The West Virginia Mine War of 1912-1913
was a confrontation between striking
coal miners and coal operators in Southern West Virginia centered around the area enclosed by two streams Paint Creek
and Cabin Creek
. The confrontation is widely considered the first Mine War
in West Virginia.
After the confrontation, Fred Stanton, a banker, estimated that the strike and ensuing violence cost $100,000,000. The confrontation also led to at least fifty violent deaths as well as many more deaths due to starvation and malnutrition among the striking miners.
The Paint Creek-Cabin Creek strike
The violence on Paint Creek and Cabin Creek began with a strike in April 1912. The coal operators attempts to break this strike led to much of the violence that would follow.
Causes of the strike
Prior to the strike there were 96 coal mines
in operation on Paint Creek and Cabin Creek, employing a total of 7500 miners. Of these mines, the forty-one on Paint Creek were all unionized, as was all of the rest of Kanawha River
coal field except for the fifty-five mines on Cabin Creek. However, miners on Paint Creek received compensation of two and a half cents less per ton than other union miners in the area.
When the Paint Creek union negotiated a new contract with the operators in 1912, they demanded that operators raise the compensation rate to the same level as the surrounding area. This increase would have cost operators approximately fifteen cents per miner per day, but the operators refused. Consequently, the union called a strike for April 18, 1912.
The strikers demands were similar to those of other almost all other mine strikes in the early twentieth century. They demanded
- “That the operators accept and recognize the union”
- “That the miners right to free speech and peaceable assembly be restored”
- “That black-listing discharged workers be stopped”
- “That compulsory trading at company stores be ended”
- “That cribbing be discontinued and that 2,000 pounds of mined coal constitute a ton”
- “That scales be installed at mines to weigh the tonnage of the miners”
- “That miners be allowed to employ their own check -weighmen to check against the weights found by company check-weighmen, as provided by law”
- “That the two check-weighmen determine all docking penalties”
The miners demands were not unusual, instead they “simply asked for observance by the operators of individual rights guaranteed to miners by State statutes and the Federal and State constitutions” . However, the operators refused the miners demands and the strike went forward. After little debate, the Paint Creek miners decided to join the Cabin Creek Miners and declared their own strike.
Early strikebreaking attempts
After the strike began, the United Mine Workers
pledged full support, hoping to use it as an opportunity to spread the union into Southern West Virginia, a longtime goal of the union. The UMW promised full financing and any aid it could provide to support strikers. .
Partly because of the influence of the UMW, the strike was conducted without violence for its first month. However, on May 10, 1912, the operators on Paint Creek and Cabin Creek hired the Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency to break the strike. Baldwin-Felts responded by sending more than three hundred mine guards led by Albert Felts, Lee Felts, and Tony Gaujot Albert Felts was killed at the Battle of Matewan.
- Corbin, David Alan. Life, Work, and Rebellion in the Coal Fields: The Southern West Virginia Miners, 1880-1922. New ed. Urbana, Ill.: University of Illinois Press, 1981. ISBN 0252008952
- Corbin, David Alan, ed. The West Virginia Mine Wars: An Anthology. Charleston, W.Va.: Appalachian Editions, 1990. ISBN 0962748609
- Laurie, Clayton D. "The United States Army and the Return to Normalcy in Labor Dispute Interventions: The Case of the West Virginia Coal Mine Wars, 1920-1921." West Virginia History. 50 (1991).
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- Savage, Lon. Thunder in the Mountains: The West Virginia Mine War, 1920-21. Pittsburgh: Univ. of Pittsburgh Press, 1990. ISBN 0822936348
- Scholten, Pat Creech. "The Old Mother and Her Army: The Agitative Strategies of Mary Harris Jones." West Virginia History. 40 (Summer 1979).
- Shogan, Robert. The Battle of Blair Mountain: The Story of America's Largest Labor Uprising. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 2004. ISBN 0813340969
- Sullivan, Ken, ed. The Goldenseal Book of the West Virginia Mine Wars. Charleston, W.Va.: Pictorial Histories Publishing Company, 1991. ISBN 0929521579