Working Undercover in the 1892 Coeur d’Alene Labor Strike
BY CHARLES A. SIRINGO
I found myself in Denver without a home or family ties; but I had quite a fat little bank account. My salary had piled up during the eight months that I was gone, as I had no occasion to touch it, all my expenses, even to my laundry, medicine and doctor bills, having been paid by our client, the Territory of New Mexico.
This goes to show that the business of a detective is more suitable for a single man. In fact the business is unjust and cruel to the wife, even though she does get to spend the biggest part of her hubby’s money while he is absent. She is deprived of his company and protection when most needed, and has to shut her eyes to the fact that he has to associate with all kinds of women, in order to win a case.
After a few weeks’ rest in Denver, Mr. McCartney called me into his private office and told me to get ready for a long trip into the Coeur D’Alene mining district of northern Idaho.
He explained that the Miners’ Union of that district was raising Hades with the mine-owners who had formed themselves into a Mine-Owners’ Association for selfprotection, and that the Association wanted a good operative to join the Miners’ Union, so as to be on the inside of the order when the fast approaching eruption occurred.
I told Mr. McCartney that I didn’t want this operation as my sympathy was with labor organizations as against capital. He replied that if such was the case I couldn’t do the Agency’s clients justice, and for that reason he would have to select another operative.
A few days later I was detailed on a railroad operation through Utah and California, along with several other operatives.
A month or more had passed when one day in Salt Lake City, Utah, I received a telegraph message from McCartney instructing me to come to Denver on the first train. This I did, and on meeting McCartney he said: “Now Charlie, you have got to go to the Coeur D’Alenes. You’re the only man I’ve got who can go there and get into the Miner’s Union. They are on their guard against detectives and they became suspicious of the operative I sent up there, and ran him out of the country. We know the leaders to be a desperate lot of criminals of the Molly Maguire type, and you will find it so. I will let your own conscience be the judge, after you get into their Union. If you decide they are in the right and the Mine-owners are in the wrong, you can throw up the operation without further permission from me.”
This seemed fair, so I accepted and began making preparations for at least a year’s absence.
In Wallace, Idaho, the central town of the Coeur D’Alene district, I had a secret meeting with a Mr. Hankins who represented Mr. John Hayes Drummond, the President of the Mine-Owners’ Association, and John A. French, Secretary of the Association. The importance of my work and the difficulties under which I would have to operate, were laid before me. I was told that the Miners’ Union were on the lookout for detectives, and that the Union in Burk had become suspicious of a Thiel detective by the name of Mitch G., and ran him out of the country a short time previous.
It was agreed that no one in Gem knew me, outside of the mine superintendent, John Monihan, and that I would be described to him so that he would put me to work when I applied for a job.
A day or two later I applied to John Monihan in a natural way, and he turned me over to one of his shiftbosses, Peterson, on the Gem mine, who was told to make a place for me, Peterson of course not knowing who I was. I gave the name of C. Leon Allison. I worked as a regular miner two weeks, on day-shift, and the next two, on the night-shift.
Gem was a camp of two or three stores and half a dozen saloons. The three mines, the Gem, Helen Frisco, and Black Bear, which supported the camp, were near by, so that the men boarded in town. About 500 miners worked in these three mines, besides hundreds of other surface workmen; hence the little camp was a lively place after night when the saloons and gambling halls were running full blast. I put in much of my time at the saloons and made myself a “good fellow” among “the boys.”
My worst trouble was writing reports and mailing them. These reports had to be sent to St. Paul, Minnesota, where our Agency had an office, with my Chicago friend, John O’Flyn, as superintendent. There they were typewritten and mailed back to John A. Finch, Secretary of the Mine-Owners’ Association, where all the mine-owners could read them.
The Gem Post Office was in the store of a man by the name of Samuels, a rabid anarchist and Union sympathizer; so for that reason I dare not mail reports there. “Big Frank” was the deputy post-master and handled most of the mail. He was a member of the Gem Miners’ Union, consequently I had to walk down to Wallace, four miles, to mail reports; and for fear of being held up I had to slip down there in the dark.
Two weeks after my arrival in Gem, I joined the Gem Miners’ Union, and a couple of months later I was elected recording secretary of the Union. Geo. A. Pettibone, a rabid anarchist, was its financial secretary.
Now that I had become an officer of the Gem Union, I concluded to quit work; but I didn’t want to quit of my own accord. I wanted shift-boss Peterson to discharge me so that I couldn’t get any more work in the camp. In order to be “fired,” I shirked my duty and was discharged.
That night I got on a big “jamboree,” and spent my wages freely.
In order not to desert the Miners’ Union to hunt work elsewhere, as trouble with the Mine-Owners’ Association was expected soon, I pretended to send to my rich father in Texas for money to carry me through the winter.
Now that I was not working, I had plenty of time to accompany Geo. A. Pettibone and others to the houses of supposed “scabs,” or of men who wouldn’t pay their dues to the Union, and order them to leave the country. Often they were stubborn and wouldn’t go. Then we would get up a mob by holding a citizens’ mass-meeting to run them out of the State.
We would first hold a special meeting of the Union, to resolve on running certain ones out. Then boys, ringing bells, would be sent through the town calling a citizens’ meeting in the Union Hall; but no one except members were allowed to enter the hall. Then it would be declared the sense of the citizens’ indignation meeting that certain “scabs” be run out of the State. Often as many as half a dozen “scabs” would be taken from their homes, sometimes with weeping wives and children begging for mercy, and with tin pans and the music of bells, they would be marched up and down the street to be spit upon and branded as “scabs,” before the public eye. Then, half clothed and without food, the poor devils would be marched up the canyon, a few miles beyond the big mining camp of Burk, three miles distant, and told to “hit the road” and never return at the peril of their lives. Pistols would be fired over their heads to give them a good running start.
By this route, during the winters, the snow is waist deep over the Bitter Root range of mountains, and not a living inhabitant until reaching Thompson’s Falls, Montana, a distance of about thirty miles.
Then the newspapers of Anaconda and Butte, Montana, were furnished write-ups of how a citizens’ mass meeting in Gem had branded these men as undesirable citizens and ran them out of the state.
This thing was kept up all winter, and I learned a few new lessons in human nature. My mind had taken a regular “flop” on the labor union question, since telling Superintendent McCartney that my sympathies were with the unions. I had found the leaders of the Coeur D’Alene unions to be, as a rule, a vicious, heartless gang of anarchists. Many of them had been rocked in the cradle of anarchy at Butte City, Montana, while others were escaped outlaws and toughs from other States.
Of course, after a batch of these “scabs” were run over the range to Montana, the daily papers of Spokane, Washington and Anaconda and Butte, Montana, would come out with glaring head-lines of how the citizens had held a mass-meeting and ordered these “scabs” deported; that the unions had nothing to do with it. I knew better though, but the general public didn’t.
Thus did the winter of 1891-92 pass.
Gem was not the only transgressor of our glorious Constitution. The deporting of “scabs” was going on in the other camps, though Gem and Burk took the lead.
During the winter I often attended the Burk Union meetings. At one of these meetings, I had the pleasure of seeing with my own eyes a Miners’ Union Irishman, not many years from the “ould sod,” who was for law, order and justice, first, last, and all the time. He was a fine-looking specimen of manhood, with jet black hair, eyes and mustache. He made a fine speech, but after he had finished he was sat down on so hard by the rabid leaders, that he couldn’t get his jaws in working order again during the whole winter. I saw him at many meetings after that, but he never said a word. There had been talk of branding him as a “scab.” This was a warning to others to fall in line and be true union men.
In joining the Gem Union, I had to take an iron-clad “Molly Maguire” oath that I would never turn traitor to the union cause; that if I did, death would be my reward, etc.
Early in the Spring of 1892 war was declared between the Mine-Owners’ Association and the Executive Committee of the Coeur D’Alene Central Organization of the Miners’ Unions. This Central Union was made up of delegates from each local union. Geo. A. Pettibone represented the Gem Union and he told me that they had selected a secret crowd of the worst men in the unions to put the fear of Christ into the hearts of “scabs”; that if these secret men committed murder the union would stick by them, but that no one outside the Executive Committee, of which he was a member, was to know who these secret men were, and their pay came from a fund reserved “for the good of the order.”
After war was declared, all the mines in the Coeur D’Alenes were closed down. Shortly after this, a big mass-meeting was called in Wallace to hear both sides of the trouble.
The Unions of Gem, Burk, Mullens and Wardner, had the meeting packed with the intention of choking off the Mine-Owners’ side of the question, but the man whom the Mine-Owners selected to represent their side of the case, was not of the quitting kind. He wouldn’t be choked off. He would wait until the cursing, hissing and abuse ceased and then start in anew.
Back in my part of the Hall, where sat Paddy Burk and a gang of dynamiters, there was talk of making a rush for the stage and in the excitement pitch this speechmaking “scab” out of the upstairs window to the pavement below. It looked very much as though the meeting would end in a riot, but finally cooler heads got control, and Attorney W. T. Skoll, now one of the leading lawyers of Spokane, Washington, was allowed to speak his little piece.
Shortly after this, a train load of “scabs” with Joe Warren at their head, were imported into the district from other States. We heard they were on the way. Then the Central Union’s headquarters in Wallace became a busy place. I was made one of the des-patchers to carry messages on horse-back, when necessary.
Tom O’Brien was the President, and Joe Poynton was the Secretary of the Central Union. I was in their company a good deal, and caught on to many of their secrets. One of them was that the sheriff of the county, Mr. Cunningham, was in with the union even to murder.
On the day the “scabs” were to arrive in Wallace, there was great excitement. The drunken sheriff was on his fine horse with a gang of union deputies to preserve order, but in reality to help shoot down “scabs,” if the Central Union desired it.
The funny part of it was that the mine-owners caught the union napping and stole a march on them. Of course I had been keeping them posted as to the unions’ intentions.
Instead of the train stopping in Wallace, as expected, the engineer put on a full head of steam and went flying up the canyon towards Burk. The poor sheriff waved his order of arrest under the State laws for importing armed thugs, as he ran after the train on his swift horse. Before the armed gang of union men could get back to Burk afoot, it being seven miles, Joe Warren had unloaded his 100 or more armed “scabs” and marched them up the mountain side to the union mine, which had been prepared secretly for their reception.
Late that evening Burke was jammed full of angry miners begging President O’Brien for permission to blow those “scabs” off the face of the earth. Joe Poynton, Geo. A. Petti-bone, and the rest of the rabid leaders, were eager for bloodshed, but O’Brien was the dam which held the angry waters of anarchy back.
A committee of level-headed unionists was finally appointed to go with the sheriff and arrest Joe Warren peaceably, if possible. Warren submitted to arrest so as to test the law, and he left a good man to act in his place. In submitting to arrest, Joe Warren did a foolish thing, and he would have thought so, could he have heard the plots to assassinate him that night, as I did. Warren no doubt realized his danger when he was surrounded by the hundreds of angry miners. They were clamoring for his blood; but O’Brien and the drunken sheriff argued that if he was harmed while under arrest it would ruin the unions. During all this excitement Warren, who was in the prime of manhood and stood about six feet four in his bare feet, was cool, though a little pale behind the ears. Late at night he was taken to Wallace under a heavy guard.
To record the fights and cruel acts of the union on “scabs” for the next few months, would require a book twice the size of this.
Other train loads of “scabs” were brought into Gem and placed in the Helen-Frisco and Gem mines under armed guards.
My Imminent Demise
A bloody revolution was planned for July sometime. On the 4th day of July the American flags were shot full of holes and spat upon.
Previous to this the secrets of the unions were published in the Coeur D’Alene “Barbarian,” a weekly journal run in the interest of the mine-owners, and published at Wardner, by a Mr. Brown.
Everything pointed to these union secrets having leaked out of the Gem union. Therefore, Dallas, a one-eyed, two-legged, Irish hyena from the Butte City, Montana union, was sent to Gem to discover the spy and traitor within their ranks.
After Dallas had been in Gem a few days doing secret work, a special meeting of our Gem union was called. On that day a rank union man by the name of Johnny Murphy confided in me and told me that I was suspected of being the traitor who supplied the mine owners with the secrets of the union, as I had access to the books and made too many trips to Wallace to mail letters; that I had been watched mailing letters in Wallace often. He said that he felt confident that I was not a detective, but for my personal safety he advised me to skip out and not attend this special union meeting, as the chances were I would be killed. He said that he was going to be turned loose within the next few days or weeks, and that I would not be safe in the district, even though innocent.
I assured him that I was innocent and that I would be a true soldier by sticking to my guns.
That night the large union hall was packed, as it was known that Dallas would attempt to show up the spy who had given out the union secrets.
When the meeting was called to order by the President of the Gem union, a Mr. Oliver Hughes, I sat by his side upon the raised platform, or stage. With us on the stage were Pettibone, Eaton, of the Central Union, and Dallas, the Secretary of the Butte City, Montana union.
After I had read the minutes of the last meeting from my book as recording secretary, Dallas got up to make his speech. A pin could have been heard drop, everything was so still.
He started out with a shot at me, as he glanced in my direction. He said: “Brothers, you have allowed a spy to enter your ranks, and he now sits within reach of my hand. He will never leave this hall alive. His fate is doomed. You know your duty when it comes to dealing with traitors to our noble cause for the upbuilding of true manhood.” Here the applause broke loose and I joined in. I clapped until the palms of my hands were sore, despite the fact that I felt a little shaky as to what lay in store for me.
In a “Wess Harding” shoulder-scabbard under my left arm, rested old Colts 45, and around my waist underneath my pants was strapped my pearl-handle bowie knife. My mind was made up to start business at the first approach of real danger. Of course I didn’t expect to last long among those hundreds of strong men, many of whom were armed, but I figured that they couldn’t get but one of me, while I stood a chance to kill several of them. I would have been like a cat thrown into a fiery furnace—spit fire so long as life held out.
After Dallas wound up his long fiery speech, which I must confess was delivered in a masterful manner, a recess of ten minutes was announced. The president then asked me to step down off the stage while they examined my book. I did so. As these officials turned each leaf of the large book over, my eyes were on them. Finally they came to something wrong, and Dallas looked down at me, with a look of, “Oh we’ve got you now.” I stepped up near the platform and said: “What’s the matter gentlemen, you seem to be puzzled?” Dallas replied in an angry voice: “Here’s a leaf cut out of this book. We want an explanation.” I answered that the president, Mr. Oliver Hughes had ordered me to cut that leaf out. The president jumped up with an oath and said it was a lie. I then referred him to the time when the members of the Burk union came down to hold a joint meeting with us, at which time it was voted on and decided to pull up the pumps of the Poorman and Tiger mines at Burk, and flood the lower workings of these deep properties; that I wrote down the full facts of our resolution and read it at the following meeting; my duty requiring me to read the minutes of the previous meeting; and that then he (the president) ordered me to cut out this leaf and burn it, as nothing of that kind should be put in the minutes to be on record, in case the book fell into the hands of the enemy.
The president then acknowledged the fact, and Dallas smothered the wrath which he had been accumulating for the explosion to follow.
Instead of burning the leaf, I had sent it to St. Paul along with my reports.
Finally I got back on the stage when the meeting was again called to order, after my book had been carefully gone through.
The president then made a conservative speech and advised that nothing be done to-night that might bring discredit on the union. He said the time would soon be here when we could act. Of course I helped cheer, and it came from my heart this time, as I could see daylight ahead. The meeting was then adjourned.
I have no doubt but that Dallas and his gang thought that I would show my guilt during and after his bloodcurdling speech, and that during the ten minutes’ recess I would make some kind of an excuse to the outer guard at the door so as to get out. But I was too “foxy” to make a break like that. Neither did I show guilt in my actions or looks. I had learned to control my looks while playing poker in cow-camps on the range, so my opponents couldn’t guess the value of my hand by the looks of my face.
A couple of days after the above occurrence, Mrs. Shipley called my attention to a man sitting on a box in front of the post office, and informed me that she had noticed him following me. Looking through the store window, I recognized Tim W’s chum, “Black Jack” from Tuscarora, Nevada. He had helped in the blowing up of Prinz and Pelling and we had heard that he skipped out to Africa. Later I caught him watching me, but didn’t pretend to notice it. Whether he had really recognized me or was trying to place me, I never knew; but as I later found out that he was a member of the Miners’ Union, I concluded that he had recognized and given me away to the union, for the chances are by this time he knew my business.
I had bought a two-story building in the center of town, and in the store part, Mrs. Kate Shipley and I started a small store. Upstairs there were 12 furnished rooms and I gave Mrs. Shipley half the income from these to run the place. She roomed back of the store with her little five-year-old boy, while my room was upstairs.
Mrs. Shipley, whose husband was on their farm in Dakota, had no idea that I was a detective.
To keep prowlers out of our back yard, I built a high board-fence and made it tight so as to shut out the public gaze. As a precaution in case of trouble, I left the bottom of one wide board loose so that I could crawl out instead of going over the fence.
At our next regular meeting night of the union, early in the evening, Billy Flynn, a brother-in-law to John Day, with whom I had previously roomed, called me off to myself. He was pretty drunk. He began crying and said he hated to go back on union principles by warning a spy and traitor of danger, but said he always liked me and he couldn’t believe that I was a Dickenson detective [the publisher changed the actual name from Pinkerton]. Of course I assured him that I was not. Then he shook my hand and said I didn’t look degraded enough for a detective who would take a false oath by entering a union in order to give away their secrets. I asked Flynn to tell me all the facts as to why I was suspected of being a detective. He replied that he couldn’t do that as he was sworn to secrecy; but said that some one who knew that I was a detective, had recognized me. He further said that I was doomed to die the death of a traitor, and he advised that I skip out and not attend the union meeting that night.
Dallas was still in town, and I saw him with “Black Jack” who no doubt had given me away to the union.
The day had been one of excitement. Many “scabs” had been caught and nearly beat to death. “Scabs” were fed at the mines and seldom ventured away from their quarters, but when they did, they were caught and pounded nearly to death.
Early in the day John A. French had come to Gem, and was almost mobbed by Joe Poynton and a gang. He was glad to get back to Wallace with a whole hide.
The time for me, as recording secretary, to be in the union hall had passed, the hour being 8 P. M. About 8:30 p. M. a committee of three came to my room to see what was the matter that I didn’t attend the meeting.
In my room I kept a Winchester rifle and 100 cartridges, secreted under the mattress of my bed, and I had made up my mind to stay close to these. I told the committee to go back and I would be at the hall in 10 minutes. When they had gone I wrote out my resignation as recording secretary and as a member of the Miners’ Union. In it I told of them planning to knife me in the dark under the false impression that I was a [Pinkerton] detective, one of the lowest and most degrading professions that mortal man could follow, and to be accused of such a black crime behind my back was more than I could stand, and for that reason I would never put foot in their union hall again. I gave this resignation to the door-keeper at the union hall about half a block from my place, and then returned to our store.
After the union meeting had adjourned, the hall was thrown open for a public dance. Men kept pouring in from outlying camps.
While I was standing in the dark in front of the union hall watching the dancers through the window, a leading member of the Mullen union who had just arrived in town, recognized me and we had a confidential talk on union matters. Of course he hadn’t yet heard of my downfall in the union. He supposed that I knew all the secrets of coming events and therefore it was easy for me to lead him on. From him I found out that blood would flow here within the next few days; that it would amount to a regular uprising against “scabs” and the mine owners. He said the Homestead, Pa., riots of a few days previous would be child’s play as compared to our approaching storm. He thought it was billed to come off the following night, but wasn’t sure, as the executive committee of the Central Union had not given out the exact date. But he said the outside unions had already been ordered to concentrate their forces and arms in Gem, which would be the center of action.
About 11:30 P.M. a member of an outside union, who had not learned of my being branded as a traitor, told me that two “scabs” from the Gem mine were to be murdered and thrown into the river just as soon as the lights in the union hall were put out, after the dance, which would only last until midnight. He said that these two “scabs” had slipped over from the Gem mine to get a drink, and that a gang of union men had them at Dutch Henry’s saloon getting them drunk so as to kill them.
A few minutes before midnight I entered Dutch Henry’s saloon in hopes of getting a chance to warn these two “scabs” of their approaching danger. They were surrounded by a dozen union men who were patting them on the back and making them think they were fine fellows. One of them was a giant in size and said he could whip any union man in Gem.
While I was seated in the saloon watching for a chance to warn these “scabs,” I saw a crowd collecting outside in front of the saloon. I could see through the front window that they were watching me. It only lacked ten minutes of midnight.
Just then the front door opened and old Shoemaker Roberson walked up to me and said: “Say Allison, you had better duck your nut out of here, and do it quick.” I told him that I would leave when I got good and ready. He then went out and joined the crowd outside. I stepped up to the bar and drank a glass of beer, then went out at the front door.
On reaching the sidewalk the crowd, led by a hair-lip son of the scum of society, called “Johnny get your gun,” started to enclose me in a circle. I sprang out into the street and with my hand on my cocked pistol, threatened to kill the first man who undertook to pull a gun. In this manner I backed across the street to the hallway leading up to my room. As I entered the hallway still facing the 25 or 30 men, “Johnny get your gun” said: “Oh, you damn traitor, we’ll get you before morning.” At this the crowd split and ran around my building to prevent me from escaping. A few moments later, through a rear upstairs window I saw men with rifles guarding the rear of my high board fence. I could also see three men with rifles on the bridge spanning the river towards the Gem mine.
There were no back stairs to my building, but the window to my room opened out in a narrow alleyway between my building and Jerry Nelson’s Hotel, and here I had placed an old ladder just for such an emergency as this.
With my Winchester rifle and pockets full of ammunition, I crawled down this ladder and thence to the board previously left loose at the bottom. A light shove displaced the fence board, and on my hands and knees I crawled out by the side of a large fallen tree. The board being put back in place, I was now in a timbered swamp near the bank of Canyon Creek. The night was dark, and by crawling between logs and in brush, I reached the river, which was waded in a dark place under overhanging trees. Then to prevent being seen by the guards on the bridge, I had to crawl on my stomach, inch by inch, for quite a distance. On reaching a place where it was safe to stand up, I ran to the Gem mine, a few hundred yards distant. I found John Monihan, the superintendent, up and expecting trouble on account of the town filling up with union men, and guards being placed on the bridge. I informed him that two of his men were to be murdered in Dutch Henry’s saloon.
A Mass of Bloody Flesh, the Uprising
While we and some of the Thiel guards were figuring on the best way to rescue those men, the town constable under the Justice of the Peace, Geo. A. Pettibone, came over to tell Mr. Monihan that two of his men had been “slugged” and one of them was about dead, and that the badly wounded one had been dragged to the deadline at the bridge near where the company’s office was located. Monihan and some of the guards returned with the constable to get the wounded man. This was the big fellow who had been drinking in Dutch Henry’s saloon, and he was barely alive. He was beaten almost into a jelly, his jaw and several ribs being broken. In fact, he had lost all resemblance to a human being, except in shape. His face was one mass of bruised and bloody flesh.
Monihan called for volunteers to walk down to Wallace four miles, after the doctor, but only one of the Thiel guards would consent to risk his life, as it was feared the road to Wallace was guarded by union men, and this guard refused to go alone.
Rather than see this fellow die without the care of a doctor, I accompanied the Thiel guard. We arrived in Wallace, walking on the railroad grade, without mishap. Dr. Simms was awakened and went back with the guard. By that time it was about 3:30 A. M.
I then went to report matters to the Secretary of the Mine-Owners’ Association, John A. French. Mr. French was himself a millionaire, owning many mines and steamships on the Pacific coast. I found him in bed and told him to prepare for riots within the next couple of days. He begged me to leave the country and not return to Gem, when I told him the facts; but I told him that I had enlisted for the war and would stay and see the finish. I figured that a good sailor never gives up his ship until she is going down.
I went to a saloon and held the Winchester rifle in my hand until daylight, at which time the morning train went to Gem and Burk, the latter place being the end of that branch line.
On the train I found Geo. A. Pettibone who had gone to Wardner in the night. He had with him a delegation of union leaders from Wardner and a Catholic priest. I never knew what the priest was doing in such company.
Pettibone asked what I was doing with a rifle. I told him that his union scalawags had made a raid on me during the night, and that I was going back to kill the first one who interfered with me. He tried to bulldoze me from carrying a rifle into Gem. He said it wouldn’t be allowed; but it was allowed, as I marched through the large crowd who came to the train to greet the priest and union delegation.
Shortly after my arrival, Bill Black, a desperado who had just recovered from a bullet wound through the stomach, was sent to me to find out my intentions. He asked if I intended to remain in Gem that night. I said yes, that I would stay there until carried out a corpse. This seemed to satisfy him. When he left he went direct to the union hall to report to the meeting then in session.
The chances are they thought a raid on me then would spoil their plans, so concluded, as I didn’t intend to leave, to not disturb me until the general uprising started.
I remained in our store, or in Mrs. Shipley’s bedroom back of the store, most of the time.
Mrs. Shipley would visit neighbor women and report the news to me. It was said the uprising would start just before daylight.
The whole day had been spent drilling men under captains in the union hall. By dark the town was jammed full of union men from all over the district. There were over 1,000 present.
Mrs. Shipley had found out that a strong guard was placed all around the town at dark to prevent any one from leaving Gem. I suppose this was partly for my benefit.
About 8 P. M. I concluded to “take a sneak”; so I went down the old ladder out of my bedroom window, thence over the same route taken the night before. I crawled within 30 feet of three union guards.
I reported to Mr. Monihan that the riot was to start before daylight. He then armed his 120 “scab” miners, and guards were put out. Until daylight, a tall fellow known as “Death on the Trail” and I did scout duty, both sticking close together. No one slept that night to speak of.
When daylight came I concluded to beard the lion in his den and find out the latest news from Mrs. Shipley. Putting the rifle under my raincoat and holding it by my left side so it couldn’t be seen, I walked right by the three union guards on the bridge. We didn’t speak. I entered the rear door of the Nelson Hotel. In the kitchen I found the two cooks and a waitress, Miss Olson, but I only bowed to them. I raised the kitchen window and jumped through it into the narrow alley where my old ladder stood. I found Mrs. Shipley in bed. She reported that all night the union men were drilling in the union hall. I then went into the store and through a side door into the hallway and thence upstairs. A window to a vacant front room was raised so that I could look up and down the main street. There were only a few armed men doing guard duty in front of my place. Two men with rifles stood directly under me. An awning prevented them from seeing me, though I could see them through the crack between the awning and the wall.
About this time the long-nose clerk, Jim Ervin, in White & Benders’ store, a few doors below, stuck his head out of the window to see what was going on. One of these union men, a big blacksmith, raised his rifle and said to his companion, Tom Whalen: “Watch me
knock that nose off.” He fired and as I learned
later, the bullet just missed the clerk’s nose by a scratch. It being 6 A. M. this no doubt was intended as the signal shot, as shooting became general up the canyon towards the Frisco mill, where armed guards and “scab” miners were housed.
I concluded it was time for me to emigrate, so I hurried down my ladder and through the window into the kitchen of the Nelson Hotel. Then I opened the back door to make a break for the bridge to fight my way past the three guards there. Just as I opened the door, the French cook grabbed me by the arm and jerked me back. I raised the rifle to strike him, but he threw up his hands and said: “For Christ’s sake, don’t go out there. They are laying for you. There are 50 men with Winchester rifles right around the corner of the house. I saw them just now when I went after wood.”
I had thrown the door wide open, and it still remained so.
From the end of the bridge across a swamp to this kitchen door, there was a board walk, and on it, coming towards us, was a lone man in his shirt sleeves, and unarmed. I recognized him as one of the Thiel guards at the Gem mine. He was about 50 yards from the kitchen door then. I said to the two cooks: “I’ll wait and see what they say to that guard.” We all three had our eyes on him when a voice around the corner said: “Go back you!” He stopped suddenly and threw up his hands. Just then a shot was fired and the poor fellow fell over dead, with a bullet through his heart. His name was Ivory Bean, and he was an honored member of the K. P. lodge. He had volunteered to come over to the drug store after some medicine for the big fellow who was wounded two nights before. He was supposed to be dying, and to relieve his suffering, Bean risked his life. He argued that the union miners surely wouldn’t harm him on an errand of mercy if he went in his shirt sleeves to show that he carried no fire-arms. The poor fellow hadn’t reckoned on the class of curs that he was dealing with.
This convinced me that I was “up against the real thing,” so shutting the door and thanking the cook for saving my life, I crawled back through the window. Just as I did so, Miss Olson came into the kitchen.
After Bean fell, the men at the Gem mine began to pepper the town of Gem with -rifle-bullets. A big part of their shooting was at the rear of Daxon’s saloon— that being a union hang-out; but the men in there soon found the cellar. Billy Daxon had his clothes shot full of holes. A union man was killed by this shooting. The firing was still going on at the Frisco Mill. They were burning powder up there in a reckless, extravagant manner. I concluded that “war is hell,” sure enough, and that I was right in the midst of it without a way to get out.
To be continued…
Excerpted from Charles Siringo’s Cowboy Detective, published in 1905.
Editor’s note: Union anarchists in the 1890s dedicated themselves to revolution and overthrowing the economic system of the United States, and were forerunners of the International Workers’ Association, and the Industrial Workers of the World, the “Wobblies,” a radical labor union formed in 1905, both having played active roles in the American labor movement. The anarchists seek to abolish capitalism through various means, including strikes, violence and sabotage, so that the workers of the world might seize the means of production, abolish the wage system, and create economic communes worldwide. The issue of anarchists and revolutionary unionism surfaced in the Montana 2014 Senate race, when it was revealed that Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Amanda Curtis had referred to herself as “an anarchist at heart,” according to CNN, and that her husband was a local organizer for the Industrial Workers of the World in Montana. When asked by a journalist about her support for the anarchist group, Curtis responded without a denial while expressing that she supports working families in Montana.
Regarding the Pinkerton National Detective Agency, its 2,000 active agents and 30,000 reserves made it the largest standing force nationally of the late 1800s, superceding the U.S. Army in size. The Pinkertons tracked down train and bank robbers, cattle rustlers, and provided services for management in labor disputes that included armed guards and secret agents like Charles Siringo. At odds with the agency after it suppressed distribution of Cowboy Detective, Siringo published Two Evilisms: Pinkertonism and Anarchism, a tell all dealing with the anarchists subversive methods and the agency’s hardball tactics and deceptions. The Pinkerton Agency was able to supress that book as well, having had its agents purchase all available copies and through a court order confiscate the printing plates.