On May 19, 1920, one of the bloodiest events in the West Virginia Mine Wars unfolded in the Mingo County town of Matewan. Four months earlier, the United Mine Workers of America had launched a major campaign to organize southern West Virginia’s non-union coalfields. Along the West Virginia-Kentucky line, some 3,000 miners joined the union and were fired from their jobs. Hundreds had to leave their coal company-owned houses. Those who refused were evicted by the detested Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency.
On May 19, thirteen Baldwin-Felts detectives arrived in Matewan to evict striking miners from their homes. Some families were forced out at gunpoint, with their belongings dumped in the road. Enraged miners grabbed their guns and headed for town.
As the detectives prepared to leave Matewan, Police Chief Sid Hatfield, Mayor Cable C. Testerman, and a group of angry miners tried to arrest Al Felts, who, in turn, tried to arrest Hatfield. Suddenly, shooting erupted. Within minutes, 10 men were dead, including seven detectives and Mayor Testerman. The Matewan Massacre, as it came to be known, was the start of a deadly 16-month period in the Mine Wars.