Home  

THE SHIN HOLLOW WAR.

President Loder being extremely anxious to have the road through to Port Jervis by January 1, 1848, the contractors were offered handsome bonuses to hasten the work. The laborers, newly arrived in this country, were mostly of that class known as "Wild Irishmen," and all of them had the factional hatreds and belligerent traditions of their native land still as alive in their breasts, and as ready to prompt them to action, as they were among the bogs and on the green turf of Erin. It happened that those two bitterly opposed factions, the Far-downers and the Corkonians, were largely represented among these laborers. This was particularly the situation on the section of the work of which Shin Hollow was the centre.

Shin Hollow was, and is, a considerable stretch of flat land lying between the western face of the mountain range and the foothills, four miles east of Port Jervis. The old Kingston and Milford turnpike, which crossed the mountain from Finchville, passed through Shin Hollow, and the course of that long-forgotten highway is yet visible there.

The locality has been known as Shin Hollow longer than the oldest inhabitant can remember, but what the origin of that name was no one can tell. The grading for the railroad required the making of a cut a mile or more long through the western side of Shin Hollow, and the cut had necessarily to be made so deep that when the railroad was done and the cars were running, the surface of the Hollow was so far above the tops of the cars that, although the county maps showed Shin Hollow as on the line of the railroad, passengers in the cars who might be on the watch to see what sort of a place it was, could see nothing but a forest-clad mountain front on one side, and a blank rise of earth on the other; and that is all they can see of Shin Hollow from the cars to-day. Not that there is much to see of Shin Hollow, even if one should be curious enough to find his way to the top of the cut and take a look at the spot. There is nothing there but a lonely opening in the hills, with a couple of melancholy farms occupying some of the space, and a discouraged-looking house or two squatting on them, seemingly wondering what they are there for. But fifty years ago, when the railroad was building through that way, Shin Hollow was a lively place. It was the headquarters of Carmichael & Stranahan, contractors for making a big section of that costly part of the railroad. They had in their employ about two hundred men, a force composed largely of the Corkonian element of the Irish, but comprising also a small contingent of quiet, plodding, unobtrusive Germans, familiarly and derisively known to the Irish as the "dom Dootch." The contractors had a big store at Shin Hollow. Wood & Shute had another one, and for awhile Blizzard & Clark ran one. Thomas O'Brien was the sub-contractor who was cutting the way for the railroad through the great wall of rock a mile west of Shin Hollow, a passage known then as the Blue Rock Cut, but which modern nomenclature has transformed info Black Rock Cut. He had as foreman one James O'Brien, who labored to increase his income by keeping a boarding-house at Shin Hollow. Carmichael & Stranahan also kept a boarding-house. So did a German named Volmer. All those buildings were rude but commodious shanties, the boarding-houses having lofts, or galleries, around the sides, which were held up by posts, and where the boarders slept. Besides these structures there were many smaller shanties scattered about in the Hollow, and also on the side of the mountain, in which certain laborers "boarded themselves," or where buxom "widdies" sought to turn an honest penny by catering to the railroaders in the ways of pork and "peraties," or a kindly "drop of the craythur." Thus the Shin Hollow of fifty years ago might have boasted of a steady population of at least 200, and, on occasion, of a floating population of a hundred or so more.

In searching for the impelling cause of the Shin Hollow War, fifty years after it occurred, with no written record to guide him, the historian is confronted with the testimony of tradition, and the uncertain memory of a few who were among those living in the locality when the noisy riot occurred, and who live there still. The pay of railroad laborers on the Shawangunk Mountains section of the New York and Erie Railroad had been fixed at seventy-five cents a day. One story is that the Corkorian sons of the Green Isle came first upon the work, and established a precedent by accepting that pay as sufficient and satisfactory. Later, the Shamrocks, or Far-downers, began to respond to the call for men, and their rich and hot blood soon rebelled at seventy-five cents a day, although Jim O'Brien is reported to have declared, in an early burst of confidence, that "Divil a wan o' dthem was afther earnin' dthe likes o' dthat in six days on dthe ould sod, bad 'cess to dthem!" Another version is that the trouble began with the boarding-houses at Shin Hollow "skimping" the men in their rations, and with the contractors' clerks cheating them in settling, and overcharging them at the stores for their supplies. Still another account fixes the responsibility of the Shin Hollow War on the hiring of the Germans by the contractors, and putting them on the work. But the weight of evidence is that the number of Far-downers after awhile became much greater along the line than that of the Corkonians, and that at last the Old Adam got the better of them, and they felt that they would not be true to their traditions if they did not rise up and break an occasional Corkonian head.

At any rate, about the middle of January, 1847, the Far-downers began to be aggressive. Fights with groups of the other faction of their countrymen became of daily and nightly occurrence, anywhere between Otisville and Shin Hollow. Saturday, January 30th a large body of Far-downers formed near the top of the mountain, and marching to a section of Carmichael & Shanahan's contract, attacked the Corkonians there with clubs and stones, wounding several severely, and compelling the gang to throw away their tools and take an oath that they would leave the work. The following Monday a still stronger force of the belligerent Far-downers, many of them armed with guns which they had in some manner got possession of, proceeded to another part of Carmichael & Shanahan's section, surrounded the laborers, fired a volley over their heads, and declared that they would riddle them with shot if they did not quit work. The Corkonians threw down their tools. Their foes then drove them before them to Shin Hollow, where they forced the contractors' agent to pay the men off and discharge them. In this assault many of the assailed were knocked down and badly beaten, and it was said, and is still believed by many, that one man was killed in the melee.

After dealing thus with that gang of Corkonians, the triumphant Far-downers marched, with fierce yells and dire threats, upon that part of the work where the Germans were employed, vowing that they would show the "Dootch" no mercy. They were not prepared for the reception that awaited them. The Germans, although few in numbers, had cool heads among them, and they received the confident Irish with such vigor and determination that the latter were soon flying from the field, bearing with them two or three of their number whose ardor was not proof against the sturdy blows of the resolute Germans.

These raids of the Far-downers created a panic among the other laborers, and work was almost suspended along the mountain. The Germans were the only ones that did not lose a day. The Irishmen who had been driven from their jobs still loitered about Shin Hollow. All remained quiet along the line after the affray until the evening of Wednesday, February 3d. The rumor had spread that the Corkonians had resolved to return to work. Early on the evening of February 3d, firing of guns was heard at frequent intervals in the woods at different points between Shin Hollow and the Hog-back, as the summit of the Deerpark Pass was called, and through which the railroad was being constructed. These shots seemed in the nature of signals of some kind, but they ceased at last, and everything was quiet. The Corkonians at Shin Hollow had climbed to their bunks in the boarding-house lofts, and the stores and shanties were closed for the night.

It is to be presumed that Shin Hollow was wrapped in profound slumber when, at midnight, the Far-downers, in a body one hundred strong, and armed, marched into the place, divided their forces, and proceeded half to one boarding-house and half to another. The inmates of the houses were ignorant of the presence of their enemies until they were awakened by the smashing of windows and doors, the discharging of guns and pistols through the breaches thus made, and the wild yells and cries of the assailing party. The Corkonians seemed to have been but poorly armed, for they made but a weak resistance to the attack. At O'Brien's boarding-house, where most of the men were in the lofts, they hastily pulled up the ladders by which they climbed to their bunks, and huddled down, as they supposed, out of harm's way. The Far-downers swarmed into the place and quickly beat into subjection such of the inmates as were to be got at. The men in the lofts refusing to come down and meet with similar treatment, the attacking party hunted up axes, and quickly chopped down the posts that supported the lofts, and brought the latter and their frightened occupants crashing into a heap on the floor. After hammering the Corkonians until there were few unbroken heads, or noses that were not bloody, the rioters made their victims swear, at the gun's muzzle, that they would quit that locality forthwith.

A similar scene was enacted at the other boarding-house, although there it was not necessary for the rioters to chop down the posts to make the objects of their wrath "come down." One Corkonian, who was especially obnoxious to the Far-downers, was shoved into a big Dutch oven, and imprisoned and left there by his captors with the cheering assurance that they would return when they got time, build a fire under the oven, and bake him. This gang of rioters compelled every one of their victims to get on his knees and swear that he would leave the place, after which he would be helped to his feet by a vigorous kick from the heavy brogan of some lusty Far-downer.

Having dealt to their satisfaction with their Irish fellow-citizens, some one of their number raised the cry:

"To hell wid dthe Dootch!"

This was a signal for a rush to the German quarter of Shin Hollow. Race hatred was augmented by the recollection of the victory the Germans had won over the Irish a few days before, and the latter dashed forward to a new attack upon the Germans, confident this time of inflicting severe punishment upon them, and forcing them to fly from the Hollow. But the Germans, being more calculating and methodical than their Irish fellow-workmen, had suspected the possibility of such an outbreak as this, and were prepared for it. They had a leader named Wisler. He had quietly obtained guns and ammunition from Port Jervis, Otisville, and Middletown. The uproar made by the attack on the Irish quarter had aroused the Germans, and they were drawn up in line in the darkness, under orders from Wisler, ready for action when the wild Irish detachment came whooping and yelling to the assault. The Irish were within a few yards of the German quarter, when just ahead of them a streak of fire punctured the darkness, and they felt and heard shot rattling upon and about them. They halted in confusion. Before they could recover and make a second rush, another streak of fire showed them a momentary gleam of determined Teuton faces, and the Irish forces broke and fled toward the woods. The Germans pursued them, and captured one prisoner, who had been filled with shot from his neck to his heels.

The most intense excitement prevailed at Shin Hollow the rest of the night. The Far-downers bombarded the place from the woods, whither they had fled from the Germans. The contractors now concluded that it was time to take some action toward putting an end to the troubles, for their work was being seriously delayed by the unsettled condition of affairs. A man was sent to Otisville with instructions to despatch a message to Sheriff Welling, at Goshen, by the train that left Otisville early in the morning. The sheriff with a posse arrived at Shin Hollow during the forenoon, but being unable to quell the riot or arrest any of the rioters, he called on the Deerpark Militia to aid him. Every town maintained a company of militia in those days, and Capt. Peter Swartwout summoned his company, and led it from Port Jervis to the scene of the Shin Hollow War. In responding to this call to duty, the Deerpark Guards made their rendezvous at Hilferty's Hotel, at Carpenter's Point, and marched up the old Finchville road, under the high rocks, and, as High Private M. C. Everitt says, "If there had been three or four old women, with their aprons full of stones, on top of those rocks, and had bombarded us just at that time, I think they would have routed us."

There were twenty-five or thirty men in the company, most of them subsequently prominent in the affairs of Port Jervis and the surrounding country, but only two or three of them surviving. Among the volunteers, besides Mr. Everitt, were Charles St. John, afterwards Congressman, and Charles S. Ball, son of Dr. Ball, a man of more than local celebrity. Young Ball was one of the engineer corps then in charge of the railroad work west of Port Jervis. As the company approached the scene of the disturbance they were divided into squads by Capt. Swartwout, for the purpose of reconnoitring and investigating the shanties that were scattered about in the woods. About this time a man came out of one of the shanties and ran for the better security of the woods. As he did so, Private Ennis, another of the Erie engineer corps, stepped forward from the ranks, and bringing his gun to his shoulder, cried out

"Shall I shoot?"

Capt. Swartwout, true to the dignity of his office, and resolved on maintaining discipline, smote Ennis a resounding blow with the flat of his sword across the seat of his trousers, and shouted:

"Fall in here and wait for orders, or I'll shoot you!"

This the Captain could not well have done without confiscating for the moment some comrade's gun, for on leaving Hilferty's he had let High Private Everitt take the rifle he himself had started with, Everitt having no gun of his own, the Captain being content to march with his sword alone. Ennis fell back into the ranks without shooting, and the campaign was resumed. The Shin Hollow combatants, frightened at the advance of this formidable army of military, moving as it did with such amazing tactics, shut themselves up in such shanties as they could get into, or fled to the woods. The Deerpark Volunteers, nothing daunted, scoured the locality, and took many prisoners. These, the Company re-forming in double line for the purpose, were marched to the office of- the paymaster of the contractors, where they were paid off and promptly discharged, and warned to leave the neighborhood. For fear that they would not leave, and that more trouble would ensue, two of the Deerpark company, Samuel Smith and "Case" Caskey, were left on the grounds with a cannon to maintain the peace, and the remainder of the company returned home, covered with some glory, but not enough to suit a number of the volunteers, among them Charles S. Ball. He was "spoiling for a fight," and actually did fire at one man, but whether disastrously or not was never known. Smith, his comrade, and the cannon remained a week or so at Shin Hollow, when, it being apparent that the trouble was over, they returned home.

"If the rioters had only known it, though," says High Private Everitt, in recalling the incidents of the war for the writer hereof, "they could have had a great deal of fun with that battery of artillery, for neither Smith nor Caskey knew any more about loading or firing a cannon than if he had never seen one."

This somewhat Falstaffian detachment of militia was accompanied by Oliver Young, Esq., lawyer and influential citizen. He addressed the rioters as the Deerpark Guards advanced, admonishing them that they were in serious contempt of the law, and that the whole power of the State would be called upon to suppress and punish them if necessary. Some of the prisoners taken were turned over to the Sheriff, who escorted them to Goshen, where they were given a hearing and heavily fined. They were then taken back to Shin Hollow, and the contractors settled with them and discharged them.

This did not entirely quell the riotous spirit of the Irish. A squad of militia was kept on the grounds for nearly a month, by which time the ringleaders were found out, summarily discharged, and warned out of the region. These guards were from Middletown or Goshen. Unlike the Port Jervis Militia, they had sought the seat of war clad in their dress parade uniforms, which included white trousers and fine boots. They were transported on a car run from Otisville, in charge of Conductor W. H. Stewart. He stopped the car about a mile from the scene of hostilities, and unloaded the "troops." The ground was covered with snow and slush to the depth of several inches, through which the dapper home guards were forced to march, much to their disgust and discomfiture. But peace was gradually restored, and the Shin Hollow War passed down into history as an engagement in which much blood was shed, but no lives were positively known to have been lost, although legend insists that the Germans killed three of the Irish in that night attack, and buried them in the woods.


Erie Page | Stories Page | Contents Page

Home
This page is from Thomas Ehrenreich's Railroad Extra website, and is reproduced here as a memorial to him and his dedication to preserving the history of railroading in America. Please note I have no access to the original source material and cannot provide higher resolution scans.
The Catskill Archive website and all contents, unless otherwise specified,
are 1996-2010 Timothy J. Mallery . The Railroad Extra pages are ©2001 Thomas Ehrenreich.