Stop 6: The Pasture

Virden IL 62690

Virden Mine War Tour/Stop 6: The Pasture
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.

There were 8 miners killed, and dozens of miners wounded in the pasture field.

"The scene after the fight resembled that of a battlefield. Wounded miners were everywhere, blood on their faces and on their clothing. The dead and seriously injured lay on the blood soaked ground."

Above: Long shot of the company stockade, with the field where most of the miners were killed or wounded. The GPS stopping point is our best guess about where this 1898 photo was taken

"The fact that seventy- five men, half of whom were unarmed, would stand at a wire fence, in open ground without possible protection, within forty to eighty feet of the detectives who did the execution Is evidence that the fight came unexpected to them." -LFM

Most of the company agents and the officials claimed that there was no firing from the train or the towers. There was not much forensic evidence investigation the 1890s, but adjutant general J. N. Reece suggested that the bullets ranged downward in the bodies of the miners, and he supported the miners' claims that they were shot from the tower and train. Reece also concluded that the firing began from the train, and suggested that firing from sentry towers was likely.

As the battle was raging Mary McWhinnie stood on the railroad track, near her home that was along the stockade’s northern border, and had been the union's base station. Her husband had sent her and the children away to be out of danger, but Mary returned, and when the Thiel agents and Chicago policemen opened fire she rallied the miners. She “grasped a gun and told them she had fed them for three weeks, and now was the time to fight, and like a true heroine would rather have died than lost the fight." As soon as the firing ceased she delivered first aid until her husband led her away from the battlefield.

Call for doctors unheeded.

General Bradley, whose top hat was shot through by a flying bullet, called for doctors in the midst of the chaos. He sent a messenger down these railroad tracks to the Western Union telegraph office to rush the message below.

The call for doctors went unheeded for a long time in the bloody field. When the first man was wounded in the stockade, Lukins used his office telephone to call Jacob Eyster, the company store manager, who took two local doctors in his covered wagon to the barricaded stockade.

Four of the eight killed were from Mt. Olive; a significant number of those wounded were also from Mt. Olive.

The reason for this might have been that the Mt. Olive brigade was large, and they were stationed at the place that the train made the surprise stop, and this became the scene of the bloodiest engagement from the terrific fire of Winchester rifles. The Virden and Springfield men were stationed at the North switch, which was expected to be the most perilous.

Ernst Long, 19, from Mt. Olive, was the youngest miner killed in the pasture. He took 7 bullets, but commanded the awe of his fellow miners by enduring them without stalwart calm. For a time, there was hope that he might survive, but he finally expired just after the arrival of his father at the hospital. Long was born and raised in Edwardsville, IL, and had only lived in Mt. Olive since 1897. His father was a widower, but he had four sisters and two brothers.

Ernst Kaemmerer of Mt. Olive was killed instantly, a bullet piercing his heart. He and his brother, his only living relative, lived in Mt. Olive and were "constant companions." He was deeply committed to the union project, which he called simply an effort for "fair wages for a fair day's work."

Ellis Smith was 28 years old when he was shot in the right breast and killed instantly. He was a barber by trade, but had also followed mining and was according to his friends "an active advocate of union principles," proud to "be at the front attempting to sustain justice for his cause."

Joe Gitterle of Mt. Olive was 30 years old, and shot in the bowels 4 times. He was from an immigrant Austrian mining family who had lived in Mt. Olive from childhood, and was due to be married in a few days when he died. He was on the battlefield with soon-to-be father-in-law Gus Wevelseip from Mt. Olive, who was a stalwart union activist who had been arrested in an 1894 strike and designated a ringleader by federal marshals. Gus was wounded in the foot and leg.

Edward Welch, 24, a miner from Springfield, was shot through the heart. He was born and raised in Springfield, in the north part of the city, with one sister, and three brothers.

Joseph Gitterle and Edward Welch were not yet dead when their companions reached them and tried to tend to the wounds. When it was clear it was too late, Father Yancy, who had been tending to Kiley, came down the tracks to give last rights on the two. Miners cried openly as the men gasped and then went silent. The next day, over 1000 people greeted the train that brought the dead bodies to Mt. Olive. "The shrieks and moans" of family members and friends "rendered the scene one never to be forgotten." A "concourse of citizens" followed the caskets away from the train.

William Harmon, a Girard miner, was shot in the back, through the spine and right kidney; and taken to the home of Mrs. Carrie Teeters. With his agonizing wound, he could not move without excruciating pain. He begged piteously for a doctor, but it was a long time before he was carried away by train to Springfield to be treated. He died the next day. Harmon was with his three sons at the battle. His 16 year old son Ollie had a furrow plowed through is hair by bullet.

Abe Breneman, 55, an "influential miner" from Girard was shot and died almost instantly. Edward Griffith saw him fall, and testified the shot came from the front car. Breneman's young son came to the pasture soon after the shooting stopped and "the grief of the boy was most pitiable." When the lifeless form of his father was lifted into the wagon the boy took his place beside it and rode to the improvised morgue at the O’Neil boarding house.

Frank Bilyeu, a widower, 49 , and father of 7 children, was shot in the right side of the head, but was said to have fought on after he was wounded, until he died. He was from Taylorville, IL, and had been a leader in the marching strike of 1897 in the Pana area. He had recently moved to Springfield.

The Sleep of Honest Men by Prof. J. W. Uzzell

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