Harper's Weekly—August 18, 1877

ON page 640 we give two illustrations of the scenes of violence in Chicago which marked the progress of the great railroad strike. When the preceding number of the Weekly went to press, there were evidences that the strikers had become convinced of the folly of the movement, which had assumed the aspect and proportions of an insurrection against the government, and on nearly every railroad on which traffic had been interrupted there was a general resumption of business. Here and there, however, scenes of frenzied violence and bloodshed took place, where misguided men, incited by incendiary speeches from their leaders, committed outrages on life and property with apparently no other motive than to satisfy a desire for plunder and destruction.

The outrages which we illustrate took place in Chicago on Thursday, July 26. The rioting began early in the forenoon, at Turner Hall, within a block and a half of a police station. A meeting of self-styled working-men, mainly made up of roughs who never did an honest day's work, was convened in the hall about nine o'clock. Nobody seemed to know what was going on, but it was understood that certain carpenters and cabinet-makers, representing, or claiming to represent, their respective trades, were gathered there for conference. The mob began to gather, and surged up and down on the sidewalk and in the street—a howling, yelping mob of irresponsible idiots. They talked of what they were going to do, and bow they had gotten things all their own way, every language except Chinese being used. The communistic element was largely represented, many of the lowest class of Poles and Bohemians being on hand.

About ten o'clock a body of twenty-five policemen appeared on the scene. As they neared the surging crowd the hooting and howling became terrific, and the mob began to pelt the officers with bricks, stones, and other missiles. The police stood the attack quietly for a few minutes; but this encouraging the mob to greater violence, a charge was ordered, and the men turned upon their assailants, hitting right and left with their clubs, and hitting to hurt.

Outside the police station was another detachment of officers, numbering about a score, who speedily came to the assistance of their comrades. There was a very lively fight for a few minutes, but discipline and organization proved too much for the rioters, who were soon put to rout. The police, having disposed of the outsiders, forced their way into the hall. In the second story they found a panic-stricken mob of perhaps 150, who, in their frantic efforts to escape, ran hither and thither, like rats in a pit. Many jumped from the windows, and so gained the street, but some seized chairs and other pieces of furniture, with which they attempted to defend themselves. A good many were hurt during these operations, but none fatally, and only one of the special police received any damage. He was led back to the station, where it was found that, aside from a cut on the head, of no great depth, he was all right, and he remained on station duty during the day. The crowd spread itself over the neighborhood, many of the rioters having received a lesson which will lead them to respect the police a-trifle more in the future.

While the rioting about Turner Hall was in progress, a crowd of boys and roughs gathered about the Halsted Street viaduct. The street cars were stopped, and for some time it appeared as if the roughs were to have every thing their own way. A detachment of twenty-five policemen sent to disperse them was received with stones and revolvers. The police returned the fire with good effect, knocking over several of the rioters with their bullets. But the crowd, constantly swelled by re-enforcements, maintained their ground. Stones were thrown at the police from the roofs of houses and from alleyways. Having exhausted their ammunition, the officers at length retired, the mob following, hooting, yelling, and throwing stones. On meeting with a detachment sent to re-enforce them, the police turned, and made a vigorous charge on the rioters, and scattered them in all directions.

They soon gathered again, however, and by half past ten a crowd estimated at ten thousand was massed in the vicinity of the viaduct. The majority were merely lookers-on, although their sympathies were with the strikers. If they had remained at home, short work would have been made of the actual rioters. The police did not like to fire into a crowd of which two-thirds or more were innocent though foolish spectators. They were obliged, however, to use their clubs and revolvers quite freely, and many persons suffered severely for their folly. When the crowd would press very close, as it sometimes would, the police would make a rally from the foot of the bridge, and beat a few over the head with their billies, and fire shots at any one seen to fire or threaten to.

Gradually the ammunition of the police became exhausted, and their position grew critical. Seeing that the mob were again closing in on his men, as if they knew that they could not fire many more times, the sergeant in command gave orders to his men to fire off rapidly all they had left, and at the same time to move north across the viaduct toward the station. The crowd seeing the police retreat, grew bold and began to press them more closely. The timely arrival of a body of cavalry rescued the policemen from their dangerous position. A sharp fight ensued, in which several rioters were killed and many wounded. The arrival of two companies of regulars, armed with SPENCER repeating rifles, completed the discomfiture of the mob. The next day the city remained quiet. Effective measures were taken for the preservation of the peace, and the rioters, sullen and cowed, refrained from further acts of violence, The number of the killed and wounded is not definitely known; the rioters carried off their dead and disabled to places of concealment.

While all along the main lines of railroad the men were quietly resuming work, the miners and others employed by the coal carrying and producing companies, enraged at what they regarded as desertion of a common cause, were engaged in fomenting strife, which on Wednesday, August 1, resulted in riot and bloodshed. Five thousand armed rioters at Scranton compelled the men in the shops of the Delaware, Lackawanna, and Western Railroad Company to quit work. In turn the employees of the Lackawanna Iron and Coal Company were forced to join in the strike. Many of the men thus deprived of work were assaulted and wounded because they questioned the right of the mob to close the shops. The Mayor of the town attempted to disperse the rioters. He was attacked by a ruffian with a club, and his jaw fractured. A Catholic priest fortunately stood between the Mayor and his assailants, or he would doubtless have been killed. A body of volunteers had been sent for by the Mayor, but when they appeared, with loaded rifles, the rioters assaulted them with clubs, stones, and revolvers. At a signal from the Mayor, who was lying on the sidewalk covered with blood, the volunteers fired three volleys into the crowd, killing four persons and wounding several others. Troops on their way to Philadelphia from Pittsburgh were ordered to Scranton by Governor HARTRANFT. All business was suspended. Troops were concentrated at different points of the disaffected region with great promptitude, and on the day following the outbreak their presence restored quiet and order.

On the same day the Lehigh Valley Railroad strikers at Wilkesbarre, to the number of 6000, attempted a riot, and succeeded in compelling a total suspension of traffic on the road. A master mechanic, who rather hoodwinked them by taking out a passenger train in the morning, was forced off his train and badly bruised when he returned from Elmira. The engine was cut loose from the train and run off. The Mayor read the Riot Act, but it was of no avail. At Nanticoke an engineer was shot by the strikers.

In New Jersey the prompt display of authority soon checked all disorder. By the 1st of August business was resumed on the Jersey Central and Delaware, Lackawanna, and Western railroads, and coal and passengers were transported as usual. In the West all the railroads are running trains the same as before the strike. A meeting between the managers and men of the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railroad at Cleveland resulted in an agreement that the business of the road should recommence on Friday morning, August 3.

Through all the trying time of excitement attendant on the strikes, and in spite of all the efforts of mischief-makers, the men of the New York Central remained faithful. Out of 12,000 employees, less than 500 evinced any disposition to embarrass the road. To mark his appreciation of their good conduct, Mr. VANDERBILT has distributed the sum of $100,000, ratably according to their position on the pay-roll, among all the employees, except executive and departmental officers and the clerical force not directly engaged in operating the road.

Aftermath of Strike | Strike Page | Contents Page

Do you have any information you'd like to share on this subject? Please email me!
The Catskill Archive website and all contents, unless otherwise specified,
are 1996-2010 Timothy J. Mallery