Crummies Creek Massacre

The Harlan Daily Enterprise  April 2, 1941


All Of Dead And All But One Of Hurt Are Listed As Members of Union Pickets; 
Two Stories of Bloody Clash Are Given

Four men identified as members of a union picket line are dead, and four others are in Harlan Hospital with bullet wounds, the result of a gun battle staged at the commissary of the Crummies Creek Coal Company this morning about 10 o’ clock.

The dead are:
Virgil Hampton, district representative of the United Mine Workers, shot in the body and left hip shattered.
Oscar Goodin, Lynch, shot in the neck and left side.
Charles Ruth, Kenvir, shot in the body.
Ed Tye, Negro, Kenvir, shot in the body.

The wounded were identified as:
Frank Gilly, Lynch, shot in the left side under the ribs.
Leamon Lovejoy, Negro, Lynch.
Jethro Sanders, Lynch, minor wound in right arm.
Fred Jones, Cawood, shot in the right knee.
Millard Hoskins, Verda, shot in the right elbow and right side.

In addition to those treated for bullet wounds, a Negro man, listed as Leamon Lovejoy, Lynch, suffered severe lacerations about the face and shoulder. Jones declared he was an “innocent victim” caught between the fire.

The outbreak of violence, the bloodiest since the famed “Battle of Evarts” in May, 1931, during labor disorders, occurred when a group of Union pickets entered the Crummies Creek Company store.

Goodin and Hampton died in the Harlan Hospital a few minutes after being brought here by ambulance. Ruth and Tye were found dead on the floor of the commissary.

Private cars of the Union pickets brought some of the wounded to the hospital. Several thousand persons, mostly men, milled about the hospital and on Third Street leading to U.M.W.A. Headquarters soon after the report of the shooting spread. Tension gripped the city and county. Dozens of KY State Highway Patrol were called in to assist with order. 

George Owens, of Benham, stated that he was in the store at the time, Johnson, the store’s manager refused to accept cash for a Coca-Cola, stating that only company script was accepted.  When the miners refused to leave without their soft drink, a scuffle began.  An unidentified commissary employee hurriedly snatched a butcher’s apron covering a machine gun that had been mounted on a meat block behind the counter. This was used to fire upon the miners in the store, he said.  

When the wounded were brought to the hospital this morning, a crowd hurriedly assembled outside the institution. It grew to such size that city police found it necessary to stand at the street intersection in order to allow passage of traffic.  Conflicting stories of the shooting have been given.

Robert Hodge, Secretary/Treasurer of District 19, U.M.W. and chief of campaign to keep Harlan County mines closed in the absence of contract to replace the one that expired March 31st, charged from the headquarters on Third Street that the Union men were fired on by machine gun and pistols after they had entered the store for a soft drink.

“Our men held a mass meeting out there, and some of them went inside the store to get a Coca-Cola, when the first shots were fired on by company men,” Hodge charged. “Then company men scattered on the mountainside and opened fire from the bushes. 

L.P. Johnson, General Manager of the Crummies Creek Coal Company, declared that the shooting occurred only after a large group of Union pickets entered the store, abused the store manager, Noble Smith, and attempted to force several non-Union men to sign Union check-off slips. “Men with .45s came into the store and started trouble”, Johnson said. “Smith tried to close the store, but he was shoved out of the way by men who said they would tear up the place. The store was fired on from the outside, also.”

Johnson also declared that another employee, by the name of Farmer was wounded slightly during the shooting.

The previous Friday, Hoskins and Gilly had been in a confrontation with Crummies Creek Paymaster Steve Silverman.  Silverman had been instructed to “dock” or withhold 16 hours of pay for each of several hundred miners who had attended an unsanctioned U.M.W.A. rally in a common picnic area owned by the mining company.  During the confrontation, Hoskins assaulted Silverman, striking him repeatedly with the butt of his pistol, then firing a round into Silverman’s rearside. Silverman was removed from Harlan County Hospital and taken by private ambulance to Nashville.

The Union pickets motorcade of more than 50 cars drove into Crummies from Coalgood, two miles from Crummies on Turtle Creek after staging a demonstration at the commissary of Mary Helen Coal Corporation where Earl Jones, watchman and former deputy sheriff was fatally wounded by a mine picket Monday morning.

A force of about 3,000 men invaded the Coalgood camp. During melee in which at least one head was bloodied inside the store, irate members of the picket group rushed Joe Reister, photographer for the Louisville Courier-Journal. While the crowd looked on, Reister was kicked and his camera destroyed.

None of Harlan County’s 43 mines attempted to operate today while the groups of pickets roamed the county.

In mid-afternoon, Union officials requested over a sound truck that all Union miners return to their respected locals “until further orders.” This announcement was made soon after the appearance here of James Golden, of Pineville, attorney for the Union district.  No formal charges have been issued against anyone at this point.  Several miners have maintained an armed guard at the Harlan County Hospital even after authorities have advised them to leave.  Joe Wineman, a representative from Crummies Creek Coal was assaulted while attempting to visit the hospital earlier.

The Battle of Crummies Creek was staged as Colonel Nelson, chief of the KY State Highway Patrol “looked on” conditions of the county along with several car loads of state police. Colonel Nelson declared that he was merely observing conditions and that he had not been requested to appear here by anyone other than Governor Keen Johnson