Paint Creek-Cabin Creek strike of 1912

Mother Jones stayed in Paint Creek.

To understand the origins of Blair Mountain, one needs to look back about a decade earlier in 1912. The Paint Creek-Cabin Creek strike of 1912 was a confrontation between striking coal miners and coal operators in Kanawha County, West Virginia, centered around the area enclosed by two streams, Paint Creek and Cabin Creek.

The strike lasted from April 18, 1912 through July 1913. The confrontation directly caused perhaps fifty violent deaths, as well as many more deaths indirectly caused by starvation and malnutrition among the striking miners. In the number of casualties it counts among the worst conflicts in American labor history.

Prior to the strike there were 96 coal mines in operation on Paint Creek and Cabin Creek, employing 7500 miners. Of these mines, the forty-one on Paint Creek were all unionized, as was all of the rest of Kanawha River coal field except for the 55 mines on Cabin Creek. However, miners on Paint Creek received compensation of 2½¢ less per ton than other union miners in the area. When the Paint Creek union negotiated a new contract with the operators in 1912, they demanded that operators raise the compensation rate to the same level as the surrounding area. This increase would have cost operators approximately fifteen cents per miner per day, but the operators refused. The union called a strike for April 18, 1912.

Their demands where: A.) Recognition of the Union, B.) Improved Pay and the removal cribbing of coal, C.) No blacklisting of fired men, D.) The right to freedom of speech, E.) Removal of requirements to shop at the company store or be fired.

The national United Mine Workers pledged full support, hoping to spread the union into Southern West Virginia, a longtime goal of the union. The UMW promised full financing and any aid it could provide to support strikers. Partly because of the influence of the UMW, the strike was conducted without violence for its first month.

However, on May 10, 1912, the operators on Paint Creek and Cabin Creek hired the notorious Baldwin–Felts Detective Agency to break the strike. Baldwin–Felts responded by sending more than 300 mine guards.

Activist Mother Jones arrived in June, as mine owners began evicting workers from their rented houses, and brought in replacement workers. Beatings, sniper attacks, and sabotage were daily occurrences. Through July, Jones rallied the workers, made her way through armed guards to persuade another group of miners in Eskdale, West Virginia to join the strike, and organized a secret march of three thousand armed miners to the steps of the state capitol in Charleston to read a declaration of war to Governor William E. Glasscock.

On July 26, miners attacked Mucklow, present-day Gallagher, leaving at least twelve strikers and four guards dead. On September 1st, a force of over 5,000 miners from the north side of the Kanawha River joined the strikers’ tent city, leading Governor Glasscock to establish martial law in the region the following day. The 1,200 state troops confiscating arms and ammunition from both sides lessened tensions to some degree, but the strikers were forbidden to congregate, and were subject to fast, unfair trials in military court. Meanwhile strikers’ families began to suffer from hunger, cold, and the unsanitary conditions in their temporary tent colony at Holly Grove.

On October 15th, martial law was lifted, only to be re-imposed on November 15th and lifted on January 10th by Governor Glasscock, with less than two months left in office.

On February 7th Mucklow was again attacked by miners with at least one casualty. In retaliation that evening, the Kanawha County Sheriff Bonner Hill and a group of detectives attacked the Holly Grove miners’ settlement with an armored train, called the “Bull Moose Special.”

Attacking with machine guns and high-powered rifles, the attackers sent 100 machine-gun bullets through the frame house of striker Cesco Estep and killed him. Another miners’ raid on Mucklow killed at least two people a few days later, and on February 10th martial law was imposed for the third and final time.

Mother Jones was arrested on February 13th in Pratt and charged in military court for inciting riot (reportedly for attempting to read the Declaration of Independence), and, later, conspiracy to commit murder. She refused to recognize the jurisdiction of the military court, and refused to enter a plea. Jones was sentenced to twenty years in the state penitentiary and acquired a case of pneumonia.

New governor Dr. Henry D. Hatfield was sworn in on March 4th and immediately traveled to the area as his first priority. He released some thirty individuals held under martial law, transferred Mother Jones to Charleston for medical treatment, and in April moved to impose conditions for the strike settlement. Strikers had the choice to accept Hatfield’s somewhat favorable terms, or be deported from the state. The Paint Creek miners accepted and signed the “Hatfield Contract” on May 1st. The Cabin Creek miners continued to resist, with some violence, until the end of July.

Mother Jones remained under house arrest, in Mrs. Carney’s Boarding House, until she smuggled out a message through a secret trapdoor in her room, a message sent to pro-labor Indiana Senator John Worth Kern. Governor Hatfield released Jones, without comment, after a total of 85 days imprisonment.

The Senate’s Kern Resolution of May 26th 1913 led to the United States Senate’s Committee on Education and Labor opening an investigation into conditions in West Virginia coal mines. Congress almost immediately authorized two similar investigations the cooper mining industry in Michigan, and mining conditions in Colorado.

Published in: on August 7, 2011 at 11:15 pm  Comments Off on Paint Creek-Cabin Creek strike of 1912  
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‘Redneck’ Miners

Origin of the term “redneck”. [Audio]

Back during the early 20th century, the term redneck had a much different meaning than in modern times.

The United Mine Workers of America (UMW) and other unions appropriated both the term redneck and its literal manifestation. While on march, all of the miners wore the famous red bandanna in conjunction with this term; in order to build multiracial unions of white, black, and immigrant miners in the strike-ridden coalfields of northern and central Appalachia between 1912 and 1936.

The earliest printed uses of the word red-neck in a coal-mining context date from the 1912-1913 Paint and Cabin Creeks strike in southern West Virginia and from the 1913-1914 Trinidad District strike in southern Colorado.

UMW national organizers quite possibly transported “redneck” from one section of the country to the other. Then again, its popularizers may have been agents of the Baldwin–Felts Detective Agency, which supplied company guards and spies in both the West Virginia and the Colorado strikes.

Perhaps, the best explanation of redneck to mean “union man” is that the word refers to the red handkerchiefs that striking union coal miners in both southern West Virginia and southern Colorado often wore around their necks or arms as a part of their informal uniform

Published in: on August 7, 2011 at 10:42 pm  Comments Off on ‘Redneck’ Miners  
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African American Miners

The Battle of Blair Mountain can also be viewed in the greater context of the Great Migration that occurred from 1910 to 1940. Many African Americans left the rural South, i.e. Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama, in order to look for better paying jobs and livelihoods. While most would move further north in the Midwest and East, a number did become coal miners in West Virginia. For example, the McDowell County black population alone increased from 0.1 percent in 1880 to 30.7 percent in 1910. It also important to keep in mind that there was also an already in the state of West Virginia, they up made up an estimated 20% of the total population in the 1920s.

The black man who migrated to the coal towns of Central Appalachia fared far better than his counterpart who stayed down on the farm. He had the advantage of relative independence in his work, known as “miner’s freedom.” (1) His paydays were closer together and with a difference in pay that could average as much as $6.00 per day, he could be free from debt in a relatively short period of time. He also had the freedom of movement; if he didn’t like the working conditions or the pay at one mining camp, he could simply pack up and move to another. (2)

Many black men were enticed to the Coal Towns after the Civil War being told they would be provided with a house, dry goods, and that they could bring their whole families. However, the reality was much different, like his European-American counter parts he would have to work from before daylight to past sundown and if he died in the mine his widow could send in a son to replace him.

Black miners appeared to value the lack of (white) supervision that was such an integral part of coal mining in the era before mechanization gained such a foothold. Additionally, migrant blacks found similarities between their former system of tenant farming and the company owned coal towns to which they moved. As in their sharecropping days, black miners started out their career in debt for the cost of tools, housing, food and often transportation from their former homes. One important difference however was that the black coal miner had far more earning power in the mines than he had on the farm. Thus, he was able to clear up his initial debts far quicker. An added bonus to blacks moving into the West Virginia coalfields was the franchise. West Virginia was the only state to give its black residents the vote.(Source: http://www.wvculture.org/history/wvhs1503.html)

At first attempts to try and unionize the African American workers in the 1910s was very difficult to do since many did not want to risk their livelihoods.

While segregation existed in the communities, inside the mines it was equal pay for equal work. However, not all work was divided equally among black miners and their white peers. Black miners were routinely given the harder, more dangerous or less skilled jobs. Rarely were black miners given positions of authority over white miners. While the white miners did not seem to mind working beside the black miners underground, they severely resisted any attempts to upgrade the African Americans to higher skilled positions. (Source: http://www.wvculture.org/history/wvhs1503.html)

By the time Blair Mountain occurred many did join the attempt to organize. During the battle, many blacks fought alongside their white counterparts. There are many stories in which both black men and white men ate side by side in a company mess halls that normally excluded both ethnic groups from intermingling with each other.

Between 1930 and 1950, the number of blacks in the coal mining industry in the central Appalachian states declined 38 percent and many moved to northern cities in the second wave of the Great Migration to Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and Chicago.

1. Lewis, 80, 2. Lewis, 93.

Published in: on July 11, 2011 at 7:46 pm  Comments Off on African American Miners  
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Miners with Bombs

In an attempt to drive the miners away from the battlefield, Don Chafin hired biplanes to bombard the area with gas bombs left over from the First World War. Most did little damage but during the trial of Bill Blizzard they were used to gain sympathy from the jury. This proved to be effective.

Published in: on June 28, 2011 at 10:20 pm  Comments Off on Miners with Bombs  
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J.P. Morgan Battles Coal Miners in 1902

http://www.history.com/flash/VideoPlayer.swf?vid=971173601

Published in: on June 24, 2011 at 6:00 pm  Comments Off on J.P. Morgan Battles Coal Miners in 1902  
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Background Events 1

The origins of the events that would led up to the largest class war in American history, began as early as 1902 when miners tried to organize a union for coal miners in West Virginia. It is estimated that from 1900 to 1922, that miners produced more than 86 million tons of coal a year that helped fuel the industries of America. Often times, the miners would work for more than 12 hours a day, six to seven days out of the week. Like the Anaconda Company, the coal business made it seemed like their region was the best place to work, “the treatment accorded the laboring man in this field by the operators has been uniformly courteous and employers have been very generous.”

U.S. entry into World War I in 1917 sparked a boom in the coal industry, increasing wages. However, the end of the war resulted in a national recession. Coal operators laid off miners and attempted to reduce wages to pre-war levels. Southern West Virginia was one of the last places in the United States that lacked unions for the coal workers and member of the United Mine Workers of America demanded that these men have a right to unionize. Unlike the IWW, the UMWA was a well organized and had a very credible philosophy that was not revolutionary.

The miners were looking to establish collective bargining rights in order to secure better pay (on average they were paid around 47 cents per ton of coal), safety conditions, and to end the abusive slave labor system that most coal companies maintained in this region.

In response against the UMWA, the coal mine owners sent in members of the Baldwin-Felts private police force to harass miners that were considering joining and also enforced the will of the operators. The Baldwin-Felts forces were a detective agency that was first formed in the 1890s to deal with banditry issues on the railroads that ran through both Virginia and West Virginia. However, with that decline, they willingly switched to becoming strike breakers for more income.

In Logan County, the coal operators hired Sherriff Don Chafin to do their dirty work and keep unions out of the region. Chafin was a popular figure to anti-union companies since he embodied both the legal and violent aspects of the operators’ will; he misused his deputies to assault and evict union organizers as soon as they set foot in the county.

By 1921, in both Logan and Mingo Counties, over 100 people were arrested without the due process of law for attempting to organize the region.

Published in: on June 24, 2011 at 2:24 pm  Comments Off on Background Events 1  
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Ludlow Massacre

While the Ludlow Massacre in Colorado was almost ten years before Blair Mountain, the miners were fighting for the same right to organize a union in the coal mines.The Ludlow Massacre resulted in the violent deaths of 19 people during an attack by the Colorado National Guard on a tent colony of 1,200 striking coal miners and their families at Ludlow, Colorado on April 20, 1914. The deaths occurred after a day-long fight between strikers and the Guard. Two women and eleven children were asphyxiated and burned to death. Three union leaders and two strikers were killed by gunfire, along with one child, one passer-by, and one National Guardsman. In response, the miners armed themselves and attacked dozens of mines, destroying property and engaging in several skirmishes with the Colorado National Guard.

In response to the Ludlow massacre, the leaders of organized labor in Colorado issued a call to arms, urging union members to acquire “all the arms and ammunition legally available,” and a large-scale guerrilla war ensued, lasting ten days. In Trinidad, Colorado, UMWA officials openly distributed arms and ammunition to strikers at union headquarters. 700 to 1,000 strikers “attacked mine after mine, driving off or killing the guards and setting fire to the buildings.” At least fifty people, including those at Ludlow, were killed in ten days of fighting against mine guards and hundreds of militia reinforcements rushed back into the strike zone. The fighting ended only when US President Woodrow Wilson sent in Federal troops.The troops, who reported directly to Washington, DC, disarmed both sides, displacing and often arresting the militia in the process.

This conflict, called the Colorado Coalfield War, was the most violent labor conflict in US history; the reported death toll ranged from 69-199.

Published in: on June 8, 2011 at 8:23 pm  Comments Off on Ludlow Massacre  
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Ludlow Miners

This is a picture of striking miners from the American West from 1914. While this is not a part of the history of Blair Mountain, this does provide a good look at how some of the men at Blair might have looked during the battle.

Published in: on June 2, 2011 at 9:42 pm  Comments Off on Ludlow Miners  
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91 Years Ago Today

Published in: on May 19, 2011 at 10:00 am  Comments Off on 91 Years Ago Today  
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Striking Miners

These are a series of photographs of striking miners in WV by Horydczak, Theodor, ca. 1920. Hopefully, these will help give more examples of what sort of clothing was worn at the time.

Published in: on May 10, 2011 at 5:09 pm  Comments Off on Striking Miners  
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