I wrote about this bit of local history back in 2020 for the 100 year anniversary for it but that was on the LooseRounds website which is now pinning for the fjords as Hognose was wont to say. Over the weekend I went back to the yearly anniversary event to check it out again. The town now puts on a re-enactment of the shoot-out and has a museum.
If you don’t know anything about it, the event was a gunfight between local coal miners and the town police chief and coal company enforcers. The mine wars was a big thing in this area back in the day. The Battle of Blair Mountain being a real banner moment for the US government as it machine gunned and aerial bombed coal miners. But that is a story for another time. I live very close to the WV border in the area on the KY and WV sides that all this happened as well as the Hatfield and McCoy feud. I will share some pictures below then an article filling you in on the history.
The events took place in 1920, you can see some various coal miner stuff in the museum entrance.
Above is a model 1873 dug up on top of Blair mountain from the fight. Blair Mountain has been gone now for a while, Strip mined into oblivion.
Some of the remaining bullet holes in the brick wall where the firefight took place
A rifle that belonged to Don Chafin. I wrote about Chafin in a little bio no one read but you can read here if you want.
A real Canary cage used in the mines back then.
Browning used at the Battle of Blair Mountain.
A 1903 used by the Army at the time, Though the model is wrong, the museum curator didn’t want to hear me explaining to them how they got it wrong.
Badge by one of the Matewan cops during the mine wars.
Script the coal companies paid the miners at the time instead of US money. A way to enslave them. A tale as old as time.
Below is some more detail but not a lot. Truth is, there was no good guys in this story. The giant mining companies were as dirty as they still are, and the miners and their pals were no saints. we are talking about The Union here after all. People who wanted local power with their own little criminal dirty empires they wanted to protect. It’s all so tiresome.
They did make a movie about it in the 1980s.
One of the most infamous events of the West Virginia mine wars was a deadly shoot-out in the mining town of Matewan in Mingo County. The incident, which occurred on May 19, 1920, involved several private security guards hired by mine owners to maintain control of their workers, the local sheriff Sid Hatfield, the mayor of Matewan, Cable Testerman, and local residents. The shoot-out was a major catalyst that led to the March on Logan County that culminated in the Battle of Blair Mountain, the largest armed labor uprising in U.S. history.
With the support of the United Mine Workers (UMW), the primary labor union representing American coal miners at the time, miners in Mingo County decided to strike in the Spring of 1920. The strike largely stemmed from the operators’ continued employment of private mine guards to suppress the miners’ attempts to organize. Once the strike was declared, the operators refused to compromise and began evicting from company housing the families of miners who had joined the union. They then hired the notorious Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency guards to forcibly remove mining families from an independent tent camp that had formed to house the evicted families near Lick Creek, even though they had no legal authority to do so. Albert and Lee Felts, brothers of Baldwin-Felts company owner Tom Felts, were two of several agents who came to Matewan to execute the evictions and removals. Both Albert Felts and C. B. Cunningham, another detective, had participated in the brutal suppression of another miners’ strike in Ludlow, Colorado in 1914 (known as the Ludlow Massacre Site—a National Historic Landmark.)
When Sheriff Hatfield and mayor Testerman arrived at the tent colony to investigate what was happening, they demanded to see warrants for the evictions from the Baldwin-Felts agents. Unable to produce them, the detectives then falsely claimed their actions were sanctioned by a court order. When the detectives returned to Matewan later that day, tensions boiled over between Hatfield and Albert Felts, each claiming they had a right to arrest the other. The verbal altercation turned violent when someone began shooting. By the end of the shootout, Testerman, seven Baldwin-Felts guards (including Albert and Lee Felts), and two other townspeople were dead.
The Matewan Massacre, as it became known, only added fuel to the fire of the regional labor struggle. By July 1920, over 90 percent of miners in Mingo County had pledged the union oath. Sid Hatfield, who escaped injury at the shootout in Matewan, became a symbol of the miners’ struggle against the tyranny and violence of the mine guard system. Today, the Ludlow Massacre Site and the Matewan Historic District are National Historic Landmarks.
The NRA did a thing on the Blair Mountain battle several years ago if you care to look at that.
Hard times, for sure.
How accurate was the movie?
it was hollywood. full of leftist propaganda
There’s a shocker.