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HARLAN COUNTY 1
REPORT OF THE COMMISSION APPOINTED BY GOVERNOR SAMPSON TO INVESTIGATE THE REIGN OF TERROR IN BELL AND HARLAN COUNTIES
WINCHESTER, KENTUCKY, December 3, 1931. To his excellency, Governor FLEM D. SAMPSON,
In the matter of the Labor Troubles in 1931 in the Harlan Coal Fields, Harlan and Bell Counties, Kentucky, between the coal miners, coal operators and the law enforcement officers. J. Smith Hays, Winchester, Kentucky, A. A. Bablitz, Lexington, Kentucky,
Commissioners; Kathryn Brown, Nicholasville, Kentucky, Stenographer, Notary Public; Leila L. Wilhoit, Lexington, Kentucky, Official Court Reporter. Notes on evidence of each witness by A. A. Bablitz, Commissioner. Copy of shorthand report of the Dreiser Commission meeting with the miners on
November 6-7-8, 1931 (Volume IX).
The evidence taken before this commission and the exhibits in nine volumes are filed, referred to, and made a part of this report. We refer to the notes on the evidence of each witness by A. A. Bablitz, Commissioner, appended to this report, and to the copy of the shorthand report of the meetings of the Dreiser Commission with the miners in the Harlan Coal Fields on November 6–7-8, 1931.
We were present at the Dreiser meeting at Wallins Creek on November 8, 1931. On that evening at the Continental Hotel, Pineville, Kentucky, Commissioner Bablitz, on behalf of your commission, requested of Mr. Dreiser personally a copy of the proceedings before his commission, including the speeches made to the miners, and his personal report. Mr. Dreiser promised to furnish your commission a copy, but we have received no copy from him. Mr. Bablitz, of your commission, promised to attach to our report the copy furnished by Mr. Dreiser. The copy filed is all we could obtain. The speeches of Meeks, Donaldson, and Maurer are fairly accurately reported.
The coal operations involved in the labor troubles in 1931 are situated on Straight Creek, Bell County. The trouble in Bell County was between the coal miners and coal operators only. The law enforcement officers were not involved. The trouble in Harlan County was on Wallins Creek, Catrons Creek, Martins Fork, Yocum Creek and Clover Fork, tributaries of Cumberland River. The trouble originated at the Black Mountain Corporation's mines on Yocum Creek and was most intense there and at Evarts two miles below. To a less extent the trouble involved the coal minerx and coal operators on Clover Fork River above and below Evarts, on Catrons Creek, Martins Fork and Wallins Creek. The trouble in Harlan County involved the law enforcement officers.
About the first of the year, 1931, the coal operators at the Black Mountain Corporation's operation and at other operations in the county reduced the wage scale of their employees in and outside of the mines. One or two reductions in the wage scale had been previously made, but so far as we learned they created no trouble. The coal operators say the reduction in the wage scale was necessary if they continued to operate; that the wages paid under the reduced scale of 1931
Hearings on Harlan County were held from Monday, March 22, 1937, until Wednesday, May 5, 1837. The examination of scores of witnesses during the 15 days on which the committee met and the exhibits introduced into the record during the taking of this testimony appear in pts. 9–13.
ranged from $2.00 per day to $10.00 per day, inside and outside the mines, and this is all they can possibly pay; that the operators were losing heavily by operating; that they were operating the mines at about half normal capacity to keep them open and running rather than shut them down, and to keep the men employed and avoid the hardships of idleness. They say it costs about $1.20 to $1.40 to produce one ton of mine run coal under the present wage scale, more under the former higher wage scale; that the coal produced will bring after paying freight in the open market net only 90 cents to $1.10 per ton mine run. They explained the freight rate on coal to the Great Lakes, the gateway to the Northwest, is 35 cents higher than it is from Pennsylvania and Ohio, and competition is sharp in the open market, so they are forced to sell at a loss.
Two of the operations produce and ship coal to a parent company. These operations pay higher wages than other companies selling in the open market. Their officers testified to the price of coal in the open market as did officers of other operations. The reduction of wages about the first of the year 1931 created dissatisfaction among the miners. They did not believe the reduction was necessary as claimed by the operators.
About that time William Turnblazer, President of the Eastern Kentucky and Tennessee District of the United Mine Workers of America, called a meeting of the miners of the district for March 1, 1931, Pineville, Kentucky. Mr. Turnblazer and other high officers of the United Mine Workers of America were present at the meeting. Speeches were made by some of the officers of the United Mine Workers of America. Mr. Turnblazer testified the miners were advised the United Mine Workers were not in position to finance or assist the miners in organizing or in striking against the reduction of wages by the operators. After this meeting the miners returned, and immediately began to organize local units of the United Mine Workers of America. The operators learned of these activities. The Black Mountain operators discharged about 75 of the leaders at that mine from a roll of about 750 employees. At other operations the active organizers were discharged until at least five hundred of the miners belonging to the United Mine Workers' Locals were out of employment.
Very soon after the United Mine Workers began to organize, the representatives of the National Miners Union and the Industrial Workers of the World began to organize their locals also. Nearly all of the miners that came before us had first joined the United Mine Workers and later had joined the National Miners Union and/or the Industrial Workers of the World.
Soon after the discharge of the miners in March and April, 1931, many of them had settled in or about Evarts, Kentucky. The miners who remained at work were in sympathy with those out of employment. Some of them say a strike was called and the miners walked out, or marched. This occurred about the first of April, 1931. The march was from Evarts up Yocum Creek, through Black Moun. tain Coal Camp to a point further up the creek. Mr. Childers, (Vol. V., page 115), testified this was an armed march and other employees at Black Mountain say it was an armed march. Others that testified before us claimed they saw no arms or guns, all agree it was composed of many of the miners, no one estimating the number except Mr. Childers. He estimated the number about 200. About the time of this strike the Black Mountain Corporation demanded the possession of its houses occupied by the discharged or striking miners. Most of the miners vacated, but some of them refused to do so. Forcible detainer suits were brought for possession and judgments of eviction were entered. Warrants for the possession were issued and placed in the hands of J. H. Blair, sheriff, for execution. He or his deputies called upon the defendants and most of them vacated in a short time, the sheriff furnishing a truck to enable them to do so. A few, number not stated, refused to vacate and the sheriff or his deputies evicted them by taking their property out of the houses and delivering possession to the company.
From the evidence, other companies had instituted suits for the possession of their property and the eviction of miners, which suits, so far as we know, resulted in the recovery of the possession without much trouble beyond the regular process of the law. When these suits were to be tried in the Quarterly Court at Harlan quite a number of the miners in sympathy with the defendants, from various operations in the county, attended the trials as a demonstration against the evictions, but no trouble resulted.
Just after the march about the first of April, C. Carpenter, (Vol. I., page 115), went to Evarts to take a piece of machinery. While in Evarts Jim Maynard, Henry Zeagel, Clyde Muckley and Arthur Petrunni took him out of the car, thrust his head between the legs of one of the number, caught his arms and pulled
them around the legs of the man, and some of the persons named beat him unmercifully with a limb from a tree, demanding of him to join the United Mine Workers.
Many other less wrongs were committed by the striking miners, some against W. A. Fiechter, (Vol. I., page 125); Dewey Reynolds, (Vol. I., page 128); Nathan Clark, (Vol. I., page 133); J. B. Griffin, (Vol. I., page 137); Henry Wynn, (Vol. I., page 140); John Wynn, (Vol. I., page 145); and Ě. B. Childers, (Vol. I., page 115).
About this time suit was instituted by the Black Mountain Corporation against many of the striking miners, seeking an injunction against them to prevent them from coming on the property of the company. The injunction was granted and later made perpetual by judgment of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky. This added to the indignation of the miners.
A deputy sheriff, Mr. Pace, had in his hands a warrant for the arrest of some of the striking miners living at Evarts and with a posse went there to execute it. He met resistance and a gun battle ensued in which he was killed. This fight was investigated by the grand jury and is pending in the courts.
A soup house was opened at Evarts to feed the hungry miners and their children and was operated for their benefit. It was blown up soon after it began operating. It is not known who did this. W. T. Tabor says Vincent Bilotta told him an unnamed man came to his place and got nine sticks of coalite on the evening before the destruction of the soup house and the next morning the unnamed man returned four sticks only. It is not known who blew up the soup house. It will surely be investigated by the grand jury.
Joe Cawood, a resident of Evarts, was indicted for murder and placed in jail at Harlan. He was a school trustee at Evarts. The jailer took him to Evarts in custody to meet with the school board. While in the meeting with George Middleton, also a school trustee, two policemen of Evarts, Murl Middleton and Dillard Middleton, came into the room and presented guns on George Middleton and Joe Cawood, threatening to kill them. They desisted or were prevented in some way from doing it. This occurred since the last term of the Harlan Circuit Court and should be investigated by the grand jury now sitting. (Vol. III., page 349 and page 391).
One evening during the trouble John Middleton, a young man, while drunk, went to the home of Elijah Fields in Evarts and got in bed with his boots on. Mr. Fields, who is 66 years old, went down and asked Murl Middleton and Dillard Middleton, policemen, to come and take John Middleton away from his home. They cursed and abused Fields, drew their guns on him, jabbed him with the guns, and kicked him, breaking his ribs. They put Fields in the lock-up where he stayed for quite a while. Later they turned him out. The officers charged the old man with being drunk, which he denied. This occurred since the last grand jury and should be submitted to this grand jury. (Vol. III., page 406).
Mr. L. B. Fuson, 51 years old, a resident of Evarts, Kentucky, native born and a carpenter, having every appearance of a good citizen, testified, in substance, that he had gone on a good many bonds during the strike trouble; that Mose Middleton, Frank White, George Haywood and Eck. Cox, deputy sheriffs, came to his home and charged him with possessing liquor unlawfully. They claimed they saw him throw liquor out of the window; they went around the house and pretended to find a bottle of liquor under a window, producing one.
Fuson says every word of this is untrue; that he had no liquor and threw none out of the window. An examination of the window shows it is and has been permanently screened, and there are no breaks in the screen. Commissioner Bablitz and Captain Barrett examined the window. They say there has been no break in the screen; that it had been on the window for a long time. They took a picture of the window and have it in their possession. The officers, after arresting Fuson, took him before the county judge at Harlan, who, after hearing the evidence, discharged him; they then carried him before Mr. Rollins, United States Commissioner at Pineville, who also discharged him after hearing the evidence.
A Mr. Simpson was found drunk in Evarts, was arrested by Murl Middleton and Dillard Middleton and put in the lock-up in the afternoon or evening. Later, while Simpson was on a couch, he was shot to death through the bars of the lock-up and was found there the next morning. It is claimed no one knows who committed this murder. The Commonwealth's Attorney, while before your Commission, promised he would have a thorough investigation made and have the case presented to the next grand jury, so the guilty parties might be indicted if the evidence obtained is sufficient.
On the 5th of May, 1931, a miner below Evarts had been employed at Black Mountain Corporation and wanted to move to that operation. The Black Mountain Corporation had sent a truck below for the goods and chattels of the miner. Jim Daniels, a deputy sheriff at Black Mountain, telephoned the sheriff at Harlan, he, with a posse, was coming from Black Mountain to guard the miner and his goods through Evarts. The sheriff dispatched more deputies to see the moving safely through. Daniels, with four armed men in an automobile, started down the river. Below Evarts, at the lower edge of Evarts, they found a considerable number of men along the sides of the road. A gun battle ensued in which three of the sheriffs' and one of the opposing party were killed. This killing was investigated by the grand jury and indictments returned. These prosecutions are pending in the courts. NOTE.-Penned notations enclosed in brackets; crossed-out matter in line type.
It is shown by the evidence of R. L. Howard, (Vol. I., page 55), that during the troubles two men by the name of Baldwin and Moore were at the soup kitchen at the swimming pool about one mile above Harlan with other men and women; that Lee Fleenor and Dallas (Lawrence] Howard, deputy sheriffs, drove up, got out and Fleenor shot and killed Baldwin and Moore. The witness, R. L. Howard, was on the coroner's jury and detailed to us the substance of the evidence before that jury. Other witnesses before us referred to this killing from rumors they heard, making it appear to us to have been an unjustifiable homicide. (Note: See evidence of Lizzie Baldwin, Vol. 8, p. 321, and Jeff Baldwin, Vol. 8, p. 326.] This homicide was investigated before the grand jury at the last term, but no indictment was returned. The Commonwealth's Attorney says some of the witnesses were not before the grand jury, and Mr. John B. Gross corroborates this statement. Judge Jones in his evidence says the case was, by proper order at the last term of the court, referred to the grand jury for investigation at the next term.
John B. Gross testified, (Vol. I., page 1), he is a member of the United Mine Workers of America, though not now a miner; that he lives in Harlan and is 50 years old; that he has been jailer and tax commissioner of Harlan County. He says he was at home one evening when Bob Blair, a deputy sheriff, and Joe Morris, supposed to be a deputy sheriff, came to his home and wanted to see him; that he asked if they had a warrant for him and was told they just wanted to talk to him. At their invitation he got in their car to go to the sheriff's office, but they took him up on Ivy Hill north of Harlan, drove back in the woods as far as they could go. One with his pistol in hand got out on one side and the other on the other side of the car; that they told him they were going to kill him, they cursed him and threatened to kill him if he spoke another word in favor of the United Mine Workers. They finally brought him to the sheriff's office. The sheriff told him to quit having anything to do with the United Mine Workers or he would not be responsible for what happened. This witness referred to the killing of Baldwin and Moore at the swimming pool. He was not there, but he saw Fleenor and Howard drive down toward Harlan from where the killing took place. Mr. Gross testified about a civil suit pending in the Harlan Circuit Court between Appleman and Black Mountain Coal Corporation concerning the condemnation of a right-of-way and hung juries in the case. He distrusted the manner of selecting the jury and believed the jury was not regularly selected. He testified a deputy sheriff, Randolph, shot and killed John Chasteen at Three Points Mine on Martin's Fork. Gross was present at the trial in the Circuit Court and saw the jury drawn by the circuit clerk. He observed the conduct of the prosecution by the Commonwealth's Attorney and the counsel for the defendant. He said he was court-wise, had been in court a good deal; that he knew the men of the county, and the jurymen, as well as any man in the county; that from all he could see, the jury was selected to acquit Randolph-and it did so; that he heard the evidence in the case; that it was a cold blooded murder and the acquittal was a miscarriage of justice. He made no specific charge of any kind against Judge Jones. He said the evidence showed Chasteen had been shot in the back; that Randolph had shot and killed three or four men in Harlan County and had wounded some others; that he heard Randolph killed a man in Pike County since he was acquitted; that he had been tried in Pike County and convicted to the penitentiary, but was out on bond pending appeal.
Sheriff Blair said Randolph was not a deputy under him at the time he killed Chasteen, but had been discharged because he was too handy with his pistol. The sheriff denied taking any part in the trial of Randolph, except to perform or have performed his duty as sheriff,