The Don
Chafin Era


Photographer and date unknown
Courtesy West Virginia
Collection, WVU

By Russell Fogelsong

Page One
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 each other.
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 group.
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; page 25.

To Next Page

Photo of Sherif Chafin and his Deputies


WV Coal Mining
WV USGenWeb
Page designed January, 1999