Mr. Tenney was followed by a chatauqua presentation by Laura Jackson Arnold interpreter, Jeanne Sheets Carter. Ms. Carter could easily convince one and all that she was Stonewall's sister personified. Her exhaustive research on Laura Jackson Arnold was evident in her depth of knowledge and empathy for that character.
On Saturday, the WVHS conducted its business meeting, then had an excellent slide and map presentation by Bill Adler from the Hacker's Creek Pioneer District. Ms. Joy Gilchrist, President of the Hacker's Creek Pioneer District Historical Society, aided in the presentation. She was also present for the entire weekend's annual meeting and made an invaluable addition to the group with her enthusiasm for and knowledge of local history.
Next on the program was a presentation by Civil War historian Terry Lowry. Lowry has written a number of books including a history of the battle of Carnifex Ferry titled September Blood and most recently, The Last Sleep, an investigation of the heretofore largely ignored battle of Droop Mountain.
The Virgil A. Lewis award was presented during a luncheon at the Main Street Cafe in Buckhannon.
In the afternoon, the group was treated to a chatauqua performance at the Heavener Cemetery by four members of the UCHS who portrayed characters who had lived and died in the Buckhannon area. These included D. D. T. Farnsworth, the six day Governor of West Virginia. Again, the performers were impressive in their knowledge of their characters and their enthusiasm for their roles.
The meeting adjourned after the Heavener Cemetery performance.
>From the West Virginia Historical Society Quarterly,
11:4(November 1997): 3-7.
(Continued from August issue) Not only her language belied her motherly look, but she could also be blunt. When the then Governor of Colorado had her escorted to the state line with a warning never to return, she caught the next train back, registered in a Denver hotel and sent a message to the Governor that he did not own the state, that if she had broken the law, it was a matter for a civil court, not him. She ended with, "I want to ask, Governor, what in Hell are you going to do about it?"1
It is amazing what Mother Jones endured. Even for allowing for a certain amount of hyperbole, which she was known to occasionally indulge in, her account of her imprisonment in the courthouse basement at Walsenburg, Colorado illustrates what this valiant woman, then in her eighties, suffered for labor's cause. She refused to promise not to return to the strike scene in the southern part of the state where miners were fighting a desperate and, as it often turned out, losing battle for higher pay and better, safer working conditions. The authorities had her arrested.
"I was put in the cellar under the courthouse. It was a cold, terrible place, without heat, damp and dark. I slept in my clothes by day and by night I fought great sewer rats with a beer bottle. For twenty-six days I was held a military prisoner in that black hole. The hours dragged underground. Day was perpetual twilight and night was deep night. I watched people's feet from my cellar window: miners' feet in old shoes, soldiers' feet, well shod in government leather; the shoes of women with the heels run down; barefoot boys. The children would scrooch down and wave to me, but the soldiers shooed them off."2
Sadly, after suffering all this, the strike failed, but not before the infamous Ludlow Massacre when soldiers turned machine guns on the miners and set fire to their tent colony, burning to death a number of women and children.3
One ploy authorities tried to silence "this most dangerous woman in America" was to claim that she had been exposed to smallpox and therefore had to be quarantined. This trick did enjoy a limited success, for she spent more than three weeks stuck in a quarantine shack.4
Even though most of the strikes failed to bring workers immediate relief, the kind of publicity Mother Jones engendered, both good and bad, served to bring the desperate circumstances and terrible conditions in mines and mills to the attention of both the public and government. This was especially true in the coalfields of West Virginia where a feudal state kept miners and their families in practical serfdom. Mother Jones first turned up in this state of rugged mountains and deep valleys in 1897. She found her assignment of organizing the miners there a particularly tough nut to crack since most of the mines were situated in remote areas with few roads connecting them to larger settlements. This remoteness brought about the coal camp where mine owners built houses for their miners and provided a company store and a company doctor. Since they owned the camp as well as the mine, they were in fact the community's only government. They set prices in the company store, checked off rent and medical care from the miner's paychecks, evicted miners and their families at will, censored newspapers and magazines that were brought into camp, and kept labor organizers off their property, which often consisted of thousands of acres.
However, none of this daunted Mother Jones. Even though the 1897 strike failed, she was back in the West Virginia hills during the 1902-03 strike, organizing along the beautiful New River where the mines were especially remote and hard to reach. She wrote that the strike was vicious, for the owners had brought in armed Baldwin-Felts guards who beat and shot striking miners and literally threw their families from company houses. "Meetings had to be held in the woods at night, in abandoned mines, in barns."5
She described going to a coal camp at Thayer, of climbing a mountain with a group of trapper boys, young boys who sat alone all day in the darkness to open and shut the ventilation doors for mules and coal cars to pass through, the doors being necessary to halt the spread of methane through the mine. At the top of the mountain she sat down on a rock and sent the boys down to the camp to tell the miners to come up to a meeting. She added that they could tell the camp superintendent that she also extended "a cordial invitation" to him. Apparently the meeting was a success and she drew what she considered to be "a great crowd."6 This was an example of how she had to operate in West Virginia, but sadly, that particular mountain was Stanaford Mountain and the scene of a bloody raid when a posse surprised sleeping miners, shooting a number of them in their beds.
The New River mine operators proved to be too united for the union find a toehold, but there was some success n the Kanawha Valley where the operators made some concessions to the miners. However, it would be another decade before the miners attempted another large general strike and the Kanawha River area would be the scene of a new explosion.
It began in 1912 when the union contract with the operators along Paint and Cabin Creeks expired. Miners wished to renew it with some improvement in working conditions, but the operators refused, bringing in mine guards instead, a move akin to flapping red flag in front of an irritable bull, so fiercely were the guards hated. Actual war was the result, with gunfire on both sides so intense as to qualify as real battles between miners and guards. No real tally of the dead and wounded was kept but that there were casualties was not in doubt.
Miners and their families were summarily evicted from camp housing, their meager belongings tossed out into the road beside the railroad tracks by the guards. The strikers set up a tent city at Holly Grove, but even here apparently the guards roughed up the families and tried to add to the misery of the situation. The miners hid their guns in the woods and waited for a chance at reprisal.
Mother Jones was everywhere, up the hollows, along the creek, on the mountain sides, holding meetings and exhorting the strikers to hold firm, to get their guns and meet violence with violence. It was during this time that the famous machine gun episode occurred. According to Fred Mooney in his autobiography, when none of the other labor organizers would venture into the forbidden territory of Cabin Creek, Mother Jones was sent for. She arrived in a horse and buggy and proceeded to drive into the Creek area. She was brought to a halt by a group of guards, well armed with rifles and machine guns. Without hesitation, Mother Jones descended from her buggy and walked up to a machine gun, "walked straight up to the muzzle of one of the machine guns," Mooney wrote, "and, patting the muzzle of the gun, said to the gunman behind it, 'Listen here, you, you fire one shot here today and there are eight hundred men in those hills (pointing to the almost inaccessible hills to the east) who will not leave one of your gang alive.' The bluff worked; the gunmen ground their teeth in rage. Mother Jones informed me afterwards that if there was one man in those hills, she knew nothing of it."7 Mooney went on to write that although they had all expected her to be shot, her bravado gave them courage. In truth, the episode was vintage Mother. If she was ever afraid, she never showed it.
The militia was called out three times during this strike, and under martial law, military courts were set up to try strikers. Mother Jones waged a fierce campaign against the military tribunals and the constant use of injunction against the strikers as well as against herself. She buttonholed anyone she could from United States Senators to members of the media. In between, she held those meetings, often walking up the middle of creeks in bitter weather to avoid stepping on coal company property. In an article she wrote, "A Picture of American Freedom in West Virginia," she describes her reaction to a mine owner who told her he owned half a river which she would have to cross to get to a meeting and that he would not allow her to come across. She wrote that "I concluded that God Almighty owned the other half of the river and probably had a share of stock or two in the operator's half. So I crossed over, held my meeting on a Sunday afternoon with a big crowd. The operator was present at the meeting, bought a copy of Merrie England (a union tract), and I hope has been a fairer and wiser man since then."8
Like so many of the strikers, she, too, was brought before a military tribunal and given a twenty year sentence by a military judge. She was confined to a shack with a soldier standing guard by the door. In the cold, drafty hut she contracted pneumonia. She was rescued by Henry D. Hatfield, a practicing physician for many years, who had been newly elected Governor of West Virginia. He had her placed under a doctor's care, and when she was well, had her confined in a private home until the sentence handed out by the military court was rescinded.9 At this time she was eighty-three years old, but still a tough old lady.
Even during her incarceration, never one to be silent, Mother Jones smuggled out letters to newspapers and Congressman that detailed the plight of the miners and the injustice of the military courts. In her autobiography, she described how she operated her "underground railroad." "There was a hole in the floor of my prison cabin. A rug covered the hole. I lifted the rug and rang two beer bottles against one another. A soldier who was my friend came crawling under the house to see 'what was up'... so I gave him the telegram and told him to take it three miles up the road to another office...."10 It has also been said that when Governor Hatfield had her transferred to a private home, her landlady smuggled out her letters inside her shoes. One Senator, Senator John W. Kern, whom she contacted, was so disturbed by her accounts that he called for an investigation of the situation in West Virginia.11 Of Senator Kern, she later wrote in a letter to the editor of the New York Call Forum, "I made some speeches in Indiana coal camps for Senator Kern. I would do it again, if everyone in the United States stood against me. In my opinion, he is one of the truest and noblest of men within the walls of the nation...." 12
She also liked and respected Senator William F. Borah of Idaho, who also sponsored a resolution to investigate conditions in the mines and during the strikes. She wrote to him "Permit me to extend to you on behalf of the crushed and persecuted slaves of the coal mines of West Virginia my deep felt gratitude for your resolution demanding an investigation by the National Government. The wretches have pleaded with State to do something for them but in return they got the jails and bullets from the public officials."13
For Governor William E. Glasscock, whom Henry Hatfield replaced, she had nothing but contempt. "I warn this little governor that unless he rids Paint Creek and Cabin Creek of these goddamned Baldwin-Felts mine guards, there is going to be one hell of a lot of bloodletting in these hills."14
In spite of her trial and confinement for some eighty-five days by the military, she had a good-natured tolerance of the ordinary soldier. At one time when she was scheduled to make a speech along Paint Creek, a number of militiamen were detailed to follow her on the train and to the meeting place to prevent her from speaking. "Well, when I got off the train. . . I understood these men had to walk fourteen miles in the hot sun to keep me from talking. . . ." The mine owners nor Glasscock hasn't got enough militia in the state of west Virginia to keep me from talking. When I found these men, I looked them over. I found out that they were working men. If they had been some of the big guns, you bet your life I would have made them walk. I would make the fat get off their rotten carcasses. But when I surveyed these men, I said, 'Boys I want to tell you, this is a fourteen mile walk. It is a bad road, and to keep you from walking that distance in the baking sun, I will refrain from going'."15
A stenographer, hired by the mine owners to follow Mother Jones and record her speeches, later commented that whenever Mother brought out this incident, she was greeted with wild applause.
In the end, both miners and owners were so worn down by the strike that Governor Hatfield was able to impose a settlement that gave miners a nine-hour day, the right to buy outside the company store, and most importantly, the right to belong to the union. Peace of a sort settled over the hollows and the ridges and by the end of World War I, about fifty percent of West Virginia's mines were unionized. However, that peace would be both spotty and temporary.
And Mother Jones?
She was off to help copper miners in their 1913 strike in Arizona and the coal miners striking in Colorado. There was no rest for the weary, or the aged, especially since West Virginia went up in smoke again in 1921 in which might be properly called a small war of rebellion. It began in Mingo County in the southern part of the state. "Bloody Mingo" where the Baldwin-Felts guards began evicting miners and their families, only to be caught in a gun battle with armed miners in the town of Matewan. Several guards were killed along with the mayor of Matewan.16 Violence spread as the miners tried to organize and the battling became so fierce that the Governor called up the militia. Mother Jones, of course, rushed into the thick of things, making speeches that called for the miners to get their guns, which they did by the thousands, in August of 1921. They were determined to march south to Logan and Mingo counties to aid their comrades.
The State of West Virginia panicked and called for federal troops. Planes under the command of General Billy Mitchell, armed with gas bombs and machine guns, were sent to the scene, but never used. Some had the misfortune to get lost on the he way and at least one crashed. Ground troops arrived in force with their far superior weapons and took up positions to halt the march.
For some unknown reason, Mother Jones had a sudden change of heart. Perhaps she was afraid for her "boys" or had a better idea than most of the power of federal troops. In any case, on the eve of the march, she urged the miners to disband, saying that she had a telegram from the President (Harding) ordering them to go back to their homes, that he would see to it that the guards were removed from the state. Fred Mooney says that the assembled miners asked that he and the other leaders verify the telegram, so one of them "asked Mother if he could see the copy she read. "Go to hell,' she said, 'none of your damn business.'" It didn't take long to realize that Mother had faked the telegram.18
Mother Jones by this time was in her nineties, and although she still made speeches around the country and was still fiery in her support of the working class, she never regained the respect and support from her beloved "boys" that she had enjoyed before the fake telegram incident.
The remaining years of her life were spent in illness, although even at the age of ninety- nine she wanted to get out into the field to organize again. On May 1, 1930 she was, at least by her reckoning, one hundred years old and hand a bang-up birthday party with hundreds of telegrams of congratulations and hundreds of presents. She even received a telegram from John D. Rockefeller, Jr. whose company she fought so hard to unionize in Colorado in the struggle that lead to the Ludlow Massacre. Rockefeller wished her "health and happiness as long as life lasts.”
She telegraphed back, “Your good wishes and hopes for continued long life on my 100th birthday was a happy surprise and among those messages most appreciated by me. Knowing all the responsibilities on your shoulders, it was a human act to think kindly of me at this time and your message was the expression of a Christian hearts.” Certainly a remarkable exchange from one of the richest of industrial giants to the “most dangerous woman in America” who had done battle with his interests.
Mary Harris Jones ends her autobiography with a hopeful statement. “In spite of oppressors, in spite of false leaders, in spite of labor’s own lack of understanding of its needs, the cause of the worker continues onward. Slowly his hours are shortened, giving him leisure to read and to think. Slowly his standard of living rises to include some of the good and beautiful things of the world. Slowly the cause of his children becomes the cause of all. His boy is taken from the breaker, his girl from the mill. Slowly those who create the wealth of the world are permitted to share it. The future is in labor’s strong, rough hands.”19
It was too bad that she did not live during the presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, but it is just as well that she did not live to see the diminishing of union strength and the children of poverty living figuratively and literally in the streets of America’s cities We can be sure that she would have had a lot to say about the working poor in language that was neither proper nor weak.
She died in the fall of 1930 as the Great Depression swept over the land.
1.Jones, Autobiography, 102-103.
2. Ibid, 185-186.
3. Ibid, 188-194.
4. Ibid, 107.
5. Ibid, 63.
6. Ibid, 64-5.
7. Fred. Mooney, The Autobiography of Fred Mooney, ed. J. W. Hess (Parsons: McClain Printing Company, 1967), 107.
8. Steel, Speeches and Writings, 270.
9. Joseph Platania, “Three Sides to the Story: Governor Hatfield and the Mine Wars,” Goldenseal Book of the West Virginia Mine Wars (Charleston: Pictorial Histories Publishing Company, 1991), 23.
10. Jones, Autobiography, 164.
11. Fetherling, The Miner’s Angel, 86-87.
12. Edward M. Steel (ed), The Correspondence of Mother Jones (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1985), 91.
13. Ibid, 107.
14. Fetherling, The Miner’s Angel, 86-87.
15. Steel, Speeches, 108.
16. Lon Savage, “The Gunfight at Matewan,” Goldenseal Book of the West Virginia Mine Wars, 45-48.
17. Meador, “The Red Neck War of 1921,” Goldenseal Book of the West Virginia Mine Wars, 57-63.
18. Mooney, Autobiography, 90-91.
19. Jones, Autobiography, 242.
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