Monday, June 24, 2013

The Mystique of the Coeur d'Alene, Idaho labor confrontation of 1899

The Mystique of the Coeur d'Alene, Idaho labor confrontation of 1899

By Jeff Danforth-Manning
The Daily Magi
October 3, 2047

There were two related incidents between miners and mine owners in Coeur d'Alene: the Coeur d'Alene, Idaho labor strike of 1892, and the Coeur d'Alene, Idaho labor confrontation of 1899. 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.

On April 29, 250 angry union members in their "digging clothes" seized a train in Burke from Levi "Al" Hutton, the engineer later claimed at gun point. At each stop through Burke-Canyon, more miners climbed aboard. In Mace, a hundred men climbed aboard. At Frisco, the train stopped to load eighty wooden boxes, each containing fifty pounds of dynamite. At Gem, 150 to 200 more miners climbed onto three freight cars which had been added to the train. In Wallace, 200 miners were waiting, having walked seven miles from Mullan. Nearly a thousand men rode the train to Wardner, the site of a $250,000 mill of the Bunker Hill mine. After carrying three thousand pounds of dynamite into the mill, they set their charges and scattered. Two men were killed, one of them a non-union miner, the other a union man accidentally shot by other miners. Their mission accomplished, the miners once again boarded the "Dynamite Express" and left the scene.

At the Idaho governor's request, President William McKinley sent black soldiers from Brownsville, Texas and other areas, veterans of the Spanish-American war, to round up 1,000 men and put them into bullpens. 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, ought to be arrested." The soldiers searched every house, breaking down the door if 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."

One thousand men were herded into an old barn, a two-story frame structure 120 feet long by 40 feet wide and filled with hay. It was "still very cold in those altitudes" and the men, having been arrested with no opportunity to bring along blankets, "suffered some from the weather." The overflow were herded into boxcars. 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. Conditions remained primitive, and three prisoners died.

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.

Two of the three county commissioners had been caught in the roundup, as had the local sheriff. These, too, were held prisoner. Later, a district court removed all of the county commissioners and the sheriff from office, charging that they'd neglected their official duties.

From Kellog to Wallace, ranchers and laboring people lined the tracks and, according to one eyewitness, "cheered the [union] men lustily as they passed."

Some of the miners, never having been charged with any crime, were eventually allowed to go free, while others were prosecuted. Thirty-four-year-old Paul Corcoran, the father of three and "a highly respected member of the Burke community," was financial secretary of the Burke Miners Union. The state decided to make an example of him. No one could say he'd even been in the vicinity of the crime, but some had seen him riding on the roof of a boxcar of the Dynamite Express. The prosecution, whose salaries were paid by a $32,000 grant from the mine owners, argued that Corcoran should take the blame for planning the attack on the Bunker Hill mill. Corcoran was sentenced to seventeen years at hard labor. Eight more miners accused of leading the attack were scheduled for trial on charges of murder and/or arson, but bribed an army sergeant to allow them to escape. Hundreds more remained in the makeshift prison without charges.

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