An assistant professor
of history at the University of Idaho, Katherine Aiken has written extensively
about the social and economic climate of Idaho at the turn of the 20th century.
Let's begin with an effort to take people back to the Coeur d'Alene district
of the 1890s. If you were to bring someone back to the Coeur d'Alene district
and try to describe what this district is like in this era, how would you
describe it to them?
Well, for one thing the
environment is incredibly beautiful. It is all timber and I think sometimes
miner's forgot about that part because they were underground so much. , it's
also an area that is full of canyons and river valleys, so people have to
build on hillside in very limited space. So, what you end up are these wooden
house that are very close together in places where the terrain allows for
that, all built out of wood, even the sidewalks are built out of wood. When
I think about the Coeur d'Alene mining district the image that I have is when
all those miners come out of the mine at the same time and they walk down
that sidewalk made of wood, with their heavy boots carrying their things.
The noise that it makes as they sort of tramp exhausted at the end of that
ten hour day, out of the mine and down that wooden sidewalk. Their wives and
others can hear them come, for quite a distance and try to get ready for them
to come and they kind of collapse into their houses at the end of, at the
end of the day. It was incredibly difficult dangerous work.
What's it like to
be a miner, a hard rock miner back then?
Well, you had to have
a certain mental outlook, I think. Miners especially at the beginning of the
1890's were allowed three candle that they took in at the beginning of their
shift. So, they're working far underground just illinated by the light of
a candle which you know is, is not much. It's incredibly warm, hot actually
in a lot of the mines. Which I think there's a tendency to think it's going
to be cold because you're underground but actually it's very warm. And several
of the Coeur d'Alene district mines are also wet, so there's water that kind
of runs and so, the hidity is incredibly high, in the nineties , under underneath
the, the ground. And it's, you never know when that might be a cave in or
some other kind of, of accident. You're trying to timber the mine and make
sure that things are, are sturdy, but you don't know. You're also mining in
places where you may hit power and explode yourself. That something hasn't
exploded before, that the shift. . . there's just all kinds of things that
can happen to you everywhere that you, you work and it's very demanding physical
work, mining is. And plus you have to know what you're doing, you don't want
to drill a hole in the wrong place and have everything collapse on top of
you. Miners worked ten hours a day, seven days a week, in these very difficult
circstances and were paid very little, three dollars a day, sometimes three
fifty a day in the Coeur d'Alenes.
Let's talk a little
about the emergence of a couple of groups on both sides of the employment
equation. First of all is this notion of union activity of miners banding
together, what contributes to that effort?
One of the main issues
is what we've just been talking about, mine safety. It's such dangerous work
that miners are compelled to act in some way to try and protect themselves
as best they can and to make demands about their own safety. And I think that's
the first sort of impetus to organization and related to that is, in the Coeur
d'Alene and lots of other mining areas you were required to contribute a dollar
a month to this hospital fund. And the hospital was incredibly important to
miners because there are lots of accidents, and miners were convinced that
the company was taking that dollar and not spending it all on getting them
the best hospital care that was available. And so, that certainly is an issue,
in the Coeur d'Alene that causes them to come together. And I would say thirdly,
that this 1890's is a period of huge technological change as mining is going
from being hand work, to be done with drills especially compressed air drills.
And anytime you bring new technology into the work place that means that there
are changes in relationships between workers and supervisors, and between
workers themselves, and between workers and their work. And one of the things
that was most important to miners was being in control of the pace of their
work and the nature of their work. And new technology made it more difficult
for them to achieve that goal. And that's one the things that prompts them
to band together as a way to try to regain some of that control over their
It would also seem
to speak to the issue of the worth of the work. The way they were perceived,
the worth that was assigned to them. Was that impacted by the new technology?
Yes, in a very dramatic
way. , what traditional mining involved is, especially in the Coeur d'Alene
and most cases is, is what we call double jack mining, where one man holds
this kind of steel kind of bar , up against the mining face and the other
man hits it with a big hammer basically. And then you turn the bar and it's
hit again and you drill these holes and then you put explosives in each of
the holes and then at the end of the shift somebody else, "Fire in the
Hole", you explode them and rock falls down and that's the ore that's
then taken out of the mine to be processed and get the metals. Well, compressed
air drills are machine drills, made it possible to make so many more of those
holes a shift than before that you could explode so much more rock that you
didn't need as many miners, the people that make the holes and put the explosives
in but you needed a lot more of people we call muckers, people who , shovel
the rock into ore cars and took it out. And those people were paid in the
Coeur d'Alenes fifty cents less a day, at least that's what mining companies
wanted to do and so a lot of people who had been miners not only made more
money, but their skill and position was very important to them found themselves
demoted to being muckers or shovelers. Because the technology created much
more need for that position than for miners. And so, that was very difficult
You talked a little
bit about the coming together of miners as a means of almost protecting themselves
in a very unsafe environment. Was there a sense that their safety was not
being protected by the mine owners?
I think there certainly
was a sense of that, and I want to be very careful. In the Coeur d'Alene and
it was true of most mining district in the early years, people who were in
management tended to know their workers by name, and at least at one level
of management lived in the community. I would not want to portray them as
uncaring about accidents. There's lots of evidence when there's an accident
in the mine, mine owners and managers are just as upset as anybody else because
it's somebody they probably knew and they might have a family and that kind
of thing. On the other hand, there certainly was a strong sense that accidents
were just something that came with the nature of mining. Accidents were unexpected
risks or a cost of doing business. Mine owners recognized that was just one
of the things that was associated with theirbwork, and they didn't really
think it was their responsibility to spend a lot of money or a lot of time
and effort trying to prevent accidents. They did want to prevent accidents
because accidents could be costly from a monetary sense, and also because
they really cared about the people. However, I think the only thought they
had was there was only so much they could do, and that once they had done
that they didn't have other kinds of responsibilities.
So, the workers start
to come together, take these steps towards unionization. So to does it appear
the mine owners make the choice to associate, not as competitors, but against
common concerns. Why do the mine owners come together in an association?
Well, I think you're
right it's a very difficult decision for them because mining is incredibly
competitive especially in the Coeur d'Alene and there really is no love lost
in a nber of ways between various mine owners there. And yet, the one part
of the equation for , earning a profit in mining that owners thought they
had some control over was labor. And so, they were very interested in controlling
that part of the cost so that they could make money. And it soon became very
clear that miners could easily go from one mine to another, there's a lot
of mobility in that way and that if they were going to keep a close tab on
labor costs they were need to work together.
Fix the wage?
Right. And also be able
to prevent so called activist from getting employment anywhere, they needed
to have a community of interest in that way as well. They also come together
in the Coeur d'Alenes I would add in opposition to railroads and some other
large corporation that they believed were trying to control them.
Now we have the emergence
of union miners, we have the emergence of a mine owners association. How do
they view each other? Is it us and them?
Yes, it certainly is
a case of us and them. And even though it takes mine owners and mines to employ
miners without them, they have no work. And without miners, mine owners can't
make a profit so, you would think they would have a lot of things in common,
but it's pretty clear by the early part of the 1890's that what's upper most
in both of their minds is a very adversarial idea about their, their opponents.
What contributes to
that emerging tension? As we look at 1891, and 1892 there seems to be a nber
of issues that have miners' attention and the mine workers' attention. But
what contributes to the tension?
Well, I think we've talked
about a couple of the things that contribute to the tension. One is this new
technology and having it come into the mines creates a lot of tension on both
sides. I think that's part of it. I think the whole issue of health care and
the hospital , accommodations is one of the issues. But also in the Coeur
d'Alenes there's very much an issue of ethnicity, as a nber of miners are
Irish, Irish Catholics. And mine owners especially at the Bunker Hill were
Protestant. And were very worried about what Irish Catholics brought to the
community not just to, to the mine.
We come to the point
where it starts not just to simmer, but now boil. We actually have a strike
that comes into place. I'm interested in this notion of a strike being affected
and then what the mine owners do to counter workers going out on strike.
Well, I think the big
issue in 1892 that we sometimes forget is that mine owners have pressures
as well. And when railroads attempt to raise rates, think about where Coeur
d'Alene is, and where you have to ship things in order to make a profit and
have ores processed. So, raising the railroad rate really impacts the ability
of mines to be profitable. And so, we always think of mine owners , exploiting
workers but in this case mine owners in the Coeur d'Alenes felt like they
were small fish in a big sea, that these powerful railroad companies which
are the most powerful corporate entities in the United States in the 1890's
were applying pressure to them. And so, when rates are raised mine owners
in this organization that we've talked about decide that they need to make
a stand. And so, they shut down the mines. They shut them down and say we're
willing to forgo our profits, and it's a big sacrifice to us by naturally,
but we'll do that because we can't pay this increased railroad rate and we
think that railroads are inflicting this upon us because they think we're
powerless against them. So, once they close the mines that just throws miners
out of work. And there's no safety net for them, they just have no money coming
in. The longer the mines are closed the more desperate miners become and they
also begin to suspect that it's more than just the railroad rate increase
that is at play here. They begin to suspect that mine owners have closed their
mines, in effort to apply, apply pressure on workers and convince workers
to come back to work at a lower wage rate than they were receiving at the
time of the closure. And it turns out that once the mines are reopened in
the Spring, that's exactly what mine owners attempt to do, have miners come
back at fifty cents a day less than they were making before , the closure
took place and Coeur d'Alene miners refused to do that.
And so, how do the
mine owners respond. If the workers won't come back, how do the mine owners
Mine owners attempt to
deal with that as traditionally companies try to deal with it in a lot of
incidences. They attempt to hire scabs or strike breakers depending upon your
perspective, when companies decide to import workers as strike breakers in
the Coeur d'Alenes the situation is very inflammatory. Because these people
are coming into the district taking jobs away from miners who have been out
of work for several months at this point and they're also people who are not
members of the miners union. All of those things create tension.
It really does result
in non-union miners being beaten in the streets of Creek Canyon, correct?
Yes, it does. And besides
those incidents of violence there are several incidents where mine union members
patrolled railway stations and railway stops. Simply, if you were a scab or
strike breaker coming into the Coeur d'Alenes, and you started to get off
the train and you looked down on the platform and here were a group of miners,
perhaps holding picks or sticks or shovels, you might rethink your situation
about whether or not you were really willing to get off the train and work
through that group of miners and go into the mine. A lot of times, mine union
members were able to intimidate potential strike breakers without having to
resort to violence.
As this conflict between
the mine owners bringing workers in escalates, it seems the mine owners take
a couple of extra steps towards the notion of security their ability to conduct
business. They bring in one of the nation's best known private detective agency,
The Pinkertons, to help them better control the situation. How do the Pinkertons
help to control the situation?
Well, they hire Pinkertons
and also other detective agency as well. And they're able to infiltrate a
lot of the union locals in the district and they're primary purpose I think
on, in behalf of mine owners is to provide information about who are active
union members, what strategies the union is discussing, what moves the union
is discussing and to report those back , to mine owners so that mine owners
are really a step ead of the game in trying to deal with the union.
Tell me about Charlie
Well, Charles Seringo
is a very famous Pinkerton detective, he was one of their best operatives,
when they sent him they knew they were sending somebody that had the requisite
skills to do the job. He was so good at his job, which primarily the way that
detectives made contact with union people throughout the Coeur d'Alene and
I suspect elsewhere was by going to local saloons and buying drinks for miners,
in the time that they were off work and be sort of good fellows and that sort
of thing. And , once he had done that he was able to get the trust of miners,
and he was also, wasn't a very big man physically, he was only about 5'8 weighed
about 130 lb. But he was a good worker and one of the problems that some Pinkerton
detectives had was, once they went to work in the mine it was patently obvious
to other workers that these were not really workers but in the case of Charles
Seringo, he was able to do the labor that miners did and so they trusted him
so much so they elected him an officer in their local.
We're starting to
move up to a time where the strike is stretching on the union miners are getting
more frustrated and the nature of the conflict starts to escalate. Can you
help me understand how the miner started taking weapons into their hands at
Creek Canyon, and the showdown that results around the Frisco Mill.
Well, first of all I
think we should remember that this is the West, and the 1890's and having
a firearm was something that everyone needed to do for their own protection
sometimes, for hunting and firearms were readily available and so, it's not
as if this was a huge departure from people's practice. Everybody was accustomed
to using firearms, and and having them. But it soon became clear I think,
to union members that perhaps they needed to gather together larger amounts
of of weaponry which they did. And cached in several locations in, in the
district and it became clear to them that mine owners would have access to
weapons and had money to buy them. And so that, they needed to counteract
that and be armed as well. And things just escalated and so that everybody
was pretty much armed in the area. And people were I think weary of a possible
confrontation, and they wanted to be prepared. People on both sides, wanted
to be prepared. You don't want to be the one that has no weapon when that
confrontation takes place, you want to make sure that you're at least equally
well armed as the other side. And I think that's what both sides were thinking
as they prepared for this.
The escalation literally
Yes. Just like with weapons
I think we're always amazed about the Coeur d'Alene story that there all these
explosions but dynamite is a requisite tool for mining and everybody whose
a miners or lives in that area has some expertise in dynamite. And so, when
you have dynamite available and you have people who know how to use it, it
doesn't seem to me much of a surprise that often the method of choice , for
engaging in acts of, of violence.
So, back East they might
interpret this as a mad bomber run amuck.. Exactly. But even local people
who didn't work in the mines tended to have a little dynamite around because
everybody prospected and was hoping to strike it rich. And so, dynamite was
very accessible, readily available and skilled miners knew how to use it.
And they used it in
1892 at Frisco Mill. Tell me about that.
Yes, they did. Well,
all of these incidence are in some ways clouded as to exactly what happened
but what happened I think the best, I think the best explanation of what happened
in 1892 is that the miners union discovered that Charles Seringo had in fact
infiltrated their local. And they became very upset about that and they saw
it not just as a, as a treasonous act on his part, but they were very upset
at mining companies for hiring him and attempting to infiltrate their organization.
And so they were searching for him and for others who were detectives who
were part of their organization. They were upset about the issues that we
have, have talked about. And they were determined, I think to , make a statement
that they were not going to tolerate either that kind of infiltration, the
kind of treatment they were receiving.
How does the state
government respond when the explosion takes place?
Well, Governor [Norman]
Willy sides with mine owners which is fairly typical I think of state government
at the time. . He declares marshal law, he sends people into the Coeur d'Alenes
to try to regain or restore order and you have to remember that from his perspective
and maybe rightfully so, they had destroyed someone else's property. And one
of the rules of government is to protect people's property and insure their
rights to their private property. And so, and this was clearly a lawless act.
And the governor believed that it was role, as the state government to intercede
on behalf of those mine owners.
There are people who
would interpret that state government is then in the pockets of the industrialized
interests because it's quick to rise to the defense of private property, but
very slow to rise to the defense of the individual worker. Is that a fair
Well, I think that is
a fair characterization. Idaho is very small in the 1890's, well between a
hundred thousand and a hundred and fifty thousand people as we go across the
1890's, and so, there not a lot of influential people in the state, and mine
owners were influential.Tthey had money, they contributed to campaigns, and
they were a very important part of the economy. Mining was one the key elements
of Iahdo's economy, the state could not afford to make mine owners unhappy
with the way things were going.
Tell me about the
use of the bull pen. What is a bull pen and how is it used in Wallace in 1892.
Well, when marshal law
is in effect and they begin to round up people who they consider to be trouble
makers. Which basically turned out to be anybody that had anything to do with
mining. There were no jails large enough to accommodate all of the people
that they were arresting, so they had to build temporary jail facilities.
They built corrals by basically just putting fences up around a significant
amount of land and locking these people into these enclosures that they called
What were conditions
like? I'd imagine they were pretty rough.
They were very unfavorable
to miners. Let's face it when you round up five hundred or so people and you
have no sanitary facilities to accommodate them. You have no way really to
feed them. There's little shelter, when the weather is inclement. They tend
to be in areas that are very unsavory and unpleasant place to be. Anytime
when you get five hundred men and you put them in fairly close quarters with
nothing to do to occupy themselves, it's a very unpleasant situation.
And they also seem
to be a breeding ground if you will for dissatisfaction with the process.
I think that's exactly
true. And certainly when you are incarcerated, your families have no way to
make money to provide for themselves, because you're in the bull pen and aren't
making , aren't working in the mines. So, you're worried about your family.
You have time to talk, which when you work ten hours a day, seven days a week,
and came home exhausted you had little opportunity to do that. You can't go
to the saloon which was one of your primary activities when you were working,
so you seethe I think with animosity towards the people who you think are
responsible for putting you in that position.
But the round up of
hundreds of people, in effect crushes what makes up 1892 strike. Does that
usher in a era of quiet, peaceful co-existence in the Coeur d'Alene district?
No, we focus on the 1892
incident and 1899 incident but in reality the entire 1890's is full of various
incidents of violence, of animosity, of . . . acts of terrorism I suppose
we would, would describe them. And, and really the whole decade is a tension
filled decade for both sides. And they really are at one and others throat
throughout that whole period. It's a very unsteady kind of peace. And it's
clear that maybe on the surface things are going okay but underneath there
are just these undercurrents of dislike, and jockeying for position. And and
the whole 1890's is the story of that kind of attitude.
itself throughout this region in many different ways. How does it manifest
itself in Northern Idaho during this period?
Well, one of the biggest
issues is the issue of mine union leadership especially, but also mine union
activists being Irish Catholic and so, companies particularly the Bunker Hill
Company, sought to counteract that by creating a branch of the American Protective
Association, an organization whose main purpose was to oppose particularly
Roman Catholic, Irish, people in the country. They organized that and funded
it and used it as a way to counteract what they saw, as the, the predominant
position that Irish Catholic held. In addition, some of the mine owners were
Catholic as well, and Bunker Hill company which is the main player in 1899
situation, then didn't trust some of the other mine owners who they believed
had a close association with miners who were also Catholic and Irish. So,
ethnicity is a very important part of the mix in this whole story in the 1890's.
There are also certainly occasions when mine owners would seek to use other
ethnic groups. Bunker Hill for example hired Italians to do particularly arduous
work. And they were willing to work with less complaint, at least according
to Irish union members, they feared that Italians didn't make as good as union
members as the Irish and so they were very reticent about that as well. There
also a fairly large Scandinavian , population in the Valley and mine owners
thought particularly Finns were radical Union members. And especially up the
creek towards Burke, there were large Finnish populations and mine owners
were worried about them being Union radicals.
One other group that
becomes identified as radicals in a lot of people's minds is the group known
as the Western Federation of Miners. Certainly not as radical as the IWW later.
But this notion of an emergent regional-based union appears to be a significant
development in the region.
Well, the Western Federation
of Miners is certainly tied to the Coeur d'Alenes because the way that it
began is that twenty five of the people who are incarcerated in the bull pen
in 1892, were sent to Boise to the federal penitentiary to await trial. And
it's while they're in Boise, in prison awaiting trial on the 1892 charges
that they begin to discuss this notion of creating the Western Federation
of Miners. So, that in fact has its origin as a result, a direct result of
the 1892 situation. And when they get out of prison, they then take that idea
to Butte, and elsewhere and into the Coeur d'Alenes and it becomes very central
to the union experience. And Ed Boyce who becomes the International President
of the Western Federation of Miners, was one of those 1892 prisoners, who
was imprisoned in Boise and comes back not only to be President of of the
Union, but he's elected then to the Idaho State Senate and serves as a senator
after his incarceration and so it really is the beginning of his career as
How does Bunker Hill
react to Western Federation demands for union recognition?
Frederick Bradley, who
is the President of Bunker Hill, well he's the manager of Bunker Hill and
who is the most active Bunker Hill official in this whole 1890's situation.
Is stridently opposed to union, he believes that they limit managerial prerogative.
He refuses to have that happen. Part of it is, he doesn't want to pay the
higher wages but I think in Bradley's case that only part of the story. He
thinks that it's a control and power issue. And he's determined that company
have control over the work place and over managerial kinds of issue and so,
he is strongly opposed to union organization. He's also a conservative Republican,
and he believes that business has to have freedom of of action. And that unions
threaten that and so he opposed I think to their organization in general as
well as specifically at his own company.
The Western Federation
of Miners attempt to unionize the Bunker Hill work force.
Well, he employs a nber
of strategies to prevent that from, from happening. He employs detectives
as we've discussed, to spot people who are members of the union and then those
people can be discharged. He's also a fairly courageous individual, like on
one occasion right before the 1899 situation he goes to the Union Hall to
confront the the union on this issue of recognition and is willing to go by
himself and stand there in front of this fairly angry group of miners and
say we're not going to tolerate union recognition in our our mine. He argues
that we'll be in control of all kinds of Catholics if we do that and he does
not want to do that.
But isn't it true,
the Western Federation of Miners will not take "no" for an answer,
and actually, quietly, does start to recruit at Bunker Hill?
I am not sure it's secretly
and or quietly. , throughout the 1890's the Western Federation of Miners recognizes
that Bunker Hill is the major stbling block to their complete success in the
Coeur d'Alenes. By this time one of the largest if not the largest of the
mines, and and Bradley is the most , determined to stop them. And so it becomes
very clear that if they want to succeed totally in the Coeur d'Alenes they
are going to have crack that Bunker Hill nut and they're determined to do
that. And so, they utilize everything at their disposal. They certainly have
members inside the Bunker Hill organization and they try to recruit more members,
they also make it clear to, in other work places that the Bunker Hill a main
enemy, we need to direct our attention there. So, they really are determined
to to deal with that.
And Bunker Hill is
paying the same rate that exists in other areas, or are their pay rates different?
During the period that
we're talking about, Bunker Hill refuses to pay what was call the union rate.
Bunker Hill is paying fifty cents a shift less and they are not willing to
increase that rate. So, certainly pay is part of it. But union recognition
is the main issue, and I think thats hard for people in the 1990's to see
why that's so important. But it's important for miners not just for their
sense of work place sorts of issues, but for their sense of themselves that
their union, their organization be recognized.
In this decade of
the 1890's what was a miner's work day, and work week? What went into that?
And what were they paid?
Miner's worked ten hours
a day, seven days a week. They received three dollars a day for miners, two
dollars and fifty cents for muckers, or shovelers.
is brewing at Bunker Hill. Bradley says, 'No union... not in my mine.' The
union says, 'This is one we've got to crack.' How does it boil over? What
happens that makes this a major cataclysmic event?
Well, the union has escalated
the number of demands that it's making on Bradley. Demanding union recognition,
demanding the he raise pay rates fifty cents a day for all the categories
of underground workers. They begin to attract more membership, and hold more
meetings, and it becomes clear that the moment is I think on their side. On
April 29th, they have a meeting at Burke and there's some discussion about
what to do next and we aren't exactly sure how this happened but they determine
to hijack a Northern Pacific train which they do at gun point and force the
engineer to drive them down the Burke canyon. Eventually they force him to
take them all the way to Wardner, where the Bunker Hill's company works are.
All along the way they stop and pick up more miners. They're armed, many of
them are drinking. Once they get to Wardner, they drink some more, the numbers
increase, they discuss the things that Bunker Hill has done to them and as
often happens in times when there are mobs, things just get out of hand.
And it leads to what?
Well, I think there's
some question. The end result is that the Bunker Hill concentrator which was
worth about a quarter of a million dollars, a lot of money at the time, is
exploded by dynamite. And the Bunker Hill Mine Office is burned. I frankly
think there's still some question about who is responsible for the dynamite,
but clearly the blame falls to these union miners who had hijacked the train.
Once the explosion takes place, they get back on the train and go back up
the canyon to Burke. The train stops and lets people off all along the way.
And the next day almost all of those miners reported to work as usual. Thinking
that perhaps, things could just go along as they had.
sends out an emergency plea. Lands on the desk of the Governor of Idaho, a
man by the name of Frank Stunenberg. Who is Governor Stunenberg?
It is not exactly an
emergency plea. I mean Frank Steunenberg and the Bunker Hill Company had been
in constant communication for at least two years before the 1899 incident.
And so, Steunenberg was prepared for the eventually or possibility of violence
and they had discussed what his action might be, and he had in fact given
them advice about what kind of firearms to purchase, had sent firearms to
the militia there, so it's not as if there's suddenly this surprise request
from him to respond to this incident. He had been discussing that for several
years and so had the Bunker Hill people. So, I think that's part of the story.
Who is he? Frank Steunenberg really was much more sympathetic to labor than
most other government officials. He had been a member of the printer's union,
labor had supported him in both the 1896 and 1898 elections. And so, he certainly
had a reputation as being a friend of workers. But the nature of this act
of violence, this destroying the concentrator, (it looks like match sticks
when you see a picture is all that's left of it) prompted him to act.
And how does he act?
Well, it's difficult.
He's ill at the time, he has a serious case of the flu, part of the time he's
even in the hospital. And he's not exactly sure what to do because Idaho's
militia is serving in the Spanish American War. They've been called up and
they're gone. So, he doesn't have state militia at his disposal. And eventually
he determines that he needs to get federal government troops to come and help
restore order, , in the Coeur d'Alenes. But he doesn't come to that conclusion
until three or four days after the April 29th incident. By that point it becomes
clear to him that he needs some assistance and he asks the federal government
for assistance and they provide it. And federal troops come to the Coeur d'Alenes
to restore order and instigate marshal law there.
Is it significant
that one of the military units assigned is the 24th Regiment from Fort Douglas?
The Buffalo Soldiers?
These are African American
troops who come and certainly that is significant. In some places, African
American troops were purposefully chosen to put down labor uprisings because
of the racial element. It's my suspicion in this case that that probably wasn't
true, that these troops came because so many troops were gone fighting in
the Spanish American War that there weren't a lot of options about who to
send. But it's also the case that people in the Coeur d'Alene were not very
sympathetic to people of color. They had voted to exclude Chinese, , they
really did not like people who were not white, so the fact that these are
African American troops that come , to incarcerate folks in bull pens only
adds to the animosity that workers felt towards both the Government and mine
The bullpens are back
once again and this time with even greater force than in 1892. Tell me about
the duration of their use in 1899 and how they were used.
Well, once again, they
rounded up everybody. . . even Al Hutten who was the engineer of the train
that was hijacked at gun point, is one of the people incarcerated. They incarcerated
the sheriff, who was a Populist and who the governor thought was sympathetic
to miners. They incarcerated for a while two of the three county commissioners.
, they rounded up just this huge nber of people who and kept them for several
months , under the control of these African American troops, in these bull
Were they charged?
They were not charged
immediately. They were incarcerated without habeas corpus, you know it's not
like in the 1990's there aren't any lawyers to come to their assistance. ,
there just there and they really have no recourse, they can't get out. They
have no ability to control their situation. I mean these people had basically
no rights. They were men who were, locked up basically and practically the
key was thrown away. And once again they had, many of them especially by the
1899 situation had families that they were responsible for being the sole
provider for those families and they had no way of, of really dealing with
that. And so they had worries about people that, their loved ones who were
I would imagine that
this was economically devastating for these people who were pulled in. . .
the families. . . that it affected thousands of lives.
Yes it did. And they
many of them never really recuperated from that. And eventually what's going
to happen is there's a system for eliminating union miners from the work force
in the Coeur d'Alenes and so, those people really have lost their lively hood
as a result of this.
There's a quote and
I've seen it attributed both to Governor Steunenberg and also Attorney General
Sam Hayes, speaking of the Western Federation of Miners after they've got
them rounded up in the bull pens, the quote is this, "We've taken the
monster by the throat and are goin' to choke the life out of it."
I think that's true it
was of interest to the state because of their history now of violence. The
state was able to point to 1892, all of the 1890's, and 1899 and say that
this is a dangerous organization. And mine owners certainly had been trying
to combat this organization now for a whole decade. They saw it as the opportunity
to finally eliminate what was the major thorn in their side. And they really
applied a lot of pressure on state official to help them do that.
But from an institutional
perspective, our institutions might perceive union efforts as almost terrorist
Yes I think in this case
they might very well perceive that. They might have perceived them as terrorist
agents the way we would use that term. The term that was mostly used in 1899
was that they're anarchists. That somehow they were outside of government
and really a society and civilization and I think that was what frightened
Dec. 1905 Frank Steunenberg's
out of office, gone back to Caldwell to rese a successful private business
life. Politics has past him by. Six years just about removed from the Coeur
d'Alene activities in 1899. What happens?
Well, he did live, lead
a quiet life. He would walk everyday down to town, Caldwell, to his bank and
to his business and come home for lunch and spend time with his wife and children.
And one day in December of 1905 he walked out of his house and opened up the
front gate and an explosion , killed him.
From the outset, it
seems the investigation has a very strong private component to it. The mine
owner seems to become rapidly interested in this death of the former governor,
and the Pinkertons are very quickly brought into the investigation. Why are
these private agencies so quickly involved in the investigation into the death
of the governor?
Well, first of all I
think the whole incident speaks to how powerful the whole 1899 episode was,
because immediately his family, , state officials, people in the Coeur d'Alene
mining district, asse that his assassination is related to the 1899 episode
which I think is indicative of how powerful that episode was. And I think
in Idaho in 1905 there weren't a lot of public resources to deal with this
kind of situation. I mean after all a former governor has been assassinated
in front of his, his house. And the Pinkertons had a lot of experience in
this kind of area and there really weren't people in the state of Idaho that
did, and so I think that enters into it. And also mine owners I suspect are
rightfully nervous that this s happened to Stunenberg, they're fearful that
it might happen to them, that it might happen to their property, they have
this long association with the Pinkertons, that we've talked about dated since
the early part of the 1890's. And so, they seem to be a logical institution
And the Pinkertons
obviously put a high priority on this investigation because one of their top
men becomes involved, a man by the name of James McParland. Tell me about
They have James McParland
come and I hesitate to use the term legendary because I think it's overused
but in his case he is, the legendary Pinkerton operative. He had infiltrated
the Molly McGuires in Pennsylvania and had succeeded in really destroying
that union. He had become very prominent in western mining communities and
now was the head of western operations for the Pinkertons. And so, he was
really the top operative and that's who they sent.He takes complete charge
and it's also clear to me that he has a preconceived notion about who is responsible
for this and is determined to make sure that he can find proof that established
that his notion is the correct one.
The first step in
resolving this case apparently leads to a man who isn't immediately identified
as Harry Orchard, but identify him as Harry Orchard since that is how he is
best known. A waitress says, 'I saw this suspicious man shortly after the
explosion.' How does Harry Orchard come to be involved?
Harry Orchard is a character
that I think lots of historians have pondered: Who exactly is he? But he had
been in the Coeur d'Alene district as a miner and he had even been a partner
in the Hercules Mine. , and so he had a long term associations with , area
mining and least the way he tells it, he had a strong association with the
Western Federation of Miners and according to his story he was employed by
them as sort of their in house assassin terrorist, if you will. That his job
was to destroy property and basically kill people on behalf of the Western
Federation of Miners.
This seems to fit
with McParland's notion of responsibility. In fact, Mcparland personally conducts
the interrogation of Orchard, doesn't he?
Yes, he does. And I think
the evidence is fairly clear, that he convinced Orchard that if he identified
Western Federation of Miners as key players in this conspiracy that he might
even go free. Because that's what had happened in the case of the Molly McGuires,
the people who had provided the evidence were allowed in fact, to go free
and everybody knew that McParland had played that role there and so it kind
of made sense I think for Orchard to think that perhaps he might get that
kind of deal in Idaho as well.
How unusual is the
effort by Idaho and McParland's operatives to round up the Western Federation
of Miner leaders for trial?
Well, I think unusual
is not a strong enough word. It's unprecedented. What they do is they go to
Denver and kidnap Big Bill Haywood, and George Pettibone, and Charles Moyer.
And force them onto this special train, that travels secretly from Colorado
to, to Idaho and brings them back for trial and even the United States Supreme
Court says that is totally illegal. There's no question that that is illegal.
But once it a fait accompli, they are held for trial.
The Supreme Court
seems to say, 'What you did was wrong but now that you've done it, the greater
right is that these people stand trial.'
Right. And I think that's
what attracted civil libertarians and, and others to this case the fact that
it was so illegal and unfair really the tactics that allowed these people
to be arrested to begin with.
In 1906, 1907 they're
calling it the "trial of the century", which seems to be a bit of
a leap that early into the new century. But yet, ninety plus years later,
it still does rank as the trial of the century in many respects. Why was the
trial of Big Bill Haywood in Idaho the trial of the century?
Well, I think it's the
trial of the century for a nber of reasons. I think Big Bill Haywood himself
is a very colorful character. I mean he's made for journalist to write about.
He has a patch over one eye, he's a powerfully built miner. , and he is very
well spoken and expresses himself well and I think that attracts attention.
The attorneys certainly attract a lot of attention. William Bor had just been
appointed United States Senator from Idaho, so he's the new senator. Clarence
Darrow, the famous defense attorney comes to defend Big Bill Haywood. And
laboring people, workers throughout the country were attracted to this trial
because of the way, the underhanded way to their way of thinking, that these
people were arrested. And so, they provided the money that paid for Darrow
to come. It was raised in small contributions primarily from workers not just
in the United States but around the world who saw this as a case that pitted
workers against huge management and their government allies. And they believed
it was in their best interest to, to defend Haywood.
We're talking about
this trial playing out in Idaho, and we're talking about the trial of the
century for Idaho, but that's kind of a misnomer because this is a trial that
truly attracts national, in some senses even global interest.
Yes it does. And reporters
from all around the country and world come to Boise to follow this trial and
to report on it.
This trial really
was about the future of our country in a lot of respects, wasn't it? You have
both sides struggling for what they view as the greater essential decency.
On one side mine owners, who believe they're doing what's best for the good
of the nation to build a strong American economy. On the other side, the individual
laborer seeking to build the dignity of the individual. They both feel to
be struggling for the very soul of the country.
I think that's true and
they also are positioning themselves for a new century, they recognize that
the issues at hand in this trial will play out for the next hundred years.
And they want to establish their position in light of that.
But it all comes down
to a very simple act of a jury, after long deliberation, filing back into
a courtroom in Boise, Idaho and a foreman saying the simple words, we find
the defendant, William Haywood not guilty. What is the reaction to that verdict?
Well, I think the reaction
depends upon who you are. Certainly in the Coeur d'Alenes workers rejoiced
at the verdict, and they saw the verdict as validating the opinions that they
had held all along, that Big Bill Haywood was a pawn in a game being played
by companies and government and that he was a victim. And I think people applauded
here because the system had worked which American always think is, is important.
The jury had found him not guilty and he's free to just walk out of the courtroom,
a free man and go on about his business. And so they were certainly ecstatic.
Mine owners who had paid for most of the trial, actually in the Coeur d'Alenes
, were very disturbed by the victory which , they thought represented , an
opportunity for mine union people to begin to organize again. They were fearful
that its results , might provide impetus for that.
It's been said
the actions and tactics of one side in these mine wars are appalling until
viewed in the context of the actions and tactics of the other side. Is that
a fair assessment?
I think that may be a
fair 1990's assessment. I think we are put off by the violence that is apparent
on both sides of this conflict. But we need to remember that in the 1890's
violence was a much more acceptable form of behavior and was much more a part
of people's everyday existence. The way that you made a point was often through
violence and certainly in the West there's a strong association with violent
tactics and both sides , see them as legitimate ways to make a point in the
Was there a legacy?
Was there a short term legacy that played out in the few years that followed
Well, certainly there's
a short term legacy in the Coeur d'Alenes in part because one of the things
that Harry Orchard confessed to was the attempted assassination of Frederick
Bradley. He was walking out of his San Francisco home, and a baby carriage
that was sitting in the entryway exploded, a wicker baby carriage and the
wicker all went in his face and cut off part of his ear and nearly blinded
him and almost killed him. And it turned out that Harry Orchard admitted to
that as well. So it only increased Bradely's animosity to the union and since
he was President of Bunker Hill 'til 1933, through all those decades his opposition
to the Western Federation of Miners continued. And the same was true in the
mining industry in general. Mining engineers and mine officials, saw this
union as the enemy and they were determined to prevent its organization and
in the Coeur d'Alenes they were successful. 1899 basically destroyed the Western
Federation of Miners there, and they aren't able to organize mines in the
Coeur d'Alene districts again until the 1930's and 40's. So that clearly is
one of the short term results.
Was there a longer
I think there is a longer
term legacy, it continues to resonate deeply for residents in the Coeur d'Alene
area all the way into the 1990's on both sides. Both mine owners, and miners
themselves and workers carry this adversarial relationship throughout the
life of the Coeur d'Alene district which is still in existence so I think
that certainly is part of it.Much of the long term legacy is shaped when the
mining companies put in a permit system. Where you could not get a job, in
a Coeur d'Alene mine unless you could prove that you weren't a member of the
Western Federation of Miners and that you hadn't been a member of the Western
Federation of Miners. And so basically, it excluded most union workers from
work there and it was a very successful permit system. That made it impossible
for a union really to operate there. Now there's not a strike at the Bunker
Hill Works until 1949. So, fifty years of labor peace is what they got for
their efforts. So from the company perspective it was an incredibly successful
The organization was
crushed. And no one was able to successfully organize a labor union in the
Coeur d'Alene district until the 1930's, and at the Bunker Hill Company they
were not able to create a work stoppage and apply pressure to the company
until 1949. So it really strengthened the position of the company. And in
addition the company got a new concentrator that was state of the art, to
replace an old one. And they got stockholders off their backs. From their
perspective it was really a pretty positive experience in a lot of ways.