“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

“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