Armed Miners on Guard

Armed Miners on Guard

Taken sometime during the armed march towards Blair Mountain.

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Published in: on February 6, 2013 at 5:49 pm  Comments Off on Armed Miners on Guard  
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The Siege of Crooked Creek Gap

The Siege of Crooked Creek Gap

The West Virginia Genealogy site has several interviews with miners that fought in the Siege of Crooked Creek Gap, which was one of the areas nearest to Logan. It is considered the “hide tide” of the miner’s army advance.

Published in: on April 20, 2012 at 10:47 pm  Comments Off on The Siege of Crooked Creek Gap  
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Miner’s Double Buckle Boots

 

Since trousers tend to be the first piece of clothing that suffers from day to day wear, workers came up with some pretty inventive ways to keep their clothing in the best of shape as possible.

If one looks closely at these photos of five male employees of the Rocky Mountain Fuel Company in Colorado (circa: 1910-1930), some of the miners have ankle boots similar to the M43 US combat boot.

Boots with ankle gaiters were sometimes worn by workers in the early 20th century in order to prevent the trousers from getting caught up in debris, branches, etc.

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This ad from the mid-to late 1920s also shows an example of the double buckle boots from the era.

Published in: on January 1, 2012 at 1:43 pm  Comments Off on Miner’s Double Buckle Boots  
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Stopping the miners

This article is about a man in Chafin’s army. It explains why some 3000 men fought and volunteered to defend Logan.

By Tim Thornton: http://www.roanoke.com/news/nrv/mountaintop/wb/80666

It was dark and cold when they climbed the mountain, following a well-worn path nearly to its crest. Scrambling the last few feet through meager underbrush, the men settled in to wait for the first hints of daylight.

Tony Gaujot met them on the mountaintop.

Gaujot, a 43-year-old veteran of wars in the Philippines and Europe and previous battles in West Virginia’s coalfields, had been twice charged with murder and once awarded the Medal of Honor. Less than 5 feet, 6 inches tall, he was gaunt. A scar ran across the pale skin of his forehead and nose.

He told the new arrivals to make themselves comfortable. Use the ridge as a shield until the sun rose high enough to light the way to the front line, he said. Get some sleep, he advised. No one did.

When brightening skies silhouetted trees and outlined Spruce Fork Ridge, the volunteers rose and followed the ridge above Crooked Creek Gap northwest away from the oak that hid Gaujot and his machine gun.

Marching in the line of 30 armed men, Joe Savage — his friends called him Buck — watched songbirds flit through the sparse underbrush. He listened to crows cawing and heard, way off the to west, a cow mooing.

It didn’t seem much like a battlefield. Then Savage heard another sound — the pop and echo of rifle fire.

Savage felt relief. His long trip — the train ride, the commandeered taxi, the march up the mountain — it wasn’t pointless after all. There was action in these West Virginia woods, he thought, even if he wasn’t in the middle of it.

Then the air was filled with an odd whining, like the sound of angry bees. Tufts of dirt began to hop into air. Twigs tumbled to the ground. The man in front of Savage staggered and fell.

Gaujot’s machine gun sprang to life, raking the woods below.

And only then, after the old V.P.I. cadet had begun shooting back, did Savage and his companions realize they’d come under attack.

They broke and fled down the mountain to safety.

The man who fell in front of Savage crawled away, then lay face down in the dirt, shot in the buttocks. He would survive, leaving the mountain with his belly draped over a mule’s back before the sun had completely risen.

Volunteers

Buck Savage, a 23-year-old veteran of World War I, had willingly placed himself at the high tide mark of West Virginia’s mine wars.

Savage had lied about his age so he could become a military pilot. His baby face and jug ears made him look even younger than he was. He spent about a year in France, teaching French pilots to fly Spads, according to his son, John.

“He never had to do battle, at least not that I know of,” John Savage said. “He brought back a lot of pictures and none of them are of people killing or anything like that. A lot of them are of beautiful young French girls.”

So maybe Buck Savage hadn’t gotten his fill of military action when he came home to Charleston. In the summer of 1921, Savage was between semesters at West Virginia University and working as a bill collector for his father’s lumber mill. He stopped by a pool hall where he first heard that thousands of miners were assembling in Marmet, a dozen miles outside the state capital.

Like many people, Savage was convinced the miners were going to move on the capital. But he soon learned their real objective was to march through anti-union Logan and Mingo counties, and organize the mines there. Gov. Ephraim Morgan sent state troopers to Logan and called for volunteers to aid the defenders. From all over West Virginia, veterans groups and sheriffs with hastily deputized volunteers headed to Logan.

Days passed before Savage slipped away from work to the pool hall, and then to a rally led by Gov. Morgan himself. Inspired to defend the rule of law and order, Savage shook the governor’s hand and signed on. He went home, changed into hunting clothes, borrowed a .38 revolver, then boarded a special train for the coalfields. About 30 recruits rode in those three coaches, including Savage, his friend Grant Hall, and a high school ROTC unit.

The lights of the train were turned off as they passed through areas they feared could harbor pro-union snipers. Deputies met the Charleston volunteers when they rolled to the downtown depot after midnight.

Savage and his comrades were herded to a lodge hall where they got very little sleep. They were roused at 2 a.m. and marched to the courthouse, which had become the Logan defenders’ arsenal. The hallways were lined with stacks of Enfield rifles and boxes of ammunition. Each recruit was issued a weapon, ammunition, and a cartridge belt, then marched out to a line of taxis and Model T’s that would take them to the foot of the mountain, where they would begin the long, dark walk to the top.

The day before Savage arrived, miners had charged along that ridge. A defenders’ machine gun jammed and the miners briefly pushed the line back half a mile.

The Logan defenders sent biplanes over the miners to drop elaborate pipe bombs filled with black powder and nuts and bolts. The bombs caused craters, but no injuries.

On the front line

When the shooting stopped and the line of new recruits resumed their march along the ridge, Savage was assigned to a crevice that held about a dozen veterans of the battle. They’d been there 24 hours already. The natural redoubt ranged from 4 to 6 feet deep; from 6 to 8 feet across.

Savage looked into the valley the invaders would come from. He saw a farmhouse in a small clearing. One casualty of the fighting — a cow — lay across the path from the house to the well. The pole beans and corn growing nearby seemed unharmed.

Machine guns occasionally fired, probably more to relieve itching trigger fingers than because there were actual targets, Savage judged.

Savage quickly fell into the defenders’ routine. They lounged. They talked. They responded to the intermittent fire from the other side of the valley.

If things got too quiet, someone on the Logan side of the mountain would fire a couple of rounds and set off another din of firing.

The men in the trench were comforted by the rattle of Gaujot’s machine gun far down the ridge line.

It was nearly noon and Savage was firing into the trees. Jerry Sizemore, one of the veterans, grabbed his arm and told him to stop. Sizemore pointed down the mountain behind them.

Two men were urging a pack mule up the ridge. Firing died away along the line. When the men and mule got to within 15 or 20 feet of the ridge line, they stopped. The smaller of the two men pulled a large bag and about a dozen bottles from the mule’s pack, then dropped to the ground and slithered toward Savage.

It was time for lunch. The mule and its handlers had brought bottles of pop and sandwiches made with thick slabs of bologna.

Savage was lucky. Down the ridge, the volunteers went hungry — boxes marked “bread” came filled with chewing tobacco.

Firing resumed after lunch, but with less intensity. Sizemore told Savage it had been like that the day before, too: “Things slacked off after we ate.”

The battle picked up again a few hours later. About 4 p.m., firing started coming up from the valley. The defenders fired back. Men along the line called out. They saw miners in the underbrush. For two hours, the shooting was intense. Savage and the others in the crevice braced for a frontal assault, but this was a feint. The miners’ real attack spread out on both flanks of the line.

Gradually, the firing died away in Savage’s sector, though he continued to hear shots all along the ridge until night fell.

Morning brought more bottles of pop, more bologna sandwiches and more reinforcements. They were tossing bottles down the line when one went over the side. One of the latest arrivals climbed after it. Bullets began flying up the mountain. The newcomer fell.

Sizemore ran out and dragged the man back, as bullets whizzed all around.

The color had drained from the rescued man’s face by the time he was back among his comrades, but both he and Sizemore were unharmed.

But the shooting wasn’t over.

Just like the morning before, a machine gun opened up from across the valley. Gaujot responded, and Savage and the others in the rock-guarded rifle pit took turns joining in. Just like the morning before, the firing continued for more than two hours.

“Bullets spattered all around us,” Savage reported. “But we were fairly safe in our natural redoubt.”

The end

Not much news came with the bologna sandwiches, so Savage and his comrades didn’t know much about what was going on over the rest of the mountain. So they were surprised — and elated — when the afternoon brought troops of the U.S. Army’s 14th Infantry Regiment marching in behind them.

Cheers rang across the mountain.

As the Army moved in, the volunteers moved out, and Logan teemed with men fresh from the mountain battle lines and soldiers who had come to end the battle.

The Aracoma Hotel, which had been the defenders’ headquarters, was now Army headquarters. Savage got coffee and sandwiches from the Red Cross in the hotel lobby before boarding one of the special trains that were hauling volunteers back home.

The rhythm of the train car’s swaying rocked him into a dream.

Savage was back on the mountain. A wave of miners rushed up the slope and into the sheltered crevice. Fighting degenerated into hand-to-hand grappling. He grabbed a miner’s throat. The miner yelled and fought back. He began calling Savage’s name.

Savage awoke to find his old friend Grant Hall shaking him.

“We’re home,” Hall said.

Published in: on August 15, 2011 at 10:11 pm  Comments Off on Stopping the miners  
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Bull Moose Special

The Bull Moose Special is the name given to the armored train that Quinn Morton, a Kanawha County coal operator and a group of Baldwin-Felts Detectives drove through a tent colony of striking miners and their families during the Paint Creek-Cabin Creek Strike. While driving through, Morton, the detectives, and the deputies opened fire on the colony with machine guns and high powered rifles, killing one miner and injuring several others. The incident was one in a series of events that led to a declaration of martial law in the strike zone. The same machine guns that were used in this incident were then transferred over to Colorado, where they were once again used to fire upon city colonies.

Published in: on August 8, 2011 at 6:17 pm  Comments Off on Bull Moose Special  
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“We had a full-fledged war down here.”

Audio is one of the best resources a historian or reenactor can use to get some insight into the minds of the people involved with episodes in the past. The following audio files come from Mary Fufford’s interviews with miners that fought at Blair Mountain.

Joe Aliff talks about the events that happened at Blair Mountain.

Dewey Gunnoe talks about coal company violence against union organizers in the 1920s.

“If they never have a Union, I’ll never go back inside of a coal mine.”

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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Miners Underground

A photo of miners from the early 20th century. Note the Carbide lamps in function.

Published in: on August 7, 2011 at 10:32 pm  Comments Off on Miners Underground  
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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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