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The West Virginia Mine Wars
From 1912 to 1921, thousands of coal miners in the southern coalfields of West Virginia fought violently against coal company operators to secure their right to unionize and abolish the brutal mine guard system. The Mine Wars ended after the treason trials at the Jefferson County Courthouse.
Introduction to the West Virginia Mine Wars
The West Virginia mine wars were a series of violent labor uprisings that raged throughout the southern coalfields of West Virginia in the early 1900s. Throughout the conflict, thousands of miners organized into labor unions to fight back against the oppressive policies of coal company operators.
Paint Creek and Cabin Creek Strikes
The Paint Creek-Cabin Creek strike of 1912-13 was one of the most violent and destructive episodes of the West Virginia mine wars
Mary "Mother" Jones had a long career of supporting labor movements across the United States. In the early 1900s, Mother Jones fought for the labor rights of unionized coal miners in the coalfields of West Virginia and participated in the Paint Creek-Cabin Creek strikes of 1912-1913.
The violence that erupted in the small West Virginia coal town of Matewan between local lawmen and mine guards was a rallying point in the West Virginia mine wars. Immortalized in film and cultural memory, the deadly shootout at Matewan triggered a series of events that sparked labor unrest throughout the state in the early 1920s.
Major Labor Figures of the West Virginia Mine Wars
Who were the leaders of the West Virginia mine wars? What was the United Mine Workers of American and who were its leaders? Read here to discover the major players of the West Virginia mine wars and how they impacted the American labor movement!
McDowell County Courthouse
The shootout at the McDowell County Courthouse in August of 1921 was one of the most violent and shocking episodes of the West Virginia mine wars and resulted in the murder of lawmen Sid Hatfield and Ed Chambers by members of the Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency. The murders at the courthouse sent a shockwave throughout the state and intensified the already dangerous situation in the coalfields of southwestern West Virginia.
The March on Logan County
The March on Logan County from Marmet, West Virginia in August of 1921 set the stage for the Battle of Blair Mountain and the eventual treason trials at the Jefferson County Courthouse. Read about the beginning of the fateful chain of events that would send shockwaves throughout the nation.
Sheriff Don Chafin
Don Chafin served as the sheriff of Logan County, West Virginia during the series of labor disputes known as the West Virginia mine wars. Chafin played a major role in the Battle of Blair Mountain in 1920 after he organized a citizen army to repulse striking miners from marching on Logan County.
The Battle of Blair Mountain
The Battle of Blair Mountain was the bloody climax of the West Virginia mine wars in the early 1920s. In August of 1921, striking coal miners marched on Logan County in an effort to free their companions imprisoned by Logan's notorious Sheriff, Don Chafin. Before they could reach Logan, the miners battled Chafin's citizen army on a ridgeline called Blair Mountain.
Jefferson County Courthouse Treason Trials
In the aftermath of the Battle of Blair Mountain, charges of treason were brought against the United Mine Workers of America organizers of the March on Logan County. From 1921 to 1922, several union organizers were put on highly public trials which brought national attention to the fight for labor rights in the West Virginia coalfields.
Ellis Ray Williams
Article featured in the American Experience: The Mine Wars Collection. Ellis Ray Williams is a long time resident of McDowell County in West Virginia. His father moved to the area and took a job as a coal miner so that his family, including Ellis Ray, could attend the schools for African Americans, which were much better than those in the Deep South.
Article featured in the American Experience: The Mine Wars Collection. Scholars reflect on decision-making and influence in an industrial context during the early 1900s.
Article featured in the American Experience: The Mine Wars Collection. Jean Battlo is a playwright and local historian who grew up in southern West Virginia. She is the youngest daughter of Fortunato Battaglia, an immigrant from Calabria, Italy, who worked as a coal miner for decades.
Violence and Political Expression
Article featured in the American Experience: The Mine Wars Collection. Scholars address the theme of violence, militancy and political struggle at the time of Mother Jones and the miners' unionization movement.
Women in the Mine Towns
Article featured in the American Experience: The Mine Wars Collection. Women in the early 1900s were barred from working underground in the coalmines, but their work above ground was integral to the coal camp system.
Other Labor Wars
Labor Wars in the United States
As the pace of industrialization quickened, and profits accumulated in the hands of a few, some workers began to organize and advocate for unionization. The workers wanted more safety regulations, better wages, fewer hours, and freedom of speech and assembly. But most companies vigorously opposed the union, arguing for the right to control their private property, and to conduct business without intervention. Industrialists hired guards to maintain surveillance over the workers, and they blacklisted known unionists