The Hawks Nest Coal Company strike, January 1880, was the first of many strikes to place West Virginia miners in conflict with state officials as well as coal operators. The strike began when operators at Coal Valley (now Montgomery) told their union miners that they were being hurt by competition by the nearby Hawks Nest mines.
Miners from Coal Valley then stopped miners at Hawks Nest from working and threatened them with bodily harm if they returned to work. William Nelson Page, manager of the Hawks Nest mine, called on Fayette County Sheriff C. H. McClung. Fearing voter reprisals, McClung declined to intervene and instead called for Governor Henry Mason Mathews to send the militia. Mathews activated a militia company from Charleston, which quickly restored order. Several Coal Valley miners were charged in Fayette County civil court with intimidation and unlawful interference with Hawks Nest miners and placed under a peace bond.
This was the first coal strike in which the state used its troops to keep order, which was to be repeated in other strikes in 1894, 1902, and 1912. The strike featured several men who became prominent. Lawyer and future governor Emanuel Willis “Windy” Wilson defended the strikers in the Fayette County circuit court. Maj. John W. M. Appleton, the militia commander at Hawks Nest and previously a white officer in the 54th Massachusetts Regiment, the famous black regiment in the Civil War, later became West Virginia adjutant general. William Nelson Page, seeing the advantages of having a militia company to control strikers, formed Company C of the 2nd Regiment of the West Virginia National Guard and became its captain. He ended a 20-year career in the National Guard as a major.
This Article was written by Kenneth R. Bailey
Bailey, Kenneth R. Hawk's Nest Coal Company Strike. West Virginia History, (July 1969).