West Virginia Attractions February 24, 2018
The Old Mining Town In West Virginia With A Sinister History That Will Terrify You
Coal mining in West Virginia is known as a dangerous profession. But mine collapses were not the only dangers of the industry. In fact, there is one coal town where death came not by accident, but by gunfire.
Before 1930, coal miners had few rights. A wealthy coal company would build a town for their workers to live in while mining the nearby coal, but the towns were often poorly constructed and conditions were often squalid.
Matewan was one such town. The workers were poorly treated and were not paid well. As a result, many chose to unionize to fight for their rights.
When this occurred, as was normal for the Stone Mountain Coal Camp, detectives from the Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency, hired by the company, would arrive to arrest workers who attempted to unionize.
On May 19, 1920, tensions came to a head. The workers in Matewan had finally had enough. Their mistreatment led them to gain support from both Police Chief Sid Hatfield and Mayor Cabell Testerman.
A group of men from the Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency, led by Albert Felts (pictured below), arrived in Matewan that day to arrest several men who had joined the union, as the coal company had recently made unionization for workers' rights officially against company policy.
They were met by Hatfield and a group of men. Apparently, both Felts and Hatfield tried to place the other under arrest. Moments later, the city erupted in gunfire, and a battle begun in the streets of the town. People abandoned the town in droves, spilling out of their homes and into the river, swimming across the border into Kentucky to escape the carnage.
When it was all over, seven Baldwin-Felts detectives had been killed, including Albert and his brother Lee. Two miners were also killed, as was the mayor (though he was still alive when the fight ended, he ultimately died from his wounds). Many other men were injured. The streets ran with blood. But that was not the end of the conflict. That was just the first battle.
After the fight, Hatfield (pictured above) boasted that he killed all seven detectives, a claim he later recanted during his trial. After three months, the situation in the town had become so bloody, it forced the president to declare martial law and send federal troops into the small town.
In the end, the sinister history of this town marked the dark side of coal mining in America and the conditions in which the workers were generally forced to endure.
How familiar are you with the Matewan massacre? Have you ever been to the town? Feel free to comment below and join the discussion.
To learn more about West Virginia, check out
this fascinating history that lies deep underground.