from Richard O. Boyer and Herbert M. Morais, Labor's Untold Story. Pittsburgh: United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America /UE, 1994 , pp. 43-58.
When Franklin B. Gowen, once known as the King of the Reading Valley in Southeastern Pennsylvania, committed suicide in a lonely Washington hotel room in 1889 it was suggested by some that perhaps his brilliance had verged on insanity throughout his dramatic career. Others said he had taken his life when he felt his powerful but erratic brain losing its grip on
reality. It was hinted then, as men discussed his solitary ending, that he had been near insanity even as his fevered eloquence sent nineteen Pennsylvania union miners to their deaths.
But that was sixteen years after he had led employers in a rapidly rising trustified industry against one of the earliest of the nation's industrial unions. Then he was hailed as the foremost of industrial statesmen, the country's savior, described as a genius, and feted for his victory over labor even in far-off London.
Gowen's fame reached its greatest height during the depression of 1873. Then, as head of the country's first effective coal trust as well as of the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad, he had charged that the Workingmen's Benevolent Association, a militant industrial union that had been organized by Pennsylvania's anthracite miners, was in reality a foreign conspiracy to overthrow society by force and violence. That charge, and the trials that followed, had shattered the union, resulting in the execution, imprisonment, or banishment of all its leaders.
The story, which was to have a fatal ending for so many, including even Gowen, began, in a sense, on Sept. 6, 1869, when the whistle atop the colliery at the Avondale Mine in Pennsylvania's Luzerne County sent out the sharp, repeated blasts that told of accident. The miners lived, for the most part, on a long street facing the mine entry, and now their wives ran toward the mine shaft, their little children following. Great columns of smoke and fire were billowing out of the only shaft, the only entrance or exit, and the women and children knew that their husbands and fathers were dead men unless they could blast their way to life by forcing a second exit.
One hundred and seventy-nine men were down in the bowels of the earth frantically digging as the smoke choked and blinded them, perhaps thinking even in their frenzy of their wives and children waiting on the ground above. The wives stood there for hours saying little, some holding babies, their older children clutching at their skirts. They kept vigil through the long day, remaining there when night arrived and the flames from the only shaft leaped and licked against the blackness. Occasionally some went back to their cramped, damp, decrepit homes to prepare meals for the children before returning and resuming their long and lonely wait.
The next day the fire still blazed from the shaft opening and no help could descend. Thousands of miners from Luzerne and Schuylkill Counties were packed around the mine entrance, sometimes cursing, mostly silent, occasionally begging to be used in the rescue team that was blasting and tunneling forward in a frantic effort to reach the trapped men. "Thousands of Miners Gather Around the Fatal Shaft," said a New York Tribune headline on September 8. "Six Hundred Widows and Orphans Left Destitute." And the story continued, " All work is suspended and the whole force of miners have gone to Avondale until their brothers are brought out dead or alive."
They were brought out dead, all one hundred and seventy-nine, two days after the whistle had rent the air. Because the mine owners had refused to spend the comparatively few dollars needed to construct a second entrance, or escape exit the men were dead, as so many others had been and would be in Luzerne, Schuylkill, and Carbon Counties in Pennsylvania's anthracite. As the bodies were brought up one by one Irish John Siney, the head of the recently formed Workingmen's Benevolent Association, got up on a wagon, his face contorted with grief, as thousands of miners crowded around. In the sudden hush the distant sound of weeping could be heard. It came from the houses into which the bodies were being carried.
"Men," said Siney when he could speak, "if you must die with your boots on, die for your families, your homes, your country, but do not longer consent to die like rats in a trap for those who have no more interest in you than in the pick you dig with." He paused and when he could go on again he gestured toward the edge of the crowd where the dead bodies were still being carried by and asked the miners to join the union. Thousands of them did so on that day.
The Workingmen's Benevolent Association of Schuylkill County had been formed the year before in 1868,4 when it went on strike for the eight-hour day. The strike was lost and yet it seemed as if the Irishmen who largely composed the union had a special genius for organization. They spoke of independent political action and insisted upon industrial unionism long before many others spoke for it. They were emphatic in their belief that all those who worked in and about the mines should belong to one big union.
Most of the Irish members of the Workingmen's Benevolent Association had fled the famine and tyranny of their British oppressor. During the forties, fifties, and sixties some 20,000 Irishmen had made their way to Schuylkill County. It was a historic irony that they had stepped from one tyranny into another, from the hangings imposed by the British landlords to the hangings, shootings, and frame-ups inspired by the growing American coal corporations. They had left a green land but it was a black land that they had come to. It was a land of coal and of breakers and tipples and collieries, of soot and culm banks and burning slag and everything that was not black was a gritty gray. The smoke and grime and dirt had even climbed the mountain sides and stunted the greenery of such grim slabs as Sharp and Locust, Brood and Blue, whose precipitous sides loomed bleakly above the grimy coal patches and little cabins in which the miners and their families lived.
They knew what Siney meant when he inferred that joining the union might mean death but that it was better to die fighting for themselves and their union than like rats in the trap of some death-sealed mine. The blackened waters of the Schuylkill River, blue enough where it rose in the
mountains before it curled through the mining country, had been crimsoned with miners' blood during strikes in the forties and fifties. In 1842 their union had been shot out of existence and when they started another in 1849 it too was smashed after a violent strike.5 They knew that the powers of the time regarded unionism as a conspiracy in violation of the law, a conspiracy as criminal as a plan to rob a bank. They knew that trade unionists were ...as much beyond the protection of the law as bank robbers.
But by the time of the Avondale fire a turning point had been reached. Increasingly after that disaster miners flocked into the union. They had had enough. Base pay, according to statistics of the time, was between $11 and $12 weekly for work from dawn to dark. Children, according to a miners' joke, never saw their fathers except on Sundays, when they asked their mothers, "Who's that old man hanging around the house?"
Starvation, at least during strikes, and death from the cold of bitter winters, were not unusual, according to Andrew Roy, historian of the American coal miner. And P. F. McAndrews, clerk of the mining district ii including Schuylkill County, wrote in 1875, "The miners' occupation. ..is little better than semi-slavery."
Of Schuylkill's 22,000 working in the mines, 5,500 were children, boys between the ages of seven and sixteen who were paid between $1 and $3 a week for separating slate from the coal as it poured down the shoots in the breakers. Old men, or the injured, were sent back to the breakers after a lifetime of work, to end their lives as they had begun them.
But worse than all this was the killing accident rate. When a man left in the morning dark for the mine neither he nor his wife nor his children knew if they would ever see him again. Working up to his knees in water, the slow drip of falling drops soaking him as he labored, he never knew when he would hear the dreadful rip of cracking timbers as rotten scaffolds buckled under the weight of sliding tons of falling coal. Nor did he know at what instant he might see that flash of searing fire that began with an explosion of poisoned gas, the blaze leaping through the lethal air and flashing down the black tunnel until it enveloped and killed the working miners. He knew only that the mine owners without one single exception had refused over the years to install emergency exits, ventilating and pumping systems, or to make provision for sound scaffolding. In Schuylkill County alone 566 miners had been killed and 1,655 had been seriously injured over a seven-year period while in the single year of 1871 some 112 miners of that county were killed and 339 badly injured.
Besides insecurity to life and limb the miners were faced with a terrific
speed-up. So grueling was the pace that miners often went without food so as to complete their daily work. " A miner tells me, " wrote an on-the-spot reporter for Harper's New Monthly Magazine (November, 1877), "that he has often brought his food uneaten out of the mine from want of time; for he must have his car loaded when the driver comes for it, or lose one of the seven car-loads which form his daily work."
Among those who joined the union at about this time was an unusual group of young miners who in the struggle that followed proved that their abilities were far above the ordinary. With all the wealth and all of the press, and all of the clergy against them; with the militia, vigilantes, the courts, and the operators' Coal and Iron Police assaulting them; with more than $4,000,000 spent in a mighty effort to crush them, they nevertheless came close to winning. Their abilities were a surprise to almost everyone, for when they later appeared in court as defendants it was seen by the powerful that their antagonists were only young miners. Their backs were bent in the familiar miners' stoop, their hands were calloused, and they had that occupational trait known as Miners' Knees-that is, hard carbuncles over kneecaps from swinging away hour after hour with their picks at the coal in positions so cramped they had to work on their knees. But that was the only time these men were ever on their knees.
Some of them had seen their friends hanged for the wearing of the green in Ireland, and all of them from the first had known that their venture in union-building might lead to as desperate an end. Of their number was big Tom Munley, who had fled Ireland in 1864 after fighting for its liberty, a miner of unusual size and strength with a great flaring mustache, bright red cheeks, and a wife and four children. Another was Mike Doyle, a "strongly built man" of thirty who had "the dogged, defiant expression of a prize fighter." The smiling Ed Kelly, smooth shaven in that age of mustaches and beards, was another who gave power to the new union and with Jim Carroll, Jack Kehoe, Hugh McGeehan, and Tom Duffy, was advocating that the union put up candidates in the county elections. All were members of the Irish fraternal order, the Ancient Order of Hibernians, found in all parts of the country and much like the Masons or the Oddfellows in their activities and ceremonies. In their lodge the group of young Irishmen gradually developed into a caucus that put pressure on Siney and other leaders of the WBA for straight-shooting trade union policies.
These young miners and their colleagues knew at the start that their chief adversary in building their union would be Franklin Benjamin Gowen, himself not much older than they were but whose extraordinary personality was already being felt in every corner of the Reading Valley .In 1869, not long before the Avondale fire, he had been elected, although only thirty-three, to the presidency of the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad which spread "like a giant octopus" over Southeastern Pennsylvania, controlling its economic life. At the same time he was elected president of the railroad's subsidiary, the Philadelphia Coal and Iron Company.
As Munley, Kehoe, Carroll, McGeehan, Doyle, and their friends were organizing coal miners into their union, young Mr. Gowen was also engaged in organizing of a different kind. He was bringing all of the mine operators into an employers' association, the Anthracite Board of Trade. But he was doing more than that. At the same time he was organizing a monopoly in coal, his railroad a powerful device for getting his way. 1f a rival operator failed to succumb to his terms he boosted his freight rate or even refused to haul his coal to market. Using these methods he had acquired two-thirds of the coal mines of southeastern Pennsylvania where all the important deposits of anthracite in this hemisphere are contained in 484 square miles.
More important than this to the miners in the Ancient Order of Hibernians, Gowen seemed to be bringing John Siney, president of the union\under the sway of his magnetic personality. They were seen together frequently and increasingly Siney began to talk of the harmful tendency inherent in strikes and of how arbitration was the proper policy for a trade union.
Gowen already had the reputation of being irresistible. He radiated a kind of animal charm and when he spoke people hung on his words as if hypnotized. It was said that he could convince the most stubborn that black was white and he had been good enough to wheedle several millions out of English investors for his Philadelphia and Reading Railroad. A plunger, a taker of chances, ever trying to expand, his ambition was as boundless as his confidence and many of his stockholders eyed him with distrust from the beginning.
Rather British in his affectations, he had participated in the first game of cricket ever played at Pottsville, capital of anthracite, where he had been the district attorney as a young man after buying a substitute to serve in his place in the Union Army during the Civil War. His father, an emigrant from Northern Ireland, had been a sympathizer with the South and slavery, sending his son to a private school attended by the sons of plantation owners and the ironmasters of Schuylkill County. One of Gowen's favorite pastimes was the writing of limericks and another was the translation of German poetry. There is ample evidence that he saw himself as a hero who was to ride to national fame by his demonstration to the country's employers of the proper way of handling the growing labor problem.
At first Gowen, working through Siney, welcomed the union. He believed he could use it to further his own plans. The price of coal was falling, Gowen believed, because of overproduction. A strike or two, he thought, would raise prices by decreasing the supply of coal on hand. There was a strike in I~ which was terminated when the operators, under Gowen's leadership, recognized the union. It now had 30,000 members, or eighty-five per cent of the miners in Pennsylvania's anthracite, as well as a written agreement signed on July 29,1870. This was the first written con-
tract between organized miners and operators in the history of the United States.
But the miners made the mistake of tying their wages to the price of coal. They did, however, include a minimum below which wages could not be cut in the event the price of coal went down. 1f it fell to less than three dollars a ton there would be no further pay cuts. The miners were betting on a rise in coal prices, and therefore of wages, but they lost their bet. As the price plunged downward so did their wages, which were slashed in some instances by almost fifty per cent. When the price dipped below three dollars a ton, Gowen wished to continue wage cuts unhampered by the minimum wage provision. When the union resisted wage cuts below the minimum stipulated in the contract Gowen determined to smash the union.
With the arrival of the depression of 1873 Gowen's plight became serious. He needed some great event in which to play the part of hero to recoup his sagging prestige. Before his career was over, his biographer Schlegel reports, Gowen was to borrow "millions upon millions to make the Reading Railroad one of the largest corporations the world had ever known," and he was already overextended. "Hard times and investments of a questionable nature on the part of the Philadelphia and Reading had placed Gowen at a disadvantage in the eyes of the stockholders, but if he could deal a death blow to organized labor...he would amply redeem himself in the public eye."6 In addition an antimonopoly league was being formed in which dealers were charging him with selling coal short-weight, withholding freight cars from rivals, delaying their shipments, and conspiring to control production.
As he brooded over his troubles, still confident that he was a genius destined to conquer all, it seemed to him that the primary source of his difficulties was the miners' union. Only by greatly reducing wages could he buttress his shaky financial position. But more than the miners' union, it was that group of young Irish miners in the Ancient Order of Hibernians who were standing in his way. It was they who opposed Siney when he talked of a reasonable attitude and arbitration instead of strikes and it was they who advocated strike rather than suffer a cut below the contract's minimum wage. 1f Gowen could get rid of Munley, Doyle, McGeehan, Kelly, Carroll, Kehoe, Duffy, and the progressives they led in the miners' union, he could have clear sailing. At first he thought he would charge them with being Communists and, in fact, as late as 1875 he testified before a committee of the Pennsylvania legislature that the group was composed of foreign agents, "advocates of the Commune and emissaries of the International."
This charge was a queer slip on Gowen's part because two years before he had called in Allan Pinkerton of the detective agency and, in employing him and his agency to break the union and its progressive caucus in the
Ancient Order of Hibernians, he had told another story. Then, to Pinkerton, and usually later, although he occasionally reverted to his charge that the progressive miners were Communists, he said that the Irish miners were members of a secret Irish terrorist organization whose end was the destruction of society.
The progressive miners, he told Pinkerton, were members of a band, formed in Ireland and brought to the United States, known as the Molly Maguires. Their goal was the seizure of power, their method was murder. They were using both the Ancient Order of Hibernians and the miners' union to conceal and further their conspiracy.
A good number of historians now concede that there was never any organization in Pennsylvania known as the Molly Maguires -although any militant miner might have been called a Molly Maguire after the newspapers had spread Gowen's charge far and wide. But the Molly Maguires in fact were nothing but a fabrication of the Reading Valley's leading and most eccentric citizen. There was only the Ancient Order of Hibernians, usually called the AOH, its oaths and rituals demanding brotherhood and patriotism.
But as Gowen spoke of his creation to Pinkerton in 1873, his eloquence overcame him and, pacing up and down his office before the detective, he said, according to Pinkerton, that the Irish terroristic society not only dominated southeastern Pennsylvania but most of labor the country over. "Wherever in the United States iron is wrought," he said, according to the detective, "from Maine to Georgia, from ocean to ocean-wherever hard coal is used as fuel, there the Molly Maguire leaves his slimy trail and wields with deadly effect his two powerful levers, secrecy and combination." Pinkerton, duly convinced, declared that he could not begin to consider the case without a retainer of $100,000.7 His mind just could not function until stimulated by such a fee. After obtaining the necessary stimulation he told Gowen that the operative whom he would send into the coal fields
must be a man who would have no more doubts than Gowen. For, as Pinkerton stated in his book about the Molly Maguires, an ordinary operative might think that Gowen was engaged in "persecution for opinion's sake" or that his plan of breaking the miners' union was only "a conflict between capital on one side and labor on the other."
After considerable thought Pinkerton selected as his leading spy for the coal fields one James McParlan, a twenty-nine-year-old native of Ireland who Pinkerton felt sure would not be bothered by any feelings that his victims were being persecuted for their belief in trade unionism. McParlan seemed a merry fellow, ever ready for a fight or a frolic, until one looked into his eyes. They were as cold as a cobra's. He had red hair, a sweet tenor vice, a large capacity for whiskey, and a past said to include a murder in Buffalo. His assignment was to join the Ancient Order of Hibernians and get or manufacture evidence upon which such militant union members as Duffy, Carroll, McGeehan, Kehoe, Kelly, Munley, and their friends could be hanged. Since Gowen believed that the union miners were criminal conspirators, that trade unions themselves were criminal conspiracies, the Pinkerton operative was not particular as how he was to settle with men believed to be beyond the law.
For two years McParlan, using the name of McKenna and receiving $12 week and expenses, traveled the coal fields but was unable to obtain any 'evidence of crime committed by the miners. He was successful, however, in joining the AOH. He spent most of his time in saloons, occasionally joining in a brawl, always suggesting violence as the only course against the Operators, and now and again raising his voice in song.
But fine as McParlan was as a singer, he was discovering no murders. His expected frame-ups were slow in coming and in 1874 the union still stood firm against a paycut despite the falling price of Coal. Gowen decided to force a strike and showdown. A contemporary writer and confidant of Gowen, one F. P. Dewees, later wrote that by 1873 "Mr. Gowen was fully impressed with the necessity of lessening the overgrown power of the 'Labor Union' and exterminating if possible the Molly Maguires." He could wait no longer on McParlan and in December, 1874, the operators, under Gowan's leadership, announced a twenty per cent cut. The miners went out on strike Jan. 1, 1875.
From the first it was war, Gowen trying for the absolute extermination upon which Dewees wrote he was determined. Led by the president of the Philadelphia and Reading, the operators unleashed a reign of terror, hiring and arming a band of vigilantes Who took the name of the "Modocs" and who joined the corporation-owned Coal and Iron Police in waylaying, ambushing, and killing militant miners.
Edward Coyle, a leader of the union and of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, was murdered in March. Another member of the AOH was shot and killed by the Modocs led by one Bradley, a mine superintendent. Patrick Vary, a mine boss, fired into a group of miners and, according to the later
boast of Gowen, as the miners "fled they left a long trail of blood behind them." At Tuscarora a meeting of miners was attacked by vigilantes who shot and killed one miner and wounded several others. Later terrorists attacked the home of Charles O'Donnell in Wiggins Patch, killing this militant mine worker and murdering Mrs. Charles McAllister.
The miners, under the leadership of the AOH, began to fight back. Soon the state militia patrolled the coal patches, augmenting the Coal and Iron Police, who were responsible to none but the corporations which paid them. Not long later the courts were used to jail mine leaders who were daily being excoriated by the press, each Sunday from altar and pulpit. On May 12 John Siney, who had favored arbitration and had been against calling the strike, was arrested at a mass meeting of strikers in Clearfield County called to protest the importation of strikebreakers.
Xeno Parkes, field organizer for the Miners' National Association with which the Schuylkill union was affiliated, was also arrested along with twenty-six other union officials. They were charged with conspiracy. In his charge to the jury Judge John Holden Owes, in the Siney-Parkes case, declared that "any agreement, combination or confederation to increase or depress the price of any vendible commodity, whether labor, merchandise, or anything else, is indictable as a conspiracy under the laws of Pennsylvania." In sentencing two officials of a local miners' union Judge Owes said, "I find you, Joyce, to be president of the Union, and you, Maloney, to be secretary, and therefore I sentence you to one year's imprisonment."
Although the union was nearly broken by the imprisonment of much of its leadership and the cold-blooded terror and murder of operator-inspired vigilantes, the fight went on, led almost exclusively now by the rank-and-file miners of the Ancient Order of Hibernians. Gowen, in his effort to smash them, deluged the newspapers with stories of murder and arson on the part of the Molly Maguires. The reporters were charmed by the great man who talked to them so freely and soon there was scarcely a strike in the country that was not being attributed to Irish terrorists. As the press inveighed against the alleged Irish secret society, carrying each one of Gowen's fabrications as if it were uncontested fact, it published stories of Molly Maguires inspiring strikes in Jersey City, the Ohio mine fields, and Illinois. The great sensation of the day was the murdering Molly Maguires, the evil laboring men who were out to overthrow society, and the average reader accepted the fabrication as he accepted the fact that the earth was round.
But in Schuylkill County hunger was defeating the miners. "Since I last saw you," wrote one striking miner to a friend, "I have buried my youngest child, and on the day before its death there was not one bit of victuals in the house with six children." And Andrew Roy, in his history of the American coal miner, wrote :
"The miners made heroic sacrifices such as they had never made before to win the strike. In the closing weeks of the contest there were exhibited scenes of woe
and want and uncomplaining suffering seldom surpassed. Hundreds of families rose in the morning to breakfast on a crust of bread and a glass of water, who did not know where a bite of dinner was to come from. Day after day, men, women and children went to the adjoining woods to dig roots and pick up herbs to keep body and soul together. ..."
Defeated after six long months of hunger and bloodshed, the miners went back to work. They were forced to accept the twenty per cent cut. The union was destroyed. Those who had led the strike were blacklisted and many were driven from the anthracite fields.
"We are beaten," admitted John Walsh, Civil War veteran and one of the union leaders who was exiled from the coal country, "forced by the unremitting necessity of wives and little ones to accept terms which we have already told the Coal Exchange and the public, we would never under any other circumstances have been forced to accept." And Joseph F. Patterson, another strike leader, later said, "The organization was broken. The heart was knocked out of the brave fellows who built it up and sustained it."
But the heart was not knocked out of McGeehan, Carroll, and Duffy, nor of Munley, Kehoe, and Doyle and the men they led in the AOH. They fought on, determined to restore miners' wages and rebuild their union. It was then that Gowen apparently decided that any measure was justified in dealing with those whom the courts had found were criminal conspirators in that they were trade unionists. "Many operators," writes Peter Roberts in his Anthracite Coal Communities, "then furnished arms to their foremen...When labor in many instances sought relief, it was answered with an oath supplemented with the pointing of a revolver." Militant miners often disappeared, their bodies sometimes being found later in deserted mine shafts.
When the miners fought back, under the leadership of those in the AOH, Gowen in 1876 summoned McParlan to him. The spy in three years of effort had gathered in nothing but a certain amount of booze and pay. He had obtained no evidence. But Gowen felt, and frankly said, that his own campaign had borne fruit, that public sentiment was such that, "It was sufficient to hang a man to declare him a Molly Maguire."
McParlan agreed to testify, and did testify, that all those whom Gowen wanted removed had freely and voluntarily confessed to him that they had committed various murders. His word was to be corroborated by various prisoners at various of the county's jails, freedom the reward for corroboration. Among those who buttressed McParlan's testimony at the ensuing trials was a prisoner known as Kelly the Bum, who admitted that he had committed every crime in the calendar. Another prisoner was one Jimmy Kerrigan whose wife testified that he himself had committed the murder with which he was charging the miners of the AOH.
The first big trial got under way in May, 1876, when McGeehan, Carroll, and Duffy, as well as two other militant miners, James Boyle and James
Roarity, also members of the AOH, were charged with the murder of Benjamin Yost, a patrolman in the mining community of Tamaqua. Gowen, who ran the whole Reading Valley, saw nothing peculiar in the fact that he had had himself appointed as special prosecutor in this and other trials, his pleasant duty being to ask for the executions of his labor antagonists. Never had he enjoyed himself so much, his voice sometimes a challenging baritone, sometimes a solemn whisper, his handsome profile thrilling his acquaintances who crowded around him during each court recess. Just as he dominated the anthracite fields, so did he dominate each of the half dozen trials, which resulted in the executions of nineteen miners. He had defense witnesses arrested for perjury as they stepped from the stand. He had the various courthouses and courtrooms filled with the bayonets of the militia while he contrived to give the impression that at any moment a rescue of the defendants might be attempted by Irish foreign agents dedicated to the forcible overthrow of society.
In the first trial, which charged the miners' leaders with the murder of Yost, the actual murderer was apparently Jimmy Kerrigan, who won his own freedom by testifying against the defendants. Kerrigan's wife testified from the stand during the trial that her husband had committed the murder and that he was testifying against the five miners in an agreement with the State and Gowen that he would go free if he aided in convicting the union leaders. Not even Gowen himself, who took over her cross-examination, could shake her story.
Q. You have never seen your husband since that time, have you? A. No, sir. Q. Have you refused to send him clothes? A. Yes, sir. Q. And do any thing for him? A. Yes, sir. Q. Did you come down from Pottsville, voluntarily, and of your own will, some time ago, to make a statement or affidavit that your husband had killed Yost; did you not do that of your own motive? A. I made my statement before I came to Pottsville. Q. You made it before Squire O'Brien ? A. Yes. Q. You went there voluntarily? A. Of my own accord. Q. To get your husband hung? A. To tell the truth. Q. To have the father of your children hung? A. Not when I was telling the truth. Q. Why did you not send him clothes when he was lying in prison? A. Why, because he picked innocent men to suffer for his crime. Q. Because he picked innocent men to suffer for his crime? A. Yes, sir. Q. Why did you refuse to go and see him when he had sent word that he wanted to see you? A. Because any man that done such a crime that he done, why should I turn around then andQ. And what; go on. A. That is all.
Q. What crime had he done? A. What crime did he do? Q. Yes. A. The crime of Yost. Q. The murder of Yost? A. Yes, sir.
There was other testimony describing Kerrigan as the actual murderer of Yost. The only testimony against the five miners, all of whom had been active in the 1875 strike and later, was that of Kerrigan himself, and the Pinkerton spy McParlan, who was engaged to Kerrigan's sister-in-law, Mary Ann Higgins, and who swore that each of the five men had carelessly confessed to him. Little mention was made of the fact that McParlan and Pinkerton were in Gowens pay although defense attorneys did declare that the trial was Gowens revenge for the role the defendants had played in the strike of 1875. But such were the time's hysteria and Gowen's power that the jury sent five innocent miners to their deaths.
The same verdict of guilty was handed down in the cases of other innocent miners. Mike Doyle and Ed Kelly received the death sentence. Jack Kehoe was convicted for the murder of one Langdon, a breaker boss, who had been killed fourteen years before. Langdon had been stoned by a crowd of miners and died three days later. Despite Kehoe's own testimony that he had not been at the scene of the stoning, others said that he was in the crowd of miners although there was no testimony that he actually threw a stone. Yet the jury found him guilty of murder in the first degree.
Four other miners were tried and condemned to death for a murder of which they had been previously acquitted and declared innocent. The testimony against them came entirely from McParlan and Kelly the Bum. McParlan said that the four had also happened to confess to him. Kelly the Bum was brought to the stand from the cell where he was being held under a charge of murder, and where he had been heard to say, according to testimony, "I would squeal on Jesus Christ to get out of here." After his testimony the murder charge against him was dismissed.
Gowen had need of all his eloquence in the trial of big Tom Munley, one of the most militant of the union leaders, as there was virtually no evidence against him save McParlan's oft-repeated story of a defendant confessing to him. Even the state's own witnesses declined to identify Munley as the murderer of Thomas Sanger, a mine foreman, and his friend, William Uren, on Sept. 1, 1875. Richard Andrews, called by the state, had been an eyewitness to the slayings. He gave a detailed description of the murderer and was asked:
Q. Did you see his face? A. I saw his face. Q. How was his face as to whiskers? A. He had a mustache; a small mustache. Q. Can you tell the color of his hair or eyes? A. No sir, I cannot. Q. Had you ever seen that man before? A. I never saw that man before that morning. Q. Did you know him at all? A. No, I did not know him at all.
Q. Have you ever seen him since? A. Yes, sir. Q. Munley, stand up. Is that the man? (The defendant stands up and the witness looks long and hard at him before replying.) A. That is not the man I can recognize at all.
In addressing the jury Munley's attorney cried, "For God's sake give labor an equal chance. Do not crush it. Let it not perish under the imperial mandates of capital in a free country."
As Gowen advanced to the jury rail to make his final plea in Munley's case he must have known that he had to rise to real heights since there was scarcely any evidence against the defendant. He did. Never had he been in such fine form. He thundered and roared, quoted poetry and plays, took a noble stance facing the courtroom audience and defied the Molly Maguires to kill him then and there if they dared. He had been through much, he said, but he had not quailed in the face of danger and, continuing, he told the jury:
"I feel, indeed, that if I failed in my duty, if I should shrink from the task that was before me, that if I failed to speak, the very stones would cry out. Standing before you now with the bright beams of victory streaming over our banners, how well I can recall the feeling with which I entered upon the contest, which is now so near the end. Do not think it egotism if I say with the hero of romance,
" 'When first I took this venturous quest I swore upon the rood, Neither to turn to right nor left. For evil or for good ... Forward lies faith and knightly fame Behind are perjury and shame; In life or death I keep my word.' "
It was magnificent, or so the jury apparently thought, and nothing could stand against it. Certainly not the life of an Irish miner. Munley, too, was sentenced to death and so it was with all the others until nineteen men faced the scaffold.
3. Hanged Heroes
Ten men were hanged on June 21, 1877, six at Pottsville and four at Mauch Chunk. Vast crowds of silent miners surrounded the two jail yards, in each of which a scaffold had been erected. State militia, their bayonets glinting wanly in misty sunlight, surrounded each jail, and others were deployed around the scaffolds. The miners, and their wives and children, began arriving at four in the morning for executions scheduled at eleven o'clock, some coming from as far as twenty miles away and walking through the night.
By nine the crowd in Pottsville stretched as far as one could see, standing silent through the long moments and dragging morning hours, and witnesses said that the silence was the people's way of paying tribute to those about to die. Only once was it broken and that was when an old woman began to weep and curse.
Inside the jail at Pottsville, the New York Tribune declared, "the scene was a trying one." The six condemned men were saying farewell to their wives, mothers, and children. Father McDermott, who had attended Carroll and Duffy, was telling reporters, "I know beyond all reasonable doubt that Duffy was not a partner to the murder of Policeman Yost. The same would apply with almost equal force to Carroll."
The aged and impoverished father of Munley, who had walked all the way from Gilbertson, a distance of thirteen miles, was telling his son that he knew he was innocent but the distracted Munley, soon to die with an air reporters described as "nonchalant and easy," was inquiring for his wife. She was outside, weeping hysterically and shaking the locked prison gates, demanding admission. It was refused. She had arrived after six, it was said, the last moment for the admission of relatives. She tried to explain that she had had to arrange things at home and that that had made her late, but a prison official shook his head and walked away. For a moment she seemed to go mad with grief, shrieking and flinging herself against the gate until she collapsed, crumpling to the ground outside the prison wall.
Inside her husband had regained his composure and the chaplain later recalled that he "had been a fine looking man and that he showed no fear." All six were handsome and young. They were freshly shaved, dressed in their best, and a prison guard told reporters, "They looked like they were going to a wedding." Each had in his lap a red rose. " At 10:55 o'clock, a creaking of the iron gates at the opposite end of the yard," said the Tribune', "caused all eyes to be turned there. Two minutes later two of the condemned men were brought out, McGeehan and Doyle. Their demeanor was one of entire self-possession. The degree of nerve of both men. . was extraordinary ." As they mounted the scaffold together they joined hands and a moment before the trap was sprung Doyle said to McGeehan, "Hughie, let's die like men."
And so they all died. Thomas Munley, James Carroll, James Roarity, Hugh McGeehan, James Boyle, Thomas Duffy, Michael I. Doyle, Edward I. Kelly, Alexander Campbell, John Donahue, Thomas P. Fisher, John Kehoe, Patrick Rester, Peter McRugh, Patrick Tully, Peter McManus, and Andrew Lanahan.
The last two of the nineteen miners, Charles Sharpe and James McDonald, were hanged on Jan. 4, 1879 at Mauch Chunk. The condemned men knew that it was probable that they had been pardoned by the governor and that it was likely that a messenger with a reprieve was on the way.
But there was no delay in the executions. They were held on the precise
minute scheduled but the condemned men neither begged nor flinched. It was then that the New York World reporter wrote, "The demeanor of the men on the scaffold, their resolute and yet quiet protestations of innocence...were things to stagger one's belief in their guilt. ...They were arrested and arraigned at a time of great public excitement, and they were condemned and hanged on 'general principles.' " And he concluded his report by telling how a few minutes after the dead men had been cut from the dangling nooses, the governor's reprieve had arrived granting them life.
4. Four years before the Workingmens Benevolent Society of Carbon County, Pa., was organized.
5. "No part of the world ever presented so favorable an opportunity as the coal regions for the rich to oppress the poor workingman," observed a signed article in the New York Herald of June 22, 1977. "In many instances the opportunity was not neglected. The rapacity, extortion and refusal to pay the laborer his just wages are still remembered [and] still exist. Any attempt on the part of the workiers to ameliorate their condition was at all hazards immediately crushed. Those who took a prominent part in such movements were marked, blacklisted."
6. J. Walter Coleman, The Molly Maguire Riots. Industrial Conflict in the Pennsylvania Coal Region, pp. 70-71.
7. Pinkerton, born in Scotland and once a radical himself, was the founder of modern industrial spying. His first clients were Gowen, Tom Scott of the Pennsylvania Railroad, and other railroad managements. His agency, inherited by his sons and still in existence, became larger and larger as strikes in the seventies and eighties made the hiring of labor spies big business. In the 1930s the La Follette Civil Liberties Committee revealed that the agency was still receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars yearly for supplying leading corporations with labor spies. According to the committee, the Pinkertons had a gross annual income of over two million dollars in 1934 and 1934 and Robert A. Pinkerton, the head of the agency, received from it in dividends alone $129,500 in 1935, a sum much in excess of the salary of the President of the United States. The author of some twenty books about this exploits, Allan Pinkerton wrote in 1878 oif his literary work, "My extensive and perfected detective system has made this work easy for me where it would have been hardly possible for other writers; for since the strikes of 77, my agencies have been busily employed by great railway, manufacturing and other corporations, for the purpose of bringing the leaders and instigators [of strikes] to the punishment they so richly deserve. Hundreds have been punished. Hundreds more will be punished."