One Hundred Years Ago Today…

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In the spring of 1920 miners in Mingo County went out on strike in order to secure the right to join the United Mine Workers. The response of the coal operators was to send in private mine guards from the Baldwin-Felts detective agency to throw those strikers out of company-owned housing. This led in turn to a confrontation between the Baldwin-Felts men and Matewan residents led by the chief of police, Sid Hatfield, in which seven detectives and four others, including the mayor, were killed.

On this day one hundred years ago the murder trial of Sid Hatfield and 22 others began. They were charged with the murder of Albert Felts, one of the Baldwin-Felts men. The agency brought in at least 40 heavily-armed men to walk the streets of Williamson in an attempt to intimidate the pro-union jury into convicting the defendants.

They were unsuccessful.

At the end of the longest murder trial in West Virginia history, the jury acquitted Sid Hatfield and the other defendants. Later that year Baldwin-Felts men gunned down Hatfield and his deputy, Ed Chambers, on the steps of the county courthouse, an event which sparked an armed march by union miners which ended with the Battle of Blair Mountain.

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