KANAWHA COUNTY, WV (WOWK) – It has been 110 years since the infamous ride of the “Bull Moose Special,” a train used against striking miners during the Paint Creek-Cabin Creek Strike.
On the night of February 7, 1913, coal operator Quin Morton, Kanawha County Sheriff Bonner Hill and several railroad men and deputies armed themselves with rifles and a machine gun and rode an armored train called the “Bull Moose Special” through a tent colony of miners in Holly Grove where they opened fire from the train, according to the Historical Marker Database.
The men struck and killed a striking miner, Francis Francisco “Cesco” Estep, outside of his home, according to the West Virginia Archives & History.
The Archives’ website states that miners retaliated by attacking a mine guard encampment at Mucklow, which is now Gallagher. The Archives says the battle lasted for several hours and most of those who died were mine guards.
The West Virginia Archives & History says it was rumored that Quin Morton allegedly wanted to “go back and give them another round” but was talked out of it by the sheriff and others on the train. In a testimony before the US Senate Subcommittee of the Committee on Education and Labor, Morton was asked if anyone had said such a phrase, and he stated “Not that I know of, sir. I did not hear it.” according to the transcript of the testimony.
In front of the same committee, Sheriff Hill also testified saying those aboard the “Bull Moose Special” had gone to the area after he received a call earlier that afternoon from a deputy regarding an alleged shooting in Mucklow who allegedly said “things were in bad shape” in the area and he was afraid to venture there alone.
In his testimony, Hill said he had missed the regular train, and after running into Morton and mentioning the alleged incident, Morton said he could take the “Bull Moose Special.”
Maud Estep, the widow of Cesco Estep, also testified before the subcommittee. In her testimony, she stated that she had not heard of any type of disorder in the tent settlement earlier that day, but had heard people talk of a shooting in Mucklow.
According to a transcript of Mrs. Estep’s testimony, a group had been in her home that night, and when they heard the train “come shooting” her husband yelled for her and some of the other visitors to go to the cellar while he and some of the men left through the front door. She said she learned her husband had died after the train left, when she heard people trying to talk to him and he didn’t respond.
The Paint Creek-Cabin Creek Strike that led to the shooting began in 1912, and was mostly nonviolent throughout the first month. In May 1912, approximately 300 mine guards from the Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency were hired by mine operators to break up the strike, according to the Historical Marker Database. By June, beatings, sabotage and sniper attacks were happening almost daily.
A historical marker was erected in 2010 at the sight of the incident along the intersection of Paint Creek Coad and Holly Grove Drive in Hansford by the United Mine Workers of America and the West Virginia Archives and History.