Sunday, January 28, 2007

Sid Hatfield's Trial

On this day in West Virginia history: On January 28, 1921, the trial of police chief Sid Hatfield for his role in the Matewan Massacre began in Williamson.

When non-union miners in Mingo County 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.

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. Despite the testimony of numerous eyewitnesses, the jury acquitted Hatfield and the other defendants 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. Hatfield and a deputy, Ed Chambers, were murdered on the steps of the county courthouse, sparking 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.

As usual, I have links:

1 comment:

David said...

Good stuff Rebecca, thanks. :-)

DF