Stop 5: The Stockade

211 Maltby Row Virden

Virden Mine War Tour/Stop 5: The Stockade
Mother Jones Heritage Project
Written By Mother Jones Heritage Project

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 battle is told from this site, the stockade, and at stop 6, the pasture. The only remaining stockade house can be seen on Maltby road, as you make your way to this location. At the north end of this location was where a cabin that served as the base camp for the miners who came to make their stand was located. At least 3 of those stockade houses were around as recently as 3 years ago.

The Battle at the Stockade

As the train rolled up to the gate, even before it stopped, a broadside of bullets was fired into the crowd of miners in the pasture from the train. The miners returned the fire, but only about half of them were armed with shot guns, pistols, 22 guage rifles. Unarmed miners either fell flat on the ground or turned and ran across the pasture toward the hedge on the east side of the pasture, or sought cover behind the trees. When the train stopped the stockade gate was thrown open and Thiel agents positioned began firing from positions in a ditch between the stockade and the track. Slack coal had been dumped between the stockade and the track, giving a superior place for the detectives to fire into the miners.

But the miners following the train and lined along the path found entrenchments where they threw themselves, and were protected from the east by the main line of the C&A railroad. Along the east stockade wall, looking North, they had an open view of the detectives kneeling in the ditch and firing on the miners. Detectives didn’t know where shots were coming from. The miners drove the detectives out of the rifle pit. A number of company guards were wounded in this exchange.

Weyman, one of the Thiel guards, describes the efforts to get from the platform of the train into the stockade gates, and gives an account of the deaths of two of the Chicago ex-policemen Thiel agents.

Walter Carroll and I were together on the platform between the cars when a bullet struck Carroll in the head directly over the right eye. Blood covered his face, and without a groan or a sound, he fell against me, dead. As I fell beside him on the train platform, (Thiel guard William) Clarkson was shot and fell across my legs. I rose amid the rain of bullets and pulled Carroll inside the car and straightened him out in the aisle of the car. When I leaned over him his heart had ceased to beat and I knew he was dead. I pulled Clarkson back in the aisle also and tried to make him comfortable. He was groaning and crying with pain. All this required time and the train started to pull out. I jumped from the train and ran back to the stockade, with the bullets whistling about my head. It was at night when I saw Preston killed at the gate of the stockades…During the battle I saw many miners shot in the field east of the tracks."

Clarkson was a 51 year old single man, had reveled in his role as a Thiel agent: he was a Thiel agent who was "always considered a man of nerve and daring disposition, always ready to get into the thickest of engagements." It was this battle that took him down, but not without a fight. Shot in the head, he wiped a small part of his brain from his head, splattering it on the window and seat, and still kept going. Doctors predicted he would die that night, but he lingered on after the battle for almost two months, losing his sanity before expiring. W. W. Carroll, a single man of 38, was from Chicago, but a native of Philadelphia and a had had a bullet lodged in the lower portion of the neck, one on the left side of his temple, another in the eye, which crushed the skull.

G. H. Thiel described Carroll as "one of our best men" who had "been in strikes and in a all kinds of tough places. This is the first instance in the history of the service when a man has killed or been killed.

Below: Looking south. Miners in the pasture were fired on from behind an embankment.

"the hottest battle I ever saw by a force of the same size"

Thiel agent P. J. Harran had been with Teddy Roosevelt's 1st volunteer Cavalry of "rough riders" in all their engagements. He later sent a telegram to G. H. Thiel, the head of the agency: "This is hotter than San Juan hill." He also testified, "I have been with [the] American army at Santiago (Cuba). . . I have seen considerable fighting, but that was the hottest battle I ever saw by a force of the same size."

Harran also testified the next morning, while lying on a bloody bed inside the stockade, that he made two attempts to get into the stockade, while glass was flying from the train windows in all directions, and African-Americans "grabbed me to make a shield of me. I had to struggle with all my strength to get away from them."

The Alabama recruits take cover

Most of the African-Americans lay on the floor of the train. George Debarrow, a Thiel agent, had charge of one car of the Alabamans. He yelled at them to "pile out" but they refused. Only six of the recruits were taken into the stockade. Only one African-American was injured, Erwin Ryan, when he left the train to make a go for the gates. He retreated back to the train which later made its way to Springfield where he was treated.

Thiel manager Cyrus Peterson was near William Carroll, a 225 pound well-dressed guard from Indianapolis when he was killed. The first bullet lodged in the lower portion of the neck on the right side. The next hit him on the left side of the temple, the eye, passing into the brain.

When the train pulled out, the men in the stockade felt "they have been defeated by the strikers."

Peterson testified that guard [Albert] Morgan was shot just after the battle was over, as he stepped out of the gate marked with an X in the sketch below, to look out. "He said, 'My God, boys, they have got me,' and fell. He died twenty minutes later." Morgan was a Chicago policeman who was hired as a stockade guard and had been on location since October 4.

Many more deaths would have occurred had not th wounded train engineer, after 15 minutes of shooting, moved the bullet-riddled train toward Springfield. All the glass in the coaches were splintered by thousands of bullets.

John Hunter attacked in Springfield

The train sped on to Springfield. Hunter, UMWA Illinois president, sprinted to the station and boarded the train, as the wounded guards were taken off to the hospital. Hunter persuaded 71 of the Alabamans to leave the train, and a rousing ovation came as they disembarked. Hunter was still on board when guards ordered the train to take off from the station. Outside of Springfield, two guards pounced on him and beat him fiercely, then pushed him off the train when it was going 18 miles an hour. Many thought he might die, but he recovered.

Guard Commander Albert Preston killed

The militia were ordered to the site after Tanner received reports from Davenport, sequestered, that 100 people had been killed. They advanced to the stockade gate in skirmishes from Springfield by 11 pm. They found miners patrolling outside the stockade, and forced their surrender. Then they knocked on the stockade fence, commanding to“open the gates," and when no reply was sounded, they saluted on the trumpet. Feeling their way blindly along the stockade in the dark, they heard someone ask who was there, and were told, soldiers. According to many accounts, Tom Preston, a former Chicago police officer, hesitated when ordered to throw up hands when the gates were opened. He and others though it was a ruse by miners. He stepped backward slowly toward the entrance, revolver in hand. Another direct order was issued, "throw up your hands," but he did not respond. Suddenly a shot rang out from a soldier's rifle, and Preston dropped to the ground, with a bullet through his abdomen, and he died a moment later. The militia claimed that it was a miner who killed him, not them. Either way, Preston's death spread alarm and fear throughout the stockade. One guard announced, "I am disgusted with the whole business now."

Miners later dressed Morgan and Preston's bodies and secured the best coffins for these 2 men. In 1899, Illinois miners presented John Hunter with a gavel made from from the cross piece of the gate in the sketch above, which the "ex-policeman of Chicago," Preston, caught as he was falling when he received the shot that caused his death. It was the same exact location where Morgan had died. (see image above.)

"If it costs every life"

Lukins boldly hunkered down, a virtual prisoner in his own stockade office, but sending off telegrams with Preston's lifeless body next to him and communicating with lawyers who sought to force Governor Tanner to use troops to support the strikebreaking effort. Loucks and York had escaped to Chicago soon after the battle started, where they went into hiding to avoid being served with charges of murder. Lukins proved to be a man "with steel nerves" who felt that the law would vindicate him. It might have, if the militia and the governor had not acted forcefully.

The company blamed Governor Tanner for the death toll, and vowed to bring in another trainload of strikebreakers "if it costs every life."

Lukins:The blood of every man shed here is on the governor's head. He is absolutely outside the law and has no justification whatever in refusing to send troops . . . His statement that the miner had the same right to fight for his property, which was his labor, as the mine owner did to protect his property, inspired these men to the action which they took in firing upon this train as soon as it came into our town.

Miners laid plans to storm the stockade and began military operations, but when they were told that Tanner had ordered the soldiers to prevent future landings of strikebreakers, calm prevailed.

The militia disarms the guards

It became clear within a short time that Governor Tanner had ordered the military to prevent strikebreakers from entering Virden. The company made three attempts to land a handful of willing strikebreakers, but it became clear that the militia would not allow it. Within 24 hours of the militia's arrival, all the arms were seized from the company's possession. Soldiers were occupying the company houses. Lukins remained a virtual prisoner in the stockade. On October 20, under heavy military guard and at least one attempt on his life, he was escorted through the same gates that he had sought to bring strikebreakers through 8 days earlier. The train made a special stop at the stockade to pick him up, to ensure miners would not assault him. He went to Chicago, but was soon charged with murder and riot conspiracy along with Loucks.

The stockade home that remains on Maltby row.

While in the stockade area, you can find the one of the stockade houses. Below, 2 of the 7 stockade houses that were here until fairly recently, on Maltby Row. Now there is only one of these left in the immediate vicinity. These were just outside the stockade, while all the rest were enclosed. Lukins had these brought 30 or more in the stockade and suggested that 10 miners and their families could live in each of them. He thought they could work 300 people, providing for their needs inside the stockade, to beat the union.

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Virden Mine War Tour

Stop 5: The Stockade

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