Alva Grimmett, Appalachia, Barnabus, Blair Mountain, Bruno, Buffalo Creek, Cabin Creek, Campbell's Creek, carpenter, Charleston, Christian, coal, Democratic Party, deputy sheriff, Don Chafin, drum runner, Ed Goodman, Emmett Scaggs, George McClintock, Great Depression, Hatfield Bottom, Henderson Grimmett, history, Joe Hatfield, John Chafin, Kanawha County, Kistler, Landsville, Logan County, Mallory, Mallory Coal Company, Matilda Hatfield, McKinley Grimmett, moonshining, Nancy Grimmett, prosecuting attorney, Republican Party, Sand Lick, sheriff, Superintendent of Schools, Tennis Hatfield, Thomas Hatfield, United Mine Workers of America, West Virginia, Wild Goose Saloon
McKinley Grimmett was born on November 30, 1896 to Henderson and Nancy (Hatfield) Grimmett at Sand Lick, Logan County, WV. On May 14, 1916, Mr. Grimmett married a Ms. Plymale, who soon died, in Logan County. One child named Alva died on June 21, 1919 of whooping cough, aged fourteen months. His World War I draft registration card dated September 12, 1918 identifies him as having blue eyes and light-colored hair. He was employed by Mallory Coal Company at Mallory, WV. On November 13, 1919, he married Matilda “Tilda” Hatfield, daughter of Thomas Hatfield, in Logan County. He identified himself as a farmer in both of his marriage records. During the 1920s, he served as a deputy under Sheriff Tennis Hatfield.
The following interview of Mr. Grimmett was conducted at his home on July 17, 1984. In this part of the interview, he recalls his occupations. Coal, Don Chafin, Tennis Hatfield, unionization, and the Great Depression are featured.
Did you ever go to work in the mines?
Oh yeah. I’ve been… That’s what I done over here for 44 years and two months, in and around the mines.
Who hired you?
Yeah, a fellow by the name of Frazier down here at Logan. Superintendent. Not at Logan. Landsville. I stayed there four years, pretty nigh of five years. Then I quit down there and I come to Christian and I stayed up here. A fellow by the name of Harry Venebale hired me over here, the superintendent. And I stayed with him 34 years. Wouldn’t let nobody else hold a lever but me. Drum runner. I’d run as high as 35 railroad cars a day off of that hill. I’ve done it many a day.
Did you do other jobs?
Oh yeah. Days the mines didn’t work I was the carpenter boss. That is, I was overseer over ‘em all. After the union come in, why I wouldn’t take it as a boss. They just run me as a leader, you know. At that time, I’d either have to go in as a boss or get off the union, you know. And I knowed the union was the best for me and I stayed with the union.
Did you have any role in organizing the union?
Oh yeah. I had a big… They wouldn’t let us organize on their property. We had to go across an island over there in the river and have our meeting to organize.
Is it true that local men had the union organized and were waiting for Washington to allow it?
Yeah, that’s about right. We got it. No, they come from Cabin Creek and Kanawha County and Campbell’s Creek over there and tried to organize us. Don Chafin was the high sheriff. He got so much ton per coal and everything. And we couldn’t do a thing because he had every child, woman, and everything else on his side to block us every way. They come to Blair Mountain and had fights. Killed several people, too. Both sides. But I never was in it. I was running a drum and they never did ask me to go. But they paid ‘em. They did go from over there. And went from around here, too. To fight against them, you know. And there was several of them got killed up Dingess Run there. I’ve been at the place where one fellow, sink hole he was in. There was four of them got killed: deputy sheriffs. George Gore and a fellow by the name of Mitchem. I don’t know the other two. I’ve forgot ‘em now. George Gore and Mitchem. But I know where they was at and everything there.
Can you describe Don Chafin?
I’m not too familiar with him now. But he controlled Logan County all the time. Whatever he said, why they had to do or they’d get around you and beat you to death or something like that, throw you in the river, tie your hands behind you – stuff like that.
Were you a Chafin deputy?
I worked for Tennis Hatfield and Joe.
How did Tennis hire you?
Well, Emmett Scaggs run against him. And the County Court was Democratic and they give it all to Emmett. Tennis carried it up to the high court and he won it. About that time, that’s when it was, 1922 I believe it was, last part of 1922, well Emmett, he was a well-educated fellow, he had been the superintendent of schools and everything, he turns around and registers and turned to be a Republican, well then they appointed him prosecuting attorney. You understand? Give him a job. Now the Democrats didn’t do that—Tennis and all of them did. It made a full change around whenever Tennis was elected. The County Court had been Democratic all the time and it turned over, changed hands, and make a Republican County Court. Just like they’ve got now, it’s all Democratic. And a Republican couldn’t get nothing. I’ve seen John Chafin and Hi beat an Italian man. He had two ducks carrying them. Had to wade the river. They fired him over there at Christian. Had to ride horses that day and time. Didn’t have no cars. And they jumped off their horses after they overtook him and they beat him until he couldn’t walk. My dad had a store down at the mouth of the creek and he went and got him and got him up to the store and his ducks got loose. And Mother got the ducks and she raised all kinds of ducks from ‘em. But I haven’t seen that man from that day to this. He’s dead now. But they liked to beat him to death. Now Henry Allen was another one. They barred him from the union. He was a big organizer when it first started. And he got to playing crooked work and they put him out of the union. And he’d done something or other to the party. And they beat him around there at Kistler so hard – the creek was up. Buffalo was a big creek any way. They throwed him up there at Ben Gall’s store in the creek and he washed down there at Kistler and lodged up behind the middle pier at the railroad track. Some men run in and helped him out. I forget who it was. I didn’t see that go off but that’s what happened. Well, he come up here, Henry did, to where I was walking and wanted me to get him a job. Well, I told him I would talk to the boss. A fellow by the name of George Kore. George Kore give him a job working for Tony Lumber Company, helping build houses, you know. He worked about three days and why George fired him and wouldn’t have nothing more to do with him. Henry’s dead now. That’s the last I knowed of him.
Do you remember the names of any early union organizers?
I never did meet ‘em. I tell you they kept me busy all the time as a repair man and drum runner, and days that the mines didn’t run I had to do repair work on the houses and tipples and stuff. Them organizers was, one of ‘em was a fellow by the name of Hall. I’ve seen him but I forget his first name. He had an office over there in Charleston. He was president of the union then. Don Chafin went over there and aimed to tell him what to do and he shot Don. It put Don in the hospital for a long time. After he got out there, Don Chafin and Tennis Hatfield had been in to the Wild Goose business selling bootlegging moonshine whisky up at Hatfield Bottom [in Barnabus]. And they fell out. And Tennis, he goes before the federal grand jury. I forget who the judge was. I knowed him. [George McClintock] And Tennis indicted him and sent him to the pen for four years. But they never did do nothing to Hall for shooting him over there in the miners’ office. But he never did go back in it anymore.
You remember when the mines began to mechanize?
Oh, yeah. I was in there then. I worked up til ’62.
How did the mines change?
Well, they loaded by the car that day and time when they first started. Then they got conveyors in. And they cut the coal and they throwed it on them conveyors by hand. And they built belt-lines from here all across the river, just as far as you wanted to, you know. Had different offsets in it and different motors pulling the belt line. And it come out into a big tipple and dumped into a tipple and then I took it from that. I run it 2100 feet down the incline over there on two monitors on three rails. Now you figure that out. Ten tons to each monitor Now they come up there to the middle way place and they put four rails, you understand? And then one monitor passed the other one at that middle place. All the time. They had a big drum. The drum was twelve foot in diameter and fourteen foot long that way. Built out of gum. Six by six gum. Rope was inch and a quarter.
Was there much bitterness among people when mechanization started?
Oh, no. They was all for it. They was everything was settled. Whatever the union said, they had to do at that time. It was all loaded by the ton by the car. There wasn’t no weighing or nothing like that ‘til they got the union. Then they had to put scales in, you know, and weigh these cars of coal and they had to pay so much a ton. Why, there was people over there at Christian – I never will forget it. Ed Goodman was his name. He’d be broke every week. He’d never load over four or five cars. Just 35 cents a car and a car would hold about four tons, five. And they was starving him to death. He’d come in there on paydays and I’d come in. I was always the last man getting off the hill. He was wanting on dollar scrip. He’d come over and whisper to me and tell me they wouldn’t let him have a one dollar scrip. And I’d vouch for him. Sometimes I’d pull my pay envelope out—they put your money in a pay envelope, you know—and I’ve pull out my pay envelope and give him a dollar and that would do him until Monday. He had a big family. They all weren’t home at that time. He managed. And then when the union come in, they had to treat him the way they did the rest of them.
Did you maintain steady work during the Great Depression?
Yeah. I’ve always had work. I get awful good Social Security. I study all the time – they worked me too much. I actually couldn’t stand it hardly. They’d work me Sunday and every other day. But now I never got no big money at that time. I started off at four dollars a day and I ended up with two hundred and fifty dollars a month. I stayed on that way for 19 years. They wouldn’t give me a raise. I asked ‘em for more money. Miners got a raise, you know. They said no, he couldn’t give it. Was going broke. I said well if you won’t give it I’ll be leaving you first of the month. And he didn’t think I would. Day before I was supposed to quit I sent my toolbox off the hill and everything. They had a man-car there that they rode backwards and forwards that people rode up and down the hill in. That night the man said if I would stay he would split the difference with me. Give me half. Give me twenty-five dollars. I said no I won’t do it. I’ve made you a fortune here. So he wouldn’t come up to fifty dollars and I wouldn’t come off it. Next day they had a wreck. A fella was running… I was sitting here. And they wasn’t no timber around there and I could see the monitors from here. And he wrecked and I never seen such dust in all of my life. And I got in my car and went over there. And they tore one up so bad they had to buy a new one. A monitor. That cost ‘em some money, too.
NOTE: Some names may be transcribed incorrectly.