The Roanoker - July/August 2019 - 10

Roanoke's First Working Airport

A

Nelson Harris

is a former mayor of
Roanoke and author
of a dozen books
on the region's
history. He is the
minister at Heights
Community Church
in Roanoke and
a past president
of the Historical
Society of Western
Virginia.
10

JULY/AUGUST 2019

T 10:54AM ON SEPTEMBER 1, 1921,
a telegram was delivered to Roanoke
Mayor W.W. Boxley. It was from U.S.
Army Brigadier General William Mitchell at
Langley Field advising the mayor that later that
day up to twenty air service bombers would land
in Roanoke. The planes would require a landing
field, fuel and oil, and the pilots and mechanics
would need lodging.
Mayor Boxley was already aware of the reason
for the planes. All summer coal miners and coal
operators' hired gunmen had been shooting at
one another in Logan and Mingo Counties, West
Virginia. What would become known as the
"Coal Mine Wars" started in 1920 when United
Mine Workers went on strike and then sought to
unionize mine workers in southern West Virginia.
Coal operators had called in detectives from the
Baldwin-Felts Agency in nearby Bluefield to
suppress strikers and harass union organizers.
By the fall of 1920, strikebreakers were being
imported by mine owners. On one day, a riot
erupted at the train station in Williamson between
striking miners and strikebreakers getting off the

train. The presence of federal troops, often acting
as escorts for the imported laborers, allowed several
mines to reopen. Eventually, calm was temporarily
restored and federal troops withdrawn, leaving law
enforcement in the unstable hands of local sheriffs.
The peace did not last long. In the spring of
1921 striking miners clashed with local and state
police up and down the banks of the Tug River
in an incident known as "The Three Days Battle."
Four men were killed. With a thinly-stretched
state national guard, West Virginia's governor was
again compelled to seek a federal troop presence.
President Harding deployed Federal troops to
Logan and Mingo Counties. Brigadier General
Billy Mitchell of the First Provisional Air Brigade,
gruff and outspoken, announced to the press upon
his arrival in the "strike zone" that the Army Air
Service could, by itself, end the strike by dropping
canisters of tear gas on the miners. If that failed,
ammunition could do it.
Such was the context for the telegram received
by Mayor Boxley.
On the day of the telegram some 15,000
miners had surrounded Blair Mountain in Logan
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The Roanoker - July/August 2019

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of The Roanoker - July/August 2019

The Roanoker - July/August 2019 - Intro
The Roanoker - July/August 2019 - Cover1
The Roanoker - July/August 2019 - Cover2
The Roanoker - July/August 2019 - 3
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The Roanoker - July/August 2019 - V1
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The Roanoker - July/August 2019 - Cover3
The Roanoker - July/August 2019 - Cover4
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