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West Virginia Mine War of 1912-1913

The West Virginia Mine War of 1912-1913 was a confrontation between striking coal miners and coal operators in Southern West Virginia centered around the area enclosed by two streams Paint Creek and Cabin Creek. The confrontation is widely considered the first Mine War in West Virginia.

After the confrontation, Fred Stanton, a banker, estimated that the strike and ensuing violence cost $100,000,000. The confrontation also led to at least fifty violent deaths as well as many more deaths due to starvation and malnutrition among the striking miners.


[edit] The Paint Creek-Cabin Creek strike

The violence on Paint Creek and Cabin Creek began with a strike in April 1912. The coal operators attempts to break this strike led to much of the violence that would follow.

[edit] Causes of the strike

Prior to the strike there were 96 coal mines in operation on Paint Creek and Cabin Creek, employing a total of 7500 miners. Of these mines, the forty-one on Paint Creek were all unionized, as was all of the rest of Kanawha River coal field except for the fifty-five mines on Cabin Creek. However, miners on Paint Creek received compensation of two and a half cents less per ton than other union miners in the area.[1]

When the Paint Creek union negotiated a new contract with the operators in 1912, they demanded that operators raise the compensation rate to the same level as the surrounding area. This increase would have cost operators approximately fifteen cents per miner per day, but the operators refused. Consequently, the union called a strike for April 18, 1912.[2]

The strikers' demands were similar to those of other almost all other mine strikes in the early twentieth century. They demanded

  1. âThat the operators accept and recognize the unionâ
  2. âThat the miners right to free speech and peaceable assembly be restoredâ
  3. âThat black-listing discharged workers be stoppedâ
  4. âThat compulsory trading at company stores be endedâ
  5. âThat cribbing be discontinued and that 2,000 pounds of mined coal constitute a tonâ
  6. âThat scales be installed at mines to weigh the tonnage of the minersâ
  7. âThat miners be allowed to employ their own check -weighmen to check against the weights found by company check-weighmen, as provided by lawâ
  8. âThat the two check-weighmen determine all docking penaltiesâ

The miners' demands were not unusual, instead they âsimply asked for observance by the operators of individual rights guaranteed to miners by State statutes and the Federal and State constitutionsâ [2]. However, the operators refused the miners' demands and the strike went forward. After little debate, the Paint Creek miners decided to join the Cabin Creek Miners and declared their own strike.[3]

[edit] Early strikebreaking attempts

After the strike began, the United Mine Workers pledged full support, hoping to use it as an opportunity to spread the union into Southern West Virginia, a longtime goal of the union. The UMW promised full financing and any aid it could provide to support strikers.[3].

Partly because of the influence of the UMW, the strike was conducted without violence for its first month. However, on May 10, 1912, the operators on Paint Creek and Cabin Creek hired the Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency to break the strike. Baldwin-Felts responded by sending more than three hundred mine guards led by Albert Felts, Lee Felts, and Tony Gaujot [4] Albert Felts was killed at the Battle of Matewan.

[edit] Notes

  1. ^ Lee 17-18
  2. ^ a b Lee 18
  3. ^ a b Shogan 38
  4. ^ Lee 22

[edit] References

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