News of Pekin’s first riot

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

In recent weeks, this column recalled two local historical events that may be called “the worst and the first.” The Little Mine Riot of 1894 was Tazewell County’s worst riot, while Pekin’s first riot happened in 1851.

In both cases, the riot involved a group of workers, but the similarity between the two riots begins and ends there. In 1894, it was an acrimonious dispute between miners and the mine’s owners, but in 1851 it was simply a case of a steamboat’s deck hands drinking to excess.

The standard histories of Pekin and Tazewell County offer much more information about the Little Mine Riot than of the 1851 riot in Pekin. We know many of the details of the Little Mine Riot, but of the 1851 riot we know only the date (the Fourth of July), that the group of rioters was large, and that they worked off their fines on a chain gang doing maintenance on Pekin’s streets.

Pekin historian William H. Bates wrote the first-ever historical sketch of Pekin about 19 years after the riot of 1851, so it’s perhaps no surprise that he doesn’t even provide the name of the steamboat, let alone the exact number of rioters who were arrested. Much later, Pekin old-timer Emil Schilling said there were about 30 or 40 rioters – but it seems it would have been an unusually large steamboat to have had that many deck hands.

These gaps in Pekin’s historical record can be filled in with information found in a newspaper report of the riot of 1851. No doubt news of the riot made the papers in Tazewell County. Even without radio, television, or the Internet, within days rumors and hearsay of the riot would have spread throughout central Illinois. And so, less than two weeks later, Tazewell County’s neighbors in McLean County were able the read the following report in the Bloomington Pantagraph of July 16, 1851:

“Considerable of a riot occurred at Pekin on the 4th inst. It seems that the hands belonging to the steamer Lucy Bertram got on a spree while she was lying at that place, whereupon they assaulted some of the citizens, but no very serious damage was done. Eighteen of the crew were immediately taken before the mayor to be tried for rioting. Seventeen of them were convicted and fined $55. One was acquitted, one paid the fine, one gave security, and the balance were placed upon the streets to work out their fines.”

This article on Pekin’s first riot, from the July 16, 1851 Bloomington Pantagraph, was provided by Ken Lacey of the Manito Historical Society.

This report – a copy of which was graciously provided by Ken Lacey of the Manito Historical Society – provides the steamboat’s name (the Lucy Bertram) as well as the number of deck hands arrested (18 – a good deal less than 30 or 40), even informing us of the disposition of the charges against the 18 deck hands. Only 15 of the hands had to work on the chain gang to pay off their fines of $55 each (quite a considerable sum in those days).

These are the kinds of details that naturally fade from memory with the passage of time. The inflation of the number of deck hands from 18 to 30 or 40 is the kind of thing that, like a tall tale, grows in the telling and retelling.

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#little-mine-riot, #pekin-history, #pekins-first-riot, #william-h-bates

Little Mine Riot – the aftermath

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

A few weeks ago, we recalled the Little Mine Riot of 1894, which was Tazewell County’s most serious incident of civil unrest in its history.

In February of this year, the Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society received a donation consisting of five pages of a legal claim for damages filed on June 22, 1894, by the brothers Edward and Peter Little, owners of the Little Mine which had been wrecked by the rioting miners on June 6.

The Society printed copies of these five pages from the Little brothers’ suit for damages in its Monthly, Aug. 2017, pp.1983-1988.

As we noted in the previous column, local historian Ben C. Allensworth said the Littles filed a claim for damages to their business and were awarded $7,710.60.

But the amount of their award was considerably lower than their claim, as the pages from their suit reveal.

The Littles filed for damages in the amount of three fourths of the value of their mine and its buildings and machinery. Their claim says their property was valued at $19,138.50, and they wished to be reimbursed in the amount of $14,353.87. That means Tazewell County paid them a little more than half of what the Little brothers sought.

Among the numerous items included in the inventory was the Power House Building; one 125 H.P. Westinghouse engine; steam pumps, heaters, and connections; several large tools including two electric coal drills and a coal mining machine; benches and numerous small tools, a steam heating apparatus; the Engine House; the Boiler House Building; two hoisting cages and the hoisting engine; and 4 kegs of aspheltum. The inventory included a claim for $1,000 of damages to the main shaft and mine, $185 of damages to the tramway and dirt dump, $150 for eight coal buggies and one water box that had been destroyed, and $38 for the escapement shaft that had to be torn up to rescue a mule that was trapped in the mine when the rioters poured oil down the shaft and ignited the oil to destroy the mine.

The Littles also included in their tally of losses and damages a Springfield rifle, a double barrel shotgun, a single barrel shotgun, and six revolvers, which had been “borrowed by E. LITTLE & BRO. and carried off by mob,” along with a 32-caliber Winchester rifle “carried away by mob and lost” and three revolvers “stolen by mob.” These were the weapons the Littles had used in their attempt to drive off the angry miners, resulting in the death of miner Edward Flower and the murder of the Littles’ employee William Dickson.

While most of the pages of the Littles’ claim papers are a typescript with some handwriting, the final page is a difficult-to-read handwritten document dated Sept. 11, 1894, issued by a committee of the Tazewell County Board of Supervisors and signed by all committee members. The document concludes, “Our Committee recommends the payment to the Little Brothers, in full [i.e., in fulfillment] of all claims against Tazewell County, the sum of Seven Thousand and Seven Hundred Ten Dollars & Sixty Nine Cents in three equal payments.” Allensworth’s account perhaps has a typographical error, showing 60 cents instead of 69 cents, but otherwise the stated award is the same.

A few weeks after the destruction of the Little Mine in Groveland Township during a labor riot on June 6, 1894, the mine owners filed a claim for damages with Tazewell County. Shown is a portion of the first page of their claim. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE TAZEWELL COUNTY GENEALOGICAL & HISTORICAL SOCIETY

#edward-flower, #edward-little, #little-mine-riot, #peter-little, #tazewell-county-history, #william-dickson

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