Hartford coal mine riot
|Date||July 12, 1914|
|Location||Hartford, Arkansas, United States|
The Hartford coal mine riot occurred on July 12, 1914, at Hartford, Arkansas. The surface plant of the Prairie Creek coal mine was destroyed, and two non-union miners murdered, by a crowd of union miners and their sympathizers. The mine owners sued the United Mine Workers Union, which was found culpable of encouraging the rioters, and made to pay $2.1 million.
In the early part of the 20th century, the coal fields in and around Hartford, Arkansas were some of the richest and most profitable in the world. The clean burning coal yielded from the mines that stretched all along the Hartford/Hackett/Huntington corridor attracted mining interests from across the nation, and miners of every ethnic and economic background made their way to the area in order to take advantage of the abundant mineral base. All of the mines in the area were operated under union representation except one small operation. The area – along with mining regions in Texas and Oklahoma – was designated District 21 for the United Mine Workers, and the miners that populated the area had toiled for years in the area mines earning union wages and benefits.
The Bache–Denman mines had been operating for a number of years with union labor and under a District No. 21 contract and scale of wages, which was scheduled to expire on July 1, 1914.
In March of that year Bache determined to turn his mines into non-union or open entities and notified Pete Stewart, the president of District No. 21 and a high level executive with the UMW, that he intended to do so. Bache then shut down his mines and prepared to reopen them on an open shop basis on April 6.
Anticipating trouble, Bache employed three guards from the Burns Detective Agency and a number of others to aid him. Hearing rumors of a possible armed confrontation with the disgruntled miners, Bache bought a number of Winchester rifles and ammunition, and surrounded his principal mining plant at Prairie Creek, No. 4, with cables strung on posts.
Bache then had notices prepared and sent to all of his employees who occupied the company's houses that they should vacate unless they remained in his employ under the new conditions. About 30 nonunion men had agreed to show up for work on the date fixed for the mines to be reopened.
The people in the area were urged by the members of the local unions to come to a meeting at the schoolhouse, a short distance from the Prairie Creek mine, for a public protest to the Bache–Denman plans, which they felt would lead to the weakening of the union power throughout the region.
The union officials appointed a committee to visit the Bache and insist that the mine under his control remain a union shop. The guards, directed not to use their guns save to defend their own lives, were at the mercy of the union miners, who assaulted them, took their guns away, and injured a number of them. As the union men advanced on the site, the employees deserted the mine which filled with water once the rioters had destroyed the main pumps at the operation. One of the union miners climbed to the top of the coal tipple and planted a flag on which was the legend, “This is a union man's country.”
Bache obtained from the federal District Court an injunction against the union miners and others taking part in the violence, including among them the president of No. 21, Pete Stewart, and other union officials. Bach then prepared to resume mining, with the work progressing under the protection of United States deputy marshals. Meanwhile nonunion miners and other employees were brought in from out of the state and the equipment was repaired and rebuilt.
The United States Marshals were withdrawn from the property after several weeks leaving only private guards and the Burns Detectives. Meanwhile the water had been pumped out and the mining and shipping of coal were about to begin.
On Sunday night, July 12, about midnight, there was a fusillade of shots into the homes in the small village of Frog town, about a mile and a half from Prairie Creek mine. A number of people, in fright at the cry that “the scabs were surrounding the town,” left and went to Hartford, which was about two miles away, and union employed guards were dispatched to Hartford to defend the town against the expected attack by the guards from Prairie Creek.
According to eyewitnesses, the assault upon Frog town was merely a subterfuge and the shooting into the miner’s homes had been done by the Hartford constable — a man named Slankard — and another union miner in an effort to arouse the hostility of the neighborhood against the men at Prairie Creek.
On the night of the 16th, the union miners' families who lived in Prairie Creek were warned by friends to leave that vicinity in order to avoid danger, and at 4 a.m. a volley of many shots fired into the premises began the following morning the attack.
A large force of union miners of the local unions and those from other mines in District No. 21, as well as their sympathizers, armed themselves with rifles and other guns furnished and paid for by District No. 21 funds, and before daylight on July 17 began an attack upon the men whom Bache had brought together, and proceeded to destroy the property and equipment again. A large, union backed force with guns attacked the Prairie Creek site and other properties belonging to Bache, from all sides later on in the day.
The first movement toward destruction of property was at Mine No. 3, a short distance from No. 4, where the coal washhouse was set on fire. The occupants of the premises were driven out, except a few who stayed and entrenched themselves behind coal cars or other protection. Most of the employees and their families fled to the ridges, behind which they were able to escape danger from the flying bullets.
The forces surrounding the mine were so numerous that by 1 p.m. they had driven out practically all of the defenders, and set fire to the coal tipple of mine No. 4, and destroyed all the plant by the use of dynamite and torches.
The assailants took some of Bache's employees prisoners as they were escaping, and took them to a log cabin behind the schoolhouse near the mine where the first riot meeting was held. The four or five prisoners were taken out of the cabin where they had been for a short time confined, and two of them, one a former union man, were deliberately murdered in the presence of their captors, by a man whose identity has never been established. According to the Supreme Court, the evidence was conclusive that Hartford constable Slankard was present at the killing, and that the men who were killed were in his custody and on the way to appear before a grand jury.
In the days that followed the riot, normalcy finally returned to the sleepy valley surrounding Hartford when President Woodrow Wilson sent in four units of the US Cavalry to restore order.
Bache sued the UMW and District No. 21 for $2.1 Million, triple the actual loss in equipment and property the company suffered. The case lasted for nine years before the union was found culpable for encouraging the riots. The union appealed twice, but lost.
No one was ever convicted of the murders of the two Bache employees. Slankard was most likely involved as well as another unnamed union man who is rumored to have returned to Pennsylvania after the trial.