Western Trips

Western Trips

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Soldiers of America /The Western Frontier Soldier

As we discussed in Part I of this story, the frontier U.S. military was ordered into action in situations that concerned civilian. This was a departure from their typical duties of protecting westward migrating settlers from the many Indian raids and skirmishes in the last half of the 19th century. As we also pointed out many of these actions were controversial  either at the time they were ordered or if not then certainly in the aftermath. The Pullman Strike mentioned in Part I was a perfect example. The interesting image to the left is a painting entitled "Strike" by Stanislaw Lentz.
Probably the most controversial ones were the use of military to put down labor unrest. The use of force against laborers, many of them newly arrived immigrants, typically ended up in partisan bickering. Unlike rounding up outlaws, intervening in a labor strike, such as the Pullman Strike, gave the impression of taking sides, usually on the side of industrialists or mine owners. To demonstrate this point further, the Pullman Strike spread across the country endangering railroad property in the western U.S.  The army was called out to protect railroad property in areas such as Green River Wyoming, Pueblo Colorado, Laramie Wyoming and Los Angeles. When it was all over the army was honored by the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce and derided by the unions and union members. As we pointed out, the typical rank and file soldier himself found himself in the middle. He was much more philosophically in tune with the strikers which made intervention even more complicated and delicate. Remember, the frontier army was made up of large groups of immigrants and so were the strikers.

Another example of a no win situation for the western army was the Coeur d'Alene mine disturbances that began in July 1892. The unyielding mine owners conflicted with the militant tactics of the Western Federation of Miners. As with other mine strikes the mine owners hired Pinkerton agents (Pinkerton We Never Sleep logo to right) to try to deal with the strikers.  Violence started in earnest when union members dynamited some mines, threatened strikebreakers and other nonunion workers. Neither the state's National Guard or the Pinkertons was able to deal with the scale of violence and federal help was requested. This was almost the same type situation that happened in the Colorado coalfields a few decades later. President Benjamin Harrison eventually ordered Colonel William P. Carlin, pictured below left, to take troops to the strike scene. Carlin arrived on July 14th.

Ultimately about 300 strikers were arrested and handed over to U.S. Marshals who were also on the scene. The U.S. Secretary of War worked to have the troops removed as soon as possible but some troops remained as late as November. After some withdrawals violence flared up again and some troops were dispatched again back to the mines.

The unions underlying discontent with pay and working conditions continued to simmer and then everything exploded again in April 1899. This time about a thousand strikers took over a Union Pacific train and with tons of dynamite blew up the Bunker Hill mine. The governor of Idaho requested federal troops immediately because most of his Idaho National Guard were serving in the Phillipines in the Spanish American War. In reply, President McKinley ordered Brigadier General Henry C. Merriam to the scene with about 500 troops from the Department of Colorado and Missouri. Martial law was never officially declared but Merriam and his troops acted as if it had. About 1,000 people were arrested. This is about the point where controversy erupted. The military of course was accused of working for the mine owners and union outrage erupted across the country. President McKinley was a prime target of the union outrage. While a case can be made that someone needed to intervene to halt the violence and property destruction, the Couer d' Alene mine strikes represented a perfect example of how military intervention into labor disputes is a no win situation for the army.

There's really no question that military intervention into economic disputes, and mine strikes fit this category, are the types of actions that draw the most criticism. The intervention topic has been discussed and argued by military commanders ever since the 1807 act regarding the use of troops in civilian affairs. The fact that the western U.S.  was growing rapidly and outstripping law enforcement capabilities was most likely why these controversies came to a head in the latter part of the 1800's. 

The  Couer d' Alene area of Idaho is one of the country's most picturesque areas. It's a perfect destination to add to your vacation planner. It's ideal as a side trip or as a vacation destination. below are websites that will help you in planning your trip to this magnificent part of Idaho.

Coeur d' Alene Visitors Bureau

Coeur d'Alene Parkway State Park 

Coeur d' Alene National Forest

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