February 25, 1903: Lawman Cunningham Leads an Armed Posse into Stanaford

Lawman Dan Cunningham

On February 25, 1903, an early labor-related shootout took place at Stanaford, near Beckley. At dawn, Deputy U.S. Marshal Dan Cunningham led an armed posse into Stanaford. Several days before, striking miners had prevented Cunningham and others from serving court papers.

The morning of February 25, the miners were awakened by the sound of gunfire. Cunningham and his posse opened fire into the home of G. W. Jackson, where Jackson, his wife, four small children, and eight miners were sleeping. Cunningham’s crew killed three men in Jackson’s house, including one with a bullet in the back of the head. Elsewhere, Cunningham’s men fatally wounded three other miners. When the case came before a Raleigh County jury, Judge B. F. Keller let Cunningham and the others off, claiming they were trying to execute a lawful arrest.

The Battle of Stanaford, as it’s remembered, was the last episode of the 1902 New River coal strike. It was one of the most deadly strike-related incidents up to that point and a precursor to the much greater violence that would occur during the West Virginia Mine Wars.