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May 19, 1920 gunshots rang through the streets of Matewan, West Virginia, in an event soon known as the "Matewan Massacre." Most historians of West Virginia and Appalachia see this event as the beginning of a long series of events known as the second mine wars. But was it instead the culmination of an even longer series of events that unfolded in Mingo County, dating back at least to the Civil War?
The conflicts in Mingo County that crystallized around the massacre continued to resonate throughout the 20th century while local residents worked to balance their lives against the public's knowledge of the best-known events of their history, including the massacre and the earlier Hatfield-McCoy feud. This book provides the first comprehensive history of the area, beginning in the late 18th century and continuing up to the massacre. It cover the relevant economic history, including early efforts at unionization; transportation history, including the role of the N&W Railroad; political history, including the role of political factions in the country's two major communities: Matewan and Williamson; and the impact of the state's governors and legislatures on Mingo County.
"A close-up history of economic and political factions struggling for control of the southern West Virginia coalfields. You couldn’t create fiction with this much drama." -Ronald L. Lewis, author Transforming the Appalachian Countryside "[Bailey] has saved from oblivion the massacre's local social, economic, and political context." -Paul Salstrom, The Journal of Southern History "Bailey's study contributes to the breadth of work in Appalachian studies that is recontextualizing the complexities and nuances of Appalachian communities." - Erica Lies, Oral History Review "...fascinating." - Steve Fesenmaier, The Charleston Gazette
About the author:
Rebecca Bailey’s family roots are in McDowell and Mercer Counties in West Virginia. She first learned about Matewan through stories her coal miner grandfather told about witnessing Sid Hatfield’s murder. Later, when she came to West Virginia University to study public history, she was hired to help collect oral histories in Matewan and Mingo County. She wrote Matewan Before the Massacre because she could not let the story go.