wave.  Coal miners that owned land now lived on relatively small plots compared to just twenty years previous.  Those that worked in the mines on a regular basis often lived in company supplied housing.  Yet, mining families found old lifestyles hard to dismiss. As a way of life and necessity, most families had gardens and the men in the family frequently abandoned their work to hunt and fish.  Every activity in the early days was aimed at acquiring a food supply. 

J. H. Vernatter, a miner from Logan County said, “The only way I can feed ten children on the pay I get is to raise a garden.”

A Meadow Brook miner said, “How in the world can we support our families and send our children to school on this pay?”

But hunting and fishing was made more difficult by the pollution of streams and the industrial noise of mining and train traffic, and the deforestation that seemed to follow every mining operation.  The more active the coal mining industry became, the less able the citizens of southern West Virginia were able to exist on subsistence farming and hunting.  The miners were beginning to discover that they had to reduce their standard of living to get by on a miner’s paycheck.

Of course, not every resident of the southern regions of West Virginia was a subsistence farmer; there was the timber industry, not large but it did offer employment for a cash wage. There too was the large aluminum plant at Glen Ferris in Fayette County.  For the general working class population, these were minor influences on a way of life. So, employment was considered the same, whether it be in a mill, aluminum plant or a coal mine. West Virginians sought work when cash was needed and left employment when it wasn’t. 

Such a workforce did not result in the efficient, consistent production effort that mine owners wanted.  By 1900 and for years after, mine operators imported willing coal mine workers.  By 1910 there were a reported 28,000 such workers.  Yet, these miners required living arrangements that native workers had not.  Southern West Virginia was not replete with cities and towns; so the company town was born. Justin Collins said in 1896, in defense of his company town, company store and script, “Never lose sight of the fact that the sole purpose of the organization is to make money for the stockholders and matters of conduct that tend to produce contrary results should be promptly squelched with a heavy hand.”  He also said, “We’re not running a Sunday school here.” The conduct he makes reference to were strikes and union organizers/sympathizers. Yes, even in 1896.

Keep in mind that after the Civil War, mines were operated by owner/workers, for the most part, and they had to meet a limited demand for coal that, for the most part, was local.  There were no such things as mine safety laws, unions, or federal regulations or any government regulatory agencies.  They simply dug a hole and extracted the coal.

Railroads and the quality of the coal eventually led to demand which in turn required deeper and more sophisticated mining techniques.  Holes in the ground became mine shafts and impediments such as underground water, coal dust, blasting, ventilation and underground heat was dealt with when encountered.  Miners and mine operators developed their own methods to cope with these obstacles, some methods proved disastrous.

 

Company Towns

 

You live in a company house

You go to a company school

You work for this company,

according to the company rules.

 

You all drink company water

and all use company lights,

The company preacher teaches us

What the company thinks is right.

 

                                Carl Sandburg

 

 

Around the turn of the century southern West Virginia was lightly populated having 958,800 citizens in 1900.  But populations began to increase as mine operators imported miners.  From 1900 to 1920 the populations of Fayette, Raleigh, Mingo, McDowell, and Logan Counties more than doubled while the overall state population grew by 65.5% to 1,463,701. By 1930 the West Virginia population was about 1,750,000, close to the population of West Virginia in 2003.

 

  Lively, West Virginia 

 

 

Company housing was supplied because no other living accommodations were available for a growing imported population.  Few large towns existed, certainly not enough to supply the numbers of residences required.  Also, most mining operations were in the more remote locations.  Company supplied housing became a requirement if mine operators expected workers to remain constantly on the job, a habit that native coal mine workers had not adopted.  Company housing of this type was standardized within a company town but might have varied from town to town.  Company housing gave rise to company towns, complete with stores, post office and recreation facilities on occasion.

Usually, but not all company housing was an A-frame affair.  It was low-cost to produce therefore it held the most people at the lowest cost to the company, which was the goal – expense reduction.  One result was shabby, poorly built buildings.  Sydney Box, an immigrant from England remembered that on his arrival in southern West Virginia (McDowell County) he thought the miner’s shacks were chicken houses.  There were no telephones, sidewalks, paved roads, electricity or garbage collection – even in 1920.  Outdoor water was available to all miners and outdoor privies were cleaned, or relocated, once a year, whether they needed it or not.  Coal was free to those in company housing but a delivery charge was usually levied. (David Allen Corbin; Life, Work, and Rebellion in the Coal Fields)

 

   Slab Fork, West Virginia

 

Company officials had for themselves, housing of a more standard nature, with indoor plumbing and such.

Not all company towns, in the beginning, were as bad and not all were as good.  Coal mine operators did what they thought they had to do and not much more.  It wasn’t until much later, after World War I, that housing and facilities began to improve.  It was the sunshine of attention and the notice of authority that changed anything at all within the company town. Yet, even as late as 1946, company supplied housing was, at best, substandard.  Consider a report written for the federal Secretary of the Interior:  “Ninety-five percent of the houses are built of wood, finished outside with weather board, usually nailed direct to the frame with no sheathing.  Roofs are of composition paper.  Wood sheathing forms the inside finish.  The houses usually rests on posts with no cellars . . . the state of disrepair at times runs beyond the power of verbal description or even of photographic illustration since neither words nor pictures can portray the atmosphere of abandon dejection or reproduce the smells.  Old, unpainted board and batten houses, batten gone or going and boards fast following, roofs broken, porches staggering, steps sagging, a riot of rubbish, and a medley of odors.  There is the ever present back-yard privy, with its foul stench – the most common sewage disposal plant in the coal fields.  Many of these ill-smelling back-houses, perched beside roads, along alleys, and over streams, leave their human waste exposed, permeate the air with nauseating odors, and spread disease and death.  . . .  then there is the camp dirt – a mixture of coal dust, dust from the dirt roads, smoke from the burning “bone piles”, which blend into a kind of grime that saturates the atmosphere, penetrates the houses and even clothing, and sticks tenaciously to human bodies.”

 

With the advent of the company town, mine operators seemed to realize the desirability of labor force control.  Workers who stayed longer than a few weeks were paid in company script or in some cases, minerals from the mine itself.  The company store accepted only company script (or whatever means of payment the mine made to workers).  Post Offices were established, usually inside the company store.  A unique feature of this arrangement was that any unlawful incident in the company store was a federal offense due to the presence of a federal facility, the post office. As wages increased, so did the price of goods in the company store, and coal company operators has little to fear, the federal government would protect their post office and facilities.

Within a single generation, the subsistence farmer/hunter of West Virginia, a segment of American society that had enjoyed freedom at a level not seem often anywhere in the United States or the World, was transformed into a highly controlled and regulated labor force dependent on a quasi-cash wage designed to keep them, as individuals, from ever acquiring sufficient assets to live comfortably.  For those that did not labor in the coal mines, a reasonably comfortable lifestyle eroded into a struggle. 

A society that had fended for itself in such a manner as to be insulated from the economic ups and downs of the nation, now found that they were completely dependent and at the mercy of the national economic well-being, and often the coal industry itself.

Native mine workers struggled to retain the old lifestyle, working for cash when they needed cash.  Coal mine operators saw them as undependable and unpredictable.  Yet, any person living in southern West Virginia, mine worker or not, was affected by the coal industry – for good or bad.  Eventually, the native labor force would find their economic plight a reason for kinship with imported mine workers.  They would come together for the Blair Mountain battlegrounds and other incidents.  They would struggle, together, for a way out.

Mine disasters were numerous.  In 1905 six “disasters” happened.  In 1906 an explosion at the Parral Mine in Fayette County killed 23.  In 1907 a mine explosion at Monongah claimed 361, and another 85 at the Stuart Mine in Fayette County. One view might be that coal mining was finding its way, learning as it went.  Some proclaimed this sort of justification.  But mining has had a long history and the deeper the hole in the earth, the more aware one should become of the hazards.

Mine safety issues joined with economic concerns as a reason to question coal mining as a way of life for West Virginians.

In 1894 the UMWA called a nationwide strike in an effort to halt a series of wage reductions.  Mine operators saw an economic recession eating away at their profits.  Miners saw wage reductions further lowering an already reduced standard of living.

But the UMWA were not yet experienced at strikes on such a broad scale.  Non-union miners in southern West Virginia refused to stop work.  One result of the strike was that the coal mine operators saw the need to import a more compliant labor force, and trainloads of recruited non-union workers began to pour into regions of UMWA strength while the strike ensued. West Virginia non-union miners actually went to work in other regions and helped break the nationwide strike.

Attempts at organizing West Virginia began in a serious way.  Again in 1897 the UMWA tried a nationwide strike “to prevent any further reduction in wages.”  This strike met with successes everywhere except southern West Virginia where miners still recalled the “old days and the “old ways” and worked when cash was needed and not much more.  If a mine was unsafe, a West Virginia miner went to another mine and worked.  If he needed money, he worked.  When he didn’t need money, he didn’t work.  This made him a difficult employee to unionize but it also made him an undependable employee.

As the UMWA concentrated on organizing West Virginia, the coal mine operators set the tone for the future by driving out organizers from company towns with company police through arrests, evictions, jail confinement and injunctions issued by sympathetic courts.  Even so, in 1902 the UMWA achieved some success in the Kanawha-New River Coalfield when miners there demanded wages equal to those in other areas.  In response, coal operators formed the Kanawha County Coal Operators Association and hired private detectives from the Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency in Bluefield.  These “detectives” served as mine guards and were soon harassing union organizers.

David Alan Corbin in his work on the mine wars; (Life, Work, and Rebellion in the Coal Fields) puts it like this:

“In 1902 they (the coal mine operators) saw this force (The UMWA) attempt to persuade the miners to strike in the interests of another coal field to keep West Virginia coal from capturing the eastern markets.  Unionization threatened not only their feudalistic controls over their workers, but also wanted to place their work force in the hands of a hostile power.”

“The coal operators were now determined to prevent the UMWA from again invading the state.  Believing . . . that if the coal operator undertakes to fight the union, he will have to fight  . . . so, more and more operators formed police barricades against these invaders (union organizers) by hiring Baldwin-Felts detectives.  By 1910 Baldwin-Felts guards could be found in nearly every company town in southern West Virginia. . . “

“In protecting the coal establishment from union agitators, the Baldwin-Felts guards were effective and brutal. . . by 1907 they (union organizers) were surrounded and harassed by Baldwin-Felts guards from the time they boarded a train in Cincinnati headed for West Virginia.”

The Labor Argus newspaper reported; “Horrible butchery of representatives of United Mine Workers by brutal and bloodthirsty guards in the New River field.”

The tone was set.

By 1912, the union had lost control of the Kanawha-New River coalfield.  That year the UMWA miners on Paint Creek in Kanawha County demanded wages equal to those of others areas, not a new issue with these miners.  The operators rejected the wage increase and miners walked off the job on April 18 beginning one of the most violent strikes in the nation’s history.  The list of demands tells more of the chasm between operators and miners than any writings I might create. These were:

1.  The right to organize and an end to “Yellow Dog” contracts.

2.  An end to blacklisting union organizers

3.  Alternatives to company stores

4.  Recognition of their constitutional rights to free speech and assembly. 

5.  An end to the practice of using mine guards

6.  Prohibition of cribbing.

7.  Installation of scales at all mines for accurately weighting coal.

8. Unions be allowed to hire their own checkweightman to make certain company checkweightman were not cheating the miners.

 

               Wages were important, and although the miners felt cheated on wages, an increase was not the primary issue.  West Virginians wanted their constitutional rights and wanted to be treated fairly and the place to start was with union recognition.  Cribbing for instance; workers were paid by the ton of coal mined.  Each mine car was supposed to hold one ton.  However, cars were altered to hold more than the specified weight, in fact many mine cars carried around 2500 pounds.  Also miners were often docked for non-coal rock, such as slate, on the basis of a “guess” by the checkweightman.  Yellow Dog contracts were a condition of employment whereby any attempt to join a union would result in a loss of employment.

When the strike began two weeks after March 31, 1912, operators, using mine guards from the Baldwin-Felts company,, began evicting miners and families from company houses in a rather unceremonious manner.  Miners began setting up tent cities and other makeshift housing in a place called Holly Grove, sometime called Mucklow.

 

The Kanawha mine operators agreed to a 5.26% wage increase and union recognition but the Paint Creek mine operators refused to agree to anything.

On May 7, 1912, a miner, Cesco Estep saw a train carrying Baldwin-Felts mine guards passed his house on the way to Mucklow where they were staging on behalf of the mine operators. Within the next three weeks over 40 guards would be policing Paint Creek.  On the night of February 7, 1913, an armored train nicknamed the “Bull Moose Special” rolled through the miner’s tent colony at Holly Grove.  On board the train was the Sheriff of Kanawha County, Bonner Hill, coal mine operator Quin Morton and a collection of mine guards, all armed. 

The Estep family tells it like this: In Cesco Estep’s house (next to the tent colony) his brother Jim, family and friends were talking about rumors and such, when some of them decided it was getting late.  It was time to get some sleep. Maud Estep heard the sound of the train, then guns firing.  The sounds grew louder and the men in the house ran outside through the front door.  Cesco Estep called back for his wife and baby to get into the cellar.  Cesco began running around the house to the back.  Just as he turned the corner of the building, a hail of bullets from the darkened train rained into the house.  By count, over a hundred bullet holes had punctured the sides of the house.  Cesco Estep was hit in the face and died immediately.

According to some on the train, Quin Morton the mine operator had started the shooting and wanted to go back for another round.  Bonner Hill had had enough and they directed the train to move on.

Estep became one of the great rallying points for the miners.

In retaliation, some of the miners attacked the mine guard encampment at Mucklow, a short distance away.  In this exchange, 16 people were killed and these were characterized as “mostly mine guards”.

On April 14, the new West Virginia Governor, Henry D. Hatfield forced a settlement of the strike that neither side found satisfactory, nor would it bring an end to this type of strife.  Among other things it failed to address the miner’s right to organize and the removal of the mine guards.  The strike did bring a greater unity with the miners and the UMWA.  On November 1916, Frank Keeney, whose family had been swindled out of their ancestral lands in West Virginia by unscrupulous speculators, became Local 17 UMWA President.

Following the Paint Creek - Cabin Creek strike, the coalfields were relatively peaceful for nearly six years.  The U. S. entry into World War I in 1917 sparked a boom in the coal industry, increasing wages.  However, the end of the war resulted in a national recession.  During the war some mine operators were making up to 600% profit from coal sales and all the while the federal government required a no-strike agreement for the duration of the war.  The sudden change in economic conditions had to have been a shock to mine operators.

 Coal operators laid off miners and attempted to reduce wages to pre-war levels.  In response to the 1912-13 strike, coal operators’ associations in southern West Virginia had strengthened their system for combating labor.  By 1919, the largest non-unionized coal region in the eastern United States consisted of Logan and Mingo Counties.  The UMWA targeted southwestern West Virginia as its top priority.  The Logan Coal Operators Association paid Logan County Sheriff Don Chafin to keep the union organizers out of the area.  Chafin and his deputies harassed, beat, and arrested those suspected of participating in labor meetings. 

In late summer 1919 rumors had reached Charleston of atrocities on the part of Chafin’s men.  On September 4, armed miners began gathering at Marmet for a march on Logan County and by the 5th their numbers had reached 5,000.  World War I had shown most of these miners what large numbers of armed men in a cohesive group could do.  But UMWA President Frank Keeney and Governor Cornwell dissuaded most of them in exchange for government intervention to investigate the alleged abuses. 

A few months later the mine operators lowered wages in the southern coalfields.  To compound problems and perceptions, the U. S. Coal Commission granted an unprecedented 27% wage increase to union miners but excluded those in southwestern West Virginia.  Non-union miners in Mingo County went on strike in the spring of 1920 and requested assistance from the UMWA.  On May 6 leaders of the UMWA spoke to over 3,000 miners in the town of Matewan.  On May 19 the families of miners who had joined the union were evicted from their company owned houses.

How the story is told of what happened in Matewan after the evictions may depend on where your sympathies are.  We will try to report what we have found without opinion.  In any case, the Matewan incident was a milestone in labor relations among coal miners in West Virginia.  For coal mine operators, it marked a time when populations in the region were sufficiently dense that communities began to reform as incorporated towns.  And such towns, as shown by the Matewan incident and the follow-up events, would and could rival mine operator authority.  The citizens had another authority to turn to.

Matewan would trigger other events such as the Blair Mountain Battle.  Matewan and Sid Hatfield became symbols of resistance.

On May 19, 1920 a company of Baldwin-Felts guards arrived by train in Matewan to evict miners, which by now, was a well known strike response.  Sid Hatfield, Matewan’s Chief of Police, stopped them at the railroad station and demanded to see a court order for the evictions.  The guards did not have a court order and said they would return with one.

  Sid Hatfield

 

Here is the testimony of Sid Hatfield on this incident.  The testimony was given before the U. S. Congressional Committee on Education and Labor.

 

Chairman: Mr. Hatfield, where is your home?

Hatfield: In Matewan, I am living in Matewan. Mingo County.

Chairman: We want to ask you about the time of this affair at Matewan. Were you holding and official position at the time?

Hatfield: I was Chief of Police at Matewan at that time.

Chairman: You were Chief of Police at Matewan?

Hatfield: Yes sir, Chief of Police at Matewan.

Chairman:  And how long had you been Chief of Police at Matewan?

Hatfield:  Two Years.

Chairman:  Just what occasion or what connection did that trouble at Matewan have with the strike.  Had any strikes been called at that time?

Hatfield:  No, it was not at that time.

Chairman: Did it grow out of these labor troubles?

Hatfield: Well, practically this is the reason, the detectives were throwing out these people’s furniture.

Chairman: What detectives were they?

Hatfield: Well, I don’t remember names.  Albert Felts and Cunningham, the Baldwin-Felts detective agency.

Chairman: I wish you would speak a little louder.  They were evicting the people and putting their furniture out on the highway?

Hatfield:  Yes sir.

Chairman:  In the town of Matewan?

Hatfield:  Yes sir.

Chairman: Now what happened?

Hatfield:  Well, me and the mayor of the town went up and asked them, did they have a right to do that, and Mr. Felts, the superintendent of the agency said that he had.  They told him that they had the right to do that and had gotten it from a judge, Mr. Damron, who was judge at that time, and we asked him to show the authority, and they said they didn’t have anything to show, they said two hours notice was all they wanted.  We told them they could not throw those people out unless they had papers from the court, to go according to the law.  They said two hours was all they wanted and they went ahead throwed the people out, and about 3:30 they came back to Matewan.

Chairman:  I cannot understand you.  You must speak louder.

Hatfield:  About 3:30 they came back to Matewan and they had guns on their shoulders with high-powered rifles and there were 12 or 13 of them and they were in automobiles.

Chairman:  How many automobiles?

Hatfield: Three.

Chairman:  Three?

Hatfield:  Three automobiles.  The mayor issued a warrant for their arrest and gave it to me and told me to arrest them.  I went up and told Mr. Felts, he was the boss of the gang, that I would have to arrest him.  He said he would return the compliment on me, that he had a warrant for me.  I told him to read the warrant to me.  He did not read the warrant to me but told me what the charges were and he said he would have to take me to Bluefield.  I told him that I would not go to Bluefield because I was the Chief of Police and I could not leave.  He told me that he would have to take me anyway.  I told him that if he would have to take me I would have to be arrested, and the mayor came out to see what the charges were.  He asked what the charges were and he told Felts that he would give bond for me, that he could not afford to let me go to Bluefield.  Felt told him that he could not take any bond, and the mayor asked him for the warrant, and he gave the warrant to the mayor.  The mayor said it was bogus, it was not legal, and then he shot the mayor.  Then the shooting started in general.

Chairman:  How many shots were fired?

Hatfield:  Fifty or seventy-five.

Chairman:  How many men did you have with you?

Hatfield: I did not have any men with me at the time they had me arrested.  It was train time and a whole lot of people would meet the train.

Chairman:  Did the people come in to help you arrest them?

Hatfield: I didn’t ask for any help.

Chairman: How many people were killed there?

Hatfield:  Ten, and four shot.

Chairman: Ten killed and four injured.

Hatfield: Yes sir.

Chairman: Of the ten killed, how many were the Baldwin-Felts people?

Hatfield:  Seven.

Chairman:  And the other three were who?

Hatfield:  Bob Mullins.

Chairman:  One was the mayor?

Hatfield:  Yes sir.

Chairman:  Who were the other two?

Hatfield:  Bob Mullins and Tod Pinsley (Tot Tinsley)

Chairman:  Were they citizens of the town?

Hatfield: Yes sir.

Chairman: Did you know whether the Baldwin-Felts people had been employed in these labor troubles?

Hatfield:  Mr. Smith, the superintendent of Stone Mountain told us the Baldwin-Felts people were coming.

Chairman:  Are you a member of the United Mine Workers?

Hatfield: No sir.

Chairman:  Have you ever been a miner?

Hatfield:  Yes sir.

Chairman:  Or a member of any of their organizations?

Hatfield: No sir.  Nothing only the Odd Fellows and K. P. and Redman.

Chairman:  Were there any troubles after that at Matewan or in that immediate vicinity growing out of the labor situation?

Hatfield:  Not that I remember of right at the present.

Chairman:  You were indicted yourself, Mr. Hatfield?

Hatfield:  Yes sir.

Chairman: And you have been tried?

Hatfield:  Yes sir.  I was tried on one occasion.

Chairman:  Were you acquitted?

 Hatfield:  Yes sir.

Senator McKellar:  Let me see if I understand you.  You say that on this particular day you were the marshal of that little town and the mayor directed you to arrest these seven or eight men who were armed?

Hatfield:  Thirteen men.

McKellar:  Thirteen men?

Hatfield:  Yes sir.

McKellar:  And the mayor had directed you to arrest them for what?  What were they doing?

Hatfield:  We had an ordinance for nobody to have a gun unless he is an officer.

McKellar:  And these 13 men were there with guns?

Hatfield:  Yes sir.

McKellar:  And in that way they were violating the town ordinance?

Hatfield:  Yes sir.

McKellar:  Now, let me ask you, how did it happen that the mayor instructed you to arrest them?

Hatfield:  I asked him for a warrant.

McKellar:  You asked him for a warrant?

Hatfield:  Yes sir.

McKellar:  You had seen these men there?

Hatfield:  Yes sir.  They came through the town – through the back streets in automobiles.

McKellar:  When you first saw them, when you first talked with them, did they say anything about arresting you?

Hatfield:  No sir. Not when I first talked with them.

McKellar:  They did not say anything about arresting you until you attempted to arrest them?

Hatfield:  No sir.

McKellar:  And then, as I understand you, they said, “Why, we have a warrant for you?”

Hatfield:  Yes sir.

McKellar:  Did they show the warrant?

Hatfield:  They didn’t show it to me.

McKellar:  How did they happen to shoot the mayor?

Hatfield:  When he told them the warrant was bogus and they got up an argument there.

McKellar:  Who shot him?

Hatfield:  Albert Felts.

McKellar:  Was that the only provocation he had, because the mayor of the city told him that was a bogus warrant?

Hatfield:  Well, there had been some argument about throwing people out, over them throwing them out, but that was what was said then he was shot.

McKellar: That was what was said when he was shot?

Hatfield:  Yes sir.

McKellar:  Who did the rest of the shooting?

Hatfield:  It was shooting in general.

McKellar:  The shooting became general then.

Hatfield:  Yes sir.

Avis:  Mr. Hatfield, did you not within less than two weeks after Mayor Testerman was killed, marry his widow?

Hatfield:  I did.

Avis:  Are you now running his place of business?

Hatfield:  I am.

Avis: Don’t you know Mr. Hatfield, that a number of witnesses who testified before the grand jury, one of whom also testified against you in the last trial, have been assassinated?

Hatfield:  I do not know that.

Avis:  Did you know Anse Hatfield?

Hatfield:  I did.

Avis:  Did he not testify before the grand jury?

Hatfield:  Not as I know of.

Avis:  Was he not at Matewan on the day of the shooting?

Hatfield:  He was there before the shooting.  I do not know where he was at the time of the shooting.

Avis:  Was he not shortly after that assassinated?

Hatfield:  Yes sir.

Avis  Did you know Squire Staton?

Hatfield:  Yes.

Avis:  Was he not a short time ago, since the trial of the case in which he testified against you, assassinated?

Hatfield:  Yes, but I was informed that one of the operators killed him.

Avis:  One of your co-defendants is now under indictment for doing that, is he not?

Hatfield:  Not as I know of.

Avis:  Are you under indictment for killing Anse Hatfield?

Hatfield:  Yes sir.

Avis:  Are you nor under indictment in McDowell County, an indictment returning this week, charging you with conspiracy in connection with other, to blow up the coal tipple at Mohawk?

Hatfield:  That is the first I heard of it.

Avis:  Don’t smile Mr. Houston, because it is true.

Hatfield:  That is made up, like the rest.

Avis:  Are you not under indictment for knocking down Mr. J. P. Smith with a rifle, the man who now sits back of you?

Hatfield:  Not as I know of.

Avis:  You were arrested weren’t you?

Hatfield:  No sir.  I was not.

Avis:  You did have a rifle with you, did you not?

Hatfield: Yes sir.

Avis: And you got into a controversy with him.

Hatfield:  I slapped him down.

Avis:  And you hit him with a rifle, didn’t you?

Hatfield:  I hit ‘em but not with a rifle.

Chairman:  The witness is excused.

 

There were, of course, eyewitnesses to the Matewan Massacre.  Here some of those witnesses and some of the versions passed on to their descendants.

 

Hawthorne Burgraff - - “What I’m gonna tell you is exactly what my father told me.  When they arrived in Matewan and got off the train, they had satchels with ‘em. We called ‘em grips back then, they call ‘en satchels, suitcases or whatever.  But they had in those suitcases submachine guns.  They call ‘em Thompson submachine guns.  Of course they wore their pistols on their side, because they were officers of the law.  But when they got off of the train in Matewan, Sid and my father walked over to Albert Felts, he was the leader of the Baldwin-Felts detectives, and introduced themselves and asked him what he was doing down there.  And Albert said, “We’ve come down here on a job.  The coal company has asked us to put those people out of the houses and that is what our intentions are.  We’re strictly goin’ to do that.”  It was Sid who said, “Well, you know that’s goin’ to lead to trouble.”  And Albert Felts said, “Well, we’re prepared to take care of any trouble that might come our way, we’ve trained men.  And my advice to you is not to interfere with the Baldwin-Felts detectives.”  Well, my father and Sid left and went back over the tracks into Matewan and the detective force went over to the camps and started their job of putting people out of the houses.  My Daddy’s brother, Albert, lived in one of those houses.  So, they moved out one family after another, maybe one or two, to set an example of what was going to happen.” And set an example they did, Evicting six families and piling up their belongings – iron skillets, clothes, rocking chairs – out in the drizzling rain.  By the time the Baldwin-Felts men got back to Matewan news of the evictions had spread and people were angry.  Sid Hatfield had let it be known he planned to arrest the detectives  . . . and townspeople were preparing for a confrontation.  Men hurried into town with guns tucked under their jackets and women frantically tried to get children off the streets.”

 

Dixie Accord was a young girl at the time.  She remembers standing with her grandmother and watching Hatfield, Fred Burgraff, and Mayor Cable Testerman, and the Baldwin-Felts detectives face off under the porch of the Chambers Hardware Store. “My grandmother turned to me and she said, “You go home.”  And I went; I knew to mind and I started walking home.”

 

Bill Hall - - “Nobody knowed who shot who that day because they was shootin’ at everybody that moved.”

 

Fred Burgraff - - Fred Burgraff told his son that Albert Felts fired the first shot and dropped the Mayor.

 

Hawthorne Burgraff - - “Albert Felts had on a raincoat because it was raining.  Through the raincoat he shot Cable Testerman in the stomach.”

 

Dixie Accord - - “I walked as fast as I could for an 8 year old girl and when I set foot upon our front porch there were a thousand shots fired in ten minutes.”

 

Hawthorne Burgraff - - “Albert Felts ran down to the post office and found shelter there.  But Sid went after him because he knew that he needed to get rid of this fellow.  So, as he approached the post office, he hollered in and told Albert, “Come out and shoot it out like a man,” and my father said Albert replied, “If you want me, come and get me.”  Well, they started pouring bullets into the post office and Albert came out shooting and Sid killed him.”

 

Dixie Accord - - “We ran to the back facing the Tug River cause we lived between the N & W Railroad and the Tug River.  That was Kentucky over there.  I saw at least twenty people come out of Matewan and swim the Tug into Kentucky.”

 

Bill Hall - - “One boy killed one with a bottle of chloroform.  He ran into the doctor’s office to hide and one of the Felts men come backin’ in there with a gun in his hand a shootin’.  The boy got scared and hit him in the back of the head with a jug of chloroform.”

 

Dixie Accord - - “All that happened in a matter of minutes.  It was horrible.  To me, I will never forget it for as long as I live . . . all those shots being fired. I never, well it just . . . it just seemed like the end of the world to me.”

 

Charles Everett Lively was not there at the time of the shooting.  He was sent to investigate what happened by the mine operators, and he just happened to be in the office of the President of the UMWA District 17 in Charleston during the incident.  He also testified before the Congressional Committee on Education and Labor. (Note: The Damron who is asking the questions is the same Damron who issued the warrant for Sid Hatfield’s arrest that Mayor Testerman declared bogus, and this triggered the Matewan Massacre) That testimony is as follows:

 

Damron:  Give your name and age.

Lively:  C. E. Lively age 34.

Damron:  Where do you live?

Lively: Bluefield, West Virginia.

Damron:  How old are you?

Lively:  34.

Damron:  Are you married or single?

Lively:  Married.

Damron:  What sized family do you have?

Lively:  Five children.

Damron:  A wife and five children.

Lively:  Yes sir.

Damron: Are you a native of West Virginia?

Lively:  Yes sir.

Damron: In what county were you born?

Lively:  Kanawha County.

Damron:  Is your father a native of West Virginia?

Lively:  Yes sir.

Damron:  What is your occupation or profession?

Lively:  Secret service.

Damron:  How long have you been in the secret service?

Lively:  About nine or ten years.

Damron:  What was your occupation prior to that time?

Lively: Coal mining.

Damron:  How long had you been a coal miner?

Lively:  Ever since I was about 14.  I first started to work in a coal mine when I was 13.

Damron:  What particular work in the mine did you do?

Lively:  I did most anything about a mine.

Damron:  Have you worked in the coal mines since you took up the work of secret service?

Lively:  Yes sir.

Damron:  When you say you were in the secret service, what do you mean?  State or Federal?

Lively:  No sir.  I was working for the detective agency, employed by the Baldwin-Felts detective agency.

Damron:  Your secret service work has been confined to the Baldwin-Felts detective agency?

Lively: Yes sir.

Damron:  And in what year did you take employment with that company?

Lively:  It was either 1912 or 1913.

Damron:  Where were you when you were employed?

Lively:  I was in Thurmond, West Virginia.

Damron:  What county?

Lively:  Fayette.

Damron:  Are you a member of the United Mine Workers of America?

Lively:  No sir.  I was expelled a long time ago.

Damron: How long has it been since you were expelled?

Lively:  Just after I gave testimony in the Matewan trial in Mingo County.

Damron:  For how long were you expelled?

Lively:  For 99 years.

Chairman:  How much time of that have you served?

Lively:  About two months.

Damron:  How long have you been a member of the UMWA?

Lively: I first joined the UMWA, I think, in 1902.

Damron:  At what place?

Lively:  At Blackhand, West Virginia.

Damron:  The Blackhand local?

Lively:  Yes sir.

Damron: What county was that?

Lively: Kanawha County.

Damron: Were you a member of the UMWA when you entered service with the Baldwin-Felts detective agency?

Lively:  Yes sir.

Damron:  What year was that?

Lively:  It is either the last part of 192 or early 1913.

Damron:  Mr. Lively, in your work with this organization have you ever done guard duty work?

Lively:  No sir.

Damron:  Has all of your work been of a secret nature?

Lively:  Up until February, I think it was.

Damron:  Of this year?

Lively:  Yes sir.

Damron: And that was after your identity was disclosed by what is known as the Matewan trials at Williamson?

Lively:  Yes sir.

Damron: At what time in the year did you leave West Virginia after you attended the Charleston convention?

Lively:  It must have been July or August.

Damron:  To what state and place did you go?

Lively: I went to the State of Missouri, Joplin.

Damron: I wish you would tell the committee briefly which states that you have worked in since you left WV.

Lively:  I worked in the State of Illinois, Missouri, Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado.

Chairman: Did you work as a detective in these states?

Lively:  Yes sir.

Chairman: Or as a miner?

Lively: Both sometimes.

McKellur:  Did you affiliate with the miners at the time as if you were a member of their organization?

Lively:  Yes sir.

McKellar: And at the same time you were giving reports to the Felts-Baldwin agency.

Lively:  Yes sir.

McKellar:  You felt, in the way you were working, you were doing entirely what was right and proper?

Lively: Yes sir.

McKellar:  You saw nothing wrong in that.

Lively:  I saw nothing wrong about it; nothing illegitimate or illegal.

Chairman:  When you went to these other States, did the miners pay your expenses when you traveled around?

Lively:  From one state to another?

Chairman: Yes.

Lively:  No sir.

Chairman: When you were in the State did they pay your expenses?

Lively:  Part of the time.

Chairman:  And did the Felts-Baldwin people pay your expenses a part of the time?

Lively: Not what the miner paid or the miners organization.

Chairman:  You were careful about that?

Lively:  What was that?

Chairman:  You wanted to be very careful that both sides did not pay your expenses?  Did you keep a memorandum of your expenses?

Lively: Yes sir.

McKellar:  If you had disclosed your connection with the detective agency, do you suppose the miners would have let you in there at all?

Lively:  Let me in there?

McKellar: Yes.

Lively: I think they would have turned me over to the undertaker.

Damon:  While you were in Colorado was there a strike going on there?

Lively:  Yes sir.

Damon:  And did you hold any official position with the United Mine Workers while you were operating in Colorado?

Lively: Yes sir.

Damron:  What position?

Lively:  I was vice-president of the local at La Veta.

Damron:  And did you make reports?

McKellar:  Do you mean to say that you were the vice president of the local lodge of the union while you were acting in the employ of the detective agency?

Lively:  Yes sir.  I was working on a murder case’ but understand me, I did not get any pay for that.

McKellar:  But you were elected?

Lively:  Yes.

Vinson:  But the destruction of the Molly McGuires, in Pennsylvania was done exactly as this was done.

McKellar: I will say that it violated every idea of right that I ever had. I never would have believed that a thing like this would happen, and I am not surprised that you are having trouble down there in Mingo County.

Avis:  Senator, with all these murders and depredations being committed . . .

McKellar: Well, let us go on with the examination of the witness, I am frank to say that I cannot approve of that conduct.

Damron:  Shall go on?

Chairman:  Go ahead  . . .

Damron:  Mr. Lively, after you completed your work in these various states by your organization, did you come back to West Virginia?

Lively:  Yes sir.

Damron:  In what time did you go to Mingo County?

Lively:  I think I first went to Mingo County in January or February; went to Red Jacket.

Damron:  What year?

Lively:  1920

Damron:  Did you go there to do secret service work?

Lively:  Yes sir.

Damron:  I will ask you whether or not prior to that time you had become acquainted with the officers of the United Mine Workers, Fred Mooney and Mr. Keeney?

Lively:  I was with Mr. Mooney, not Mr. Keeney.  Fred Mooney and I were boys together.

Damron:  You and Mr. Mooney, the Treasurer of District 17 were raised together as boys?

Lively:  We first knew each other when we were small boys.

Damron:  After you came back to West Virginia did you visit the headquarters of District 17?

Lively:  In May 1920, I think, was the first time . . .

Damron:  Did you do any work other than secret service work while you were there?

Lively: Yes sit.  I worked in the coal mines.

Damron: For whom did you work?

Lively:  Howard Colleries Co. the same company that had the tipple and coal washer burned.

Damron:  Who did you associate with while you were there?

Lively:  I associated mostly with men who were suspected of burning that tipple.

Damron:  How long did you work on that case, as well as in the mines?

Lively:  I would judge about a month.

Damron:  Why did you quit?

Lively:  I was fired.

Damron:  Who fired you?

Lively:  The superintendent.

Damron: Why did he fire you?

Lively:  Well, I was boarding at the same place with this man that was suspected of burning the tipple and was associating with him, and him not knowing who I was, not knowing I was doing secret service work, I suppose he just thought that I was too friendly with him.

Damron:  Tell the committee whether or not it was the practice of your organization to divulge your name or your business to your operators or other people where you were making an investigation.

Lively:  It is not.  We have positive instructions not to reveal our identity to anyone.

Damron:  After you had made an investigation of the burning of the tipple at Chattaroy, where did you go?

Lively:  I went to Williamson and from there to Merrimack and on to Matewan . . .

Damron:  What, if anything, did you pose to the union miners at Matewan as?

Lively:  Just an ordinary miner, and as belonging to the union, a member of the miner’s union.

Damron:  At that place did you undertake to get into the confidence of the miners’ union?

Lively:  Yes sir.

Damron:  Did you get into their confidence?

Lively:  I think I did.

Damron:  In what way did you get into the confidence of the various local unions that were being organized in the county?

Lively:  By getting into the confidence of the organizers of the various local unions, making myself an active member.

Damron:  Did you assist in the organization of any locals in that county?

Lively:  Yes sir.

Damron:  What locals?

Lively:  Mr. Lavender, who had charge, and Mr. Workman got me to assist in the organizing of War Eagle, Glen Alum and Mohawk, Stone Mountain.

Damron:  Did you have membership in that local?

Lively: Yes Sir, I deposited my card. 

Damron:  How long did you stay at Matewan before you became a permanent resident there?

Lively:  I stayed there until July.

Damron:  Did you bring your family?

Lively:  I brought my family in July.  My family arrived, as well as I remember, about the middle of July.

Damron: And what particular work did you take up after your family came to Matewan?

Lively: I bought a restaurant shortly before my family did come.

Damron:  In what part of Matewan was your restaurant located?

Lively:  The east end of Matewan.

Damron:  From whom did you rent?

Lively:  The UMWA.

Damron:  From the UMWA?

Lively:  I rented the bottom part of the building from them.  They retained the overhead for their offices and headquarters.

. . . . . . . . . . . . .

Damron:  Reference is made by a witness the other day to the effect that this fight or this killing happened between the Baldwin-Felts Agency and the officers of Matewan.  I hand you a list of the names of the 19 defendants that were charged and indicted for the murder of the Baldwin-Felts men on that day, and ask you to tell the committee how many on that list belong to the union.

Lively:  Lee Tower.

Damron:  Get them in number.

Lively:  Oh, how many?

Damron: Out of 19.

Lively:  Well, I say at least 16 of them – and there would leave three more – and I am not positive but I think Sid Hatfield is a member of the same local that I was.

Chairman:  are you sure about that?

Lively:  I think he was.

Chairman:  He testified that he was not a member of the union.  Do you know whether he was a member of the union?

Lively: I can not say positively that he was.

Damron:  Then, out of 19 men that are charged and indicted for the murder of the Baldwin-Felts Agents, 16 of them belong to the union?

Lively:  To the UMWA and two of them are secretaries.

Damron:  Now, I want you to tell, from your association with these defendants, and the number from whom you procured confessions that led to the indictments and prosecution for that killing, just taking up the first name on the list, I want you to tell every one, and just take Sid Hatfield and make it as brief as possible.

McKellar:  Are those confessions in writing?

Damron:  No, no confessions in writing.  Take up the first name, Sid Hatfield and tell the committee what part he told you about that he took part in the killing.

Lively:  Well, Sid Hatfield and I were talking at different times about this, and Sid told me that on this day that this shooting was, that there was some evictions made by the Baldwin-Felts detectives of the property of the Stone Mountain houses.  He said that he walked up to Albert Felts and told Felts, he and some more of them, “You are not going according to the law about this, are you?”  Felts said yes, he had consulted an attorney and that he was, and if he thought he was not to call the prosecuting attorney, if he wanted to, and, “if you find I am not, you don’t need to come up after us, but get a note up by a boy and we will come down.”  So they all went back and he called up Williamson and they said that they would have some warrants up there on 16, I think it was.  These men were waiting for 16.

Damron:  By these “men” whom do you mean?

Lively:  These detectives.  They had gotten through with the work of the eviction and they had got their supper and had gotten through with the work and they were walking over to the train, and Sid walked up to Albert Felts and said, “I have got some warrants on 16 for you.  I have got orders to hold you.”  Felts said, “I will just return the compliment to you.  I have warrants for you also.  Do you submit to arrest?  “Yes.”  He and Albert walked down the street there that ran beside the railroad in this little village and he said he had his hands on Albert Felts when he was walking down laughing and talking; he swore and spoke to Albert, called him a bad name and said he knew he was going down laughing and talking to him and was taking him off to kill him.  He got down to the hardware store and someone called to him and he asked permission of Albert to speak to this fellow.  Albert said, “Sure.”  He walked over to the hardware store and he called over names of some men in the hardware store, among them Jim Stafford, Ben Mounts, and some more of them and stood there talking, and Testerman came down and asked Albert Felts to arrange bond for him;  so Albert told him no; he couldn’t give him bond, that he was only an officer and that he would have to take him away.  He said Testerman looked at the warrant and said, “It is bogus anyway.”  Then Isaac Brewer reached out and put his hand on Albert Felt’s shoulder and told him, “You have got the wrong man,” or something that way, and pushed back from Albert, and he said he stuck a gun right up close to Albert’s head and shot him, then he laughed about how it happened.  He said his glasses flew off his eyes and his lips quivered and he fell; and then he told me he shot the mayor there, and he ran out shooting generally; said about the time he shot Felts somebody just cut Cunningham’s head off with a bullet and then he ran out the door, ran out shooting at Lee Felts, and Lee was shot; and then he said he ran around there and one some more shooting; said he just decided to go 50-50 with everyone he saw.  He said in the meantime he had his hat shot off his head.

McKellar:  Did he state he had killed the men to you?

Lively:  Yes sir.  He told me he shot the mayor.  I asked why he did it.  He said he was getting too well lined up with those Baldwin-Felts men.

Damron:  In connection with that, tell the committee whether or not the mayor had been seen in the company with these detectives that day after they had come back from these evictions.

Lively:  My investigation revealed that he had.

Chairman:  How many men did he tell you he shot?

Lively:  Him?  Well, he told me he shot Albert Felts and he told me he shot one down there at the bank, according to my investigation the fellow named Brewer, and the three that he told me he shot himself or was shooting at.

Chairman:  How many men were shot there, did he tell you?

Lively:  At that time?

Chairman:  Yes.

Lively:  From the best I can get of it, being there with these fellows, there were several of them shooting.

Chairman:  Were the detectives shooting too?

Lively:  They said they were.

Damron:  Which one of the detectives did he say was shooting?

Lively:  He said Cunningham shot some.  Lee Felts and a man by the name of Booher after he got so far down there, after he ran about a block and a half, that he did some shooting.

McKellar:  Someone must have done some shooting if they killed 10 and wounded four. 

 

The congressional committee, known as the Kenyon Committee, condemned the practice in Logan County of paying the sheriff and his deputies from funds contributed by the coal operators instead of exclusively from the public treasury, but no federal action resulted from the committee’s work.

 

In January 1921, Sid Hatfield and fifteen others were tried for murder (attributed to the Matewan incident) and acquitted in a jury trial.  Albert Felts had hired the “seven best attorneys” to prosecute the case, but in a controversial trial, no one was found guilty.  On August 7, 1921 on the steps of the McDowell County Courthouse, Sid Hatfield and Ed Chambers were fatally shot by Charles Everett Lively before dozens of witnesses.

No witnesses would testify.  Charles Everett Lively was later acquitted in a trial. 

The judge who tried the case against C. E. Lively, said many years later that the “whole thing from the shooting-up of the Mohawk camp (in which Sid Hatfield was called before a McDowell County Grand Jury) to the killing of Hatfield and Chambers just before their appearance at the McDowell Grand Jury, was a well laid plan of the Baldwin-Felts mine guards and certain county officials to get the Mingo criminals into McDowell County where the guards could safely take summary vengeance . . .”

While he may not have known it at the time, C. E. Lively set in motion events that would change coal mining and labor relations in the United States forevermore.  So notorious was the Matewan Massacre and so obvious was the action of vengeance by C. E. Lively on behalf of the coal mine operators, that the federal government could not help but take notice.  The light of day was about to shine on West Virginia and all the world would see.

But attitudes change slowly.

Much of the publicity of the time saw rampant unionism as “left wing” and “socialist”, even “communist”.  Public sympathy was not with the miners.  Nor did they seek positive public relations.

On the day after the killing of Sid Hatfield and Ed Chambers, the District 17 headquarters posted a placard in their window that read; “Shall the government live of the people, for the people, and by the people of West Virginia, or be destroyed by the Baldwin-Felts detective agency, which substitutes itself for authority.”  The UMWA, especially Keeney, and the miners had become so firm in their belief that the government, courts, coal mine operators and the public were depriving them of their constitutional rights and common everyday fairness, that they believed their only “political power only came from the barrel of a gun.” Six days after the murders of Hatfield and Chambers, 5,000 coal miners and the UMWA met for ten hours in Charleston. They heard time and again that, “We have no recourse except to fight.  The only way you can get your rights is with a high-powered rifle, and the man who does not have this equipment is not a good union man.”  Frank Keeney said, “I will go to Mingo County and fight them myself.”  And, “If we meet any resistance . . . the Matewan affair will look like a sunbonnet parade compared to what will happen.”

On August 7, 1921, 1,000 miners presented Governor Morgan with a resolution calling for an end to martial law which had been declared in Mingo County.  Under such law, 130 miners had been arrested for union activities and held without charges; an ill-timed action.  The governor refused to revoke the declaration.  With that, Frank Keeney called upon miners to assemble at Marmet, south of Charleston.  From there he planned to march thousands of miners sixty-five miles to Logan County, then to Mingo County.  It appears that Keeney hoped to provoke a confrontation in the form of a gun battle with the coal mine operator-supported Sheriff Don Chafin, his deputies and the mine guards, and free the miners held in jail there.  Some said they just wanted to hang the Sheriff.

On August 20, 5,000 miners, armed with rifles and one old machine gun with 3,000 rounds of ammunition for it, formed a column and begun the march to Logan.  Along the way new recruits joined and the numbers grew to about 20,000 men.

Realizing that two years of cumulative “insurrectionary fury” were about to explode in the coalfields, Governor Morgan asked President Harding for 1,000 troops and military aircraft. Five days later Harding sent Brigadier General Henry H. Bandholtz to investigate.

The miners were serious.  Among the marchers were 2,000 veterans and several former officers.  Training ensued.  Trenches were dug in preparation of the marchers.  An advanced patrol of 500 miners cut down telephone poles and telegraph lines and cleared a sixty-five mile area of Baldwin-Felts guards.  Until the ascent up Blair Mountain, nothing much happened.

At Blair the battle raged for a week. Planes that the Logan County Coal Operator Association had rented shelled the miners with gas and crudely made shrapnel bombs for three days.  Both armies took prisoners.  Both sides killed.

A message sent from Sheriff Chafin’s headquarters read: “As I have returned from the front trenches, thought I would try and tell you something about what is going on over there . . . we certainly have been doing some honest to God fighting the past few days.  We lost three men yesterday; happened about 8 am.  Perhaps I will stop and tell you all on my way home, if I don’t get bumped off before I get away.  Give my regards to the boys and kill all the red necks you can.”

A horrified nation sat back in disbelief.  Newspapers were reporting the largest armed conflict in American labor history.

President Harding called it a “civil war”.

Governor Morgan claimed the miners were under the influence of “Bolshevist” from Indiana, Ohio and Illinois.”

By the morning of September 1, the miners had captured one-half of the twenty-five mile ridge and were in a position to descend upon Logan and Mingo Counties.  Coal operators were frantic in their calls to Washington for troops. 

Harding had decided that Governor Morgan and local officials were too much a part of the problem to be effective in its solution.  Harding issued a proclamation as a first step toward federal intervention.  The proclamation called for both sides to disperse by noon on September 1, 1921.  Skirmishes still took place on the 2nd.  Bandholtz deployed his troops on September 3rd: 2,000 regular Army and fourteen bombers.  From a tactical point of view, President Harding and General Bandholtz had achieved their goal – the fighting had been halted.

The roots causes of the strife had yet to be addressed.  But the nation was now focused on West Virginia.

The end of the Battle at Blair Mountain created a set-back for the UMWA in the short term.  Organizing in the southern West Virginia mines slowed to a halt.  By 1924 UMWA membership had dropped by about one-half.  Frank Keeney was forced out of the union.  Investigations investigated and trials proceeded; and this American way of a public sorting out of issues continued.  In 1933 the National Industrial Recovery Act protected the rights of unions and allowed for the rapid organization of the southern coalfields.  John L. Lewis came to power and never let the issues of coal mining fade far from the public view, and the people of West Virginia gained back some of what they had lost.

And were it not for Sid Hatfield and Charles E. Lively, both cousins to me, this issue of justice in the West Virginia coalfields might have taken considerably longer – assuming of course, that there is justice there today.

 

-Gerald Lewis Lively

    2003

 

 

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