Sunday, May 06, 2007

Cabin Creek Mine Wars; Mother Jones; and My Family

Yesterday I spent some time up Cabin Creek, West Virginia, with my Dad, the area where he was born and lived until he was six, and where my grandmother and grandfather grew up. And aunts and uncles, etc. My father was born in Acme. My grandmother was from Red Warrior.

Cabin Creek was a coal mining area and the West Virginia Mine Wars started right around there (Paint Creek and Cabin Creek, which are very close to one another). My grandfather is buried up Red Warrior Hollow, and we were in Red Warrior yesterday, an old coal mine camp. I knew my grandmother had lived in a tent city for a time but I thought it was during the depression. I found out yesterday that it was during the mine wars, after the miners were driven out of their homes. At night, the mine people would come by on the train and shoot at the tents. Where my grandmother slept! I didn't even realize that her father was a coal miner.

Mother Jones was involved in the labor organizing in that area and I was searching for info on Cabin Creek and the mine wars and came across a section of her biography that mentions Red Warrior.

"One day a group of men came down to Elksdale from Red Warrior Camp to ask me to come up there and speak to them. Thirty-six men came down in their shirt sleeves. They brought a mule and a buggy for me to drive in with a little miner's lad for a driver. I was to drive in the creek bed as that was the only public road and I could be arrested for trespass if I took any other. The men took the shorter and easier way along the C. and O. tracks which paralleled the creek a little way above it.

Suddenly as we were bumping along I heard a wild scream. I looked up at the tracks along which the miners were walking. I saw the men running, screaming as they went. I heard the whistle of bullets. I jumped out of the buggy and started to run up to the track. One of the boys screamed, "God! God! Mother, don't come. They'll kill …"

"Stand still," I called. "Stand where you are. I'm coming!"

When I climbed up onto the tracks I saw the boys huddled together, and around a little bend of the tracks, a machine gun and a group of gunmen.

"Oh Mother, don't come," they cried. "'let them kill us; not you!"

"I'm coming and no one is going to get killed," said I.

I walked up to the gunmen and put my hand over the muzzle of the gun. Then I just looked at those gunmen, very quiet, and said nothing. I nodded my head for the miners to pass.

"Take your hands off that gun, you hellcat !" yelled a fellow called Mayfield, crouching like a tiger to spring at me.

I kept my hand on the muzzle of the gun. "Sir," said I, "my class goes into the mines. They bring out the metal that makes this gun. This is my gun! My class melts the minerals in furnaces and roll the steel. They dig the coal that feeds furnaces. My class is not fighting you, not you. They are fighting with bare fists and empty stomachs the men who rob them and deprive their children of childhood. It is the hard-earned pay of the working class that your pay comes from. They aren't fighting you."

Several of the gunmen dropped their eyes but one fellow, this Mayfield, said, "I don't care a damn! I'm going to kill every one of them and you, too!"

I looked him full in the face. "Young man, said I, "I want to tell you that if you shoot one bullet out of this gun at those men, if you touch one of my white hairs, that creek will run with blood, and yours will be the first to crimson it. I do not want to hear the screams of these men nor to see the tears, nor feel the heartache of wives and little children. These boys have no guns! Let them pass!"

"So our blood is going to crimson the creek is it!" snarled this Mayfield.

I pointed to the high hills. "Up there in the mountain I have five hundred miners. They are marching armed to the meeting I am going to address. If you start the shooting, they will finish the game."

Mayfield's lips quivered like a tiger's deprived of its flesh.

"Advance!" he said to the miners. They came forward. I kept my hand on the gun. The miners were searched. There were no guns On them. They were allowed to pass.

I went down the side of the hill to my buggy.

The mule was chewing grass and the little lad was making a willow whistle. I drove on. That night I held my meeting.

But there weren't any five hundred armed men in the mountains. Just a few jack rabbits, perhaps, but I had scared that gang of cold blooded, hired murderers and Red Warrior camp was organized."

Her autobiography is online free here:

The part I copied is from Part II and there's more about Paint Creek and Cabin Creek on that page too in a chapter called "Victory in West Virginia"

I am going to go back and read the whole thing when I can. She was something else. I used to subscribe to Mother Jones magazine and I didn't even realize that her history intersected with my family's until now.

More on the Paint Creek/Cabin Creek mine wars:

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