Greed and Death in the Mountains (Part II)

It was a busy year for Sid Hatfield. Following the Matewan Massacre a lot happened. He and Mayor Testerman’s widow got married; Sid appeared in a United Mine Workers of America recruitment movie and he was elected to be the constable for the Magnolia District. As his second-in-command, he picked his buddy Ed Chambers. It was a pretty busy – and successful year – for someone who was still in their mid-twenties.

The thugs at Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency had a busy year also. Wanting revenge after the death of their brother – and lead detective – Thomas Felts, the siblings set about making a plan to get this new national hero – Sid Hatfield – out of the way.

They sent a couple of undercover operatives into Matewan to spy on Hatfield and try to dig up dirt on the man who had become a reluctant hero. When spreading rumors of an illicit affair between Hatfield and the Mayor’s widow failed to work, they set about examining the way he did business as the new constable.

After some months of trying and failing to uncover any chargeable offenses against Hatfield, they manufactured evidence of his trying to destroy a coal tipple. In August of that year, 1921, Hatfield traveled to McDowell County West Virginia to answer to the bogus charges. Traveling with him was his good friend – and co-worker – Ed Chambers and their wives.

Passing Baldwin-Felts Agents on the stairs going into the courthouse, Hatfield spoke a soft “good morning”. Shots rang out and Hatfield and Chambers died at the bottom of the stairs. Shot through the chest, Hatfield was killed instantly while Chambers, despite being shot in the breast and head, lingered a few moments before he too died.

As their bodies were being returned to Matewan, news of the assassinations spread throughout the mountains. The miners felt that Hatfield had been killed in cold blood and that those responsible would avoid punishment.

Coming on the heels of years of oppression, Hatfield’s death was the final straw for the miners. They began to stream out of the mountains taking up arms as they went. Miners along the Little Coal River were the first to militarize. Sheriff Don Chafin of Logan County sent troopers to Little Coal River. The miners apprehended and disarmed the troopers before sending them fleeing for their lives. Frank Keeney and Ed Mooney, veterans of previous mine conflicts in the region and now leaders of the UMW District 17, called a rally at the state capitol in Charleston. Keeney and Mooney met with Governor Ephraim Morgan and gave him a petition of the miners’ demands. When Morgan dismissed the petition out of hand, the miners became even more restless and determined. Talk of a march on Mingo spread.

But directly in the way stood Blair Mountain and Don Chafin.

Hatfield and Chambers were taken home to be buried in a hilltop grave in the Hatfield Family Cemetery. Over 3000 mourners gathered on the windswept hilltop as the coffee colored Tug River flowed below. As the crowd started to break up and head home, the talk turned to the news of the upcoming march.

Death and destruction continued to take place in West Virginia.

Jerry Nelson is a nationally recognized photojournalist and adventure photographer. His work has appeared in many national, regional and local publications including CNN, USAToday, Upsurge, Earthwalkers and Associated Content and he is a regular contributor to The Huffington Post and OpEdNews as well as a weekly guest on national radio. Nelson travels the country seeking out the people, places and things that make America unique and great. Nelson currently is in Logan County West Virginia, site of The March on Blair Mountain.

Nelson’s book, OccupyDC: As I See It has been called, “The most thorough photographic documentation of the Occupy Movement in Washington DC”.

CLICK HERE to see more of Nelson’s work or to hire him for a shoot.

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