|The Tug Valley||Historic Landmark||The Floods||The Movie||More Coming Soon||More Coming Soon|
|The Legacy||The Battle of Matewan||The Feud||More Coming Soon||More Coming Soon||More Coming Soon|
The united mine workers' of America had just elected the legendary John L. Lewis as their president....and the union was on a roll. A few months before the battle of Matewan, union miners in other parts of the country staged a two month long strike and won an unprecedented 27% pay increase. The contracts they negotiated with coal producers in the so called central field required the union to organize miners in southern west Virginia and eastern Kentucky in order to level the playing field for the price of coal.
In the hills and hollows along the Tug Fork there was no union and the miners and their families lived in an almost feudal society. The coal companies dominated their employees lives. The companies owned the miners homes and required them to buy at the company store. The companies also welded significant clout with politicians, newspapers and the school system.
In those days, Matewan was still a hard days journey from the state
capitol at Charleston. But the town sat on the mainline of the Norfolk
western railroad. The train linked Matewan to the outside world and
every day it brought in goods and news from around the country. What
kept conversation buzzing here outside the post office and down the street
in front of Chambers Hardware Store was that 27% pay raise. The area
was ripe for change.
John L. Lewis knew this and was determined to organize the coal fields of southern Appalachia. The union sent in its top organizers, including the infamous mother Jones, and before the spring redbud covered the hills, the miners were working by day and talking union under the cover of night.
Roughly three thousand men signed the union's roster in the spring of 1920. The Matewan community church, a block south of the battle site near the river, was the place where the miners signed their union cards. They knew it would cost them their jobs and in many cases their homes. The coal operators retaliated with massive firings, harassment, and evictions.
Matewan, incorporated in 1895, was an independent town with it's own elected officials. It's mayor, Cabel Testerman, and it's police chief, Sid Hatfield, refused to go along with the companies retaliation against the miners. So the companies hired their own enforcers, the notorious Baldwin-Felts detective agency. The "Baldwin thugs," as the miners called them, had earned a reputation for brutality in other strikes. This time the coal operators had hired them to evict the newly unionized miners and their wives and children from the company owned houses. As a result, hundreds of families spent that chilly mountain spring in thin canvass tents with mud floors.
The miners had been pushed to their limit, and tension hung heavy in the air like the thick mist that rose from the river on a warm spring night.
On May 19th, the day the battle of Matewan took place, a contingent
of Baldwin-Felts detectives arrived on the no. 29, the morning train, to
evict families living at stone mountain coal camp just outside of Matewan.
Sheriff Sid Hatfield and his friend and deputy, Fred Burgraff, smelled
trouble and they met the Baldwin-Felts men at the train station.
Burgraff's son Hawthorne, now eighty-three years old picks up the story.......
And set an example they did, evicting six families and piling their belongings - iron skillets, clothes, and rocking chairs - in a drizzling rain. By the time the Baldwin-Felts men got back to Matewan, news of the evictions had spread and people were angry. Sid Hatfield had let it be known he planned to arrest the detectives....and townspeople were preparing for a confrontation. Men hurried into town with guns tucked under their jackets and women frantically tried to get their children off the streets.
Dixie Accord was a young girl at the time. She remembers standing
with her grandmother and watching as Hatfield, Fred Burgraff, and Mayor
Cable Testerman, and the Baldwin-Felts detectives faced off under the porch
of the chambers hardware store.........
So my grandmother turned to me and she said, "you go home." And I went; I knew to mind. And I started walking home.
People in Matewan still argue about who fired the first shot.
Sid Hatfield claimed that he then shot Felts but didn't kill him.
Others claim it was really Hatfield who shot mayor Testerman because he
was in love with Testerman's wife. But no matter who fired first,
the fight was on and bullets were flying in every direction.
Detective Felts and mayor Testerman fell to the ground wounded and Sid
Hatfield kept firing. Felts eventually got to his feet and ran...
When the shooting finally stopped bewildered townspeople crawled from
safety behind sheds and out of ditches. They were dazed and some
were wounded, and bleeding, and in shock. The streets were littered
with bodies from both sides of the battle. Seven Baldwin-Felts detectives
including two Felts brothers, Albert and Lee, were dead another detective
was wounded. Two miners had been killed; one was Bob Mullins, who
had just that morning been fired for joining the union, the other, Tot
Tinsley, was a young unarmed bystander. Matewan's mayor, Cabel Testerman,
was dying. Four other people had been wounded.
The first of July the miners union called a strike. By the middle of the month there was almost no coal coming out of the area. Violence erupted in fits and starts from every hill. The Tug Valley was armed to the teeth. Railroad cars were blown to bits, strikers were beaten and left to die by the side of the road. National guard and state police rushed from one incident to the next.
Tom Felts, the surviving brother of Lee and Albert Felts who now headed the detective agency, vowed to avenge his brothers' killings. He sent undercover operatives to spy and collect evidence to convict the participants.
In the middle of the daily violence raging in the coalfields, a grand jury indicted Sid Hatfield and twenty-two other people for the murder of Albert Felts.
The case went to trial in January of 1921 at the Williamson courthouse. Charges were dismissed against some of the twenty-three defendants; the rest of the defendants were acquitted.
A few months later, on august 1st, Tom Felts finally got revenge. On that day, Baldwin-Felts detectives assassinated Sid Hatfield, and his deputy, Ed Chambers, on the steps of the McDowell County courthouse in the town of Welch. The two men were unarmed.
More than 2,000 people walked in Hatfield and Chambers funeral procession as it that paraded through Matewan across the Tug Fork River to the cemetery in Kentucky. During the rain soaked graveside ceremony, union attorney Samuel Montgomery eulogized the two martyrs. In Montgomery's words, "even the heavens weep with the grief stricken relatives and bereaved friends of these two boys."
Less than a month later, with the assassinations fresh in their minds, miners from across the state gathered at the capitol in Charleston. They were determined to organize the southern coal-fields and began the famous march to Logan county. Thousands of miners joined them along the way in what became the largest armed insurrection in the united states since the civil war. It culminated in the battle of Blair Mountain.
As historian David A. Corbin said may 19th, 1992 while commemorating the battle of Matewan....