!doctype html> Mining Wars - Bunker Hill dynamited CENTENNIAL EVENTS, 1999

April 29:  Bunker Hill Mine's Concentrator Dynamited

[Excerpted from J. Anthony Lukas, Big Trouble: A Murder in a
Small Western Town Sets off a Struggle for the Soul of America,
(New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997, pp. 111-114), permission
pending.]

As the nineteenth century drew to a close, Bunker Hill was a thriving enterprise. In 1893, when [Frederick Worthen] Bradley assumed its management, the corporation had been deeply in debt and had never paid a dividend. In the years since, it had moved into the black, paying over $600,000 in dividends. By April 1899, the miners union concluded that the time had come to confront Bunker Hill head-on, in hopes of compelling union recognition and union wages. Early that month, Ed Boyce, president of the Western Federation of Miners, then based in Butte, met with leaders of the Wardner union.

On April 18, notices sprouted in the mining camp warning anyone not yet a union member to join immediately. On April 23, a workers' delegation called on Bunker Hill's acting manager, Frederick Burbidge, to present its demands. Burbidge put into effect a plan aimed at driving a wedge between the union members (roughly 100 men) and the rest of the company's workforce (about 350). He promptly granted a wage increase to the "old scale" of $3.50 a day for miners, $3.00 for muckers, thus, it was hoped, satisfying the nonunion faction. But he refused the request for union recognition. Albert Burch, the superintendent, said the company would "shut down and remain closed for twenty years" before it would recognize the union. Union men should report to the office, where they'd be paid and dismissed. On his own initiative that day, Burch fired seventeen men he believed to be union members.

Three days later, some 150 unionists, many of them armed, turned workers away ftom the mine with dire threats, while another group seized the tramway carrying ore from mine to mill, effectively halting Bunker Hill's operations. Fearing for his life, with some justification, Fred Burbidge fled to Fairfield, Washington, where he wired Steunenberg in Boise, reporting the situation and adding: "County authorities unable to cope with mob, and we appeal to you for protection for ourselves and our men." Steunenberg promised to investigate but reminded Burbidge of the new state law providing for arbitration of labor disputes. "Nothing to arbitrate," Burbidge fired back: "I again renew my request for protection." Steunenberg telegraphed James D. Young, the county's Populist sheriff, asking for a report, to which Young replied: "Am on the ground. All is quiet. No armed mob. Matters are orderly."

Early on April 9, Burbidge heard from undercover detectives that more efforts would be made to intimidate his nonunion workers. He promptly alerted Steunenberg, who warned Young to stay on top of the situation. The threat that bright spring morning came not from Wardner's embattled union, but from the entrenched unionists along Canyon Creek. Up the narrow canyon in the cramped mining camp of Burke, the Northern Pacific's "down train" was about to make its seven-mile morning run to Wallace, when the engineer, Levi W. Hutton, and the conductor, George Olmstead, noted 250 miners in their "digging clothes," some wearing masks and others armed with rifles, climbing aboard the two passenger cars and eight boxcars.

Hutton and Olmstead later claimed innocence in the matter, though authorities accused them of "moral cowardice and truculent subserviency." According to Hutton, two masked men with Winchesters jumped into his cab and told him, "Pull out for Wallace, and be damned quick about it!" A mile down the track, in the mining camp of Mace, a hundred more miners got on. The masked men ordered another stop at the powder house of the Helena-Frisco mine, where workers loaded eighty wooden boxes, each containing fifty pounds of dynamite. At Gem, another 150 to 200 miners armed with rifles joined their colleagues on the train, along with three freight cars to accommodate the newcomers.

When the train completed its scheduled run at Wallace, the station platform seethed with 200 more miners, who'd walked seven miles from Mullan, retrieving weapons cached in a manure pile along the way. The authorities later pointed to this as proof of how carefully the operation had been planned, allegedly at mining camp meetings the night before. The men of Mullan, representing the largest local union in the state, defiantly refused to wear disguises. Now the masked men in the cab ordered Hutton to head for Wardner, twelve miles west. "We can't go to Wardner," he said he told his captors, explaining that the Northern Pacific track didn't go there and they'd have to ask permission to run on the "foreign track" of the Oregon Railway and Navigation Company. Even with running orders it wasn't safe: "This engine weighs about 115 tons and we'll go through the bridges. Besides, there are trains on the O.R. & N. and we're liable to have a collision and kill fifty men."

A railway agent named Lambert refused permission to run on his tracks, but the masked men were adamant. So the rogue train pushed through the transfer switch, ringing its bell and sounding its whistle, which Hutton had rigged with a chime made by a Wallace plumber, giving it a distinctive tone. As an additional precaution, Hutton ordered the brakeman, Thomas Chester, to act as flagman, waving his red banner to warn any oncoming train of their unscheduled run. Since there were many curves on this stretch, requiring the flagman to intercept any train that might be out of sight round the turn, the train crawled along, reaching Kellogg just before noon. A mile from its destination, several hundred men from the Bunker Hill and Last Chance mines managed to squeeze aboard. As the train pulled into the Kellogg depot, which served as the railhead for Wardner's mines and mills, nearly a thousand men were jammed onto the nine freight and ore cars, one passenger coach, and two engines(one front and one rear). Some two hundred had covered their faces with masks made from pillowcases, buckskin, or American flags; these same men were armed with Winchesters, shotguns, and baseball bats.

[Hope to finish this soon!  Ron]
 


authored by Ron Roizen, Ph.D.
The above webpage is almost identical to that originally found at the Historic Wallace Preservation Society website prior to 2000, when the domain was transfered to the Wallace Chamber of Commerce and it was lost from view.
It was incorporated into my SILVER VALLEY HISTORY DATABASE via the following links made March 1, 1999.
 
This page works just like Ron's original page. I am only interested in the history content, but for me to reference it with my local search engine, I must first have the information on my server. This is similar to quoting someone in a book, except that readers can proceed through this "doorway" page to the site quoted (or in this case, to the site that replaced it). As with most doorways, there is also doorbell: as of June 6, 2003, 5462 visitors accessed the historic-wallace.org websites from this and two other pages at wallace-id.com.
Greg Marsh

 

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