During the summer of 1891, Tacoma photographer U.P. Hadley boarded a fast train there with a company of state militia mustered to secure peace in Gilman, Issaquah, a coal town then on strike.

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DURING THE summer of 1891, Tacoma photographer U.P. Hadley boarded a fast train there with a company of state militia mustered to secure peace in Gilman (Issaquah) a coal town then on strike — or trying to be. The Oregon Improvement Company, undermined by strikes in Franklin, Newcastle and Black Diamond as well, described the miners — many of them members of the early union Knights of Labor — as “unreasonable in their demands, unruly and above discipline.”

A few weeks earlier the company had sent agent T.B. Corey to Missouri with 10 railroad cars. Corey filled them with black miners he lured with the promise of opportunity in the West. The company kept the move so under wraps that both the striking miners and their unwitting “scabs” were surprised when the train arrived. The black Southerners discovered they had been tricked into breaking a strike. It was a strategy so successful that the organized miners either picked up and left town or answered the company’s racism with some of their own. As the company intended, the miners’ actions addressing working conditions were overwhelmed by a single issue: race.

In his “Chronological History of Seattle,” historian Thomas Prosch noted that in 1891, “The coming of the negroes caused a tremendous sensation all over the county, was hotly discussed in every quarter, and was approved by some people but disapproved by more.” Erica Maniez, director of the Issaquah Historical Museum, adds that the militia was called, in part, because “Issaquah was considered then to be very pro labor.”

Maniez also has a date (July 18, 1891) for the Hadley portrait of the riflemen presenting before their canvas billets. Mostly, the troops hung out and played cards. After about two weeks they went home.

Check out Paul Dorpat and Jean Sherrard’s blog at www.pauldorpat.com.