Star InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar Inactive

Owing to the fact that a vast majority of the people of Kansas are engaged in agricultural pursuits, there have never been many of those industrial disturbances—conflicts between employer and employee—which have convulsed the more densely populated sections of the country where so many men are engaged in occupations connected with mining or manufacturing interests.

However, the railroad companies have been compelled, at various times, to face strikes among their employees, for real or fancied grievances, and there have been a few strikes among the miners in the southeastern part of the state.

The first disturbance that threatened really serious consequences in Kansas was in connection with the great railroad strike of 1877. In the spring of that year practically all the great trunk lines of the country were tied up by a strike, with Pittsburgh, Pa., as the storm center. A number of the employees of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe company quit work and placed "pickets" in the vicinity of the shops and roundhouses of the company at the division points, to prevent other workmen from taking their places. Fearing damage to property, the superintendent of the company wrote to Gov. Anthony asking if the state would protect the property of the company. The governor replied that the strikers would not be permitted to destroy property or to drive peaceful laborers from their work. To make certain that this idea was carried out, Adjt. Gen. P. S. Noble called out three companies of the militia—Capt. Walkinshaw's of Leavenworth, Capt. Zeigler's of Independence, and Capt. Wheeler's of Topeka, 143 men in all. Capt. Walkinshaw's company was sent to Emporia and Capt. Zeigler's to Lawrence. The pastor of one of the Emporia churches was accidentally killed by one of the militiamen and the citizens of that city protested against the presence of troops. The company was then sent to the village of Reading, 15 miles east. The militia was in active service but four days, but that was sufficient to demonstrate what the state would do in an emergency, and serious trouble was probably averted by the prompt action of the governor. The legislature of 1879 appropriated $2,500 to pay the expenses of transporting, subsisting and paying the men for the four days' time they were employed.

In Sept., 1884, the Missouri Pacific Railroad company reduced the wages of a large number of its employees. Winter was approaching, and, rather than be thrown out of work at an unfavorable season, the men accepted the situation. But as soon as spring opened in 1885 they retaliated by inaugurating a general strike. No freights of any kind were moved for several days, when Gov. Martin and the board of rail road commissioners went to St. Louis for a conference with the railroad officials and the governor of Missouri. Nothing was accomplished by the conference on account of the failure of the railroad men to attend, but Gov. Martin of Kansas and Gov. Marmaduke of Missouri joined in writing a letter to them, which resulted in the men being restored at the old rate of wages, with extra pay for extra time, the final conference reaching that settlement on March 24, 1885.

During the next twelve months the Knights of Labor made great head way in the West, nearly all the employees of the Missouri Pacific becoming members of the organization. About the close of the year 1885 the leaders of the order claimed that the railroad company had violated the agreement of the preceding March, and on March 6, 1886, all the Knights of Labor in the employ of the company ceased work. In a few days the conditions became serious. The labor organization was strong enough to prevent other men from taking the places of the strikers, and as a result freight accumulated at all the stations on the Missouri Pacific lines because the company was unable to move trains.

Matters continued thus until late in the month. On March 25 Gov. Martin issued a proclamation declaring the operation of the railroads "vitally important to every commercial, industrial and agricultural interest of the people." While admitting that the workmen might have just grievances against the company and were the victims of corporate greed, he did not approve of the methods used to right those grievances. "We are now," said he, "in the third week of the most serious business disaster that has ever befallen our state. The forcible stoppage of transportation on a long line of railroads affects a third of the people of Kansas. Supplies of food and fuel are cut off in many localities; farmers, me chanics and manufacturers are prevented from selling and shipping their stock and goods, and from paying thousands of laborers hitherto in their employ. Thus the 'strike' of a few railroad men cripples and stops the business and industry of great masses of our people. ... I there fore call upon all sheriffs, county attorneys and other peace officers, to discharge their duties under the law, to preserve the peace, to protect property, to see that the commerce of the state is not interrupted by violence and lawless acts, and to arrest and bring before the courts for trial and punishment all who are guilty of any violation of law."

Writs of injunction were issued by both the state and Federal courts and served upon the strike leaders, and on the 27th the sheriff of Labette county, assisted by a posse, endeavored to move freight trains at Parsons, where a large quantity of freight, some of it of a perishable character, was awaiting transportation. His efforts were resisted by the strikers, who ignored the law, the writs of injunction, and the governor's proclamation. Adjt.-Gen. A. B. Campbell, who had gone to Parsons on the 15th in response to a telegram from the sheriff, called a conference of the labor leaders and the civil authorities, but nothing was accomplished in the way of a settlement. He then telegraphed to the governor: "The company cannot move trains. The civil officers and citizens cannot help them; and God only knows what the end will be if they continue to defy all law and authority. I can see no other course than the use of military power."

This telegram was sent on the last day of March. On April 1 the governor replied: "If you deem it necessary for the preservation of order and the vindication of lawful authority, order Col. Patrick to move to Parsons, as rapidly as possible, as many companies of his regiment as may be necessary to sustain the civil officers in the performance of their duties."

Acting upon this authority, the adjutant-general ordered Col. Patrick to put the entire First regiment under orders for Parsons, stating that a small force of militia would be liable to be attacked. The regiment reached Parsons on April 2 and in a short time order was restored to the troubled city. Four companies were relieved on the 7th, when the citizens formed a "law and order league," secured arms and ammunition from the state, and on the 14th the balance of the regiment was relieved from further duty. Law and order leagues were also organized at Atchison and Wyandotte, the leaders of the strike were arrested, tried and convicted, and after more than a month of unsettled conditions trains again moved on schedule time.

In 1893 occurred what was probably the most serious disturbance in the history of the mining industry of the state. All through the spring and early summer mutterings of discontent were heard among the men employed in the mines, the trouble finally culminating in a strike, which was general throughout the mining districts of the Western states. On July 6 the United Mine Workers at Weir City gave the operators until the 15th to adjust the differences between them and the workmen, but the operators ignored the ultimatum. On the 21st C. D. Arnold, sheriff of Cherokee county, telegraphed to Gov. Lewelling: "Have militia ready; am likely to call on you for them any minute. Matters very serious here."

Gov. Lewelling immediately ordered Maj.-Gen. Percy Daniels of Girard to call upon the sheriff and determine what action should be taken. After consultation with the sheriff, Gen. Daniels ordered Brig.-Gen. I. H. Hettinger of the Second brigade to place his command in position to move on three hours' notice. Six companies were at once placed in readiness to obey the order, and on the 24th a similar order was issued to Brig.-Gen. W. H. Sears, commanding the First brigade. Five companies of that command were called out, but the trouble was adjusted on the 25th, and the next day all the troops were dismissed. Prior to 1890 each of the various branches of railway employees had its separate organization—the Order of Railway Conductors, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, the Switchmen's Union, etc. Early in the '90s an effort was made to consolidate all these into one association called the American Railway Union. Early in the summer of 1894 the employees of the Pullman Car company made certain demands upon that corporation, and, upon being refused, quit work. The members of the American Railway Union were then called out on a "sympathetic strike," engineers and conductors refusing to handle trains to which Pullman cars were attached. The strike soon reached Kansas, and on July 6 Judge Foster of the United States district court issued a temporary restraining order to some 1,200 employees of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe, the Union Pacific, the Kansas City, Fort Scott & Memphis, the Missouri Pacific, the St. Louis & San Francisco and the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific railroads, enjoining them "from interfering with or obstructing the business of the roads engaged in carrying the mails or in the business of interstate commerce."

The strike ended in the utter disruption of the American Railway Union. On the same day that Judge Foster issued his restraining order, J. J. Frey, general manager of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe railroad, announced that employees who had left the service of the company would not be restored to their positions, but that the new men would be retained as long as their services were satisfactory. A number of the old employees affected by this order complained to United States Judge Caldwell that they had been unjustly discharged, and on Aug. 4 Judge Caldwell appointed J. B. Johnson, master in chancery, to hear their com plaints. In the course of the investigation it developed that the men left their work at the command of the union officials rather than be called ''Scabs;" that they refused to take out trains when ordered to do so by their employers, and that they refused to allow other men to take their places. In his report to Judge Caldwell Mr. Johnson said: "It is difficult to understand what greater offense an employee could commit than to refuse to work, and still insist that no one should take his place. I have been impressed with the fact, after seeing each one of these appli cants and hearing his statement, that they are well meaning and well disposed people. I should be glad, if it could be found in my line of duty, to give them employment again with the receivers, but with that I have nothing to do. The real fact is that a so-called 'scab' is one who exer cises the natural right of a citizen and works when he pleases."

Through the order of Mr. Frey and the finding of Mr. Johnson, a number of Kansas railway men lost their positions and were placed on what became known as the "black list." If one of these men made application to another company for employment, the officials of that company were notified by the man's former employers that he was un trustworthy. By this system many of the men were forced into other occupations. To protect these men from such impositions, the Kansas legislature of 1897 passed two acts. The act of Feb. 18 made it unlawful for any person, company, corporation or agent to prevent employees from joining or belonging to a labor organization, or to coerce or discharge, or threaten to do so, any workman for such membership in a labor organization, under penalty of a fine of not less than $50 nor more than $500. And any person injured by violation of this law might recover damages in the sum of $2,000. The one of March 12 provided that no employer should attempt to prevent any discharged employee from obtaining employment; that any discharged employee should have the right to demand and receive a written statement as to the cause of his discharge, and that no information should be furnished to other employers further than to state the cause of such discharge.

The industrial depression which began in the fall of 1893 threw out of employment a great many men in all parts of the country, and the year 1894 is memorable for what is known as the "Commonweal Army" (q. v.), a movement in which large numbers of the unemployed under took to march to Washington and demand of Congress redress for their grievances. A detachment of this "army" from the Pacific slope seized a Missouri Pacific train of coal cars at Pueblo, Col., and started eastward through Kansas. Bailie P. Waggener, attorney for the company, on May 9 asked Gov. Lewelling "to render such assistance as may be neces sary to rescue its property, protect the traveling public, and prevent further depredations by this organized mob," stating that he had called upon the officials of Saline county to arrest the further progress of the train there, but the county officers had refused to act. To this the governor responded that "Until the peace officers themselves or the citizens of the respective counties are heard from, I would deem it unwise to take official action."

United States Marshal Neely and a number of deputies then started west on a special train, met the captured train at Scott City and arrested "Gen." Saunders, his aides and about 400 of the "Commonwealers." The prisoners were taken to Topeka on May 11 and encamped on the statehouse grounds until the next day, when they were taken to Fort Leavenworth. Saunders and three of his lieutenants—leaders of the detachment—were arrested on the charge of obstructing the United States mails, and after some delay were tried before a United States commissioner. In the meantime, however, the "army" had been dispersed, the movement ending in failure, the prisoners escaped with light prison sentences.
In Aug., 1903, two union machinists were forced out of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe railway shops at Topeka. This caused considerable dissatisfaction among the union machinists in the employ of the company, and the situation was very much aggravated by Supt. Lovell's letter of April 23, 1904, to the mechanical superintendents and master mechanics directing them to classify the men and pay wages according to the grades in which they stood. It soon became evident that a strike was imminent because of this order, and the railroad company posted notices in the shops at Topeka that it would "prosecute to judgment all suits against members of the International Association of Machinists, and other conspirators, for damages to its property and business grow ing out of any and all unlawful acts during the strike."

This notice was promulgated a few days before May 2, when the machinists were to quit work at 9 o'clock a. m. When the employees went to the shops on that morning they found the doors closed against them. The company had turned the strike into a lockout, fearing that in the two hours prior to the time the men went out on strike damage might be done to the machinery and rolling stock in the shops and adjacent yards. The next day the shops were opened with the union machinists still out. Machinists in the company's shops at Argentine, Kan., and Albuquerque, N. M., also went out. At Argentine Judge Holt issued an injunction against the strikers interfering in any way with the work of the shops, and this notice was served upon 21 of the labor leaders with good effect. A similar injunction was issued by Judge Hazen at Topeka against J. L. Buckalew, 3d vice-president; T. L. Wilson, 4th vice-president of the International Association of Machinists; and 93 other men, formerly in the employ of the railroad company. These injunctions practically settled the difficulty. The shops were soon running on full time, and about the only result of the strike was the loss of permanent employment by a number of the men who started it.

There have been a few minor strikes in the state at various times, but the above are the only ones that assumed proportions sufficient to threaten serious consequences to the business interests. The state has been criticised by some for sending the militia to settle labor troubles, but on the other hand, no state in the Union has passed more progressive laws in the interests of the working classes than has Kansas.

Source: Blackmar's Cyclopedia of Kansas History Vol. II pp.79-91, 1912