Stop 8 - Shootout at the Company Store

145 E Jackson St Virden

Virden Mine War Tour/Stop 8 - Shootout at the Company Store
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 company store manager, Jacob Eyster, was the target of the miners anger long before the battle. Company stores were resented by miners, who had suffered because of their place in a system of exploitation for many years. The union hoped to eliminate them entirely. In the week or so before the battle, miners were convinced that Eyster was carrying weapons into the mine stockade in his covered wagon, to be used against them. Eyster had been gently advised by townspeople to be less aggressive in his advocacy for the company, but he was a young 27 year old, sure of himself, and a renowned sharpshooter. So as dozens were wounded or dead on a battlefield, miners were enraged when they saw Eyster leaving the stockade. Some thought that he was General Manager Lukins or that Lukins was with him. Others thought he had been shooting at the miners in the stockade, using his sharpshooter skills. (Actually, he had brought 2 doctors to the stockade on Lukins request, and was returning.)

The miners chased Eyster and a shootout commenced at the company store. Eyster, armed with a six-shot revolver in each hand, fought for his life. He attempted to escape by fleeing up the stairs of the store and onto the roof. There he jumped from rooftop to rooftop, (which you can picture by looking at the company store site from the Virden memorial, or referencing the Jackson street townscape below) all the while exchanging fire with the angry miners. He took a bullet to his abdomen, and still kept on. From the roof he either jumped or fell from a skylight--landing right into a group of miners who dragged him into the street. Some miners continued the assault, despite his pleas for mercy, even when some of the miners sought to end it. Before it ended Eyster was severely injured; most newspapers predicted he would die, and the assault was deemed barbaric. Eyster was moved to a nearby home as a hiding place and makeshift hospital. There were rumors that miners were looking for him to finish him off. Accounts of the shootout vary greatly. One reported that Eyster ran to the roof, armed "with a Winchester rifle prepared to deal out death to the miners who had congregated in the streets clamoring for Lukins' blood."

Eyster's survival from this brutal assault made him somewhat a folk legend in the community. But placing the blame also tells an interesting story. For over a month, many in the community attempted to blame the final assault, the most merciless part of it, on "Polacks," not native miners. When an indictment finally came down, multiple points of testimony laid the blame for the worst squarely on a native-born miner, well-respected in the VIrden community. That miner left town quickly, never facing prosecution, embracing the ability to flee justice. Eyster left town. The company store system was broken.

"Virden, where we moved in 1906, was not a company town. There were a few houses that had been company houses, but when the union came in, these houses were sold to miners and the company store was disbanded. Virden then was what might be called a free town. It wasn't anything like what they had where the nonunion mines were, in Kentucky and Tennessee, where the company stores still controlled the miners' very lives. -C. H. Mayer
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Virden Mine War Tour

Stop 8 - Shootout at the Company Store

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