Tuesday, January 27, 2015

After my post yesterday about the mine wars, a friend asked about the Sid Hatfield murder. Sid Hatfield was the Chief of Police in Matewan, WV in 1920. Some mine "detectives" came to town to evict strikers from their company-owned houses, and Hatfield got together a posse, saying he would kill the detectives. There were several confrontations, the last resulting in a shootout that left seven detectives and three townspeople dead, including the mayor, Cab Testerman.

Some said Hatfield boasted about pulling the trigger on the head detective, Albert Felts, while others said they saw him track an injured Felts into the post office and finish him off. Two weeks later, Hatfield married Testerman's widow, leading to speculation that the whole shootout was a pretext to get Testerman killed so Hatfield could have his wife.  Hatfield took over Testerman's jewelry store and turned it into a firearm supply shop for union men.

Hatfield was tried, but beat the murder charges by claiming self-defense. He said Felts fired the first shot, at Testerman. Highly unlikely, not because Felts was an especially honorable man, but because he was a professional detective who had no particular reason to shoot a town official.

Soon after, Hatfield was charged with another shooting at Mohawk, for which he was supposed to stand trial in Welch. He had also been accused of blowing up a tipple and rifle-butting the superintendent of the Stone Mountain Coal Company when that company's mines were being struck by the UMWA. This was not all the trouble Hatfield was in, but I want to wrap this up.

When Hatfield went to Welch to stand trial, Everett Lively, a secret agent working for the mine operators, shot him dead on the courthouse steps in front of his new wife, the erstwhile Widow Testerman.  Hatfield, who was clearly what we today would refer to as a total dirtbag, became an instant martyr to the UMWA.

Anyway, my friend asked whether Hatfield's family had been killed with him. They were not, but I wondered whether he was thinking of the Jock Yablonski murder in 1969. Yablonski had just been elected president of the UMWA as a "reform" candidate. The former president, Tony Boyle, hand-picked successor to John L. Lewis, hired a hitman using embezzled union funds to kill Yablonski and his wife and daughter. Such a nice group of people.

I wrote yesterday that the mine wars were started by the UMWA on behalf of competing coal companies. They sent organizers, but things quickly spun out of control. After the 1921 "Battle of Blair Mountain," which resulted in a visit from the U.S. Army, including a wing of bombers, the UMWA tried to wash their hands of the situation, but they should have known what they were getting into. (The Army did not actually drop bombs on the union. That was done by planes privately hired by the Sheriff of Logan County.)

The union men tied red bandannas around their necks and called themselves rednecks, although the word already meant exactly what it means now. Are rednecks prone to violence? Not really. The violent crime rate in Mingo County, WV today is lower than the national average. It is 2.07, compared to a national average of 3.8. For comparison, the rate in Chicago is 9.00. But crime seems to come in waves, when there are are rival groups. Rednecks do not shoot each other over shoes or video games; there has to be some kind of group dynamic going on. This was well known when the UMWA went into WV, because the Hatfield-McCoy and other feuds that were mainly an aftermath of the Civil War had just died down. The UMWA going into West Virginia, and playing groups off one another, is like Nike trying to market shoes by getting the Rolling 60's to adopt them as a gang uniform. You don't think personal grudges played a role? Everett Lively and the officers of the UMWA local were childhood friends turned enemies!

Anyway. I wanted to say one last thing about John L. Lewis, the so-called hero of the UMWA. Here is a typical miner's house

and here is John L. Lewis's house

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