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Sorry for the lack of posts lately! We’ll get back to posting on a more constant basis starting in 2012. For more up to date discussion about Blair Mountain’s history and upcoming events, Be sure to like us on Facebook!

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Published in: on December 9, 2011 at 7:40 pm  Comments Off on Like us on Facebook  
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Hillbilly: The Real Story

Published in: on September 15, 2011 at 7:28 pm  Comments Off on Hillbilly: The Real Story  
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Our Set Up

Posting something other than our normal historical posts. These are some examples of our “museum” that we will sometimes bring out with us at events. A majority of the items presented came from Southern West Virginia and Kentucky. Most items date from roughly the 1880s and into the 1940s since we also discuss parts of the miner’s daily lives vs. just exclusively on the Battle of Blair Mountain, itself, because it is important to remember the context of the times that these men and women lived in.

Published in: on September 8, 2011 at 7:34 pm  Comments Off on Our Set Up  
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On this Day in 1921

On September 5th, 1921, all hostilities had come to an end when the US regulars had entered the region on the 4th. The miners weren’t looking to fight the federal government. In the aftermath of the battle, most miners go home and do not discuss what happened for years to come. 1,200 indictments from the West Virginian government are sent out. The federal government chooses not to get involved with putting these miners on trial. Bill Blizzard is made a scapegoat and declared the “general” of the miners; although, more recent research has revealed most miners worked as independent bands than as an overall organized group. He and 23 other men were tried for treason. However upon revealing the fact that the companies had tried to bomb the miners with airplanes, most men were discharged. Only one man was convicted of treason but he jumped bail and disappeared into the annals of history never to be heard from again. More than 300 miners were arrested for 11 year terms but most are only imprisoned for several months to 3 years. Attempts to unionize in southern West Virginia do not occur again until FDR’s New Deal Policies. Don Chafin, leader of the Logan defenders, becomes drunk with power until in 1924 when he is removed from his position as sheriff for bootlegging. He would remain active in regional Democrat party politics until his death in the 1950s.

Published in: on September 5, 2011 at 11:15 am  Comments Off on On this Day in 1921  
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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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Even the Heavens Weep

http://www.youtube.com/p/5739BB184D67F352?version=3&hl=en_US&fs=1

A six part documentary done by the UMWA in the 1970s talking about Blair Mountain.

Published in: on August 14, 2011 at 11:41 pm  Comments Off on Even the Heavens Weep  
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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.”

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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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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