Three Sides to the Story

Governor Hatfield and the Mine Wars

By:Joseph Platania




Henry Drury Hatfield carried a famous name and a reformer's determination into office when he became governor of West Virginia in March 1913. Hatfield, nephew of Devil Anse Hatfield of Hatfield-McCoy feud fame, was the last of the Progressive Era Republicans to govern the Mountain State.
State Archives Photo
Governor Hatfield brought a full agenda for social change to the statehouse, but found himself confronted at the outset by the more pressing matter of the coal strike raging on nearby Paint and Cabin creeks. A medical doctor in private life, the new head of state promptly packed his black bag and headed for the strike zone. Having seen for himself, Hatfield proceeded to impose a contract on the warring parties. Paint Creek settled first, with Cabin Creek following later in the summer.
The Hatfield settlement represented a "third side" to the dispute, in the apt words of his daughter. It satisfied neither labor nor management but did bring an uneasy lull to the Mine Wars.
A blustery March wind threatened to dislodge the silk top hats of the men in the audience assembled at the old state capitol. They had gathered to hear the governor-elect, Dr. Henry D. Hatfield, deliver his inaugural address. The date was March 4, 1913, and across the nation the Progressive Era was in full swing with social and political change in the air. As a symbol of the transition, Governor Hatfield became the first West Virginia governor to ride in his inaugural parade in an automobile. But this day of orderly pomp and ceremony did not hide the fact that the state faced a grave crisis in the Kanawha Coal field.
In the narrow, coal-rich valleys of Cabin Creek and Paint Creek, less than 20 miles from the inaugural site, martial law had been imposed for the third time by Governor Glasscock, Hatfield's predecessor. Thousands of desperate miners and their families, driven from company-owned houses, had fought mine guards in a yearlong mine war. For the union miners out on strike, it had been a year of sadness, sickness, hunger, and violence.
In his speech Governor Hatfield referred to the mine war as a "flagrant contest" between labor and management. He said that a huge industrial territory was involved, and estimated that over 30,000 men were affected. Among his personal papers there is the further notation that "the year of labor trouble had cost the state over $2 million and an untold number of lives." He knew that he had inherited an open wound in this conflict.
On the day of his inaugural Hatfield expressed his desire to go into the Paint and Cabin creeks section to investigate conditions for himself. Almost a half-century later, his daughter, Hazel Hatfield Fairless, recalled the events of the time for Marshall University researcher Carolyn Karr. Mrs. Fairless recalled that her father received letters threatening his life and one threatening to kidnap his daughter. His military advisers also warned that his life might be in danger if he visited the strike zone. She remembered that his only reply was that "they needed a doctor." At daybreak on the day following his inauguration he made the first of several trips into the strike-torn area, carrying his medical bag and by himself.


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Permission given by J. Roderick Moore. Article published in The Goldenseal Book of the West Virginia Mine Wars

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