Photographer and date unknown
Courtesy West Virginia
By Russell Fogelsong
After growing up in Kanawha and Fayette Counties, Russell Fogelsong
spent his early working years in Logan County. There he was an
eyewitness to the last episodes of the mine wars, viewing events
from the anti-union side. He offers the following first-hand
account of the notorious Don Chafin reign in Logan. Don Chafin
was the perennial sheriff of Logan County, from about 1910 until
after the United Mine Workers of America succeeded in unionizing
the Logan District.
Don was a native of Logan County. He was fearless and exercised
practically perfect control over every inhabitant of his area.
His headquarters were in the town of Logan, his deputies
consisting largely of men related to the Chafin clan, either
by birth or by marriage. The deputies were spread out, probably
one to each of the larger coal camps and one to each group of
smaller mines. One squad was maintained in Logan, centering around
the courthouse, with each deputy heavily armed and in constant
communication with Don's headquarters.
The Logan County Coal Operators Association, of which C. W.
Jones of Henlawson was treasurer, was supplemented by a
certain amount on each ton of coal mined. I can recall checks going
out regularly for the maintenance of the "super-government" headed
by Don Chafin. It was Chafin's duty not only to maintain peace
and arrest lawbreakers, but also to keep a careful ear tuned
for any "agitators" meaning union sympathizers, who were promptly
fired from their jobs and removed from the Logan District.
The Kanawha District had been unionized after the 1902 strike,
and the Cabin Creek area was probably the hot bed of UMW activities.
The union, headed by Bill Blizzard for most of the time, was just
about as efficient in locating and routing anti-union individuals or
groups as was Don Chafin in stopping union activity along the waters
of the Guyan River.
The unionized Kanawha River area was separated from Logan County's
Guyan River area by high, rugged hills. The Big Sandy drainage,
including Mingo and McDowell counties of West Virginia and the
border areas of Eastern Kentucky, was even more isolated. The C&O
Railroad served the area drained by the Kanawha and Guyan rivers,
and the Norfolk & Western served the Big Sandy country. The N&W
area was strictly non-union, as was Logan County.
There were no passable highways across the mountain ranges, and
no roads suited to auto traffic even between Charleston and
Huntington. Such roads as existed washed out with every heavy rain.
Automobiles began to make their appearance early in the century,
mostly Ford Model T's with another type here and there. All of
this, especially the terrain and roads, serves to indicate why
union and non-union areas could be located within a few miles of
One outstanding incident was when the American Civil Liberties
Union interested itself in the "desperate plight of the Logan
County miners" and dispatched a day coach filled with union
sympathizers and trained organizers from New York City. They
made it to Huntington and their car was switched onto the Logan
passenger train without being detected. But it happened that
one of our prominent coal operators, .John Kelley, while riding
in the chair car on the rear of the train, got wind of the ACLU
Mr. Kelley had the train stopped at a small station not far
up the Guyan, where it was held until he could communicate with Don
Chafin. Don assembled probably 50 of his gunmen, and when all was
in readiness the train proceeded to the Logan station. It was
allowed to stand there until Don's men could get aboard, spread
themselves through the aisles and on the car platforms, and
make themselves obvious. It didn't take long for the New York
group to realize what was going on and as the train proceeded
beyond Logan, windows were raised and all the firearms in
the possession of the ACLU were thrown out the windows. Not
a man made any attempt to get off the train, which made its
turn around as usual and headed back to Huntington. I assume
their car was attached to a train going east, minus the Chafin
men who had shepherded them so faithfully along their sojourn
into Logan County.
From The Goldenseal Book of the West Virginia Mine Wars;