In 1921 Sheriff Don Chafin of Logan County West Virginia participated in a major conflict with coal miners. The concluding battle of that conflict is known as The Battle for Blair Mountain.

Faced with the oncoming miner army, Chafin put into place plans he had been forming since early summer. Chafin had formed a small army of several hundred volunteers, composed of his deputies, mine guards, and members of the Logan County middle class, and had begun to train them in June.
He established large weapons caches, including a stockpile of machine guns, and erected breastworks on the slopes of Blair Mountain. At around 2 a.m. on August 25, Chafin turned on the fire siren in the town of Logan, calling together his army. By morning, 700 members of his volunteer army were assembled on the slopes of Blair Mountain.
In addition to his land forces, Chafin established a small air force, composed of three biplanes that he rented from private owners for use in reconnaissance.

Chafin's armed forces were funded by the Logan County Coal Operators Association.

Chafin was supported financially by the Logan County Coal Operators Association, creating the nation's largest private armed force of nearly 2,000.

Chafin did get a request from West Virginia Governor Morgan to create a "home guard"

West Virgina Govener Morgan "called Don Chafin and asked him to create a home guard. The sheriff mustered hundreds of local businessmen into service, and told his deputies to scour the coal towns and order the miners to join his defense forces or be fired from their jobs.
Within a few days, Chafin would have three thousand well-armed men under his command"

Chafin's army consisted of about 2,000 men with a variety of weapons including machine guns and airplanes that dropped gas and explosive bombs.

"Sheriff Chafin had chartered three private biplanes and equipped them with teargas and pipe bombs loaded with nuts and bolts for shrapnel. The planes dropped the homemade explosives over two of the miners’ strongholds, but failed to inflict any casualties. "

As I understand the research:

  1. Sheriff Chafin assembled his own army with air support funded by the Logan County Coal Operators Association.
  2. Governor Morgan did ask Sheriff Chafin to create a home guard but the research seems to indicate that everything was in place before the call came.

No charges were ever brought against Sheriff Chafin in the aftermath of the conflict for any of his actions during the conflict.

Were there laws at that time that would prevent a public law officer from taking private funds and building an army?

  • 1
    Without checking details, I'm guessing the 14th amendment was an important factor. – sempaiscuba Apr 30 '19 at 19:59
  • In reading about the 14th amendment I'm not sure which clause applies. Which clause did you have in mind Sempaiscuba? – David D Apr 30 '19 at 20:16
  • Due process.clause – sempaiscuba Apr 30 '19 at 20:18
  • 1
    Words are important when explaining what happened; if you had asked the Sheriff he probably would tell that it was just a posse comitatus and not an army; its size and the use of aerial means an answer to the threat the miners presented. Defining the Sheriff's force as an army or a posse is an important issue and if you decide that it was an army you are leading the question; maybe it would be interesting to ask at law.stackexchange.com which would be the defining differences between the two. – SJuan76 Apr 30 '19 at 21:09
  • 3
    @DavidD What term did contemporary sources use? – sempaiscuba Apr 30 '19 at 21:31

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.