Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Type



Eberly College of Arts and Sciences



Committee Chair

Ronald Lewis

Committee Co-Chair

Van Dempsey

Committee Member

Van Dempsey

Committee Member

Elizabeth Fones-Wolf

Committee Member

Kenneth Fones-Wolf

Committee Member

Barbara Howe


On 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. This dissertation argues that this event was, rather, the culmination of an even longer series of events that unfolded in Mingo County, dating back at least to the Civil War, and setting the stage for the second mine war. Equally important, while it is outside the scope of this dissertation, the conflicts in Mingo County’s history that crystallized around the massacre continued to resonate throughout the twentieth century while the county’s 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 dissertation’s strength is that it provides the first comprehensive history of the area that became Mingo County in 1895, a history that begins here in the late eighteenth century and continues to the massacre. The dissertation interweaves the area’s economic history, including the development of coal mining and struggles over land ownership; labor 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 county’s two major communities — Matewan and Williamson — and the impact of the state’s governors and legislatures on the county; and history of violence, including the Hatfield-McCoy feud. Equally important, this dissertation argues that the history of the southern West Virginia coalfields is far more complex than we have believed previously. Mingo County did not have the large immigrant population of its neighbors. Nor did it have the large-scale mining operations that could withstand fluctuations in the coal markets better than did the small mines in Mingo County. The dissertation draws on extensive use of county court records, local newspapers, oral history interviews, correspondence with a Matewan local historian, and the papers of coal company owners to address the question of why the massacre happened in Matewan on that date — a question that can only be answered by knowing the history of the county before that date.