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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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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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Kenny King’s Blair Mountain Collection

Kenneth King is the leading archeologist and studier of the battlefields that surround Blair Mountain and has collected many artifacts from various sites. These particulars can be found at the Coal Heritage Museum in Madison, WV. What makes this impression is the collection of various bullets, AEF buttons, spoons, whistle, etc. Also, this makes note of the Gatling Gun that the miners had successfully stolen from one of the mining companies and used it against Don Chafin’s militias. Of other interest is the Coca Cola bottle.

Published in: on April 29, 2011 at 9:20 pm  Comments Off on Kenny King’s Blair Mountain Collection  
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Don Chafin’s Militia

Most of Don Chafin’s private army was made up of the recently created WV State Police, WV National Guard, hired guns, citizens from Logan, members of the American Legion, strike breakers, and a variety of others. For those that wanted to wear a uniform, khaki was the most common color. Khaki generally meant what we would consider Olive Drab now a days. Like the miners, many of these men were also veterans of the Great War and would have worn their service uniforms. In many pictures, these men are seen wearing the campaign hats, which was a common head gear for the state police and soldiers of the US Army. The other option was to wear a white armband to “counter” the red scarves that the union men would wear. Since these men were armed by the coal companies, they were almost exclusively armed with the M1903 Springfield rifle and to a lesser extent, the M1917 Enfield rifle. In addition, they were also armed with Winchester lever action rifles, Thompson sub-machine guns, Colt and Browning machine guns, and even ex-military light artillery. In the end both sides did minimal damage to each other since both sides were under disciplined and many were not trained in military warfare; over a million rounds were fired in five days resulting in less than 50 dead on both sides.

Battle of the Tug

The Tug River Valley just outside of Matewan

“In January 1920, the United Mine Workers of America launched a campaign to unionize southern West Virginia, including the Tug Fork coalfield. The local coal operators were determined to keep the UMW out. Miners who joined the union were fired, evicted from their company-owned houses, and replaced by nonunion workers. Many fought back with guns in what developed into the Battle of the Tug, or the Three Days Battle of May 1921. Violence usually involving gunfire from the mountains at working miners in the valley, erupted sporadically through much of 1920 and into the spring of 1921.

On May 12–14, 1921, bullets peppered down on about a dozen mining towns in the Matewan-Williamson area, and nonunion miners fired back. Deputy sheriffs, mine guards, the recently created West Virginia State Police, and Kentucky National Guardsmen joined the fray. Thousands of shots were fired from rifles, pistols, and even machine guns. Bullets clipped telephone wires and ripped through homes as families cowered in fear. Bridges and tipples were dynamited. Businesses and schools closed. Three people were shot and killed. Sid Hatfield was involved in the battle, though he was noted as punching one of the coal operators adding yet another charge against him.

The Battle of the Tug ended on May 15 when State Police arranged a truce, with the aid of a physician who crawled under fire through the Kentucky mountains to make contact with the insurgents. During the fighting, Governor Ephraim Franklin Morgan asked President Harding to send federal troops ‘‘to prevent wanton slaughter of innocent citizens.’’ Although Morgan’s request was denied, it set the stage for sending federal troops into West Virginia in September.”

From: “Savage, Lon. Thunder in the Mountains. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1990.”

Published in: on April 24, 2011 at 11:16 pm  Comments Off on Battle of the Tug  
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Red Scarves

A characteristic of the miners in the Coal War of 1920-21 was the red bandanna that was worn around his neck; it was a part of the revolting  miner’s “uniform.”  Not only was it used to identify one insurgent from the next, but it also helped unify the group.

When people bring up the wearing of red bandannas, most people tend to be drawn to the fancy paisley patterns that are out there. So the question is, where the miner’s handkerchiefs the “railroad” style or were they something else?

This requires a quick look at the history of paisley. Though the recognizable paisley print pattern was originally crafted by Indian artisans, it was brought to Scotland in the early 19th century, where it received its name. Paisley print was named after the Scottish town of Paisley, where printed cotton and wool fabrics were heavily manufactured.

Paisley on cotton and wool in the 19th Century was major and by the beginning of the 20th century the paisley pattern was being printed, rather than woven, onto other textiles, including cotton squares which were the precursors of the modern bandanna. Being able to purchase printed paisley rather than woven paisley brought the price of the costly pattern down and added to its popularity.

I don’t recommend using this style since it appears to have come out later than the 1920s.

However, the paisley print, as we know it, didn’t see its first acclaimed popularity until when the Beatles decided to wear it during the “Summer of Love” in 1968.

These styles are an example originals found in the 1800s-1930s.

Proper styles should be made from old material, such as shirts that were no longer wearable or from scraps not used. I’d recommend going with a basic solid red color made from wool or cotton. I’d recommend checks, non-railroad style paisley patters, or calico prints.

Here is a slight update, this is one of the Hatfields from Matewan, WV in the late 1800s. Note that he is wearing a paisley neckerchief. Do keep in mind that the Hatfields were a colorful group, so they could afford fancier items; however, notice that it is different from the railroad ones you see in most shops.

Published in: on March 16, 2011 at 10:45 pm  Comments Off on Red Scarves  
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