The Nine Lives of Charles E. Lively: The Deadliest Man in the West Virginia-Colorado Coal Mine Wars

The Nine Lives of Charles E. Lively: The Deadliest Man in the West Virginia-Colorado Coal Mine Wars

The West Virginia and Colorado Coal Mine Wars of the early twentieth century was a tumultuous and violent time in our nation’s history.  At the center of this saga is Charles Everett Lively, perhaps one of the deadliest of the undercover agents of the Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency. 

Although it’s been almost one hundred years since the bloodshed in La Veta, Ludlow, Matewan, and Welch, the names of William G. Baldwin, Thomas L. Felts, and Charles E. Lively can still stir an extraordinary level of hatred among those same coal mining communities. From the record, it’s clear that Lively killed no fewer than three men in his lifetime, one in Colorado and two in West Virginia. It also appears that killing was something that came easy for him.

The Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency was one of several private detective agencies like Pinkerton, that performed many freelance security and detective tasks, including strike breaking.  Among the agency’s best clients were the owners of the coal mines of West Virginia and Colorado.  The dirty and dangerous work in the coal mines was accompanied by low pay.  This led to strife and labor organizing.  To combat this, mine owners hired detective agencies to disrupt labor organizing and break up strikes through espionage and strong-arm tactics.

Lively’s blue collar coal mining roots allowed him to move quietly among the miners, but his brief stint working the mines held little alure for him.  Lively became one of Baldwin-Felts’ most effective undercover operatives and among their deadliest men.  His activities included running a popular restaurant within which he gathered valuable intelligence.  Local union leadership even held meetings in his establishment.  Lively once did jail time in Colorado so that he could infiltrate miners who were locked up at the time. R.G. Yoho scoured every known source to bring this figure out of the shadows and provide a valuable piece to this fascinating yet overlooked period of American history and shines a light for the first time into the intrigue surrounding this controversial figure.

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