George J. Tiller is famous as the man who organized Harlan County, and he has been an outstanding citizen of West Virginia for more than 30 years. After he left the Harlan coal fields, he moved to Charleston where he became Secretary-Treasurer of UMWA District 17, which then covered the entire southern portion of the Mountain State. When District 29 was formed, with headquarters in Beckley, he became its president, a position he held until 1966. During the years since 1941, his colorful personality has become well known throughout the state. His love for a fight did not cease when he left Harlan County. He will take on anyone whom he believes is in opposition to West Virginia's coal miners. This includes politicians of all shades, coal operators and newspapers.
Mr. Titler may be said to have several "native" states. A Pennsylvanian by birth and ancestry, he worked in coal mines in Pennsylvania and Iowa, in both of which states he is still well known. He later adopted Kentucky and Tennessee as home and still visits both of these southern states often on business for the United Mine Workers because of past experience there.
In detail, Mr. Titler served in the United States Army during World War I for two years and was mustered out at Camp Dodge, Iowa, in. 1919, with the rank of sergeant. As the son of a miner and having had previous experience in the mines, he immediately went to work at the coal mine nearest his discharge in Polk County, Iowa, near Des Moines. He worked in that area as a coal miner for 13 years. His first official position with the UMWA was as Board member of Sub-District 3, District 13, a job he held for two years. He then became an International organizer and was assigned to District 19 where he first did field work in the Jellico, Tennessee area, and later around Chattanooga. He was in Chattanooga when his assignment to Harlan County began.
He is now 77 years old and serves his beloved Union with undiminished vigor. His friends do not believe him when he says he is ready for retirement.
By Roy Lee Harmon Poet Laureate of West Virginia
Here is a book by a man who put his life on the line in order to bring coal miners from abject poverty to a better way of living where today they enjoy some of the good things of life, things they richly deserve.
George J. Titler is, first of all, a fighter for justice for laboring men. I have known him for more than thirty years, known him as a two-fisted leader in the United Mine Workers of America. Almost a carbon copy of the late and great John L. Lewis.
He has never pretended to be an author. He is a truly great labor leader who has dedicated a long life to his work. His mighty footprints will linger in the coal dust and the muddy streets of coal camps long after he has passed to his reward. An able speaker and phrase-maker, it is good that in the sunset of his career he decided to set down on paper some of the almost unbelievable but nevertheless true happenings in "Bloody Harlan" county, Ky. This is first-hand stuff, told by a man who in his younger days, when he could have killed a man with his two powerful fists, had the raw courage to beard the Coal Barons in their den. It was no place for timid souls or less dedicated persons.
The Coal Barons in Kentucky as well as West Virginia, had long ruled with a high hand in the coal fields—and they didn't want their "slaves" to be set free. Yes, the miners were slaves before the coal fields were unionized, slaves who truly "owed their souls to the company store" and worked extremely long hours for a pittance while making the coal barons rich.
George J. Titler faced bullets from ambush, sudden death, eternal harassment and certain jail terms for trying to carry freedom — in the form of the United Mine Workers of America — into the coal fields.
This book is not fiction. It is factual all the way.
At 77, ready as he says "to hang up his cap", this great lion of a man, deserves high praise for setting down the facts in this book and preserving for posterity some outstanding facts which union haters would like us all to forget. If you love freedom and hate despotism this volume is your cup of tea.
“This book is the story of four of the most important years of my life, years when organized labor was tested on a blood battleground in the hills of Kentucky. Before 1937, Harlan County had been known locally as "Bloody Harlan", because of its long record of violence. During the years when I was in charge of organizing for the UMWA in Harlan County 1937 to 1941 Bloody Harlan became nationally known. The actions of the Harlan County coal operators became a shame to the entire United States, an object of scorn to all of our citizens, including Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Harlan County is a part of UMWA District 19 which also includes all coal miners in the state of Tennessee. Prior to being assigned to organizing in Harlan, I had worked under District President Wm. Turn-blazer in Jellico, Tennessee and also in the coal fields near Chattanooga. At my personal request, I was transferred into Harlan on New Year's Day of 1937. The main part of this book is about my experiences for the next four years.
Beginning January 1, 1937, when I left Chattanooga for Middlesboro and Harlan, Kentucky, I compiled a diary and scrap book of newspaper clippings and whatever authentic history I could salvage, and these records grew to be quite voluminous. This personal record ended in 1941 when I left Kentucky to reside in West Virginia. For more than 20 years these records have been gathering dust. My friends are insisting that before I turn in my lamp, I compile the record in the form of a brief history of the blood, sweat and sacrifice of human life expended in the coal miner's pursuit of freedom from tyranny in Kentucky.
This book is the result. Its content is based on personal recollection which I have checked wherever possible with others. Much of the material was recorded by the LaFollette Civil Liberties Committee which thoroughly investigated the blood war in Harlan. For earlier history, I am indebted to an unpublished history of the County written by the staff of the LaFollette Committee. Some of the material herein will shock the reader. It should be remembered, however, that this is an unvarnished but somewhat understated version of four years of hell.
It is impossible to credit here all of the men who worked hard to bring American freedom into Southeastern Kentucky, I would like, however, to single out Senators Robert F. LaFollette, Jr., and Elbert D. Thomas, who exposed to the nation the atrocities committed by Harlan County coal operators. Outstanding, too, was the work of Brian McMahon and Welly K. Hopkins who were the Federal government's prosecutors during the conspiracy trial of the Harlan operators. Last but not least is John L. Lewis, the master craftsman who directed the union's successful organizing drive in Harlan County.
One of the major reasons I felt I had to write this book was the hope that it would be read by many younger workers who take the trade unions in our country for granted, those who pay their dues and think their duty of their union has ended there.
Organized labor's enemies are still active in this country. Union benefits now enjoyed were won by sacrifices such as these recorded here. Unless union members remain militant and united, battles such as the four year struggle in Harlan County may again take place in our country.
Therefore, I give you four years of the history of HELL IN HARLAN”.
—George J. Titler
Hell in Harlan
Harlan County, Kentucky, one of the major coal producing sections of the country, is located in a section of the Appalachian Mountain Range, in the extreme southeastern corner of the state. It is bounded on the east and south by Wise and Lee Counties, Virginia, and on the west and north by Bell, Leslie, Perry and Letcher Counties, Kentucky. Its shape is that of a narrow shovel about 50 miles in length and 20 miles at its widest point. Several streams traverse the County and flow into the Cumberland River. The general appearance of the valleys through which these rivers flow is one of narrow, steep defiles. The four roads that enter the County wind along the streambeds. None of the roads is a main highway and for this reason the County is relatively isolated from the rest of the country. The only railroads in the County are spur lines for the transportation of coal.
Harlan County's neighbor to the southeast, Bell County, is the site of the Cumberland Gap which was discovered by Daniel Boone in 1799 and which led to the settlement of Kentucky by a wave of pioneers that followed him west. It was through the Cumberland Gap that Abraham Lincoln's father walked on his way to settle in Kentucky where his famous son was born.
The people who settled in Bell and Harlan Counties were almost all of English origin. Because of isolation the population today is virtually all descended from those original Anglo-Saxon settlers. Much of their folklore is based on 17th and 18th Century English folklore. And their customs today are like those of a hundred years ago. When Kentucky was first settled, men carried firearms, both to protect themselves from savages and wild animals and to provide meat for the family table. A rifle, a shotgun or pistol today is as much a part of an eastern Kentuckian's customary dress as are his pants and shirt. The first possession a Harlan County boy yearns for and saves his money for is not a bike or a car but a pistol or a rifle. He is trained in their use the moment he is sensible enough to aim and pull a trigger.
It is my belief that eastern Kentuckians are no more violent than any other group of Americans except for this custom of bearing arms. In other sections of our country, a violent dispute might be settled by a fistfight or a lawsuit. In Harlan County, permanent settlement has usually been arranged only with the help of Doctor Colt.
There was bloodshed in Harlan before an ounce of coal was mined. There has been blood shed - much of it - in purely personal disputes having no connection with coal mining, unions or company thugs. The native of Harlan County is a frontiersman, proud and defensive of his freedom and his right, under Kentucky law, to bear arms if displayed openly. A man with a gun will not, when angered, bite, hit or kick another man. He will shoot. A little boy in Harlan today is still taught that he should not be carrying a gun unless he means to use it if necessity arises.
In 1910, Harlan County was sparsely inhabited by a farming population of 10,566 persons. Following the development of the coalfields, the population steadily increased until in 1930 the census recorded a total population of 64,557 persons. Nine percent of the population were Negroes and only one percent were foreign born. The larger part of the population depended for its livelihood on coal mining.
Five seams of workable coal lie on top of each other from below the riverbed to the top of the mountain, i.e., Mason, Harlan, Darby, Low Splint and High Splint. Coal from the High Splint, Low Splint and Darby seams had to be hauled down inclines off the mountain to the railroad.
Until recently there was no strip mining in Harlan County. In 1937, all of the mines were driven underground into the sides of mountains. Slopes, not elevator shafts, entered most of them. The seams varied in thickness but many of them were what we call thin, meaning that the men were not able to stand erect when they worked but crawled or stooped from one place to another.
The miners and their families for the most part lived in houses that were clustered around the entrances to the mines. In 1937, these shacks were built and owned by the coal operators and these clusters were always referred to as coal camps. Some of them had names, some of them did not. The picture of a typical coal town in Kentucky described by the United States Coal Commission in 1923 applied to the physical appearance of Harlan County in 1937.
"Each mine, or group of mines, became a social center with no privately owned property except the mine, and no public places or public highways except the bed of the creek which flowed between the mountain walls. These groups of villages dot the mountain sides down the river valleys and need only castles, draw-bridges, and donjon-keeps to reproduce to the physical eye a view of feudal days."
Housing in Harlan County still looks the same as it did in 1923. The only difference today is that most of the homes are privately owned and some of the owners have added electricity and indoor plumbing.
The bituminous coal fields in Harlan County are among the richest in the world. Howard N. Eavenson, of the firm of Eavenson, Alford & Hicks, consulting engineers of Pittsburgh, president of the Clover Splint Coal Co., operating in Harlan County, and formerly consulting engineer for the United States Coal & Coke Company, a subsidiary of the United States Steel Corporation, described the rapid development of the Harlan County coal fields to the high quality of the coal produced there. In testimony during the 1920's before a sub-committee of the U. S. Senate Committee on Manufacturers, he said:
"Harlan County was the last of the large coal fields opened and on account of the excellence of its product, its growth has been unusually rapid. The coal is largely used for special purposes where a low-ash and low-sulphur coal is needed. Much of it is used in by-product coke ovens and the rapid growth of the field was helped by the great demand during the war for coal yielding large quantities of bensol and tuluol, as this does, needed for explosives. Even though coal production in Harlan County did not begin until 1911, it mounted steadily from 2.5 million tons in 1916 to 15 million tons in 1928, which the total bituminous coal production for the United States in 1916 and 1928 was about 500 million net tons."
Although Harlan County did not begin to produce on a commercial scale until 1911, the coalfields of adjacent counties in eastern Kentucky and those of northeastern Tennessee rose to a position of importance during the closing decade of the nineteenth century. Actually, first commercial production in eastern Kentucky started in Laurel County immediately after the Civil War. Although this County still contains large areas of unmined coal, there is little or no coal produced there now.
Union spirit in eastern Kentucky began almost simultaneously with the beginnings of coal mining. During the 1890's, Laurel County employed about 850 miners. The average production was about two tons per man per day, the day at that time being 12 hours long. Many of these men belonged to the Knights of Labor before 1890 and were UMWA members from it’s founding. UMWA District 19 held its 12th; annual convention in 1901, and according to James W. Ridings, now International Executive Board members from that District, the convention was attended by delegates from 53 local unions, two of which were located in Laurel County. The union spirit probably had its beginning among the miners descended from parents who had migrated from the British Isles who had been members of labor unions before coming to the United States.
During the great organizing campaign conducted by John Mitchell in 1898, just before he became president of the UMWA, union organizers entered the Southern Appalachian region in strength. By 1907 the union was strong enough to negotiate a general wage contract in the area. However, when the agreement expired in 1910, many of the operators refused to agree to a new general contract. The union, however, succeeded in negotiating and maintaining contracts with a small number of operators in the district until 1914.
After 1910, the union's position weakened throughout the Southern Appalachian area. The large companies that developed the Harlan County coalfields were traditionally anti-union. As a result, when the Harlan field was open, it operated for many years on a non-union basis. This non-union competition weakened the union throughout southeastern Kentucky and Tennessee until at the end of 1916; the UMWA had only 48 members in eastern Kentucky and Tennessee. The decline in District 19 membership is shown statistically in the following tabulation:
1910 _____________________ 685
1912 __________________________ 1,216
1914 _______________________ 64
1916 ___________________________ 48
1900 ________________ 3,551
1902 ________ 5,008
1904 _________________ 3,063
1906 _________ 2,651
1908 ____________________ 1,483
A fresh impetus to the union movement in Kentucky and Tennessee was supplied when the United States entered World War I. The war created an enormous increase in demand for coal. This, coupled with an acute labor shortage, materially strengthened the position of the UMWA. In the late spring of 1917, the bare skeleton organization that had been maintained in District 19 was reinforced by the arrival of David Robb of Indiana and Van A. Bittner of Pittsburgh, International organizers for the UMWA. A vigorous organizing campaign was launched. The efforts of the organizers were first centered in Bell County, and on June 3 a mass meeting was held in the Straight Creek district that was attended by approximately 2,000 miners. As a result of this meeting, local unions were established at Mingo, Chenoa, Straight Creek, Elys, Four Mile and Cumberland Road. Preparations were also made at this meeting for organizing Harlan County.
A few days later, UMWA organizers William Turnblazer and George Edmunds were added to the District 19 staff and the drive to organize the workers of Harlan County began. On June 10, a mass meeting was held at the courthouse square in Harlan Town. Approximately 2,500 miners attended this meeting and three local unions with a reported membership of about 1,500 were established. With this opening wedge, it was believed that the backbone of non-unionism in Harlan County would be broken.
First efforts, however, to deal with the Harlan County operators were fruitless. They refused to meet with representatives of the UMWA in July and a strike was authorized by the Union. Organizers in District 19 were told that they could sign separate contracts with operators who were willing to recognize the union and granting a wage increase to offset rapidly rising living costs. After several attempts to persuade the operators to sign a wage agreement, a general strike was called in Harlan County beginning August 11, 1917. The only contracts signed had been with small mines in Bell County, Kentucky, and in Tennessee.
The strike was effective. Nearly all of the coal miners in Harlan County stayed away from work on August 11. As in subsequent labor disturbances in Harlan County, there is abundant evidence that at least some of the operating companies resorted to violence in their efforts to break the 1919 strike. At the mining property of the Wisconsin Steel Company at Benham, armed guards were employed and strikebreakers were imported. A typical act of violence in 1917 was the shooting of Luther Shipman, one of the leaders of the striking miners. In the October 4 issue of the United Mine Workers Journal (p. 10), this incident was reported as follows:
GUNMEN MURDER UNARMED MINER
Pineville, Ky., October 1917 — On the pretense of serving a warrant on Luther Shipman, a leader among the miners on strike in this district, a posse headed by County Judge Ward of Harlan County called at the home of Mr. Shipman.
They ordered him to dress and accompany them. As he turned to get his hat, one of the gang shot him in the back of the head, instantly killing him. Then they opened a general fusillade on the other occupants of the miner's cabin and mortally wounded Frank Shipman, a relative of the other murdered man.
Press dispatches, inspired by the influential men who headed this murder raid, state that there was a battle. There was no battle; the gang of gunmen had made the boast that they would shoot down the leaders and drive the other miners back to work on the company's terms.
Luther Shipman was a quiet, religious man, well liked and trusted by the miners. The men are very bitter, but the leaders hope to prevent reprisals in kind. This brutal murder was merely one of many acts of violence committed by the operators during the 1917 strike and in many ways typifies the history of Harlan County. It should be noted that the murderers in this case included County officials. Down through the years, Harlan County's Government has more often than not been administered by coal operators and relatives, and their hirelings.
In spite of violence and coercion, the miners refused to break ranks. The records of U. S. Geological Survey, which then kept such statistics, indicate that 416,370 men days were lost in eastern Kentucky in 1917 because of work stoppages. Virtually all of this lost time was reported out of Harlan County.
The wartime economy needed all the coal that could be mined so it was not long before the Federal Government intervened in Harlan County's coal strike. Fuel Administrator Harry A. Garfield summoned the operators and representatives of the miners to Washington and insisted on a settlement. After several days of negotiations, the operators agreed to (1) a general wage increase; (2) shorter workday; (3) check-weighmen on all tipples; (4) recognition of the UMWA; and (5) establishment of mine committees to handle grievances with management. Pending details regarding actual wage scale and length of working day, Harlan County miners went back to work on October 8. Final agreement was reached November 1, 1917, with the understanding that the terms of the contract were for the duration of the war.
The UMW Journal on October 11, 1917, reported that a special convention of representatives of the coal miners of eastern Kentucky and Tennessee, meeting in Knoxville, had approved the wage agreement wrung from the stubborn coal operators. UMWA Vice President Frank J. Hayes, and several International organizers including Van Bittner, William Feeney and Jack Ramsey addressed the convention.
Incidentally, it is interesting to note that this convention adopted by unanimous vote resolutions condemning activities of the Industrial Workers of the World. This anti-American organization, known variously as the "IWW", "The Wobblies", or "I Won't Work", was a militant, radical organization, many members of which later formed the nucleus of the Communist Party in the U.S.A. All members of the UMWA are proud of the fact that the coal miners' union was the first in the nation to prohibit membership to Communist Party members. This was put in the UMWA Constitution in 1926, long before most Americans had even heard of Communism, much less recognized its dangers to our way of life.
During the following two years the UMWA was largely preoccupied with building up membership and otherwise solidifying its position in Harlan County. Organizer Thomas N. Gann was assigned to the field and by July 1918 he reported that the field was solidly organized except for the operations of the Wisconsin Steel Company (International Harvester Company) at Benham, and those of the United States Coal & Coke Company (United States Steel Corporation) at Lynch. Because of this almost complete success, the UMWA's International Executive Board decided in January 1919 that District 19 was strong enough to govern itself and the union's representatives were instructed to arrange for the restoration of district autonomy. This decision was premature but a convention was held in March to elect district officers. Frank Keller, a six-foot, six-inch mountain preacher, who had been a member of the union six months, was called on to open the convention with prayer. He electrified the convention with his magnetic personality and they elected him President of the District. Mr. Keller had a golden tongue but he lacked one important ingredient - experience. Due to this weakness, plus a general lack of leadership from other district officers, a $100,000 treasury was dissipated in less than one year. The district headquarters building was lost and, as a matter of fact, the district itself no longer existed in any real sense. By the end of 1920 the district was in debt and the experiment in autonomy was a complete failure.
The district's inexperienced leaders were put to the test first by the national coal strike called in the fall of 1919. John L. Lewis had just become acting president of the UMWA. The strike was a national success but in Harlan County it merely led to another outbreak of violence. When the great strike of 1919 began, the UMWA claimed a membership of 3,900 in Harlan County. With the exception of United States Steel operations at Lynch and International Harvester Company at Benham, all Harlan County mines were closed by the strike. Geographical Survey figures showed that 81 percent of the capacity of Harlan County Coal Operators Association was out of production.
The national strike lasted from November 1 to December 12. There were two basic areas of dispute between the union and the operators. The UMWA, headed by Mr. Lewis, demanded a 60 percent wage increase and a 30-hour, 5-day week. The miners also insisted that the war had ended with the armistice and that a clause in the existing contract, which started that the contract could not be reopened for the duration, was null and void. Mr. Lewis pointed out that the UMWA could not be held responsible for failure of the United States Senate to ratify the Versailles treaty. The operators argued that in the absence of a formal declaration by the government that the war had ended, the existing contract held until March 31, 1920. Despite injunction proceedings initiated by Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer, the miners refused to return to work until President Woodrow Wilson agreed to appoint an arbitration commission.
The United States Bituminous Coal Commission, which was appointed by the President to settle the question of wages and hours, handed down its decision in March 1920. The Commission's award provided for an increase of 24 cents a ton in tonnage rates; an advance of $1 a day for day and monthly workers (except trapper boys and others receiving less than a man's pay, whose pay was raised 53 cents); an increase of 20 percent in pay for yardage, dead work, room turning, and similar operations; a 48-hour week; and a contract which was to remain in effect until April 1, 1922. Compared with the rates in effect on October 31, 1919, the new scale represented an increase of approximately 27 percent.
Percentage wise this is the largest pay boost ever won by an American labor union and was the first big victory won for the nation's miners by John L. Lewis. The new contract was signed by virtually all coal operators in the United States, but anti-unionism persisted in Harlan County. The operators refused to accept the award of the Bituminous Coal Commission. When the national strike was called off, Harlan County operators began another concerted effort to destroy the UMWA. District 19 Secretary E. L. Reed reported that the anti-union campaign began in the traditional manner. Several hundred miners known to be active and loyal union members were refused work. They and their families were served with eviction notices and were forced to move out of company-owned houses. The UMW Journal reported that gunmen and thugs employed by the coal companies were running wild in the Harlan coalfield. The Journal said:
"Three members of the United Mine Workers were shot down in cold blood by these ruffians and murderers on March 20 at the Banner Fork Coal Corporation Mine No. 2. The following are the names of the victims:
"K. S. Taylor, instantly killed. Leaves a widow and seven children without any means of support.
"James Burk, deputy sheriff, fatally wounded. Died the next day in a hospital at Harlan, leaving a widow and family without support.
"General Gibson, fatally wounded. Died on an operating table in a hospital at Harlan, leaving a family without support.
"One of the gunmen, Jim Hall, was severely wounded and sent to a hospital at Harlan."
According to the UMW Journal, Jim Hall was one of six thugs paid $10 a day by the coal operators to intimidate union members. He was reported to have boasted that he killed a miner a month. During a fight where he killed three men, he himself was wounded in spite of the fact that he wore a steel breastplate for protection against bullets.
On May 1, 1920, the UMW Journal printed a letter to the editor that detailed other instances of violence committed by employees of the Harlan County coal operators. The correspondent said that at Wilson-berger a coal operator tried to evict union member J. B. Bryant from a company house. He refused so the house was dynamited while Mr. Bryant, his wife and six children were asleep. Through a miracle they survived. This letter also said truthfully that two men - Rockingham Smith and Boyd Kelly - who had been tried, convicted and sentenced to 20 years in prison for killing the two Shipmans in 1917 had not only not served a minute of their sentences, but that one of them, Smith, was in 1920 chief constable of the County Court of Harlan County. This letter also reported that there were about 75 gun thugs working for the operators in Harlan County and that, among others, they had murdered Lee Clark, a UMWA local union secretary and a city policeman in Harlan.
With miners clinging tenaciously to the UMWA, however, the operators finally capitulated and the operators signed a new wage agreement on August 12, 1920. In accordance with the Coal Commission award, tonnage rates were increased 24 cents a ton and yardage. But in the agreement the operators inserted a clause providing "that men shall not be discriminated against on account of membership or non-membership in any organization nor shall any member of any organization interfere with or discriminate against those who are not members, nor shall men who are not members interfere or discriminate against those who are." This made the contract essentially an open-shop agreement and permitted a more orderly liquidation of the union by the operators later on. It should be remembered that the district officers who did not have the experience to realize what this clause in the contract signified signed this agreement.
Almost at once, according to reports of the miners, the check-weigh men disappeared from the mine tipples, notwithstanding the fact that the Kentucky law provided:
"That when a majority of the miners engaged in digging or mining coal in any coal mine in this state, request the owner or owners, or operator of said mines to allow said miners to employ, at their own expense, a person to inspect the weights at said mine, and see that all the coal digged and mined by said miner is properly weighed and accounted for, and do and perform only such other duties as will insure that said coal is properly weighed and correctly accounted for, said owner or owners or operator or operators shall permit such person to be employed by said miners making the request. Provided, the person so employed by said miners has the reputation of being an honest, trustworthy, discreet, sober and upright man. Said checkweightman shall be duly elected by a majority of the employees engaged in mining and loading coal and said election shall be properly conducted by secret ballot at the principal entrance to the mine."
The union’s national leaders discouraged local strikes in protest against contract violations of this kind because they recognized the fact that the post-war depression made strikes of any kind virtually impossible of success. As a matter of fact, although the Harlan County operators said that they had reached an agreement with the union, no union-management relationship existed in Harlan County after World War I. By 1921 even the wage provisions of the contract were openly ignored by the operators.
It was reported in one of the leading coal trade journals that operators in the southeastern Kentucky districts, including Harlan County, had cut wages from 27 to 30 percent. The article went on to indicate that while many operators paid the union scale during the latter part of 1920 and the early months of 1921, the union was never officially recognized and operators disregarded the dues check-off entirely. It was further reported that the miners in the district were so desperate for employment that they readily accepted the pay cuts.
A vivid indication of the inroads made in the union ranks in Harlan County during the depression of 1921 was reported by the government publication, "Mineral Resources of the United States," which showed the maximum extent to which the important coal producing districts were shut down by the great strikes of 1919 and 1922. As against 60 percent of the productive capacity of Harlan County rendered idle by the strike of 1919, only 21 percent was affected by the strike and on this account over-emphasized the shutdown in the district. In the official summary of the coal industry for the strike years, it was stated that strike losses in the Harlan field "were insignificant in 1922."
Breach of contract soon degenerated into a rough, tough union-busting drive by the Harlan County coal operators. Its complete success is a matter of record. It was many a long year, nearly twenty in fact, before Harlan County was again organized by the UMWA.
Typical of the strong-arm methods used by the operators are those outlined by Chester C. Watson, a miner who was working at Black Mountain at that time and who is now a retired representative of UMWA District 29 in West Virginia. He recently wrote:
"In January 1922 I went to work for the Black Mountain Coal Corporation at Black Mountain, Kentucky, (Post Office Kenvir, Kentucky), which mine was owned by the Peabody Coal Company, Chicago, Illinois.
"The Local Union at Black Mountain, No. 4492, United Mine Workers of America, had a membership of approximately 900 members and was working under a one-year, closed-shop contract, with complete check off of union dues, etc.
"There were two mines at Black Mountain, north and south. Conveyor belts from the top tipple down the mountain to the railroad tipple carried coal from these two mines.
"In 1923 when the Local Union sent a contract committee to Chicago to get a new contract signed by the Peabody Coal Company, they were told that the coal company had to compete in the coal market with the non-union mines in Harlan County and the Black Mountain Local Union would have to organize these non-union mines and bring them up to their standard and if this was not done, the Peabody Coal Company would not sign another one-year contract with the UMWA. The Black Mountain Local Union sent committees to the other mines in Harlan County but was unable to organize them.
"This contract expired on March 31, 1924, and having no contract, the Local Union went on strike April 1, 1924. On September 1, 1924, the Company brought in fifteen guards, deputized as deputy sheriffs, to Black Mountain with high-powered rifles and machine guns. Machine guns were placed on each top tipple and the mine was declared open for operation. A few outside men were brought in and started to work.
Forty-two house eviction cases were tried before County Judge Willie Bob Howard and the men involved in the house cases which included all the Local Union officers, mine committees and men active in the Local Union, were ordered by Judge Howard to vacate the company houses.
"On September 23, 1924, the Local Union met and disbanded. All members were given transfer cards. Employees at the Black Mountain Mine were required to go into Superintendent J. T. Smith's office to be given a clearance slip for re-employment and had to vacate the company houses and leave Harlan County to get employment.
"The Union had been broken at all other Harlan County mines for more than one year and they were operating non-union. When this strike was broken in 1924, none of the non-union mines in Harlan County, all of which were members of the Harlan County Coal Operators Association, would employ a man from Black Mountain.
"Many of the men who worked at Black Mountain transferred to Local Union No. 5355 after Local Union 4495 at Black Mountain folded up. No. 5355, at Evarts, was a recruiting local with members from Kildav Woods and Black Mountain. It had jurisdiction at no mine."
The men at Black Mountain had remained loyal to the UMWA much longer than other miners in Harlan County. Some of them went to work at Black Mountain on a non-union basis. Mr. Watson was typical of others who left Harlan County and worked elsewhere. He went to Twin Branch, West Virginia, in 1928 and worked for the Fordson Coal Company. In 1928, Harlan County was no place for a union man to live.
Harlan County in the 1920's was an area where coal miners starved to death while most of the rest of the citizens prospered. The prosperity of the rest of the County was based on the poverty of the miners. Harlan County coal operators were making money hand over fist and it was a golden era of full employment for gun thugs. This prosperity for the coal operators and their hirelings was strictly local as far as the national coal industry was concerned. For the coal industry as a whole, the post-war era of national prosperity was a grotesque illusion. During the lush period from 1923 to 1929 when virtually all other industries, except agriculture, were being swept forward by an apparently endless economic boom, production of bituminous coal fell off sharply. Mine sales realizations were cut 36 percent, more than 3,000 commercial mines went out of business, and nearly 202,000 soft coal miners lost their jobs. The enormous profits of the years immediately following World War I were transformed into a new loss for the industry as a whole in 1929 of more than $1 million.
Exactly the reverse took place in Harlan County. Production rose from 8,581,000 tons in 1923 to 14,093,000 tons in 1929, a gain of more than 80 percent. At the same time, the number of men employed advanced from 9,280 to 10,831, an increase of 17 percent. It is true that prices paid to Harlan County coal operators dropped in about the same proportion as elsewhere but this loss was partly offset by an increase in productivity per-man-per-day. Explanation for the conspicuous prosperity of coal operators in Harlan County is the fact that they were the first operators group in the country to go non-union and, therefore, the first to cut wages. They began the wage-cutting, price-cutting competition that very nearly destroyed the coal industry in this country. Because they were first, they were able to keep one step ahead of operators, most of whom had not gone non-union until 1927. But in 1929 the price-cutting squeeze caught up with the Harlan operators. Although production remained high and wages went to almost unbelievably low levels, the Harlan County coal operators joined the rest of the industry in the industry-wide depression.
The operators' anti-union arsenal was full of weapons. One, as described by Mr. Watson, was violence and the fear that went with it. There are others, among them a device the operators called the "individual contract" and which the UMWA has always referred to as "yellow dog contracts." Under terms of these so-called agreements, the miner in writing signed an individual contract that stated that he would not belong to the UMWA or any other labor organization as long as he remained in the employ of the company with which he signed the contract. According to a contemporary report of the U.S. Government's Bituminous Coal Commission, the yellow dog contract suppressed civil liberty and "has been used as a basis for securing injunctions against the attempts to organize the field by any means whatsoever." These contracts were also used as a basis for claiming damages from the UMWA. Miners appealed to the Coal Commission against these contracts. Their appeals were apparently read and filed. Typical was one addressed to the Commission in May 1923, by a group of miners in Perry County, Kentucky. It said: "Honorable Gentlemen:
We, the undersigned, coal miners and mine workers of Auxier, Lothair, Heiner, Hardburly, Domino, Cornettsville, Christopher, Chavies and Hazard, Kentucky, humbly pray that the United States Coal Commission will restore to us American wage workers the right to belong to or join the United Mine Workers of America, which the coal operators of this section of Kentucky have taken away from us. The coal operators forced us by coercion through their personal agents to sign a contract that we will not join the United States Mine Workers of America. If we do not sign the coal company's contract then we are forced out of our jobs and forced out of the coal company's houses. We are free American wage workers, and we ask the right to belong to any American organization we see or think is to our interest as Americans. The coal operators have and belong to their own organizations.
"They are most tyrannical and unscrupulous to us coal miners. They employ gunmen and private spies to report us miners if we join any labor organization and discharge us. They make statements in the newspapers that the miners of northeastern and eastern Kentucky are well pleased with the conditions imposed upon us by coal operators and their gunmen and private spies. The statements made by coal operators and their private hireling emissaries are absolutely untrue. We are far from satisfied. In fact, we are as slaves under the conditions imposed upon us by the coal operators. Again we ask the United State Coal Commission to help us to be free American wageworkers. We humbly pray you to help us to restore democracy for all American producers in the mountain counties of northeastern and eastern Kentucky. This is our prayer. Please help us."
The Commission did nothing.
Some observers of union activities in Harlan County implied that the UMWA in the face of bitter anti-union attitude of the operators, made no real effort to organize the miners in the field between 1920 and 1930. This is considerably less than accurate. Throughout the twenties repeated efforts were made by the union to re-enter the field. A concerted drive, for example, began in the latter part of 1923 just after the work of the U. S. Coal Commission had been completed. Union organizers were quickly driven from Harlan by the operators' gun thugs.
For the next two years the union was virtually extinct in Harlan County. Communication with the outside world was nil. Most of the men had watched the union pushed out without a whimper. They were eager to work under any conditions and at first the wage cuts had been small and changes in working conditions had been slight. Little by little, however, a true era of poverty and degradation for the coal miners of Harlan County began and continued. The men wanted the union back but for the time being it was too late. Two letters to the editor of the Journal tell much of conditions in Harlan County in 1925-1926, and also express the desire for a return of the union, coupled with the realization that this could not take place. The first letter appeared in the February 15, 1925, issue of the Journal. It said:
"I am writing so that brothers in other parts of the country may know of conditions in District 19. The larger mines in the Bell and Harlan County fields are working pretty steady, but the conditions under which the men are forced to work are deplorable. I am told by several men in this district that they are working hard loading coal but cannot make half enough to support their families. Wages have been reduced to less than one-half what they were a year-and-a-half ago. There has never been such a slaughter in wages since the operators have been successful in putting the union out of business in this particular field. The miners let the operators take the union away from them and are now asking when will the union come to their rescue.
"The miners certainly have good leadership since the International Union has taken over the district. The fault has been that the majority of miners have lost sight of their own welfare and allowed the operators and gunmen to get the upper hand. Our president, William Turnblazer, has never sanctioned a reduction in wages. On the other hand, the men in this district have not backed him up in his stand against a reduction. Sanford Snyder, an international organizer, has been in this field for nearly three years and is one of the best field workers ever sent here. He is outspoken against a reduction.
"I know the spirit of the union is stronger in the field at this time than it was in 1917, but in my opinion there is no use now bothering with the matter. Of course, such action is hard on the good men of the district, but I think that when the union comes in here again it will come to stay, for it is coming by the stomach route this time - the men feel the need of it.
"For example, look at the condition of the miners in the coal camps of the Liberty Coal & Coke Company since the union has been driven put. I am told by traveling men that the condition of the men is awful m this camp with the exception of the salaried men and contractors. There have been more men maimed and crippled and killed in the few months that the union has been out of there than there were during the entire twelve or fifteen years under union conditions. I hope that the union may prosper and some day come back to our relief."
The second letter to appear in the Journal stated briefly:
I am located at Verda, Harlan County, Kentucky, District 19, and have been for four years. I think the men of Harlan field have seen their mistake now. The coal that we were receiving 50 cents a ton for loading when the United Mine Workers left this field, with 60 cents rib yardage and 7 cents for slate, now is 40 cents a ton in rooms and 42 cents in entry without any rib or yardage and no checkweighman at all. I have seen a whole trip go over the scales without being weighed. I believe the men working here see where they missed it when they let the union go. The men posted notices about a checkweighman election and some of them were fired. I have always been a union man and it makes the red blood boil when I see such things. I long to see the men get enough of it."
Conditions became progressively worse during the months that followed. According to one observer, wages of day men in 1926 ranged from $2.00 to $3.50 for a 12 to 16 hour day, while the wages of miners and loaders were reported to be as low as 20 cents a ton.
Another Verda miner wrote the Journal: "There are women and children in Harlan County that go to bed hungry because the husband and father cannot make enough to feed them. Day men are paid from $2.00 to $3.50 for twelve to sixteen hours a day. They run coal from 5:30 in the morning until 8 or 9 o'clock at night. Diggers are promised 40 cents a ton, but when it is weighed the weight they get only shows 20 cents a ton, because the same cars on which they formerly got paid for 4,000 pounds now weigh only 2,000 pounds."
Toward the end of 1926, due to a windfall of unexpected business for the American coal industry resulting from the British coal strike, there was a brief revival of union activity in Harlan County. But in spite of the favorable circumstances, not much headway was made. To defeat this new campaign there is evidence that many of the companies discharged workers and evicted them from the company-owned houses when it was discovered that they had joined the union.
The operators were literally getting away with murder and the fact that the 1926 organizing drive failed was almost entirely due to the fact that Sheriff Ward of Harlan County was a creature controlled and paid by the operators. His duties were actually to coerce, maim and murder any man with the audacity to speak up for the union. William Turnblazer reported to District 19's membership that he and other UMWA officers were attempting to have Sheriff Ward removed from office by Gov. W. J. Fields. He said: "We do not intend to allow Sheriff Ward or his paid gunmen to chase any organizer out of Harlan County."
But Ward was not removed. And if he did not chase any organizers out of Harlan, he and his thugs prevented them from recruiting very many new members.
After this, the union spirit in Harlan County was dormant but refused to die. On May 1, 1927, the UMWA called a mass meeting in Harlan Town and for the first time in several years an International officer came to Harlan. He was the union's new Secretary-Treasurer, Thomas Kennedy, an anthracite miner from Hazleton, Pa., who had succeeded William Green in 1925 when the latter became president of the American Federation of Labor.
(Mr. Kennedy became UMWA President on January 14, 1960, when the great John L. Lewis retired. He died January 19, 1963.)
The meeting was a complete success in spite of the fact that local officials did everything they could to destroy its effectiveness. The city water supply was cut off during the day at the behest of the operators. Obtaining a drink of water was more difficult than getting a "shot of corn." But Tom Kennedy, Bill Turnblazer, Peggy Dwyer and other speakers of the day were able to revive the spirit of unionism and 1,058 miners were reinstated in the UMWA and taken into full membership. Local unions were re-established in virtually all coal camps in the Harlan territory.
This new spirit did not last long. The unqualified opposition of the operators coupled with the fact that Harlan coal miners had become accustomed to defeat proved too much for the union and by the end of 1927 efforts to organize the workers had again been abandoned. Organizing activities were at a virtual standstill in 1928, but in 1929 interest was revived by reports that acute distress prevailed in the mining communities throughout southeastern Kentucky. As a result, the editor of the UMW Journal made a first-hand investigation of conditions.
The Journal article described poverty and starvation in the non-union coalfields of southeastern Kentucky. The editor said he "discovered that wages of miners ranged from $1.50 to $2.80 a day and that they got only two to three days work a week." In addition, he reported "all of the principle coal companies are running company stores, and the men who earn these pitifully small wages must trade at these stores. Very few men draw even a cent on payday."
He said that the coal operators themselves were as economically distressed as were their employees. He concluded: "All of this is definite proof of the correctness of the position of the UMWA for years past that wage reductions will not help the coal industry."
As a result of these conditions, the UMWA tried a new approach. In May, a petition was circulated among the business and professional men m the field requesting Mr. Turnblazer to call a public mass meeting for the purpose of discussing the problems of the coal industry. The meeting was held in Pineville on May 26 and was attended, according to reports, by "a large crowd of miners, operators, business and professional men, bankers, and the general public." This group adopted a series of resolutions calling on the Federal Congress to pass legislation regulating the bituminous coal industry because of the state of economic anarchy and depression existing in America's most basic industry. Officials of the International Union, led by John L. Lewis, had been pressing for passage of such legislation for several months.
The resolutions were taken to Washington and presented to President Herbert Hoover by Mr. Turnbla/er and J. B. Helton, Sheriff of Bell County, the latter a good friend of the union. The government took no action, however, and whatever interest there had been in the sorry plight of Harlan miners once more languished.
The stock market crash of October 1929 and the desperate depression that followed merely accentuated an economic crisis that Harlan coal miners and operators had been enduring for several years. The following excerpt affords a glimpse of conditions existing at the outset of the depression from a letter to the editor of the UMW Journal by a miner living in Benham:
"The mines are operating every day with few exceptions. Yet, it is a sad sight to see the little children clad in dirty clothes and nearly barefooted and their fathers wearing overalls on Sunday" The surroundings are decidedly deplorable with the exception of a few places. Other coal companies of this district have reduced wages from time to time until today it is just meat and bread proposition, and not enough of that. The small merchants have been thrown into bankruptcy, and here of late they have begun to talk in favor of unionism as the only hope for the miner and the restoration of business. It will be remembered that a few years ago they were lined up with the coal operators."
As the depression deepened there was a further succession of wage cuts and by the fall of 1930 the UMW A had once more entered the field in force. On Labor Day a mass meeting was held at Wallins Creek. Here again, the ostensible purpose of the meeting was the consideration of "ways and means of stabilizing the coal industry."
The meeting was addressed by Kentucky's Gov. Flem D. Sampson, Mr. Turnblazer and District 5 President, P. T. (Pat) Pagan. It was decided that a letter should be written to President Hoover asking him to call a conference of industry, government and labor union officials to try to arrive at a solution to the increasingly dangerous problem of unemployment.
Although this appeal was likewise ignored in Washington, the miners were ripe for organization and the UMWA made gradual progress in the field during the remainder of 1930. A final fillip was furnished to the union movement by the announcement of a ten percent wage reduction in February 1931. The miners' bitterness at this move enabled the union to start a vigorous organizing campaign. It began with distribution of a circular describing the conditions that prevailed throughout the coalfields of southeastern Kentucky throughout the region. Copies of the circular were sent to President Hoover, Secretary of Labor William Doak, and several members of Congress. The circular was printed in the Congressional Record at the request of Congressman J. Will Taylor of Tennessee. On the last page of the circular was the following appeal addressed to the miners:
"WANTED - 20,000 coal miners of District 19 to affiliate with the United Mine Workers of America; to assist in stopping wage reductions, long hours of labor, miserable working and living conditions.
"We have a plan whereby you may now join the organization by mail or otherwise, and prevent any discrimination against you. For further information in connection therewith, we advise you to get in touch with Lawrence Dwyer, P. O. Box 462, Pineville, Kentucky, and William Turn-blazer, P. O. Box 96, Jellico, Tennessee.
"Join the union of your craft.
"Do not delay! Organize immediately!
"This is your opportunity. It is your only salvation, and in the words of the immortal Lincoln, 'We cannot live half free and half slave.'
"Let us hear from you."
A mass meeting in Pineville early in March followed this. According to the UMW Journal, approximately 2,000 miners attended the meeting and all who had a dollar joined the union. Alarmed at the revival of the union movement the operators began discharging union members, plus some of the miners who had simply attended the Pineville mass meeting. As a result of this action, Mr. Turnblazer addressed a telegram to President Hoover on April 1, 1931, asking for aid.
The telegram pointed out that Harlan coal operators were discharging employees merely because they had attended a public meeting. Not only were the employees fired but were evicted from their homes. They had no place to live and nothing to eat. Mr. Turnblazer stated: "They have appealed to that great American mother, that wonderful angel of mercy, the American Red Cross, and they have asked for bread and were given a stone."
He also informed the President that Governor Sampson, of Kentucky, had been appealed to "to no avail." The telegram also said: "These miners are hungry. They are anxious for work. The coal companies refuse them. The American Red Cross refuses them relief or assistance." The Turhblazer telegram concluded by quoting Daniel Willard, president of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, who had stated publicly. "In such circumstances, I would steal before I would starve."
President Hoover replied that "Judge Payne, Chairman of the American Red Cross, informs me that he is sending one of their agents into the locality you mention to investigate the situation." M. R. Reddy, the Red Cross representative, however, reported that the problem of relief was entirely in the hands of the local chapters and that national headquarters could not intervene. The local chapter of the Red Cross did lend its aid to the starving miners. In effect, it merely subsidized their starvation diet with handouts of flour. This action was almost meaningless and, in fact, merely made the process of starvation a little slower.
During the next few months, incipient rebellion smoldered menacingly in Harlan County. Unemployed miners began to march. One day, according to Mr. Turnbla/er, "2,800 men marched into Harlan and demanded food. Merchants and others collected $350 and gave it to them." Late in April a drift mine at Shields was bombed and a tipple of the Harlan Collieries Company was burned. Later, sixteen vacant homes owned by the Three Point Coal Company were burned. Further violence was inevitable.
The top finally exploded on May 5 when the famed "Battle of Evarts" took place. Many people who have heard of this incident believe that scores of men died in the so-called battle. Actually, only four men were killed. Tension had begun to build up a few days earlier when the Black Mountain Coal Company discharged a large number of men and began evicting their families from company-owned houses. The dismissed miners met at Evarts, an independent (non-company) town about nine miles from Harlan. Word reached the miners that Jim Daniels, a deputy sheriff who was known throughout Harlan County as "the Kaiser" was on his way to Evarts with three carloads of deputies to clean out the town. Just outside of Evarts, the deputies and miners met. There was a fusaladge of rifle shots and when the smoke had cleared away three deputies and one miner were dead.
Next day, according to an Associated Press dispatch, Governor Sampson ordered several companies of State Troops to Harlan County. This was after an all-day conference between the governor's representatives and labor leaders. After the conference, the following statement was signed and issued to the press:
"In the best interests of citizens of Harlan and Bell counties, we hereby request that Governor Sampson send sufficient soldiers to these counties to preserve order.
"We also desire and insist that no transportation of outside or foreign labor be sent into Harlan and Bell Counties while the troops are in the field and for the duration of martial law.
"The miners have the right of free assemblage and the right to join and solicit members for their organization and we agree that all meetings should be held in the daytime. We agree that all mine guards be disarmed and their commissions revoked. We, the undersigned, agree to cooperate to the fullest extent to bring about a settlement of these conditions at the earliest possible time."
The Battle of Evarts became a national sensation. It marked the beginning of the end of UMWA inertia in Harlan County. It marked the start of a new organizing drive that continued fitfully until 1941 when the operators finally signed a contract with the union based on the national wage agreement. It also projected the Communist Party into Harlan County which meant that the UMWA had it to fight as well as the coal operators and state and county officials bought and paid for by the mine owners. In the next few chapters, I will describe the battle of Evarts and the conflicting stories told about it, and a few of the colorful characters that were involved. I will also briefly recount the activities of the Communists in Harlan County. The latter accomplished little but made a lot of noise.
The Battle of Evarts
The Battle of Evarts took place on May 5, 1931. It was in reality more of a skirmish than a battle. It lasted only fifteen minutes. No more than fifty men were involved. Three company gun thugs (or deputy sheriffs, whichever you prefer) and one picketing miner was killed. Several others were wounded but recovered. But in spite of the small casualty list, Evarts was soon a household name in the United States. The murder and conspiracy trials that followed were reported on the front pages of all national newspapers. The Communists tried to seize control of the union spirit in Harlan and the famous novelist, Theodore Dreiser, then a Communist tool, wrote nationally syndicated newspaper stories about Harlan County coal miners.
The story of the battle has since become shrouded in myth. There are many who believe that hundreds of men died. The account I have gathered together should set the record straight. It is based on official court records and conversations with scores of those involved. One version of the battle is based on testimony given by witnesses for the Commonwealth who were attempting to convict the miners of murder or conspiracy. The testimony of these witnesses for the operators acquits the miners. The second version of the Battle of Evarts is based on what the defense - the miners themselves - had to say. It also acquits the miners. The record is clear.
Before going into the details of testimony presented by anti-union witnesses, it might be well to place the battlefield in geographical perspective. It should be remembered that the men were picketing the Black Mountain Mine but were unable to enter the town of Black Mountain because it was company owned. A company mining camp, Verda, is located about four to five miles from Black Mountain. The town of Evarts, a non-company community, is located half way between the two company camps.
Events leading up to the gun battle began early on the morning of May 5, 1931, when a Black Mountain Coal Corporation truck drove past a group of UMWA pickets in Evarts. A strikebreaker named John Hickey who was accompanied by his son, Roscoe, and another scab named Roy Hughes drove the truck. As the truck passed by, one of the miners, Oscar Dykes, according to testimony at the conspiracy trial, shouted: "There they go. We'll lay for them when they come back."
Shortly afterward a number of striking miners gathered at the Louisville and Nashville Railroad depot in Evarts and another group went to the Verda end of Evarts where they stationed themselves. The L & N agent, O. M. Howard, testified he telephoned E. B. Childers, superintendent of the Black Mountain Mine, and Harlan County Sheriff John Henry Blair notifying them that the strikers had gathered to stop the truck. Sheriff Blair admitted on the witness stand that he had talked by phone to Howard, Childers, and Jim Daniels, chief of the Black Mountain group of thugs. The sheriff further stated that he had ordered Daniels to "bring a bunch of mine guards from Black Mountain to Evarts" and instructed him to wait at the L & N depot to meet fifteen deputy sheriffs Blair was sending from Harlan. The mine guards and deputies would then, according to Blair, have escorted the truck past the pickets at Evarts. Five of the mine guards who survived the battle presented consistent testimony at the various trials of union men for murder or conspiracy. According to their stories, Daniels was in charge of a group of ten mine guards who traveled in three cars. They were armed with rifles, which were kept out of sight. All of them said that as they passed through Evarts no one said anything to them nor did anything to them. They passed various miners at the railroad station and more along the road. None of these molested the guards.
Still driving slowly, (some swore their greatest speed all the way from Black Mountain was fifteen miles per hour, others eight to ten), they neared the battle scene, an open spot on the edge of Evarts with a clear road to Verda and Harlan. Here they said they saw two Negroes and a white man standing beside a small water birch tree. When the last car had passed one of the Negroes raised his hand and a shot was fired. Daniels ordered the cars to stop. He got out on the right-hand side, passed around the front of the car to the left side, and with his Browning rapid-fire rifle in a position to shoot, leaned upon a five-foot bank and looked over. According to the thugs, a shotgun immediately roared and Daniels, shot in the head, dropped to the ground dead.
Shooting became general. A battle raged for fifteen minutes. Some witnesses testified that more than a thousand shots were fired. Two more mine guards, Otto Lee and Howard Jones, were killed; two other guards, E. M. Cox and Sherman Perciful, were badly wounded.
That is the condensed testimony of the Commonwealth witnesses based °n court records. It set forth all alleged facts in their stories of that morning’s tragedy.
THE REAL STORY
The defense conceded the truck had passed through Evarts to Verda and that some men had gathered to picket and persuade Hughes not to scab at Black Mountain. The defense proved, through Mrs. G. I. Michael, a Commonwealth witness, that Daniels and his mine fellow-guards, instead of driving to the scene at fifteen miles an hour or less, had sped there at forty miles or more per hour. She testified she left Black Mountain ahead of the deputies and although she drove twenty-five to thirty-five miles per hour, two cars of deputies passed her before she had traveled the mile and a half between Black Mountain and Evarts and the third passed her in Evarts. Instead of moving leisurely, Daniels and his crew sped eagerly to the fray.
Defense witnesses testified Daniels and his men began shooting at the pickets before stopping their cars that the pickets scattered and hid behind rocks and in small depressions for protection from the gunmen's withering fire. To gain a more advantageous position for achievement of their deadly purpose, Daniels and his men got out of the cars and with their rifles, blazing advanced toward the trapped pickets. Daniels was intent on killing some pickets who had jumped over the side of the road behind a low cut bank to escape the guards' bullets. Stalking his prey, he leaned over the bank, emptied his Browning gun many times, crouched back to reload, and fired again and again. Daniels tried too long and too often. Reinforcements arrived to protect the ambushed pickets. There was testimony that as soon as the fight started half of the people of Evarts entered the battle on the side of the pickets from across the creek. The next time Daniels aimed over the bank he was killed.
Although all the mine guards swore Daniels was killed right after he reached the cut bank, the testimony of H. B. Turner, a merchant who appeared for the Commonwealth, gave full support to the evidence of the defense witnesses. Turner was coming in a taxi from Harlan to Evarts and was three hundred yards away when the shooting begun. He got out of the car and walked to within 250 feet of the fight, where he had a clear view of the battle. His testimony proves Daniels was not killed until at least five minutes after the shooting started.
"He was lying on the lower side of the bank," Turner swore. "He had gone up the bank and it looked like he was trying to shoot - every once in a while he would raise his head up and somebody would shoot from somewhere else and he would dodge back down, and I watched him there until it looked like somebody shot his head off and he fell right there."
On cross-examination, Turner testified he saw Daniels rise up and look over the bank "something like four or five times." The defense demonstrated throughout that Daniels and his men were the aggressors, that instead of the mine guards being ambushed it was the mine guards who ambushed the pickets.
. Three mine guards and one union coal miner were killed. Forty-three mineworkers were indicted for the killings of the gunmen. William Turnblazer, who was not in Harlan County but 100 miles away in Jellico, was indicted. The first eight men were charged with murder and tried in the Harlan courts. The operators were unable to get convictions before a mountain jury.
Three men, William Hightower, Ezra Phillips and William Hudson, were convicted of conspiracy by a Bluegrass jury and were pardoned by Governor Lafoon in December 1935. Four others, Jim Reynolds, W. B. Jones, Chester Poore and Al Benson were also convicted but were not freed until 1941.
W. B. Jones' trial for conspiracy to commit murder ended on December 1, 1931. Other conspiracy trials concluded as follows: Chester Poore on July 28, 1932, Jim Reynolds on September 22, 1932, and Al Benson on January 8, 1933. The conspiracy change was a smoke screen. Since it had been made so clear that it was the pickets, not the deputies, who were bushwhacked, since manifestly the killing of the three mine guards was done in self defense, the prosecution, a willing tool of the coal interests, found it necessary to resort to the conspiracy charge to secure convictions.
The prosecution proceeded against the accused on four theories:
1. That there was a conspiracy to kill Daniels, Childers and Sheriff Blair in order to replace them with officials who would be more friendly to the miners.
2. That there was a conspiracy to kill Daniels because he was to testify in May in Harlan at the examining trial of Bill Burnett, a union miner charged with (and later acquitted of) the killing of Jesse Pace.
3. That there was a conspiracy to kill deputies who, according to a letter alleged to have been read by defendant W. B. Jones at a union meeting May 4, were coming from Harlan with warrants for the arrest of five hundred miners and who planned, after the arrests, to ravish the miners' wives and daughters.
4. That there was a conspiracy to prevent a scab, named RoyHughes, from moving his furniture next day from Verda to Black Mountain.
Attempting to prove these allegations, Fred Lester, Commonwealth witness in the Jones trial, testified: "Then he, (Jones) went ahead and said to them. 'All that has not got high-power rifles,' he said, 'take shotguns, and them that has not got shotguns, take pistols, and anybody that has not got a pistol, get a red handkerchief, and anybody that hain't got any gun at all, get some rocks,' and said, 'if there is any of you not able to throw rocks, get a red handkerchief, you can wave it/ "
Hugh Lester's testimony was a shameless echo of his brother Fred's story. Hugh said " and he (Jones) said, 'Every man get him a gun, - and them that has not got a gun can get a pistol and if they hain't got a pistol, get a load of cracked rocks; and he says, them that has not got rocks, get a red flag or a red handkerchief and wave it' . . ." All of this was purported to have been said by Jones in a meeting of the Local Union the night before the battle.
Other Commonwealth perjurers also changed the "red handkerchief" into "red flag." But the enthusiastic prosecutors failed to school their witnesses sufficiently. There was no testimony showing that on May 5 anyone carried red handkerchiefs or red flags, or threw rocks.
Many of the state's witnesses who testified about the May 4 meeting were persons who themselves had been charged with the murders and were testifying to save their own lives. Examples: Fred, John and Hugh Lester had been indicted on a charge of poisoning a nephew to obtain $20,000 insurance. They also were indicted as participants in the May 5 battle. Both the May 5 murder charges and the poison murder charges were dismissed after they had testified for the Commonwealth, but Fred, chief beneficiary, was unable to collect the insurance.
What does the evidence actually show on the four conspiracy theories?
1. That union miners had petitions bearing thirty thousand signatures asking Governor Lafoon to remove Sheriff Blair and other county officials because of terrorist acts. Much testimony proved the union members had gone out of their way to secure removal of those officials peacefully and legally.
2. There was no conspiracy to kill Daniels to keep him from testifying against Burnett. Frank White and George Lee, deputies who took part in the fight when Burnett killed Jesse Pace, and who were far more important witnesses than Daniels, were permitted to pass through Evarts enroute from Black Mountain to Harlan an hour or more before the battle, and they were not molested. Dolly Hudson Daniels, widow of Jim Daniels, later told Governor Chandler that on the morning of May 5 Superintendent Childers came to her house and ordered her husband to the scene of the picketing and "wouldn't let him wait long enough to get breakfast or shave." She urged the governor to pardon the prisoners. Her statement further proves that Daniels was not preparing to go to Harlan that morning as the Commonwealth alleged. His May 5 journey to/death had one purpose - to shoot it out with the pickets at Evarts. The Commonwealth produced no evidence to show that any preparations were made by the union miners to defend Burnett; no lawyer had been retained; no witnesses subpoenaed. After the Jones trial this part of the "conspiracy" was barely mentioned.
3. The majority of the Commonwealth's witnesses testified that from twelve to fourteen pickets were at the battle scene, obviously an insufficient number to stop an invading army of deputies coming from Harlan to arrest five hundred miners and then ravish their wives.
4. No denial was made of the effort to picket the truck containing the furniture of the scab, Roy Hughes. Picketing is part and parcel of every strike. The testimony of both Hughes and the driver Hickey that they did not know until the morning of May 5 that they were going to bring the truck through Evarts, making it impressible for a conspiracy to have been hatched at the May 4 meeting to stop the truck with guns.
What actually happened to bring on the battle? Let us sum up the evidence again to make the picture clearer.
The Commonwealth's case: The L & N depot agent telephoned Childers and Sheriff Blair, advising them of the picket line. Blair and Daniels talked several times over the telephone. Blair ordered Daniels to bring his men and meet the squad of deputies coming from Harlan "at die L & N depot," then escort the truck to Black Mountain. Daniels and his men drove peacefully down the road and were suddenly fired upon from ambush.
The defense proved by Commonwealth witnesses: That Daniels and his men drove swiftly, at least forty miles per hour with their rifles hidden. Daniels rode in the front car and kept his own car in the middle to avoid recognition. Daniels didn't stop at the L & N depot where he had been supposedly ordered to wait for the Harlan deputies, but drove no more than 1,600 feet to the battle site; that pickets were looking toward Harlan for the truck while Daniels and his crew sped up behind them; that Daniels was not killed until five minutes after the battle started and only after he had made several attempts to shoot a man who was crouched down behind the cut bank; that Daniels was twenty feet away from the car when he was killed.
Without quoting defense witnesses for corroboration, this conclusion is the most probable: Blair and Daniels plotted over the telephone to wipe out the pickets by a surprise attack. While the pickets were looking toward Harlan for the truck to come from Verda, the Black Mountain mine guards were to sweep down and shoot them in the back. The other fifteen deputies coming from Harlan would attack from the opposite direction. Thus the pickets would be caught between two fires. The plan miscarried because Daniels attacked too soon while the fifteen Harlan deputies were still at Verda. (Note: The battle occurred at a place where the road makes a right angle turn).
If Jones had been tried purely for murder, any jury - either from the Blue Grass or the mountains - would have acquitted him. He was nowhere near the scene of the shootings. But the Commonwealth filed "conspiracy" charges and used maudlin stories of "red flags" and "black oaths," plus other gibberish as evidence to bolster up this fantastic charge. Much of the Commonwealth's case depended on the jury putting credence in the belief that the Battle of Evarts had been precipitated by a group of blood-thirsty miners who wanted only to wipe out the deputies.
Five of the surviving mine guards, according to their own testimony, was permitted to get into one of the cars and leave the battle scene. A sixth, Sherman Perciful, testified that although badly wounded he walked away. The seventh, E. M. Cox, testified that one of the miners "hollered at me to throw down my gun and run and I would not be hurt."
When the taking of testimony in the Jones trial ended, most observers expected a prompt acquittal. But they had not anticipated the next move of the prosecution. Commonwealth's attorney, W. C. Hamilton of Mount Sterling, was selected to play the final trump card in his summation to the jury. His notorious "bonfires of rejoicing in Moscow if you acquit this man" speech is one of the most brutal violations of court procedure in history. The Knoxville News-Sentinel, a Scripps-Howard daily newspaper, which has never been noted for its friendliness to organized labor, followed the Jones trial carefully. On December 11, 1931, it said in a lead editorial:
"William B. Jones, secretary of the United Mine Workers in Harlan County, Kentucky, has been convicted of murder in the first degree and sentenced to life imprisonment . . . The climax of this trial came as attorneys argued it before the jury. It was not featured by a review of the facts of the battle. Instead, denunciations of unionism and of "Reds" rang through the courtroom.
"Read these excerpts from the ... arguments:
"With an admonition by the Commonwealth's attorney, W. C. Hamilton, not to let the American flag surrender to the Red flag, the fate of W. B. Jones, miner and union organizer, was placed in the hands of the jury ...
"Hamilton devoted more than a third of his four-and-a-half hour speech to a denunciation of the I.W.W. and Communism. There was no proof in the trial that Jones belonged to either organization . . .
"Hamilton pointed out that the United Mine Workers' oath fails to say 'in the name of Almighty God' but says instead 'in the name of each other
"Emphasizing the importance of the verdict, the Commonwealth attorney said 'in Russia they will read the fate of this man' and 'if you turn him loose there will be celebrations in thousands of places, and in Moscow the Red Flag will be raised higher.'
"The Commonwealth attorney condemned Jones for using an American flag in the parade of miners: 'He carried an American flag in his hand but the Red flag was in his heart. Before Saturday night you will know what I am saying will materialize. In Pineville or Harlan there will be a celebration of Reds, and property will have no more value than human life is regarded there now
"The organization to which Jones belonged is affiliated with the American Federation of Labor ... but whether or not Jones had radical inclinations is beside the point. This fact is important:
"There is no fair-minded man who has followed the Jones trial who can help from wondering in his own mind whether the Harlan County labor leader was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment for murder or for being a labor leader."
Capt. Ben Golden, former prosecuting attorney of Bell County, father of James Golden who ably represented the miners of southeastern Kentucky for many years, and J. M. Robeson, former congressman from Kentucky for many years, assisted by W. Bridges White of Mt Sterling, ably defended the miners. When the Court of Appeals upheld the verdict against W. B. Jones, it said in the ruling: "It is earnestly insisted that the verdict of the jury should be set aside under the evidence but the well-settled rule is that the credibility of the witnesses is for the jury." (Kentucky Reports, Volume 249, Page 507.)
In November 1935, the twelve Blue Grass jurors petitioned Governor Chandler to set Jones free but he refused. On December 24, 1936, a delegation of thirty-five persons called on Governor Chandler, including William Turnblazer, myself, and Dolly Daniels, widow of the chief mine guard, Jim Daniels, who was killed in the Evarts battle. She told the governor she believed that all the prisoners were innocent.
A true picture of what took place at Evarts on that fateful morning was later given to me personally by Martin Kurd who was a picket during the battle and later went to work for me as an organizer when I came to Harlan County. Kurd recalled that the Battle of Evarts took place just across the Clover Fork River, about 100 yards from the main street of the town. He was close to Ezra (Big Segar) Phillips when he shot Jim Daniels in serf-defense. He recalled that a few minutes after the shooting started by the Black Mountain mine guards and the twelve or fifteen pickets that the brick building just across the river became a fortress. Half the town was soon involved. Guns blazed from the roofs and windows. It is little wonder that people were aroused. They had been angered by the story that five hundred thugs were going to swoop down on the town, kill union miners and rape their wives. This had added fuel to anger caused by an incident a few days before the battle when deputies had thrown a white waitress in jail with a drunken Negro miner and left her all night in the same cell with him. I would tend to doubt this story as hearsay except for the fact that the miner himself verified the story to me.
Sherman Perciful, one of the Black Mountain guards who was the recipient of sixteen bullets during the Battle of Evarts, made these facts known to Governor Chandler in 1935 along with a statement. After testifying that he was unable to identify anyone as having taken part in the battle, Perciful told the governor that George Dawn, a principal Commonwealth witness, had said: "Damn it, say you saw them whether you did or not." Perciful urged that the prisoners be freed, but in spite of his pleas and the pleas of Jim Daniels' widow and members of the juries who convicted Jones and Perciful, the governor refused to release the prisoners.
One of the rewards of a lifetime of service to a labor union lies in friendships I have made with various colorful and dedicated men down through the years. Three of the principals on the union side at the Battle of
Evarts later worked with me and I came to know them well. I have already mentioned Martin Hurd who worked with me from 1937 to 1941 helping to organize the miners in Harlan County. At the time of the Evarts' trials, Hurd was threatened and intimidated by the state but he stood his ground and testified to the truth. I first met Martin Hurd in May 1937 when he came to me and asked for a job. I told him I had a full crew. He said, "O.K., I will help organize for nothing." He worked for a week and convinced me he had a great deal of ability so I put him on the payroll. Hurd was not only a good organizer but also a colorful, carefree character. He was 6 ft., 2 in. tall, light skinned Negro with a build like an Adonis and an eye for the ladies. He dressed well and owned several tailor-made suits. His wife worked for Dr. P. O. Lewis. She knew he was fickle and after several years became fed up with his activities as a philanderer. During a heated argument she took a razor and slashed his beloved suits to ribbons. She accused him of having made love to every quadroon, octoroon and sepia in Kentucky. She then got on the train and left town. Martin was a lost ball in high weeds. No one to cook for him; no one to press his clothes, and no one to love him when he was broke. He then got a bright idea. He sent his wife a telegram that he was dead and asked her what to do with the body, signing the name of a local undertaker. Mrs. Hurd hurried back to Harlan to claim Martin's remains and there stood Martin smiling at her when she got off the train. She fainted. They were a normal couple. They kissed, made up, and lived happily ever after (I think).
When he was working with me he got into a different kind of trouble, which typified the manner in which Harlan County authorities persecuted representatives of the union. He was charged with carrying his pistol concealed. This was a ruse used by local officials to harass union men. Perhaps to understand the nature of the judge, a brief explanation of Kentucky's unique weapons law is in order. The state has always emphasized in its custom and legislation the fact that a man has a right to bear arms openly. You could (and still can) carry a dozen pistols if you left the end of the barrel in sight. Usually it hung below your coattail. If the coattail hung lower than the end of the barrel, you were in violation of the law for carrying concealed weapons. Virtually every man in Kentucky straps his guns on in the morning when he dresses and feels naked if he goes to the breakfast table unarmed. It was common practice for two or more deputy sheriffs to swear out a warrant or an affidavit that they saw John Doe of the UMWA in public carrying a concealed weapon. Usually they said they saw the gun in the union man's hip pocket when his coattail blew back. Such cases were tried in the County Court. If a man demanded a jury trial under the illusion that this would render him a fair shake, a deputy would go out in the Harlan courthouse yard and summon the first six men he saw. Usually they were bums who sat around and waited for jury duty. They were paid $2.00 each per case and the $12.00 was added onto the cost of those convicted. If a man was found not guilty, no costs were paid and the jury worked for nothing, which, I do not think I need to point out, led to 100 percent convictions. So the "wino" jury convicted and received the $2.00 which just about covered the cost of a bottle or two of wine. This was Harlan County juries.
In addition to being charged with carrying the concealed gun, Hurd was also formally charged with hiring an assassin to kill all the Harlan County officials. This charge was ridiculous but it was a regular method of harassment used against every union organizer in Harlan County. The Harlan Enterprise told the story as follows:
"Harlan, March 26, 1938. The story of a plot to murder a group of county officials, former officials and peace officers of Harlan County was told by a witness in the Harlan Circuit Court today in a sudden move to place Martin Hurd under a peace bond. Hurd, a 36-year-old United Mine Workers organizer, was charged by David Crockett, Negro coal miner of Gary, West Virginia, who Sheriff Herbert Cawood said appeared voluntarily and swore that Martin Hurd offereil him a new car and $500 for each death, $150 a month and expenses, to kill Daniel Boone Smith, Theodore Middleton, Lee Fleenor, Captain Russell of the Lynch police force, Bill Hollins, and two men by the name of Young and Little. The peace bond warrant against Hurd was signed by Charles Elliott, deputy sheriff for Sheriff Herbert Cawood."
Hurd said he went to Gary to visit his uncle and Crockett asked for a lift to Lynch. The girl who drove Kurd's car from Gary to Harlan said Crockett and Hurd slept all the way and discussed nothing. The old perjury mill was still grinding. The case was finally thrown out of court.
Martin Hurd was one of three men who were involved in the Battle of Evarts who later worked with me in Harlan County and whom I came to know and respect. The second man was actually in charge of organizing in Harlan County for several years before I moved in from Tennessee. He was Lawrence "Peggy" Dwyer who had been an international representative of the UMWA since 1911. His nickname came from the fact that he had one leg cut off at the knee when he was working in the coalmines. He was an Irishman and the father of eleven children. Peggy was an aggressive organizer who would fight anything that walked or crawled if he felt the cause was just. All of his life he had been a good union man
And during his early years in West Virginia he suffered for it. Well known because of his union tendencies, Peggy once moved into a company house at a West Virginia mine, which promptly instituted action to evict him. It usually took three weeks to get service for a legal eviction. As soon as one notice was served on him, Peggy would move into another empty company house and wait out the three weeks for another eviction notice. Finally, Peggy himself got tired of moving every three weeks so he went to the mine, carrying his pistol, and told the superintendent he was annoyed at moving all the time, that he had a family to keep and was willing to work. He added briefly that if the superintendent did not give him a job he would kill him. The superintendent believed Peggy meant what he said so gave him a job and the two got along for a number of years without any more trouble.
This did not stop Peggy's organizing activities. The superintendent had to put up with them during these years, whether he liked it or not, because one of the things you could not stop him from doing was talking about the United Mine Workers of America.
Peggy was a great storyteller. One of his favorites concerned a time when he was fiscal agent for strike relief during the Cabin Creek-Paint Creek strike in West Virginia in 1912 and 1913. He went to the union's international headquarters in Indiana and got $3,000 relief money in cash, which he carried back to West Virginia in his hollow wooden leg. Another story involving his wooden leg concerned an automobile accident. Peggy always drove a Model A Ford when I knew him and had trouble controlling it because of the fact he only had one leg. One time, I remember with a great deal of delight, he lost control of the car and it ran over a bank. The car was demolished but Peggy escaped unhurt except for the fact that his wooden leg was broken in two in the middle. When he came crawling up the bank with what appeared to be one leg broken off below the knee, a woman, part of a large crowd of tourists who had gathered to see the blood, fainted because she thought he had really lost his leg.
Dwyer was not only an Irishman, he was a lucky Irishman. During his years in Harlan several attempts were made to kill him but he never was hurt. His car was fired into on several occasions from ambush and his living quarters in Pineville were blown up on two different occasions.
Another of Peggy's favorite stories involves one of the times his house was dynamited. On this occasion the dynamite was put close enough to his bed so that instead of hurting the intended victim when it blew the house up, it merely blew Peggy, bed, mattress and all against the ceiling and he came down without a scratch. However, a bottle of ink had been dislodged from the dresser by the explosion and the cork came out, throwing ink all over Peggy's face. In the darkness after he had come back to earth, Peggy felt this ink on his face and thought it was blood. When he was able to get a look at himself in the light, he found that it was ink and with his usual display of humor in telling the story, he said, "I have heard of people with red blood, yellow blood, but that was the first time I ever thought I was a blue blood."
In addition to his other attributes, he was a man of great kindness. He would give you the shirt off his back, or ninety cents of his last dollar if you needed it. He was a great American. He retired at the age of seventy-four to his farm in Shoals, Indiana, and died a year later. I always suspected he was bored to death by inactivity.
The third man involved in the Battle of Evarts, whom I later came to know well and still respect as a friend, was Bill Gibbs. After the battle, he was indicted and held in jail for sixty-seven days because he couldn't raise $30,000 bond. He was finally released by a Circuit Judge, D. C. (Baby) Jones without a trial. Jones had good reason to release Bill Gibbs. He knew that he was held in jail without reason and that Gibbs was not a man who forgave easily. Baby Jones probably learned this from his bodyguard, a tough character named Two-gun Marion Alien who had worked with Gibbs in Harlan County coalmines. I am sure the reason that Judge Jones felt he needed a bodyguard was fear that some decent citizen of Harlan County would kill him. Gibbs had a reputation as a gunman but was also well known for the fact that he had never picked a fight in his life. In his early days he had killed a man by the name of Anderson after Anderson had killed Bill Gibbs' brother. Undoubtedly Two-gun Alien convinced Baby Jones that it was jeopardizing both of their lives to keep Bill Gibbs in jail unless they could prove he was guilty of some crime. Gibbs was released after the judge attempted to get him to agree that he would not retaliate for the false imprisonment.
Bill Gibbs then went quietly back to work as a coal miner at the Black Mountain Mine. During the 1930s he could usually be found there on a picket line or at a union meeting. In 1941 Gibbs was successfully framed by the Harlan County Coal Operators and went to the penitentiary for killing a mine foreman of the Berger Coal Company. Gibbs spent several years in the penitentiary on a one-to-ten-year sentence, after which he was paroled. Soon after he had been freed, a man named Bernard Long confessed on his death bed that he, Long, had killed the mine foreman and that Bill Gibbs was innocent of that crime. Gibbs resided at Grays, Kentucky, on a hillside farm until his death in 1963. The state has done nothing to rectify this injustice. I believe that the legislature should, in spite of the many years that have passed, pass legislation enabling the state to pay Gibbs' widow for the time he was falsely imprisoned. This will probably never be done and is merely another installment of sacrifice that union miners pay for freedom.
This is the story of the famous Battle of Evarts. It was a symbol of the UMWA's fight for freedom but at the time was merely another abortive attempt to unionize Harlan County
The Brief, Unhappy Life of the Communist Party in Harlan County
The Evarts battle marked the beginning of an epidemic of local strikes. The first was at the operations of the Harlan Gas Coal Company where two hundred miners — virtually the entire working force — laid down their tools. A few days later, after the arrival of the troops ordered into Harlan by Governor Sampson, three more mines were closed by strikes and Secretary George Ward of the Harlan County Coal Operators' Association estimated that four-hundred and fifty miners were on strike. This rash of work stoppage was partly due to the operators' failure to carry out the provisions of the agreement which called for disarming of mine guards. The spread of strikes in Harlan County is borne out by data based on official records of the U. S. Bureau of Mines. The figures show that at one time or another during the year, 1,574 miners were involved in strikes and that a total of 37,034 man days were lost because of strikes. This is in striking contrast with the record from 1923 to 1930 when in four of the eight years no strikes were reported by the operators and in the other four years less than three operators reported strikes.
UMWA officials were convinced that strikes in Harlan County at that time would be futile. The union refused to sanction them or to render any substantial assistance to the miners. Apparently the UMWA was greatly concerned over anti-union publicity after the Battle of Evarts. In any event, after the collapse of a strike at the mine of the Creech Coal Company on June 17, the UMWA withdrew completely from the field.
This left Harlan County open to organizing efforts by dual union, efforts that were destined to fail but which strengthened the hands of the Harlan County operators because it enabled them to accuse anyone working to better the lot of the miners of being a Communist. These accusations had some element of truth in them simply because the dual union was Communist-dominated. Known as the National Miners Union, it was formed in Pittsburgh about 1925 when it was a part of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). The National Miners Union believed in direct political revolution as the only means to better the lot of coal miners and other workers, and attacked the UMWA for its more conservative line of action. They succeeded for a time in persuading some misguided Harlan County miners to join their union. These men were made desperate by starvation and persecution and, grasping at straws, signed up with the so-called "Save the Union Movement" when the UMWA withdrew from the field. The union's leaders believed that for a time it would not be practical to fight the Harlan County coal operators and the Communist Party on the same battlefield at the same time.
In spite of the complications caused by entry of Communism into Harlan County, there was little violence. Colonel Carrel, who was in charge of the Kentucky troops in Harlan County, reported that the only incident of violence took place on June 11 when a coal miner named John Casteen was killed by a gun thug, Bill Randolph, at Cawood. Randolph was quite a character. He was a big, handsome six-foot motorman at Three Point who succumbed to the lure of money and joined the thug gang. He was known to have killed five men and to be without fear. He once went into Harlan when Theodore Middleton was chief of police and kicked his buttocks in an attempt to force the police chief to draw a pistol on him, but for once Theodore Middleton ate crow. Randolph was killed by Clarence Middleton — shot behind the ear when he was not looking. In any event, his murder of Casteen was the only violence in the early summer of 1931 and by the middle of July most of the mines had resumed operation. As a consequence, the National Guard troops were withdrawn from Harlan on July 23, 1931.
The withdrawal of troops from Harlan County was the signal for the resumption of warfare. By this time the operators had apparently decided to drive all forms of unionism out of the country. Charles Rumford Walker's summary of developments that took place after the troops had left, which is largely substantiated by testimony before a Senate Subcommittee of the Committee on Manufacturers is given below:
"The union (NMU) formed women's auxiliaries to aid in organizing relief; soup kitchens were set up, and new NMU locals formed. The UMWA warned the miners of the danger of the Communist-controlled NMU. The operators opened their attack shortly after the Pittsburgh convention of the NMU. On July 20, there was a raid on the home of Bill Duncan, Pittsburgh delegate. On July 23, Jesse Wakefield's car was dynamited during the night. On July 25, twenty-eight additional thugs were imported, increasing the force to sixty-five. The operators were thoroughly aroused and ready to fight with every weapon at hand. A report went about that orders had been given to the new thug army to "shoot, kill and slay four Red leaders" in Harlan County, and that they were to do this within two weeks or it would be too late to stamp out the NMU. "On July 26, 1931, the union held a picnic attended by 2,000 miners, their wives and children, at which open speeches were made. Eleven heavily armed deputies came to the picnic but left. The miners had armed themselves.
"It is interesting to note that on July 30 Judge Willie Bob Howard in a labor case found occasion in court to condemn roundly the NMU and to offer words of praise and defense for the United Mine Workers of America. Only a few months before this in the spring of the year he had condemned the UMWA and warned the miners against it. This about-face we found characteristic of operators and officials of Harlan. Now that the UMWA was dead in Harlan, the corpse came to be spoken of with touching respect by its old enemies.
"From July 30 to August 3, there were strong efforts on the part of the operators to prevent the holding of a state convention of the NMU at Wallins Creek. Wholesale raids on miners' homes were accompanied by a great deal of illegal searching of automobiles. The convention was held however, on August 2 in spite of the terror which had led up to it. Miners guarded the entrance to Wallins Creek and five hundred Negro and white elected delegates were present including women. Late at night after the convention two car-loads of NMU men were arrested and personal property taken from them. The arrest was without warrant or provocation.
"On August 10, the Evarts soup kitchen was dynamited. This was one of seven maintained by the NMU. Shortly after the dynamiting, Finley and Caleb Powers who were guards at one of the other soup kitchens were arrested on charges of 'banding and confederating.' They were unarmed and at the time of their arrest were fixing the fires for the next day's cooking. Other acts of terrorism committed against the union are to be found elsewhere in the committee's record. Their repetition here is unnecessary; they did not succeed in halting the spread of the union. Two miners were shot and killed by thugs in the Harlan soup line in cold blood."
As a result of the reports of suffering and violence, nation-wide attention was centered on Harlan County. Large numbers of newspapermen, individual investigators, and delegations visited the region to verify the reports. One of the first of the investigators to visit the field was Louis Stark of the New York Times, and the results of his investigations were published in that paper in the latter part of September. The first of the delegations was the so-called Dreiser Committee, sponsored by the National Committee for the Defense of Political Prisoners. This was followed by a committee headed by Waldo Frank. Then, early in 1932, a rapid succession of delegations visited Southeastern Kentucky, but not all of these forays were able to get into the region to complete their investiga-
tions. A group of Columbia University students got as far as Middlesboro (Bell County) and then were escorted to the state border by a group of public-spirited citizens under the leadership of County Attorney Walter B. Smith of Bell County. Another student group from Commonwealth College were badly beaten before being escorted out of the state. The dramatization of the conditions prevailing in the region brought about a brief investigation by a Senate Subcommittee of the Committee of Manufactures. Early in 1932, the following resolution was introduced in the United States Senate:
"Resolved, That the Committee on the Judiciary, or any duly authorized subcommittee thereof, is authorized and directed to investigate the conditions existing in the coal fields in Harlan and Bell Counties, in the Commonwealth of Kentucky, with a view of determining particularly (1) whether any system of peonage has been or is being maintained in such coal fields; (2) whether the postal service and facilities have been or are being obstructed or interfered with therein, and if so, by whom; (3) whether citizens of the United States have been arrested, tried or convicted in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States; (4) whether firearms, ammunition, or explosives have been shipped into such coal fields from states other than Kentucky, and if so, by whom shipped and by whom paid for; (5) whether any unlawful conditions exist or have existed in such coal fields which interfere or have interfered with the production for interstate shipment, or otherwise with the interstate shipment, of coal from such coal fields; and (6) the causes leading up to the conditions reported to exist in such coal fields. The committee shall report to the Senate as soon as practicable the results of its investigations, together with its recommendations, if any, for necessary remedial legislation.
"For the purpose of this resolution the committee, or any duly authorized subcommittee thereof, is authorized to hold such hearings, to sit and act at such times and places during the sessions and recesses of the Senate in the Seventy-second Congress until the final report is submitted, to employ such clerical and other assistants, to require by subpoena or otherwise the attendance of such witnesses and the production of such books, Papers, and documents, as it deems advisable. The cost of stenographic services to report such hearings shall not be in excess of 25 cents per hundred words. The expenses of the committee shall be paid from the contingent fund of the Senate upon vouchers as approved by the chairman."
The subcommittee was composed of Senator Bronson Cutting, Senator Edward P. Costigan and Senator D. H. Hatfield of West Virginia. Senator Hatfield did not agree with the majority report and filed a minority report.
Because of the limitations imposed on the subcommittee by the restrictions to voluntary appearance of witnesses in Washington, the Senate investigation was necessarily incomplete. Nevertheless, enough evidence was obtained in three days of hearings to warrant the following conclusions:
"As suggested at the outset of this report the subcommittee has reached the conclusion that a prima facie showing has been made of autocratic and other antisocial conditions and of violated legal and constitutional rights. The charges are too grave to be ignored and in fairness require additional testimony more searchingly and effectively made available in and out of the affected coal mining area. The subcommittee's experience in the preliminary inquiries has persuasively indicated that authority to visit Kentucky and to subpoena witnesses, conferred in a formally authorized investigation, are vital to the complete disclosure of underlying and relevant facts, without which serious efforts to consider or formulate remedial legislation will be definitely hampered. The Committee therefore recommends the prompt adoption of Senate Resolution 178, with the one amendment above specified."Senate Hatfield disagreed with the majority report in a letter dated July 11, 1932 to Senator Costigan. He set forth reasons for his disagreement.* Hatfield based his objections to what he called the disrupting influence of a U. S. Senate investigation of the Cabin Creek-Paint Creek strike while he was governor of West Virginia. He said: "It delayed an adjustment of the strike after a contest of a year and a half." He said that the UMWA was opposed to the investigation and said that the agitators for a probe emanated from radical agitators. Hatfield also said he believed that "it is quite possible that it (the investigation) would incite new antagonisms that are dormant at the present time." In spite of the recommendation of the subcommittee, the investigation was not conducted and any national interest in Harlan County was diverted by the gloom of the nation-wide economic depression.
It was at this point that the NMU died in Harlan County, if indeed it had ever lived there. This is perhaps most vividly illustrated by the fact that a strike was called by the Communists in Harlan County in 1932 but not one single man-day lost was reported during, the year on account of work stoppages. At this point in the history of Bloody Harlan, both the Communists and the UM\yA had been driven out. A sharp change occurred in 1933 when it would have appeared that success for the union was not at all possible.