When people discuss the central characters of the miners’ struggle, it’s always Mother Jones, Sid Hatfield, Frank Keeney, and Fred Mooney – and for good reason. They were undeniable heroes to the coal miners of West Virginia leading up to the Battle of Blair Mountain. What many people fail to realize is that of those central characters, none of them were directly involved in the Battle of Blair Mountain in 1921. Mother Jones was against the march and even attempted to stop the miners by falsifying a telegram from President Warren G. Harding urging them to cease. Fred Mooney and Frank Keeney fled to Ohio during the uprising due to legal predicaments triggered by cooked-up murder charges. Sid Hatfield was murdered on the steps of the McDowell County courthouse as he arrived to stand trial for his role in the Matewan Massacre. 

So, who led the Red Neck Army? Whose story has not been immortalized in the history of labor struggles with the likes of Mother Jones? William “Bill” Blizzard, that’s who. Bill Blizzard is the largely unsung hero of the struggle to unionize the West Virginia mines. He was the principal protagonist in the Battle of Blair Mountain. He led the Red Neck Army of thousands of civilian miners on their march toward Logan County in 1921. Blizzard’s main goal was to bring the union to the scab mines of the southern coalfields. He was an active member of the miners’ struggle for unionization since the Battles of Paint Creek and Cabin Creek in 1912-1913. Blizzard rose to prominence within the UMW alongside Frank Keeney and Fred Mooney. 

Striking miners board a stolen train on their way to battle, 1921.

After leading the miners on Blair Mountain, Blizzard was tried at Charles Town for treason and murder. His trial was eerily reminiscent of that of abolitionist John Brown, who was also tried for treason and murder in the very same courthouse 63 years earlier. Blizzard, defended by T. C. Townsend and Harold Houston, was found not guilty on both charges. The president of the UMW, John L. Lewis forced the retirement of both Frank Keeney and Fred Mooney after the trials connected to the mine wars were over. Blizzard remained an active member of the UMW for more than 40 years, at one point serving as the president of District 17. Blizzard helped shape the UMW into a political force in the state of West Virginia and his incredible story should be told more often. 

For more on William “Bill” Blizzard, read When Miners March by William C. Blizzard, a striking look into the personal story of this incredible man. You will not be disappointed.