Demystifying the Hidden Hand: Capitalism and the State at Blair Mountain

Here is a draft of a paper on the archaeology and importance of Blair Mountain, discussing some of the larger lessons that we can learn from the battle written by Brandon Nida

Brandon Nida is a doctoral student in archaeology at UC Berkeley writing his dissertation on Blair Mountain.



Take Action Today – Sign the Petition Telling Banks to Quit Financing the Destruction of Blair Mountain

        Many people have not heard of the Battle of Blair Mountain, let alone a place called Adkins Fork in Logan County, West Virginia. But in 1921, the Adkins Fork area was the scene of an intense battle between miners attempting to organize a union and a private coal industry army trying to stop them. It is part of the larger Blair Mountain battlefield that stretches 14-miles along Spruce Fork Ridge, site of the largest labor battle in US history.

Sign the petition to Arch Coal, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, and PNC

Ask them to quit financing the destruction of Appalachia

        Ten thousand miners fought for five days against the private army entrenched on the ridgeline, with both sides having high-powered rifles and machine guns. Three regiments of federal troops sent by President Harding were finally able to halt the conflict. The Battle of Blair Mountain was a struggle for workers rights and played a critical role in the history of labor unions in America. This site has national significance and must be preserved for future generations.

         Currently Adkins Fork and the larger Blair Mountain battlefield is threatened by an extremely destructive form of coal mining called mountaintop removal (MTR). This is a process where mountains are blasted and the leftover material is pushed into valleys, filling them up and creating a flat moonscape where rolling hills and hardwood forest once existed. MTR is a process that in recent years has increasingly been tied to health problems such as rare forms of cancer, respiratory illnesses, and birth defects.

Watch our video explaining why this permit is important to stop:

          At the foot of Blair Mountain is the town of Blair, where we live and work. In the late 1990s Blair was a community of about 700 people, currently there are only about 70 residents left. Aggressive buyouts preceded plans to MTR mine around the town and led to the systematic depopulation of the area. The people who have remained have had to live with constant blasting behind the town, carcinogenic dust rolling off the site, and the contamination of drinking water with heavy metals. But people from Blair were some of the first coalfield residents to speak out against MTR, something that is hard to do in central Appalachia where the coal industry dominates the social and political landscape.

        Currently we are fending off six different permits that would impact the battlefield and the communities around it. Our biggest struggle is with the Adkins Fork permit, which is situated in the heart of the battlefield and right above the headwaters of the town of Blair. The Adkins Fork permit is currently up for renewal, and we have mounted a major campaign to block this permit. This campaign will be a tough one and will continue over the next few months and even years.

         The Adkins Fork permit, which is being sought by Arch Coal (NYSE: ACI), is symbolic of the increasing risk that investors and banks are taking by investing in companies like Arch Coal that have MTR operations. It is a permit that has multiple deficiencies, and is being contested by a wide range of concerned citizens, including community members, retired coal miners, archaeologists, labor groups, environmentalists, and regular people across central Appalachia and the rest of the nation.

         If Arch Coal is able to proceed with the Adkins Fork permit, they would destroy one of the only areas we know for certain was occupied by the miners during the Battle. Along with this permit, there are currently an estimated 17,000 acres permitted or under review for the Spruce Fork watershed. The area is comprised of geological strata high in selenium. Selenium is a bio-accumulative compound that is highly detrimental to the nervous system of animals and humans, and is extremely expensive to contain or remove from the ecosystems once it is released. This small compound is one of the reasons Patriot Coal, a major operator of MTR mining in Central Appalachia, was forced to publicly halt all MTR operations just last month. Streams in the Spruce Fork watershed have already been shown to have higher amounts of selenium than regulation allows.

         In addition to Arch Coal seeking a permit that has a wide coalition of people opposing it and which has high levels of selenium, the Adkins Fork has many other deficiencies . For example, the West Virginia State Historic Preservation Office refuses to sign off on this permit due to the destruction of major archaeological resources. Valley fills, of which the Adkins Fork permit has three, have been coming under increasing scrutiny by federal regulators. With the stripping of thousands of acres of vegetation and topsoil, the risk of flooding becomes more prevalent.  As more peer-reviewed science shows the link between MTR and severe health problems, companies such as Arch are finding it harder to externalize these risks onto communities such as the town of Blair

         For these reasons and more, those who continue to invest in companies like Arch Coal that conduct strip mining operations such as the Adkins Fork permit take on increasing risk. Right now, Arch Coal’s stock is down to around seven dollars per share from a high of around 73 per share in 2008. Arch Coal’s credit rating is Ba3 sub-prime, just one level above where Patriot Coal (NYSE: PCX) was before going bankrupt.

        The Adkins Fork permit is just one permit by Arch Coal that would impact the town of Blair and the Blair Mountain battlefield. Companies such as Arch are attempting to destroy not just the environment, but whole communities, heritage, and people’s health. Citizen groups and environmental organizations have become more proficient in being able to challenge and block these permits. In fact, one of the only operations to have been halted in mid-operation was in Blair – the Daltex surface mine operated by Arch Coal. In addition, the Spruce No. 1 surface mine, which is the largest MTR mine ever permitted in central Appalachia and which sits on another ridge above Blair, has been the subject of intense litigation for over a decade.

          For those of you who would like to take part in stopping companies like Arch Coal and Alpha Natural Resources (ANR) from destroying the Blair Mountain battlefield and other mountains in central Appalachia, there are definite ways you can help and join in our efforts. Even if you live far away, we need you to take a stand and join in our Adkins Fork campaign and the larger efforts to preserve Blair Mountain and stop MTR.

         The first step in this is working in solidarity with a group of community members, organizers, retired coal miners, archaeologists, historians, environmentalists, and others who will be taking part in a public conference with the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection this Thursday. While we attempt to show the WV DEP why this permit renewal should be denied, we need as many people as possible to circulate and sign our petition directed at the banks and investors who enable companies like Arch Coal to engage in these destructive operations.

       This is not just about one permit, or one mountain, or one community, but is symbolic of the larger problem of destructive practices such as MTR, and the increasingly reckless investment and financing of these types of operations.

        Take a stand today, and join the team. Tell banks and investors to stop financing the destruction of our homes and health. Stand with us and stay connected as we move through this national campaign. Only together can we stop destructive extractive processes such as MTR.

Sign the petition to Arch Coal, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, and PNC

Ask them to quit financing the destruction of Appalachia

Update: Photos from Blair Mountain


As part of our preservation campaign, we systematically monitor surface mine permits in the Blair area. We maintain and update our permit database with data from on-the-ground monitoring and through research on permit applications. Part of our mission is to provide various stakeholders with the most current information about what is happening with each permit we are challenging.


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Click HERE to see these pictures more closely

These photos are part of this effort, and were taken today. They show the Camp Branch permit (which is an Alpha operation) and the Left Fork permit (Arch operation). The Camp Branch is winding down operations, and we have successfully held them 1000ft away from the battlefield boundary. The Left Fork permit is a complex one, with some mining in the late 80s and early 90s, but with areas near the battlefield just being opened up.


Both permits are important!! Stay tuned as we provide updates and challenge these operations from moving forward.


Save Blair Mountain – Adkins Fork Press Release

Here is the press release in full, as well as links to the campaign video and our letter writing campaign:


Campaign Info:

Press Release:


Nov. 19, 2012

Contact: Brandon Nida

Organizer, Blair Mountain Heritage Alliance


Preservationists Initiate Campaign to Block Surface Mine Permit on Blair Mountain
Say Adkins Fork Permit will Destroy Important Part of the Battlefield

BLAIR, W.Va. — Community members, local organizations, and national groups are coming together in opposition to the renewal of an Arch Coal surface mine that threatens the Blair Mountain battlefield and town of Blair in Logan County, West Virginia.

The battlefield is where in 1921 the largest labor conflict in US history occurred. An estimated ten thousand coalminers fought for five days against a coal-operator backed army until federal troops were finally able to peaceably halt the conflict.

“The Adkins Fork permit would destroy one of the most important areas of the battlefield,” says Brandon Nida, an archaeologist from UC Berkeley and organizer with the Blair Mountain Heritage Alliance (BMHA) located in Blair. “From archaeological surveys, this is the one of the only areas we positively know was occupied by the miners. We’ve found ammunition from the miners, we know where they fought and died. This is some of the most hallowed ground in labor history.”

“The importance of this battle in both West Virginian and US history is enormous,” continues Nida. “It propelled the UMWA to become the backbone of the labor movement and helped them form the United Steelworkers and the United Autoworkers. This battle significantly shaped the course of the American 20th century.”

“As a West Virginian and a union steelworker, I feel it is extremely important to preserve this battlefield,” says BMHA board member Jeremy Hatfield. “Every work shift I go without an accident, every weekend I get to spend with my family, every day that I get to clock out after eight hours, I thank the miners that fought at Blair Mountain for those rights”.

The town of Blair already has had extensive mountaintop removal mining in the area, and the Spruce No. 1 surface mine is currently in operation above the community. Since the 1990s the town has dropped from a population of 700 to roughly 70 people today.

“This permit adds to the cumulative impacts for the Spruce Fork watershed which has an estimated 17,000 acres permitted or with current operations,” says Kenneth King, a local resident who has worked to preserve Blair Mountain for the last twenty years. “And its not just the environment, I’m also really concerned about how this is going to affect people’s health.” Recently, numerous peer-reviewed health studies have linked mountaintop removal mining to health hazards such as rare forms of cancer, respiratory issues, and birth defects. Last week, Patriot Coal, one of the largest surface mining companies in Appalachia, publicly recognized the impacts of surface-mining on nearby communities.

The Adkins Fork campaign is being initiated with a letter writing campaign during the WV DEP’s open comment period for the permit, which ends Nov. 23rd. “We need everyone to write in, but that is just the first step. This is going to be a tough campaign against one of the largest coal companies in the world. We need people to stay involved as we take this campaign to the national level,” says King.

More information about the letter writing campaign can be found at


National Media Coverage: W.Va. activists battle Blair Mountain mine permit

W.Va. activists battle Blair Mountain mine permit

November 19, 2012 @ 11:19 AM

2012/The Herald-Dispatch

BLAIR, W.Va. (AP) — They’ve lost at every turn with courts and regulators, but activists trying to protect West Virginia’s historic Blair Mountain from strip mining aren’t giving up.

Residents, environmentalists, history buffs and others are now fighting the renewal of a mining permit that St. Louis-based Arch Coal is seeking from the state Department of Environmental Protection. The public comment period on the Adkins Fork permit ends Friday.

In 1921, some 10,000 coal miners who had been trying to unionize for years marched to the southern West Virginia town of Blair and scrambled up the mountain to battle a dug-in army of police and hired guns who had homemade bombs and machine guns. At least 16 men died before the miners surrendered to federal troops in what became the nation’s largest armed uprising since the Civil War.

“We’ve found ammunition from the miners; we know where they fought and died,” he said. “This is some of the most hallowed ground in labor history.”

Kenneth King, a Blair resident who has tried to preserve the battlefield for decades, said the mining would only add to the cumulative impact on the Spruce Fork watershed, where some 17,000 acres are already permitted or being mined.

“This is going to be a tough campaign against one of the largest coal companies in the world,” King said, urging people to stay involved as the fight continues.

A spokeswoman for Arch didn’t immediately comment Monday.

Archaeologist Brandon Nida, who said he has found artifacts in the permit area, says the Adkins Fork permit would destroy one of the most important sections of the battlefield.

“We’ve found ammunition from the miners; we know where they fought and died,” he said. “This is some of the most hallowed ground in labor history.”

Nida calls the significance of the Battle of Blair Mountain “enormous” for the U.S. labor movement.

It helped the United Mine Workers of America become the backbone of the labor movement, he said, and helped form the United Steelworkers and the United Autoworkers.

The 1,600-acre battlefield was briefly added to the National Register of Historic Places, and then removed when private property owners objected. Several groups sued to have that status restored but lost their court challenge in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., last month.

It was just the latest of several setbacks.

Last summer, the state Department of Environmental Protection ruled that about 30 percent of the land is exempt from that declaration because it’s already covered under mining permits, while other areas are exempt because there is clear evidence of past mining activity.

Extensive mountaintop removal mining around Blair has already decimated the population. Since the 1990s, the number of residents has dropped from about 700 to 70.

For additional coverage off this story visit:

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

San Fransisco Chronicle

Seattle PI


Yahoo News

The Charleston Gazette



Yahoo News – Anthropology and Archeology

KRMG Oklahoma

WTRF Wheeling, WV

All Voices


WSAZ Ch.3 Charleston, WV


Houston Chronicle

Letter Writing for Adkins Fork – NOV. 23!!!


Dear friends, we are currently initiating a directed campaign to challenge and block Arch Coal’s attempt to renew the Adkins Fork permit at Blair Mountain. This permit is one of the most significant, as it lies in the heart of the battlefield and is the permit closest to the town of Blair.









This will be a tough campaign, and we will need all the help we can get. The first part of this campaign is the easiest. We need everyone to write a letter and send it to the WV Department of Environmental Protection by November 23. It is best to handwrite these letters, but we know not everyone can do that, so we have written out a form letter below. Print it, sign it, and stick it in the mail!


As we move forward with this campaign over the next few months, we will have a series of events and drives that you can come out to or that you can participate in at home. Some of the events will be spread out across the nation, so even if you are not in West Virginia you can pitch in.


If you would like to stay informed, please sign up on our mailing list, join us on twitter, follow us on facebook or send us an email at


REMEMBER, the letters need to be received by Nov. 23!!! Let’s get this campaign off to a bang and SAVE BLAIR MOUNTAIN!!!






Blair Mountain Heritage Alliance