Cover image for Thunder in the mountains : the West Virginia mine war, 1920-21
Thunder in the mountains : the West Virginia mine war, 1920-21
Savage, Lon, 1928-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Pittsburgh, Pa. : University of Pittsburgh Press, 1990.
Physical Description:
xix, 195 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations, map ; 23 cm
General Note:
Originally published: Elliston, Va. :Northcross House, 1986.

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
HD5325.M63 1920 .W47 1990 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



The first edition of this account was published in 1985 (Jalamap Publications); it is presented here with new material gathered by the author, a short foreword by John Sayles (director of the film Matewan) and an introduction by historian John Alexander Williams. Savage's account is well-researched documentation of the confrontation which has been the backdrop for novels such as The Killing ground and Storming heaven as well as Sayles' film. Annotation copyrighted by Book News, Inc., Portland, OR


The West Virginia mine war of 1920-21, a major civil insurrection of unusual brutality on both sides, even by the standards of the coal fields, involved thousands of union and nonunion miners, state and private police, militia, and federal troops. Before it was over, three West Virginia counties were in open rebellion, much of the state was under military rule, and bombers of the U.S. Army Air Corps had been dispatched against striking miners.

The origins of this civil war were in the Draconian rule of the coal companies over the fiercely proud miners of Appalachia. It began in the small railroad town of Matewan when Mayor C. C. Testerman and Police Chief Sid Hatfield sided with striking miners against agents of the Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency, who attempted to evict the miners from company-owned housing. During a street battle, Mayor Testerman, seven Baldwin-Felts agents, and two miners were shot to death.

Hatfield became a folk hero to Appalachia. But he, like Testerman, was to be a martyr. The next summer, Baldwin-Felts agents assassinated him and his best friend, Ed Chambers, as their wives watched, on the steps of the courthouse in Welch, accelerating the miners' rebellion into open warfare.

Much neglected in historical accounts, Thunder in the Mountains is the only available book-length account of the crisis in American industrial relations and governance that occured during the West Virginia mine war of 1920-21.

Reviews 1

Library Journal Review

This is a colorful account of the open warfare in West Virginia's dark and bloody coal fields in 1920 and 1921, triggered by the killing by company detectives of Matewan town officials friendly to the miners. Ultimately, thousands of strikers faced strike-breakers, private police, and law enforcement officers in pitched battle. It required the declaring of martial law and the calling up of not only the state militia, but also of federal troops, including United States Air Force reconnaissance planes, to restore order. The strike was broken, and the miners were forced back into the pits. Appalachian coal fields remained non-union until the New Deal days of the 1930s. This is a solidly researched account of the story, also the subject of a John Sayles film, but it is flawed by Savage's sometimes overwrought journalistic style. For subject collections.-- Harry Frumerman, formerly with Hunter Coll., CUNY (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.