Railroad Strikes

The great railway strike--attempt to start a freight train, under a guard of United States marshals, at East St. Louis, Illinois / from a sketch by G. J. Nebinger.  (courtesy of the Library of Congress)

The great railway strike–attempt to start a freight train, under a guard of United States marshals, at East St. Louis, Illinois / from a sketch by G. J. Nebinger. (courtesy of the Library of Congress)

In addition to fighting battles the Kansas National Guard has been used to keep the peace during labor strikes. This required Guardsmen to protect replacement workers and the property of the employers. The strikers, however, felt the state was using the Guard to break the strike.

Units of the Kansas National Guard were mobilized during the railroad strikes of 1886 and 1922. In 1886,Governor John Martin deployed the Guard only after violence had resulted. In 1922, Governor Henry Allen, perhaps taking a lesson from the earlier strike, didn’t wait for loss of life or property before acting.

THE 1886 RAILROAD STRIKES

Adjutant General Colonel A. B. Campbell of Parsons, Kansas, writes Kansas Governor John Martin of Topeka. He informs the governor that citizens are putting together a force of fifty special police to respond to striking railroad workers. Railroad employees at Parsons were striking and the governor granted permission to provide citizens with arms to keep the peace.

Adjutant General Colonel A. B. Campbell of Parsons, Kansas, writes Kansas Governor John Martin of Topeka. He informs the governor that citizens are putting together a force of fifty special police to respond to striking railroad workers. Railroad employees at Parsons were striking and the governor granted permission to provide citizens with arms to keep the peace.

The strikes began in March 1886 at Atchison, Kansas City and Parsons. Striking railroad workers interrupted rail service and frightened away replacement workers. Railroad shops and engines were wrecked. In April, near Kansas City, shots were fired at a passing train. A separate train was derailed, killing two men.

In mid-March Gov. Martin sent Col. A. B. Campbell, the Adjutant General, to Parsons to find out whether civilian authorities could maintain the peace. Campbell determined that the Guard was not needed. However, the strikers continued to interrupt rail service, and finally, on April 1, Gov. Martin mobilized the National Guard. The following evening the First Regiment was in Parsons. Within a week normal rail service had resumed. Citizens of Parsons formed a “Law and Order League.” They were armed by the National Guard and pledged to preserve the peace. On April 7 half of the First Regiment was sent home, and on April 14 the remaining troops followed. The strike was broken.

 

 


THE 1922 RAILROAD STRIKES

Rail Workers

Rail workers of 1920.

In July 1922 strikes shut down railway yards in Parsons, Herington and Hoisington. The railroads responded by bringing in replacement workers. Additionally, Gov. Henry Allen issued Executive Orders on July 9 and 10, 1922, which doomed the strike. In these orders the Governor declared that there existed an imminent danger of breaches of the peace which local peace officers would be unable to prevent, and that therefore the National Guard must be employed to preserve the peace. The orders established martial law within Labette County, where Parsons was located, and in Herington in Dickinson County.

No such executive order was issued – at that time – regarding Hoisington, apparently because the railroad there had arranged to hire about 50 men and have them deputized by the local sheriff to protect the railroad and imported strikebreakers. Whether there was any imminent danger of breaches of the peace is open to dispute; the mayors of Parsons and Herington had not asked for any help. Brig. Gen. Charles Martin, however, reported from Parsons that the property of the railroad, and the lives of the strikebreakers, were in danger.

The mobilization was done in secret. The mayor of Parsons did not learn of the impending arrival of the troops until the day before, and according to Martin “the populace was unaware of [our] arrival until several hours after occupation of the district.” Slightly more than 300 Guardsmen were sent to Parsons. Martin used them to set up a line of guardposts and patrols around the rail yards, and rail lines, and within the city of Parsons. The strikebreakers brought in by the railroad were camped and fed inside military guard lines. In Parsons, the Guardsmen patrolled the business district, mainly to keep “loiterers” from congregating. Patrols were expanded to include residential areas after two civilian homes were bombed. That same day the military suspended the police power of the mayor of Parsons and control of the city police was in the hands of the National Guard for the next 15 days. Gradually the numbers of Guardsmen on duty were reduced until by the end of September only 21 Guardsmen remained on duty at Parsons.

A similar course of events occurred in Herington, although without the necessity of military patrols within the city. The military commander at Herington did seem to take a stronger hand in civil matters. Military authorities arrested and tried by court-martial a striker who attacked a railroad guard. The County district court released the prisoner on the basis that the military had no court martial authority over civilians. A number of other strikers were brought before the military commander for interrogation, and while some were confined to the guardhouse for an hour or more, only two civilians were ever arrested.

The Reverend C. E. Hatfield, a Democratic candidate for Congress, was ordered by Col. Charles Browne that in a speech Hatfield was scheduled to give he was not to discuss “the Industrial Court, the governor, the federal injunction, or the issues of the strike.” The Reverend very reluctantly complied with the order. An annual masked carnival at Halloween was canceled by Col. Browne’s successor.

(Reprinted from “Guard Broke Early Day Strikes,” by Staff Sgt. Bryce Benedict, 102nd Military History Detachment, Kansas Army National Guard, in the Plains Guardian (1996).