The Red Neck War of 1921

The Miners' March and The Battle of Blair Mountain

By: Michael M. Meador

Page Two

One of the most hated tools of the mine owners was the "yellow dog" contract which many miners were forced to sign. In the contract the miner agreed not to join the union under penalty of losing his job and company house. These contracts, upheld in court, were a powerful weapon in the hands of the operators and much resented by the miners.
In the early 1900's the majority of West Virginia's mines were owned and operated by individuals or a few investors, rather than large corporations. Many of these operations were tiny by today's standards, although they employed more workers than might be expected, since coal was mostly mined by hand labor. Owners of these mines found it difficult to absorb financial losses. They feared the union because of its insistence upon such costly practices as higher wages, safer working conditions, and collective bargaining.
In spite of this fear of unions, roughly half the mines in the state had accepted the UMWA by 1910. But most of these mines were north of the Kanawha River. South of the Kanawha the mine owners and their hated guards ruled. To assure complete control over their operations and to keep the union away, mine owners in West Virginia gradually gained control of local and state government through the use of coercion, wote buying, bribery and fear. The frustrated miners soon realized that no help for their grievances would come from courts or elected officials, and turned to use of strikes and violence to settle their disputes. This made their cause feared and unpopular with the general public.
in 1912 the first major strike in the West Virginia Mine Wars occurred on Paint and Cabin Creeks in Kanawha County, when 7,500 walked off the job over a wage dispute. The operators, refusing to negotiate, fired the miners and evicted them from their company-owned homes. Thousands of people were forced to take shelter in the woods and slopes above the two creeks.
Mother Jones, the fiery, foul-mouthed union organizer, arrived and encouraged the miners to take up arms. The union provided guns and ammunition, and for weeks the two creeks were a bloody battlefield. Only when the enraged miners seemed likely to wipe out the mine guards did the governor declare martial law and send in the state militia to end the strike. The violence, however, continued into the next year.
In 1917 America's entry into World War I brought a short truce to the continuing struggle between union and industry in the coalfields. The market for coal was good and most of the younger labor force was fighting overseas. But tension surfaced again as soon as the war ended. In 1919 an armed band of pro-union miners marched through Boone County in an attempt to organize the Logan and Mingo county mines. They were stopped at Danville in Boone County when word reached them from the governor to either disband peacefully or face the state militia. The march ended without incident.


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