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Sunday, April 17, 2011

Logan County West Virginia My Favorite Places In Appalachia

Logan County West Virginia

Logan County holds a special place in my heart for a variety of reasons.  I lived and worked there for about 5 years in the 1980's.  I developed a core group of close friends in Logan County as well as several attachments to particular places in the county both for personal reasons and, in some cases, due to the history of those places.  Blair Mountain is the most important place for me in the county.  It is also one of the most historic places in the history of the American labor movement.  That story is told in several books.  Bill Blizzard, a former writer for the Charleston Gazette, wrote "When Miners March" which is based primarily on first person accounts from his father, William Blizzard, Sr., who fought on Blair Mountain with the miners in their struggle for union recognition and reasonable working conditions.  The elder Blizzard and several other miners were actually charged with sedition, treason, murder, and a variety of other charges and tried in a historic trial in Harper's Ferry, West Virginia.  That trial resulted in acquittals. Robert Shogan also wrote "The Battle of Blair Mountain", which is less than perfect but generally accurate. There are also several other books about the incident.  The Battle of Blair Mountain is one of the small number of occasions in American history when the U. S. military was used against citizens.  Several hundred miners marched up Cabin Creek out of Charleston toward Logan and were met by hired gun thugs under the supervision of Sheriff Don Chaffin who was a minion of the coal companies and led their efforts to control coal miners and their families through a variety of techniques ranging from simple intimidation to murder. The company gun thugs had set up fortified positions near the ridge line and the miners fought for several days from behind trees in an attempt to move on to Logan.  No one can be sure today how many miners were killed in that fight and it is often asserted that far more were killed than were ever officially enumerated.  During the battle, most of the fighters on both sides were wearing similar clothes and it was difficult to tell enemy from friend.  The miners tied red bandannas around their necks to differentiate themselves from the gun thugs. That action is the root of the modern epithet of "red neck".  It was not originally a negative name.  It was a proud recognition of men who had placed their lives in danger in order to fight for the UMWA.   Recently at a memorial for Bill Blizzard, Jr. mourners came  to the service wearing red bandannas. 

Until about 20 years ago, there was also a fire tower and fire watchers cabin at the peak of Blair Mountain which had been built by Civilian Conservation Corps members during the Roosevelt Administration.  That cabin burned during a forest fire in the 1980's.  Eventually, when fire prevention and observation services were changed and modernized the fire tower was also torn down.  When I lived in the area, I would often go to the top of the mountain which could be reached by a dirt road off the main highway.  I would climb the tower and look out over the mountain and wonder how many miners still lie undiscovered and unburied on the mountain.  Those men both unburied and buried deserve a memorial fitting to the bravery they exhibited during the battle.  Blair Mountain is now owned by one or more coal companies.  But it would make an ideal park and historic site if the funding and political hurdles could ever be surmounted.  It would make an ideal park and convention center under the auspices of some consortium of organized labor, educational institutions, and private foundations.  I believe it is unlikely that it could ever be established as a part of the state or national park systems.  The political resistance from big business and the coal industry would be intense.  However, if an exploratory group from the above mentioned groups could be formed, the work of putting the issue in the ears and eyes of the general public could begin.  Blair Mountain Memorial Park would be a wonderful idea. 

Logan County is also the site of the Buffalo Creek Flood which resulted in the deaths of more than 130 people when Pittston Coal Company refused to repair a damaged and heavily overloaded coal slag dam in the head of Buffalo Creek. The best book about that incident is "Everything In Its Path" by Kai T. Erikson.  In a more recent book, "A New Species Of Trouble", Erikson writes about man made disasters and once again discusses Buffalo Creek at length. There are also several other books about the incident.  Logan County played a historic role in the labor movement and Buffalo Creek is a classic case of the general public suffering at the hands of big business. 

Logan County is also the site of 22 Holden which was one of the worst coal mine explosions in history.  I will eventually write longer, separate postings about each of these historic events.  Each of them deserves to be written about, discussed, and never forgotten. Throughout and following each of them, the people of Logan County and Southern West Virginia used native Appalachian values to overcome disaster.  The general public deserves to know far more about those incidents. 

Logan County was also the home of Jim Ferrell, the best friend I ever had.  Please read my separate posting about Jim, an Appalachian Hero. 

Logan County also played a prominent role in the Hatfield-McCoy Feud which has been used as partial justification of much of the prejudice and discrimination toward Appalachians.  Logan County is also the site of the Hatfield Cemetery which holds the graves of most of the members of the Hatfield family at the time of the feud.  It is worthy of designation as a state historic site.   

Statue of Anderson "Devil Anse" Hatfield In The Hatfield Cemetery

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