The year 1886 was marked by serious disturbances arising from strikes and other labor movements, which recalled the events of 1877, when the industries of the country were paralyzed, and when, at the great centers of traffic in twelve States, conditions existed that seemed to threaten civil war.2 In 1886, there was less violence, yet the social unrest was so wide-spread as to be at once significant and ominous. From the shipyards in Maine to the railways in Texas and the Far West, there was continual disorder in nearly every branch of industry. In New York City, the employees of the street-car lines began a strike on February 3d, which was ended on the 18th by a victory for the strikers. The disturbances, however, broke out again on March 2d and continued intermittently until September 1st, when the managers of the roads once more gave way. On one day every line in New York and Brooklyn was tied up" completely. In June, the elevated railways had a similar, tho much more brief, experience. The mania for striking seemed to be in the very air; and on April 20th, in Boston, even the children in two of the public schools struck for a continuous session, and adopted all the approved methods of the conventional strike, stationing pickets, attacking such children as refused to join them and causing a small riot which had to be put down by the police.
The storm centers of labor agitation were in St. Louis and Chicago. In St. Louis a demand was made by the employees of the Texas Pacific Railway for the reinstatement of a foreman who had been discharged. The receiver refused the demand, and a strike took place which very soon extended to the Missouri Pacific, and, in fact, to all the roads constituting the Gould system. Traffic throughout the whole Southwest was practically suspended, and before long the strike took on the form of riot and incendiarism. United States troops were sent to maintain order, but their numbers were insufficient and the rioters cared nothing for the special deputies who had been sworn in to keep the peace. A squad of these deputies fired upon a crowd, killing or wounding a number of persons (April 7th). This act inflamed the mob, which armed itself, and for a time was master of the city. The torch was applied to railroad property, factories were closed, and great losses were inflicted, not only upon the railways, but upon the entire population.
The leader in these depredations was a Scotchman named Martin Irons, a typical specimen of the ignorant fanatic, exactly the sort of man who comes to the front whenever the populace is inflamed by passion and bent on violence. Sly, ignorant, and half an animal, he nevertheless was able to play upon the prejudices of his fellows, and to stimulate their class-hatred so artfully as to make them deaf to the counsels of their saner leaders. For a time he had his way; yet in the end this strike collapsed after those who shared in it had forfeited hundreds of thousands of dollars in wages, and after the railroads had incurred an even heavier loss.
In Chicago, the men in the Pullman works began a strike in May; and before long nearly fifty thousand laborers were out. In a conflict with the police a number of workingmen were shot. Chicago had for some time been the headquarters of a small but very active group of Anarchists, nearly all of whom were foreigners. The strikers had no sympathy with Anarchists, nor any affiliation with them. Nevertheless, the Anarchists believed that the proper moment had now come for them to strike a blow, and they hoped thereby to win to their support new followers from the ranks of the discontented. There were published in Chicago two newspapers, one in English (the Alarm), conducted by a man named Parsons, and the other in German (the Arbeiter Zeitung), conducted by one August Spies, both of them devoted to the anarchistic propaganda.
On May 4th, a mass-meeting of workingmen was held in the Haymarket Square to protest against the acts of the police. Late at night, after some rather tame addresses had been delivered, an Anarchist leader, an Englishman named Samuel Fielden, broke forth into a violent harangue. He denounced all government in the most savage terms, yelling out, "The law is your enemy! We are rebels against it!" Word had been sent to police headquarters; and while Fielden was in the midst of his wild talk, a battalion of nearly two hundred policemen marched into the Square. Their captain commanded the gathering to disperse. Fielden replied, "We are peaceable." He was, however, arrested. A moment later, a pistol was fired, apparently as a signal, and at once a bomb was hurled into the ranks of the police. It exploded with terrible effect.
Nearly fifty policemen were thrown to the the ground, and seven of them were so badly wounded that they died soon after. With splendid discipline, the ranks were at once closed up and a charge was made upon the mob, which scattered hastily in flight. Of the Anarchists arrested for this outrage, seven were sentenced to death by Judge Gary. Of these seven, fourEngel, Spies, Parsons and Fischerwere hanged; oneLinggcommitted suicide, and two-Schwab and Fieldenhad their sentences commuted to imprisonment for life. Eight years afterward, a Governor of Illinois, Mr. John P. Altgeld, moved partly by the appeals of sentimentalists, and partly by his own instinctive sympathy with lawlessness, gave a free pardon to such Anarchists as had been imprisoned.
In June, 1886, in New York, the disturbed conditions were reflected in political agitation, tho here, also, the Anarchists showed their heads. They were, however, dealt with before they could do mischief. One of their leaders, named Johann Most, and three of his companions, were imprisoned on the charge of inciting to riot. . . .
Wherever throughout the country the labor element had shown its discontent the name of the Knights of Labor was, in one way or another, pretty certain to he heard. This organization was one whose origin and evolution are of great significance in the social and economic history of the United States. Prior to 1866, such organizations of workingmen as existed were either societies for general purposes, not necessarily connected with labor questions, or else they were trade-unions in the narrowest sense, confining their membership to men and women engaged in particular and special industries. In 1866, however, there was formed the National Labor Union, of which the purpose was to promote the solidarity, not only of skilled workmen, but of the masses in general, with a view to the amelioration of their condition. This body, unfortunately, almost from the first, fell into the hands of politicians, and in 1870 it died a natural death. Its aims, however, were adopted by a number of garment-cutters in Philadelphia, in 1869, who at first formed a secret ordersecrecy being adopted because of the hostility of employers to labor organizations.
This was the origin of the Knights of Labor, who admitted to membership in their body all persons above the age of sixteen, except saloon-keepers, gamblers, bankers, and lawyers. In 1882, it ceased to be a secret order; and thereafter it rapidly increased in membership until, in 1886, it was said to number more than seven hundred thousand persons. The principles which the order officially profest were distinctly socialistic. It advocated equal rights for women, the common ownership of land, and the acquisition by the Government of public utilities, such as railroads, telegraphs and telephones. It is here that we first find in the United States a large and influential body of men pledged to the support of what was in reality a system of State Socialism.
In order to understand the significance of this movement, and to explain the rapid propagation of socialistic principles, it is necessary to recall a few important facts relating to American economic history of the preceding thirty years. One effect of the Civil War had been the rapid acquisition of great fortunes by individuals, and the growth of powerful corporations. Conspicuous among the latter were the railway companies. The period succeeding the war had been a period of railway building. Between 1860 and 1880 more than sixty thousand miles of railway had been constructed and put into operation. They represented an enormous amount of capital, and this capital represented an enormous amount of influence, both political and social. How much the nation owed to its railway system was very obvious. The easy distribution of its products brought prosperity, to every section. Great cities sprang up in the prairies at the magic touch of the railway.
Moreover, in one sense, the unity of the Republic itself was the work of the railway, which proved to be a great assimilator, annihilating distance, bringing one section into easy communication with another, and thereby creating not only common interests, but a common understanding. On the other hand, a moment's thought will make it clear that railways were essentially monopolies, and that their growth lodged in the hands of their owners the right to tax at will the people from whom they had received their charters, and whose interests they were supposed to serve.
Even if the individuals to whom this irresponsible power was entrusted had been always wise, unselfish and public-spirited, the unregulated right of taxation would have been an anomaly in a free State. But as they were very human, serving their own interests, and naturally seeking their own enrichment, abuses, and very gross ones, were inevitable. Still, no hostile sentiment would have been aroused against them had they levied their transportation tax equitably upon all and without discrimination. That they did not do so, and that in consequence they began, about 1870, to create and foster other still more gigantic combinations inimical to the public welfare, are facts which serve to explain the prevalence throughout the country of great social discontent, beginning in 1870 and growing deeper and more intense with each succeeding year.
1 From Dr. Peck's "Twenty Years of the Republic." By permission of the publishers, Dodd, Mead & Co. Copyright, 1906.
2 The great strike of 1877 was a railroad strike against reduced wages. It was most acute on the Pennsylvania lines, altho other roads were affected, including the New York Central. Many thousands of men were engaged in it. It began on July 16, 1877, and lasted three months, and resulted in a loss of many millions in wages.
On May 31, 1889, western Pennsylvania was visited by one of the most awful catastrophes ever chronicled. A flood from a burst reservoir annihilated the city of Johnstown with its numerous suburbs, destroying thousands of lives, and $10,000,000 worth of property. The reservoir was two and a half miles in length, one and a half broad at places, one hundred feet deep in places, and situated two hundred and seventy-five feet above the level of Johnstown. Heavy rains had fallen, and the dam was known to be weak; yet the people below, who were repeatedly warned during the day, took no alarm.
When, starting just before the break, about 3 P. M., Engineer Park galloped down the valley shouting to all to run for their lives, it was too late. Hard behind him came thundering along at a speed of two and a half miles a minute, a mountain of water fifty feet high, thirty feet wide at first, and widening to half a mile bearing upon its angry crest, whole or in fragments, houses, factories, bridges, and at length villages, and growing wilder, higher, swifter, deadlier, and more powerful as it moved. Trees brush, furniture, boulders, pig and railway iron, corpses, machinery, miles and miles of barbed wire, and an indescribable mass of miscellaneous wreckage, all inextricably mixed, also freighted the torrent. Immense mills were knocked from their foundations, and whirled down stream like children's block-work. Pig-iron by the hundred tons was borne away, the bars subsequently strewn for miles down the valley. Engines weighing twenty tons were tossed up as if the law of gravity had been repealed. One locomotive was carried a mile. At Johnstown, where the shape of the valley generated an enormous whirlpool, the roar of the waters and the grinding together of the wreckage rent the air like lost spirits groaning in chorus.
Hundreds who had clambered to the roofs of houses floated about on that boiling sea all the afternoon and night, shot hither and thither by the crazy flood. Most who met death were, we may hope, instantly drowned, but many clung to fragments, falling into the waters only when their strength gave way, their limbs were broken or their brains dashed out. A telegraph operator at Sanghollow saw one hundred and nineteen bodies, living or dead, float by in an hour. Early next morning two corpses had reached Pittsburgh, seventy-eight miles distant. A little boy was rescued who, with his parents, a brother and two sisters, had sailed down from Johnstown in a small house. This went to pieces in going over the bridge, and all were drowned but he.
A raft formed from part of a floor held a young man and two women, probably his wife and mother. As they neared Bolivar bridge, a rope was lowered to rescue them, and the man was observed to be instructing the women how to catch and hold it. Himself succeeded in clutching it, but they failed, whereupon he purposely let go and regained the raft as it lurched under the bridge. Later it struck a tree, into which with preternatural skill and strength he helped his protégés to climb; but a great wreck soon struck the tree, instantly overwhelming the trio in the seething tide. Fate reached the scene of its malignity next day, June 1st, after the flood had begun to subside. The immense boom of débris gathered at the railway bridge just below Johnstownan eighth of a mile wide and long, from thirty to fifty feet deep, and rammed so solid that dynamite was at last required to rend ittook fire. The flames raged for twelve hours. No effort was spared to recover the living imprisoned in the pile. Fifty or more were taken out, but it is feared that no fewer than five hundred perished.
Relief work began at once, commendably systematic and thorough, and on a scale commensurate with the disaster. In less than twenty-four hours, in spite of washed-out tracks and ruptured telegraph-wires, Pittsburgh had train-loads of provisions in Johnstown, and a body of nearly three hundred active men, who comforted, fed, clothed and housed the distrest people until relieved by the Flood Relief Commission on June 12th. Pittsburgh contributed $252,000 in money, $64,000 of it being subscribed in an hour. Philadelphia contributed half a million dollars to the relief fund; New York the same. Nearly every city in the Union aided. President Harrison was chairman of a meeting in Washington where $30,000 was pledged. Several sums were telegraphed from abroad, among them one of $1,000 from Baroness Burdett-Coutts. The total of contributions reached $3,000,000. Train loads of supplies rolled in. The Red Cross Society, with physicians, nurses, tents, disinfectants, medicines, food and clothing was promptly on the ground. Rigid sanitary provisions were enforced, made specially necessary by the length of time inevitably elapsing before all the dead could be interred.
The Johnstown, Pa., flood followed heavy rainfalls. A dam across the South Fork of the Conemaugh River, twelve miles east of Johnstown, broke away and released Conemaugh Lake, thus submerging the valley with extraordinary rapidity and carrying buildings and men and women from Johnstown and several villages along its course. The lives lost have since been carefully estimated at 2,285, and the property as $10,000,000. The contributions in aid of the sufferers from all parts of the country amounted to about $3,000,000.
Kildare, O. T., September 16.With the sharp crack of a carbine in the hands of a sergeant of the Third Cavalry, followed by almost simultaneous reports from the weapons of the other soldiers stationed all among the line between Kansas and the Indian country, the greatest race ever seen in the world began to-day. It was on a race-track 100 miles wide, with a free field, and with a principality for the stake. From the rear of a special train filled with Santa Fé officials, the start from the south end of the Chilocco reservation was seen to better advantage than from anywhere else along the whole line. From this point the racers had three miles the start of all others. Directly south of this line were the towns along the Santa Fé, which were the objective points for so many of the boomers. For a mile in the rear of the line, there was presented what appeared like a fine hedge fence, extending as far as the eye could reach along the prairie in both directions. But as the observer approached the fence it changed into a living wall.
Men and horses seemed in almost inextricable confusion until the line itself was reached, and then it was seen that every man, woman and horse had an allotted place and was kept in it by a law stronger than any act on the statute booksthe compulsion exercised by a great body of free Americans, who were determined to have things just and right. The line was probably straighter than any that was ever formed by the starters on a race-course. The horsemen and bicycle-riders were to the front, while the buggies and the lighter wagons were in the second row, with heavy teams close in the rear. The shot sounded, and away they went, with horses rearing and pitching, and one unfortunate boomer striking the ground before the line had fairly been broken. Within three hundred yards the first horse was down, and died after that short effort. But the rider was equal to the occasion, and immediately stuck his stake into the ground, and made his claim to a quarter section of the finest farming land in the strip.
It was perhaps the maddest rush ever made. No historic charge in battle could equal this charge of free American people for homes. While courtesy had marked the treatment of women in the lines for many days, when it came to this race they were left to take care of themselves. Only one was fortunate enough and plucky enough to reach the desired goal ahead of nearly all her competitors. This was Miss Mabel Gentry, of Thayer, Neosho County, Kan., who rode a fiery little black pony at the full jump for the seven miles from the line to the town site of Kildare, reaching that point in seventeen minutes. It was a terrible drive from start to finish, but the girl and her horse reached the town. In the race the bicycle-riders were left far behind. The crispy grass of the prairie worked to their disadvantage. The men and women with buggies were also outdistanced and reached the town site after the best lots had been taken.
Thousands were disappointed after all the lots had been taken, and thousands went right on through the district without stopping. That the land was totally inadequate to the demand was made evident this evening, when the northbound train went through. Every train was almost as heavily loaded as when it came in this morning, and thousands of persons who returned brought tales of as many more persons wandering around aimlessly all over the Strip, looking for what was not there. The station platforms all along the line were crowded with people who had rushed in and who were now hoping for a chance to rush out. The opening is over, the Indian land is given-away, and still there are thousands of men and women in this part of the country without homes.
Arkansas City, Ark., September 16.When at noon to-day the bars that have so long enclosed 6,000,000 acres of public land were let down, more than 100,000 men and women joined in the mad rush for land. Men who had the fastest horses rode like the wind from the border, only to find other men, with sorry-looking animals, ahead of them. Fast teams carrying anxious home-seekers were driven at breakneck speed, only to find on the land men who had gone in afoot. Every precaution had been taken to keep out the "Sooner" element, yet that same element, profiting by former experiences, had captured the land. All night the rumble of teams could be heard as they moved out to the strip. At the stations the men stood in line at the ticket office, awaiting the slow movements of ticket-sellers, who could not sell more than 2,000 tickets an hour. The great jam was at Orlando, where were gathered 20,000 citizens of Perry, all anxious for the time to come when they could start on their ten-mile race. From the elevation at Orlando the line could be seen for a distance of eight miles east and ten miles west. A half-dozen times some one would shout the hour of noon, and fifty to a hundred horsemen would draw out of the line, only to be driven back by the cavalrymen, who were patrolling the Strip in front of the impatient throng.
At last a puff of smoke was seen out on the plains to the north, and soon the dull boom of a cannon was beard. A dozen carbines along the line were fired in response to the signal, and the line was broken. Darting out at breakneck speed, the racers soon dotted the plains in every direction. The trains were loaded rapidly. At first there was an attempt to examine the registration certificates; but this was soon given up, as the rushing thousands pushed those ahead of them, the trainmen giving all their time to collecting tickets. The first train of twelve cars pulled across the line at noon, crowded as trains never were before; even the platforms and roofs were black with human beings. Following this train at intervals of only two or three minutes went another and another until the last, composed of flat and coal cars, all crowded, had pulled across the line, followed by at least 3,000 disappointed, panting men who were determined not to be deprived of their rights. The run to Perry was made in three-quarters of an hour. Before the train stopt men began climbing out of the windows and tumbling from the platforms.
In their haste to secure claims ahead of the trains were at least 1,000 horsemen, who had come the ten miles from the line in unprecedentedly short time and who claimed all the lots immediately about the land office and the public well. They were rubbing down their weary horses when the trains were unloading. When the last of the trains pulled in the scramble for land about the town continued with increased vigor. The quarter-sections about the town had all been taken, but in every direction lines were being run and additional towns laid out, to be called North Perry, South Perry, East Perry, and West Perry. By two o'clock fully 20,000 men and women, of all nationalities and colors, were on the site of what all hope will be a great city. They were without food and without water. The scenes at Enid were a repetition of those at Perry.
1 From the letters of correspondents of the New York Tribune, September 17, 1893. Oklahoma comprizes a part of the old Indian territory, and was acquired by the national Government through the satisfaction of Indian claims. The central portion was thrown open to white settlers in April, 1889. Another tract was thrown open in 1891. What is known as the Cherokee Strip, thrown open in 1893, comprized about 6,000,000 acres. Seven years later (1900) Oklahoma had a population of 398,000, and in 1907 had 1,114,000. In 1908 it produced 122,239,000 bushels of corn, 15,625,000 bushels of wheat, and 412,859,000 pounds of cotton.