Steamboat deck hands run riot in early Pekin

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Earlier this month, we reviewed “Early Times in Pekin and Tazewell County,” an essay written by Pekin’s pioneer historian William H. Bates and published in Shade’s Monthly, May 1913 (reprinted in the Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society Monthly, June 2017, page 1945).

We also recalled the Little Mine Riot of 1894, the most serious civil disturbance in Tazewell County history. That, of course, wasn’t the first time public safety and order were disrupted in our area. As it happens, Bates’ essay from May 1913 also tells of the first riot in Pekin’s history, which took place about a year after Pekin became established as a city under Illinois law:

“The first riot took place in Pekin, July 4th, 1851, when the deck hands of one of over one hundred steamboats plying the waters of the Illinois, under the influence of too much ‘fire water,’ nearly terrorized the inhabitants of the young city. The citizens rallied to the support of the marshal, and after a hard fight, the rioters were arrested and fined. The boat officials would not pay their fines, so with a ball and chain locked to a leg of each rioter, they had to work out their fines by repairing the steamboat levees.”

Pekin’s first riot in 1851 is said to have been the fault of about 30 or 40 drunken deckhands of a steamboat. Shown here at Pekin in this photograph that Henry H. Cole took circa 1890 is another later Illinois River steamboat, the Mazileon, whose deckhands were not, as far as we know, responsible for any riots.

Bates does not identify the city marshal who suppressed the riot. He refers to the same riot in the historical essay he wrote for the old Pekin City Directories, but neither does he name the city marshal in his city directories. That and one or two other details of that incident may be found in a 12-page history of the Pekin Police Department prepared in 1942 as part of an annual report for the city government. We reviewed that 12-page history in this column in March 2013, in which we told of the appointment of Pekin’s first city marshal, Thomas Cloudas, by Pekin’s first mayor, Bernard Bailey. The March 2013 column summarized the incident in these words:

“In those days, Pekin had very much the character of a rough frontier town, and the city marshall had much more to do besides rounding up stray hogs and cattle. Perhaps most of the criminal offenses in Pekin from the 1850s through the 1870s involved alcohol-fueled violence. One such incident was Pekin’s first riot on July 4, 1851, when a steamboat’s drunken deck hands ran wild throughout the city. Cloudas rapidly collected a force of Pekin citizens who engaged in a battle with the deck hands in the city streets and finally, after a hard fight, managed to subdue and arrest the offenders.”

It apparently was the same riot that Pekin old-timer Emil Schilling remembered in a newspaper article published in the July 24, 1933 Pekin Daily Times. In June 2013, this column discussed that article and Schilling’s 1933 recollections of the riot and the punishment that the court imposed on the rioters, whom Schilling said were black (a detail not mentioned by Bates). Schilling believed (whether rightly or not) helped to foster Pekin’s reputation as a place where blacks were unwelcome.


#henry-hobart-cole, #mazileon, #pekin-history, #pekins-first-riot, #thomas-cloudas, #william-h-bates

A big riot at a Little Mine

Here’s a chance to read one of our old Local History Room columns, first published in June 2012 before the launch of this blog . . .

A big riot at a Little Mine

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

In his 1905 “History of Tazewell County,” Ben C. Allensworth called it “the most serious riot ever known in Tazewell County.” It was the Little Mine Riot of June 6, 1894, which took place at the Hilliard Mine near Creve Coeur (then known as Wesley City). This event didn’t get its name because the riot or the mine were little, but because the Hilliard Mine was leased by the brothers Peter and Edward Little, coal-mine operators of Peoria County.

The Pekin Public Library’s local history room collection has only Allensworth’s account of this incident. Local historian Fred W. Soady, however, went into greater depth in his master’s thesis, “Little Mine Riot of 1894: A Study of a Central Illinois Labor Dispute.”

Shown in this photo reproduced in “Pekin: A Pictorial History” is the entrance to a Pekin coal mine that was located off Broadway Road at the former location of the Herget Bank Parkway/Broadway branch. Coal mining was once big business in Tazewell County, but was also the occasion of the county’s biggest civil disturbance, the Little Mine Riot of 1894.

“Labor” and “management” sometimes have differences that lead to a falling out, and workers go on strike. Such disputes usually don’t involve exchanges of gunfire and people shot to death, as happened in the Little Mine Riot, but relations between the Littles and their miners had deteriorated drastically.

The miners’ immediate and primary grievance, according to Allensworth, was that the Littles had installed new machinery that meant fewer men were needed to work the mine. In addition, “The miners in Peoria County had been on a strike for some time, and the fact that coal was being taken daily from the Hilliard Mine seemed to be a source of aggravation,” Allensworth wrote. Local historian Dale Kuntz, however, has observed that ethnic and racial tensions also contributed to their unhappiness – the Littles employed Italian Catholic immigrants and African-Americans, .

As Allensworth told the story, “The result was that threats by the strikers to close their mine came to the ears of the Littles, and they prepared for trouble by storing guns and ammunition in the tower which overlooked the valley below. On June 15th (sic), Sheriff J.C. Friederich received the following telegram from Ed. Little: ‘The miners are coming tomorrow, five hundred strong, and armed. Be on hand early.’ Sheriff Friederich and Deputy Frings swore in about thirty deputies. They could secure no weapons worthy of mention, and, consequently, went up unarmed. In the meantime about three hundred miners assembled on the opposite side of the river, and nearly all armed with guns, pistols and other deadly weapons. They crossed the river in boats, and under the leadership of John L. Geher, an ex-member of the Legislature, marched to the mine. The sight of the mine in operation seemed to enrage them beyond control, and they started on a run for the works. They were met by the Sheriff, who asked them to abstain from violence, and commanded them to disperse. They brushed the sheriff and his deputies aside, and began firing in the tower. The assault was replied to by the Littles, striking a miner by the name of Edward Flower, who fell dead.”

Unsurprisingly, some details of this incident are unclear and disputed. The miners claimed the Littles shot first, and Ed Little is reported to have admitted as much, and to have said Geher had done all he could to avoid violence. The miners also protested that they were provoked by the proud and domineering attitude of one of Little brothers.

Allensworth’s account continues, “In the tower were the Little brothers, William Dickson, colored, Charles Rockey and John Fash. Seeing that resistance was useless, they ran out a flag of truce. Both the Littles and James Little, a son, were wounded. Dickson attempted to escape but was followed and shot several times, was taken to a Peoria hospital and died there. The miners completed the work of destruction by pouring coal oil down the shaft and setting fire to it. Some eleven men were working in the mine at the time, but all succeeded in making their escape.”

When news of the riot reached the ears of Gov. John P. Altgeld, two companies of the state militia were sent to Tazewell County, which was virtually placed under martial law for about a week. Residents of Pekin also organized a company of guards to defend the city, because the striking miners had threatened to come to Pekin and break their friends out of the county jail.

In the end, cooler heads prevailed and the rule of law was restored. In September 1894, Geher, Daniel Caddell, John Heathcote, and a man named Jones, were sentenced to be imprisoned for five years in the state penitentiary in Joliet, but Gov. Altgeld pardoned them after they had served about a year of their sentences.

The Littles also filed a claim for damages to their business and were awarded $7,710.60, and to ensure that Tazewell County would not again be caught unprepared for major civil disturbances, the county purchased 100 Remington rifles.

#edward-flower, #gov-john-peter-altgeld, #john-l-geher, #little-mine-riot, #sheriff-j-c-friederich, #tazewell-county-history, #tazewell-county-mining, #william-dickson

Bates recalls Pekin’s ‘Early Times’

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

This week we return to Pekin’s pioneer historian William H. Bates, from whom we received most of our knowledge of Pekin’s early history. It was in the 1870-71 Sellers & Bates Pekin City Directory that Bates first historical sketch of Pekin was published, but Bates also told the stories of Pekin’s past in other places and venues, such as in booklets, pamphlets, and newspaper columns.

One of the ways that Bates told Pekin’s history was in a lengthy essay entitled “Early Times in Pekin and Tazewell County” that he wrote for a magazine called Shades’ Monthly in May 1913. That issue of the magazine was included in the 1914 Tazewell County Courthouse Cornerstone time capsule. Bates’ essay was reprinted in recent issues of the Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society Monthly (May 2017, pp.1911-1919, and June 2017, pp.1942-1946).

Bates’ essay bears a close resemblance to the historical sketch that he printed and reprinted over the years in his Pekin city directories. It’s also similar to a historical sketch that Bates wrote for his “Historical Souvenir to Commemorate the Dedication of the New Tazewell County Court House.” But in the Shades’ Monthly essay he varied his expression somewhat, and also included some details and anecdotes not found in the city directory account of Pekin’s past.

Following are some excerpts from Bates’ “Early Times” essay, telling of the original Native Americans inhabitants and the settlement of the site of Pekin by the first pioneers. Bates said one of his chief sources for the recollections of the site’s Native American inhabitants was a pioneer named Daniel C. Orr “who played around Shabbona’s wigwam.”

Pottawatomi leader Shabbona, shown in a daguerreotype printed in John Leonard Conger’s “History of the Illinois River Valley,” 1932.

“Yes, Pekin is located on historic ground. For unnumbered years prior to the coming of the white man, the red man held full sway; roaming from one favorable location to another, as fancy, convenience or war dominated him.

“Indian villages occupied high ground above the possibility of overflow by the floods, but were always near the streams, which gave the aborigine fishing and hunting privileges.

“The high ground, from the upper end of Pekin Lake to the southern limits of Pekin, was the home of a tribe of Pottawatomie Indians, under the leadership of Shabbona, an able chieftain, who gained the friendship and gratitude of the white pioneers by warnings and tribal protection, for which he was appropriately named ‘The White Man’s Friend.’ In the Indian war of 1832, because he refused to join Black Hawk, in an attempt to exterminate the ‘pale face,’ he had to seek refuge near his white friends in order to save his life.

“Shabbona, and his immediate followers, while in this vicinity, occupied the high ground near our present Gas Works, on what is today Main street, southward to a point near the present C. P. & St. L. [Railway’s] round house. . . .

“Jonathan Tharp was the first permanent white settler in ‘Town Site,’ the date being 1824. He located his crude log cabin near the family wigwams of Shabbona, just west of the present Franklin School.

“Jesse Eggman, a boon companion of Tharp, also located in ‘Town Site,’ the name the hunters and trappers had given the high bluff . . .

“‘Town Site,’ as seen by the pioneer settlers, was on the first ridge; then came ‘Bitzel’s Lake;’ then another sand ridge between Third and Fourth streets; then a succession of low places and ponds between Fourth and Fifth streets. One of these ponds, about where Albertsen & Koch’s store now stands, was a great resort for ducks. Mr. B. S. Hyers, the oldest Pekin merchant, now living, told the writer that he ‘shot many a mess of ducks at this pond.’

“Then came ridges and ponds for over a mile to the east until you had in view a beautiful body of water afterward named ‘Bailey Lake,’ at the foot of East Bluff . . . .

“Joseph, son of Jonathan Tharp, was the first male white child born in ‘Town Site,’ his natal day being March 10th, 1827. . . .

“In the fall of 1828, the first steam boat that ascended the Illinois river, created wild consternation. The Indians fled to the hills or dense timber. Near Kingston, where Jesse Eggman had established a ferry, one Hugh Barr, who had never seen a steam boat, hearing the hideous noise made by the escaping steam, and seeing the open fires under the boilers, which looked like two great eyes, at the weird hour of midnight, turned out with dog and gun and chased the ‘monster’ until it passed up the river. The small band of settlers who lived along our river front, were awakened from their peaceful slumbers by the grewsome (sic) noise. They gathered in groups and waited the approach of ‘the monster of the deep.’ Good, old Father [Jacob] Tharp gathered his family together for prayers, doubtless thinking that Gabriel was blowing the final call; and good Aunt Ruth Stark prayed the ‘All Wise One’ to have Gabriel call at Fort Clark (now Peoria) first, as they were ‘wickeder up there.’ . . . .”

#black-hawk, #courthouse-cornerstone-time-capsule, #daniel-c-orr, #hugh-barr, #jacob-tharp, #jesse-eggman, #jonathan-tharp, #joseph-tharp, #pekin-history, #pottawatomi-in-pekin, #ruth-stark, #shabbona, #w-h-bates, #william-h-bates