Pinkertons kill 7 workers in Homestead lockout

Richard Fidler rfidler at
Wed Dec 27 14:19:31 MST 2000

from Samuel Yellen, American Labor Struggles (1877-1934) (New York: Pathfinder
Press, Inc., Monad Press Edition, 1974)

Chapter III. The Homestead Lockout, pp. 84-87)

A letter from Frick on June 25 gave detailed instructions to the Pinkerton
agency. Three hundred Pinkertons were to gather at Ashtabula, Ohio, on the
morning of July 5 and were to proceed by rail to Youngstown. From there they
were to be transported at night by boat up the river to Homestead. Since it
might prove illegal to bring an armed force into the state, the rifles, pistols,
batons, and ammunition were to be shipped separately in care of the Union Supply
Company. The detectives were to be armed after they were within the boundaries
of Pennsylvania. Frick agreed to pay $5 per day for each man. In the meantime
two barges were fitted up for the Pinkertons, one with bunks as a dormitory, the
other with tables as a large refectory, and two steamboats were engaged to tow
the barges. The sheriff had been informed by Knox and Reed on June 25 that the
Pinkertons were to be brought, and was requested to deputize them. He had
refused, and had offered instead to deputize the Pinkertons only after they were
inside the steel works. Knowing so early of the impending battle, Sheriff
McCleary nevertheless made no effort to prevent it, and was condemned by the
Congressional committee as "a very inefficient officer," who displayed none of
the "pluck and energy" expected of a sheriff. McCleary did, however, send to
accompany the expedition Deputy Sheriff Gray, whose vague function it was to try
to persuade the Pinkertons to turn back in case of violence.

In accordance with the plans, the Pinkerton train was met on July 5 at Davis
Island Dam, five or six miles below Pittsburgh; and while the barges proceeded
silently up the river, the detectives armed themselves with Winchester rifles
and put on the blue Pinkerton uniforms. The attempt to introduce the Pinkertons
clandestinely failed. The company had evidently hoped that the recent open
request for deputies had diverted the attention of the workmen from any other
preparations. This artifice of the company becomes clear upon an examination of
dates. Frick's letter giving specific directions for the movement of the
Pinkertons is dated June 25. The invasion was set for the night of July 5. On
July 4 came the first public request for deputies. Since Frick, by his own
admission, had no faith in the power of the sheriff's deputies, his purpose must
have been only to mislead the locked-out men. But the detectives were sighted at
4 o'clock in the morning by a patrol about one mile below Homestead; soon
whistles sounded a general alarm throughout the town, and a crowd of men, women,
and children lined the river bank.

When the barges pulled up to the company beach, where the wire-topped fence had
been brought down to the low water mark so as to cut off all access by land, and
the crowd on shore saw that the Pinkertons intended landing, it tore a gap in
the fence and trespassed for the first time on the mill property. The workmen
warned the detectives back, but both the Pinkerton prestige and the pay were at
stake. A gangplank was shoved out and several Pinkertons started down it.
Someone fired a shot. Who fired is unknown, each side later proclaiming its
innocence. But it is certain that the Pinkertons then fired a volley into the
crowd and brought down several workers. The women and children ran out of the
range of the rifles to watch the struggle, while the men barricaded themselves
behind ramparts of steel, pig iron, and scrap iron, and opened fire. The
Pinkertons retreated into the shelter of their barges. The steamboat which had
towed the barges took on board two or three wounded detectives and steamed away,
leaving the invaders without means of escape.

This battle lasted from 4 o'clock in the morning of July 6 until 5 o'clock that
afternoon; it resulted in three deaths among the Pinkertons and seven among the
workers, besides many wounded. The news spread, and at 3:30 p.m. President Weihe
of the Amalgamated arrived to stop the bloodshed. At first the workmen were
hostile to any suggestion for the release of the Pinkertons. Only after a moving
speech by Hugh O'Donnell did they agree to accept a surrender of the Pinkertons,
who were to be handed over to the sheriff on charges of murder. But the promise
of O'Donnell and the workers was of no avail. As the Pinkertons marched unarmed
from the barges to the skating rink of the town, where they were to be kept,
they were attacked and badly beaten, chiefly by the women. The advisory
committee, in fact, got many bruises and scars in its endeavor to shield the
surrendered detectives. The crowd also seized the guns and provisions left
behind and burned the barges.

In the evening the Pinkertons were called for by Sheriff McCleary, taken to
Pittsburgh by train, and sent back to their homes. The Carnegie Company had not
succeeded in placing the Pinkertons by stealth within the fortifications, but it
had succeeded in creating a state under which it could demand legal
interference. On the same evening it issued a statement to the Associated Press:
"We are not taking any active part in the matter at present, as we cannot
interfere with the sheriff in the discharge of his duty, and are now waiting his
further action." The confidence of the company in the sheriff was now strangely
and suddenly restored. The next day Secretary Lovejoy spoke again for the
company to the press:

"The Amalgamated people who committed these recent overt acts will probably find
themselves in a very bad hole, for when the proper time arrives a number of them
will be arrested on a charge of murder, and 1 need scarcely say, there will be
no lack of evidence . . . .

"This outbreak settles one matter forever, and that is that the Homestead mill
hereafter will be run non-union, and the Carnegie Company will never again
recognize the Amalgamated Association nor any other labor organization."

The company thus suggested a future step in its action against the locked-out
men, and published for the first time the non-union policy which it never
thereafter retracted.

-- Richard Fidler

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