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Legal Control


"Policemen employed by the coal operators are one of the greatest evils of non-union coal towns."

In Non-Union Mines: The Diary of a Coal Digger


As the threat of unionization encroached, coal companies hired para-military forces to prevent miners from organizing. Many of these men, known as 'mine guards,'  were hired from private detective agencies; the most notorious of these was the Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency. Police officers were also hired by coal operators to enforce company policies.The line between public and private officers disappeared, and leaving miners and their families without defense against the corrupt authority of coal companies (Wagner, 2011). 

                                                                                                                 Arnold Miller, Even the Heavens Weep




Mine guards patrolled the streets, keeping track of who entered and exited the town and reporting any suspicious behaviors. Many of these guards were armed with guns, and they were known to use violent force against miners and their families

In some mining communities, miners were prevented from standing in a group of three or more, to keep them from discussing union affairs. Mine guards were also able to enter people's homes, if they were suspected of housing or communicating with a union sympathizer. Houses were searched randomly. Some mining families even reported having their telephone lines tapped (Keeney, 2018). 

Because coal companies had built miners' houses, they could order evictions at will. If a miner joined the union, or even expressed interest in doing so, he and his family could be forcibly removed from their home. 

Since miners on strike were not actively working for the coal company, operators revoked their right to live in company housing. Mine guards would enter people's homes with little or no notice, demanding they vacate the property at once. They often used violence to force people out, and threw all of the family's furniture belongings out into the street. Little regard was given to the presence of children, elderly people, or people with illness or disabilities. Many mining families were left standing in the streets without a way of putting their lives back together (Wagner, 2011).  


                                                                                                                 Paul Maynard, Even the Heavens Weep




Evicted mining families were forced into temporary housing. Tents were constructed on whatever few pieces of land were not owned by the coal operators, built by the United Mine Workers of America sent supplies. Entire families shared a single tent. Communities of evicted families formed 'tent colonies,' which acted as their only shelter through some of West Virginia's harshest winters (Even the Heavens Weep).