The Battle is Joined

In 1920, in West Virginia, tensions were high between coal company operators and organizers of the United Mine Workers labor union. A number of incidents preceded the bloody gun battle of 19 May, including the eviction of miners from their homes by private gunmen hired by the coal company. Representatives of this private army, the ‘Baldwin-Felts Agency’ came face to face with the Matewan, West Virginia, Mayor and Sheriff en route to the train depot. Each claimed to have arrest warrants for the other. Unbeknownst to the Baldwin-Felts agents, they were surrounded by gun toting local miners, concealed behind doorways and on rooftops. It is uncertain who drew a weapon first, but once the shooting began, the local miners took aim at the company gunmen and when it was over 7 were left dead, two miners were also killed, as was the Mayor.

All charges brought against the miners surrounding the incident were either dismissed or those indicted were acquitted. Agents of Baldwin-Felts would later assassinate Sheriff Sid Hatfield and his deputy, on the steps of the McDowell County courthouse in Welch, West Virginia, in 1921.

The above image is from a motion-picture about the event. The Matewan Historic District was added to the National Register of Historic Places on April 27, 1993.