“We commandeered every freight train
To the Kentucky line
Took every car that crossed our path
And all the guns and ammo we could find”
-David Rovics, The Battle of Blair Mountain
In the past several years, no less than 6 contemporary songwriters have honored the history of Blair Mountain and the Mingo-Logan wars through their own lyrical interpretations and songs. And, as is always the case in the oral tradition of music, these songs contain layers of truth as well as some inaccuracies. David Rovics and Louise Mosrie correctly assert that freight trains and cars were commandeered in order to get closer to Mingo, and while Mosrie sings that 13,000 marched, and Rovics claims 10,000, the numbers could very likely have been lower than both estimates. Rovics also repeats what was a common misconception during the march itself when he says: “But the last straw came in Sharples, when they gunned the women down.” It is true that a shoot-out did occur in the town of Sharples, during which several miners were killed. However, there continues to be doubt that women or children were shot during the altercation. Nevertheless the rumor spread quickly, and marchers returning home swiftly changed direction upon hearing the news.
Regardless of various interpretations of the events, all of these songs contain stirring details. When Mosrie sings, “Lay down the Bibles, take up your guns” she is making a direct reference to the Rev. John Wilburn, a minister who declared just that before leading a force of men up Blair Mountain (Wilburn was just one of a few people who were convicted for their participation in the Battle). The title of Alan Cathead Johnston’s song “Teardrops of Angels” makes reference to a speech given at the funeral of murdered union-sympathizers Sid Hatfield and Ed Chambers, when the giver of the eulogy stated “Even the heavens weep with the grief-stricken relatives and bereaved friends of these two boys.”
All of these songs harbor an earnest passion for the rights of early 20th-century mining communities. Enjoy the songs below, and let the artists know you appreciate them! Blair Pathways will shortly have a section devoted to these songs in our digital archives. If any readers are aware of other contemporary songs concerning the Southern West Virginia Mine Wars, please e-mail us at email@example.com.
The Battle of Blair Mountain by David Rovics
The Battle of Blair Mountain by Louise Mosrie
Battle of Blair Mountain by Bill Talbot
Find this song soon in our archives!
The Battle of Blair Mountain by Josh Hamblin, performed by Southern Sun Bluegrass
Teardrops of Angels by Alan Cathead Johnston
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