An uneasy truce that had silenced guns in this coal town was broken this afternoon as 100 miners armed with freshly sawed slabs of timber lost a pitched battled with 50 riot-equipped state policemen.
The bloody confrontation was precipitated by the miners' attempt to block the road leading to the mine. They claim that the owners, Blue Diamond Coal Co. of Knoxville, have been trying to bring in strikbreakers.
Blue Diamond in the meantime, obtained a court order limiting the miners to six pickets, and it was that order the police were enforcing in this little community near the Tennessee border.
It looked like a rerun from the riots of the '60s as the miners swung their billets at the helmeted police. The troopers responded in kind, and at the end blood lay in puddles mixed with coal dust on the road.
At the height of the battle, as police sought to bring in reinforcements, a contingent of police cruisers was blocked by 40 miners' wives who had parked cars in the road.
The police arrested 20 to 25 of the women, according to Lt. Robert Tucker, who said the women were amed with "iron pipes and baseball bats with nails in them."
About 85 of the miners also were arrested.
Today's violence is the latest in a 15-month battle over recognition between the owners and the United Mine Workers. The struggle has been marked this year by six months of shooting between miners and Blue Diamond guards. Seven guards and one miner have been wounded.
Early this morning miners blocked the highway near the mine with an overturned truck. "That's the only way they could keep Blue Diamond and the Kentucky State Police from scabbing the mines," according to union organizer John Cox. The miners claim the company tried to reopen the mine last week. Company spokesmen deny this, saying that men escorted across the picket line by police were supervisory personnel only.
After an hour of swift action, all that remained of the UMW picket line was a sign reading "No Contract, No Coal," the overturned truck, and a police bonfire destroying the miners' cudgels.
The police sweep of the women's picket line netted three pregnant women, one juvenile and a 67-year-old heart patient who said she had merely been standing on her front porch.
Ila Corder, 28, eight months pregnant said she was dragged from a private lawn across the road and arrested for disorderly conduct "just for calling them police strikebreakers." Tucker said he was unaware that any the pregnant women were arrested. All the women were released on bond this afternoon.
The state police, none of whom was reported seriously injured were still busy near nightfall booking the minorder, disorderly conduct and wanton endangerment.
Miners' wives streamed into the UMW's storefront office in Whitley City this afternoon seeking information on their husbands. "I demand to know is my husband is alive or dead!" called it "an outstanding proposal" screamed a tearful Mrs. William King. She was told that he had not been heard from since a policeman bandaged his head at the mine site.
UMW staffers told the women at nightfall they did not know everyman's whereabouts. Police said a variety of small-town jails was being used because the McCreary County Jail was full.
Dr. Donald Barton in Corbin, Ky., said two miners he treated were being X-rayed for possible skull fractures.
Union organizers said they had made repeated attempts during the day to persuade the Kentucky State Police to negotiate without a battle.
Maj. Douglas Sword, who led the police charge on the miners, said he was ordered to make the arrests by local Circuit Judge J. B. Johnson and state police officials in Frankfort.
"Every one of the 277,000 members of this union should be proud of these men for the way they fought back," union organizer Lee Porter said. "I know the Stearns miners and I know they'll be back."