Lengthiest murder trial in WV history begins

Posted by | January 28, 2016

When non-union miners in Mingo County, WV went on strike for the right to join the United Mine Workers in the spring of 1920, mine guards from the Baldwin-Felts detective agency evicted miners from their company-owned houses. After twelve Baldwin-Felts men arrived in Matewan, chief of police Sid Hatfield encouraged townspeople to arm themselves. The situation exploded into a gunfight in which seven detectives and four townspeople were killed, including Matewan’s mayor, Cable Testerman.

Matewan WVOne week after the shootings, Hatfield and Testerman’s widow, Jessie, were caught in a Huntington hotel and charged with “improper relations.” Having already bought a license, the couple was married upon their release from jail the next day.

The trial of Sid Hatfield and twenty-two other defendants for the murder of one of the detectives, Albert Felts, began on January 28, 1921. Some forty armed Baldwin-Felts agents lined the streets of Williamson that morning to influence the pro-union jury. At trial time, the affair with Mrs. Testerman speak well for Hatfield’s character.

Sid HatfieldBut the evidence failed to bring convictions against him and the other men accused of the killings in Matewan. The 20-some defendents were acquitted of the charges in what was the lengthiest murder trial in the state’s history.

Realizing the impossibility of gaining a conviction in southern West Virginia, Baldwin-Felts gunmen prevented Sid Hatfield from standing trial in an unrelated case in McDowell County later that year. A few months after the verdict, several Baldwin-Felts agents shot and killed Hatfield and another defendant, Ed Chambers, on the courthouse steps in Welch. This sparked an armed march on southern West Virginia by union miners, which ended with the Battle of Blair Mountain.

Again, despite numerous eyewitness accounts, accused murderers went free. Baldwin-Felts agents C. E. Lively, “Buster” Pence, and Bill Salter were acquitted of the Hatfield and Chambers murders on the grounds of self defense, although neither victim was armed.

sources: www.wvculture.org/history/timetrl/ttjan.html#0128


9 Responses

  • […] Matewan appalachianhistory.net […]

  • Sara says:

    My Grandfather was part of this trial I have a copy of the transcripts,and at one point he was sentenced to 99 years later dropped

  • Doug Estepp says:

    Sara, I would love to talk to you. I have Sid Hatfield’s police badge. I also have Albert and Lee Felts’ Baldwin Felts badges. Please e-mail me at coalcountrytours@gmail.com. Thanks!

  • Erik says:

    I am really enjoying this part of American history. What courage it took Sid Hatfield to stand up for the miners to arrest the Baldwin Felts detectives. A lot of innocent miners and family died with no justice for them. What a terrible time. Sid Hatfield and Ed Chambers stood their ground against the bully coal mining company. As for me the miners are great American heros.

  • Liz Bortniak says:

    Doug and Sara, please let me know if there is any way to get a copy of the transcript or a picture of the badges. My husband and I just purchased T.L. Felts home in Galax. We are wanting to collect related historical items. My email is lizbortniak@yahoo.com Thanks for any info!

  • Martin Lopez says:

    Enjoyed reading your piece on the trial of the Mingo County miners. I’ve heard a story that the town where the trial was held didn’t welcome the trail or the miners. That there was disdain generally for the men on trail, but that over the many weeks the families of the accused took to playing baseball to while away the time. And that gradually some townspeople joined in on the games, and that the sport helped mend the divide somewhat. Have you heard about this aspect of the story?


  • Brandon Johnston says:

    My grandfather recently passed away, and I received the family genealogy books for his mother’s side of the family, who were Livelys. Turns out that C.E Lively was my grandfather’s uncle, and there is a little bit of information on him in the books. I’m just starting to research him on my own; it is becoming more and more interesting!

  • […] the comments below an article about the 1920 shoot-out and trial in Matewan, W.Va., for instance, this exchange took […]

  • Dale Meadows says:

    It is a damned shame that C.E. Lively has any descendants, anywhere! He was a murderous, 2-faced, floor flushing, traitorous, criminal piece of garbage, who personified everything that is wrong and corrupt about West Virginia, and always has been! I am certain that he instilled these same character flaws in ALL of his descendants as well, so they are no better! I won’t have a Lively descendant on one of my jobs, near my home, or in the same county knowingly. Same goes for anyone related to Mr. Baldwin or Mr. Felts. If they were all to be purged from the midst of human kind, it could be filed under “Did man kind a favor!” There is NEVER a sliding scale of INTEGRITY, and these people never had any! The same goes for their descendants; they can’t pass down what they never possessed!

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