By William “Skip” Deegans
In 1923, the Greenbrier County Courthouse was the scene for one of the most sensational trials in West Virginia history. William Blizzard (shown on the left in the undated photo), a union organizer, was charged with treason for his purported organizing of what came to be called the “Armed March.”
In an effort to organize the miners in Logan and Mingo County, an army of some 10,000 miners marched from Marmet in Kanawha County to Logan County where they were met by Logan County Sheriff Don Chafin and 2,000 non-union supporters and volunteers. A week-long battle ended when President Harding sent in federal troops to restore order. A Logan County deputy sheriff and two deputized miners were shot to death.
The case against Blizzard began in Logan County, but the defense secured a change to venue to Jefferson County. In the same trial, three other marchers were charged with treason and murder. Miners and their wives moved into Jefferson County to drum up support for the accused. The miners even organized a baseball team to play the local team, but were careful to let the Jefferson boys win. While the jury failed to convict Blizzard, Walter Allen was found guilty of treason and the Rev. J. B. Milburn and one of his sons were convicted of second-degree murder. Witnesses testified Blizzard was not seen at the scene until after the march started, and as far as they knew he had not taken part in the preparations.
The Court recognized the right to continue Blizzard’s trial and honored a change of venue to Greenbrier County. In an effort to dampen the publicity around the trail, Lewisburg’s newspaper, The Greenbrier Independent, warned the people of Greenbrier County to “keep their hands off the cases” and refused to publish any stories about the trial. Ronceverte’s The West Virginia News, however, covered the trial. Howard Harrah, a Clintonville farmer and foreman of the jury, was accused (perhaps unjustly) of receiving $600 to hang the jury. His wife testified “I’ve searched his pockets many times unbeknown to him, and if he had any of the money they said he took, I would have found it.”
Citing the publicity from The West Virginia News and a circular that had been widely distributed in the county, Greenbrier County Judge S. H. Sharp ordered another change of venue. The case against Blizzard was moved to Fayette County, but in 1924, the State of West Virginia threw in the towel and dropped its indictment against Blizzard who went on to work as a union organizer for many years. Historians have concluded that Blizzard was probably the “general” of the armed march and may have been instrumental in securing arms for the marchers.