Southern West Virginia mine wars settled in courthouse

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CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. (WDVM) — This Labor Day weekend, there have been lots of memories of the southern coalfields mine workers wars from a century ago. The eastern panhandle played a big role in how those battles were settled.

The trials of 700 coal miners were held in the court house right here in Charles Town. Neither the striking miners nor the coal operators thought they would get a fair trial in the shadow of Blair Mountain, where 16 died protesting miners’ rights.

“Coal miners from the United Mine Workers were certain they’d not be treated fairly in Logan County,” said Danny Lutz of Jefferson County. “The coal operators believed this was going to be a slam dunk. Just come up here, have a bunch of hick farmers on a jury, that they’d bend ’em to their will and it’d be all over in a few months.”

Both sides wanted to be close to the Nation’s Capital where they could showcase their courtroom presentations to all the major national newspapers that had bureaus there. But here’s a sidebar that may have been buried in history: the miners liked to play baseball and were aware of some amateur teams in the eastern panhandle who could be competitors on the diamond when court was not in session.

“The merchant all stars of the local area which would be Charles Town, Ranson, Kerneysville, Harpers Ferry and the like hopefully would get a small team together and see what can happen,” said Tony Young, president of the Blue Ridge Kiwanis Club.

Still, the mine-workers uprising and coal operators resistance was on trial.

“The coal miners especially came to Jefferson County looking to my ancestors to get justice for their for their people, and I’d like to think that we actually did fill that bill,” said Lutz.

The trials took seven years and were eventually disbursed to other locations beyond Charles Town. In the end, many of the charges were eventually dropped.

Lutz has written a screenplay about these trials which will performed here in Jefferson County this spring. In 1920, southern West Virginia had the largest concentration of non-union miners living in company-built encampments. They were paid in company currency, called “scrip,” that could be redeemed for food in company-run stores.

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