January 12, 1880: W.Va. National Guard Puts Down the First Coal Strike

Photo of coal miners in West Virginia, 1908

On January 12, 1880, West Virginia National Guard troops arrived at Hawks Nest in Fayette County to put down one of the state’s first coal strikes. The strike started at Montgomery when coal operators told their union miners that nonunion competition from the nearby Hawks Nest mines was hurting business.

The Montgomery miners went to Hawks Nest and threatened their fellow miners with bodily harm. William Nelson Page, the manager of the Hawks Nest mine, appealed to the Fayette County sheriff to intervene. However, the sheriff was afraid of losing votes in the upcoming election and refused to take sides. Instead, he called upon Governor Henry Mathews to dispatch the state militia. The conflict ended shortly after the National Guard troops arrived. Hawks Nest was just the first of many times when West Virginia used militia troops to keep order, repeating it again in the strikes of 1894, 1902, and 1912.

Page, the Hawks Nest coal operator, recognized the benefits of using militia to control strikes. He later formed Company C of the 2nd Regiment of the West Virginia National Guard and served as its captain.