Three Sides to the Story

Governor Hatfield and the Mine Wars

By:Joseph Platania

Page 2


State Archives Photo
"Right after the inauguration Father left for Cabin Creek and spent a week or 10 days up there," Mrs. Fairless recalled. "He didn't go as governor but to practice medicine. He didn't say who he was and for awhile he wasn't recognized. Everybody had pneumonia in the camps. It was a brave thing to do and created good will. He also had long conversations with Mother Jones in the camp.
"Father said that there were three sides to every story-your side, his side and somewhere in between," Mrs. Fairless concluded.
Dr. Henry Drury Hatfield, the state's 14th and, at age 37, then youngest governor, was no stranger to the coalfields and to miners. He was born on Mate Creek in what is now Mingo County, on September 15, 1875. He was the son of Elias Hatfield and a nephew of feuding Devil Anse Hatfield. Despite his family background, Henry Hatfield once told an interviewer that "all the McCoys are friendly towards me" and he had never had "so much as a fist fight with a McCoy."
Hatfield had been a doctor in the southern coalfields almost from the time he finished medical school. In his practice he had gone into shabby company houses as well as the isolated cabins of mountaineers, and often given free medical care both places. The poverty of many of his patients, among them miners who had lost their credit at the company store during hard times, made a lasting impression. Hatfield knew when he stepped off the C&O train at Cabin Creek, black bag in hand, that difficult days as a doctor and as governor lay before him.
No one had to tell the family of striking miner Cesco Estep that there was a mine war on Paint and Cabin creeks. Mr. Estep had become a casualty of that war one violent wintry night the month before the new governor arrived.
Francis Francesco Estep was a Cabin Creek miner who found six 10-hour days a week insufficient to support his fam?ly. He also resented the oppressive mine guard system under which he worked. He decided to go with the United Mine Workers and joined the strike that broke out in April 1912. He was evicted from his company house and found shelter for himself and his family in a small frame house in Holly Grove. In early May Cesco Estep saw his first trainload of Baldwin-Felts mine guards arrive on their way to Mucklow on Paint Creek. By summer hundreds of homeless miners were lodged in tents supplied by the union, including some living near the Estep home.
The strike had dragged on through the summer of 1912 as strikers tried to drive the mine guards from the area. Twice martial law was declared by Governor Glasscock. On the morning of February 7, 1913, another shooting incident took place near Holly Grove. That set off rumors that the guards were going to attack the tent colony from the "Bull Moose Special" during its late run up the creek.
The "Bull Moose Special" was a steel-plated train that rolled out of the Huntington C&O shops in February 1913, consisting of a locomotive, baggage car and day coach. The railroad permitted mine guards to outfit the train with machine guns, highpowered rifles, and ammunition. The armored train was used to transport scab workers up to Paint and Cabin creeks to work in the mines.
On the night of February 7, 1913, the "Special" had a different purpose as it carried the Kanawha County Sheriff and six deputies, plus coal operator Quinn Morton and 14 of his mine guards, into the strike zone. The sheriff had a warrant for unnamed persons, carrying the charge of "inciting a riot," to serve as legal justification for the war party.
As the darkened train moved past the tent village of Holly Grove, where armed strikers were thought to be hiding, thc firing started. Sleeping families awoke to the sound of bullets ripping through their tents and houses.
The Estep home was in the line of fire. Cesco hollered to his wife, Maud, who was seven months pregnant, to get two-year-old Clifford and go to the cellar for safety. As Maud ran with the baby, Cesco was outside running toward the back. As he turned the corner, more than 100 rounds perforated the little house, with 19 bullets passing through Maud's and Clifford's clothing without leaving a scratch. Cesco was less fortunate. One bullet caught him in the face, killing him instantly in the sight of his wife.
Early the next morning Maud Estep was taken to a nearby hospital and Clifford taken in by relatives. More than 60 years later he was interviewed by Associated Press writer Strat Douthat. Clifford had come at the invitation of the West Virginia Labor History Association to attend the 1975 labor Day picnic at Holly Grove in honor of his father.
"I was two years old at the time my father was killed." Estep recalled for the reporter. "He had stepped outside and I was in the house with my mother. She was holding me in her arms while they were shooting. She said the bullets sounded like splinters flying off the wall and there were a hundred bullet holes in the house."


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