Early outlooks on strike of 1913 pessimistic at best

Photo courtesy of Idaho State Archives Digital Collections Harry Orchard confessed to the killing of former Idaho Governor Frank Steunenberg following the orders of Western Federation of Miners executives in 1905

The mine strike of 1913, which officially began on July 23, was not yet four months old when Mining and Engineering World printed an editorial in its Nov. 15, 1913 edition titled “Why the Lake Copper Strike Will Fail.”

The editorial began by saying that while at the time the article was written the strike had not been officially called off by the Western Federation of Miners (WFM) officials, many of them privately admitted that from the standpoint of the union, the strike had already reached “a very discouraging condition, and is immanently in danger of total failure.”

Anarchy in the guise of Socialism contributed in no small way to the failure of the Federation, the unnamed author asserted.

“The Federation in Michigan is dominated by the Socialist element,” the article stated, “and while the rank and file of the Socialists have not been conspicuous in the existing dispute, they have been, and still are, the backbone of the movement.”

The Nov. 1, 1913 edition of the magazine The Survey, a U.S. progressive era reform and philanthropy magazine printed from1902 to 1919, contained an article titled The Clash in the Copper Country, in which author Graham Romeyn Taylor places much blame on Finns for their heavy involvement in the strike.

“The Finns number 11,531 of the 33,333 foreign-born whites in Houghton County. A large proportion are already Socialists when they leave the old country, and in the new land, cleavage deepens between the Socialists and the non-Socialists,” wrote Taylor. “The Socialist ideas of some of the less educated Finns are crude. Some of them have the most fantastic notions of America’s ‘freedom.’ A Finnish servant girl one day naively disclosed her simple belief when she remarked to her mistress: ‘Some day you be in kitchen and I be in parlor.'”

Taylor went to state that there was no doubt that the Socialist Finns are a strong element in the strike. While that may sound like a slanted attack on the Finns, actually, Taylor was unusually fair in his lengthy article regarding the strike.

He wrote that whatever the attitude of operators toward labor organization and collective bargaining as general propositions, they declare that their present antagonism is only against the present union with which they are now struggling.

The mine managers, Taylor wrote, naturally seize upon the record of the Western Federation of Miners. They point to the strikes in the Coeur d’Alene district of Idaho, in Colorado at Homestake, and the Mesaba Range in 1907, and more recently in the Porcupine district of Ontario and Bingham, Utah.

“Violent disorders occurred in connection with all these,” he wrote. The first led up to the murder of Idaho ex-governor (Frank) Steunenberg, for which crime the present president of the federation, Charles H. Moyer, and William D. Haywood were tried and acquitted, and in which trial the confession of Harry Orchard was the principal evidence. In fact, the opening paragraph of Taylor’s article began with a quote from an unidentified mine agent:

“Read Harry Orchard’s confession over if you haven’t read it recently. Then come back and tell me whether if you were in my place, you have any dealings with the Western Federation of Miners.”

Emeritus Professor of Law at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, Douglass O. Linder on the Famous Trials website, posted a Chronology of Events Relating to the Haywood Trial, a timeline of events leading up to the trial and the Orchard confession that shocked the nation.

After a long period of unionist violence that began in the Coeur d’Alene, Idaho mining region, on June 11, 1892, when union men dynamited a mill and captured 130 non-union workers and held them prisoner in a union hall. Several persons were killed by gunfire. Over 400 union men commandeered a train and took it to Wardner , Idaho, where they seized three mines, ejecting non-union workers and company officials. Two years later, 40 masked men murdered John Kneebone for testifying against union miners at the trial following the 1892 violence. Again in 1899, union miners dynamited a concentrator owned by the Bunker Hill Mining Company, in Wardner, Idaho. While more violence ensued, in June, 1904, 14 non-union miners were killed when a railroad depot in Independence, Colorado was bombed.

On Dec. 30, 1905, Steunenberg was killed by a bomb that was detonated when he opened the gate to his yard. James McParland of the Pinkerton Detective Agency was brought in to investigate the execution. This was the same McParland who as a Pinkerton spy, gave what was later established to be very biased testimony during the trial of 20 men alleged to be members of the Molly Maguires. The hangings were later found to be unjustified and in 1979 the state of Pennsylvania pardoned the so-called ringleader, John (Jack) Kehoe.

Linder wrote that McParland visited Orchard in the state penitentiary near Boise, suggested to the suspected killer that he was likely to receive more lenient treatment if he was willing to become a witness for the state and help convict WFM leaders, who were the target of the state’s real anger. In his 64-page confession, Orchard admitted both to the Steunenberg bombing and seventeen other killings, all he said, ordered by the inner circle of the WFM. WFM Secretary-Treasurer William Haywood, President Charles Moyer, and close advisor George Pettibone were all specifically accused of ordering the Steunenberg assassination. Orchard also identified three other WFM miners who he said had been his accomplices in various acts of union terrorism.

Linder wrote that Orchard testified that he was hired by Haywood to kill Steunenberg as revenge for the former governor’s harsh crackdown on miners in 1899. For several days in June of 1907, Linder continued, Orchard recounted from the stand, in a polite, precise, matter-of-fact, and unhesitating way, a career as a union terrorist, under the direction of the inner circle of the WFM, that resulted in the loss of 17 lives, including that of Governor Frank Steunenberg. Cross-examined for 26 hours about his killings, bigamy, heavy drinking, compulsive gambling and womanizing, Orchard stood up to his grilling in a way that amazed even veteran reporters.

While local history records intense violence employed by the union during the Copper Country strike, which there was, violence was not nearly as pronounced in Michigan as had been in the western mining districts where the WFM had operated.

In his article on the Copper Country strike, Taylor wrote that “the strikers have evinced little disposition to destroy property though the stoppage of the pumps in some mines has done some damage.”

He did address the disorder of the mass picketing and parades, in which he made no attempt to hide his contempt for the Croatian women involved in the picketing, mentioning their attempts to snatch dinner pails away from men on their way to work and in addition to tongue-lashings, resorting to striking men with brooms dipped in “filth” from outhouses.

“But anyone possessed of a grain of humor,” Taylor wrote, “cannot fail to be amused at the gravity with which the local citizens regard this ‘lawlessness’ on the part of Croatian peasants whose minds and emotions are about as disciplined as those of mischief-loving American boys.”

While Taylor’s article was published on Nov.1, 1913, the strike would drag on for five more months, led not by the union, but by the strikers themselves.


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