July 17, 1922: Sheriff and Four Miners Killed at Cliftonville

Clifton mine tipple, burning after strikers set fire to it

On July 17, 1922, a deadly battle took place between striking miners and mine guards at the Richland Coal Company mine at Cliftonville, just east of Wellsburg. While the Mine Wars are typically associated with southern West Virginia, this shootout in the Northern Panhandle was among the bloodiest of the entire period.  

The events began the night before, when some 300 to 500 striking miners—all heavily armed—gathered in nearby Avella, Pennsylvania. To keep nonunion strikebreakers out of the mine, the union men took up positions around the mine at Cliftonville.

Brooke County Sheriff Harding Duval and about 20 deputies reinforced the coal company’s mine guards. As the 5:15 a.m. Wabash Railroad train blew its whistle, the nonunion miners appeared for work. The strikers attacked, leading to a ferocious shootout. The official death toll was placed at nine; although, there were rumors of more dead. Sheriff Duval was among those killed.

All of the other victims were union men. In the aftermath, 216 were indicted. Many charges were reduced or dropped, with 30 men sentenced to three or more years in prison.