The LaFollette Committee learned a lot about the facts of life in Eastern Kentucky while investigating civil liberties violations in Harlan County. One of the first items of knowledge its members acquired was that Harlan County coal operators not only owned politicians, law officers and coal miners, but that they also owned and governed entire towns. Although they are locally known as coal camps, some of the company towns in Harlan were as large as small cities. Biggest of these was Lynch, which is located at the Eastern end of Harlan County.
In 1937, Lynch — streets, houses, and all public buildings — was owned by U. S. Steel Corporation, through its subsidiary, the United States Coal and Coke Co. Its only public thoroughfare was a highway through the town. Today, Lynch is much like any other small town in the United States. But in 1937 its unhappy inhabitants were isolated from the rest of the world by a system of company surveillance that can only be compared with Russian prison-work camps in Siberia.
All employees of the company who lived in Lynch had to live in company-owned houses. If a miner was laid off or discharged by the Company, he was immediately required to vacate his house. The only stores in Lynch were those owned by the United Supply Company, another U. S. Steel puppet. There were no independent stores within a radius of five or six miles. The company issued scrip to pay wages in advance of payday. This scrip was redeemed by the company from employees and individuals only, but not independent merchants. U. S. Steel wielded absolute power over its employees who lived in Lynch and could deprive them and their families of job, home and purchasing power.
The population of Lynch was between eleven and twelve thousand. It was an unincorporated town, and officials or employees of the company, as ordered by the general superintendent of the mines, administered all affairs of the town. When questioned concerning the reason for Lynch's remaining unincorporated, Harry M. Moses, the general superintendent, stated that the principal reason was economy. He also stated that the company thought it necessary to have control over all the streets and other sections of the community, aside from the State road, because Lynch was essentially a town for the employees of the United States Coal & Coke Company, and there was no means of making a living in Lynch except to work for this company.
The police department of the United States Coal & Coke Company was organized along military lines, consisting in normal times of a captain, a lieutenant, a sergeant, and a number of patrolmen — usually a total of thirteen men. In order that these men might have the power to make arrests or otherwise take action to maintain the peace, three of the men were commissioned as deputy sheriffs and eight as county patrolmen.
The Lynch police force was originally organized by H. A. Chambers, superintendent of police of the H. C. Frick Coke Company, another of the coal-mining subsidiaries of U. S. Steel. The president of H. C. Frick, with headquarters in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, was executive head of all the coal-mining subsidiaries of the United States Steel Corporation. Until April 1936, expense accounts of the Lynch police force had to be sent to Mr. Chambers. Reports by J. R. Menefee, captain of police of U. S. Coal & Coke Company, continued to go to Mr. Chambers until November or December 1936. These expense accounts which were sent to Superintendent Chambers, were approved by C. F. Ruch, assistant to the president of the H. C. Frick Coke Co. Six of the men on the Lynch force came from the H. C. Frick Coke Co. in Pennsylvania and had prior industrial police experience, probably with the infamous "coal and iron police". In addition, the United States Coal & Coke Co. sent its supervisory officers to a police school conducted by the H. C. Frick Coke Co. at its Washington Run mine at Star Junction, Pennsylvania.
The U. S. Steel police in Lynch performed most of the duties that are normally assigned to the office of a public police force in any city. It was the duty of company police to apprehend criminals, and to be constantly on the lookout for certain individuals "billed entirely over the country as criminals." They also made regular sanitary inspections of the town, enforced quarantines and otherwise aided in compelling compliance with health regulations.
Lynch, like all towns in Harlan County, was an isolated community and could be entered by few routes because of the mountainous nature of the terrain surrounding it. It was a comparatively simple task for the company police to check on activities of union organizers when they attempted to operate in Lynch. The United Mine Workers of America began an organizing drive soon after the passage of the National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933. In this first try, the United Mine Workers did not send outside organizers into Lynch. Despite spying and threats by Lynch's company police, a local of the UMWA was organized in July 1933. Because of the fear of its members that they would be discharged if it became known to the company that they were attending union meetings, the local held its first meetings at night in a field outside the city of Cumberland. When the union felt strong enough, it held an open meeting in a hall in Cumberland, which was attended by about five hundred miners. Two members of the Lynch police force and two members of the Benham police force stood outside the hall and noted the men who attended the meeting. Soon thereafter, the company began to summon union members to the office of the mine inspector, a Mr. Henry, where they were told that they would be fired if they joined the union. Preparations were made in July and August of 1933 to bust this drive, when the police department at Lynch bought $657.68 worth of tear gas and tear gas equipment from Federal Laboratories, Inc. In addition, Lynch police bought five hundred 30-30 rifle cartridges. They had forty-one rifles, twenty-one revolvers, and four shot guns already on hand.
Another move by the company to thwart the UMWA was formation of a company union. W. V. Whiteman, then general superintendent of Lynch, called a meeting of all employees. He summarily announced who would run for office and who would conduct the election. Nor were the miners given an opportunity to vote on the question of whether they desired to have a company union. Formation of the company union was followed by a systematic campaign of discriminatory discharges of UMWA members, following which they were immediately evicted from their homes. When the union took two of its cases of discrimination before the Bituminous Coal Labor Board, the company refused to recognize the jurisdiction of the board and ignored the board's order to reinstate the discharged men. The refusal of U. S. Coal & Coke Company to comply with decisions of the Bituminous Coal Labor Board was followed by the discharge of seventy-five more UMWA members, and the local at Lynch had to be dissolved. U. S. Steel in 1933 successfully told the Government to go to hell. The company was not successful with another President in 1962.
The United Mine Workers inaugurated a second organizational drive in Lynch in December 1934. A crew of twelve organizers, under the direction of International Representative Dale P. Stapleton, began an intensified drive in January 1935. The police force at Lynch was increased from its normal roster of thirteen to twenty men. The police again purchased from Federal Laboratories $1,000.20 worth of tear gas and related equipment. In April 1935, after the drive of the United Mine Workers was frustrated, the force was gradually reduced.
The first job for the company police was exclusion of union organizers worn Lynch. In December 1934, William Milton Hall, organizer for the United Mine Workers, together with two of his co-workers, William Miller and John Stines, drove into Lynch. When Hall visited a miner in his home, he was followed by a company policeman and warned:
"Hall, we have told you our last time, this is the fourth time that you have been in this town and you are going to stay out of here." Hall said, "I am very sorry if I am undesirable around here." He said, "You are. We know what you are doing here."
The police also subjected all strangers to strict surveillance; especially those who dared to visit known or suspected union men. Even relatives were not exempted. James Westmoreland, president of the Lynch local, related that police would not allow his sister-in-law, a student at Berea College, to stay at his house while on vacation from school. She was planning to stay a week, but after staying one night, John William Vinson, a deputy, came into the house. He did not give any reason, just told her to be gone by twelve o'clock. She did not believe he meant it, but at twelve o'clock he came back and told her to "get gone" and if she did not, he would put her out. She got in her car and left. Mr. West-moreland's rent was paid, checked out of his wages, and he was not discharged but was still working for the company.
The fact that union organizers were excluded from the streets on which the men lived made it difficult for them to communicate with the miners. In an effort to overcome this obstacle, the organizers utilized a sound truck from which they made speeches from the State Highway. They were not long permitted to use so simple a device. Despite the presence of an officer, an unidentified man walked up to the sound car, while Dale Stapleton was speaking, and broke the wires that ran from the microphone to the loud speaker.
After this took place, Officer Greenlee of the Lynch company police arrested the driver of Mr. Stapleton's car for not having a chauffeur's license, despite the fact that he had an operator's license and a driver's license.
The police even censored reading matter. Mr. Stapleton told the Committee: "The men who were distributing the literature, some of it handbills, some United Mine Workers Journals, were followed to the homes of the miners, and as this literature was given to the people in their homes, the officers followed them directly to the door and would take the literature from the hands of the party who had received it, and destroy it."
But the organizers wouldn't quit. Unsuccessful in their other efforts to approach the miners, the union used an airplane to drop circulars on
Harlan County communities. This was not very successful, for anyone who touched these circulars laid himself open to a sound beating. An affidavit by a miner, Simon Williams, in the Committee's report, stated: "One day in March, 1937, an airplane flew over Harlan County dropping circulars. A Lynch policeman drove up in a car to where we were standing at Frog Level between Benham and Cumberland and asked if there was anyone who would dare pick up the circulars. A colored boy picked up one and the policeman slapped him down and whipped him and run him out and told him to get away and not fool with him. He mistreated the boy something awful."
The activities of Lynch police were not confined to their own town. Mr. Stapleton testified that a meeting had been arranged in the hotel at Appalachia, Virginia, on February 20, 1935, between a group of UMWA organizers and E. H. Rollings worth, president of the company union of United States Coal & Coke Company, to talk over the possibility of a transfer into the United Mine Workers of America of the company union membership. Theodore Roosevelt Clarke, UWMA organizer, testified concerning this meeting. "I was present in the hotel at Appalachia at that time. I was in the next room to Chief Menefee of Lynch. The weather was cold. The room that we were in, the room was No. 204, I believe it was. He was in the next room to us, and there was a connecting door between the two rooms, and we heard somebody talking rather loud in there and it was concerning us organizers in Lynch. So the radiator was right by the door and we were trying to get some heat in the radiator, so after I found out he was talking about us, I made it a point to see who was doing the talking through the keyhole in the door, and straight in front of the keyhole was Chief Menefee, and he was talking to some fellow — I could not see who he was. I could just see his legs and feet. The fellow who was talking to Captain Menefee made this remark, leaving out the cuss words, he said 'Why do you not kill him?' and Chief Menefee said 'We cannot afford to do that.' He said, 'If we do, it will start a Senate investigation here, and we cannot stand that.' So we were sandwiched in there. They had a gang of gunmen between all of our rooms. So the go-between man, Hollingsworth, he came up the fire escape. He said 'For God's sake, get out of here; you are framed.' I asked him how he knew and he said, 'I have seen about twenty-five thugs m town, and some of them are in the hotel now'. I saw a few of them but I did not know any of their names at that time. We immediately got out of the hotel because we thought it was the best policy."
When the Committee questioned Mr. Menefee on this matter, he denied categorically that he had a room at the hotel in Appalachia the night of this meeting. However, he retracted this denial when a copy of his expense account for February 20, 1935, was offered for the record showing that he claimed $1.50 for room rent at Appalachia on this day, and $1.80 for three meals at Appalachia.
In their efforts to combat the United Mine Workers' 1935 organizing drive, the Lynch company police force was helped by Sheriff Middleton and a crew of deputy sheriffs from the western portion of the county. The organizers sought to enter Lynch to conduct a mass meeting on January 6, 1935. They were met by Sheriff Middleton and a group of about 25 deputy sheriffs who prevented them from entering the town. One of the organizers, William Milton Hall, who did get through, managed to give a brief speech before he was seized by the deputies. Mr. Hall identified among the deputy sheriffs present, Ben Unthank, Frank White, and George Lee. A deputy sheriff of Letcher County, Robert Hart, entered Lynch at the time of this union meeting to serve a murder warrant on a person who was said to be at this meeting. As soon as Mr. Hart entered Lynch, Sheriff Middleton’s deputies, who arrested and disarmed him, grabbed him. Several hours later he was released, but only after the deputy sheriffs smashed his gun with a sledgehammer. This assault was probably inspired by the fact that Hart was a member of the United Mine Workers of America.
On February 9, 1935, Sheriff Middleton and his deputies again interfered with the organizing drive in Lynch. The United Mine Workers had rented a building in the incorporated town of Cumberland, which is about a mile and a half from Lynch and Benham, as headquarters for locals in those two towns. On the afternoon of February 9, Sheriff Middleton and a group of ten deputies raided these local union offices and arrested the organizers present. They stayed and continued to arrest organizers as they appeared. In the course of two hours they had arrested a total of 23. These organizers were all searched as they were arrested. They were shown no arrest warrants, and were allowed no bond.
William Milton Hall, one of those arrested, testified: "I was one of those arrested on February 9. I don't know the rest of them. I was not shown a warrant when I was arrested. I asked the Sheriff if we would be allowed to file a bond and he said no, we could not. He did not explain why, just said he would not take a bond, that is all."
The organizers were taken to the jail in Cumberland where they were packed into a cell so tightly — eleven persons in a space two feet by six — that all were compelled to remain standing. Counsel for the
Mine Workers characterized the situation as being similar to that of the Black Hole of Calcutta. Later they were all taken to the county jail in Harlan under the escort of a group of deputy sheriffs. They were kept in jail until February 11, 1935. On the afternoon of the following day, all the men were brought before County Judge Saylor and arraigned on charges of "public nuisance". On the motion of County Attorney Elmon Middleton, all of the charges were dismissed.
However, two of the organizers, William Milton Hall and Tom White were served with warrants in the courtroom, charging them with the use of boisterous language and provoking an assault on another. Hall was given a jury trial at which a colored driver for the United States Coal & Coke Company testified that Hall had sworn at him. On the basis of this testimony, Hall was fined ten dollars and costs. The case against Tom White was dropped on condition that he would stay out of the county. The United Mine Workers protested vigorously to Governor Ruby Lafoon against these malicious arrests on trumped-up charges for vagrancy. The Governor issued a special order to the Kentucky National Guard setting up a special commission to investigate the state of unrest that existed in Harlan County. Brigadier General Henry H. Denhardt headed the Commission and it was on the basis of the findings of this Commission that Governor Laffoon issued his charges against Sheriff Middleton.
At that time, Tom White was International Board member from UMWA District 13 in Iowa. I was a District Board member in Iowa. When Tom came back and told the story of his experiences to the boys in Iowa, he did not tell us he was scared. He had us believing that he was enjoying his duty in Bloody Harlan. But when I later talked with the boys who were with him in 1935, I found out that they were all frightened and that Tom was reluctant to leave the jail. He said it was the only safe place in Harlan County.
In the language of a detective, "rough shadowing" means to keep a man under open surveillance in such a manner that not only he knows he is being followed, but anyone he meets becomes aware of it, too. James Westmorland testified that as soon as he was elected president of the UMW local in Lynch in 1933, he was treated as follows: "After we organized this union and got a substantial number of members, and I was elected president of the local, I was not able to carry on my duties and activities and responsibilities as president of the local. Whenever I would come up out of the mines, a policeman would meet me at the mouth and follow me to the bathhouse and stand over me in the bathhouse. He would not allow me to speak to anybody; followed me to the store or home, or wherever I went, and those policemen would be right with me. This prevented me from speaking to the other members of the union. I knew it would be futile and place those in an embarrassing position, on the part of those that I would speak to; therefore, I never did say anything. The deputies that followed me around were Victor Creech, Captain Russell, John Yelenovsky, Frank Smith and William Vincent. They followed me from the mouth of the mine into the bathhouse and stood there while I was taking a bath, and they followed me when I went to the store or anyplace else. These police just walked up and down in front of my house — two of them — taking a turn about; one in the night and one in the day. My friends could not visit me or they would be placed where they would be liable for a discharge.
Evidence of the existence of a spy system in Lynch, Kentucky was found by the Committee through examination of the expense accounts of Captain Joseph R. Menefee, of the Lynch police force. These expense accounts showed that shortly before the 1935 organizing drive in Lynch, Mr. Menefee had rented post office boxes at Norton, Virginia, headquarters of the UMW organizers carrying on the drive, and at Appalachia, Virginia, just across the line from Harlan County, another base from which the organizers operated. When the Committee asked why he had rented these boxes, Mr. Menefee was unable to explain, but finally admitted that his men were doing espionage work, and received their orders by mail. In view of all these activities of the company police in the company town of Lynch, it is easy to understand the complete failure of the attempts of the United Mine Workers to organize the miners of Lynch, in spite of many years of effort, until the company changed its labor policy. These conditions lasted as long as the United States Steel Corporation and its subsidiary, The United States Coal and Coke Company, were opposed to the recognition of bona fide unions and attempted to eradicate them from the communities in which they operated. The restrictions on organizational efforts continued at least until March 1937. John Young Brown, Attorney for District #30 of the United Mine Workers, related a conversation with the superintendent and the captain of police on March 6, 1937, as follows:
"I got to Gary, West Virginia, at about five o'clock Saturday afternoon, March 6 of this year, and had a conference with Mr. Henry Moses and Captain Menefee. Mr. Michael Carrell (U. S. Steel labor relations man) had come over to Gary, and he was there when I got there and Mr. John Hanratty, who was in charge of the Pikeville office of the United Mine Workers, went over with me and also a young organizer by the name of Tom Raney from Pikeville, Kentucky, who drove us over there while we had the conference. I told Mr. Moses that my purpose there was to see if we could not get permission for the organizers to walk along the side street, and to ring doorbells and to peacefully talk to members of the organization about coming into the United Mine Workers. He told me that the policy of the company had not changed any. I had previously told him that it was our information that since the signing of the steel contract with the C I O that we would not be met with the same resistance that we had previously met in Lynch, Kentucky. He told me that he had no notice of any change in the policy of the company, and he stated that their policy would be the same as it had always been. I said 'Do you mean by that, that if our organizers are on your company property on any of these side streets, that they will be arrested for trespassing?' He said, 'for trespassing, or such other offenses as they may commit.
The trouble at Lynch was soon over. With the signing of a contract with the Steel Workers Organizing Committee in 1937, covering the plants of United State Steel Corporation, the mining subsidiaries were subject to pressure from the parent companies to fall in line. The H. C. Frick Coke Company, a subsidiary of the United States Steel Corporation, signed a contract with the United Mine Workers of America in April 1937. The United States Coal & Coke Company in Lynch also signed a contract covering the union's own membership with the United Mine Workers of America in the summer of 1938. Thus one motive behind the suppression of civil liberties no longer existed, and the police department of the United States Coal & Coke Company could confine its activities to the simple and essential object of guarding property and life, against encroachments by lawbreakers. Evidence indicated that the worst aspects of Lynch had been alleviated for the time being, as a result of the recognition of the right of the organization.
Blood in Harlan
The LaFollette Committee on Civil Liberties had read the newspapers and was aware Harlan County was no place for a timid soul. But the fighting little Progressive from Wisconsin had fought for this investigation in the Harlan coalfields and would not back down. Much of the testimony sickened him, but he and the Committee members and staff worked diligently until the job was done. Their lengthy report was a nation-wide sensation, and public indignation eventually made the Harlan coal operators realize that mass murders might be going out of style, even in Harlan.
In this chapter I will briefly relate some of the activities of gunmen in Harlan. All of this information can be verified by reading the report of the LaFollette Committee. The gun thugs told of in these chapters were, of course, mere hirelings of the rich operators. But do not pity them. They deserve nothing but contempt, for they were as sorry a group of characters as ever strutted briefly in the public eye.
The stage was set for a blood bath in Harlan when President Roosevelt in 1933 signed the National Industrial Recovery Act, which guaranteed workers the right to organize into unions and bargain collectively. District 19 of the UMWA, which included Harlan County, immediately, started an organizing drive. Lawrence "Peggy" Dwyer was assigned in June 1933 to act as organizer in charge in Harlan County to secure new members. Proceeding cautiously at first, for fear of suffering violence at the hands of deputies employed by the coal operators, "Peggy" and his aides soon picked up steam. At the end of four months, the union was strong enough to compel the coal operators affiliated with the Harlan County Coal Operators Association to sign an agreement with the UMWA, effective October 2, 1933, and extending to March 31, 1934. The agreement was binding only upon members of the Harlan County Operators Association who employed members of the United Mine Workers of America. At that time, there were approximately two thousand miners in Harlan County who had joined the union. The union met with bitter resistance from the Association. It raised emergency funds for us in "resisting the efforts to organize the county." Ben Unthank, who at that time was a deputy sheriff under John Henry Blair, handled this money High Sheriff of Harlan County. Unthank, who was an expert thug, preceded to carry on a campaign of terror against the organizers. In this Deputy Sheriffs Frank White and George Lee ably assisted him.
In the summer of 1933, Unthank approached Larkin Baker, assistant organizer under Dwyer, and bribed him to act as a spy for the Harlan County Coal Operators Association. Baker reported to Unthank on activities of the union, based on information which he obtained in his work as organizer, and later in his position as labor vice president of the Kentucky State Federation of Miners. He received $75 a month plus expenses from Unthank, the payment being handled through John Surgener, a merchant in Harlan town, whose son was married to Unthank's daughter. At the same time, Unthank also hired Chris Patterson, an unemployed miner who had been crippled in a mine accident to spy for him. Patterson had lost a leg and had his back broken, but had drawn very little workmen's compensation. He had also been an organizer for the Communist-led National Miners Union. A third man employed by Unthank at the same time was Richard C. Tackett, a former Baldwin-Felts professional strike breaker, who had been commissioned as a deputy sheriff under John Henry Blair. These three men, under the leadership of Unthank, assisted in a determined course of action to stop the organization of mine workers. The first step in their conspiracy was to eliminate the chief organizer, "Peggy" Dwyer, by threatening his life.
The initial attack against Mr. Dwyer came three weeks after the beginning of the union drive in June 1933. Mr. Dwyer went into Harlan County for the purpose of visiting the local union at the mining camp at Liggett. Larkin Baker notified George S. Ward, secretary of the Harlan County Coal Operators' Association, of Dwyer's intended trip. On his return from Liggett, Dwyer, accompanied by Jim Bates and Bob Childers of the United Mine Workers, was driving along a winding road four miles from the city of Harlan. While passing beneath a cliff covered by a clump of bushes, a volley of shots hailed from the top of the cliff and sprayed bullets over the car. A local gun thug, the same Marion "Two-Gun" Alien who was bodyguard for Judge D. C. "Baby" Jones, was standing by his car along the highway and gave the signal to Unthank's bushwhackers by firing a shot in the ground. In describing the ambush to the Committee, Dwyer recalled: "The first shot struck the glass four inches from my face, throwing the glass all over me, and then shots just ripped into the car, the side of the car, and all around. The young man I had driving the car, Mr. Reed, kind of lost control of the car and it started off the road, and I grabbed the wheel and straightened it, and I patted him on the back and said, 'Gloster, don't get excited/ and just as I said that, one of the men in the back seat, Bob Childers, shouted out to me, 'Peggy, I am shot in the back.' I said, 'Oh, no.' In just the next breath Jim Bates, the other man said, 'I am shot in the hip. After about a space of two hundred feet, I guess, I got the car straightened, the wheels straightened, and I looked back, and as I looked back I saw the man coming from that cliff and bushes onto the highway. They had a car parked there. I recognized one of the men positively; that one that I recognized was Ben Unthank, and I would not be positive — but I think the other was Frank White."
This time the organizers escaped with only two casualties. Dwyer was still unharmed. But a month later the attack on him was resumed. His home at that time was located in Pineville, about eighteen miles from Harlan County. He told the Committee that in September 1933: "... I was stopping in the Parrott's apartment in Pineville. At about 2:40 in the morning we had a dynamite explosion that tore up the house I was stopping in, broke all of the windows in all of the houses in that community, but I was not injured.
Chris Patterson testified that Larkin Baker and his wife had told him that Baker had set off the dynamite near the house, acting under Unthank's instructions. The dynamite was furnished by Unthank who paid Baker a hundred dollars for doing the job. Baker denied any connection with the dynamiting; however, he testified that after it took place, he "took alarm" at his job and attempted to break away from Unthank. He said:
"After the explosion went off in Pineville, why, I quit the job, and Unthank, he never stopped from time to time until he got me out away from home, and at Pineville over there where he could talk with me again, and I dodged him as much as possible, and then when he did get hold of me and when we did get away from town at the end of the woods where we could talk, I told him that I had quit, and he had my pay day, a couple of my pay days in his pocket, and he insisted on me taking it and continuing on. I tried to get loose and I couldn't; he would not allow it. He told me that he would expose me, lay the dynamiting on to me if he seen fit to. That was the first time. And I could not get away from him."
Unthank was undaunted by failure in his first two attempts to eliminate Dwyer. In November, Larkin Baker was sent to Pineville to make a sketch of the apartment in which Mr. Dwyer was living. Then, on November 24, 1933, Baker, Patterson, Tackett, and Unthank went to Pineville. They "floated around the beer rooms and messed around there until it got about 12 o'clock". And then, under cover of night, they went to Dwyer's house and again dynamited it. "Peggy" Dwyer was thrown out of bed, but his good luck held. He received only minor injuries. Chris Patterson testified that he obtained the dynamite from Unthank and gave it to R. C. Tackett to set off. Tackett claimed that the others had set off the dynamite because he had pretended to be too drunk to do the job. Baker admitted receiving fifty dollars for his part in the dynamiting, and Patterson testified that he had received a hundred dollars from Unthank, fifty dollars of which he turned over to Tackett.
While Unthank and his fellow conspirators were plotting to murder Dwyer in Pineville, the union was encountering similar hazards in Harlan County itself. In the summer of 1933, a preacher, B. H. Moses, who lived in a church at Black Bottom, near the mines of the Cornett-Lewis Coal Company and the Clover Splint Coal Company, had permitted union members to meet in his church. Moses told the Committee what happened to him in retaliation: “There were four sticks of dynamite placed in the building. My wife and four children were there sleeping. I was away from home at the time and the next day I returned home, and my little daughter went into the church building. You see, there were rooms that I lived in beside the part that we used for a church, and the little girl went in the building and found the dynamite in there, and she came running out and told me there was something in the church house, and I went in there and I found four sticks of dynamite with fifty foot of fuse, burned within about eighteen inches of the cap, and it went out. There had been a mass meeting supposed to be on a vacant lot the day before we found. This dynamite, and at the time of the mass meeting it was raining and they asked me to turn them in the building, and I did so, and that night the dynamite was placed in the building."
He appealed to the Sheriff for protection. Several days later, Alien Bowlin, a deputy sheriff, warned him that his life was in danger from the two companies". Mr. Moses described the atmosphere of terror surrounding the church: "I went in home one morning and a few minutes after I walked into the house, a lady came crying and said that her husband told her to come and see me as quick as I can that they were aiming to kill me. The men that were my friends, men that were laying in the weeds around my house at night to protect me, they told me it was getting so hot, they thought it was best for me to get away for awhile". Mr. Moses left his church and moved into the Black Mountain camp. A few days after he left, the church building was dynamited and completely destroyed.
High Sheriff John Henry Blair and his deputies also took an active part in the continual harassing of miners attending organization meetings. The first union meeting for the miners of Harlan County took place June 1933, at Pineville, in Bell County. The meeting could not be held in Harlan because of fear of the gun thugs. According to the testimony of Mr. Dwyer, deputy sheriffs from Bell County had to be posted on the road to keep Harlan County deputy sheriffs away from Pineville. They stopped "two or three cars on the outside of the city, and the cars had gunmen, deputy sheriffs in them, loaded with rifles, shotguns and pistols." "They didn't enter Pineville," Dwyer said. In July 1933, Theodore R. Middleton was chief of police of the town of Harlan and was a candidate for the office of High Sheriff. To obtain the miners' support, he promised protection to them if they held their meetings within the corporate limits of Harlan Town. When a meeting of the miners was arranged, he roped off the streets and five thousand people assembled undisturbed under his protection. Middleton also attended another meeting held by the miners at the town of Evarts on October 1, 1933, and stood guard next to the speaker. In spite of his presence however, a volley of high-powered rifle shots fired from a nearby hillside broke up the meeting. The persons who fired the shots were not apprehended. As previously recounted, these and other acts of violence and terrorism throughout the county aroused the citizens against the administration to the point where they elected Middleton as Sheriff.
When the new administration took office, it gave promise of living up to its pro-union campaign pledges. One of the first acts of the new High Sheriff was to arrest Ben Unthank, Larkin Baker, Chris Patterson, R. C. Tackett and John Surgener on January 1, 1934. They were charged with conspiring to dynamite "Peggy" Dwyer's home at Pineville in November 1933. The Harlan County Coal Operators Association came to their defense. An attorney named Harvey Fuson appeared as their counsel. In part payment for his services, Baker gave Fuson two hundred and fifty dollars, which had been given to him by Unthank. Baker, Patterson and Tackett continued to receive their regular stipends from the Harlan County Coal Operators Association while they were in jail. All five defendants were indicted and Patterson came up for the first trial on March 2, 1934. He was found guilty and sentenced to ten years in the penitentiary. Following the conviction of Patterson, the prosecution failed to press the other cases, and they were filed away.
This brief interlude of reform came to an abrupt end. Rumor drifted to the miners that the Sheriff was intending to reappoint Unthank and the other "road-killers" as deputy sheriffs. Dwyer went to see the Sheriff and discovered to his dismay that the rumor was true. Sheriff Middleton hung his head and told him: "Well, Peggy, I was forced to do it on obligations I entered into during the primary." Unthank, still under indictment, and his cohorts were reappointed by Sheriff Middleton and confirmed by the County Judge, Morris Saylor, who had also swept into office on the "reform" ticket. The October 1933, contract of the United Mine Workers with members of the Harlan County Coal Operators' Association expired March 31, 1934, and was extended for one month. When the operators refused further extensions of the contract, members of the United Mine Workers ceased work. In Louellen, company town of the Cornett-Lewis mines, eviction notices were served on strike leaders, and on May 19, 1934, the president of the local, Marshall A. Musick, was arrested by five deputy sheriffs, including Unthank, Frank White and George Lee, and was arraigned on a charge of criminal syndicalism. After being confined for nine and a half hours, he was finally released on a $5,000 bond. On May 21, Mr. Musick was brought to trial. At the trial Judge Saylor informed Mr. Musick that Superintendent Lawson of the Cornett-Lewis Co. was willing to dismiss the case against him as well as all the pending eviction cases if the men went back to work. The necessity for a decision on this offer was obviated, however, by the news from District President Turn-blazer that the Harlan County Coal Operators' Association contract with the UMWA had been renewed until March 31, 1935, and the men could go back to work. Mr. Musick was promptly released.
When Marshall Musick was arrested, he was entering the church to preach a funeral sermon of a brother coal miner. He explained to Unthank that the deceased had requested that he preach his funeral sermon. He invited the deputies to attend the funeral with him and said he would be willing to go with them after the services. Unthank said, "To hell with you. Tell it to the Judge." The miner was buried without ceremony.
Although the United Mine Workers of America succeeded in renewing its contract with the Harlan County Coal Operators' Association, the union made no gains in membership in Harlan County. Coal operators continued to interfere with the right of union organizers to talk to the miners. Pearl Bassham admitted that he did not permit union organizers to enter his company town. Drastic measures were taken by Mr. Bassham to discourage union activity in his camp. He hired his own group of strong-arm men, who were assigned the task of harassing and beating union organizers and union members.
The first union meeting for the miners of Harlan County took place June 1933, at Pineville, in Bell County. The meeting could not be held in Harlan because of fear of the gun thugs. According to the testimony of Mr. Dwyer, deputy sheriffs from Bell County had to be posted on the road to keep Harlan County deputy sheriffs away from Pineville. They stopped "two or three cars on the outside of the city, and the cars had gunmen, deputy sheriffs in them, loaded with rifles, shotguns and pistols." "They didn't enter Pineville," Dwyer said.
In July 1933, Theodore R. Middleton was chief of police of the town of Harlan and was a candidate for the office of High Sheriff. To obtain the miners' support, he promised protection to them if they held their meetings within the corporate limits of Harlan Town. When a meeting of the miners was arranged, he roped off the streets and five thousand people assembled undisturbed under his protection. Middleton also attended another meeting held by the miners at the town of Evarts on October 1, 1933, and stood guard next to the speaker. In spite of his presence, however, a volley of high-powered rifle shots fired from a nearby hillside broke up the meeting. The persons who fired the shots were not apprehended.
As previously recounted, these and other acts of violence and terrorism throughout the county aroused the citizens against the administration to the point where they elected Middleton as Sheriff.
When the new administration took office, it gave promise of living up to its pro-union campaign pledges. One of the first acts of the new High Sheriff was to arrest Ben Unthank, Larkin Baker, Chris Patterson, R. C. Tackett and John Surgener on January 1, 1934. They were charged with conspiring to dynamite "Peggy" Dwyer's home at Pineville in November 1933. The Harlan County Coal Operators Association came to their defense. An attorney named Harvey Fuson appeared as their counsel. In part payment for his services, Baker gave Fuson two hundred and fifty dollars that had been given to him by Unthank. Baker, Patterson and Tackett continued to receive their regular stipends from the Harlan County Coal Operators Association while they were in jail. All five defendants were indicted and Patterson came up for the first trial on March 2, 1934. He was found guilty and sentenced to ten years in the penitentiary. Following the conviction of Patterson, the prosecution failed to press the other cases, and they were filed away.
Their activities under Mr. Bassham's bidding were supplementary to the efforts of other deputies under the leadership of Ben Unthank. Bassham recruited his "thugs" on the basis of their reputation for violence. A lengthy criminal record was all the recommendation needed for a job. In June 1933, he brought Bill C. "Thug" Johnson from West Virginia. Johnson had worked as a strike guard for the Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency and had, on two occasions, been indicted for murder. Johnson's reputation as a tough had preceded him to Harlan County. He was made a "cut boss" (section foreman) and was instructed to "fire all union men" at the Harlan Wallins mine. In addition, while in the pay of the company, Johnson gave much time to "thugging" under the direction of Merle Middleton, a deputy sheriff paid by Mr. Bassham and a cousin of Sheriff Theodore R. Middleton. Johnson explained his duties to the LaFollette Committee:
"Thugging is hunting organizers and union men the same as you hunt deer, except I never did kill nobody — in Harlan County. When I went to work with Jim Matt Johnson, we were hunting union men. I was told that we would catch them and take them out and bump them off. There was a whole crowd of us. We could call a crowd of from fifteen to twenty-five, pretty quick."
The Jim Matt Johnson referred to was no relation to "Thug" Johnson, but he was also a professional Baldwin-Felts strikebreaker from West Virginia. Both Johnsons were big men, ugly in looks and disposition. They were big enough to beat up most men and mean enough to shoot anyone in the back if the pay was right.
By the summer of 1934, Harlan County miners were again at the mercy of armed gangs of tough hirelings of the coal operators. Unthank and his assistant goons, Frank White and George Lee, led one band of men chiefly composed of deputy sheriffs. Merle Middleton headed Pearl Bassham's thug gang and he was known as "chief thug." At first the camps where union members lived were not interfered with, but the miners were not permitted to hold public meetings. Organizers were ambushed on the highways as they attempted to drive through the county on union business. From 1934 to 1937, Bassham's deputies, particularly White, were assigned to duties as "shack rousters." The "shack rouster" invaded the homes of the miners every Monday morning, without a warrant, with a bullwhip. If a man was found in bed, he was presumed to be drunk or hung over, and was whipped out of bed and marched to work. I personally have talked to men who were forced to go to work suffering from pneumonia, appendicitis or rheumatism.
In June 1934, the union called a mass meeting to be held near Verda, Pearl Bassham's company town, to encourage miners to join the union. Union members in other coal towns started toward Verda to attend the meeting. Immediately the gangs went into action. Lee and White, and a band of deputies appeared at Verda, on orders from Sheriff Middleton. The Harlan-Wallins gang led by Merle Middleton, supplemented their forces. "Thug" Johnson said:
"We had orders to keep organizers and union men and all automobiles out of Verda and patrol the road and turn them back from each way. This road comes two ways, you understand — coming down and coming up — and I was down the road sometimes and up the road sometimes." This "Thug" Johnson character may not have had much command of the English language, but he sure had that road figured out. It ran two ways — up and down — and I'm sure that after "Thug" puzzled over that, he had to let his brain rest for a week or two from overstrain.
One group of union men walked down the right-of-way of the railroad leading from the Black Mountain camp toward Verda. B. H. Moses, the preacher, told the Committee that when they reached the Kildav camp near Verda, they were met by deputies: . . There was somewhere I suppose in the neighborhood of 75 or 80 men in the crowd of so-called peace officers that were armed with pistols, shot guns and rifles." From the road above the embankment, the deputies poured out of cars brandishing pistols and guns, turned the miners back and herded them to the Draper camp. One of the deputies, Ted Creech, who was also superintendent of the Creech Coal Company of which his father was president, was carrying a sub-machine gun. He testified that he could "not recall back that far", but he claimed his memory served him well enough to deny under oath that he ever had a sub-machine gun or machine gun in his hands in Harlan County. However, Mr. Creech's machine gun attracted the attention of some of the other members of the gang. Deputy Sheriff Hugh Taylor recalled the machine gun very vividly and "Thug" Johnson had the following recollection concerning Mr. Creech's weapons:
"He took me to a car —-1 don't know whether it was his car or not, but a car — and showed me over some guns. One was a machine gun.” Shortly thereafter, in June 1934, the miners attempted to hold another union meeting in Harlan County. W. P. Merrell, former Governor of Kentucky, was invited to address the gathering. Once more the deputy sheriffs, led by George Lee, and the "thug gang" of Merle Middleton prevented the miners from passing along the public highways to reach the meeting.
Marshall A. Musick, a minister of the gospel, who had lived in Harlan County for 14 years, and was then employed by the Cornett-Lewis Coal Company at Louellen, was proceeding to the meeting with a group of approximately 50 miners when they encountered a band of 17 deputy sheriffs and "thugs" at a railroad crossing near High Splint. As in the attack at Verda, carloads of deputies drove up to the miners, and unloaded and proceeded with drawn weapons to drive the miners back. The miners scattered and ran up the roalroad tracks that were beside the highway; but many were overtaken by the deputies and were severely kicked and beaten. Lee came upon Mr. Musick and jabbed him with his automatic rifle, fracturing a hipbone, which rendered him helpless. Merle Middleton then rushed in and proceeded to kick him, repeatedly, across the entire railroad right-of-way, which were three tracks wide at that point. "Thug" Johnson testified that Merle Middleton had brought his thug gang with him, first arming them with shotguns and rifles taken from the office of the Harlan Wallins Coal Corporation. "Thug" said he got the following instructions: "My orders are not to let nobody stop. I was to keep them from going on the road and tear all the signs down that were posted. I pulled some signs down myself."
Johnson said he watched as Merle Middleton was kicking one man, and testified that Middleton cried:
"Whoop 'em up, Johnson!" meaning, according to Johnson, "He wanted it done in a bigger hurry."
The Rev. Carl E. Vogel, at that time minister of the Cornett Memorial Methodist Church, in Harlan town, who described it as follows, witnessed the incident:
"And while on my way, just as I approached the railroad crossing on the highway at Benito, Kentucky, the road was blocked, with the exception of perhaps enough room for one car to pass on my left; and I pulled up behind the cars that were parked there and observed that there was something of more or less a riot or disturbance taking place on the highway, and I watched for possibly four or five minutes, and when another car of deputy sheriffs passed by and happened to see me, knowing of my presence there, they went up to the head of the line of cars, and upon arriving at the head of the line of cars, they immediately got out and flagged me by, and I drove by in low and observed what was taking place as best I could. The deputy sheriffs were driving back on that public highway a group of miners in their shirtsleeves who were coming down toward Benito. They were driving them back up the valley toward Clover Splint and High Splint and Louellen. The deputy sheriffs were armed with rifles and pistols. The miners were not armed. No physical resistance had been offered by any miner under my observation, but I did see the deputy sheriffs use their weapons at least in one instance. A deputy had a gun and whipped toward a man, striking him evidently in the face, for as I saw the man's face, it was bleeding. I was told that these men were going to Shields, Kentucky, to what they called a union speaking, and that the deputies were opposing their attendance at that meeting and were not permitting them to go. This happened on a public highway."
In the summer of 1934, William Turnblazer, President of District 19, to assist Dwyer, added three local organizers to the Harlan County staff. James Westmoreland, a former employee of the United States Coal & Coke Company at Lynch, was appointed to assist the locals at the eastern end of the county. Marshall A. Musick was assigned to locals in the center of the county. William Clontz, a former employee of the Creech Coal Company and a resident of Wallins Creek, was directed to assist organization work in the western end of the county. The efforts of these men to assist the local unions made them targets for the attacks of the "thugs" and deputy sheriffs. As soon as he was appointed a paid organizer, Musick was dismissed by the Cornett-Lewis Coal Company, where he was employed as a checkweighman by the miners, and was evicted from his home in the company town of Louellen. He moved his family to a house at Evarts, an incorporated town near the mines of the Black Mountain Corporation. His duties required him to travel around the county, visiting local unions and advising them on their problems. He testified that wherever he went, he was continually followed by deputy sheriffs and ordered out of company towns. At times, to avoid his pursuers, he resorted to disguises.
Musick said: "I have artificial teeth — a false set of teeth — and I carried with me in the car a bank cap (miner's helmet) and an overall jacket, and when I was trapped by a bunch of these deputies, I removed my teeth and blackened my face with some dirt off this bank cap, and put the bank cap on, in order to disfigure myself so that they could not identify me, and a number of times I slipped out of the trap because there Was a bunch of deputies on either end of the highway. " I had several occasions when I was forced to stay away from home at night. I generally stayed until along toward daylight or late in the night, until the road became clear, so that I could get back to my home. I would sometimes stay with the miners."
For attempting to assist miners to exercise their rights of self-organization for collective bargaining, guaranteed to them by a Federal statute, organizers in Harlan County were forced to steal around the public highways like hunted animals, which they were. This analogy was one which Sheriff Theodore R. Middleton himself found apt. Addressing a group of deputies and thugs at his office in Harlan, in the fall of 1934, Sheriff Middleton jocosely remarked that "it was open season on organizers". The suggestions were taken seriously. Ben Unthank contacted Larkin Baker, who was still on his payroll in the fall of 1934, and ordered him to hire a man to assassinate Lawrence Dwyer, chief organizer for the union. He gave Baker a Winchester shotgun and promised him seven or eight hundred dollars if he was able to find a man to commit the murder. Baker found a man, but he insisted on being paid in advance, so after prolonged haggling, the deal fell through. In the fall of 1934, Unthank also offered $100 to Lawrence Howard, a grocery clerk at Wallins Creek, if he would shoot into the house of organizer William Clontz, a near neighbor of Howard's. Howard refused. The following day, George Lee, who was driving through Wallins Creek, picked him up and Lee repeated to him Unthank's proposal and offered to furnish a gun if he would accept. Howard refused again. Lee then said, "Well, we will have to do it ourselves." Howard also said that he heard a volley of shots fired into Clontz's house the following night. He went out on the porch and a car came down the road from the direction of Clontz's house and ran over and killed his dog. The occupants of the car got out and threw the dog out of the road over into the neighbor's yard. He identified the men as Unthank, Lee and Frank White.
The shots heard by Mr. Howard riddled the Clontz home. Clontz was out of town at the time, but his wife and son were sleeping in the house. On his return, he found the following damage done:
"There were ten shots fired through the house, going through the front, through the middle walls — the plastered walls — into the third wall and into the dining room; four bullets going into my boy's bedroom, one just above his body, one under his body, and one under his head, and one under his pillow, missing his head something like an inch or an inch and a half, and splitting the mattress open; and I took a .45 bullet out of the mattress under the boy's head." Clontz appealed in vain to Sheriff Middleton for protection. His conversation with the sheriff was reported to the LaFollette Committee: "I then pleaded with him to come down and help me investigate, and he refused me. I said, 'you being the High Sheriff of Harlan County and under obligation, you are supposed to give protection to the citizens of Harlan County. I am a citizen and a taxpayer, and I have never been in jail, and I think it is your duty to come down and help me investigate it.' He said, T am not coming.' And I said to him, 'what do you aim for me to do? — You being the Sheriff — and I just ask you, what do you aim for me to do?' He said, 'The only thing I know for you to do is to leave the County.' And I said, 'I refuse to leave the County under your authority or anyone else. I am a taxpayer and a citizen of this County, and have been here since 1913, and I refuse to leave under those orders'." Clontz and Howard also testified that the miners at Creech mine at Twila held an election and elected Doctor Lagram as camp doctor. The Company refused to accept him because the Creech family wanted to keep the doctor they already had. A short time later, Dr. Lagram's car was blown up with dynamite. He took the hint and sought employment elsewhere.
Unthank then renewed his attacks on union locals. In the first week of November 1934, the local at the Cornett-Lewis Coal Co., at Louellen, was broken, setting a pattern, which soon became all too familiar in the County. According to James Westmoreland, the UMWA's trouble began when R. E. (Uncle Bob) Lawson, general manager of the mine, had threatened to discharge miners who were in debt to the company if they signed authorizations for checking off their union dues from their wages. At the end of October 1934, the company discharged 55 men, apparently without cause, and replaced them with new help. When he attempted to adjust the grievance, Westmoreland reported that Lawson told him: "I am not going to have anything to do with the union." The local voted to strike in protest. The following day Westmoreland drove to the mine, where he found a group of 15 or 16 deputies patrolling the company town. The Unholy Three, Unthank, Lee and White, followed his car and forced him to leave town. While driving through, he testified, he saw the deputies armed with revolvers and shotguns, dragging men out of their homes and forcing them to go to work. During the strike the vice president of the Union, John Smith, a Negro, who was also checkweighman for the miners, was kidnapped and beaten by Lee, White and Merle Middleton.
"Uncle Bob" Lawson stated that the striking miners were attempting to picket the mine. He described the picket line as peaceful and ineffective, stating that the miners returned to work in increasing numbers. With a straight face, he denied that the men were forced back to work or that there were an unusual number of deputies present, although he recalled seeing Deputy Sheriffs George Lee and Frank White. He further testified that he was a "college chum" of Ben Unthank, having known him for 30 years, but that he did not know as a matter of fact whether or not Ben Unthank was employed by the Harlan County Coal Operators' Association, having never discussed his work with him during their frequent meetings together. The Committee's judgment of this was: "This statement is so inherently improbable as to discount the reliability of Mr. Lawson's testimony." Failure of the strike whipped the union. Lawson summoned the men into the company theatre and had them vote on whether or not they wanted to belong to the United Mine Workers of America. He testified that the men "with a secret ballot voted 267 to 5 that they did not want any union there." He described the "secret ballot" as follows: —
"They were given a blank piece of paper on which they voted yes or no and then they signed their names to it." John Smith, the vice president of the striking local, on the day following his kidnapping and beating, while still barely able to walk, came to see Westmoreland in the Town of Cumberland. They went to Harlan Town together to seek justice from Elmon Middleton, the County Attorney. At the courthouse they were met by the sheriff. According to Mr. Westmoreland, this is what followed:
"The Sheriff, the High Sheriff of Harlan County, called me over to him and he said, 1 know what you are looking for'. He said 'You are looking for Elmon Middleton, and he is not here.' And he says, to stow, Jim, you take that damn nigger and get him out of this courthouse and out of the County.' He said, 'If you don't, he is going to be killed.' That is the words he said to me. He stated this at the same individual time, he said, 'There are about three or four of you fellows here.' He said, 'And them two long-nosed preachers (Musick and Clontz), they got to quit causing disturbances in this County.' And he said, 'I am not going to put up with no labor disturbances here.' He further said to me, 'Jim', he said, 'You are on the spot.'"
The Sheriff did not deny this.
By the fall of 1934 the situation in Harlan County had become so serious that Governor Ruby Laffoon undertook to protect the mineworkers against the Sheriff and his deputies. When a mass meeting was called by the union at Harlan Town for November 11, 1934, Armistice Day, the Governor, at the request of the Mayor, sent four officers of the Kentucky National Guard to attend the meeting as observers. An estimated crowd of 6,000 persons attended the meeting, which passed off without incident.
Encouraged by the response at the meeting, the United Mine Workers determined to rebuild its membership and assist locals that were still functioning. "Peggy" Dwyer first went to see Sheriff Middleton and offered to limit the activities of the organizers to securing compliance with the contract then in effect between the union and the coal operators' association. If he would promise them protection, Dwyer promised, the union would not attempt to recruit new members. The Sheriff took the matter under consideration and then called him several days later and said that he was unable to agree.
On the day after Thanksgiving, November 30, 1934, A. T. Pace, an organizer for the United Mine Workers, brought a group of organizers into Harlan Town, and registered at the New Harlan Hotel with the purpose of conducting a membership drive. Pace employed a local man, Carl Williams, a former deputy sheriff in Bell County, to act as his guide. Upon entering the County, their car was followed by Ben Unthank, who drove behind them until they reached the city. The clerk at the New Harlan Hotel was reluctant to receive them as guests, saying, according to the testimony of Mr. Pace:
"You don't know where you are at. You are in Harlan County . . . They have got the biggest gang of dynamiters on earth here . . . they will dynamite this hotel."
The following day one of the organizers reported to Pace that his automobile had been fired upon from ambush. Another organizer, George Burchette, returned to the hotel covered with blood, and stated that he had been forced off the road by another car and his automobile had been wrecked. Pace then went down to the lobby with Carl Williams and noticed that a number of men with guns and sheriff's badges were entering the hotel. At that moment Lee, White and Unthank broke into the lobby. Unthank moved in the direction of Pace, while Lee seized Williams, and gave him a pistol-whipping. Lee and White then dragged Williams out of the hotel into the street, and the other deputies in the lobby followed them. Pace later learned that Williams had been hauled off to jail. Pace and the other organizers arranged with an employee of the hotel to hire a car and, slipping out the back door, drove off to Norton, Virginia.
Both Lee and White testified that White had, during this affair, a warrant for Williams' arrest on a charge of carrying concealed weapons. Lee said that he took a pistol away from Williams, who he said attempted to resist arrest in the hotel lobby. White, however, said Williams did not carry a gun. He further said that he had received the warrant for Williams' arrest "from the Sheriffs office" and had it with him "for three days". The warrant was not shown to Carl Williams and has never been produced. The Sheriffs chief deputy, Henry M. Lewis, testified that he handled all the warrants that came through the Sheriffs office and that he never saw a warrant for the arrest of Carl Williams.
After being confined in jail for three days, from December 1st to 4th, 1934, Williams was released. He was brought before Judge Saylor on the phony charge of carrying concealed weapons but no witnesses appeared and the case was dropped. Then Williams swore out warrants to place Ben Unthank and George Lee under bond to preserve the peace. Neither man could be found in Harlan town and the warrants were not served. An explanation for the failure to locate the men was furnished by R. C. Tackett, who was once more at large, working for Unthank, after having been sent to prison for six months in connection with the dynamiting of "Peggy" Dwyer's house. Tackett testified that Sheriff Middleton had sent him to warn Unthank that a peace warrant had been issued against him, and that he was to "stay out of town".
The incident of Carl Williams' "arrest" remained closed in spite of his efforts to secure relief from the authorities. When he attempted to enter the Grand Jury room on one occasion, to present his case, the foreman after hearing his grievance, closed the door in his face. Williams brought the matter repeatedly to the attention of the circuit court judge, James Gilbert, whom he knew personally, and he was advised by the Judge "to stay out of Harlan County". On December 8, 1934, District President William Turnblazer was authorized by the chairman of the Southern Division of the Bituminous Coal Labor Board under the N.R.A. to accompany a code authority inspector to Harlan County to investigate the amount owed the miners by the Harlan Wallins Coal Corporation for overtime, pursuant to a decision rendered by the board on October 17, 1934. Conditions in the mines operated by the Harlan Wallins Coal Corporation were summarized in findings in a decision rendered by the Bituminous Coal Labor Board on October 17, 1934:
"All the evidence presented to the Board sustained in full the contention that the workers in the mines at Verda and at Molus were working from one to three hours above the seven-hour day, and in one instance even more than three hours, with only seven hours pay for day workers. That there is what is known as the "clean-up" system and workers are required to remain until the "clean-up" is completed, regardless of the hours spent. There was also testimony to the effect that there were times when the miners worked more than five days a week."
"It was testified that no checkweighman representing the workers is allowed at either Verda or Molus. It was further testified that a notice calling for a meeting to elect a checkweighman at Verda had been torn down by foremen or watchmen of the Corporation, and that at least two men were discharged for posting such notices. Other workers expressing a desire for checkweighmen had been beaten by the deputy sheriffs."
"The witnesses testified that a feudal condition exists at these mines and that it is dangerous to discuss organization or the question of electing a checkweighman. The affidavits of those not connected with the union also stated that it was generally understood that the miners of the Harlan Wallins Coal Corporation were not free to express themselves in any way, and that they were intimidated in their movements even when off the Corporation property. The testimony showed that men applying for work at the mines of the Corporation were often beaten and run off the property, particularly if there was a suspicion they were in favor of the Organization."
Relying on the authority granted by the Bituminous Coal Labor Board, Turnblazer and a group of ten other men drove into Harlan Town and registered at the Lewallen Hotel. Scarcely had the union men entered the hotel when the organized gangs in Harlan County began to converge on Harlan town. All the deputies and hoodlums were mustered together, including men even from as far as Benham, a company town operated by the Wisconsin Steel Co. Merle Middleton was there with Pearl Bassham's thug gang in full force.
"Thug" Johnson painted a vivid picture of the scene at the hotel. Forty or fifty deputies "from different companies" congregated about the hotel lobby. Some of them registered in the hotel, taking rooms adjacent to those occupied by Turnblazer and his party. Merle Middleton went away to fetch the Sheriff but stationed his men to keep watch on Turn-blazer, explaining, according to "Thug" Johnson, that "we are going to take him out and bump him off tonight". The High Sheriff entered later with Merle Middleton, and after surveying the scene, turned on his heel and left. While the deputies and thugs milled about in the lobby of the hotel, Bassham entered and looked over the crowd. He saw "Thug" Johnson and winked at him. Testifying about the incident, Bassham acknowledged that his employees were there and that their expenses were paid by the company. He said: "Merle Middleton handled those men at that time, and if we paid for them, it was paid through him."
Turnblazer was trapped in his hotel room. The deputies set off giant firecrackers outside his room. They dragged their knuckles across the door, threatening to break in and take the union men out. As night drew on, his position became increasingly precarious. Shots were fired in the street. Turnblazer succeeded in calling Virgil Hampton, an organizer working in Bell County. Hampton went immediately to Sheriff James W. Ridings of Bell County who, with his brother, chief deputy Chester Ridings, hurried to Harlan to the office of Circuit Judge James Gilbert. Gilbert contacted the Governor by 'phone. The Governor issued the following order:
"Captain Diamond E. Perkins, two officers and forty—two men of Company "A", 149th Infantry, Kentucky National Guard, are hereby ordered on active duty for the purpose of maintaining law and order in Harlan County, Kentucky, and specifically for the purpose of protecting the lives of William Turnblazer and other members of the United Mine Workers of America who are now held prisoners in the Lewallen Hotel by the Sheriff of Harlan County and his deputies." At midnight the National Guard arrived and escorted Turnblazer and his group out of the county. The thugs were reluctant to obey the orders of Captain Perkins and for a few minutes it looked as if war would start. Some of the thugs followed the National Guard and organizers to the Bell County Line.
The Union officials abandoned further efforts to visit the county. In April 1935, the contract with the Harlan County Coal Operators' Association expired. It was not renewed