Lattimer is one of the “Five of the Greatest Strikes in America” in 1901

Going through historic newspapers, I found this in the Grand Forks Daily Herald (Grand Forks, ND), 08 September 1901, p. 3.  It lists five of what it considered the greatest strikes in America.  These are:

Coal Map of PA

PA Coal Map, from http://www.leo.lehigh.edu/

  1. “Irons against Gould In a Famous Struggle” (1886)
  2. “Homestead Bloodshed in Campaign of 1892”
  3. “Railway Strike of 1894 Against Pullman Works”
  4. “Coal Miners’ Strike Ending with Lattimer” (1897)
  5. “Men Won 1900 Strike in Anthracite Mines”

Here’s the section about Lattimer (#4):

“Coal miners in eleven states struck on July 4, 1897, on order of President Ratchford of the United Mine Workers.  Nearly all the bituminous miners went out and a large portion of the men in the anthracite region.  At high tide in the strike 110,000 men were idle.

This strike was successful.  The men went back to work in September at an increase in wages and with an agreement with their employers to arbitrate.  They gained in wages, it was figured by teh World at the time, over $13,000,000.

In September there was a small correlative strike at a colliery at Lattimer, near Hazleton, Pa., in the anthracite district.  This strike held on for several days and gained recruits from other colleries [sic] in the neighborhood.

Following their custom the strikers marched from mine to mine to urge other miners to join them.  On the road near Lattimer, on Friday, Sept. 10, Sheriff Martin of Luzerne county, with 102 deputies specially sworn in, met a body of these miners.

There was a trifling clash and the deputies fired on the marchers, who had no firearms.  Twenty-one miners were killed and forty wounded.  Several others fled.  The marchers were all foreigners.

Troops were called out at once and there was no further trouble.”

PA Historic Context Study: Anthracite Resources

I recently found out that there’s an historic context study done on the anthracite region of Northeastern PA.  These sorts of studies document why certain resources are historically or culturally valuable, why they’re significant to a community, state, or the country.

PHMC logo

PHMC logo

Anyway, in case anyone is interested in such a thing, I wanted to put a link here (to the downloadable .pdf file): Anthracite-Related Resources of Northeastern Pennsylvania, 1769-1945 from the Bureau for Historic Preservation in Harrisburg, PA.  The PA Historical and Museum Commission submitted signed the report the day after the Lattimer massacre centennial.

Here’s an excerpt from the report’s section about Lattimer (p. 60-61):

“The UMW [United Mine Workers] recognized that organization of the entire region could not occur until the new immigrants joined the union.  This required a shift in the thinking of many union members, who believed that Slavs and Italians were ‘wage-cheapening laborers easily controlled by management.’  Slavs and Italians were relegated to low status jobs.  While large numbers of these immigrants worked and resided in the anthracite region in the 1880s, few had become contract miners, the elite of the laboring class, by the late 1890s.

A major turning point in the history of organized labor within the anthracite region occurred in 1897, during another nationwide economic depression.  Beginning with the Panic of 1893, the country had experienced massive unemployment and personal suffering.  The economic downturn triggered a merciless price war among businesses seeking to raise revenues simply to pay off their creditors.  Cartel and pooling arrangements collapsed in this hyper-competitive climate.  With the coal market depressed, many workers could find only half-time work.  Much of the little income they earned was siphoned back to the operators in the form of deductions for rent and company store bills.  Companies ignored a law stating that workers were to be paid bi-weekly and paid workers monthly, forcing many deeply into debt.

It was under these conditions that the Lattimer incident occurred, marking a turning point in the labor history of the anthracite region.  The violent confrontation between workers and operator agents that took place near the Lattimer mine in September 1897 initiated the long, slow process of building cooperation between all mine workers.  This cooperation led to the development of a solid labor front in the anthracite region, which the UMW nurtured in the late 1890s and early 1900s….

The Lattimer incident brought together the various immigrant communities within the anthracite region and dispelled old myths that Slavic and Italian workers were docile pawns of management.  The new immigrants were recognized as an important force within the region.  Fellow miners expressed their shock and outrage over the killings by joining the UMW.  Within four months, over fifteen thousand anthracite workers had joined the UMW.  Lattimer insured the UMW a future in the region, though it would take several more strikes before the union could take advantage of its new found strength.  On a national level, Slavic organizations through the United States contributed money to relief efforts for the Lattimer victims and their families, while at the international level, the Austrian-Hungarian ambassador demanded, but did not receive, compensation for the killings from the United States government.”

Your thoughts – accurate?  Missing something?  Other?

(here’s the link again to the context study: Anthracite Resources Context Study)

Women and the Lattimer massacre: Mary Septak

A bit more on the interesting but perhaps not unusual women of the Lattimer massacre–this time, “Big” Mary Septak, a Polish immigrant, miner’s wife, mother, and caretaker of several boarders.  Evidently she not only took care of all these people, but the men in the mines, too.  She seemingly had no fear of the National Guard and local police, leading women on marches, and calling men up from the mines to fight for their rights.

I’ll report more in on Mary as I find it – she’s quite the character and is bound to appear again.  This entry comes from The Century Vol. 55(6), April 1898: “A Pennsylvania Colliery Village. An Artist’s Impressions of the Colliery” by Jay Hambidge (available online at the Cornell University Library).  Mr. Hambidge also illustrated an article before this in that edition of The Century. I recommend reading and looking at it to get a feel for the local sentiment at that time.  It’s interesting stuff!  Anyway, here’s a bit about “Big Mary”:

Mary Septak

Mary Septak by Jay Hambidge

“‘Big Mary’ is for the time the object of our search, and we finally find her cleaning a goose for her Sunday dinner.  Mary is by far the most forcible and picturesque character in all the mining region.  In her peculiar way she is a queen, and rules things with a high hand.  During the strike Mary was the most troublesome of all the foreigners.  No professional agitator had half the force for mischief that this woman exerted.  One day she led seventy-five women of the patch in a charge on the troops.  At that time these amazons were armed with clubs and pieces of scarp-iron, and they stopped only when they felt the bayonets of the immovable line of soldiery.  One would not imagine her such a character from the smiling greeting she gave us.  With her husband, she keeps a sort of boarding house for other miners; and in the living-room of the shanty were seven beds and eight trunks.  Probably from twelve to fifteen men occupy the same room with this man, his wife, and daughter, a large-boned girl of fourteen.  …

In a bed at one end of the room two men are sleeping with their clothes on.  They work on the ‘night shift’ in the mines, and sleep during the day.  These men belong to the class which was most active during the strike.  Mary the mother rattles along in conversation with her husband and daughter, her talk being punctuated with profanity.  Suddenly she turns to me with a demand to know if I eat meat on Friday.  I answer in the affirmative.  ‘Jesus kill you some day,’ she says, and laughs.

The amazon loves her husband, she asserts, and the affection is evidently mutual, for as he passes  her from time to time, he says some pleasant words or pats her cheek.  They have been married thirty years, and the daughter Mary is the only living one of ten children.  ‘When I ‘way from my man I cry all time, and when he ‘way from me he cry all time’ is the way the woman puts it.  In all their  years of married life he had never once struck her.

This is the woman who has the reputation of being a veritable tigress.  The men in the mining company’s offices are afraid of her, and give her a wide berth.  The trolley-car conductors tremble when she hails a car, and not one of them has ever been known to collect a fare from her except when she felt disposed to pay.  She has a contempt for American women.  They are not strong, she says, and cannot work in the fields.  The food they eat is too sweet; they would be better off if they ate sour soup and sour cabbage.” – p.826

Journal of the Senate of PA, 1897 & the Yale Review, 1898

I’ve decided to start posting bits of what I’m reading/researching about the Lattimer massacre on any given day.  I definitely have strong opinions about some of this stuff, but will try to keep these in check; however, I hope you share yours in the comments below!

The quotes aren’t necessarily meant to go together.  They’re just what I think are interesting!  Anyway, here’s a start:

Source: Journal of the Senate of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania 1897 Vol. 2

http://www.albany.edu/jmmh/vol3/harvan/images/others/map.jpg

The PA Anthracite Region, image from http://www.albany.edu/jmmh/

“One of the primary objects of the investigation [into anthracite mining conditions] was to establish the facts with respect to the condition of the miners and men employed in and about the mines, it being set forth in the preamble and resolution that a condition bordering upon starvation existed among the above named class of people.  The testimony  shows conclusively the deplorable condition of affairs for a period covering about two years, and particularly since the first of January of the present year [1897], since which time the men in and about the collieries have been employed not more than two or three three-fourth days per week, earning on an average $4 per week, upon which, in many instances, they were compelled to support large families, in some cases as high as eleven members, paying house rent and coal and the necessities of life, which to this committee seems an impossibility” (page 1826).

“While the country has always encouraged foreign immigration, yet since the time mentioned [1875], a class of foreigners have been coming in to which particular objection is made on the part of those employed in the anthracite mining regions [e.g. earlier immigrants – English, Irish, Welsh, etc.], namely the Poles, Hungarians, Italians and Slavs.  At first, doubtless, they were all employed as laborers, but gradually they became miners and in many instances the former employe [sic] was confronted by his foreign laborer as a rival for  his own position.

It is claimed that this class of people are un-American in every way, adopting none of our ideas of citizenship and living in a manner unknown to us as a people.  In most cases their objects and aims are to secure sufficient to enable them to return to their native lands or to assist in bringing others of their kin to this country.  Unless a change is speedily made, the time is not far distant when the miners of the anthracite region will be composed entirely of these people to whom they now so strenuously object.  Such a condition of affairs is not conducive to safety in the mines.  … The committee has referred to the undesirability of this class of people….  The committee is of the opinion that there will be no general prosperity among the miners of the anthracite regions and the laborers employed in and about the mines until the national Congress shall pass and provide for the rigid enforcement of a restricted immigration law” (pages 1831-2, 1838).

“You will observe that the average excess charged by the company stores over the independent stores is 30 per cent. which, of course, indicates that some of the prices are most intolerably high.  Indeed some of them charge as much as 35 per cent. higher than their neighboring independent stores, and when it is taken into consideration that the independent stores have a probable profit of 25 per cent. you will observe that it makes in the worst places a total profit of 60 per cent. in the company stores” (page 1840).

Source: The  Yale Review: A Quarterly Journal for the Scientific Discussion of Economic, Political and Social Questions. Vol 6, May 1897-February 1898. “An Impression of the Anthracite Coal Troubles” by J.G. Brooks

“Here is obviously a tap root of much of the difficulty.  Immigration has been purposely stimulated by these coal owners to the specific end that an adequate supply of the cheapest labor might be at hand for every rising exigency of business.  It is extremely ignorant and easily a prey to the agitator.

In the enforced periods of idleness which come with the shifting conditions of the market innumerable occasions for troubles like those at Lattimer may at any moment appear.  ‘What can you do with such wild beasts when they get off their heads but shoot ’em?’ were words which the writer heard, and it may be, in any given moment, that the social safety demands quick, sharp and bloody enforcement of the law.  It is, however, a very sinister state of affairs when conditions, which have been definitely encouraged by the mine owners and by our general policy of immigration, have come to be such, that, in their very nature, they are certain to breed chronic outbreaks like this in the Hazleton district.  A mine manager of twenty years experience said, ‘The truth is that the time came when somewhere hereabouts we had got to do some shooting.  It could not be put off much longer.’ The question was put to him, ‘When will you have to do some more shooting?’  The reply was, ‘In hard times, it is likely to come at any moment'” (p. 307).

“For any future worth discussing, no effective organization [of mine workers] seems possible.  The difficulties with a homogeneous population in English mines have been great.  What shall be said of the difficulties to be faced in t case of fourteen or fifteen nationalities?  The question of race enters here with almost terrific force.  The least adroit of employers can play upon these race prejudices so effectively as to weaken the strongest trade union in times of excitement.  It is this fact of race differences which baffles the student of trade unions in this country” (p. 308-9).

Looking ahead to June: Patch Towns Days weekend

I can’t believe it’s June 01 already! The last few months have flown.  With temperatures here in Maryland approaching 90 most days I am really looking forward to getting up in the cooler mountain air in Pennsylvania for a little bit this month.

I’ll be heading up for Patch Towns Days (Saturday and Sunday, June 19-20, at Eckley Miners’ Village).  Because of trying to visit family in Wilkes-Barre, and see a few things (e.g. the Huber Breaker, where some of my family worked), I’ll likely only make the festival on Sunday.

Anyone else planning on being there Sunday?  Anyone have memories of previous Patch Towns Days, or ideas of things to make sure I (and others) do that weekend?  Leave a note in the comments, below!  I have no idea what to expect – Crafts?  Music?  Demonstrations?  Reenactments?  Food!?!  Looking forward to finding out… .

– Kristin

Inside the Eckley Miners' Village Museum (photo by Kristin Sullivan)

April 6 Blog from Ning

So most of this information was previously housed at a Lattimer Massacre site on the Ning network.  Due to changes there, though, we’re moving everything here!  As part of that, here’s an old blog (from April 6, 2010):

Hi all! Nobody’s tried out the blog feature on here yet so I thought I’d give it a shot – and in the process tell a bit about Paul Shackel’s and my visit to Hazleton and its surrounding communities.

We were up to Hazleton, Lattimer, West Hazleton, Harwood, Humbolt, etc. March 18-20, way too short a trip! Paul brought his wife, and National Park Service archaeologist, Barbara Little. On the last day of the trip my husband, Ryan Sullivan, was able to join us as well.

The foci of the trip were threefold: 1.) Meet some of the people we’ve started to connect with in the area through here and otherwise, 2.) Visit the Massacre site and memorial, and 3.) Check out the massive personal museum that is Joe Michel’s storage facility.

Some of Joe's Collection

Mr. Probert and others look through the archives

Starting backwards on this journey with #3, this place is immense!! Words cannot describe Joe’s collection. These pictures are just parts of it – a room filled with maps and other archives from the greater Hazleton area (right), rooms of old bar supplies, of old water treatment and other science-y supplies, of drafting equipment (above left), typewriters, tools, coal mining accoutrement, a couple of old Army Jeeps, and so forth. It is truly amazing. AND! Joe’s looking for a local (Hazleton-area) museum, organization – something – to help house and preserve these treasures! Any takers? If I win the lottery I’m all over it. I have tickets for tomorrow’s Powerball 🙂

We did make it to the memorial site, which was great. The last time I went there was a bit of snow on the ground and it was incredibly cold so I pretty much ran out, took a bunch of pictures, and ran back into my car. In March we were lucky enough to hit a gorgeous weekend and were able to walk around the grounds, and the woods to the left of the memorial (if you’re looking at it). Part of this time was spent with two of Michael Cheslock’s great-granddaughters (one of whom I met through the previous LMP site on ning).  Getting their insights then, and during lunch afterward, was especially moving.

Is this the gum tree?

Part of the time we spent at the memorial we were looking for the gum tree, which makes its appearance in many accounts of the massacre (notably Pinkowski’s The Lattimer Massacre and Michael Novak’s Guns fo Lattimer). The idea is that if we can find the location of the gum tree, then we can figure approximately where Sheriff Martin and the deputies were located, and where the shooting started. I’ve heard people say that the tree was shot full of bullets, but I can’t imagine a tree that would’ve been fairly small then would have been shot much – any thoughts? In any event, we found this part of a trunk, which we think may be a gum tree. Anyone know anything about trees based on bark? This (right) was found in a pile of stuff (salt, dirt, etc.) dumped on the land by Hazle Township trucks, so it could’ve been moved from anywhere along the roads, I suppose – so we’re not so sure it’s even helpful in locating the original gum tree spot; but it is exciting.

Harwood Mule Stable Location

In any event, meeting the people we met was easily the best part of this visit. I got a ride around Harwood and the communities surrounding it by one of this site’s members and her cousin, which was hilarious (there are some entertaining people around the area!) and enlightening. I really hadn’t realized just how many individual towns existed in the area, which seems to be really important. They also showed me where the mule stables likely were (above), where miners met before the marches leading up to the massacre. Behind this area are the strippings left over from the Harwood mines – a reminder that the cultural and environmental implications of the mining industry are still alive and well in Northeastern PA, despite the mining companies having left many of the old mines and the many towns associated with them.

We got a chance, too, to meet Bobby Maso, who wrote the Standard-Speaker article through which many of this site’s members found us. Bobby’s one of most ambitious and put-together 22 year olds I’ve ever met, and he genuinely cares about the history of his hometown and region (he’s a Freeland native). He’s super anxious to do anything to help this project, it seems, which I really appreciate. Also, as a shout out, he’s one of the Eckley Players – so go see him this summer at one of their events!

Mr. Probert in the Vine St. Cemetery

I want to give particular attention to John Probert (in the “archives” portion of Joe Michel’s vault/museum above), who has been an incredibly helpful go-between, local guide, etc. He introduced us to Joe, as well as to Hazleton’s poet laureate and local artist, Sal, whose insights into the massacre were inspiring. Mr. Probert was also kind enough to give us a private tour of the Vine Street Cemetery, where he is president of the Cemetery Association (right). Check it out sometime if you haven’t been there. Many of the players in the massacre story are there – Pardees, deputies, Michael Cheslock, etc.

Anyway, Mr. Probert and Joe have been cooking up scenarios for what really happened leading up to, during, and immediately following the massacre. I’m incredibly impressed, and grateful, for their help, resources and imaginations!!

So, now what? I’m hoping to come up for Patch Town Days, which I think are June 19 and 20 (anyone have details?). If anyone wants to meet up there, or around that time, let me know! Meanwhile, I’ll blog or send a message about any other related goings-on here! ‘Til then… .

– Kristin

Update: I have not yet won Powerball (5/7/10)