Skip Navigation

Transcript of interview with Dixie Accord, May 3, 1993, for the film "West Virginia"

Source: WV History Film Project


Q: Dixie, think back to around 1920. Tell me what Matewan was like.
JJHE 0045
DA: Well, it was a little coal mining town, right in the heart of one of the largest coal mining, Red Jacket was only three miles up the hollow from Matewan. Matewan was on Tug River. In the bend of Tug River and May Creek came out and up that road, up that railroad, three miles was Red Jacket Coal Company. That's the first movie house I was ever in. That's the first ball game I ever seen and I had to walk that three miles up and three miles back. Of course, I didn't walk by myself. My father went with us nearly all the time, if we got to go to the movies, he was down there to bring us home. It was not a safe place, my parents didn't think, for young girls to be out at night and we wasn't out at night.
JJHE 0126
But, it was a friendly place. There was a lot of colored people in Matewan who I dearly loved and that was Mary and John, John and Mary Brown. And, old Frank Bennett was the custodian at the Urias Hotel and my grandmother would let me go a carnival with him or Mary, John and Mary Brown.

Q: You, I think you told Beth that Matewan was. I'm sorry. What? Pull the far chair.
DA: That's all right. That's all right, I'm, but if I'm --

Q: Try the other one.
DA: If I'm looking wrong or saying something.

Q:: You're doing just great.
DA: You tell me.

Q: I will.


Q: Dixie, you've told Beth that Matewan was a scary place.
DA: It was.

Q: Could you tell me Matewan was a scary place?
JJHE 0184
DA: We was. My family consisted of girls. We all went to the Barber Shop, then, to get our hair cut. My Daddy didn't let us go by ourself. He'd taken us. And he sat there 'till we --

Q: What was scary about Matewan in 1920?
JJHE 0209
DA: Well, every person I've seen. Charley Keyser walked the streets in Matewan with a high-powered rifle on his shoulder. Now, you wonder a lot of times, why? Whether it was for protection. After the Union came out, they were always plagued with something. They never. They looked over, I think they looked over their back every step they take and around the back of it, every step they took. Now, my father wasn't, he was a Union man, but he wasn't a radical. He was a good Union man and he did what he appreciated, but he did not participate in any of the things that occurred.

Q: Who was fighting the Union Men?
JJHE 0275
DA: The coal operators and the people that mined coal, just like they do now. They be ten times worse now, if they thought that they could get away with it. And, not until Roosevelt, was it '37 that Roosevelt give them a right to organize and have bargaining? The men led a terrible life. After the, you never ask me this yet. I'll wait until you ask the question. But, Matewan was always on the defensive. Every part of Mingo County where they was coal mines, they had to be on the defensive. They worked for a dollar a day, from daylight 'till dark. And, I swear to that.
JJHE 0349
My Father was injured at Caretta, in the coal mines and, he couldn't work in the latter part of his years back in the mines, because he was a machinist, he ran a loading machine. A machine that cut coal. It wasn't like the new modern of them now, that run it all ton by ton in a few hours. You had to dig it out. And, after he got hurt in Caretta Mines, he never worked anymore. He worked for himself. And, you take nine, eight girls and two adults to feed, you was lucky to feed them on $2.00 a day. I know Poppy turned the money over to me a many a times and let me go shopping because he couldn't and my Mother was a seamstress and she wouldn't. So, I did all the managing.

Q: Now, right prior to all the trouble, your father was evicted, was he not?
JJHE 0438
DA: Oh, yes. That day of the street battle in Matewan. The massacre of the seven Baldwin Felts detectives. There was seven killed there that day. And, Poppy, they couldn't indict Poppy for nothing and take him to jail 'cause he was up there in Stony Mountain Camps putting our furniture back on the porch. It was raining. It was one of those cold, rainy days. So, my grandmother lived in Buskirk property, going toward Thacker . You had. You didn't go up toward Red Jacket, now. You went up the main line of the N & W Railroad and my grandmother lived, Bob Buskirk owned three houses there 'fore you crossed his swinging bridge going into Buskirk, Kentucky.
JJHE 0510
And, my grandmother lived in the first one. Mid Scott lived in the second one and the Staffords lived in the third, who worked for R. W. And, that's where I went. My grandmother. I went to town with her that day. 'Cause she took me with her everywhere, cause she had no where to leave me, you see. And, she had two sons that were young. They were working and she couldn't find them. So, she put her apron off and her bonnet and took her market basket on her arm, took me and went into town. We walked down there. And the picture. I think that's the biggest phony that ever was and I tell.

Q: Let's not get off the track on that. Pick it up now. You went into Matewan and tell me what happened.
JJHE 0586
DA: Well, we went in about, I'd say 3:00 or 3:30. She was hunting for her two younger boys. They was 19 and 20. And, she, then John Robinson had a meat market. And, we always went to John Robinson's meat market and we stayed there. Then we saw the Union men and the Baldwin Felts Detectives. They had warrants for Sid Hatfield and Ed Chambers. That's the only two that I can remember that they was going to arrest and take into Bluefield that evening on "16" which run in there, due into Matewan about 5:15.
JJHE 0649
They all gathered down at the end of John Robinson. He had a wooden walk in front of his building. But, then when you went down two steps, you was on concrete and Brooks Chambers' hardware was there. Dr. Witt's Dental Office was above it and at the rear-end, but his business was on the other street, the Main Street in Matewan. Only two streets in Matewan. And, but then, in the back of it was where the living quarters and they had a porch up there. And, there's, under that porch, and Brooke Chamber's Hardware is where it all, they were gathered and it all took place.

Q: Tell me what you saw and heard.
JJHE 0715
DA: Well, I didn't see, the only thing I could see, I, was the people gathering. My grandmother realized there was going to be trouble. She sent me home. I was not there when the first shot was fired. I had walked up the railroad into my grandmother's home and had put my foot on the first step when they was a thousand shells fired. But, they was over a hundred people gathered there when she made me go home. And, she went into this John Robinson's Meat Market and laid down on the floor. I don't know when she found her two sons, but, she found them.
JJHE 0777
Now, I went to the back of the house where we lived and you could see the back-end of Matewan and you could see to Tug river, in that bend, the road there. Over a hundred people run out of the city of Matewan and swum that river into Kentucky. And, one of the biggest coal operators that was there that was Everett Harman. I saw him. He's the only one I recognized. But, I said to my Aunt, I said "that's Everett Harman." She said, "yes." But, I tell you it was fixin' to explode and my grandmother knew it and she made, she sent me home.

Q: Tell me that again, that your grandmother knew that something was going to happen.
DA: Yes.

Q: And she sent you home. And tell me, just describe a little bit more, what it must have sounded like.
JJHE 0841
DA: It sounds like war had begin. It sound, it broke out all over. I thought Matewan would be demolished. There was over a thousand shots fired there in less than, in less than twenty minutes. It was the awfullest feeling, I never witnessed anything as bad as that. But, it was over with and we knew the Baldwin Felts Detectives out of Bluefield caused it. We have gone to bed a many a times. Now, after this, we have had to lay downstairs where we lived there, where I lived with my grandmother, on the floor, right by the fireplace because they were shooting over her house. Now, see, P. J. Smith was superintendent of Stony Mountain, that was the people that was sent out of their houses. Stony Mountain Coal Company.

Q: Tell me, you were a little girl and you were going up the steps.
JJHE 0933
DA: I got to my grandmother's house and I put my foot on the first step when the shots fired. That's how come, and I could walk that in ten minutes. And, I walked it, when she told me to go home, I left.

Q: Do you remember how you felt as you started hearing the shots?
JJHE 0960
DA: I just thought everybody. I thought everybody was murdered and I run through and my aunt was there. And, I said "oh, Vinnie, everybody in Matewan is blowed up," and we run to the back and then we seen all these people leaving Matewan, swimming in the river to get into Kentucky. Now, you want me to tell you how many was killed there?

Q: Well, not exactly yet. I want you to tell me another thing that you saw. Which is that you saw, oops, we just ran out of film.
DA: That's all right.


Q: Now Dixie, after all the firing and after all the men swimming across the river to Kentucky, you went back with your grandmother and you saw some of the firing, I think. Didn't you see some Union men?
JJHE 1033
DA: No, the Union men were armed 'cause they came, they said they came a message over the telegraph. D. T. Blankenship is one that come out, he was the, he ran the, he was of the NW Station there. He, and, they were coming into Matewan to wipe it off the face of the earth. Now, you know, 'cause, I think the shock of that, I'm not sure that I know exactly. I think the shock of that killed their mother. That's what they told. Now, whether that was the truth, I didn't read nothing but the Cincinnati Inquirer and I don't know whether I read that or not.

Q: Now, when you went back with your grandmother, did you see bodies?
DA: Yes. I saw seven of them.

Q: Tell me about them.
JJHE 1107
DA: Well, you see this station is over here, on my right, and the bodies was over, still lying there, under that porch of Brooke Chamber's Hardware. They went into Brooke Chamber's Hardware and got new doors and they laid the bodies on 'em. And, number "7" was the train going down towards Williamson and Cincinnati. That was taking them away from their home, because they should have been put on "16," going east to Bluefield. But, you know what, I don' --

Q: Before you finish, tell me once again, that men went in and got doors and came out and put the Baldwin Felts on the doors.
DA: On Number 7."

Q: Tell me that all, again.
JJHE 1173
DA: Well, when the train pulled in, that's what my grandmother wanted to see. She wanted to see for herself. 'Cause she wasn't afraid of nothing. And, she wasn't the only woman there. And, of course, I was. They went in to Brooke Chamber's Hardware. Got new doors. Now, they had them laying on the doors, when they came out. I did not see them loading a body on there, 'cause they had them inside.

Q: Can you tell me, instead of "they" would you say "The Baldwin Felts Agents?"
JJHE 1221
DA: No. It was the Union men. The people in the city. Yea. The Union men got rid of, put them on the doors and sent them on number "7."

Q: The Union men put the Baldwin --
DA: Yes, they sure did.

Q: Will you say that they put the Baldwin Felts men on the doors?
DA: Those that were, they were --

Q: Say that again, for me. I don't know who you are talking about. I don't know if you mean the Union men.
DA: The Union men. It had to be a, Matewan citizens or the Union --

Q: Who were the bodies?
DA: The Baldwin Felts Detectives --

Q: OK. Tell me that.
JJHE 1269
DA: There were seven of them killed there. They was two brothers. Albert was one of them. He was the ringtail leader, and I don't know what his brother's name was. But, they, I can tell you another little anecdote -- the man's dead and gone now, Isaac Brewer. He told me out of his own mouth. And, I have known that since 1933, but I didn't know this and we was talking about the Baldwin Felts Detectives, course he was right in it. He said that I am the one that killed Albert Felts, and, I was scared to death to repeat that until, Isaac's dead now and all his family. They can't hurt none of them. Unless they go to hell with them, 'cause they will go to hell for murdering those people. I can't help it. Because you cannot, I don't believe in murder, but lot of times you can't get, a lot of people don't see it like that.

Q: What were the Baldwin Felts doing in Matewan?
JJHE 1359
DA: Oh, set those people out of the houses for P. J. Smith. Say the only Union men, now, say there were forty families out. Set them out in the rain. Then what they intended to do to finish their day's work there, they intended to arrest Sid Hatfield who was Chief of Police. And, I don't know what position that Ed Chambers was played. I can't tell you now. And, his brother, but they were all in that and they had warrants for Ed and Sid Hatfield. And, how many more, I don't know. But they really had warrants, to tell you the names and call the names. but, Williamson jail was full of people. I can tell you that. Union and all, but they couldn't arrest my daddy because he wasn't even in Matewan.

Q: Let me ask you about some of the people that were involved. Tell me what you know. Tell me about Sid Hatfield. Did you know him?
DA: Oh, yes.

Q: Did you ever see him?
DA: See? I saw him every day of the world.

Q: Tell me about him.
JJHE 1446
DA: Well, Sid was a uncouth, self-made person. He was rough, tough, and nasty. And, when he got the job as Chief of Police in Matewan, a lot of the better people even questioned that. And, because the Chambers', they were a nice, it was a nice pioneer family, all the Chambers' were. And, Taut?? and Ed were brothers, but they both was in that battle there.

Q: What was the mayor like?
JJHE 1501
DA: The mayor was a nice, quiet fellow. He was a large man, very heavy man, but a well-educated man. He was a watch repair man, there. He had, in that jewelry store, he had a watch repair shop. He, also, had a fountain. See, we had no drug store.

Q: What was his wife like? Jessie.
JJHE 1534
DA: Well, Jessie was another one from Naugetuck . She was just plain Jessie Testerman is all I can tell you. I didn't know much about her. And, they --

Q: Was she attractive?
JJHE 1550
DA: Oh yes. A very pretty woman for her time. In, but, if she ever bothered anybody, I didn't know, because I tell you what -- my grandmother didn't want me to know it, I didn't know it. She never talked in front of us. What's her beliefs were my beliefs because she laid the law down and we followed it, all her family did. She was a widow from 1900. She raised ten children.

Q: You know that some people say that Sid had designs on Jessie.
JJHE 1598
DA: Wouldn't doubt that a bit. 'Cause I'm not going to lie. He married her right soon after that. Course, I blame Jessie as much as I do Sid. She shouldn't have put, she must have accepted it, or, he would, I don't believe Sid would put his, I don't believe that he would make a nuisance of himself. He was too independent. You talk about a pioneer, there. Now, you talk about somebody that wasn't afraid of anything, I think he was a man that wasn't afraid of nothing. Or, he wouldn't have been caught in Welch, knowing that they was going to kill him. I was in Williamson the day that my uncle was an engineer on the N & W and come through. Now, news didn't travel then like it does now.
JJHE 1675
And, I was in my aunt's home, the aunt that was at my grandmother's home when the massacre happened in Matewan, and he come in, he said "they just killed Ed Chambers and Sid Hatfield on the steps of the Courthouse in Welch. Have you ever seen the Courthouse in Welch? They was killed on the steps coming up both sides, I don't know which side they were killed on. They, and, Lively was into it too, he was just as deep in the mars?? as the rest of them was in the clay.

Q: Do you remember seeing him?
DA: Oh, yes.

Q: Tell me about him.
JJHE 1727
DA: Well, he was a little fellow. And, he opened up a restaurant. He came there and opened up a restaurant, but Meg Daniels had the big restaurant there. She's the one that cooked the food and sent into Blair Mountain. See, I know. I know who took it in there. I'd hear my grandmother and my uncles talking. I know, I didn't let them know I was paying attention, but I knew everything that was going on.

Q: Let me ask you about two people that are after this event. Let me ask you about Mother Jones.
JJHE 1774
DA: Oh, Mother Jones was a real self-made woman. And, she could cuss, out-cuss a sailor. I heard her. That's the reason my grandmother didn't want me to go over in Red Jacket in the bottom to these things because she didn't approve of that. But, now Mother Jones was right there. And I, and so was John L. Lewis.

Q: Tell me about John Lewis.
JJHE 1817
DA: John L. Lewis was, he was a heavy-set man, weigh about 170 or 180 pounds. But, he was, he never took no part in none of, on the surface, that you could see. He brought the people in there. He organized the Union. He supported them. He made way for them to be unionized and, that's why there was dollar houses. You see, overpowered the working force, the superintendent. Now, and organized the Union. And, that's what caused the men to be set out of their houses, because, that, and they had to live in tents. And, you see, Matewan was under marshal law there, for a long time.

Q: Do you know people who lived in tents?
DA: Oh, yes.

Q: What was it like for them?
JJHE 1895
DA: Well, it was "do as you can" and "the best you can."

Q: Didn't your father --
DA: Live in a tent.

Q: Tell me about your father.
JJHE 1908
DA: Well, I, my father was a carpenter, too. And, he built a frame around it. And, put the tent down so far. It was real nice. I've been in it and my grandmother has been in it, too.

Q: Did you know people who didn't live so nicely in a tent?
DA: Yes.

Q: Tell me about them.
JJHE 1934
DA: They had dirt floors and cooked outside. But, now my Daddy put his furniture in the dry and it was, R. W. Buskirk let him rent that land, right below where my grandmother lived. He owned that. He let, my Father was the only one that had a tent set-up there.

Q: What was it like to see Matewan with tents all over, everywhere?
JJHE 1970
DA: Well, now they wasn't down in Matewan. No. No. Now, my Father lived in one on the outskirts, going toward my grandmother's. In, you could stand in my grandmother's dining room door and see where my Daddy lived.

Q: But, weren't there a bunch of tents --
DA: Oh, there was. Oh, yes. Oh, yes.

Q: What was that like?
JJHE 1996
DA: That was terrible. That was terrible. It just looked like back in the colonial days. And, when America was fighting the Indians. It reminded you of that.

Q: OK. Let's stop for a second. Good. We just, that's enough. We are out of film.


Q: Dixie, I want to ask you about a couple of more people. Like, we have been doing, OK?
DA: Un-huh.

Q: This is a group of people. Tell me what the Baldwin Felts agents were like?
JJHE 2038
DA: They all looked like regular business men. They was in Matewan three or four days and stayed at the Urias Hotel. But, why the Union knew what they was going to do. Babe Burgraff , a sister to Fred and Abe, and there was another one, Herb. She, she would eavesdrop, you see, and she knew what was going on, if they was going to arrest Ed Chambers and Sid Hatfield. Now, there might have been another one on their list, but I can't remember that. But, those are the two main ones. They were the Union leaders. They was the one that the, that took up for the Union and upheld the Union. And, --

Q: What did you call them? Did you call them Baldwin Felts?
JJHE 2112
DA: Yea. We called them thugs, if you want to know the truth. Baldwin Felts Detectives, they were. They were from Bluefield and I think they had a lot to do when that movie was made. That they wouldn't let them tell the truth.

Q: Now, let me ask you about someone else. Did you know of Don Chafin?
DA: Oh, yes.

Q: Tell me about him.
JJHE 2148
DA: I knew Don Chafin long after this. See, when I moved to Logan County and lived at Ethel for ten years, he had, he got 10% of every ton of coal that moved out of Logan County.

Q: And they called him the "King of Logan County."
JJHE 2171
DA: They sure did. And, he's the instigator and the ring-tail leader of that battle on Blair Mountain which didn't succeed.

Q: Tell me, I'd like it the way you tell me what somebody looks like and whether --
DA: Well, he was a tall, just a plain --

Q: Could you start by saying "Don Chafin was?"
JJHE 2197
DA: Don Chafin was a very plain person. He was very country looking. Now, if you have ever seen his sons, they look exactly like him. And, see, I lived in Ethel then. And, that was after Roosevelt gave the men a right to organize. And, did you know Don Chafin came into the Union, came to the Union, and wanted to join and be a Union man? He's lucky he got out of there alive. They told him they had wanted nothing to do with him. Now, his sons was scared all the time that they were up in Logan with that mine. Cause I worked for the deputy's sister in Logan, at that time. They had twenty-foot fences around their coal mine. And, I went up there and I seen what a barricade it was, and I went back into the office in Logan in the Courthouse and I told my boss, who was Tom Gobby?? that I wasn't going back up there anymore. And, I didn't go either.

Q: Now, let's go back to the massacre days. What happened to the mayor's body?
JJHE 2308
DA: Well, Mayor Testerman was shot. He didn't die until he got to Welch in the Miner's Hospital. Now, "15", excuse me, "16" was stopped about three miles down toward the tunnel and wouldn't, and told them there was a battle going on up there, and "16" didn't come in to Matewan until about 5:30. And, it was due in there about 5:00. They held it up down there. In the meantime, Tom Tinsley was killed on the streets. Dutch Rear?? was injured, but Mayor Testerman was shot. And, they put him on "16" and I want you to know they wasn't a conductor got off that train into Matewan. So I've been told. I didn't see that. I wasn't there when "16" come into Matewan, going east. But, I was there when number "7" come through from Bluefield, going west and I saw, I saw the men put on the men that come out and put, the doors, they were on the doors and they was put in the baggage car and took away from Matewan. They finally took them away.

Q: I've, also, heard some people say that it was an awful sight to see those Baldwin Felts Detectives on the streets. Some who had their heads blown off --
JJHE 2417
DA: Well, I, Albert Felts I was told now, that this man that I told you, he killed him and he didn't deny it. And, he said "I shot the top of his head off." But, poor old Ike is gone now, and they can't do nothing about it and even his whole family is gone. They are all dead. And, I never mentioned that in my life, until this come up about making a picture and investigating. Now, I can't see, when that man that was at my house, Frank Delardi --

Q: Yes, go ahead.
DA: Gave a lot of information.


Q: OK. Dixie, tell me about your father, hand-loading coal. What his job was like.
JJHE 2481
DA: Well, we never saw him from daylight to dark. We, now, I didn't live with my parents, then. But, they was always close by and then I had an uncle, Jink? --

Q: Tell me about your father's job.
JJHE 2502
DA: My father was a machine man. And, he was rolled, though, in the mines at Caretta, that's in McDowell County. He never was able to do much coal mining after that. He was lamp man and he, also, was the, --

Q: You told me that already, but tell me about how hard it was, how it was slavery and how he could barely make 25 a day and tell me about.
DA: 25 a day. You didn't make but $2.00 a day.

Q: I'm sorry. OK. We'll go over that again. Cut.

Q: Excuse me Dixie, we are just going to go back to the company store.
DA: Yes.


Q: OK. Dixie, tell me what it was like for a coal mining family in those early days. The men were loading coal by hand and everybody was shopping at the Company Store. Tell me all about it.
JJHE 2567
DA: It was very hard living. When beans was 10 cents a pound, but, and bread was 5 cents a loaf, but who had it. Who had a dime to buy beans and who had a nickel to buy bread? Very few had it. They lived hard and if they didn't raise it, they didn't have it. Now, I want to tell you something, I was fortunate 'cause I live with my grandmother in my younger years and I, she had two sons, my Uncle Henry died the night the War ended, so they said. You know, he had, he wasn't well. But, then that left her Jim and Butcher . They worked and she controlled what they made 'cause she was a good manager.

Q: How much money did the coal miners make?
JJHE 2638
DA: They didn't make much. $1.25 a day. People, people's children and grandchildren, now, can't conceive how hard it was then. And, when I got married, I don't know whether you want to hear this now or not, but when I got married and went to Detroit, I sent my Mother $2.00 every Saturday and put it in an envelope and sent it to her and they waited for that to come in to the Post Office in Matewan, before they could, what my Daddy didn't raise, like the sugar and the coffee and the seasonings, lard, we'll just say lard, and flour and meal and things. They'd wait for that $2.00 to come in 'cause I, when Ted drew his money on Saturday, on Monday morning I put $2.00 in the, I did that for over a year.

Q: Was it hard to leave West Virginia?
DA: No.

Q: For you?
JJHE 2719
DA: No, it wasn't hard for me to leave. I wasn't leaving much. It was poor, it was, it was a Depression, if you lived through the Depression, it was good besides what back then was. Men worked for nothing and they had nothing. I think my father had one suit and it was blue surge and they called him "the Blue Surge Man." He wore that blue surge suit all the time. But, my mother sewed. She was a wonderful seamstress or we never would have had clothes to go to school. She could take 50 cents worth of material and make any of us a dress. I never forgot my parents. And, my sister, Marguerite, never forgot what my Daddy had done for us.

Q: What kind of a school did you go to?
JJHE 2792
DA: I went to a Magnolia Grade School. The first one I ever went to was a one-room school and Hattie Fields was my teacher. And, I want to tell you something, if you spilled anything on yourself, you had to go out and get leaves and wipe it off. The water, drinking water was in a bucket, and, my uncle looked after me. And, I, where ever one of them was, when we was out, I wasn't far behind, or I was in front of them. They never left me behind. Because they knew my grandmother would beat their ears off, if they did.

Q: Now, you went to Detroit and you came back to West Virginia.
DA: Oh, yeah. In five years.

Q: OK. But, do you have some attachment to West Virginia?
JJHE 2860
DA: Oh, yea. I like West Virginia. I like it now. I'd rather be in West Virginia as in California. I could go to California tomorrow and live with my son. He's got a $150,000 home; that's what they're all worth out there. They cost too much. Cost of living is too high out there.

Q: Why have you chosen to live here?
JJHE 2891
DA: I like it here. I like West Virginia. My husband is a West Virginian and I've got him in the crypt here in Huntington and a place for me and I don't intend to leave. I tell you, I'm making arrangements to go into Foster Memorial Foundation, that new home that they are building on top of this street hill. They bought the land from the Ashland Coal. It will be a year. Now, I have to sell my property and buy my apartment in there. I have to buy it, but I can furnish it. I'm going to have a living room, a bedroom and a bathroom. And, if I'm able to drive, I can have a garage, but I'll have to pay extra for that.

Q: Right. Right. OK. Great! Well, good.
DA: I'm looking forward to the future 'cause I, I could go to live with any of my grandchildren or any of my son, but I don't want to.

Q: OK. Dixie, I'm going to ask you to stop for just a second, we do