On February 6, 1937, the Harlan Courthouse gang lifted the quarantine for meningitis that had banned all public meetings since January 2. The following day, United Mine Workers of America organizers gathered in the Continental Hotel, Pineville, Kentucky, and debated the advisability of returning to Harlan County. Some urged caution while others dismissed the threats of gassing and bombings as mere bluff. The bolder councel prevailed. Thomas Ferguson, a veteran of thirty-seven years in the United Mine Workers of America, had been newly assigned to act as an organizer in Harlan County. He described the union conference as follows: "All of the fellows who were organizers, along with William Turnblazer who is the president of District 19, were present. We discussed the advisability of all of us fellows going back into Harlan County and staying there and trying to reestablish headquarters until we could organize. Bill Turnblazer made this statement, 'They ain't going to shoot you organizers' and Mr. Arnett spoke up and said, 'the hell they won't. They shoot governors in Kentucky'. (He was referring to Governor Gobel who was assassinated on Inauguration Day.) Well, I agreed with Bill that I did not think they would. I thought they would try to scare us and frighten us in every way they possibly could, but the next day we went in and discovered that Bill and I were wrong, because they shot me."
Two days later the organizers drove into Evarts where they rented a plot of ground to be used for holding an open-air meeting on the following Sunday. Then they proceeded to the mines of the Black Mountain Corporation, which was under contract with the UMWA, and attended a local union meeting. The meeting was held in the afternoon in order to permit them to be out of the county before nightfall. At 4:30 p.m. they returned on the road from the Black Mountain Corporation's coal camps to Harlan Town. Thomas Ferguson and "Tick" Arnett were riding in a car driven by William Milton Hall. Three other organizers followed in a second car. Between the towns of Verda and Ages, they came upon a car parked by the side of the road. Frank White was seated in the car behind the driver's wheel. As the cars bearing the organizers drew near, two blasts on the horn came from the parked car. Instantly bullets rained onto the two cars as they drove by, damaging the front car and wounding Ferguson in the shoulder. The drivers stepped on their accelerators and careened down the highway at a speed of more than seventy miles an hour, swerving past obstacles that had been placed across the road by the bushwhackers. Arnett later described this wild ride to the LaFollette Committee: "Just as we got about even with the car, the driver, who was later identified as Frank White, gave two blasts on the horn. We were approximately twenty feet past his car when a rain of bullets began to hail in and around our car. There was one bullet came and penetrated the radiator and there was another bullet came through over my head and knocked off my hat and exploded, and a fragment of it struck Ferguson in the shoulder. Another came through the back of my neck, the best I could tell, because the window was rolled down, and there was a hole in the car, and also struck him (Ferguson) in the shoulder and exploded and tore an awful nasty hole in his back. He was seriously injured. Matt Bunch (UMWA International Representative from Illinois) was following. He was following in his car and I felt awful uneasy. I felt an awful uneasiness for him but he got through the rain of bullets with only one bullet hole in his car. I ducked down when all of this shooting took place. And when I raised up, I looked ahead and I saw another car parked on the side of the road with a menacing look of a gun inside which I saw after I got up to it; and we began to run into brush and rocks and obstructions on the road, and finally at last, right even with the car, there was a wagon hub lying on the road endways to us. We were making something around seventy or seventy-five miles an hour, as much as we could make in that length of time, and we hit this wagon hub, nearly wrecking us. They were very menacing with their guns, and I could not identify anyone in the car.”
"No shots were fired. Then we proceeded down and just after we passed through Coxton, there was another car with one man standing on the outside and another man at the wheel, and something that looked like a gun up against the wheel, and something that looked like a gun up against the wheel, and we went so fast there I don't think his marksmanship could have allowed him to shoot us. The radiator had been blown up and we had to leave it in a Chevrolet garage."
"We were being followed by two carloads of men that acted suspicious, and we went in a circle, just around through Harlan, trying to lose them as we were coming through, and when we got to the Chevrolet garage on the outskirts of Harlan, we had to leave this car in the garage. The six of us got into Matt Bunch's car. The injured man got in with us, and we were so crowded there, we drove over across the bridge . . .1 believe to the town of Baxter, but as you cross the bridge, there is the State Highway Garage there, and I saw two State patrolmen that I did not know nor I cannot name."
The organizers appealed to the two State patrolmen to give them safe conduct out of the County. The patrolmen drove into Harlan town to obtain permission from their superiors, leaving the organizers at the garage. Fearful for their safety and concerned over the wound received by Tom Ferguson, the organizers did not wait for the return of the State police, but boarded a bus, which took them out of the County. The bus was followed by two carloads of men who had pursued the organizers into Bell County.
Ferguson was seriously wounded. The bullet, which had struck him, tore a three-inch hole in his shoulder. He was hospitalized in Pineville, Kentucky. After an operation, he was removed to the hotel occupied by the organizers so that he could be guarded against further attack. On April 27, 1937, when he appeared before the LaFollette Committee as a witness, a doctor was still treating him for his wound.
The army of deputy sheriffs and thugs were highly pleased with the success of the ambush that had been laid for the organizers. The evening of February 8th, Hugh Taylor testified, he saw Frank White. "He called me up there and told me not to tell Bob Eldridge, and that Bob Eldridge talked too much. He said they caught hell a while ago, he said the organizers, or the agitators, or something like that. I don't know what they called them. I believe he said agitators. Anyway, he was referring to the organizers. He said, 'they got hell a while ago. We fired into them a while ago.' Then I went on to ask him who had fired into them and he said he and Wash Irwin and Lee Hubbard. He said there was some fellow that blowed the signal, that was in the car with him. He said they gave blows on the horn." Three small boys witnessed the ambush and lived to regret their presence upon the scene. John Clouse, age 13, and his little brother, Jasper Clouse, age 9, were sons of Lloyd Clouse, a miner employed by the Harlan Wallins Coal Corporation, who lives at Ages. Markham Clouse, age 12, was a half-brother of Lloyd Clouse who had been staying with him for a year. The three boys had been "hunting scrap iron on the river bank" and they were returning home along the road when the shooting took place.
Markham Clouse testified: "There was a black two-seated car came on the road and that car blowed two times and people on top of the cliff started shooting." According to the boy's testimony, one of the men on the cliff shouted: "Look out!" Markham Clouse said bullets struck at his feet and ... "I started running across the road, started off on the railroad, and I turned around and I saw the cars, and on top of the cliff they were standing up behind the trees, I could see their heads."
He identified the men on the cliff as Bill Lewis, Melvin Moore, Luke Hubbard and Lee Hubbard, all of whom "worked" for Pearl Bassham. John Clouse and his little brother Jasper also ran for safety. John, the thirteen-year old, testified: "I heard the car a-blowing. Then when the front car got about even with us, the hind car blowed about three times, and then the shooting began. I ran on the cliff, me and my brother, and Mark-ham was trying to run toward the railroad, and then he came back from the railroad to us. One of their bullets struck right in the middle of the road and one of them hit that front car." The terror-stricken boys remained hidden in a ditch until a miner named Isaac Eversold came down the road. John Clouse testified, "I thought he would keep them from shooting me, and I went home with him. When we got home, I told my mother and daddy what we saw. We were told not to talk to anyone about it or name that we saw or our house might be blown up. Mother said, 'There is a lot of them, Lee Hubbard, Luke Hubbard, Wash Irwin and others.' " That same evening two deputy sheriffs, Sherman Howard and Charlie Rose of Brookside, a nearby mining camp, called at the Clouse home. Mrs. Clouse said, "They told my husband to ask the kids if they seen anybody. The kids weren’t at the house. They told my husband to ask the kids if they had seen anybody that did the shooting and my husband told them if they did, there would not be anything said and it wasn't any use for to talk any further about it."
A week later, in spite of the precautions taken by Mr. and Mrs. Clouse, the boys were subpoenaed to appear before the Harlan County grand jury. At five o'clock in the morning of the day that the boys were to appear before the grand jury, Lloyd Clouse left to go to work at the mines of the Harlan Wallins Coal Corporation. When he entered the mine, he told his brother, Jasper Clouse, according to the latter's testimony to the LaFollette Committee: "that Pearl Bassham seen him and told him to be damn sure that he did not let those kids go before the grand jury."
Mrs. Clouse sent the three little boys down to the neighboring town of Brookside to take the eight o'clock train into Harlan town. After they had left, Mr. Clouse returned. Mrs. Clouse recalled: "He went to work and he came back home. I set his lunch up and he said". (At this point in her testimony Mrs. Clouse broke down weeping). "When he came back he said Mr. Bassham told him if he let the kids go and testify it would cause trouble." Lloyd Clouse brought the children back from the station without permitting them to go on to Harlan town. His son, John Clouse, testified that shortly thereafter two deputies called at the house. On Saturday evening, April 24, 1937, during the LaFollette Committee hearings, Lloyd Clouse was shot and killed by Bill Lewis before the Committee had a chance to obtain Mr. Clouse's testimony. Bassham, testifying on May 4, 1937, after Clouse's violent death, denied telling Lloyd Clouse that he wasn't to let the boys testify before the grand jury. Bassham said, "I would be glad to repeat just what I did tell him. Lloyd Clouse came to me and I did not know the man at the time. He came to the office and I had not been in the office but a few minutes in the morning, and he said that some man had come and summoned his two boys to go down before the grand jury. He said he was not an officer and that he was afraid to send them that they might get their testimony twisted up. I said, "If they had not been summoned, why send them?' That is what I told him." Bassham was told by Senator LaFollette: "I want to tell you that my experience with you on the witness stand convinces me that of all of the evasive witnesses this Committee has had to deal with, you are the worst. You had an interest, did you not, in seeing to it that these men who were in your employ were not identified as having taken part in the shooting?"
Bassham replied, "I certainly did not back them up in any shooting."
Senator LaFollette asked, "Well, but if they were in your employ, they were your agents, weren't they?” and Bassham replied, "I did not assume any responsibility for them going out and breaking the law, and they were off of my property."
They were not cut off his payroll, however. CHAPTER XIV
Murder of an Innocent
The ambush of "Tick" Arnett was only part of the thugs' renewed campaign. Their fury was also aimed at UMWA organizers who lived in Harlan County. Marshall Musick, who was organizer for the central part of the county, was living with his wife and children outside the village of Evarts when the union drive began in January 1937. William Clontz, organizer for the western part of the county, resided at Wallins Creek with his wife and son. In January 1937, when the union resumed activity, Musick and Clontz became once more targets for attack.
Musick was selected as the first victim. During the last week in January, Ben Unthank tersely ordered Hugh Taylor: "Get Musick whipped. He had a ten dollar bill to give the man to whip him," Taylor testified, and "he said to get some coal digger to whip him up." Taylor arranged for the beating with Ase Cusick, who operated a beer stand at Shields. On Sunday afternoon, January 31, Mr. and Mrs. Musick left their home at Evarts and strolled toward Ridgeway to visit with two deacons of the Baptist Church, James H. Brewer and a Mr. Adkins. Along the highway above Lejunior, they walked past a car in which deputies Hugh Taylor and Robert Eldridge were sitting with Tom Holmes, a coal operator who was manager of the Cooke & Sharpe Coal Company. Nearby was another parked car in which deputies Frank White and Lee Fleener were seated. As the Musicks proceeded down the highway, the car bearing Taylor, Eldridge, and Holmes cruised back and forth. Taylor testified as to their conversation:
"Mr. Holmes and I were sitting up there talking. While we were sitting up there talking, along came Musick and he says, 'There goes Musick and his wife now,' and he stood around and talked a while about it. He said, 'Go on down and see Ase. Ase said he wanted to whip him. If Ase is going to whip him, now is the chance. Let's go down and tell him about it.' We turned around and went down to Shields."
At Shields, they notified Ase Cusick where Musick was going and according to Taylor, Cusick said "he would see him when he came back down the railroad" and "he would whip him when he came back." They then returned down the road and followed the Musicks until they entered the Adkins' house. Tom Holmes then left to visit his brother-in-law, James Brewer, stating that he was then going to Clover Splint to meet his wife. Eldridge and Taylor waited on the highway in their car. At that point Frank White drove up in his car and asked where the Musicks had gone. He told Taylor and Eldridge to keep watch on the Musicks and drove off to the town of Ages. There he picked up two members of his gang known as the "Sargent boys," and returned close to the spot where Taylor and Eldridge were parked and left the Sargent boys on a hill behind the road. White then drove off again and returned a short time later with Alien Bowlin. Bowlin and White went down the road in the opposite direction from the hill on which the Sargent boys had been posted. (Note: The Sargent boys were employed in the shooting and gassing of Chad Middleton at Evarts in 1936, along with Frank White.)
While they were visiting with Adkins, Mrs. Brewer and her ten-year-old son came to the Adkins house in a state of great excitement. They were concerned over the safety of the Musicks because deputies had been cruising about the neighborhood. While Mrs. Brewer was out of the house, Tom Holmes visited Brewer and told him, according to the latter's testimony, "that he (Brewer) was not to be excited about anything," adding, "stay in the house" and "not see anything." Holmes said that Musick was going to get a "chouncing." After the warning from Mrs. Brewer, Mrs. Musick came over to see Brewer and he warned her of impending trouble.
Mrs. Musick returned to the Adkins' home and she and her husband, thoroughly alarmed, thought it best to go back to Evarts before dark. They walked down a railroad track leading toward the main highway in order to take a bus. When they were several yards from the highway, they heard a horn blow. Thinking it was the bus; they turned and saw two cars screeching to a halt on the road nearby. Suddenly they were caught in a crossfire of bullets. Musick later described it in this way: "While I had stopped to turn, she had advanced possibly three feet ahead of me, but she was yet holding my coat. I had on a raincoat, and shots began to fire from two angles. The second shot that was fired, I felt the sting of something on the back of my neck, and my hat left my head. I caught my hat as it fell and I touched my wife's arm, in grabbing at my hat to put it back on my head, and under the excitement, she rather turned around in front of me. Some of the bullets were striking in the edge of the highway where there was loose gravel and it was throwing this gravel on me, and some of the bullets were striking the field of the main-line railroad on my left and striking in a hole of mud and water there, and it was a continual stream of bullets."
"There was a car being driven up meeting me and he stopped and reversed his car to get out of the way of this rain of bullets, and he ran his car into the ditch and stopped, and I looked back again and the two cars were still standing on the road. I was under the impression from the direction that part of these bullets was coming, that possibly it was coming out of the hill. There was a little elevation that came down into the highway just at the point I was when the shooting started up, and I did not see anything with the exception of the men that were in the car. A number of people came out from the houses on the left-hand side of the main line of the railroad, and on the side of the highway possibly 200 people, men, women and children, came out into the highway."
"My wife said, 'Let us wait here for the bus', and I told her I did not think it was best, but let us walk on. She apparently could not — she was so nervous she was not able to walk, and we rested for possibly a minute until she rather came to her composure, and we walked down the pike for a short distance, down the crossing where we had left the highway possibly a thousand feet to where this bus that we were expecting overtook us and we loaded" up on that bus and drove down to this White Elephant saloon. The bus stopped to pick up passengers, and the same two cars that were there as we passed by came back and parked by the side of the saloon again near the point that they were as we went by. We went on home on the bus."
At this time, Taylor and Eldridge were still parked on the road. Taylor described the shooting as follows: "I did not see any shots fired. All I saw was where the bullets had hit. You could look at the road and see the smoke rise up from the gravel. It was a gravel road and tar put on it. You could see the smoke rise from it where the bullets hit. The bullets were coming out of the hill around there to the right; coming down or off of one of them spurs up there. It sounded like it was up there somewhere. They were using high-power rifles." According to Taylor's testimony to the LaFollette Committee: "Frank White went to Ages and picked up the two Sargent brothers who would do anything for a few dollars, and sent them around a knoll to bushwhack Mr. and Mrs. Musick; White then ran up and down the road in his car where he could watch their performance".
The following morning, Taylor met White, who was laughing about the incident. He also met Wash Irwin, whom he had not seen the night before at the scene but who appeared very well informed about what took place. Irwin said that White had given the signal for the shooting from the hill, and again according to Taylor, "He said if it had not been for Musick's wife getting over there, he would have gotten a bullet through him". He said, "She got on the wrong side of him, between the shots and Musick."
Tom Holmes, who had been present during the testimony of the other witnesses, had no comment to make other than he had not told Brewer "that he had a choust" for Musick, or that "my gang had a chousting for Mr. Musick." He admitted cautioning Brewer to stay in the house. He had no comment to make on Taylor's testimony that they had arranged with Ase Cusick to beat up Musick. The net tightened around the UMWA, Musick and Clontz. On February 2, 1937, Marion Howard, nephew of Ben Unthank, came to see Clontz and delivered a warning from Unthank that he would not be safe if he went out after dark. On February 4, Homer Clontz, his son, drove into the town of Wallins Creek to attend band practice. As he passed by a dark alley beside the Baptist Church, a spray of bullets struck the car, eleven bullets piercing the left rear fender. Other bullets missed the car and hit houses on the other side of the street. The persons who did the shooting were never apprehended. At the same time, Musick was receiving warnings from his friends that he should leave town. On February 2, 1937, James Brewer warned Musick that he should leave the county. Brewer testified: "I thought he would be killed, everything looked that way." For his part in the Musick affair, Brewer did not escape the attention of the deputies. Ben Unthank's chief assistant, George Lee, Lee Fleenor and Alien Bowlin, visited his house on February 4th to search for "a thousand pounds of meat supposed to be stolen." Brewer said, "I asked them to show me a search warrant. They refused. They were looking in the dresser drawers and chiffrobe. Yes, they were looking for a thousand pounds of meat in the dresser drawers. I think they were looking for United Mine Workers literature, but they found neither meat nor literature. Then they went away."
The visit of the deputies was a silent warning to Brewer not to interfere with the Musick affair.
On the evening of February 8, when White was describing to Taylor the ambushing of the organizers, he brought up another matter for discussion. According to Taylor, White said: "We will go down and shoot up the Musicks' house and run him out." I asked him what he would do and he said, "We will go and shoot it up." I asked White who was going and he said there was a "bunch of them." Taylor further testified that White had told him that there would be money in it for those taking part, at least a hundred dollars more in their pay. Taylor said he promised White he would take part in this, but did not do so. Taylor then went to stay with Robert Eldridge to avoid meeting White again. Later the same evening, Wash Irwin came to Eldridge's house looking for Taylor. The Sargent boys and nine women accompanied him. He sent the women and the Sargent boys out and told Taylor that Ben Unthank would finance the raid. He also told Taylor that they would get a hundred dollars each for the job. Taylor further testified: "Irwin did not say exactly that he would pay it, but he inferred that Unthank would be the rudder of it — he did not exactly say it that way either, but that was what he was referring to; I can tell from his talk."
Taylor made a non-committal reply to Irwin. He said he turned down the proposition because he was afraid of dying but gave his noncommittal reply because he was afraid to refuse, was afraid he would be killed. White was absent from the Committee's hearings without leave and was unavailable for comment. Wash Irwin, who followed Hugh Taylor to the witness stand, left his testimony unchallenged.
On February 9, 1937, Musick heard of the ambushing of the organizers with "Tick" Arnett that had taken place on the previous day. Shortly thereafter on the street in Evarts, he met George Middleton, an uncle of the High Sheriff. He told Musick, according to the latter's testimony:
"I have always took you to be a good man. You have lived in my property for a year and a half and I think you are a good man. I feel like I ought to advise you that your life is in immediate danger and I want to advise you as a friend that you had better get out of town, and out of the county before you are killed."
On the same day Musick encountered John Clemm, police-court judge of Evarts, on the street. Musick reported the following conversation: "Immediately after noon that day, I met John Clemm, the police judge of that town, and he gave me almost exactly the same advice, with this exception: 'My life has been threatened just like yours.' And I said, 'Judge, what is your trouble?' And he said, 'Well, I am in trouble with the same gang.' And I said, 'How come you to break with them? You and they have been good friends.' 'Well,' he said, 'Merle Middleton, the president of the bus company, I decided some cases against him here in the city and he has been angry with me and my life is in jeopardy, just like yours.' He said, 'Possibly both of us will have to leave the county.' "
The attempt on his life and the repeated warnings from friends convinced Musick he had to leave the county in which he had lived for over fourteen years. His decision was reinforced by the fact that Unthank, White, Fleenor, Lee and Irwin, together with three carloads of deputies, were stalking him in Evarts "where they could see what I was doing, where I was going and what buildings I was going into." He was finally convinced by his wife's argument that his family would be safer if he were away from home. He parted with his family, believing that his absence would avert the menace against his wife and children. But to no avail. Musick's story of the big tragedy of his life begins about three o'clock in the afternoon of February 9th. "I stayed home and sat around with my wife until very late, and the train that went up the head of the hollow and back generally went out about nine o'clock. I called my boy Bennett just before I started to the train and after dark, and I related to him the warning that we had had, and when I started to leave the house I said, 'Bennett, I want you to stay here tonight and try to take care and watch your mother and the other children'. And he said, 'Pop, I will do that.' And that is the last words I ever heard him speak. I left on the train and when I got off that train at Pineville about nine o'clock there was a message in the hotel that my boy was killed in the home. As soon as I came to the lobby of the hotel, Mr. Arnett was in there, and he came over from the clerk's office and he said, 'Brother Musick, I have some sad news for you. Your son was killed in your home in Evarts'.
The murder of Bennett Musick occurred at about 8:30 p.m. on February 9, 1937. Mrs. Musick and her three sons were sitting about the fireplace and her daughter was busy at the household tasks when a shower of bullets tore through the walls of the house. Mrs. Musick described what took place: "Well, I could not tell how many shots, it was so excitable and unexpected. The first shot that I heard, I was reading the paper next to the baby boy who had just come back from Evarts and brought the day's paper and handed it to me. I was reading the paper and the first shot, I thought just for a second that it was something that had exploded in the grate. I was sitting in front of the grate and I looked down. By that time there was another one, and at that time, of course, I did not remember seeing Bennett go out of the room. It was a week before it came to me that I never did think I saw him leave, but in a week I remembered seeing him just kind of crawl to go into the bedroom, but he must have fell. This boy that is 14 was sitting on the studio couch at the end that came around to the door to go into the bedroom, and he said Bennett just rose out of his chair and went in the front room and just fell into the bedroom, but he had turned. He was lying right around a trunk, just to the left of the door. He crawled around and his feet were past the door." After the shooting had stopped, Mrs. Musick called the roll of her family:
"We hushed for two or three seconds, or two or three minutes maybe, then the shooting stopped, and I thought . . . well, I said, 'Are any of you shot?’ And the baby boy said, 'I am shot in the arm', and Pauline said, 'I am not shot,' and Virgil went behind the door. The fourteen-year old boy got behind the door, and two bullets went in just above his head. He just scattered down behind the door that stood open just a little, and I took Bennett by the shoulder."
It was then that Mrs. Musick discovered that Bennett was dead. She recalled: "I shook Bennett, and he was dead. We did not have light in the room, and Pauline and I just drug him to the door where that light shined in from the living room and seen he was dead. She unbuttoned the clothes and felt his chest, and he was already dead." The fourteen-year old Musick boy ran to the house of a neighbor, Floyd Creech. Creech was already getting out of bed, having been alerted by the fusillade of shots. Mrs. Musick continued her narrative:
"Mr. Creech came over and said that Bennett was dead, and I asked him if he would go and call my husband, and he said he would. Pauline washed Bennett's face and some more neighbors came too at that time, and they helped us. We laid him out on the studio couch." Mrs. Musick was unable to fix the direction from which the shots had come, but she believed they came from the road.
She said: "I thought at the time they were just somewhere right around the house. They made such a ring. The first one went just like something exploded. It seemed like I could not hear it for a long time, but it just deafened me, and I thought it was right around the house. I did not have any idea they were shooting from the road. I just had an idea that we had the window shades down, and it was cream-colored window shades, and I had an idea that they seen the boy — that someone looked in and thought it was his daddy. That is what I thought. But I reckon they must have come from the pike."
The night of February 9th, after hearing of the murder of his son, Marshall Musick frantically sought to return to Harlan County from Pineville and bring back his family and the body of his son. He spoke to Sheriff James Ridings of Bell County and appealed for an escort. He was told that it was too dangerous. Musick testified:
"I asked the Sheriff to take me home, and Sheriff Ridings said, 'Mr. Musick, I cannot afford to do that. Possibly you and I both would be killed,' and he said, 'I will do this. I will get some of my deputies' ... he told me of some brave men that he had, deputy sheriffs in that county, that he would gather them up and get a couple of cars and go to an undertaker and get the ambulance and the two cars, and they would bring my wife and the other children out, and the undertaker would bring the corpse out. I talked to a number of men there, and they all told me that they could not afford to take me up there, that possibly they would be killed. Sheriff Ridings left, and I waited until late in the night, possibly four o'clock or approximately three o'clock, and one of Ridings' sheriffs, I don't know whether it was the High Sheriff or his deputy, came in and told me that he had been up there and how the house was shot full of holes, and that after he went to the home and the condition thereof up there, that it was too dangerous for him to undertake to take my family out. He was unable to get an undertaker to go in there owing to the fact that they were afraid of being killed, and he told me that the doctors up there would not go to the home, that they were afraid."
The following day, the Musick family left Harlan County, taking the dead body of Bennett Musick with them.
There was an eyewitness to the shooting into the Musick home. Kelly Fox, a former deputy sheriff, was employed as an automobile mechanic at the Black Motor Company at Evarts, Kentucky. He lived near the Musicks. On February 9, 1937, the night of the shooting, he was returning home, crossing a footbridge over the river that ran below the road where the Musick house was located. As he left the bridge to go up toward the highway to his house, he saw these cars coming down the road. As they passed the Musick house, shots were fired from the three cars. Fox stopped behind several large rocks that lie between the river and the highway. One of the cars drew up opposite the Musick house. The other two cars drove up the road and circled the road returning slowly to join the other car. There were three men in the parked car. Two of the men placed their guns out of the windows and continued shooting into the house. The headlights of the cars that were moving back down the road illuminated the parked car. Kelly Fox recognized one of the men in the parked car as Frank White. Fox reported the incident to Bryan Middleton, brother of the High Sheriff, who was a personal friend of his. However, he did not report it to the authorities. He had vivid memories of the time in 1936 when he had appeared as a witness against Frank White in connection with the shooting of Chad Middleton. The recollection of armed gunmen eyeing him in the courtroom was sufficient to seal his lips.
The series of crimes which had followed in close succession after the tear gassing of the New Harlan Hotel and the dynamiting of the organizers' cars on January 23, 1937, culminating in the murder of Bennett Musick on February 9, 1937, forced the county authorities to appear to take action. A special term of the Harlan County grand jury met on February 15th, 16th and 17th to investigate the outrages.
Three Jury Commissioners who were appointed by the Circuit Court Judge selected grand juries in Harlan County. In January 1937, Judge James Gilbert summoned Bassett Warren to his office. Warren was a businessman who had formerly been a miner and a member of the United Mine Workers of America. According to Warren's testimony, Judge Gilbert told him that he wanted him to serve as Jury Commissioner "and get it out of politics if he could; that his dockets had been delayed or something like that." Warren accepted the offer and according to his testimony, Judge Gilbert said, "I will call you sometime in February." Later Warren was notified to appear at the Courthouse and be sworn in as Jury Commissioner. However, he did not take office. "A day or two before the date came," he said, "I got another call which said for me not to come, that Judge Gilbert was sick." On February 15, 1937, Warren received a letter from Judge Gilbert telling him that he would not head the grand jury. The letter was merely a series of excuses given in an attempt to justify the fact that it was planned to appoint a coal operator as head of the grand jury instead of an impartial citizen.
In place of Warren, Judge Gilbert selected for Jury Commissioner W. Thomas Holmes, manager of the Cooke and Sharpe Coal Company at Lejunior, Kentucky, who was certainly involved to some extent in the plots against Musick. He was the man who had arranged for a thug to attack Musick on the highway on January 31, 1937, and who had warned his brother-in-law, James Brewer, on that day, to remain in his house in order not to see what was going to take place outside. To what extent Holmes was involved in the shooting at Mr. and Mrs. Mustek's home on January 31 was not clearly established. It is clear, however, that a grand jury selected by Holmes and his fellow commissioners would not be likely to inquire deeply into Holmes' own connection with the crime.
Obviously, even an impartial grand jury would have operated under severe handicaps. The Commonwealth Attorney, Daniel Boone Smith, was nothing less than an employee of the coal operators. And the High Sheriff was Theodore Middleton. Both wanted only to cover the truth about the slaying of the Musick youth. The Sheriff blandly informed the Grand Jury that there had been no disorders "of any importance during the last two years." He added: "I think murders and crimes and unlawfulness of all kinds has been reduced as much as it is possible to do here in this county, considering the number of people and the class of people we have here in the coal mines." Middleton did not refer to the "class of people" who were deputy sheriffs, nor did he state what he considered to be a "crime of importance". It was certain that murder was not an "important crime" insofar as the Sheriff was concerned. The Grand Jury Commissioners left nothing to chance in selecting a grand jury. The foreman of the special grand jury in February was Homer Highbaugh, son-in-law of A. B. Cornett, vice-president of the Cornett-Lewis Coal Company. Highbaugh had served as a deputy sheriff under Theodore Middleton since December 4, 1934. The foreman of the regular grand jury in March was Hans Bennett, whose brother, C. V. Bennett, was a coal operator interested in the Dixie Coal Company, the Harlan Central Coal Company and the Rex Mining Company, the foresight of Judge Gilbert in substituting Holmes for Warren was rewarded. Neither the special term February grand jury nor the regular March grand jury returned any indictments.
However, a feeling of revulsion swept Harlan County as a result of the cold-blooded murder of Bennett Musick by Ben Unthank's night riders. Voices were raised in protest, even among the deputies. Henry M. Lewis, chief deputy under Middleton, resigned February 20, 1937. He explained his action by saying, "Well, there were things going on all over the County that I did not approve of". He later amplified this statement, "Well, lots of things had happened that I did not know how they happened or who done it. You take killing the Musick boy in Harlan County was a bad piece of work by somebody. I don't know who did it, or anything about it. It was about as bad a crowd as ever happened to be in our County. That house being shot up in the night and that boy killed, that was a bad piece of business."
Hugh Taylor was so shocked by the murder of young Musick that his emotions overcame his caution. The day following the attack on the Musick home, he was warned not to talk about the affair. Ben Unthank himself ordered Taylor to keep his mouth shut. Taylor said, "I first heard of the murder of the Musick boy on the morning of February 10th and I heard it in Harlan town. I first heard it from Lee Fleenor. He asked me had I heard about it. I told him no, I had not. He turned and walked off, left me. Then Ben Unthank came up and asked me if I heard anything. I said I heard Musick's boy was killed and he asked me who told me and I told him Lee Fleenor. He says, 'Well, don't talk any more about it'. He said, 'Let them get the news out'. He said, 'don’t say anything more about it.'" After the Musick murder, which the special term February grand jury was holding its inquiry on February 15th, 16th and 17th, Taylor permitted himself to protest against the violence of the gangs. He unwisely confided in Frank White.
Taylor said: "I was talking to Frank White in the Harlan courthouse, in the Sheriff's office. We were talking about the special grand jury that was called there. I says, 'It is a shame', I says, 'that the County gets into such a damn shape like this, the deputy sheriffs getting out of here and doing all of this, most of this being done by them, it is a disgrace'. I says, 'You fellows are going to get us all put in the penitentiary, or right in hell somewhere, maybe where we all belong,' I says, 'the way you are doing it.' He said I had better keep my mouth shut or I might go down too. I told him I might go down too, but somebody would go right down with me."
On February 20, 1937, White made good his threat. That evening Taylor was in a saloon with David Sullenberger, whose father operated the Clubhouse at Shields, where the Berger Coal Company deputies stayed. Wash Irwin noticed him and said, according to Taylor: "You don't belong here" he says, "You better go back down to Shields." Taylor and Sullenberger left the saloon and drove back in the direction of Shields. They were overtaken by a car driven by Frank White, who had with him Irwin and a third man. Taylor described what followed:
"The car came up behind me. His car came up behind me and he blowed his horn for me to stop. I told the boys I better stop and see what he wants. I stopped and Frank got out. I saw him getting out. I waited for, him to come up there. He says, 'Where are you going?' I says, 'I am going to bed.' I cast my eyes to the side and I saw somebody
else walk out from the car. I saw Wash Irwin and somebody else right alongside of him. Wash Irwin had a pistol; it looked to me like a bright-looking automatic. Frank says, 'you will like hell.' He stuck the pistol alongside of my head, and when he stuck the pistol alongside of my head, I grabbed the pistol with my left hand and jerked it up. When I jerked the pistol up, he fired on me. I was hit in the fingers of my left hand. That is the hand I grabbed it with."
Taylor then reached for the pistol with his right hand, and White fired through the knuckles, breaking the hand. Taylor was left helpless. He managed to struggle out of the car and ran for the side of the road. Taylor later told the LaFollette Committee: "The door of the car came open; I don't know how I could get it opened but I got it open, I don't know how, but anyway, the door came open and I had two 45's and I reached for them, but I could not do anything with them. I could do nothing with my hands to get them, and then I turned to run. Just as I started, he shot me through the hip, out through the groin, and that run me down." As he lay helpless on the ground, White and Irwin drew close to deliver the final blow. But they decided it was not necessary.
Hugh Taylor told it this way: "Then I laid down. They came to examine me. I laid there flat dead. Wash Irwin got to me there. My right hand was spurting blood; the artery was cut, and the thought struck me that I could not run, I could not get away, and I held my arm up to my breast, and I held it up so that blood got on my breast so it would look like I was shot through the chest somewhere, so he would not shoot me again. I laid there, letting the blood come down on my chest, and they turned me over and examined me. He says, 'He is as dead as he ever will be.' Frank White said, 'Let the damn son-of-a-bitch lie there. He will quit talking.' Then he took my two pistols. I was afraid to wiggle my head, so I lay down there and every once in a while he would reach over there and see the blood spurting, and then he came back down again and turned me over and examined me again, and he said, 'He is as dead as he will ever be.' I lay like a possum again, and he looked at me and examined me again, and then he took my flashlight, my blackjack, my fountain pen, and stuck them in his pockets and went on."
David Sullenberger was also wounded. He confirmed Hugh Taylor's testimony and added, "And when the shooting started, I got hit five times. Mr. Taylor got out of the car door. Mr. Taylor jumped out of the car
Some way or other and when he done that, I fell over in the seat like I was dead. I had been hit five times and I was shot from both sides of the car. I was hit on both legs, both arms and through the right shoulder."
The man who was with White and Irwin dragged Sullenberger out of the car and took away his wallet. Sullenberger testified that White "spoke up then and said, 'I ought to shoot you again.'" At that point, a car came along the road and the three gunmen quickly drove away. The passengers in the car took Sullenberger and Taylor to the hospital at Harlan. Later, fearing for their lives, they were transferred to the hospital at Pineville.
Hugh Taylor identified the third man as Luke Hubbard. Wash Irwin had only the following comment to make to the Senate Committee on Taylor's and Sullenberger's testimony, "I ain't got no compliments to say about it."
Irwin and White had taken Hugh Taylor's guns from his apparently lifeless body. They carried the guns back to the chief, Sheriff Middleton, and presented them to him as trophies. Middleton himself described their visit, "Well, sometime after I returned from the hospital, these two men came down to my home and reported on the trouble they had had, and they returned these two 45 automatics over to me there. They said they had taken the two guns from Hugh Taylor." The High Sheriff accepted the pistols and let the culprits go free.
Senator LaFollette asked Sheriff Middleton, "Have you removed Frank White as a deputy?" And Sheriff Middleton replied, "I have not." Senator LaFollette then asked, "Is it your habit to have deputies who have been charged with crimes of violence bound over for trial or appearance before a grand jury, continue to serve as 'peace officers' in your County?"
Mr. Middleton: "I think, as a rule, we do not dismiss an officer or cancel his appointment until he is convicted."
Senator LaFollette: "Even though he came to you and surrendered the weapons he had taken off the man who had been shot and left for dead?"
Mr. Middleton: "Yes, sir."
After these events, organizers for the United Mine Workers stayed out of Harlan County. On March 22, 1937, District 19 Vice President "Tick" Arnett went to Frankfort to appeal to Governor Chandler for assistance. With Arnett was Thomas Ferguson, whose shoulder was still bearing a wound from the dumdum bullet fired by Harlan County "road killers." The Governor refused to talk to them. They met with the Adjutant General of Kentucky who, according to Arnett, " advised us that he could not do anything for us in Harlan County unless he was called on by the local authorities up there." Ferguson blurted out: "It was the local authorities that shot me, the deputy sheriffs . . . They have declared open season on us organizers for the United Mine Workers organization." The Adjutant General repeated, according to Ferguson: "Well it is strictly up to the local authorities and unless they ask for help, we can do nothing."
The "local authorities" belonged to the Harlan County Coal operators. No help would be forthcoming from Happy Chandler or his henchmen, so the coal miners of Harlan County had to depend solely for help from their union and the Federal Government.
The LaFoIlette Committee Sums Up
It was about this time that I came into Harlan County. What took place then makes up the rest of this true account of "Hell in Harlan." This chapter summarizes briefly a fast moving two years. Written in prosaic "Federalese" prose, it is directly quoted from the report of the LaFoIlette Civil Liberties Committee.
George J. Titler joined the organizing force Jan. 1, 1937 and was made chief organizer June 1, 1937.
On March 22, 1937, this committee opened its hearings on conditions affecting the civil liberties of citizens in Harlan County. The hearings were concluded on May 5, 1937. On July 12, 1937, the National Labor Relations Board, by order, permitted District 19 of the United Mine Workers of America to file with it charges under the National Labor Relations Act against the Harlan County Coal Operators' Association and the following companies operating mines in Harlan County: Harlan Collieries Co.
On November 27, 1937, the National Labor Relations Board issued a decision and order in the matter of Clover Fork Coal Co., and District 19, United Mine Workers of America. The Board made the following finding with respect to the activities of the Harlan County Coal Operators' Association:
"The evidence in the record clearly indicates that one of the major functions of the Association is to exert the combined power of the coal operators of Harlan County against the organization of the mine employees, And to interfere with, restrain, and coerce the workers in the mines of Harlan County in the exercise of their right to self-organization, and to form, join and assist United Mine Workers of America." The Board struck boldly at the Harlan County Coal Operators' Association and ordered the company to:
"Cease and desist from contributing to, cooperating with, or assisting, through membership therein or otherwise, the Harlan County Coal Operators' Association or any other organization engaged in interfering with, restraining, or coercing its employees in the exercise of the right to self-organization, to form, join or assist labor organizations, to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing and to engage in concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection, as guaranteed in Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act. In addition the Board ordered the company to reinstate, with back pay, 60 men whom it found to have been unjustly dismissed because of their membership in or activities on behalf of the union. On June 8, 1938, the Circuit Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit upheld the order of the Board in full.
As a result of this decision, the other coal companies of Harlan County, which had not yet abandoned their unyielding attitude toward the union, settled their disputes with the union. On August 19, 1938, the Harlan County Coal Operators' Association signed an agreement with the United Mine Workers extending the terms of the Southern Appalachian contract to the Harlan County Coal Operators' Association. Shortly thereafter a contract similar to the general Appalachian one was signed between District 19 of the United Mine Workers of America and the Harlan County Coal Operators' Association, which was to be effective September 1, 1938. At the same time an agreement was reached between the union and the association whereby members of the association agreed to reinstate a total of 243 men who had been discharged because of union membership and to pay these men varying amounts of back pay, depending on the circumstances of each individual case.
The facts disclosed at the hearings held by this committee resulted in the entry of another Federal agency into Harlan County. The Federal Bureau of Investigation carried on an inquiry for the Department of Justice which on September 27, 1937, resulted in the indictment by the Federal grand jury of the eastern District of Kentucky under section 51, title 18 of the United States Code, for conspiracy to deprive citizens of the United States of rights secured to them by the Constitution and laws of the United States. The defendants indicted consisted of three groups, as follows:
Mary Helen Coal Corporation
Harlan Fuel Co.
Bardo Coal Mining Co.
Berger Coal Mining Co.
Black Mountain Corporation
Blue Diamond Coal Co.
Clover Splint Coal Co.
Clover Fork Coal Co.
Cornett-Lewis Coal Co.
Crummies Creek Coal Co.
Harlan Wallins Coal Corporation
High Splint Coal Co.
Kentucky Cardinal Coal Corporation
Mahan-Ellison Coal Corporation
Southern Mining Co.
R. C. Tway Co.
Three Point Coal Corporation
Creech Coal Co.
Black Star Coal Co.
Harlan Collieries Co.
Harlan Central Coal Co.
Southern Harlan Coal Co. OPERATOR DEFENDANTS:
Silas J. Dickinson
Charles S. Guthrie
George S. Ward
Charles E. Ralston
Elbert J. Ashbury
William H. Sienknecht
Armstrong R. Matthews
Denver B. Cornett
Robert E. Lawson
Roscoe J. Petrie
Lewis P. Johnson
John E. Taylor
James Campbell Stras
W. Arthur Ellison
Elijah F. Wright,
Jr. Robert C. Tway
Elmer D. Hall
Robert W. Creech
Charles B. Burchfield
C. Vester Bennett
Bryan W. Whitfield, Jr.
LAW OFFICER DEFENDANTS: Theodore R. Middleton
John P. Hickey
Lee E. Ball
Perry G. Noe
alias D. Y. Turner
On May 16, 1938, the trial of the case was begun in the United States District Court for the Eastern District before Judge H. Church Ford. The case went to the jury on July 30, 1938. On August 1, 1938, the trial ended with a hung jury and the judge declared a mistrial. The case has been set for retrial in the forthcoming May term of the court.
On May 31, 1938, there went into effect a statute adopted by the Kentucky legislature forbidding the appointment of strikebreakers or men with criminal records to the office of deputy sheriff. It prohibited also the private employment of deputy sheriffs.
As a result of these developments, conditions in Harlan County appear to be ameliorated, at least for the present. According to a telegram from George J. Titler, Secretary-Treasurer of District 19 of the U. M. W. in Harlan County, to Senator LaFollette, chairman of this committee, dated January 3, 1939, peaceful enjoyment of civil liberties in Harlan County may at last be restored to its residents. The telegram states:
"Miners of Harlan County thank you and your Committee for bringing peace to Harlan County. 10,000 men under contract, 2,000 in one local union at Lynch, Ky. U. S. Coal and Coke Company dissolved company union and cooperating fine. This is direct result of your efforts." After the LaFollette hearings were complete, newspapers from coast to coast-started giving Chandler hell. He was caught between a rock and a hard place. The Memphis Press-Scimitar on August llth, 1937, addressed an editorial, "Spotlight on Kentucky", to Governor Chandler. The editorial said in part: "One man, if he will, can do the things most necessary to civilize Harlan County. He is the Governor of Kentucky. They call him 'Happy' Chandler." He has seemed strangely indifferent to what went on in Harlan. But if Governor Chandler cares anything for public opinion, if he has any interest in protecting the good name of his State, he can hardly ignore what the LaFollette investigation has brought to national attention." "He can remove the notorious Sheriff Middleton. He can disband that army of company-owned deputies and 'gun thugs.' He can compel the mine owners to obey the laws of Kentucky. He can demand that the courts of Harlan County function honestly. He can give the miners and their families protection against violence and oppression."
"The spotlight is centered now on 'Happy' Chandler."
The editor of the Memphis Press-Scimitar received a reply from "Happy" that read in part as follows:
"Thank you for your letter of the eleventh. I appreciate the interest in good government which prompts such a message." "May I call your attention to the fact that practically all of the acts of violence in Harlan County, which have been so greatly publicized, took place under a previous administration? Whenever called upon by labor leaders or others to provide protection for organizers, I have sent as many members of the highway patrol (the only State constabulary under my control) as have been requested. "I need not remind you that all of the representations that have come to your attention are not based on actual facts."
Happy's alibi was puny and did not contain the facts that had been recorded in the official records in blood. It had been less than five months since "Happy" had said Theodore Middleton was a competent, efficient, and energetic Sheriff and had dismissed the charges against him instituted by "Happy's" predecessor, Governor Ruby Laffoon. Cold-blooded murder had been the order of the day in Harlan since "Happy" had taken office.