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John Wilburn Trial


John E. Wilburn, a West Virginia coal miner and Baptist minister, was one of the few people convicted of murder for his participation in the Battle of Blair Mountain of August and September, 1921.

As the march of armed miners toward Logan County converged upon Blair Mountain, Wilburn, 45, who lived in Blair, told people it was time for him to lay down his Bible, take up his rifle, and fight. On August 30, he assembled 50 to 75 armed men, including two of his sons, told them he would lead them against the enemy, and took them up the mountain toward Sheriff Don Chafin’s army at the top.

After camping that night, the group ran into Logan Deputy John Gore and two nonunion miners, all armed members of Chafin’s army. On realizing they had met the enemy, both sides opened fire. All three of the Logan men and one of Wilburn’s men, a black miner, were killed in the fusillade. Wilburn and his men fled back toward Blair.

Both Wilburn and his son, John, were later sentenced to 11 years in the penitentiary. Governor Ephraim Franklin Morgan reduced their sentences to five years each, and Governor Howard Mason Gore pardoned them after they had served three years.

Written by Lon Savage


  1. Savage, Lon. Thunder in the Mountains. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1990.