“They’re going to bomb us!” (Mine Wars, Part 3)

Lick Creek Camp Dwellers, 1922 (Image credit: Library of Congress)


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“You know our rights under the Constitution, that no man should be condemned or jailed until we have had a free and impartial trial. We claim to be citizens of the United States and we ask for the rights of citizenship ; we claim to be loyal to our country, and we are loyal to our country, and all we ask is that we shall have our rights. We claim that we are citizens of the United States of America, according to the amendment to the Constitution. You know that that guarantees us free and equal rights and that is all we ask.”

–Testimony of George Echols, miner and UMWA organizer

The West Virginia Mine Wars were a series of armed conflicts between coal mine operators and employees in the Mountain State.  The first episode in this three-part series was about the conditions in the West Virginia coal fields in the years leading up to the Mine Wars.  The second episode discussed Paint Creek and Cabin Creek strikes that ended in 1913.

For several months, the nation’s attention was focused on the war raging across the Atlantic. West Virginia was the second largest producer of the coal needed to fuel steel mills and Navy ships. The higher demand for coal, along with the labor shortage, lead to an increase in miners’ wages.  But the increases were not permanent, and many of the issues that had sparked the Paint Creek and Cabin Creek strikes remained. And the violence returned. It culminated in the Battle of Blair Mountain, which was the largest armed insurrection in United States since the Civil War.

I referred to several sources, including the following–

The Devil Is Here in These Hills: West Virginia’s Coal Miners and Their Battle for Freedom, by James Green

“A union man: the life of C. Frank Keeney” by Charles Belmont Keeney III

Struggle in the Coal Fields: The Autobiography of Fred Mooney

West Virginia Archives and History

West Virginia Coal Fields, Hearings Before the Committee on Education and Labor U.S. Senate, 67th. Congress, First Session Pursuant to S. Res. 80

Written in Blood: Courage and Corruption in the Appalachian War of Extraction, edited by Wess Harris

“They hit me and threw me down.” (Mine Wars, Part 2)

Mother Jones rallying workers in Montgomery, WV in August 1912 (image credit: WVU Libraries)


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“Mother Jones was then about 80 years of age.  Her hair was snow white, but she was yet full of fight.  With that brand of oratorical fire that is only found in those who originate from Erin, she could permeate a group of strikers with more fight than any living human being.  She fired them with enthusiasm, she burned them with criticism, then cried with them because of their abuses.  The miners loved, worshipped, and adored her.” — Autobiography of Fred Mooney

The problems that had been brewing in West Virginia coal fields came to a violent boil during the Mine Wars. For years, WV mine operators had employed guards from the Baldwin-Felts detective agency. The guards were often “clothed with some semblance of the authority of the law, either by being sworn in as railroad detectives, as constables or deputy sheriffs.”* They were accused of harassing, beating, and even killing miners with impunity.

Like workers all over the country during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, WV miners railed against long hours, low pay, and what some called un-American living conditions. And like many laborers during this tumultuous period, they found comfort and courage in the fiery words of Mary Harris Jones, aka Mother Jones.

This second episode in a three-part series focuses on the Paint Creek and Cabin Creek Strikes, during which martial law was declared three separate times. At least 20 people were killed.

Arms confiscated by National Guard on Paint Creek and Cabin Creek

I referred to several sources, including the following–

Autobiography of Mother Jones

Conditions in the Paint Creek District, West Virginia Hearings Before a Subcommittee of the Committee on Education and Labor, U.S. Senate

The Devil Is Here in These Hills: West Virginia’s Coal Miners and Their Battle for Freedom, by James Green

*Gun Thugs, Rednecks, and Radicals: A Documentary History of the West Virginia Mine Wars, by David Alan Corbin

Struggle in the Coal Fields: The Autobiography of Fred Mooney

West Virginia Archives and History

West Virginia Coal Fields: Hearings Before the Committee on Education and Labor, U.S. Senate

Written in Blood: Courage and Corruption in the Appalachian War of Extraction, edited by Wess Harris

“The worst of the explosion occurred in the No. 8 mine.” (Mine Wars, Part 1)

Trapper Boy, Turkey Knob Mine, Macdonald, W. Va. Boy had to stoop on account of low roof, photo taken more than a mile inside the mine. Witness E.N. Clopper. Location: MacDonald, West Virginia
Trapper Boy, Turkey Knob Mine, Macdonald, W. Va.
Image credit: Library of Congress


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“My first work in the mines was at Borderland, WV, and I was 13 years old.  Back then, people think now, when you say you were 13 years old and start in the mines, they think something funny about it. Back then, there was no such thing as a social security card.  All you had to do was be big enough to do a days work.  I went to helping my Daddy on the track and I was kind of thin and  he told me to put on extra pair of pants and on an extra shirt to look big and we worked on the outside the first day I started to work.  I got hot and started shedding the pants and shirt.” — Frank Brooks, Retired Coal Miner at age 71, 1973

The West Virginia Mine Wars were violent conflicts between mine workers and mine owners, that took place between 1912 and 1922. In all there were five armed battles over that 10-year period:
Paint Creek-Cabin Creek Strike
Battle of Matewan
Battle of Tug
Miners’ March on Logan
Battle of Blair Mountain

One violent exchange took place on February 7, 1913, during the Paint Creek battle. Coal operator Quin Morton and Kanawha County Sherriff Bonner Hill rode an armored train through a miner’s tent colony at Paint Creek. Guards opened fire from the train and killed Cesco Estep, one of the miners on strike. Later, miners attacked an encampment of mine guards. In the ensuing battle at least 16 people, mostly mine guards, were killed.

This first episode in a three-part series focuses on the history of the mining industry, and the conditions that led up to the Mine Wars.

I referred to several sources, including the following–

Black Coal Miners in America: Race, Class, and Community Conflict, 1780-1980, by Ronald L. Lewis

The Devil Is Here in These Hills: West Virginia’s Coal Miners and Their Battle for Freedom, by James Green

Oral History Interview:  Frank Brooks

West Virginia Archives and History

Written in Blood: Courage and Corruption in the Appalachian War of Extraction, edited by Wess Harris