Blair Mountain

From Global Energy Monitor

Blair Mountain, West Virgina is the nationally important historical site of the 1921 Battle of Blair Mountain, the largest civil insurrection in the US since the Civil War. Its protected historical status is the subject of an ongoing controversy.


For further details on the events of 1921, see Battle of Blair Mountain.

From August 30 to Sept. 4, 1921, over 10,000 miners armed with rifles and pistols marched from coal camps in the central part of the state. The miners sought the right to be paid by the hour and not by the ton, a 5-day work week, and fair and equal pay. They were stopped by a small army of heavily armed coal mine guards at Blair Mountain. During the five days of battle, the miners and company guards fought across the mountainside. Thirty men died.

The incident was triggered by a series of grievances, foremost of which was the assassination of Sheriff Sid Hatfield by a coal mine guard on the steps of a McDowell County Courthouse on August 1, 1921. The battle ended when US troops arrived at the site on Sept. 4, 1921. In the aftermath of the battle, over 1,200 indictments were handed down, but juries refused to convict labor leaders. [1]

Renewed Controversy

The second Battle of Blair Mountain has been underway since the 1980s, when labor and environmental activists began trying to protect the site. In 1994, historians first proposed placing the land under protected status. After a lengthy and complex process, the site was listed on the National Register of Historic Sites in 2009. Then, under political pressure from the coal industry, the National Park Service de-listed the site in January of 2010. (See Blair Mountain Chronology, below.)[2][3]

The de-listing was, at the very least, unprecedented. Other National Park Service de-listings posted on its website involve minor historical sites that suffered irreversible accidental damage. The de-listing has opened the door to mountaintop removal coal mining, which would certainly destroy it as a memorial and as a location for archeological and historical studies.

The Blair Mountain site contains 15 separate battle sites, around one million bullets, and many thousands of artifacts. Only some of these have been located and mapped by a team of archeologists led by Harvard Ayers, a professor at Appalachian State University, and guided by Kenny King, a coal miner whose relatives fought in the battle. By mapping the locations of bullets, casings, buttons and discarded weapons, Ayers and King have been able to trace the progress of the five-day battle.

Among other things, the work has shown previously unknown evidence of areas where miners broke through the company guard lines.

The archeological reports have been one factor, along with the support of hundreds of historians and dozens of historical organizations, in getting the site listed.

June 2011: March on Blair Mountain

Blair Mountain, WV: The West Virginia Mine Wars

June 6, 2011 began a 5-day march on Blair Mountain in West Virginia to draw attention to a historic labor battle and try to prevent the destruction of the historic site - Blair Mountain - through mountaintop removal mining.

Sixty-seven organizations supported the march, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, Kentuckians for The Commonwealth, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, Appalachian Voices, and Rainforest Action Network.

Notable for its absence is the United Mine Workers of America. The miners union has supported efforts to preserve Blair Mountain, but only UMWA local members will be marching in the protests next week. That’s because the UMWA is not opposed to mountaintop removal mining, while most of the march organizers are focused on ending the destructive practice altogether.

“The felling of any mountain for a few months or weeks worth of coal is an affront to the ecology and people of Appalachia,” the march organizers said on their website. "But Blair carries a unique significance: it is a testament to over one hundred years of resistance to the coal industry, which has placed profit over land, human life and the most ancient mountain range on the planet. To lose Blair is, in some ways, to bury this history of resistance."[4]

“Like the miners who marched in 1921, we are living in a critical moment in history. King Coal continues to disregard the lives of miners and, since the mid-20th century, has been tearing the land itself apart.” The march will “ let the world know that Appalachians and their allies are creating a new narrative of resistance – one that binds environment, labor and community together to fight for a better world.”[4]

In June 2011, Appalachia Rising and supporters intended to tell the story of the coal miners who fought for principles that helped shape modern U.S. labor laws. Additionally, they intended to keep Blair Mountain from becoming subject to mountaintop removal mining. On Appalachia Rising's March on Blair Mountain's website, the march was described as follows:

"...a peaceful, unifying event involving environmental justice organizations, union workers, scholars, artists, and other citizen groups. Today, Blair Mountain, like dozens of other historic mountains throughout the region, is being threatened by mountaintop removal and it is here that a new generation of Appalachians takes a stand. By working to preserve this mountain we are demanding an end to the destructive practices of MTR that threatens to strip Central Appalachia of its history, its economic potential and its health."[5]

Among the goals of the march was the return of the historic battlefield to the National Register of Historic Places. Such a designation would not automatically stop mining, but it would slow down the review process. Surprisingly, the battlefield on Blair Mountain was once briefly on the National Register of Historic Places. It was later removed under the requirements of federal rules barring sites from inclusion if the majority of the landowners object. Originally, the West Virginia Division of Culture and History counted 22 objections to the listing out of 57 total landowners. However, Jacqueline Proctor, deputy commissioner, announced in April 2009, shortly after the site was placed on the registry, that 30 landowners objected to the listing. The new count followed the faxing of a letter by the National Park Service to the Division of Culture and History on March 11, 2009. The letter had been sent to the Park Service by lawyer Blair Gardner, who represented several coal companies and landowners.[6]

The 2011 memorial march began in Marmet and continued over 50 miles and 5 days, traversing the narrow country roads used by the battling coal miners in the summer of 1921. Those roads are now used by coal trucks.[7]

Legal action in the Blair Mountain Controversy

September 9, 2010 lawsuit against National Park Service filed

On September 9, 2010, four groups filed a federal lawsuit to return the site to the National Register of Historic Places: the Sierra Club, the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, the Friends of Blair Mountain, and the West Virginia Labor History Association. Defendants are the Department of the Interior, the National Park Service and the Keeper of the Register. The suit alleges that the de-listing “was arbitrary, capricious, and contrary to the National Park Service’s own regulations.” The Friends of Blair Mountain saw the process of de-listing as “bureaucratic fraud.” [8]

In December, 2010, the National Trust for Historic Preservation joined the Sierra Club and others with an amicus brief asking the courts to return Blair Mountain to protected status. [9]

On July 26, 2011, the federal Department of the Interior, the National Park Service and the Keeper of the Register asked the U.S. District Court in Washington, dismiss the lawsuit, saying that the groups lack standing. [10]

July 2011: Petition to protect Blair Mountain rejected

On July 7, 2011, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection responded to the petition filed in early June 2011 seeking to protect Blair Mountain from coal mining by saying that the petition was “frivolous”. Tom Clarke, director of the WVDEP Division of Mining and Reclamation, wrote in a three-page letter to Derek Teaney at the Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment, that a “significant portion” of the area had already been mined or was part of previous petitions for lands unsuitable for declarations, and therefore "a declaration that the lands you have identified are unsuitable for mining would not effectively protect the historic integrity of these lands because it would have no effect on oil and gas and logging operations." Clarke concludes that "because I am rejecting your petition as frivolous, no other findings are being made with respect to it."[11]

October 2012: Appeal rejected

In October 2012, a federal judge dismissed an appeal by the environmental and historic preservation organizations seeking to restore Blair Mountain's historic designation. The judge denied the plaintiffs legal standing to sue on the grounds that any injury (i.e., destruction of the battlefield) resulting from that decision was “purely conjectural.”[12]

July 2013: Corps beings new process

In July of 2013, the Corps of Engineers issued a notice of a Programmatic Assessment, noting that the site was "eligible" for listing under the National Register of Historic Places. [13] The process could lead to mining at the site, or, alternately, could lead the Corps to determine that the site has historic value.

Mining at Blair Mountain

Left Fork surface mine

At the Left Fork surface mine permit, Arch Coal has cleared and begun blasting and coal removal on the 50.3 acre addition that was granted in May 2011. This area is directly adjacent to and within the viewshed of the National Register boundary. This permit addition was strongly protested by the WV State Historic Preservation officer, but the DEP approved the permit without mitigating or researching the archaeological resources.

The mining area has not had thorough archaeological work performed, and so any information about the role the area played in the overall battle dynamics of Blair Mountain will be lost. Both historical and limited archaeological work indicate that the Left Fork vector was a major vector of miner movement, and firefights occurred on the battle line along the section of the ridge leading to the Left Fork.[14]

Bumbo No. 2 (S504991)

As of 2012, Arch Coal is currently conducting blasting operations on the Bumbo #2 permit, and preparation work for further blasting has been reported by observers. There is no evidence that coal extraction is beginning on Bumbo #2. The overall mining plan calls for operations to begin near the mouth of Wolfpen Branch on the north side of Bumbo #2 permit. Blasting is occurring near an unreclaimed highwall and pit area that was mined under permits S501188 and S500591, between Isom Branch of Hewitt Creek and Wolfpen Branch of Beech Creek. The unreclaimed area was added to Bumbo #2 in order to use spoil from Bumbo #2 to finish reclaiming S501188. Friends of Blair Mountain says it believes Arch is blasting the top of the ridge to create spoil to complete reclamation in the area. Both the unreclaimed, previously worked areas and the current blasting area are on the Designated Battlefield in the northeastern extent of the ridge.[15]

Blair Mountain Chronology[16]

  • 1902: Union organizing begins in West Virginia in the Kanawha-New River coalfields. Most gains are lost by 1912 due to harassment of organizers by coal company mine guards.
  • 1912: Cabin Creek and Paint Creek miners strike. They are evicted from their homes, and tent colonies are set up.
  • 1913: Machine guns fire on miners’ tent colony. Mine workers win right to organize in Cabin and Paint creek areas.
  • 1913 - 1920: Protest marches in Logan County.
  • 1920, May 21: Matewan Massacre. Seven coal company detectives, two miners, and the mayor of Matewan (Logan County) WV die after a shoot-out. Police chief Sid Hatfield is charged in connection with the deaths of the detectives. Hatfield had tried to prevent the warrantless evictions of mining families by coal company guards.
  • 1921, August 1: Hatfield and a deputy are shot outside McDowell County courthouse by C.E. Lively, a Baldwin-Felts detective. Lively is never convicted.
  • 1921, August 31- September 4: Battle of Blair Mountain. More than 10,000 armed miners converge on Logan County. They are stopped as they try to cross Blair Mountain by several thousand coal company guards armed with automatic weapons.
  • 1921, September 4: US Army troops arrive. Miners refuse to fight them and return home.
  • 1922: Some 1,217 indictments are handed down, including 325 for murder and 24 for treason. One treason charge is brought against union organizer Bill Blizzard, sometimes considered to be the "general" of the miners' army. Eventually all charges against Blizzard are dropped. A handful of people are convicted of reduced charges.
  • 1924: United Mine Workers membership drops off in West Virginia.
  • 1933: National Industrial Recovery Act recognizes right to organize unions, and the labor movement picks up steam in West Virginia.
  • 1950s: Some of Bill Blizzard’s memoirs are published in local newspapers, and are later collected by Wess Harris in the book “When Miners March.”
  • 1960s and 70s: First historical accounts of the “Mingo war” and “Miners War” appear, for example, Fred Mooney’s “Struggle in the Coal Fields,” (1967).
  • 1980s: Massey Coal company subsidiary receives a permit for surface mining at Blair Mountain. Residents near Blair Mountain begin informal archeological surveys and organizing for historic preservation.
  • 1987: National Trust for Historic Preservation sues US Office of Surface Mining, arguing that its regulations governing historical preservation are inadequate.
  • 1987: Motion picture “Matewan” produced by John Sayles, depicting the fight between Hatfield and the coal mine guards.
  • 1992: West Virginia University conducts cultural resource survey at request of WV House Speaker Chuck Chambers. Survey covers 80 square miles but has inadequate archaeology.
  • 1994: National Park Service historian John Bond prepares nomination for Blair Mountain as a National Historic Landmark.
  • 1995: United Mine Workers of America union agrees with coal industry to erect a National Historic Landmark on Blair Mountain and allow mining to proceed on most of the land. Others still object.
  • 1996: National Park Service again asks state to update original nomination for National Historic Landmark status.
  • 1999: State of West Virginia recommends against nomination for the entire battlefield, suggests instead three smaller nominations. WV cites lack of archaeological evidence and poor integrity as the basis for its negative recommendation. Appalachian State University professor Harvard Ayers begins preliminary archeological surveys.
  • 2002: Kenny King prepares nomination based on National Historic Landmark draft document, spends another two years trying to meet state requirements.
  • 2004: Historians begin assembling documents for renewed bid for historic preservation with WV State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO). The SHPO determines that the Blair Mountain site is eligible for placement on the National Register and should be presented to the Archives and History Commission at the May 6, 2005 meeting.
  • 2005: WV Archives and History Commission recommends NPS register 1,600 acres of Blair for the National Register. Landholding companies and coal companies sue the Archives & History Commission members individually and employees of the State Historic Preservation Office. The suit is later dismissed.
  • 2006, May: National Trust for Historic Preservation puts Blair Mountain on list of 11 most endangered places in the nation. UMWA and Sierra club support a national register listing because of the site’s importance to the labor movement.
  • 2006, Fall: Full blown archeological survey by Appalachian State University Prof. Harvard Ayers and nearby landowner Kenny King.
  • 2007: Full application with archeological study is submitted to National Park Service.
  • 2007, May: National Park Service returns Blair Mountain nomination to the WV State Historic Preservation Office with request for more information.
  • 2007, September: Hearings take place at the state level. Many historical organizations support the nomination.
  • 2009, March 30: The National Park Service adds Blair Mountain to the National Register.
  • 2009, April: Under pressure from the coal industry, the WV SHPO finds new evidence of nearby landowner opposition and asks National Park Service to de-list Blair Mountain. Friends of Blair Mountain find serious flaws with the process.
  • 2010, January: National Park Service agrees to take Blair Mountain off the national register.
  • 2010, August:National Park Service refuses to reconsider the de-listing.
  • 2010, September: Four groups file a federal lawsuit to return the site to the National Register of Historic Places. The Sierra Club, the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, the Friends of Blair Mountain and the West Virginia Labor History Association. The suit alleges that the de-listing “was arbitrary, capricious, and contrary to the National Park Service’s own regulations.”
  • 2011, June 6 - 11: March on Blair Mountain organized by coalition of Appalachian and national environmental organizations.
  • 2012, Oct 2: Federal judge rules against Friends of Blair Mountain and says the de-listing will stand.


  1. Kovarik, Bill."Baseball versus big coal: How the game ended the West Virginia coal mine wars of 1922," Appalachian Voice, March 2008.
  2. Bill Kovarik, "The Battle Over Blair Mountain Rages On," The Appalachian Voice Online, June 8, 2010
  3. Bill Kovarik, "Mountaintop Removal Protest Echoes Historic Labor Battle," Earth Island Journal Blog: The Environmentalist, June 2, 2011
  4. 4.0 4.1 "Bound for Blair: Then & Now," March on Blair Mountain, accessed June 23, 2011
  5. "Join Us!" March on Blair Mountain, accessed June 23, 2011
  6. Scott Finn, "Manchin says he had nothing to do with Blair Mountain decision," West Virginia Public Broadcasting, April 7, 2009
  7. Mark Johanson, "Saving Blair Mountain: Hundreds March in West Virginia" IB Traveler, June 7, 2011.
  8. Ken Ward "Groups Sue over Blair Mountain," Coal Tattoo, Charleston WV Gazette, Sept. 9, 2010.
  9. Paul Nyden "National preservation group joins fight to save Blair Mountain" Charleston WV Gazette, Jan. 1, 2011.
  10. Vickie Smith "Feds, W.Va. Coal Association ask judge to dismiss lawsuit over Blair Mountain" Associated Press, July 26, 2011.
  11. Ken Ward Jr., "WVDEP: Blair Mountain petition ‘frivolous’" Coal Tattoo, July 7, 2011.
  12. Matt Wasson, "Big Coal Wins Latest Battle to Blast Historic Blair Mountain," EcoWatch, Oct. 9, 2012.
  13. Ken Ward, Jr., "Corps seeks comments on Blair Mountain mining," Coal Tattoo, July 15, 2013.
  14. "Update on Blair Mountain mining activities," Coal Tattoo, Feb. 14, 2012.
  15. "Update on Blair Mountain mining activities," Coal Tattoo, Feb. 14, 2012.
  16. Bill Kovarik, "Mountaintop Removal Protest Echoes Historic Labor Battle," Earth Island Blog: The EnvironmentaList, June 2, 2011



  • Blizzard, William C. When Miners March, WV,: Appalachian Community Press, 2005.
  • Ballard, Ross. When Miner March — The Battle of Blair Mountain audiobook
  • Corbin, David, ed. The West Virginia Mine Wars: An Anthology. 2nd ed. Martinsburg, W.Va.: Appalachian Editions, 1998.
  • Lee, Howard B. Bloodletting in Appalachia: The Story of West Virginia's Four Major Mine Wars and Other Thrilling Incidents of Its Coal Fields. Morgantown, W.Va.: West Virginia University Press, 1969.
  • Savage, Lon. Thunder in the Mountains: The West Virginia Mine War, 1920-21. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1990 (originally published by Jalamap Publications, 1985).
  • Shogan, Robert. The Battle of Blair Mountain: The Story of America's Largest Union Uprising. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 2004.

Citizen Action