William Blizzard

Charleston Gazette
May 28, 1922


Blizzard Carried On Shoulders in Triumphal March Through Town

Crowds Cheer Verdict and Lift Defendant On Backs, Carrying Him to Hotel.

(By The Associated Press.)

CHARLES TOWN, May 27. - "Bill" Blizzard, boyish mine union official, was freed of the charge of treason by a jury in the circuit court of Jefferson county tonight, and from the moment court adjourned was the center of a cheering crowd that shrieked its rejoicings and congratulations in the court room and on the streets.

The jury had been out for six hours and ten minutes when it returned the verdict, just as arrangements were being made to adjourn court until Monday.

Before the verdict was announced, Judge J. M. Woods' caution against any demonstration, was heeded during the tedious moments, while the form of the verdict was properly recorded. But Sheriff W. C. McCaughtry had not finished the formality of adjourning until Monday before the cheers broke out.

Blizzard and his wife were complaining of sore hands long before the throngs of friends and strangers had finished tehir [sic] congratulations.

"It's a year since I have felt so happy," was Mrs. Blizzard's comment, and her husband in the center of another handshaking throng, cried out: "Good old Jefferson county."

Other groups gathered about Blizzard's mother, who accepted their congratulations with beaming smiles that warred for mastery over the little catch in her voice.

Showered With Congratulations.

Blizzard's mother, too, was showered with congratulations, and so were little Billy and his four year old sister, Marguerite, but the excitement and noise meant little to the tired children and they hung tight in friendly arms and begged to be taken to "daddy."

When the jury returned its verdict, it read, "We, the jury, find for the defendant," the form for civil cases, and T. C. Townsend, of defense counsel, immediately asked that the form be changed. Court Clerk C. A. Conrad hastily wrote on the back of the indictment, which the jury had brought from its room, "We, the jury, find the defendant not guilty of the charge in the indictment," and it was signed by D. B. Shoemaker, the foreman. Mr. Conrad then read the revised form to the jurors and each gave his assent[.]

The jury had been locked up since April 27, exactly a month, while it was trying the case, and before adjournment, Judge Woods announced these jurors were excused from any further service at this term.

All seats and all possible standing room had been packed, not only during the arguments today, but throughout the long wait tonight while the jury deliberated. Some, indeed, stayed during the recess for supper, although most took the opportunity to get their evening mean, for fear of missing any of the interesting scene. Townsfolk made up a large part of the crowd, but there was a liberal sprinkling of miners and union officials remaining here as defendants in other cases yet to be tried.

The defendant and his wife shook hands with all the jurors, and Blizzard also expressed his thanks to Judge Woods, while the crowd pressed around eager for congratulatory handshaking.

When finally the crush in the court room had thinned out the family gathered at the counsel table, where Blizzard's attorneys had been sharing the in the congratulations, and cheers were renewed as the group started from the room. At the outer door of the building the cheering was again renewed and Blizzard was raised to the shoulders of his miner friends in a triumphal progress down the walk to the street. Cheers followed him as the party went up the hill to the hotel where Blizzard and his family have stayed during the trial, and then comparative quiet settled, broken only by occasional yells from especially exuberant celebrators.

As much of Charles Town as could pack itself into the circuit court room tonight awaited eagerly a decision in the William Blizzard trial, while locked away in the room where they had been confined for the past month the jurors considered their verdict, with no indication to the outside that they were near any agreement.

Center of the waiting throng, and most anxious, were Blizzard, his wife, who wept silently most of the time the jury was out, and a family party in which the two children and the mothers of Mr. and Mrs. Blizzard were members.

The case went to the jury at 3:28 in the afternoon and when Judge J. M. Woods declared a recess for supper, a little more than two hours later, the jurors announced they had reached no decision. The first move of the jury when it retires to consider a verdict is to elect a foreman, and when Judge Woods asked whether they had reached a verdict it was D. B. Shoemaker of Charles Town, who answered as foreman.

Indicted With Fifty-two

William Blizzard, 28 years old, former miner, is president of sub-district 2 of District 17, United Mine Workers. He was indicted with 52 other men, mainly union officials and members or sympathizers of the miners' union, on the charge of treason against the state of West Virginia as a result of last summer's disturbances in southern West Virginia, variously referred to as the armed march or as the invasion of Logan county. This indictment was one of 16, including charges of murder, insurrection and conspiracy and involved several hundred men, 120 of whom obtained a change of venue from Logan county, where the indictments were brought, to Jefferson county for trial. When hearing of these cases began, nearly five weeks ago, the treason charge was picked as the first for trial and Blizzard as the first defendant. Evidence in his case was begun just a month ago.

In the latter part of August large numbers of miners began to assemble near Marmet, which is about 12 miles from Charleston, the state capital, and about August 24 they started on a march toward Logan county. From evidence in this case it appeared that there was much hostility toward Don Chafin, sheriff of Logan county and his deputies who were accused of preventing the unionization of the big Logan county coal fields. The state also charged that the march was intended to cross Logan to Mingo county, where martial law had been declared after mine strike disturbances there.

After Brigadier General H. H. Bandholtz had gone to Charleston in response to Governor Morgan's request for federal aid, C. Frank Keeney, president of district 17, headed off the marchers and advised them to go home, but it is one of the contentions of the prosecution that this was obeyed by only part of the forces. The defense however, has contended the men did go home, but started again after death of two miners on Beech creek, near Sharples in a shooting affair with state police and Logan county deputy sheriffs. Sharples, like Blair and some other towns that figured in the later events, is within Logan county, but in the Coal river valley and separated by a high ridge from the Guyan valley which includes the greater part of the county.

Oppose Invasion.

Forces of about 2,500 men, including state police, the deputy sheriffs, many of the county residents and some volunteers from other parts of the state drew up along this ridge to oppose invasion of the county, while the forces of miners and their sympathizers making their bases at Blair, Jeffrey and other nearby towns on the Coal river side, kept up intermittent fighting in which all varieties of weapons were used on both sides, including some machine guns, and on the side of the defenders airplanes and some improvised bombs. The fighting continued until federal troops took over the positions of both sides September 3 and 4.

In the trial of Blizzard, which was held in the same court house where John Brown, the abolitionist, was convicted in 1850 of treason, the prosecution presented witnesses who testified as to the part Blizzard was alleged to have played in the march. One witness testified he led some of the men from Marmet to Madison and later to Jeffrey, while others testified as to seeing him on various dates at Blair, Jeffrey and elsewhere behind the miner's lines. One of them also said he saw Blizzard delivering ammunition to the men, and much of the testimony was devoted to details of the march and fighting.

Constitutional requirements that to convict a man of treason it is necessary to show some overt act on his part by two witnesses and rulings that this act must take place within the jurisdiction of the court played an important part in the case. In his decision overruling a motion to direct Blizzard[']s acquittal Judge Woods held that on the face of its evidence the state was limited to Blizzard's presence, for the purpose of levying war, with the forces of Logan county, and the defense hinged almost wholly on this phase of the case.

Blizzard himself testified he was not there until September 2 and 3 when he said he went to get the men to surrender to the federal soldiers and go home. Mrs. Blizzard and a number of other witnesses testified to seeing him at Charleston and St. Albans, where he lives, on every day up to September 2, and General Bandholtz and others testified he took an inspection trip with the general on the day the state said he was leading men from Madison to Jeffrey.

Today was spent in the last three of the ten arguments by counsel A. M. Belcher, for the prosecution, T. C. Townsend for the defense, and C. W. Osenton, closing for the prosecution, being the speaker for the day.


West Virginia Archives and History