The Don Chafin Era

By Russell Fogelsong

Page Two

In this connection, I am glad to say that so long as people kept their union ideas to themselves they led a very peaceful life. Of course, a feudal system existed where the companies reserved the right to hire and fire at will, but wages were comparable to the unionized areas, and schools and overall living conditions were good at most mines.
The Logan and N&W areas were, of course, continual irritants to union headquarters in Charleston. In the early 1920's Mother Jones, who was a fiery speaker and agitator, appeared on the scene. She was welcomed by the union and immediately set to work to inflame the minds and hearts of all union men. Meetings were held throughout the Kanawha District, but centering on Cabin Creek. The flames were fanned to the point that a ragtag army undertook to unionize the Logan District by force of arms. The miners all wore red handkerchiefs around their necks, thus giving rise to the term "red neck" being applied to any union sympathizer.
When Don Chafin got word of the approaching invaders, he not only assembled his deputies, but also every company man, foreman, and office worker. All took their positions on Blair Mountain. The larger coal companies, including our own, maintained a well-stocked arsenal of rifles and ammunition, presided over by an ex-West Virginia state trooper in the company's employ. I was visiting relatives in Greenbrier County when I got the message that all hands were needed on the job, notwithstanding that I was a cripple and not a fighting man.
Accounts of the fighting were greatly exaggerated, but I believe that one or two men on our side were slightly wounded. There was a considerable amount of shooting, but I don't think either side had the stomach for out-and-out battle. Anyway, Governor Morgan asked for federal troops to be sent in on the Logan side, whereupon the army of red necks beat a rather hasty retreat. That according to my recollection was the sum total of The Battle of Blair Mountain.
Early in the 1930's, Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected president, and he immediately made a deal with union president John L. Lewis. The backing of-the federal government took all the wind out of the sails of those opposing the union, and District 17 of the UMW was handed to Lewis on a platter. This was the end of the Don Chafin era.

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Photo of Sherif Chafin and his Deputies


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