Doug Estepp grew up on the right fork of Trace Creek
in Mingo County, about 10 miles from Logan. But it wasn’t until he went to West
Virginia University that Estepp developed an interest in the region’s rich coal
Estepp’s new venture, Coal Country Tours, evolved
from work he did between 1999 and 2008 to save the old Jefferson County Jail
where mine wars leader Bill Blizzard was tried in 1922 after the Battle of
“As part of that effort I was giving presentations on
the mine war history and got a lot of interest out of it and so I actually came
up with an itinerary for a few folks who went down and the interest seems to
remain so I thought well let’s just do escorted tours and see how many folks we
can get to go down,” Estepp said.
Estepp is preparing for his first bus tour out of
Charles Town next June. He plans to take people to familiar tourist
destinations in Southern West Virginia, like the Exhibition Coal Mine in
Beckley and Whipple Company Store in Scarbro.
“The Whipple Company Store is an octagonal store and
it looks like a very unique architectural building which it is but actually the
architecture were designs that were incorporated because it was basically a
fort,” Estepp said.
The store was actually a fort according to Estepp.
“It had an armory; it was built so that it could be
defended easily, so that you could control anyone who was in the building, so
those are some things we’re going to look at,” Estepp said.
Estepp also plans to take tourists to less visited
places, like Blair Mountain, where in August and September of 1921 armed miners
clashed with coal company guards and law enforcement.
The miners were marching to Mingo County where
martial law was in effect because of a strike.
“Basically about 6,000 miners armed themselves
started south from just east of Charleston and by the time they reached Blair
Mountain which is the border of Logan and Mingo County there were 10-12,000
armed miners,” Estepp said.
Estepp said the coal companies recruited their own
army under Sheriff Don Chafin of Logan and had 3-4,000 men on the mountain with
machine guns, light artillery and high powered rifles.
“Basically it was a three day battle,” Estepp said.
The itinerary also includes another less well know
mine battle that took place in 1912 on Paint Creek and Cabin Creek when miners
went on strike.
“And it became very violent, the operators brought in
Baldwin Felts guards to basically evict and humiliate the miners or suppress
them,” Estepp said. “It descended into a lot of violence, Marshall law was
declared three times by the governor and habeas corpus was suspended so you had
a situation where citizens were being tried in front of military tribunals.”
Estepp said the miners eventually gained union
recognition but Paint Creek set the tone for future conflicts.
Estepp hopes the tours make people think.
“It’s a very colorful history, it’s very important
history and I think it also helps you understand what’s going on today,” Estepp
said. “I mean even if you have no connection to the coalfields, if you’re just
a resident of Virginia every time you flip a switch and burn that electricity you’re
having an effect on folks down in that area.”
Estepp also hopes taking tours to the southern coal
fields will help boost tourism in the region.