Mother Jones fearlessly questioned corporate rule and earned the title “the grandmother of all agitators.” She is a figure who lives on because the issues she raised are still of concern to us, still relevant in the twenty-first century.
The crowd at the depot heard gunfire around 12:30, when Milwood Turner, a union sentinel from Girard, fired a few signal shots at the old Virden coal company shaft where he was stationed, south of the depot. Then suddenly shots began to ring out from many directions. The train shot past the depot at a fast speed without stopping, and the war was on. Sheriff Davenport left the train platform, and fled, injuring himself on an embankment. His brother, a deputy, was the only the legal authority at the scene of the stockade.
There was a constant whistling of bullets over the heads of the miners and over the depot. Some said the guards in the stockade were firing from the towers, but these shots "misjudged the range and were firing with sights elevated too high." Witnesses were amazed that there weren't more people killed in this part of the battle, but attributed it to the high speed of the train. One miner at the depot area showed a hole in his hat, and others reported that bullets were whistling over their heads, and they were sure it was coming from the stockade shaft. Lukins and all the guards in the shaft strenuously denied that there was any firing from the stockade. Since it was a half mile away, accuracy at the time was unlikely. Virden citizens showed a journalist the Springfield rifle bullets that were found at the site of the first gunfire from Turner, south of the depot (see map) three-fourths of a mile from the stockade. Only the stockade had these kind of military-issue bullets and weaponry that could fire such a distance.
D.H. Kiley, 38 year old C & A railroad detective from Chicago guarding the company’s property, stepped on the track which the train had just passed. He was suddenly shot through the back of the head, the bullet passing out of his left eye. He fell in the middle of the track. Some journalists hinted that strikers may have targeted him, because they knew Kiley’s identity for a day or more before the shooting and were watching him closely. Some observers noted that the miners seemed to suddenly produce rifles and that they were returning fire to the train. But others insisted that the smoke of a shot was seen at the tower window of the mine just before Kiley fell over. The company shot one of their own guards, they insisted. Still others believed Kiley was shot by a Thiel agent firing from the rear platform of the train.
Shots that were lodged in the elevator where Bronaugh observed had the appearance of having been fired from a Springfield, the military issue rifle that would have been from the stockade.
Fr. John Clancy, standing in front of his church on main street a block away from the tracks when firing began, also later testified the fire that hit Kiley came from the stockade tower.
Many believed at first that Kiley had just dived for cover. Most directed their attention to the shots ringing out at the stockade. Meanwhile blood was oozing from his head. He was alive, unconscious, clinging to life. No one acted to get him off the tracks as the battle continued. Police advised to leave him for the coroner to view his position, even as his heart was beating convulsively. He was at last taken to a livery barn with no medical attention, and died a couple of hours later.