- Never Justice, Never Peace: Mother Jones and the Miner Rebellion at Paint and Cabin Creeksby Lon Kelly Savage and Ginny Savage Ayers
The West Virginia mine wars remain one of the most startling moments of class conflict in American history and one of the definitive narratives of Appalachia. David Alan Corbin's Life, Work, and Rebellion in the Coal Fields: The Southern West Virginia Miners, 1880–1922(Urbana, 1981) established a high standard on the subject that inspired two generations of scholarship, which has recently seen an upsurge with James Green's The Devil Is Here in These [End Page 726] Hills: West Virginia's Coal Miners and Their Battle for Freedom(New York, 2015) and this latest offering. Although most histories of the era focus on the Matewan massacre and the battle of Blair Mountain in 1920 and 1921 respectively, Never Justice, Never Peace: Mother Jones and the Miner Rebellion at Paint and Cabin Creeksrefreshingly focuses only on the first phase of miner militancy, in 1912–1913, and the leadership of the enigmatic matron of labor struggle, Mother Jones. Like many other accounts of labor struggles, Lon Kelly Savage and Ginny Savage Ayers's account of Paint Creek and Cabin Creek is a story of missed opportunity for workers and of a national status quo dead set against industrial democracy.
Jones was an inspirational figure for miners all over the country, but her presence was also often tactical, given the Victorian invincibility accorded by her sex and age. Miners and their families were at the mercy of their employers, primarily due to the cruelty of the mine guards employed by the Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency, the main strikebreaking organization in West Virginia, and the immensely powerful Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad. A coalition of black, Italian, and Anglo Appalachian miners stood up to the guards' bullying at the Paint Creek Collieries mines in the spring of 1912 and began the first salvo in a conflict that defined life in central Appalachia for generations. The Socialist Party of America, coming off its biggest national vote in American history in the 1912 presidential election, temporarily pinned "high hopes for their party and its ideology" on southern West Virginia as a springboard into other southern states (p. 277). William Glasscock and Henry Hatfield, West Virginia's two Progressive Republican governors, played major roles, the former by declaring martial law multiple times, the latter by promising to serve as a mediator between miners and management—albeit while blatantly violating freedom of the press in his own capital city. In 1913, West Virginia was the crucible of American class conflict.
Savage and Ayers have produced a useful, succinct retelling of the early stages of the mine wars, though without taking any unexpected interpretive turns. Mother Jones often appears heroic, if vainglorious, in their telling, and the authors know better than to take all of her statements and derring-do as gospel. The fact is that the stories of the elderly woman fearlessly facing down Baldwin-Felts mercenaries in 1912, as "fanciful" and full of exaggerated "bravado" on her part as they may have been, marked the moment when "some began to regard her less and less as a sweet old lady and more and more as an uncivil shrew" (pp. 60, 59, 61).
One of the most helpful contributions provided in this volume is a new simple map of Cabin Creek and Paint Creek in southern Kanawha County and northern Raleigh County, West Virginia, and the settlements, encampments, and company towns involved in the strikes in question, a feature absent in a surprising number of similar monographs. But the useful map is only part of a remarkable product of intricate, careful research that stands as the most detailed history of Paint Creek and Cabin Creek now available. Never Justice, Never Peaceis not a major statement on American labor history, but it...