It has been 100 years since the attempted invasion of Logan County.
As any knowledgeable person should know, I am referring to what has long been termed The Battle of Blair Mountain. Many centennial events have already been conducted across the region — from Beckley to Matewan, and several locations in between. There was even a three-day miners reenactment march from Marmet, which was concluded at Sharples this past Sunday with a United Mine Workers celebration.
While there are many planned activities still to come, including the inaugural 5K run across Blair Mountain on Saturday, Appalachian Heritage Days in Logan beginning at 4 p.m. that same day with what is dubbed as the “Taste of the Coalfields” at the courthouse square, and later a concert at the Coalfield Jamboree slated for 7 p.m. However, on Friday, Sept. 10, there is a special one-hour occurrence scheduled to begin at 1 p.m.
The special event that afternoon will take place at the very house that sheriff Don Chafin lived in while he was directing forces against the approaching miners in 1921. Located at the end of Main Street in Logan just below the LB&T drive-thru bank, the house once served as Logan’s only public library and was and remains the home of the Logan Woman’s Club.
For the first time ever, the public will be offered a tour of the house in which the legendary sheriff made his home for 13 years. Why I pinpoint this one-hour tour is simply because instead of being a Logan County first time occasion on the 100th anniversary of “Chafin versus the UMWA,” it could have been a total embarrassment to Logan County. Remember why?
It was just a few short years ago that the home of the Logan County legend was on the verge of its roof collapsing. And, despite repeated pleas by many concerned citizens to save the neglected structure from environmental demise, no government body or organization intervened or offered to find a solution to save the historic site that is on the National Register of Historic Places. I sometimes wonder if there might have been a plan to allow the place to simply “die,” so that some interested party could then secure the real estate.
I do know that attempts to purchase the property were made, but a clause wisely placed in the 1949 deed would not allow for the library home to be used for anything other than a non-profit literary, charitable, scientific, or educational purpose.
The house was saved by the efforts mostly of a woman who never used the grand achievement for any political gain, never mentioning her actions, despite twice being a candidate for public office — Diane Barnette.
While we should all be grateful to Barnette and the Woman’s Club for their efforts in securing a magnificent piece of our local history, I can’t help but wonder what a Blair Mountain centennial celebration would be like had the house been allowed to just fade away. What a shameful embarrassment that would now be — just like the historic Hatfield Cemetery currently is at Sarah Ann in another section of Logan County.
I kindly challenge all three Logan County Commissioners — all of whom I warmly regard as friends —to make the nine-mile trip from Logan to the small bridge that crosses Island Creek at Sarah Ann. From that bridge and up the steep and rugged unkept roadway to the place that many thousands of people have visited over the years, I am willing to wager that not a single commissioner can make it to the grave and stoic statue of Devil “Anse” Hatfield without stopping to rest at least once. The need for an easier access will be recognized immediately.
I make this invite to anyone who has not already visited the memorable graveyard. Only then will you realize what is needed to make it so much easier for visitors to reach the area where no vehicles of any type are allowed on the barren roadway leading to the cemetery. A visit there will reveal the need for a parking area for visitors and the much needed improvements to the steep incline that leads to a place that every Logan County school student at some point in their educational upbringing should be allowed to visit as part of their learning process.
The reason for intertwining the graveyard with the 100-year-old Blair Mountain occurrence is simply because next year will mark the 100th anniversary of yet another special occasion in Logan County history.
It was April 1922 when the magnificent statue of Devil Anse Hatfield was unveiled on a Sunday afternoon at the family burying ground, which was adjacent to the former homeplace of the Hatfield clan. The 13-feet tall monument made of Italian granite still stands majestically overlooking the hills and valleys where Devil Anse once served as lord and master of all that his eyes surveyed.
Despite rainy conditions that day, over 500 people attended the unveiling of the statue. Many Hatfield family reunions, some of the political nature, would follow in the course of history.
I find it ironic today to know that in 1922 — just one year after Blair Mountain — Don Chafin, who employed several of the Hatfields as deputies, submitted his resignation as sheriff to the Logan County Court, mostly because of what was termed by The Logan Banner as “the lack of cooperation of some of the deputies.” Here is the newspaper account that took everyone by surprise:
“Last week Don Chafin tendered to the county court his resignation as sheriff of Logan County. The county court promptly rejected his resignation and Mr. Chafin was prevailed upon by his friends to let the matter drop and continue to serve the county in his official capacity.”
The Republican-inclined newspaper admitted that “The Banner is directly opposed to the political policy of Don Chafin,” but expressed its support for him by explaining matters in the following manner — “Logan County is, in many respects, far different from any other county in the state. We are, in one sense of the word, isolated from other sections of the state in as much as we are situated on a branch of a railway system with only one outlet. Consequently, it is no easy matter for the mining operators in the field to secure labor.”
The article further explained that “in their efforts to supply their mines with labor it is necessary for them to draw on the supply of raw labor of the larger cities. This brings into our midst an element of labor that is not always of the most lawful type. And in many instances, the men are of foreign birth and of various races; hence, we are sometimes so unfortunate as to admit many men of criminal tendencies.”
The story noted that “not one-tenth of the labor required in the various industries of the county are of native birth, the other 90 percent being men who have no interest here other than the wages they may receive. Thus, it may be seen that it requires constant attention to duties by the authorities of the county to maintain the law and prevent crime.”
It should be apparent that in 1922 Logan County was growing by leaps and bounds and that coal was the reason why. While it is clear that the Banner seems to be — perhaps rightly so to a certain degree — defending Chafin’s decision to keep deputies in every coal camp in the county, it likely wasn’t just to prevent crime, as the newspaper suggested, but also to ensure that men would not organize and join the UMWA.
As history lovers and others celebrate the anniversary of the 1921 attempted invasion at Blair Mountain, it should be realized that in 1922 the trials of many of those men arrested in that gunfighting ordeal were taking place far away from Logan County.
Aside from the monument being placed at Devil Anse’s gravesite, other important happenings of 1922 included the opening of Logan Senior High School at the East End location of Logan and the Ku Klux Klan formally announcing its local existence. Also in this same year, the Masonic Temple that still stands on Main Street of Logan was opened, as was the Pioneer Hotel.
The hotel was demolished in the name of progress and so was the former Logan High School building that once also served as Logan Junior High School.
In conclusion, I am left pondering just what will be celebrated in Logan County 100 years from now. Probably nothing.
Dwight Williamson serves as magistrate in Logan County. He writes a weekly column for HD Media.