April 29: Bunker Hill Mine's Concentrator Dynamited
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
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 i8, 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!
authored by Ron Roizen, Ph.D.
go to Historic Wallace Preservation Society homepage...