Uncategorized Patrick Mead on 16 Jan 2013 04:13 pm
I’m leaving out a lot here. There were lawsuits filed and countersuits filed in reply. The courts found the Vigilance Committee to be an illegally formed militia without arrest or official powers of any kind. On June 27, Governor Morgan formed a new militia with orders to keep the peace until the newly reorganized National Guard could move units into southern West Virginia. Davis was put right back in charge of it. All of these moves and the scrambling for control in the state got the attention of Washington, DC and several in power there began questioning Governor Morgan’s ability to govern. Some senators called for action and told newspapers that West Virginia was in a state of civil war which could have been prevented, they added, had Washington acted sooner and held hearings on conditions in the mines. They didn’t mention that hearings such as those HAD taken place twice before and only had temporary results.
Speeches given in the US Senate compared the mine owners and state militia to British troops shooting down Irish civilians in their civil war or the Kaiser’s troops killing and raping their way through towns in Europe during the Great War. In case you think this is hyperbole, you need to comb through the archives at the capitol building in West Virginia and see the arms stacked before and after the Battle of Blair Mountain (which we are getting to — promise) and see photos of state troopers and mine guards in trenches, siting their Springfield rifles and Thompson machine guns at unseen foes across battle scarred fields. Still, the hearings were in large part a disappointment for the miners. They wanted to talk about constitutional rights but found little or no interest in the senate for that discussion. Instead, the senators wanted lurid details of violence and moonshining and dark deeds. Some things never change.
The miners saw what the senators wanted and switched tactics, bringing in witness after witness to murder and mistreatment. The unions told the senators that miners were well paid, earning $400-700 a month, a huge sum in those days. Miners were able to prove that the top rate for a non-union miner was less than $5 a day. Union lawyers accused the miners of trying to murder them. Upon cross examination, miners admitted to shooting at them but insisted they weren’t trying to kill them. “When a mountaineer shoots at you twice and doesn’t hit you, he wasn’t trying to hit you” one said. That got a laugh out of the senators to the chagrin of mine company lawyers. It became public that police officers, sheriffs, deputies, and militiamen were being paid by mine owners and that caused a huge uproar. Everyone in West Virginia and Kentucky had known that for years but only now was that being made known in the halls of the US capitol and the reaction was fatal to the mine owners’ case.
And yet… while the mine companies lost the battles in DC and while the unions thought they had won the day, the senators never got around to changing law or doing anything to help the UMW or the common miner. It was all show and sound and fury and headlines with no effect whatsoever on reality. It was shortly after returning from these hearings that Sid Hatfield was shot down on the courthouse steps in Welch, West Virginia (McDowell County) by Baldwin-Felts men. When no help came from Charleston or Washington, the miners realized they’d been abandoned again.
Sam Montgomery, a union representative and a friend of Sid Hatfield, said at his funeral “We have gathered here today to perform the last sad rites for these two boys who fell victims to one of the most contemptible systems that has ever been known to exist in the history of the civilized world.” He blamed “Sleek, dignified, church going gentlemen who would rather pay fabulous sums to their hired gunmen, to kill and slay men for joining a union than to pay like or less amounts to the men who delve into the subterranean depths of the earth and produce their wealth for them…There can be no peace in West Virginia until the enforcement of the laws is removed from the hands of private detective agencies and from those of deputy sheriffs who are paid, not by the state but by the great corporations, most of them owned by non-residents who have no interest in West Virginia’s tomorrow…Even the heavens weep…”
The miners could not control their anger. Sid Hatfield and his friend were shot down but their killers were freely walking around. Hundreds of union miners were in jails, most of them without a formal charge and without legal representation while gun thugs carried fully automatic weapons up and down the streets of coal company towns. Forty thousand miners — who were unable to work because of being blacklisted by the mine companies since they tried to form a union — volunteered to enter the county and sweep the gunmen and coal company owners out of it in one week but Keeney and others talked them out of it. Mother Jones came back to the state — older and not as mentally sharp as she had been before — and railed against Keeney and the unions for not allowing their men to go to all out war. Keeney tried to get the governor to agree to a set of demands and appoint a joint commission so as to avoid further fighting in his state but Governor Morgan flatly refused, turning down every single request made by the union leaders.
The same day Morgan was issuing his refusal to meet with the miners, the sheriff in Logan County saw miners arming themselves and telegraphed the state police for help. What happened next is so sad and Keystone Kop-like that you’d think it was made up. Twelve troopers came into a small town north of Logan to make a show of force. However, one of the troopers ran his horse into a parked car and fell off. Embarrassed and angry, he pulled the innocent driver out and started hitting him, chasing him all the way home. Armed miners were in the area and they took umbrage at this and decided to make their own show of force and they did about as well as the trooper. They fired on a state police car, riddling it with bullets before someone informed them that the car belonged to a railroad worker, not the police. More officers were dispatched but miners met them on the road, pulled them out of their car, disarmed them, and chased them away. The miners then cut the phone and telegraph lines leading into Logan, cutting the county off from the rest of the world. The police retreated and the incident ended.
Other miners were massing outside of Charleston. An estimated 600 armed men were planning a march through Logan County (they were ready to battle Sheriff Chafin) to get to Mingo County and free the union organizers being held without bail or charge in Williamson jail. Keeney and Mooney — the two leaders of the UMW — refused to have anything to do with the march or the demonstration that was planned before it. Newspapers and coal company owners laughed at the very idea that the miners could pull off such a march. Hadn’t the 1919 march failed? Wasn’t Sheriff Chafin ready with a small army of company paid deputies armed to stop them at the border of Logan County?
And yet, while they laughed, miners by the hundreds were arriving from all over southern West Virginia. Many wore the uniforms they’d worn in the Great War while most wore blue bib overalls with a red bandana — the latter becoming a de facto uniform for the march. Friends and enemies saw the bandanas and called them “rednecks” and, yes, that is where that name came from. By August 24, 10,000 armed men were ready to march.
A sad little story here: Mother Jones tried to stop the march but she did so through deceit. She had been in frequent touch with Governor Morgan, the miners’ enemy, and claimed that she had a telegram from President Harding himself asking the miners to disperse. She didn’t, of course. The miners saw through the ruse and were outraged at the lie coming from someone who once stood with them. Her reputation never recovered.
Sheriff Logan amassed his private army of 300 deputies and called on the citizens of Logan County to come out and face down the rabble headed their way. All strikebreaking miners were required to come out or be fired. He eventually got 3000 armed citizens on the line. He equipped them by raiding every store in his county. No only did they get bedding and food and clothing, they got fully automatic machine guns (legal to buy in every state in the US until the 1930s), cut down trees, and established breastworks, trenches, and barricades covering all approaches to the county line. The lines stretched for 15 miles, covering gaps between mountain ridges. One of those ridges was known as Blair Mountain and it was about to enter history.