Great Amazon Review of Nine Lives of Charles Lively

Great Amazon Review of Nine Lives of Charles Lively

Western labor historian Jane Little Botkin, posted a great, detailed review of R.G. Yoho’s The Nine Lives of Charles E. Lively: The Deadliest Man in the West Virginia-Colorado Coal Mine Wars today. We are posting it below for your reading pleasure. We would like to thank Ms. Botkin and encourage others to post reviews of books they find worthwhile.

Admittedly, my interest in western labor conflicts led me to Bob Yoho’s The Nine Lives of Charles E. Lively, the Deadliest Man in the West Virginia-Colorado Coal Mine Wars. I was familiar with the Paint Creek and Cabin Creek bloody mining conflict and thought I knew just about everything relating to Colorado’s Ludlow Massacre, but Yoho surprised me. The biography is painstakingly researched and documents the sordid life of an early twentieth-century undercover labor spy.

As Yoho reveals, Charles E. Lively somehow managed to be a participant in both Colorado and West Virginia mining conflicts, while working for the infamous Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency, hiding in plain sight within the ranks of the United Mine Workers’ union. Lively’s actions are illustrative of the most detestable characteristics of popular detective agencies of the time, in this case the Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency. He rose in union leadership, secretly set up ambushes, sabotaged fellow union men, and murdered those who stood in his way. As a result of his duplicitous actions, many people lost their lives.

As a labor historian, I am embarrassed to say that I had no idea that Lively was a peripheral participant at Colorado’s Ludlow, where many died—women, children, and babies. Like Paint Creek, an armored train transported a Gatling gun into a coal mining tent colony and opened fire wantonly. Lively had hidden in a jail cell, perhaps deliberately coordinating his arrest by killing a man, as Yoho explains, while other henchmen carried out the despicable watershed moment in labor history.

Why would a scoundrel’s biography interest anyone, one might ask? We must know the truth of our shared American evolution, all the warts. Yoho’s thorough research into the unpleasantness of labor history, and particularly Charles E. Lively’s life and career, is a cautionary tale of how a governmental or private agency can act with impunity for an ambiguous “greater good.” We must beware.

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