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From Matewan to Welch: One Man's Thirst for Vengeance William Archer History is full ofwell-known events and facts, but at the same time it has a side that often remains the secret of the individuals involved. It was exactly this very personal, very secret side of an important piece of history that I stumbled upon on August 22, 1990. Earlier that year, at the end of May, McDowell County (West Virginia ) Clerk Paul Lambert had been inspecting the courthouse for water damage when he opened the door of a long-forgotten records room and discovered that it contained court documents pertaining to one of the most famous cases in state history—the trial of Baldwin-Felts detectives who had been accused of the murders of Sid Hatfield and Ed Chambers on the steps ofthat courthouse on August 1, 1921. I was excited about this find because most of these records had been thought to be lost, which meant that historical examinations of the shootings and related events had been forced to rely largely on often-romanticized personal recollections and on newspaper accounts. Then, in August, when I was doing a follow-up article on the discovery , Lambert told me that his friend H. C. Lewis, a county commissioner and president of H. C. Lewis Oil Company, had been given some old boxes that had come from the office of another oil company—Felts Transportation. I went to see Lewis, and that afternoon, as we opened the boxes, we realized that we were looking at the personal papers of T. L. Felts, principal partner and general manager of the Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency. The papers appeared to be devoted entirely to the William Archer is a staff writer for the Observer in Bluefield, Virginia. He contributed the article "Jazz in the Mountains?" to the Fall 1991 issue ofAppalachian Heritage. 9 events of the years 1920 and 1921. It was a moment I'll never forget. The shootings in 1921 followed, by more than a year, a battle between members of the fledgling United Mine Workers of America and Baldwin-Felts agents that had broken out in Matewan, in Mingo County, on the afternoon of May 19, 1920. Miners used the town as an organizing center even though it was surrounded by coal company territory and they knew that joining the union would cost them their jobs. After the miners had shut down the nearby Red Jacket mine, the owners had retaliated by ordering their eviction from their companyowned homes. Since the county sheriff, Sid Hatfield, didn't sympathize with the owners, the company brought in a group of Baldwin-Felts detectives (as they were called) to evict the miners by force. After some discussion among Hatfield, Matewan Mayor Cable Testerman, and T. L. Felts's brother Albert (who worked full-time for the detective agency), the detectives were lured onto the railroad tracks near the Norfolk & Western Railway station. A gun battle erupted, and after a period of fierce fighting seven detectives, two striking miners, and Mayor Testerman lay dead on the streets and railroad tracks ofMatewan. For the striking miners, the incident at Matewan marked the turning point in the effort to unionize the mines. For T. L. Felts, it touched off a personal vendetta, which would culminate on August 1, 1921, with the murders of Sid Hatfield and Ed Chambers, and the subsequent acquittal of their accused murderers in December of the same year. The origins of the Baldwin-Felts agency went back to the 1890s, when a Roanoke, Virginia, native, William G. Baldwin, founded the West Virginia Coal and Iron Police to serve as law-enforcement contractors for the Norfolk & Western Railway. He located the office of his agency in the Bluefield, West Virginia, railroad yards, and provided protection services both to the railroad and to the coal-mine owners of the rapidly growing Pocahontas Fuel Company. Around 1895, Baldwin employed Thomas L. Feltz, a young man who came from the area around Galax, Virginia (in 1897 his home address was listed as Ethelfeltz, Virginia, a community that no longer appears on maps of Virginia but is thought to have been in the Galax area). The...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2692-9287
Print ISSN
2692-9244
Pages
pp. 9-15
Launched on MUSE
2014-01-08
Open Access
No
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