There were two related incidents between miners and mine owners in the Coeur d'Alene Mining District of North Idaho: the Coeur d'Alene Miners strike of 1892, and the Coeur d'Alene Labor Confrontation of 1899.
The strike of 1892 had its roots in the first pay cut by the
Bunker Hill Mining Company in 1887. Immediately after the reduction in wages
miners organized the first union at Wardner on November 3, 1887.
The response to that violence, disastrous for the local miners' union, became the primary motivation for the formation of the Western Federation of Miners (WFM) the following year.
The confrontation of 1899 resulted from the miners' frustrations with mine operators that paid lower wages; hired Pinkerton operatives to infiltrate the union; and routinely fired any miner who held a union card.
Coeur d'Alene District miners organized into several local unions during the 1880s. Mine owners responded by forming a Mine Owners Association. Mine operators found a reduction in wages the easiest way to mitigate increased costs. The operators also increased miners' work hours from nine to ten hours per day, with no corresponding increase in pay.
The year 1891 marked the turning point in the economic struggle between the miners and the mine owners. William T. Stoll, a pioneer mining lawyer of the Coeur d'Alene Mining District, said later:
"Prior to 1891 all mines had worked to capacity; prior to 1891 all mines had paid good dividends, powder-and-drill men drawing three dollars and fifty cents a day for their labor, and muckers fifty cents less. Everyone was satisfied, everyone was happy; there were no unions, there was no need for unions--a matter, doubtless, entirely of opinion."
It was indeed, a matter of opinion. Stoll was the secretary of the Mine Owners' Association and had a managerial point of view. He maintained that unionization ultimately came about through outside "agitators" from Butte. A similar view was expressed by one of the original organizers of the mine owners' group, John Hays Hammond. Hammond asserted that his own Bunker Hill and Sullivan miners were not discontented in 1891; he further implied that the Butte mine operators steered the agitators into the Coeur d'Alenes in order to reduce their own labor problems.
The formation of the Mine Owners' Association in 1891 was the beginning of a series of events that challenged the aroused miners. John Hays Hammond and Fred Bradley figured prominently in the organization of this protective association whose first move was to seek the services of the Pinketon and Thiel detective agencies. James McParland, head of the Western division of the Pinkerton Agency, later to play a key role in the 1907 cases against the Western Federation of Miners, recommended the services of an ex-cowboy named Charles A. Siringo.
On the first day of 1892 the mine owners closed their mines; the miners were told that higher freight rates announced by the railroads made operations of the mines unprofitable. On April 1, 1892, the mines were reopened after the owners had successfully negotiated lower freight rates, However, the owners maintained that low silver and lead prices would prevent them from returning to the previous uniform wage scale. They proposed the differential rates of $3.50 and $3.00 which had prevailed from 1887 until 1891. After enduring a long winter without pay the union miners were in no mood to see their previous wage gains taken away. They rejected the owners' original offer, together with a compromise differential rate of $3.50-$3.25, and went on strike.
Two mines settled and opened with union men, and these mine operators were ostracized by other mine owners who didn't want the union. But two large mines, the Gem mine and the Frisco mine in Burke-Canyon, were operating full scale.
The miners declared a strike against the reduction of wages and an increase in work hours. The owners were equally adamant. Within a month they had recruited strikebreakers and had begun to bring them into the district. Every inbound train was filled with replacement workers. But groups of armed, striking miners would frequently meet them, and often persuaded the workers not to take the jobs during a strike.
Local pro-miner railroad men shunted off a special train arriving with strikebreakers; the "scabs" found themselves the next day in Pendleton, Oregon, some 200 miles away. Union miners also boarded incoming passenger trains in the Coeur d'Alenes to insure that no strikebreakers got off.
The mine managers countered by seeking and getting an injunction which ordered the miners to stop interfering with the procurement of nonunion employees for the mines. This injunction increased tensions. The miners were in control of the communities through which it was necessary to bring the newly arriving strikebreakers. Since many of the mining towns were one-street affairs in the bottom of steep canyons, there was no way to detour around crowds of hostile union miners. The situation was explosive.
On June 4 Governor N.B. Willey issued a proclamation calling on the miners to disperse. But this ultimatum was no more effective in heading off the impending trouble than was the previous injunction. The two opposing forces began to prepare for the battle they knew as coming. The mine owners and their nonunion men were badly outnumbered. In addition, the unions controlled the local civil government (e.g., George A. Pettibone, one of the defendants in the 1907 trial, was a justice of the peace at Gem). But the mine owners had one advantage: their spy in the enemy camp, Siringo. Through him they were aware of the moves of the union, including the approaching violence at Gem, July 11, 1892, which Siringo later asserted was premeditated.
George A. Pettibone
Charlie Siringo, had worked in the Gem mine. Siringo, under the assumed name of Allison, had become the secretary of the Gem miners' union and was reporting all union business to his Pinkerton employers. Siringo was suspected as a spy when the MOA's newspaper, the Coeur d'Alene Barbarian, began publishing union secrets.
The laboring men of the Coeur d'Alenes came eventually to hate Siringo, whom William Haywood once described as a "swarthy weasel-faced stool pigeon," but the detective the detective continued to live among them for several days after his identity was finally revealed.
William "Big Bill" Haywood
On Sunday, July 10, a union miner and a strikebreaker, after some preliminary name calling, had a fist fight on the streets of Gem. A rumor spread around the mining towns that "scabs" had killed two union men. This rumor triggered the events of the following day, a day that was to be commemorated for many years to come in the Coeur d'Alenes.
This event was followed by gunfire at the Frisco mine. The miners claimed the guards fired first, the guards accused the miners. The union men eventually sent a box of black powder down the flume into one of the mine buildings. The explosion leveled the four-story mill, killing one company man and injuring several others. The union miners fired into a remaining structure where the guards had taken shelter. A second company man was killed, and sixty or so guards surrendered. Union men marched their prisoners to the union hall.
Minutes after the explosion at the Helena-Frisco mine, the armed miners began searching for Siringo, in the mining town of Gem. Their rage grew as Siringo crawled under the boardwalks to avoid capture, then slipped out of town. Determined to strike back, the miners took to the hills and started shooting at strikebreakers on the roads and working in the Helena-Frisco mill. A man crossing a footbridge was killed, probably by union fire. Company forces evacuated the Gem mine, and hundreds of union men converged on the Bunker Hill mine at Wardner. This mine was also evacuated.
Meanwhile, the victorious union miners ordered the nonunion men of the Bunker Hill and Sullivan mine to leave the area, and threatened to blow up the mine's concentrator if the men did not do so. On July 12 the Bunker Hill management complied and ordered its nonunion men to get out of town. At the same time, the Bunker Hill management sought to delay the arrival of the troops for fear that the union miners would harm any hostages still in their possession when the soldiers arrived.
About 130 non-union miners were disarmed and along with a few local citizens who had incurred the union's wrath were loaded onto a train and taken to Old Mission on the Coeur d'Alene River, where they got off to await a boat that would take them down to Coeur d'Alene Lake and back to the more tranquil outside world. They were, of course, unarmed, having been relieved of their weapons in the surrender of the mines.
While they were huddled on the dock early Tuesday evening, waiting for the steamer to pick them up, a group of mounted men rode up to the crest of a hill that overlooked the site and, without warning, began firing into the group. A number of men were driven into the river, shot, and robbed.
The shooting went down in local history as the "Mission Massacre," but it was never proved that anyone was killed. However, at least seventeen were wounded, while the more fleet-footed escaped death or injury by heading for cover. When the boat finally docked at 1 a.m., only fifteen men of the original 130 were left to board it. Most of the rest had decided by then that it was safer to walk thirty miles over the mountains to the town of Coeur d'Alene; and one man kept going all the way to Spokane.
By this time county sheriff Richard Cunningham, who earlier had stated airily that there was no trouble in his bailiwick that he couldn't handle, the country commissioners and the Mine owners who viewed the bombing as an act of war, and sent off a series of telegrams to Idaho Governor Norman Willey, telling him the Coeur d'Alene Mining District was under attack by a wild mob. This violence provided the mine owners and the governor with an excuse to declare Martial Law, and bring in six companies of the Idaho National Guard to "suppress insurrection and violence." Governor Willey immediately telegraphed the White House for military force to back up his order. Governor Willey, "This morning riot and bloodshed by the striking miners of the Coeur d'Alene commenced. I therefore request that a sufficient force be detailed to act in concert with state authorities to maintain public order." Federal troops arrived and confined six hundred miners in bullpens without any hearings or formal charges. Some were later "sent up" for violating injunctions, others for obstructing the United States mail.
There are a number of conflicting accounts of the fighting on July 11, 1892, but most accounts agree on the following sequence of key events: a union miner was fired upon, an ineffective rifle battle took place at the Frisco mill, an abortive attempt was made by the miners to dynamite this mill, the mill was then successfully dynamited with explosives which came sliding down a flume, and a deadly rifle battle developed at Gem. Before the day was over several men were killed a a number wounded, including George Pettibone who had devised the flume dynamiting technique.
The Gem mill had been an armed fortress against the union during this battle. After a daring escape from his quarters in Gem, Siringo took refuge in the mill until it was forced to capitulate. He then headed for the hills above the town where he remained until troops entered the area several days later.
At this point, with the unions in control of the area and a large group of nonunion miners in the hands of the rioters, the union's victory seemed complete. But it was only a matter of time until the state and federal governments reacted to the events. On July 12 Governor Willey asked President Benjamin Harrison for federal troops to suppress the uprising, and on July 13 the governor declared martial law in the area.
Governor Willey dispatched a special investigator to the region. . .backed by the National Guard and Federal troops who turned the mining towns into armed camps. The Order was simple. . .don't let the law get in the way, restore.
Governor Willey "You are hereby authorized to arrest and hold until further orders such principal offenders as may be pointed out to you. . .without process."
On July 14, 1892, federal troops dispatched from Ft. Sherman on Lake Coeur d'Alene and the minuscule state militia entered the mining communities.
The delay in the arrival of the troops permitted many of the miners to flee across the state line into Montana. Nevertheless, may men remained in the mining camps, and the troops arrested almost every union miner they found. Since local jails were inadequate for the hundreds of arrested miners, stockades or "bull pens" were set up to accommodate the prisoners. Conditions in these enclosures were primitive at best.
Martial law and the military occupation of the Coeur d'Alenes lasted until November 18, 1892. During the early part of this period indictments were issued by the hundreds against the miners, but eventually as quiet returned to the area most of the indictments were quashed and the men were released. Originally, the miners had to sign a parole disavowing union participation as a condition of release, but this provision was relaxed as tensions eased. The mines soon resumed operation and newly released union miners were gradually re-employed.
State and military authorities slowly whittled down the prisoner's list to two dozen ring leaders. Eventually they would be taken to the penitentiary in Boise to face trial, with Charles Siringo the key witness. But if martial law was designed to stamp the life out of the union movement in the Coeur d'Alene Mining District, the crackdown actually served as the genesis of an even more determined labor movement. Included with those In the holding cells of the Idaho prison was Ed Boyce who was sentenced to six months in jail. While in jail Boyce organized the Western Federation of Miners (WFM) was born.
James H. Hawley
The few miners remaining in custody were charged with contempt in violating the court injunction, or with criminal conspiracy, a federal charge. James H. Hawley and Pat Reddy represented the miners in these cases, with Fremont Wood, U.S. Attorney for Idaho, serving as the prosecutor of the federal cases. In both the state and federal cases Charles Siringo was a key witness.
Pettibone was convicted on a criminal charge, and was sentenced to serve two years at a federal correctional institution in Detroit where he eventually served several months before being freed by a U.S. Supreme Court decision which ruled the indictment defective. Edward Boyce, later to be president of the Western Federation of Miners, was one of thirteen defendants found guilty of contempt and sentenced to several months in the Ada County jail in Boise.
This Ada County jail was perhaps the true birthplace of the Western Federation of Miners. Ed Boyce told Bill Haywood later that the Western Federation was conceived in this jail by the thirteen prisoners, and that Jim Hawley, attorney for the imprisoned men, had suggested that all the miners of the West should come together in one organization. This is somewhat ironic, for fifteen years later Hawley was to lead the prosecution against the Western Federation of Miners in the Haywood Case. Clarence Darrow, in the Haywood trial, called Hawley the "god-father of the Western Federation."
The Western Federation idea which was but a seed in Boise in 1892 blossomed in the spring of 1893. During the previous year the miners' unions of Montana had formed the Montana Miners State Association. They had scheduled a convention in Butte on May 15, 1893. As a result of their reflections in the Ada County jail, some of the displaced Coeur d'Alene miners sent out a call for a simultaneous convention in Butte of delegates from all of the western mining camps.
About fifty delegates answered the call, and the Western Federation of Miners came into being. The union which was set up in Butte in 1893 was remarkably conservative and economically oriented, considering the bitter treatment which many of the men had recently experienced. Essentially it was a craft union of underground miners and muckers. A number of its goals, as stated in the preamble to its constitution, were the goals of the Coeur d'Alene struggle: pay commensurate with job dangers, freedom from the company stores, no Pinkerton men, repeal of conspiracy laws against unions, preferential employment of union men. It was a mild, not a radical program. The goals were to be secured through "education, organization and legislation."
Various writers have been certain of the events of the "Trouble of 1892" as more significant than others in the formation of the union. French observed two basic causes: the reduction of wages, and the company store and boardinghouse policy. Connolly, in his series of articles in Collier's, saw the hospital question as the basic issue which gave rise to may other disputes, and support for this position can be found in Smith's description of the Bunker Hill and Sullivan Company attitude of belligerency towards the hospital. Smith says that the real issue in June of 1892 was the existence of the union as a bargaining agent for the miners, and not the wage differential. Jenson suggests that the miners united regionally because they had been ineffective locally, and because they felt a growing sense of insecurity as mining became more capitalistic. Thus, economic security was the overall raison d'etre for the new union, whether concerned with medical facilities, wages, mechanization, or the right to organize and bargain collectively.
There may have been important quasi-economic issues, also, which were responsible for the events of 1892 and ultimately for the Western Federation of Miners. Certainly the Pinkerton men were hated by union men in general, and Siringo by the Coeur d'Alene miners in particular. It is possible that the unions might have been less violent of the labor spy had not been used against them. Smith reports a conversation years later with Fremont Wood, the federal prosecutor during the Coeur d'Alene troubles, in which Wood attributed the uprising of July 11, 1892, to the disclosure of Siringo's identity on July 9.
In spite of their attempt to bargain on purely an economic basis, the miners may have been caught up in the rising tide of the class struggle. Even in their new Western Federation of Miners in 1893 they were still trying to be a craft union and to act accordingly. But they had been exposed to enough absentee corporate mine ownership to realize that some of the slogans of the Socialists were true--that management could be a cold, impersonal exploiter of human labor. When John Hays Hammond left the Coeur d'Alenes following the denouncement of his Bunker Hill and Sullivan policies, and went off to Africa in pursuit of a new fortune in gold and diamonds, the Coeur d'Alene miners must have sensed his greater social distance from them, as well as the geographical distance. Their respect for his kind of capitalism could not have increased when they read later how he became involved in the plot to overthrow the Boer government of the Transvaal in the Jameson raid on Johannesburg in 1895. When Hammond was fined $125,000 for his part in the raid, some of his old employees in Idaho must have calculated how many hospitals that money would build, or how may ears it would take to use up that much money by paying several hundred underground laborers $3.50 a day instead of $3.00
It is difficult to know how the men who formed the Western Federation of Miners in 1893 felt about the future of their union. The new union seemingly espoused an economic program similar to that of the American Federation of Labor with which it was to affiliate briefly in 1896. But the methods of 1892, political domination, intimidation, and force, continued to be used by the local unions in the Coeur d'Alenes during the next seven years, a period which was later to be described by a congressional committee as "the most flagrant lawlessness that stains the pages of American history."
The lawlessness of 1892 resumed after the withdrawal of troops from the Coeur d'Alenes, and is clearly a matter of record, in spite of union assertions that quiet returned to the district. But, what is not so clear is the feeling of the men who belonged to the unions and worked in the mines during this period. Were they really the anarchists and terrorists they have sometimes been described to be? Unfortunately, completely impartial answers are not available, for those people who have undertaken to describe life in this area during these times have generally sided with either the mine owners or with the miners. But we do have the opinions of some observers who tried to see both sides of the controversy.
Charley Siringo, the Pinkerton detective, had been reluctant to accept his assignment as a labor spy because he was sympathetic with the labor movement in general. But afterwards he reflected, "My mind had taken a regular 'flop' on the labor union question, since telling Superintendent [McParland] that my sympathies were with the unions. I had found the leaders of the Coeur d'Alene unions to be, as a rule, a vicious, heartless gang of anarchists. Many of them had been rocked in the cradle of anarchy at Butte City, Montana, while others were escaped outlaws and toughs from other States."
Smith scoffs at this assertion of Siringo's. But Smith in quoting it, omits Siringo's first sentence in his citation, thus taking the statement out of its qualifying context. Further proof of Siringo's middle-of-the-road position is contained in one of his lesser known books with the interesting title Two Evil Isms: Pinkertonism and Anarchism in which he deplored the extremes to which both labor and capital had gone in fighting each other.
Siringo spoke only of union leaders. John A. Finch, a mine owner and secretary of the Mine Owners' Association which had hired Siringo, spoke of the rank and file of the mine unions in testifying before the U.S. Industrial Commission investigating labor relations in the mining industries. He said,
"I verily believe the majority of the men belonging to the unions of the Coeur d'Alenes were good men. Many are men of more than ordinary education and intelligence and as good men as you can find among that class of people anywhere, but they were thoroughly in dread and fear of the union itself. They never tried to criticize even moderately any of its acts or orders."
A similar conclusion was drawn independently by the congressional committee which visited the Coeur d'Alenes shortly after the Industrial Commission had been there. The concept of an "inner circle" of union officers, striking terror into the hearts of enemies and reluctant friends, seems to have been recorded early in the history of the union in Idaho.
In all fairness to the miners' union it should be noted that large numbers of Idaho citizens sympathized with their struggles in the Coeur d'Alenes. In the fall of 1892, a coalition of Democrats and Populists won control of the legislature. One of their first acts was to cut off all appropriations to the state militia, rendering it, for all practical purposes, completely impotent. Subsequently, it was necessary to appropriate some money for the National Guard, but the organization remained weak and unorganized through the rest of the 1890's. During this time some of its guns stored in a hotel in Mullan were stolen by a group of masked men, presumably union miners.
The law-and-order element (this expression, denoting townspeople not in sympathy with the Western Federation of Miners, was used widely by Bill Haywood) urged congress to establish army posts closer to the mining district than F. Sherman at Coeur d'Alene City. Not only did the army ignore the requests, but at the time of the 1899 troubles the War Department was in the process of closing F. Sherman. The absence of military power in Idaho led to criticism of the state by prominent people outside its borders, and the wisdom of adding unstable "frontier" states to the United States was questioned.
Citizens of other states had watched with interest the events in Idaho. Perhaps some measure of state pride was involved a few years later when the state of Colorado had its first encounter with the Western Federation of Miners. On this occasion the Colorado National Guard needed no outside help from federal troops to keep the peace. The prestige of the Colorado militia was tarnished, however, by the fact that the whole affair seemed a little like a comic opera.
On May 15, 1893, in Butte, Montana, the miners formerly established the Western Federation of Miners (WFM) as a direct result of their experiences in the Coeur d'Alene's. Rather than an end, the explosion of violence in the Coeur d'Alene Mining District of Idaho was only a beginning. The Western Federation of Miners used the Idaho crackdown as a means of recruiting new union members throughout the West for what they viewed as self-defense against mine owners and their allies in government. Mine owners would view the federation as a vicious attempt to uproot the natural order of business. . .and would band together to unearth and destroy union organizers. The peace won in Idaho through martial law in 1892 would not last long. The subsequent battles would rage in the West for the next twenty-five years.
"The Union finds that it has made a fatal mistake in ordering the strike and I hear mutterings of discontent from 90% of our crew. Whether we shut down or continue operations, our stand should command the respect of every thinking man."
These words were written to Bunker Hill and Sullivan Mining Company President Nathaniel H. Harris November 26, 1894 from Frederick W. Bradley manager of the Bunker Hill and Sullivan Mining Company in Kellogg, Idaho.
The confrontation of 1899 resulted from the miners' frustrations with mine operators that paid lower wages; hired Pinkerton or Thiel operatives to infiltrate the union; and routinely fired any miner who held a union card.
Seven years had passed since the Strike of 1892 in the Coeur d'Alenes. The most tangible product of that earlier day, the Western Federation of Miners, had survived and grown strong in Shoshone County. Less tangible products of 1892, intimidation and fear, had also been kept alive.
Between 1892 and 1899 a tense truce existed in the area. When the federal troops were withdrawn in November of 1892 a number of fugitive radical union men returned to the area, bringing with them a reign of terror. Retaliations took place against those citizens who had identified themselves with the state in the prosecution of court cases. A number of people were driven from the area, an occurrence which was known locally as "kneeboning."
John Kneebone, a key witness for the prosecution in 1892, was one of the first to feel the retaliation of the union. After his initial deportation he returned to the Coeur d'Alenes where he continued to work in the face of numerous threats. In July of 1894 Kneebone was murdered. On this occasion forty masked men took him from a mine shop along with four other mine employees. Kneebone was shot, but the four others escaped and fled from the district. The grand jury which investigated the crime deplored the condition of terror existing in the area which prevented anyone coming forth with clues to the identity of the killers.
Violence to men and property, particularly Bunker Hill and Sullivan Company property, continued throughout this period. In the words of the report of the U.S. House of Representatives investigating committee which visited the area in 1900:
"A secret organization controlled the civil authorities in Shoshone County. The mandate of the "dark lantern" order was more powerful than the law of the State. Whatever was the desire of the secret clan became the law of the community. Sheriffs connived at the actions of criminals. Newspapers succumbed to the baleful influence and became willing organs to justify damnable conspiracy and inflame prejudice against men who would not become slaves to the lawless element. Men suddenly disappeared, leaving no trace behind."
The committee put it more succinctly when it observed, "The proof shows that anarchy and insurrection have, in fact, existed in that county since 1892."
Although the union politically dominated the Coeur d'Alenes, it had not been able to improve its economic position beyond the wage scale which had been paid before unions existed in the district. The depressed silver market of 1893-94 hurt the area and slowed the return to normal conditions after the 1892 troubles.
But by the middle of 1894 several important mines agreed to pay the old uniform rate of $3.50 a day for all underground work. By 1899 this was considered the standard rate for the district and was paid by all mines except the Bunker Hill and Sullivan.
This company paid a differential rate of $2.50 and $3.00 at the time. The management justified this rate on the fact that the mine was dry, which eliminated the expensive rubber clothing purchases necessarily made by the employees of the other Coeur d'Alene mines, an outlay that might run as high as $12.00 or $15.00 a month. The cost of board at the Bunker Hill boarding house was also one dollar a week cheaper. Managers of other Coeur d'Alene mines actually testified before the U.S. Industrial Commission that a miner was better off under the lower wage scale of the Bunker Hill and Sullivan mine than in the higher paying mines.
But the union did not see it that way. It looked upon this nonunion mine as a threat to the wage scale and the union shop in the district. It had secretly organized some of the employees of this mine, but the company had spotters and detectives busy ferreting out these union men and dismissing them. On April 23, 1899, a committee from the Wardner union met with the mine manager and demanded a $3.50 uniform wage scale and recognition of the union. A strike against the company for these goals was announced.
Even though the company had been busy discharging union employees during the previous several days, the mine management acceded to pressure and agreed to a wage increase of fifty cents a day, bringing its rates to a new differential of $3.00 and $3.50. However, the company made it clear that its employees would have to choose between employment under these rates or union membership; they could not have both. As a result, within a day about fifty men quit.
On April 26 a crowd of armed union men prevented nonunion men from working in a nearby concentrator; they also seized the aerial tramway belonging to the Bunker Hill and Sullivan Company. The nonunion men were told that they could not work the mines any longer unless they worked under soldiers. It was a strangely prophetic threat, for three days later, on April 29, 1899, occurred the event that brought soldiers to the Coeur d'Alenes once again, and a major disaster to the Western Federation of Miners.
On this day the miners' unions at Mullan, Burke, and Gem--the mining communities well up in the canyons--held early morning meetings. The men were told that they were going to Wardner to make a show of force against the nonunion Bunker Hill and Sullivan mine, and that "the scab-living outfit was sure going to get it today!" Paul Corcoran, the financial secretary of the Burke local, was the key man in the day's activity. His union had to make the first move in a series of strong-armed acts which even the union newspaper admitted were preplanned. At ten o'clock several hundred Burke miners in their "digging clothes," some armed and masked, commandeered the regular Northern Pacific passenger train in Burke, waiting to make the return trip down Canyon Creek to Wallace, from Levi "Al" Hutton, the engineer later claimed at gun point. In Mace, a hundred men climbed aboard. The engineer was ordered to stop at the Black Bear mine powder house above Gem where powder was loaded onto the train.
At Gem, 150 to 200 more miners climbed onto three freight cars which had been added to the train. The miners apparently decided they did not have enough powder for the day's activities, since they ordered the train backed up from Gem to the Frisco mine powder house. The Frisco mill had been the scene of the spectacular flume dynamiting during the "Troubles of 1892." Here, in 1899, the miners stole the dynamite they needed, 80 boxes or a total of 400 pounds. The train then resumed its journey down the canyon to Wallace.
Meanwhile, another large group of miners several hundred strong had marched seven miles down another canyon from Mullan to Wallace where they boarded the train. On the way these men had picked up rifles which had been cached beside the road. The train crew was concerned about the rest of the trip to Wardner which would have to be made over the tracks of another railroad, the Oregon Railway and navigation Company's line. While the conductor was trying to get train orders from the O.R. and N. station agent, the miners forced the engineer to leave without him. Nearly a thousand men road the train to Wardner, the site of a $250,000 mill of the Bunker Hill mine.
Sheriff Young of Shoshone County rode the train from Wallace to Wardner. The train moved slowly; it was necessary to send flagmen ahead of the engine inasmuch as no one had any knowledge of the train schedule on the O.R. and N. tracks. During this trip the sheriff talked to the miners, many of whom he knew by name, but he made no real effort to avert trouble or to notify the Bunker Hill and Sullivan officials.
The train arrived in Wardner about one o'clock in the afternoon. One of the best descriptions of what happened nexe is contained in the account published by the official Western Federation paper, the Idaho State Tribune of Wallace, May, 1899. The editor, James Sovereign, onetime Grand Master of the Knights of Labor, was an enthusiastic eyewitness to the events"
"a detachment of union miners armed with Winchester rifles was dispatched to the mountain side beyond the mill, and the work of placing under the mill the 3,000 pounds of dynamite, taken from the magazine of the Frisco mine at Gem, was commenced. At no time did the demonstration assume the appearance or the attitude of a disorganized mob. All the details were managed with the discipline and precision of a perfectly trained military organization. Each miner participating in the affair either wore a strip of white handkerchief in the buttonhole of his coat or a strip of white cloth tied on his right arm. Sixty armed scabs in the employ of the Bunker Hill company offered the only resistence, [sic] and they gave expression to the most pitiable and lamentable cowardice. Only a few desultory shots from the miners were necessary to send them fleeing over the mountains . . . ."
"At 2:30 the arrangements were complete, the dynamite was placed under the mill in three departments, the fuse attached, and all was in readiness for the destruction of one of the largest concentrators in the world, costing the company the enormous sum of $250,00. All miners and friends of the miners were warned to take a safe distance from the work of destruction about to begin. The fuses were lighted, and at 2:26 [sic] there was an awful crash, and broken machinery and fragments of the building were hurled high into the air. Fifteen seconds later another followed, and in about the same time a third. From the force of the third shot debris was hurled in every direction, and a huge canopy was formed in the heavens. Fragments of machinery and broken timbers rained down upon the ruins for several seconds. The shock of each explosion was terrific and was hear 20 miles away. The work of destruction was complete. The great concentrator was as completely demolished as it could have been if months had been spent in preparing the giant explosives for that purpose. The work was planned and executed by men who have received the training of a lifetime in the handling of dynamite."
The "desultory shots" mentioned by Sovereign produced at least one death. A union miner named John Smythe was killed as he advanced toward the mill during the skirmish. There is some evidence to indicate that Smythe may have been killed deliberately by the dynamiters.
Most of the Bunker Hill employees escaped, but three of them were captured by the mob and forced to run a gauntlet of rifle fire. William Huff escaped unharmed, but James Cheyne was fatally wounded and R.R. Rogers slightly wounded. During the rifle battle at the mill, the dynamiting, and the roughing-up of the prisoners, Sheriff Young walked back and forth doing nothing. At one point he reportedly asked a newspaper reporter to "Give the miners the best of it."
The Bunker Hill and Sullivan mine, employing 600, was closed. With the mill gone it was impossible to handle the ore produced at the mine workings. The Last Chance was also forced to shut down. It had been getting its powder from Bunker Hill as well as having them handle some of the processing, and the destruction of those works prevented either from reopening for nearly 100 days. Bunker Hill finished the rebuilding of a new concentrator in December, 1899. Meanwhile the total working force of miners at Wardner was out of work.
Although numerous accounts exist of the 1892 dynamiting, surprisingly little has been written which describes accurately the events of April 29, 1899. Harry Orchard's version is about the only reasonably complete account. He would have had no particular reason to stretch the truth in any of it. Even though he had been in the union only for a month, he rode the train to Wardner and personally lit the fuse on one o the three powder charges under the Bunker Hill and Sullivan concentrator. Orchard identified W.F. Davis of Gem as the man in charge of the Wardner operations.
Late that afternoon Davis herded the miners aboard the train for the return trip up the canyon. As boisterous as the miners were, they must have realized it would be only a matter of hours until the inevitable reaction to such a major act of violence would come.
Even before some of the miners had gone to bed that night, the governor of Idaho had telegraphed President McKinley:
"In pursuance of the statute in such cases made and provided, I, Frank Steunenberg, governor of Idaho, the legislature not being in session and it not being possible to convene it, do hereby apply to the President of the United States to call forth the military forces of the United States to suppress insurrection in Shoshone County, State of Idaho. This action is sustained in the fact that all of the available Idaho National Guard volunteered for service in the Philippines, and said county is in a state of insurrection. I am of the opinion that at least 500 troops in the aggregate will be necessary, but smaller detachments should be ordered in as rapidly as possible. Frank Steunenberg, governor"
Governor Frank Steunenberg
Frank Steunenberg was in his second term as Idaho's governor when the Coeur d'Alene riots of 1899 occurred. He had been born in Iowa in 1861y through the agricultural college at Ames, he married and headed west. Upon coming to Idaho he had first worked as a printer, and he maintained his membership in the typographical union even after he went into newspaper publishing and sheep ranching. He had located at Caldwell, an agricultural community about thirty miles west of Boise where his father and several brothers and sisters lived.
He early became interested in politics. He served in the territorial legislature, and in the constitutional convention in 1889. Although the rest of his family were Republicans, Frank Steunenberg was a Democrat. In 1896 with Populist and labor support he was elected as Idaho's fourth governor.
He was a man of temperate habits who neither smoked, drank, nor swore, and a man of strong family devotion. He transacted no personal business on Saturdays which he observed as the Sabbath. His most noted idiosyncrasy was the fact that throughout his lifetime he never wore a necktie, and would never offer an explanation of this quirk.
On April 29, 1899, Steunenberg was sick and confined briefly to a Boise hospital. Being unable to visit the Coeur d'Alenes to view the situation personally, he delegated Bartlett Sinclair, the state auditor, as his "personal representative" in the area. By May 1 Sinclair was in Wardner reporting to the governor on the situation, particularly with respect to the inability of Sheriff Young to maintain law and order. On Sinclair's recommendation Governor Steunenberg on May 3 declared martial law, proclaiming Shoshone County to be in a state of insurrection and rebellion.
The military had moved promptly upon receipt of President McKinley's order granting Steunenberg's request for troops. General H.C. Merriam was ordered on April 30 from Denver to Boise to consult with the governor. From his train on May 1 Merriam ordered troops from Walla Walla and Spokane; on the following day additional troops were ordered from army posts at Helena and Havre, Montana; Salt Lake City; Boise; Cheyenne; Vancouver, Washington and black soldiers from Brownville, Texas, veterans of the Spanish-American war.
Governor Steunenberg met Merriam's train at Glenn's Ferry, some 70 miles east of Boise, and briefed him on the events in the Coeur d'Alenes. Merriam continued on to Wardner, arriving on May 4. The first troops had arrived in the area on May 2, and a number of arrests had already been made prior to Merriam's arrival.
The arrests were indiscriminant; Governor Steunenberg's representative, state auditor Bartlett Sinclair believed that all the people of Canyon Creek had a "criminal history," and "the entire community, or the male portion of it, out to be arrested." The soldiers searched every house, breaking down the door of no one answered.
As Sinclair had ordered, they arrested every male; miners, bartenders, a doctor, a preacher, even the postmaster and school superintendent.... Cooks and waiters [were] arrested in kitchens, diners at their supper tables... For desperate criminals, the men of Burke went quietly, the only gunshot was aimed at a "vicious watch dog."
The army had been specifically ordered to aid the Idaho civil authorities in maintaining law and order, but not to take charge of either the arrest or detention of prisoners. The U.S. Army followed escaping miners into Montana and arrested them, returning them to Idaho, and failed to comply with jurisdictional or extradition laws. One man arrested and transported was a Montana citizen who had no connection to the Wardner events. The state had deputized a number of special assistants to Sinclair, and these agents were to make the actual arrests and to supervise the large number of prisoners soon to be confined. As in 1892, a number of union miners--including Harry Orchard--fled before the troops arrived; all those remaining were arrested and detained once again in a "bull pen" without charges filed against them.
It is not necessary to discuss the detailed administration of the martial law here. In many respects it was 1892 all over again. As might be expected, there was a great deal of criticism of the military intervention. But the congressional investigating committee generally upheld both the military authorities and the state authorities; however, a dissenting minority report call the conduct of the army "reprehensible."
One of the most widely criticized aspects of the martial law was the limitation placed on the right of habeas corpus. In a famous court case which was to serve as a precedent for the state of Colorado a few years later, William Boyle, a "bull pen" prisoner, was denied a writ of habeas corpus by the state supreme court. Two features of this decision were quoted in later decisions: first, that in such insurrections the governor may suspend or disregard the writ of habeas corpus, and second, that the truth of the facts set forth in a proclamation of insurrection will not be inquired into by the courts.
William Boyle had been a county commissioner of Shoshone County along with William R. Stimson and Moses S. Simmons. They were given the chance to resign but refused. These three men were subsequently removed from office in an impeachment proceeding before Judge Mayhew who said, ". . . they have disregarded and neglected their official duties and by their acts demonstrated their incompetency and unfitness for the public trust imposed in them by the people of this country." Their sudden fall from official greatness to the menial end of prison cuisine was quickly accomplished when the rioters placed them head and front of the dishwashing and garbage brigade.
Sherriff Young was removed in the same impeachment hearing. In passing judgment upon this case the court concluded, "The highest peach officer of the county, conducting himself a she states in his own evidence, has disgraced the office to which he has been elected and has shown himself to be incompetent and unfit as a public servant." Young was replaced, incidentally, by Dr. Hugh France, the Bunker Hill and Sullivan Company doctor who was also the coroner of Shoshone Country.
Of course, the most famous--or infamous--part of the "Troubles of 1899" was the military prison or "bull pen." It has been suggested that this institution, originating in the Coeur d'Alenes, was the forerunner of the modern concentration camp. In any event, it was admittedly a harsh measure of military necessity. More than 700 men were housed during the busiest period of apprehension and confinement; these represented about three quarters of the 950 miners reported not at work on April 29. Initially the prisoners were confined in an old barn, a two-story frame structure 120 feet long by 40 feet wide and filled with hay. The overflow were incarcerated in a number of boxcars, but construction of a prison stockade was undertaken immediately. The prisoners were then forced to build a pine board prison for themselves, and it was surrounded by a six-foot barbed wire fence patrolled by armed soldiers. This structure was ready just sixteen days after the first arrests were made. Conditions in it were generally satisfactory in the opinion of the congressional committee which investigated the charges against the army, even though three prisoners died.
The new stockade, however, served as a challenge to some of the confined miners. Several attempts were made to tunnel out of the prison, but none was successful. On August 28, seven men who were about to be tried made an escape assisted by an army noncommissioned officer who had been bribed. Peter Breen, the Western Federation attorney from Butte and a veteran of the 1892 "bull pen," was suspected of having something to do with this escape and henceforth was not allowed to represent men in the prison.
During the hot summer months that followed much of the food served at the "bull pen" was tainted or spoiled. This together with the harsh treatment of the guards caused much dissention among the prisoners. Under fire of the Negro guard, Mike Johnson, crazy and desperate, made a dash for liberty by jumping into the river. Down the rapid stream he bobbed like a great cork, while on the bank his keeper, breaking through the underbrush, peppered at him with his Drag-Jorgensen rifle. Somehow or other the floating target evaded the bullets but the treacherous eddied were too much for him, and Johnson's body was found 20 minutes later down the river--drowned.
In the district most of the sympathies were with the imprisoned miners as was proven when nearly all of Canyon Creek turned out to attend the funeral at Wallace of Mike Devine, who died of pneumonia in the prison hospital at Wardner. About 300 of the men attending wore miner's union badges.
Another widely criticized feature of the military occupation was the work permit system instituted by Bartlett Sinclair. Over the opposition of the mine owners Sinclair required miners who wanted to start working again to sign a statement denying participation in the crimes of April 29 and denying membership in any society which incited or approved those crimes. The congressional report observed, "This permit system' can only be defended on the ground of the extreme necessity of martial law, and whether it should be continued after martial law ceases is a question which only the State of Idaho can decide. It has proved a most effective means toward accomplishing the end for which it was devised." Colorado officials must have noted this endorsement, for in a few years they adopted the permit system under similar circumstances.
The new regime's principal [sic] patronage--the fat contract for supplying food and drink to the bullpen's prisoners--had gone to Tony Tubbs, the former manager of Bunker Hill's boardinghouse, destroyed on April 29. Likewise, most of the thirty men Sinclair hired as special "state deputies" were either employees and former employees of the Bunker Hill Company or contractors for it. Among the most prominent was a saloonkeeper named W.C. "Convict" Murphy, who'd served time for horse stealing and cattle rustling. When Convict Murphy broke down people's doors, he was sometimes asked for a search warrant or authority, at which he would draw a pair of six-shooters and say, "These are my warrants."
The most important legal battle taking place during 1899 was the Paul Corcoran case. Corcoran, the financial secretary of the Burke miners' union, was charged with the death of James Cheyne, the Bunker Hill and Sullivan employee who had been killed at the time of the dynamiting. The state made this case its key prosecution of the dynamiters, using its best legal talent in the prosecution. James H. Hawley and William E. Borah acted as special prosecutors, a role they were to repeat in the Haywood trial eight years later. Judge George A. Stewart of Boise was sent by the governor to Wallace to try the case, and a special jury list was drawn up from the more agrarian parts of the county to insure a better chance of getting a conviction in the mining community, an act which was subsequently ruled legal by the Idaho Supreme Court.
William E. Borah
Colonel Pat Reddy, onetime colleague of James Hawley in the 1892 defense of the miners and now attorney for the entire "bull pen," undertook the defense of Corcoran. Associated with him were F.C. Robertson of Spokane and Peter Breen of Butte. One of the most spectacular events of the trial occurred when Borah took the jury out to the canyon to prove a point. Several witnesses had testified to seeing Paul Corcoran riding on top of a boxcar on the dynamite train in the canyon on April 29. Defense witnesses testified that no man could ride on a swaying boxcar in such a position at the speed of that particular train. Borah, before the eyes of the assembled jurors, rode on top of a boxcar moving at the same speed through the canyon to prove that it could be done and that a man could be recognized under such conditions.
Emma F. Langdon, a union sympathizer, charged in a 1908 book that Idaho Governor Frank Steunenberg, who had been "considered a poor man," deposited $35,000 into his bank account within a week after troops arrived in the Coeur d'Alene Mining district, implying that there may have been a bribe from the mine operators. Subsequent research appears to have uncovered the apparent source of this assertion. J. Anthony Lukas recorded in his book Big Trouble, "in 1899, when the state needed money for the Coeur d'Alene prosecutions, the Mine Owners' Association had come up with $35,000--about a third of it from Bunker Hill and Sullivan--handing $25,000 over to Governor Steunenberg for use at his discretion in the prosecution. Some of this money went to pay [attorneys]."
J. Anthony Lukas
Borah and Hawley won their case. Paul Corcoran was convicted of murder in the second degree and sentenced to seventeen years in the state prison. Two years later he was pardoned by the state board of pardons. In an interesting observation on the Paul Corcoran case some years later, James Hawley said:
"The object of the state officers who were behind the prosecution and of the attorneys conducting it, was not so much to impose punishment upon those who had been connected with the crimes committed, as it was to show to the members of the unions and those who had used their influence to carry out their own selfish design that the law would reach anyone connected with such illegal acts, no matter how high his standing in the community and although it might be proved that he had not personally participated in any of the unlawful acts. The men whose guilt could easily be proven were comparitively [sic] unknown members of the unions and their conviction meant but little, so far as the future of the Coeur d'Alenes was concerned. It became a question with those in charge as to who would be the proper man, by reason of his high standing as a citizen and good reputation in the community, united with the fact that he was a man of family and possessed of abundant means, and it was determined that Paul Corcoran, the secretary of the Burke union, fully met these requirements and that if convicted upon the charge of murder . . . it would mean more for the future orderly conduct of affairs . . . than that of any other man against whom an indictment was found."
Hawley's statement notwithstanding, he and Borah had made a good case against Paul Corcoran. It was generally an attempt to show a conspiracy to kill, rather than to pin the actual killing on Corcoran. But one witness, a woman who had helped the badly wounded Cheyne down the hill into town, had testified to seeing Paul Corcoran in the group of men who had shot Cheyne.
There was much conflicting testimony, as might be expected. A number of witnesses swore that Corcoran remained in Burke that day, although others who had been on the train and in Wardner identified him as one of the masked and armed rioters. Jensen, using as a primary source the report of the congressional committee which includes abstracts of testimony in the Paul Corcoran case, chooses to ignore that testimony which embarrasses the union, and makes the flat assertion that Corcoran was "not at Wardner at the time of the dynamiting . . ."
Jensen makes another interesting observation. Relying heavily on an account published in the Miner's Magazine, the Western Federation of Miners journal, he develops at some length the theory that other mine managers in the district particularly Joseph McDonald of the Frisco, were behind the dynamiting of the Bunker Hill and Sullivan property. Credence is given to this theory by a similar statement of Connolly who spoke of a mine manager who addressed meeting of his miners, "counseling extreme measures against the Bunker Hill Company if it did not accede to the demands." But no allusion to this alleged counter conspiracy occurs in the testimony of the Corcoran trial where the defense might well have attempted to use this theory.
Only a few of the miners confined in the "bull pen" were ever brought to trial. Thirteen were convicted on a federal charge of interfering with United States mail, mail that had been carried by the Northern Pacific mixed train commandeered by the dynamiters. Most of the "bull pen" occupants were released in a few weeks, but the permit system of Bartlett Sinclair prevented many of them from working again in the Coeur d'Alenes. A number of miners left the area for Cripple Creek and other mining camps throughout the West where they rejoined those who had fled earlier from the federal troops.
The 1899 actions of Governor Steunenberg had the net effect of destroying the power of the Western Federation of Miners in Idaho, and exporting from the state a number of bitter and violent men. Steunenberg was criticized severely by the contemporary labor press, which is understandable, but, less understandably, he continues to be vilified by modern liberal writers. Vernon Jenson calls his conduct calloused and vindictive. Yet his critics, then and now, have offered no real alternative course of action that Steunenberg might have taken in the face of such provocation.
In his autobiography, WFM Secretary-Treasurer Bill Haywood described Idaho miners held for "months of imprisonment in the 'bull-pen'--a structure unfit to house cattle--enclosed in a high barbed-wire fence." Peter Carlson wrote in his book Roughneck, "Haywood traveled to the town of Mullan, where he met a man who had escaped from the "bullpen". The makeshift prison was an old grain warehouse that reeked of excrement and crawled with vermin."
Surveying the situation, with hundreds of union miners locked up by the militia for a year or more--some still never having been charged with a crime--Bill Haywood came to one conclusion. He believed that the companies and their supporters in government--intent upon forcing wage cuts and employers' freedom to fire union miners-- were conducting class warfare against the working class.
The editor of one local newspaper, Wilbur H. Stewart of the Mullan Mirror, dared to criticize the bullpen and its keepers. Sinclair appeared at his door alongside a major and several soldiers with unsheathed bayonets. Sinclair declared,
"I find that you have been publishing a seditious newspaper, inciting riot and insurrection, and we have concluded that publication of your paper must cease."
Stewart was taken to the bullpen, where he was assigned to garbage and latrine duty. However, the paper did not stop publication; Stewart's young wife, Maggie, continued to publish the weekly. Sinclair impounded her type, and she contracted with another sympathetic publisher to continue the news. Eventually Stewart was released under instructions to end the criticism. He sold the newspaper instead.
Many populist elected officials in Shoshone County were rounded up for their support of the miners. The town sheriff of Mullan, Idaho was arrested and sent to the bull pen.
Charlie Siringo was not the only agent to have infiltrated the Coeur d'Alene miners' unions. In his book Big Trouble, author J. Anthony Lukas mentions that Thiel Operative 53 had also infiltrated, and had been the union secretary at Wardner. In 1906 he "worked inside the miners union at Goldfield, Nevada. He was trusted by many union members in mining camps throughout the Northwest.
May Arkwright Hutton, whose husband was the engineer on the dynamite express, wrote a book, The Coeur d'Alenes; or, A Tale of the Modern Inquisition in Idaho, about the treatment of the miners, and her husband, at the hands of the mine owners and the sheriff.
The railroad refused to rehire Al Hutton when he was released from jail so he had no choice but to devote his working hours to a "small, seemingly unproductive mine--the Hercules--in which he and May had invested their savings of a few hundred dollars. Ed Boyce, head of the Western Federation of Miners, acquired an interest in the same mine in 1901..." The mine became one of the great strikes of the Coeur d'Alene Mining District and made all the investors rich. After they had become wealthy mine owners, May Hutton sought to buy back all copies of her book. Ed Boyce quit the miners union to mange a hotel in Portland.
After one of the greatest battles ever to be fought in the American courts to that time, the Miners' Union was hopelessly beaten when in late July, 1899, Paul Corcoran was found guilty in the second degree for the murder of James Cheyne. The leader of the Burke union was sentenced by the Judge to 17 years at hard labor in the state penitentiary. Of the rioters his was the only case tried before the court adjourned until September.
At their 1901 convention the WFM miners agreed to the proclamation that a "complete revolution of social and economic conditions" was "the only salvation of the working classes." WFM leaders openly called for the abolition of the wage system. By the spring of 1903 the WFM was the most militant labor organization in the country.
In the long run, Steunenberg's actions gave the Western Federation of Miners far less justification for bitterness than the actions of the Colorado state government produced a few years later. And, if the miners had made a mistake in their show of power in the Coeur d'Alenes in 1899, they acted like the proverbial "damn fool" in making the same mistake twice when they tried a similar policy in Cripple Creek in 1903-04.
In 1906, George Pettibone was implicated in the 1905 assassination of former Governor Frank Steunenbert on the testimony of Harry Orchard. While Orchard was found to have committed the crime, Pinkerton Detective James McParland persuaded him that he could avoid the gallows if he testified that an "inner circle" of Western Federation of Miners leaders had ordered the crime. The prosecution of that "inner circle" of the union was then funded, in part, by direct contributions from the Coeur d'Alene District Mine Owners' Association to prosecuting attorney who were, ostensibly, working for the state rather than for private interests. Upon hearing of this circumstance, President Theodore Roosevelt issued a particularly stern rebuke to Idaho Governor Frank Gooding, describing such a state of affairs as the "grossest impropriety":
[Idaho's government would] "make a fatal mistake--and when I say fatal I mean literally that--if it permits itself to be identified with the operators any more than with the miners. . .If the Governor or the other officials of Idaho accept a cent from the operators or from any other capitalist with any reference, direct or indirect, to this prosecution, they would forfeit the respect of every good citizen and I should personally feel that they had committed a real crime."
Roosevelt's strong words came in spite of the fact that he had already concluded the WFM leaders were guilty. Governor Gooding's response to the President provided a severely distorted account of the financial arrangements for the trial, and a promise to return money contributed by the mine owners. Gooding then: . . . kept the narrowest construction of his promise to the president. . .[He then proclaimed publicly and often that] no dollar has been or will be supplied from any private source or organization whatsoever, [and then] went right on taking money from the mine owners.
In addition to Idaho mine owners, powerful and wealthy industrialists outside of Idaho were also tapped in an effort to destroy the WFM. Donations for the prosecutorial effort estimated in the range of $75,000 to $100,000 were simultaneously solicited and forwarded from the Colorado Mine Owners' Association and other wealthy Colorado donors. Mining interests in other states--Nevada and Utah, for example--were approached as well.
Charles Moyer - Bill Haywood - George Pettibone
In spite of the combined efforts of state and local governments in Idaho and Colorado, the Mine Owners' Associations, the Pinkerton Agency and other interested industrialists the WFM defendants--George Pettibone, Bill Haywood, and Charles Moyer--were found not guilty of conspiracy in the killing. Orchard was convicted and sentenced to death. His sentence was commuted, and he spent the rest of his life in an Idaho prison.