Separating the good guys from the bad gets really complicated when we look at this period of law
enforcement history. It was sometimes hard to tell them apart for those who were living there then. It
would be unfair to make a judgment at this distant time. What we will try to do here is lay out the
facts that are known. Any judgments that are made will have to be in the mind of the reader.
The period of history encompassed here is from about 1919-1929 and it begins as a struggle between
coal company operators and their employees. Many police officers would die in the unrest.
The economic system in southwestern West Virginia was controlled by the coal companies in an almost
absolute way. The mine operators owned the tools and equipment the miners needed to do their jobs
and the miners were required to lease them from the company. Most miners lived in houses they had
to rent from the company. They had to buy their necessities from company owned stores. Since they
didn’t have to worry about competition, the company owned stores charged inflated prices.
Miners were paid, not in U.S. Currency, but in company script. This insured that the company would
get it back in some future transaction. Where else could they spend it? Money owed to the company
for rent, equipment leasing, or store bills would be deducted from their wages. If the miners were
given a wage increase, the companies would just raise their prices to soak up the extra.
Miners were paid based on how many tons of coal they produced. There were several ways miners
could be cheated out of their proper wages. And the work was very dangerous. Hundreds of miners
died in West Virginia mines in the years leading up to the violence. Miners were angry and felt they
had to change the circumstances if they and their families were to survive.
Much could be written about the violence associated with striking miners, the state militia, and Baldwin-
Felts private detectives hired as enforcers by the coal companies. But for the purposes of this article
we will look at only one incident.
The Matewan Massacre
On the morning of May 19, 1920 Albert Felts of the Baldwin-Felts Detective agency arrived at
Matewan along with 12 of his associates. Albert was the brother of the agencies co-owner and was
also a Mingo County Deputy Sheriff.
They were employed by the Stone Mountain Coal Corporation on this day to evict about half a dozen
men from houses owned by Stone Mountain. Under the direction of Albert Felts, the property of these
men was carried out of the houses.
While these evictions were being carried out, the Baldwin-Felts men were approached by a large crowd
of men including Police Chief Sid Hatfield and Mayor Cable Testerman. The mayor discussed the
evictions with Mr. Felts and was told that they were legal. Felts suggested that Testerman contact
county authorities at Williamson and his own personal attorney. Felts indicated that he did not want
any trouble. That’s not surprising since he seems to have been in a pretty vulnerable position here.
Sid Hatfield Cable and Jesse Testerman
It doesn’t look like Felts was expecting trouble either. That afternoon, after the evictions were
completed, the entire Baldwin-Felts party had supper at the motel as they waited for the 5:00 o’clock
train. They were not keeping their rifles at the ready.
In the mean time, Chief Hatfield called Mingo County Deputy Sheriff Tony Webb at Williamson.
Webb was known to be sympathetic to the minors. Hatfield wanted Webb’s help in obtaining warrants
for the arrest of Felts and his men. Deputy Webb explained that there was no way he could get
warrants to him before the 5:00 o’clock train took them out of town. Hatfield stated over the phone,
“We will kill the G__D___ Sons of B____ before they leave town.”
After supper, the Baldwin-Felts men were waiting at the station for the train. A crowd of men led by
Chief Hatfield approached Felts and his men. A conversation was followed by gunfire. Chief Hatfield
and his group were engaged in a terrible gun battle with Deputy Felts and his men. Several hundred
shots were fired.
When the firing stopped the dead included Deputy Albert Felts, his brother Lee Felts, and their
associates C. B. Cunningham, C. T. Higgins, A. H. Booher, O. E. Powell, and J. W. Ferguson. Mayor
Cable Testerman and two others of his group were also killed.
Two weeks after the massacre Sid Hatfield married Jesse Testerman, the mayor’s widow. He soon
lost his job as police chief but was almost immediately elected constable in that district.
Sixteen men, including Sid Hatfield were indicted for murder and acquitted. Fourteen months later,
August 1, 1921, Hatfield was on trial in another case in Welch. He and his deputy Ed Chambers were
gunned down on the steps of the McDowell County Courthouse by Baldwin-Felts Detectives. No one
was ever convicted of these murders. The shooters claimed self-defense even though Hatfield and
Chambers were not armed.
McDowell County Courthouse
Sometime later, Jesse Hatfield, now widowed by both Mayor Cable and Sid Hatfield, married State
Police Private Sylvester H. Pettery. Private Pettery was then fired from the State Police for marrying
The murder of Sid Hatfield further stoked the fires of hatred in the minds of pro-union miners. The
result was an event history calls “The Battle of Blair Mountain.” Plenty has been written on that
The strikes and the bloodshed would pretty much continue until it was stopped by the economic
downturn of 1929. Several more police officers would lose their lives trying to keep the peace before
peace finally came.
Coal Mine Wars