Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

History ; Brutal Times in the Hills

Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

History ; Brutal Times in the Hills

Article excerpt

Tonight, public television will relate a violent episode of West Virginia history a tormented episode that wasnt mentioned in school state history courses for many years. - "The Mine Wars," a documentary by filmmaker Mark Samels, was previewed last week at Tamarack, and now it's being aired nationally on the PBS "American Experience show. It's a powerful story about America's largest insurrection since the Civil War.

In the early 1900s, West Virginia coal miners were somewhat like serfs in bondage, killed and maimed in recurring blasts and cave- ins. The new-formed United Mine Workers attempted to unionize the diggers, but was met by union-busting armed guards.

Brutality abounded.

In 1912, Paint Creek miners in eastern Kanawha County struck. Forced out of their company homes, they lived in tent clusters. To counter armed company guards, the UMW sent in guns and ammunition. Gov. William Glasscock declared martial law. Coal operator Quinn Morton put machine guns on a train dubbed "the Bull Moose Special," which rolled along Paint Creek in 1913 firing at tents. Only one striker was killed - reportedly because armored slits in the train cars prevented the machine guns from tilting downward toward crouching targets. In retaliation, armed miners attacked a guard camp at Gallagher in a battle that killed 16.

By 1919, Logan and Mingo counties were a combat zone. Mine owners paid Logan Sheriff Don Chafin to hire many "deputies" to beat and expel union agents and miners who attended organizing sessions.

In 1920, Mingo miners struck. Armed Baldwin-Felts agents evicted them from company houses. Matewan Police Chief Sid Hatfield backed the strikers. He led a squad of armed miners to face union-busters at the town's railway platform. The shootout killed seven guards and four townspeople.

Near-warfare ensued in Mingo. In 1921, a three-day gunbattle raged at Merrimack, killing perhaps 20. President Warren Harding declared martial law in West Virginia. Gov. Ephriam Morgan proclaimed that the region was in "a state of war, insurrection and riot. West Virginia's State Police force was created chiefly to curb coalfield violence. …

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