Source: WV History Film Project
WEST VIRGINIA HISTORY PROJECT, MAY
7, LON SAVAGE INTERVIEW, SOUND ROLL
SAVAGE INTERVIEW, TAKE 1, ROLL 306, SOUND 138.
Q: Lon, tell me about that Sunday morning in
1912 when Mother Jones arrives in ?? Creek.
LS: Well, Mother Jones came to West Virginia on a Sunday morning in June of 1912 having traveled all the way across the country from, she had been in Butte, Montana, when she read in the newspapers about this strike on Paint Creek. She had been there many times, knew the West Virginia area, and, so, she got on the train and came all the way across the country. Got off at the C & O Station there in Charleston and, it was very early in the morning. She carried everything she had in a little pouch, silk pouch, you know. And, got off the train, taxi drivers came up and she shooed them away and said "I'm walking" and walked across the bridge down into town, went to her hotel on Capitol Street, had breakfast. Here she had been all the way across the country, eighty years old, but, she checked in at the hotel, walked up to her fourth floor room, came back down, had breakfast, walked back across, over the bridge back to the C & O Station and caught the train to Paint Creek.
And that's the way she did things. She, on the train, she, everyone knew her and so just riding out along the Kanawha, there, out to Paint Creek, she talked to Union people and the railroad people and she got off at Pratt. And, caught the local little up-train that went up Paint Creek, got off at Mucklow and, no one had known she was coming, she was, it was her decision, entirely. She got off and, of course, word spread and here she was in her long, black silk dress, you know, that scrapped the ground, a little white lace around the collar, little, lace on her hair, snow white hair, blue eyes, spectacles. And, you know, someone like that, eighty years old, walking into a mining camp is going to create a sensation and it did. And, the miners came running out and the children gathered around her. And, that was her entrance to, to the Mine War of 1912, 1913.
Q: What did the miners, how did they react to
her? What did they see in her? What was their
LS: Well, they loved her. They just, they called her Mother Jones and looked at her as a mother. When, she was there, when she arrived on that Sunday morning, many of the miners who came and gathered around her, she had known as trapper boys back in the turn of the century, when they were ten and twelve and they were working in the mines, then. And, they loved the way she spoke, she was just an orator of the first magnitude. They, she, they were her boys. She loved them, they loved her. And, that was the relationship, sort of a mother type relationship.
Q: What did the West Virginia miners mean to
LS: They were, they were some of what she called the oppressed, the people of our country. They were the people who did the work and didn't get the rewards of their work, as she put it. She, she did her thing, you might say she raised hell for them, but she did it for miners in Pennsylvania and Illinois and Colorado. She did it for brewery workers in Milwaukee and shirt waist makers in Philadelphia and copper miners in Idaho and Mexican revolutionaries in Mexico. Whoever she felt was oppressed, she went to them and, and worked with them.
Q: Is it wrong to think that, from her writings,
that the West Virginia coal miners felt sort of a
LS: Yes. I think they did.
Q: Tell me about it.
LS: She came, first came to West Virginia back in, before the turn of the century and, then early in the century, 1902, she came. She would go to mine mouths and here this seventy year old woman, at that point, would go, actually, into the mines and down into the tunnels and meet miners down there at the face, digging coal. And, she, she, at one West Virginia mine up near Fairmont, I believe it was, she sat on a rock near the pit mouth and she said "come my children" and that kind of thing. And the miners were, would come, one by one, two and three. And, finally, they were almost afraid to listen to her and they slowly gathered around her as she would say "do you know the kind of life you are leading, my children?"
And, then she began to speak and her, the power of her voice and of her speaking ability, the fact that she was an old woman who was there, was an attraction in itself. They just were mesmerized. And, finally, one came forward and said "don't tell us that there's Mother Jones, that's Jesus Christ come back again in the form of an old woman," something like that. And, she would come back again and again, she came back to Paint?? Creek back in the turn of the century and Cabin Creek. Then, then she left around 1904 and didn't return, again, until that June morning in 1912.
Q: Tell me what she saw when she walked into
LS: Well, she took the little train and the train, you know, went up the hollow with the mountains rising on either side. There was a little dirt road that ran along the creek and sometimes where there wasn't room for the creek and the road and the railroad track, the road was the creek and the wagons with horses pulling them would drive up the creek in the water. And, where it widens out in the bottom land there would be mining camps and tipples, company stores, and little towns. There were, in every town there was usually a line or two of miners' cabins, a company store with big steps out front, usually a tipple or two, mining offices, sometimes a church, perhaps a, a public house for lodges, a lodge house, something like that. And, then it would narrow out again and go on up to the next camp, that kind of thing.
Q: But in 1912, miners were not at work in the
LS: When she arrived, the strike had begun. It had begun about a month early. The miners had, had struck for a small increase in wages and the issues were not that, major, in fact, I don't think they, it was a lot over disrespect and, they, they had struck. The coal operators brought in Baldwin Felts detectives, shortly after the strike began, and that exacerbated the situation. In fact, some of the miners, who were striking went to the operators, at that point, and said "don't bring in those detectives, that's going to create the problem you are trying to hire them to prevent." And, they brought in more detectives and, and the reaction was just explosive. And, within a short time, there was gunfire and fighting and that's what brought Mother Jones across the country.
Q: Why don't you take a sip of water while I ask
you this next question? Your voice is getting a little
raspy. Does it feel that way? OK. Just keep rolling.
OK. Lon, tell me what it was that the Baldwin Felts
detectives would do that so infuriated the
LS: Well, they were brought in, of course, to protect the coal operator's property. That was, supposedly, their purpose. But, they were a vicious, guns for hire, who just used terrible means to impose their, and they were enforcers of the law, and, and the way that they treated the miners, was almost as if they, were trying to, well they weren't, but it seemed as if they were almost trying to arouse violence. Some of it was, indirect and just insulting in more demeanor than in action. There was the miner, Knute Gump, on of my, kind of, favorite characters there on Paint Creek. A very nice thirty-five year old miner with a wife and a child and he was not a leader, but a member of the Union. And, he was "one of the boys" and he, you know, they like to sit down on the company steps and have some, or sit down on the railroad and talk.
And, the Baldwin Felts Detectives would come along and say "move along, get off these steps, get off that railroad, that railroad belongs to the company, it belongs to the mining companies, and that railroad bridge, don't walk across that bridge, don't stand on that, on those, sit on the steps of that Company Store, this is all private property, you no longer work for the Union and, I mean, you no longer work for the coal mine." And, they would force them to get off the property. And, they did terrible things. As I say, they wouldn't allow the coal miners to walk across, railroad bridges or company owned bridges over the creek. Meaning that these guys would have to wade, sometimes, knee deep, waist deep through the water to, just to get over on the other side when there was a bridge there.
Q: We ran out of film. That was ten minutes. We'll pick that up again. I'd like to go over that again.
WEST VIRGINIA HISTORY PROJECT, MAY
7, SOUND ROLL 139, LON SAVAGE
SAVAGE INTERVIEW, TAKE 2, ROLL 307, SOUND 139.
Q: Go ahead.
LS: Well, when the strike began in April of 1912, the coal operators brought in the Baldwin Felts Detectives in increasing numbers to protect their property. And, their behavior infuriated the miners. One of their main jobs was to keep the miners, the striking miners, or anyone who didn't work for the company, off of company property. And, most of Paint Creek and Cabin Creek, at that time, was company property. The, the houses, the buildings, the, many of the camps, towns, some of the roads, there was, if you take the company property out of those creeks, there wasn't much left. And, even the Post Office was in, most of the Post Offices, were in the Company Stores which were owned by the coal operators; they couldn't sit down on Company Store steps and talk the way miners used to like to do.
There was a young man named John Seacrist,?? who went to the Company Store to pick up his mail at a Post Office, he was a young twenty-two year old, good looking young fellow, all American boy, Paint Creek native. He just went to get his mail, and, one of the Baldwin Felts detectives, Ernest Goso, pulled his rifle and said "where are you going?" And, John said "I'm going to get the mail," and he pulled his gun and said "there's your mail, get down the road." And, that's the kind of thing that just infuriated them. They, also, had the job of evicting the miners from their homes. Now, the coal operators were fair to, in the sense that they gave them notice, said "you gotta get out of your homes," gave them time, offered to move them, offered to help them find new jobs in other camps, in other coal fields, moved them and store their furniture until they were ready to move. None of the coal miners accepted that offer because it was, it was an attempt to break the strike. And, so they were evicted.
The evictions were just mean, vicious things and the, and the detectives did it in a, in a mean, vindictive kind of way. One woman, Maude Fish, was at breakfast when they came. And, she said "give me time to finish my breakfast," and they said "you've had time." And they carried out her breakfast and sat it on the road along with everything else she, she owned. Happened that same day to someone else at lunch, for instance, and she, her lunch was carried out. There was a rainstorm on that very afternoon and furniture was set out in the rainstorm. There was a funeral, early in the afternoon, and a very highly respected old lady there on Paint Creek had died. A lot of the people had turned out for the funeral. When they got out of the Church, they went home and found their furniture had been set out on the road and they no longer had a home. One woman was evicted on Friday and gave birth on the following Sunday, two days later, in a shed nearby.
Another woman was evicted and, a neighbor said "here, you can stay on my porch." So, she went and laid down that night, she had been evicted late in the evening, and she went and laid down that night on the porch of her friend, neighbor, and the Baldwin Detectives said "that's company property, you can't stay there" and, with a gun, forced her off that porch and she slept in a ditch, by the road. Those are the kinds of things that just infuriated the miners and drove them to violence.
Q: Let's just cut for a second.
SAVAGE, TAKE 3.
Q: Lon, tell me about that final woman, sort of
end that thought about the Baldwin Felts.
LS: There was, then there was this woman was evicted late in the evening and spent that night, or began to spend that night, on the front porch of a, of a neighbor who had invited her. The Baldwin Felts Detectives came, with guns, and said "that, too, is not permitted." Ordered her off the porch and this was after dark and she had to spend the night in a ditch. Those were the kinds of things that just infuriated the miners and drove them to violence.
Q: Tell me the story about Cabin Creek??
LS: Well, Mother Jones came upon that situation, and she was very familiar with that kind of thing, having experienced it in West Virginia and Colorado and all over the country. And, her first defense was her speaking ability. She made about a half a dozen major speeches in Charleston, Montgomery, and up and down Paint Creek. One of them in Cabin Creek and she brought the miners of Cabin Creek out to join them, those on Paint Creek, doubling, or more than doubling, the size of the strike. And, in all cases, urging her boys to resist, to stand firm, to, and she would come, be just short of urging violence, although, at times, there is no question, she urged them to fight with guns. She, even, loaned them money so that they could buy guns. She, but, she was still rather charming.
She would be out on Paint Creek, urging the miners in a speech and feel?? to get guns and resist this kind of treatment from the Baldwin Felts Detectives and then she would go into Charleston and call on the Gazette or the Mail and charm some reporter, who would report she was the sweetest woman, who is what the miners need, who is a woman they can call Mother. And, she led them, during the fall, in a number of incidents and demonstrations. She made major speeches on the levy in Charleston, on the Capitol grounds, in front of the Courthouse. She led a parade of children through town. She led another parade of miners through town. All during the fall, she did this kind of thing; she went off to Washington and other cities to raise, support for the West Virginia miners in January of 1913. While she was gone, things became very violent, culminating in the famous incident of the Bull Moose Special in early February of 1913 when an army train went through the miners' camp at Hauley Grove and a machine gun sprayed out bullets and both sides were shooting and, there was, one miner was killed and several were shot and injured. And, it was a turning point for the strike.
Mother Jones was away at that time. She arrived back in Charleston, just about the time all of this happened. And, one of the first reactions of the state, Governor Glasscock, was to apprehend her and she was arrested on the streets of Charleston and spirited away to a little cabin on the Kanawha River at Pratt, where she was held prisoner for about three or four months, all during the late winter and early spring of 1913. That really created a whole new cause and a new focus for the, for the miners, Mine War. Suddenly the whole country began turning on this poor little eighty year old woman being held as a prisoner without charge, in a little house there on the Kanawha River and, in West Virginia.
And, she was tried in a very celebrated trial with about thirty others, by a Military Commission; the outcome of that trial never was really, the trial really never was absolutely completed. It just sort of fizzled out. And, she was continued to be kept in custody while, while, miners and workers all over the country, gathered 'round her, I mean, you know. So, she did find ways of communication. She would write notes and drop them through the floor boards of her cabin and they would be spirited away to, to others where they found publication in many newspapers and magazines all over the country. Reporters would come interview her and she corresponded with members of the United States Senate, who read her letters on the Senate floor and that caused a Senate Investigation. A Senate Committee came to Charleston to investigate this whole situation of the mine war and it was the captivity of Mother Jones, more than any other thing, that caused that to happen.
Q: What was the end of the Paint Creek/Cabin
Creek strike? How does it all end?
LS: Well, Governor Hatfield, made proposals that were, accepted by both sides. There was some advance made by the coal miners. Even those, those resolutions were not finally adopted and they were, they were continuing to argue and debate about some of them. But, generally, the coal miners of the Kanawha Valley made some progress, they did get, the Union was re-established there with greater strength. And, it was, it was a piece of forward progress for the coal miners and the Union.
Q: One of the side results was that two local
miners sort of emerged as leaders, Frank Keeney and
Fred Mooney. Tell me about that.
LS: Well, I'm not an expert on Frank Keeney or Mooney. They were involved. Frank Keeney was one of the miners who came to Mother Jones, urging her to.
THIS IS ROOM TONE FOR LON SAVAGE
Q: Thank you very much.
I DIDN'T GET ENOUGH. OK.
WEST VIRGINIA HISTORY PROJECT, SOUND ROLL 140, MAY 7, LON SAVAGE INTERVIEW.
SAVAGE, TAKE 4, ROLL 308, SOUND 140.
Q: Tell me about Keeney and Mooney.
LS: Keeney and Mooney were among the leaders of the, the young leaders of the Union in 1912-13. Keeney played a very important role in getting Mother Jones to go to Cabin Creek and get those miners out, supporting the Paint Creek miners.
Q: World War I comes. Problems return in the
coal fields after a boom in coal production. All of the
sudden coal productions decline, coal demands
decline. It's 1919 troubles began in a little town,
Matewan. The Chief of Police takes a stand. Tell me
about that story.
LS: The Union set southern West Virginia as one of its major targets for unionization. John L. Lewis had just come, had just been elected president. This was, really, his first activity, just about. He came down and made a speech in Bluefield, saying that southern West Virginia was going to be organized in the spring of 1920. He made that speech about February, 1920. And so the Union organizing drive began along the Tug River. In March, April, May of 1920. Union organizers came in and meetings were held all up and down the river, and they were very successful. Several thousand miners joined the Union. They were fired upon joining the Union, they had contracts that required that they not serve, work as miners, if they belonged to a Union. I talked to one foreman who was, a foreman at that time, who said that he spent his full time in the early spring of 1920, firing miners. Just calling them up and, and saying "you're gone." Because he had established they were members of the Union. This was what led up to the, to the Matewan Massacre, as they call it.
Q: Tell me what happened.
I JUST HAVE TO STOP HERE.
SAVAGE, TAKE 5.
Q: Tell me what Matewan was like in
LS: Matewan was a small, very isolated town down on the Tug River. Noted, at that time, for having been the site of the Hatfield and McCoy Feud. It was tough, it was very isolated. If you have been there today, it's still isolated. There just cannot be, easily, you cannot put roads into it. It was a coal mining town. The Stone Mountain Coal Company had a coal camp just outside of town and the miners of Matewan did join the Union with great eagerness. The Chief of Police of Matewan, at that time, was a young man, twenty-eight years old, Sid Hatfield, who had been a coal miner, himself, who was tough and rough. And, very sympathetic to the miner, the coal miners and the unionization of the mines. That was, rather, unusual in those days to find a law officer who sympathized with the Union. During the spring, in the organizing efforts, they had a number of meetings to organize the coal miners in Matewan.
There was a little, white church there where they met. And, Sid would guard them and let them meet and speak their peace and do their organizing. And, he gave them that freedom and that liberty which was not frequently found along the Tug River at that time. That's why I've always looked upon Sid as a, a, on-balance, a great man, a guy who stood for what was right and he was mean and rough and he broke laws himself. He may have been a killer, but, in the final analysis, he was the rare fellow who stood for, what I think, is right and that is the freedom to hold meetings and to talk, speak, and join groups that you want to join. And, so that why people always come out a little higher in my estimation than, perhaps, in others.
Q: Now, what are the reasons, you don't have a
Chief of Police in a company town. Matewan was
special in that way, wasn't it? I mean, can you tell
that, a little?
LS: Well, Matewan was a, a small, independent, town; it had a mayor, Testerman, who was the local jeweler. And, Testerman hired Sid as the first Chief of Police; it was, a company town in the sense that the coal, the Stone Mountain Coal Company, had a camp just outside of town, up on the hill. But the village itself, there was a main street, and the buildings are still there, today, were owned by, owned privately, not by company. So, in that sense, it was not a company town.
Q: Now, as spring started to unfold in Matewan
in 1920, Baldwin Felts Agents were sent out by the
coal company and started evicting families. Describe
that to me, describe how things escalated.
LS: Well, the Baldwin Felts Detectives came into the Tug, in the spring of 1920, just the same way they had come into Paint and Cabin Creeks in 1912. And, started the same kind of eviction process. It was a story that all the miners knew; they had seen it happen many times and now it was happening to them. And, you know, evicting miners from their homes is about as, as vicious thing, that you can do to a coal miner. Coal miners tend to be home people. They have close families. They, their home is, is the most important part of their lives. And, because they have joined an organization, they are forced from their homes, they consider them "their" homes, at gunpoint and see their furniture set out.
It's, it causes, you know, causes violence. And it did. In, the spring of, well in, in early May, they were evicting, miners from their homes all up and down the Tug and they were coming to Matewan. They came on May 19, they, a group of Baldwin Felts Detectives headed by two of the brothers, arrived in Matewan in the late morning and, by train. Another group of them came by automobile. They had lunch with Lance?? Hatfield, right there in Lance?? Hatfield's hotel and then went up on the, on the hillside to the Stone Mountain Camp and began evicting miners. It was a dreary, cloudy, rainy day and, as they began setting this furniture out in the rain, they, the families with children and babies in cribs and all of this was set out on the, on the roadside. And, the miners began arming themselves and their fury built-up, they came to Sid and, Sid said he was going to try and stop it. He walked out to the, Stone Mountain Coal Company where the evictions were taking place.
It was interesting, a little crowd of people fell in behind him and, by the time he got out there, it was a large group of people, behind Sid and he, asked the Felts brothers, "what they were doing, did they have the authority?" They said "yes, they did." He said "he did not believe they did, but he would check it," and he went back to Matewan. He called the Sheriff's Office in Williamson to see if the Detectives had the authority to make these evictions. He determined, in his own mind, that they didn't and asked for warrants for the arrest so that he could stop the evictions from taking place. That afternoon, the Detectives returned from the evictions and miners, by that time, had gathered from all over the area. From, and, with guns, they had all gone home and gotten their guns, and then the famous confrontation occurred there on, in the little area between the main building and the depot and the railroad there in Matewan.
Q: Why don't you take a sip while I ask you a
question? Don't really want to have the full-bloody
details, but in essence, what happened?
LS: In essence, Sid approached the Felts brothers, tried to place them under arrest, they tried to place him under arrest, everyone drew guns, everyone started shooting. Seven Detectives and three non-detectives, two coal miners and the mayor were killed. Including the two Felts brothers, and, two of the Felts brothers and, and Mayor Testerman, were all killed in the confrontation.
Q: What was the reaction up and down the
LS: Well, in the state and in the nation, I expect, the, the reaction was horror at such violence. Among the coal miners, it wasn't horror, it was, it was a feeling that someone, at long last, had stood up against those SOB's, the Baldwin Felts Detectives. Someone had stood up and fought 'em and given them some of their own treatment. The story of the Matewan battle was called into the Union Office in Charleston and, one of the Union officers held his own hand and danced around, he was so happy to hear it. And that was generally miners' reactions all over the country because the Baldwin Felts Detectives were known, not just in West Virginia, but almost everywhere there were coal miners.
Q: OK. Cut. We need new film. Good.
SAVAGE, TAKE 6, ROLL 309, SOUND 141.
Q: Lon, tell me about one of the miners that was
on the street that day, Jessie Boyd.
LS: One of the miners shooting in the battle of Matewan that day was Jessie Boyd whom I talked to, who said that his father had been killed in the mines in Matewan. And, a short time after his death, the coal operators evicted his mother and his brothers and sisters from the home because, of course, they no longer had a working miner in the home. That was the kind of thing he was fighting for, or fighting against, you might say.
Q: What must it have been like in that little
town, to hear all those shots ring out and see those
bodies on the street? Describe some of the things that
happened with miners going up to the Baldwin Felts
and making sure they were dead with extra bullets
and things like that. Just describe the scene a little bit
LS: Well, it was a, I like to tell it, a real sort of "wild west" kind of shoot-out that, that converged on, on Sid and the mayor who came running up and the Felts Brothers. Around them were dozens, perhaps scores, of other miners, armed ready to fight. But, a little knot there in front of the Chambers Hardware is where the, where it really was, where it really broke out. In Chambers Hardware, there were miners with guns trained, ready to shoot, and who did shoot once, once it started. When the confrontation began, someone went running off to get Mayor Testerman, who was in his jewelry, jewelry down the way, and he came hustling up and joined in the altercation.
If you talk to, no matter how many people you hear different stories about who fired first. I don't think anyone knows or, perhaps, ever will know who shot first. It just all of the sudden started from many directions. And, Al Felts was one of the first to fall, Mayor Testerman fell with a bullet in his stomach and died that night; other, one miner ran and was shot as he was, a detective. I really can't tell the whole story of the battle, right now, because it's not fresh in my mind. I could refresh my mind on that.
Q: That's OK. Tell me what you think happened
during the trial, some seventeen, I think, defendants
were put-up on charges of murder.
LS: Initially, over twenty of them and, gradually, charges were dropped until there was about seventeen at the end. The trial was the biggest trial in West Virginia's history, at that time. Newspaper reporters came down from New York and Philadelphia and all over. And, it was a major event. Old-time trial with colorful lawyers and judges and it went on from the winter into the spring of 1921. Sid testified; all the, the parties to it were there. It was covered by the press. In the end, the jury acquitted all of the defendants. The story that I got and the one I believe, is that the jury felt that the miners had done the right thing. That, the Detectives got what was coming to them.
Q: A year later, another bit of violence occurred
in Welch. Tell me about that.
LS: That was the following August when Sid Hatfield was called to Welch to stand trial for a, a mine shooting that had occurred in the fall of 1920. And, he was called to stand trial. He, before he went to Welch to stand trial, there were reports that he would be killed. In fact, there is, if you can go to the Wheeling Intelligencer, I believe it's, you can go to newspapers, today, that were published immediately prior to Sid's assassination, and there were published reports before the event saying that he would be killed if he went to Welch. And, they are there today. You can find them today. He, disregarded the advice of friends and went to Welch with his wife, Jessie and Ed Chambers, his best friend and Ed's wife, Sally. They, took the train to Welch for the trial, as they were walking up the Courthouse steps at Welch, the Baldwin Felts Detectives, the same, many of the same ones that had been involved in the Matewan events. There were seven or eight of them standing across the brow of the hill at the Courthouse, in front of the Courthouse, and again, shooting broke out.
Sid fell, just riddled with bullets, bullets through his body, his arms, there were many descriptions of the way he fell, his wife was on his arms and he spun and rolled down the steps, landing with his head about the bottom step, his feet stretched upward. Ed Chambers tried to do something and they opened on him and he, too, was riddled and he rolled down the steps, dead. Sally, his wife who was on his arms at the time, it was a hot day and she had a parasol and, Charles Lively, who was the leader of the Baldwin Felts, who was doing the shooting, came down and, according to Sally, administered a "coup de grace" by, putting a pistol to the back of Ed's head and pulling the trigger. And, she beat him off with her parasol, saying "stop, stop, don't be killing him anymore, don't shoot him anymore." And, they dragged her away. The sheriff of McDowell County, who had been advised that this might take place and, who even could have read the newspapers that this was going to take place, was not in town. He was in Virginia at a spa.
Q: What was the reaction to the murder of Sid
LS: Well, the reaction that went up and down the, in the coal fields, it spread up and down the mining camps was that this horrible murder had taken place. Sid, according to that story, was unarmed, had been shot down with his wife on his arms, and he and Ed, as they were reporting for Court, to a Court of Law, and, when he makes an attempt to conform to the rules of justice, this is what happens to him. They mow him down. The miners, rise in rebellion. It took about three weeks, two or three weeks, as the story was told and told, and went from camp to camp, and house to house, and, there began, the miners all over southern West Virginia began having meetings and saying "it's time to, to rise, it's time to do something," and they settled on a, they would meet at Lens Creek and, and the, toward the closing days of August, 20, 21, along in there, they began gathering on Lens Creek and they came from Cabin Creek and Paint Creek and the Coal River and across the Kanawha, and all over southern and central West Virginia, the miners just poured out, gathering on Land's Creek to march, and one thinks to Logan, but to march on Mingo County where Sid had been the sheriff, or the Police Chief. They were going to march to Mingo County and clean out the Baldwin Felts Detectives and establish, who knows, their own kind of law, their own kind of government.
Q: OK. Let's cut.
Q: Lon, tell me about the spontaneous mass
movement of miners in this event.
LS: When the miners of southern West Virginia, almost spontaneously started moving towards Land's Creek, word went out and no one person made the decision. It just was agreed. We will gather on Land's Creek and from all over southern West Virginia. All along the Kanawha. The honed-in on Land's Creek and they gathered and, their camp started spreading up and down the creek, there along where Marmet is. And it, it got larger and larger and, finally, under no one's order, it just started moving. It just started up the mountain over into Fayette County and, down and toward Logan County and Mingo County. I submit, no one was in charge.
It was just a people's movement. It was caused by years and years of frustration and, and mistreatment and the spark that set it off was Sid Hatfield's death. In Logan, Sheriff Chafin saw them coming, heard about them coming, and he made this very dramatic pronouncement "NO ARMED MOB IS GOING TO CROSS LOGAN COUNTY." He had a police force of his own of several hundred and that formed the nucleus of an army. Word went out, all over southern West Virginia for veterans and others, to come join in this army that was forming to stop the miners. The Governor, urged young men to, to go up on Blair Mountain and join this army. My own father was one of them who went. In Bluefield, they had a force of two hundred in the American Legion, when the call went out, and the call came to Bluefield said "bring your raincoats and machine guns." And, the American Legion group.
Q: Pause. I want to hear that. We'll start. We just ran out of film. "When the call went out to Bluefield." That's a good story.
SAVAGE INTERVIEW, TAKE 8, ROLL 310, SOUND 142.
Q: "When the call went out to Bluefield for
LS: Well, when the call went out to Bluefield, it was "get your raincoats and machine guns and come on." Bluefield had an American Legion Detachment of about two hundred men and they responded with eagerness. They formed on the main street, marched down the main street. A lot of the townspeople turned out at the train station. The troops marched through as he was going off to war. The crowd parted, the men marched onto the train and the train pulled out as the people waved "good-bye," and cheered. And, this was going off to war. This was the other side of West Virginia responding to the miners' march. So these two armies came head to head, came up against each other there on Blair Mountain, about ten, fifteen thousand, I would say, on the coal miners side, about two to three thousand on the, on Sheriff Chafin's side. And, they were ready to lock-in combat.
Q: But, not a lot happened?
LS: No, not a lot, not a lot happened, there were advances, there were charges up the mountain by the miners. Miners were shot down as they, as they went up, some, a few, were killed and wounded, but most of the hung back at the bottom of the mountain there, along Blair Mountain. There was not that final charge up, you know, the do or die, there was thousands, probably hundreds of thousands, shots fired. A doctor who had been at Manila in the, in the Spanish-American War, said he heard more shooting on Blair Mountain than he did at Manila. But the suicide charge up the mountain into the machine gun nests of Sheriff Chafin never really occurred. There was fainting and there was a little bit of it and there was some, real combat, but it never broke out into the major civil war that might have happened.
Q: So Chafin's pronouncement was proven
LS: Well, I hate to say it, but, yes. Chafin's pronouncement was proven true and his people rejoiced and they had celebrations afterward and congratulated him and said just that "that Chafin said no armed mob shall cross Logan County" and no armed mob did cross Logan County. It was, it was a defeat for the miners, really. They didn't, they didn't get much of what they wanted, they didn't get to Mingo County, they didn't change much. What they did get and it was the only thing they got, in my estimation, was they got the nation's attention. People in West Virginia and around the country, learned about them, learned of their lives and their frustrations, and they sat-up and took notice of these West Virginia miners, for a little while. But, it was only a little while, because it wasn't long after that that, both in West Virginia and elsewhere in the country, people forgot. This event, which was the largest, armed insurrection this country has had since the Civil War isn't even, well, in the history books. It isn't, it wasn't in the West Virginia History books for years. I understand, now, it's beginning to make it's appearance. But even today, not many people pay much attention to it. One of the most colorful, one of the richest stories of American history, in my opinion.
Q: Why do you think it was that people didn't
want to talk about, West Virginians didn't want to
talk about the Mine Wars?
LS: Well, I've always felt that West Virginians are ashamed of the best part of their history. They don't, they don't like this kind of history and they want to repress it. They want, I think they would like the powdered wig kind of history of Colonial Virginia. But, that's not West Virginia history. West Virginia history occurs in the coal mines and in the mountains. And, it occurred in the fall of 1921, in a miners' rebellion and a great uprising and a small civil war. And, not even West Virginians will acknowledge very readily that it happened.
Q: What was the reaction of West Virginians at
the time, who were not in the coal fields? Did they
have sympathies for the miners?
LS: Those not in the coal fields, had some sympathy with the miners. There was a strong feeling among the non-mining people of West Virginia against the Baldwin Felts Detectives. Everyone seems to feel that the Baldwin Felts Detectives were, were pretty villainous kind of people. They may even be getting a worse rap that they deserve. But, but, that seems to be a consensus. There is a feeling of affection for coal miners because they produce so much wealth, and have produced so much wealth in West Virginia. But, not much sympathy for the Union or the uprising or the violence. And, they wished it wouldn't happen and wished it hadn't happened and they act as if it didn't happen.
Q:: What do you think is special about West
Virginia? It seems a place that has some claim on
LS: Well, what I think is distinctive and special about West Virginia is, is the people. And the fact that they will march and, go out and stand for what they believe in and they'll have a Matewan Massacre and a march on Mingo and a battle on Blair Mountain. I think this is the most wonderful thing about West Virginia History and I think the state ought to trumpet it. Just tell everybody about it. It's colorful, it's rich, it's, it's the, major issues of American life are involved in it, major questions of policy and politics. It's got all the ingredients of, of, in fact, sometimes I think even more of the, of the ingredients of great history than they had in the "wild west" and, yet, America looks at the "wild west" as one of the glorious parts of its history. And, then looks aside when, when the same kind of thing happens in West Virginia.
Q: West Virginia has always seemed to have
gotten the short end of the stick, nationally.
LS: Well, I think they have it coming to them. They, they, West Virginians, are trying to pose as something, I think, historically that they are not. West Virginia History books that I read, glorified Virginia and the history, and that's fine; I'm not disparaging Virginia's history, it's wonderful history. But, it's not West Virginia's history. West Virginia's history is, I think, more distinctive, more unusual, richer. I think it's a great history that West Virginians won't even acknowledge.
Q: Cut. Well, that's why we are making this film. Laughing.
QUIET, PLEASE. ROOM TONE FOR THE
LON SAVAGE INTERVIEW.
TAKE 9, TAKE 9.
Q: Lon, tell me about the role the Blacks played
in the March on Logan.
LS: The Blacks played a very important role in the March on Blair Mountain and Mingo County. When they gathered on Land's Creek, reports go from twenty to forty percent of them are Black. I would say, twenty, twenty-five percent, probably is an accurate account of the number of miners who marched on Mingo who were Black. They were members of the Union along with the whites, but they did form little Black groups within the, they had leaders, There was some of the, the, leaders, actually, led men up Blair Mountain in the face of fire. Not a lot of that happened, but Blacks did participate in some of that. So they were involved in a lot of it. When, in the middle of the March on Mingo, in southern West Virginia was then Jim Crow and these Black miners would go in Jim Crow restaurants and sit down and order dinner and they were served. They also, Blacks participated very numerously in the 1912-1913 miners uprising along the Kanawha River. Again, it was about twenty-five percent of the, those who participated were Blacks.
Q: Do you remember, from your book, the story
of the Black minister who decided to lay down his
Bible and pick-up his rifle?
LS: That was a white minister, though.
Q: That was a white minister?
LS: Yes. Wilburn was white.
Q: Let's have some room tone then.
THIS IS ROOM TONE FOR LON SAVAGE'S INTERVIEW.
LS: There was a Black in Wilburn's group who was killed. Do you remember that?
Q: No, tell me about that.
LS: When Wilburn led that little group up the mountain, do you remember Jack Drinkman??, the Indiana pianist, he was there, too. He was shanghaied into the rebellion. And, there was a Black who was in that group. A Black coal miner. And, when they made that confrontation up on the mountain top and then the shooting occurred, this Black miner was hit and, very badly injured, shot in the stomach, all the way through. And, Wilburn's son and another miner started helping him down, carrying him down the mountain, very, very, badly injured. And, they got him down to Blair, and took him to Doctor Milligan and Doctor Milligan was getting ready to operate and the miner died. One of the fatalities of the Mine War.
Q: OK. Let's be quite for 30 seconds. ROOM
TONE HERE AGAIN...END OF INTERVIEW