If your family comes from a coal mining town in West Virginia, then you’ve surely heard a few stories. There’s a lot of dark history passed on in West Virginian oral tradition, and some of it is true. Matewan is a seemingly peaceful little town of 500 with a railway depot, homey restaurants, and scenic hiking trails. But this town has a darker, bloody history, making it the most fabled city in West Virginia. Let’s take a trip through time to revisit the atrocities of the Matewan massacre.
Matewan is a quiet little river town in Mingo County.
Matewan, West Virginia is a mere blip on the map. Blink too fast and you'll miss this community on half a square mile.
You wouldn't guess it, but in 1920, a bloody battle took place on these peaceful streets.
This spontaneous battle in southern West Virginia took place on May 19, 1920. On this day, members of the Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency set out to evict the families of local coal miners.
Coal miners had been seeking to organize a union in response to practices like being paid in scrip rather than federally recognized currency.
Scrip was only redeemable at the company store, allowing the coal companies to set unfair prices for goods and keep control of the workers. Miners were also concerned about disregard for their health and safety in favor of profits for the coal companies. After having worked long hours in unsafe conditions, locals were ready for change.
In response to these attempts to unionize, the Stone Mountain Coal Camp sent detectives out to evict the miners and their families from their homes in Matewan.
The detectives were confronted by the mayor and police chief who sided with the miners. It's uncertain who shot first, but in the end, 10 people were dead and many townspeople were wounded. The event became known as the Matewan Massacre or the Battle of Matewan.
The area where the shootout took place is known as the Matewan Historic District today.
As a result of the "Baldwin Thugs" evicting local families, many had to spend a chunk of the spring season in tents. Following the massacre, state police took control of the city. Chief of Police Sid Hatfield (yes, a descendant of the infamous Hatfield-McCoy bad blood) and his men cooperated. Nonetheless, a strike began at the local mine, and it turned violent. As this story is a dark one, the bloodshed doesn't end there. The Baldwin-Felts detectives, hungry for "justice," assassinated Sid Hatfield and one other man.
The battle is also remembered in etchings on the Matewan flood wall, which holds back the Tug River.
Mayor Cabell Testerman and two Baldwin-Felts Detectives, a pair of brothers, were among the lives lost during this tragic display of violence. Ten men in total lost their lives on that tragic day, but they made an impact on their world. This massacre marked a turning point in the battle for miners' rights, as the government would go on to pass the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA) in 1933.
You can find out more about the bloody battles that took place in the struggle for miners' rights at the Mine Wars Museum in Matewan.
Mine Wars Museum
belongs on every bucket list, as it preserves an important aspect of life in West Virginia that needs to be told.
Address: 336 Mate St, Matewan, WV 25678
The events in Matewan sparked attention that ultimately led to the miner uprising and the Battle of Blair Mountain. Although many miners died in the battle and change was slow to come, it ultimately raised awareness of the terrible conditions, and miners were eventually able to form unions to advocate for their safety. This, combined with the infamous Hatfield–McCoy feud, makes this community the most fabled city in West Virginia.
The Mine Wars Museum continues to welcome visitors to this day, and special tours can be scheduled for groups. In addition to finding hours of operation, you can read more about the history of Matewan and the Mine Wars on their
Read more about the influence of a
company store, or see the remains of a ghost town here in West Virginia.
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The Most Fabled City In West Virginia
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Are there haunted battlefields in West Virginia?
As is true with most states, West Virginia has seen its fair share of bloodshed over the years. Some places, like
Droop Mountain Battlefield, are said to be haunted. Other places, like former battlefield hospitals, also have spirits hanging about.
Are there any ghost towns in West Virginia?
There are ghost towns in West Virginia!
Thurmond is largely abandoned nowadays, but Kaymoor is little more than ruins nowadays.
West Virginia Mine Wars Museum, 401 Mate St, Matewan, WV 25678, USA