Battle of Evarts

Harlan County War Coal Wars Colorado Coalfield War
Battle of Evarts
DateMay 5, 1931
LocationEvarts, Kentucky, United States
OutcomeFour deaths
Miners working underground.
Eli Sanders, tipple worker, loads coal on car which has fallen off cars en route to tipple.
Children walking their way through the town of Evarts

The Battle of Evarts (May 5, 1931) occurred in Harlan, Kentucky during the Harlan County Wars. The coal miners desired improved working conditions, higher wages, and more housing options for their families.[1] These reasons, along with other factors, led the miners to go on strike. It ended when the Kentucky National Guard was called in to break it up.[2] This battle lasted approximately 15 minutes.

Opposing Forces

Numerous forces and factors were involved in the so-called battle. Opposing the miners were the heavily armed private "police" ordered by the company to break up the strike, while other associations chose not to become involved.[2] The United Mine Workers of America, or UMWA, considered helping the miners, but once it realized the amount of resources required decided not to offer its support. The Red Cross also decided not offer any support, saying the strike was an "Industrial dispute" which did not involve them.[3] The Black Mountain Coal Company's hired gunmen were eager to fight, and they were the ones responsible for the deaths that followed.[4]


The 'Battle of Evarts' began on the morning of May 5, 1931. The company had ordered a motorcade to drive to Harlan to deliver goods to the 'Scabs" there (the non-union miners who had been hired to replace those on strike).[5] The motorcade consisted of just three cars, with a sheriff's deputy in each one. The deputies expected violence, and they got it. The striking miners waited for the motorcade near the Evarts railroad, and as the motorcade approached them, a single shot rang out. No one knows who fired it, but each side blamed the other. The motorcade halted, and deputy Jim Daniels jumped out and hid behind a rock.[5] Daniels was one of the most hated anti-union deputies in the county.[5] Daniels raised his head to fire at the miners, but as soon as he did so, he was fatally shot and killed. The exchange of gunfire lasted for fifteen minutes, with an estimated 1,000 shots being fired. When it ended, the three deputies and one miner lay dead.[5]


Since this happened during the Harlan County Wars, other skirmishes had led up to the several months of turmoil. The factors that led to the Battle of Evarts included mine conditions, pay, and independence from the coal company as well as hunger, desperation, and intrigue.[5][6] Miners were being laid off for attending United Mine Workers meetings.[6] Also, the Black Mountain Coal Company created a grocery store where the miners would be able to spend the money that they earned there. Miners didn't like this because they were not allowed to spend their money elsewhere and If the miners were caught spending their money at somewhere else they would be fired and kicked out of town.[3] The final straw was when the Harlan County Coal Operators Association cut miners' wages by 10%.[3] After this, the first strike occurred, in which only about 13% of strikers showed up to work. Out of all these battles, the Battle of Evarts was one of the most violent. It left four dead and had to have the Kentucky National Guard called in for protection.[5] After months of rallies, on June 17, all mine workers reported back to their jobs.[3]


The aftermath of this battle led to wider strikes in the Harlan County area.[6] Coal companies refused to back down while the Red Cross refused to give aid due to a policy of staying neutral during disputes.[6] After about a month and a half of strikes, workers reported back on June 17 because of unresponsive negotiation-partners and starvation due to having no money to spend on food.[6] Eight miners ended up receiving life in jail for conspiracy to murder for the actions that took place on May 5.[6] The Battle of Evarts may have only been 15 minutes long with only four deaths, but it is a huge piece of history when it comes to the Coal Wars.


  1. ^ Soodalter, Ron (2016-11-02). "The Price of Coal, Part II". kentuckymonthly.com. Retrieved 2018-03-31.
  2. ^ a b "Remembering Bloody Harlan". Parallel Narratives. 2011-03-13. Retrieved 2018-03-31.
  3. ^ a b c d https://www.theclio.com/web/entry?id=12137
  4. ^ "The Battle of Evarts, Kentucky, 1931". Clio. Retrieved 2018-03-31.
  5. ^ a b c d e f http://www.kentuckymonthly.com/culture/history/the-price-of-coal/
  6. ^ a b c d e f https://wp.nyu.edu/specialcollections/2013/05/07/hell-in-harlan/