‘War! The Lemont Massacre’ by Albert R. Parsons from The Alarm (International Working People’s Association). Vol. 1 No. 23. May 16, 1885.

Mural in Lemont by Rob Moriarty and Mona Parry.

Given that this is the United States, it is unsurprising that there are massacres I’ve not heard of before. A year before Haymarket, workers’ leader and ‘Alarm’ editor traveled to the quarry town of Lemont outside of Chicago and wrote this marvelous report on the fight of the stone cutters. We have a history.

‘War! The Lemont Massacre’ by Albert R. Parsons from The Alarm (International Working People’s Association). Vol. 1 No. 23. May 16, 1885.

A strike of considerable proportions began among the stone quarrymen of Lemont, Lockport, and Joliet about four weeks ago. The demand was made for a uniform scale of wages and the restoration of last year’s rates. There were about 3,000 men engaged in the movement, including the quarries at the towns mentioned above. The usual tactics of the propertied class were resorted to defeat the strikers. They endeavored to fill the quarries with men who have for a long time been kept in compulsory idleness, and whose necessities were consequently very great and pressing. As is the usual custom with unionists and strikers generally, the men sought to prevent the employment of these substitutes by any means at their disposal. The capitalists, as usual in such conflicts with their employes, fell back upon the law and called upon the Sheriff to protect them in their legal right to employ or discharge whomsoever they please. The Sheriff replied that, owing to the large body of men and their determination to fix the price of their own labor; it would be necessary for him to obtain the assistance of the military to protect the legal rights of the employers. This latter statement suited the quarry-owners exactly, and the Sheriff accordingly made a statement to the Governor of the State, who is also Commander-in-Chief of the militia, that he was unable to maintain order and enforce the law, and therefore required the presence of the military to assist him. The Governor, acting in accordance with the constitution and the statute law, sent four companies, numbering about 230 men, armed with breech-loading rifles, revolvers, and a gatling gun to maintain “law and order” around the stone quarries. It will be seen that in this whole procedure the “authorities” and the quarry-owners acted in strict accordance with the statute law and the constitution throughout, and the account of their action which follows will go far toward aiding working people to understand what the preservation of so- called “law and order” means.

Monday, May 4, was the day set for the entrance of the military into the heretofore hum-drum village of Lemont. All was excitement over the event, and the 1,500 quarrymen who constituted the inhabitants of that quiet little town were loud in their expressions of indignation over the contemplated invasion.

The people were strolling around the streets on Monday morning about 7:30 o’clock, when H.M. Singer, who has signalized himself by his brutality and tyranny over the people, rode up in his buggy, got out, and entered the post office. At the same time another person went into the office to get or inquire for his mail, when the despot Singer turned around, grasped the man, and dashed him through the window onto the sidewalk. This occurrence naturally brought together a large crowd of people, who were indignant at the outrage. Thereupon the Sheriff of Cook county sprang up on a dry-goods box and read the riot act to the people, commanding them to disperse to their homes, and at the conclusion of which he said: “Now, men, I warn you, that if you do not go to work at once for $1.50 a day the military will be sent here to compel you to do it.”

The people were made all the more excited and indignant at this exhibition of “authority,” and many were the expressions to be heard on every hand of condemnation against the Sheriff and Singer. The people said to one another: “Are we in this manner to be driven to our work like galley-slaves at the point of the bayonet?” The Sheriff was under the constant direction of H.M. Singer, who acted as the representative of the Quarry-Owners’ Association.

It was intended that the above act should be the inauguration of hostilities, for H.M. Singer, accompanied by the Sheriff, telegraphed the order for the militia to advance toward the town. The Chicago & Alton railroad, with that alacrity becoming in a fellow-monopolist and labor exploiter, quickly placed a train at the disposal of the labor robbers, and the troops were brought up and landed at a point one and one-half miles south of the town of Lemont, just outside of the county line of Cook county. By 10 o’clock a.m. their bristling bayonets were seen flashing in the sunlight as they advanced upon the town by the main thoroughfare leading in that direction.

The Town Marshal and Supervisor, whose sympathies were outspoken with the strikers, acting on the part of their constituencies, advanced down the road, intercepted the militia, and ordered them not to enter the town. Col. Bennett, the commanding officer, ordered them to get out of the way or he would place them under arrest.

The troops continued to advance until they reached the center of the town, which is located mainly upon a long street running parallel with the canal, the river, and the quarries at that point. Here the people—men, women and children—of the whole village were assembled upon the sidewalks. The excitement ran high, and some used some very uncomplimentary words toward the quarry-owners and authorities who had brought these bandits of “law and order” among them. It is said that a few stones were thrown at the soldiers and that a pistol-shot was fired by some citizen; but the soldiery opened fire upon the people and killed two men upon the spot, and bayoneted and sabered two others, who have died from their wounds since. Several other men and a number of women were prodded with bayonets and clubbed with the butts of muskets.

The people were terrified. They were wholly unarmed and absolutely defenseless. Confronted by these armed hirelings of capital, they fled for their lives to shelter. The shrieks of wounded and dying men and women filled the air; the warm blood of the people bathed the flagstones of the sidewalks. The loss was entirely on the side of labor, which was, after having been robbed, now being murdered. The army of capitalism moved forward through the village, and, halting at a commanding hill which overlooked the town and quarries, these capitalistic marauders of the people struck camp, where they have remained since and kept the villagers under the shadows of their guns.

Andrew Stulata, the top of whose head was blown off by a shot from the troops, was standing just on the inward edge of the sidewalk on a vacant lot with both hands stretched out in the act of holding the little group of children back from the street, twenty- five or thirty of whom had assembled there to witness the sight of the troops. His blood and brains were scattered over the little ones; he fell and was afterward carried to his home by weeping friends. Several houses along the street were fired into. One house, occupied by a quarry laborer’s family, received two rifle-balls. The lady, a 9-year-old girl, and a 2-year-old child were at the windows viewing the troops when a ball came crashing through the wall within a few inches of their heads, and, striking the wall opposite inside, fell battered upon the floor.

The legal bandits chased the people into their houses, and with the butt of bayonets drove the women up-stairs. One woman was being clubbed and chased up the street, when she turned and with the fury of desperation sought to wrest the gun from her assailant. Jac Kujawa ran to her rescue, and, separating them, he was taking the woman home, when about thirty paces away he was shot through the head and fell dead in his tracks, where he was left to welter in his gore for two hours afterward. Father James Hogan, the Irish Catholic priest at Lemont, who was standing near by and witnessed the dastardly deed, raised his clenched hands and shaking them at the bandits, said: “You cold-blooded murderers, lay down your arms. You have murdered the man.” The militiamen replied: “If you don’t get inside the house we’ll drop you, too.” The priest paid no attention, but went to the dying man and on bended knees administered the death sacrament.

Little Mary, the bright 9-year-old sister of the young man Andrew Stulata, who was murdered by the bandits of “law and order,” upon seeing our reporter, who visited the remains in the house of his parents, ran up to him and said, while the tears rolled down her face: “Oh, sir, they killed my poor, poor brother. He did no harm to any one. He was so kind and good; and oh, sir, those bad men came to his corpse and laughed at him and us; oh, sir, what shall we do?”

Both of these men were highly respected and beloved by the entire village of Lemont.

The bandits of “law and order” have rested on their laurels, varying the pastimes of their camp life with catching and milking the cows of the dairymen who have pastured their cattle thereabouts and an occasional sally into the town with a platoon of soldiers to the depot when trains arrive and depart.

Mural in Lemont by Rob Moriarty and Mona Parry.

The women of Lemont, having committed the crime of living in poor tenements and wearing the common garments which the industry of their labor provides them with, are spoken of in the capitalistic press reports as “termagants,” “viragos,” etc. These women, the wives and daughters of workingmen, were bayoneted by the soldiers of capitalism, their only crime being they do not wear sealskin dolmans and belong to the “better classes.”

In a conversation with Coroner Hertz about the refusal of Col. Bennett, commanding the State bandits at Lemont, to appear and testify before the Coroner’s inquest, he said: “Yes, sir, it has come to this pass, and it is true that there is now no law for the poor. If you have money, if you are rich, it is all right with you then.” The Coroner declared that according to the constitution the “military was held in subjection to the civil authorities;” “but,” said he, “there is no defense for the poor; the law protects the rich only.”

The day following the slaughter at Lemont our reporter was again upon the scene and gathered the following items:

On arriving from Chicago at the depot in Lemont, a platoon of twelve militiamen were present and drawn up in line as an escort to one of their number who desired to take the train and return home. Upon inquiry it was ascertained that these bandits of law and order are compelled to come in platoons to the train on every such occasion in order to prevent the people from mobbing them.

Leaving the depot and stopping at the restaurant on the corner, we met several reporters of the Chicago capitalistic press, who were being roundly abused by some of the Lemont citizens, both workers and business men, for the false and slanderous reports sent out daily from Lemont. The reporters answered that they were not to blame, as they took the statements of the “authorities” each day. It was made perfectly plain, however, that the reporters of the capitalistic papers are more than anxious to accept the statements of the “authorities” and reject or misrepresent those of the people who are being murdered, insulted, and lied about by the so-called authorities now dominating the people of Lemont.

A reporter told me that the following note had been handed to the wife of a man who wanted to go to work at Singer & Talcott’s quarry:

Keep Pat at home tomorrow, or your house will be burned at night.

Of course, this note is a forgery. Everybody in Lemont says it is a trick of the quarry-owners to make out some reason for keeping the military in the town. The people of Lemont know that it was written or instigated by some one of the many detectives which Despot Singer and his gang of robbers have employed to oppress and spy among their slaves.

At the meeting of the business men held the day before it was proposed to appoint a committee of the strikers to wait upon the bosses and try to bring about a settlement of the difficulty. Mr. Murphy, who is one of the largest dry-goods and grocery merchants in the town, said it would not do to appoint such a committee, as the men who acted on it would be discharged and lose their bread for acting in such a manner, and gave instances where men had been discharged before by Singer and other bosses for serving on similar committees.

Lemont quarry workers.

Polus, the man who received a bayonet-thrust which entered the breast to the backbone, and a saber-wound in his side, died of his wounds yesterday. He was 48 years old and leaves a wife and six children. His family are utterly destitute, and the neighbors have to supply them with food to keep them from starving. A subscription list was circulated yesterday among the people to bury the murdered man.

A stone-quarry man is paid $1.50 per day. He gets work about six months in the year. This makes an average of about 62 cents per day. This is the sum upon which the quarry bosses are compelling a man to live and support a family of eight persons, and when the worker refuses to submit to it they are put to death by sword, bayonet, and bullet in the hands of the “authorities.”

About the time of the arrival of the noon train from Chicago a crowd of 200 or 300 persons assembled at the depot, as they have been doing since the trouble with the authorities began. A squad of fourteen soldiers also come to the depot with fixed bayonets, loaded rifles, and belts containing forty rounds of cartridges, and a Colt’s navy six-shooter suspended to a belt around their waists. When the train left the depot the officer gave the command to “about face and forward,” and they marched back to their camp. Not a word was spoken by any one in the sullen crowd, but many men gritted their teeth and looked daggers at the ruthless murderers who are making this display of “authority” in their midst. The camp is about a mile from the depot on a hill overlooking the principal quarries. No approach is allowed to the camp, which has a line of guards around it. There is one gatling gun and about 230 soldiers in the encampment. Their marches to and from the depot and around the town are a source of great irritation to the people, who are unarmed and powerless to protect themselves. As the train pulled out and the military marched away from the depot the station agent, Tom Huston, stood before the crowds and began to drive them off the platform of the depot, saying: “Get away from here. Stand aside. I have had to take unnecessary trouble. It is an imposition on me and the company for you to stand around here. I am dependent on my wages for my living the same as you are, and the company holds me responsible for not ordering you away. I have always tried to treat you all well. You are here at every train. You are in the way. Move on; move on. You block up the sidewalk. You are here at every train arrival and you ought to have sense enough to stay away from here,” and the crowd, with the fear of the military before its eyes, mutteringly dispersed.

At 3 o’clock in the afternoon a meeting of the strikers was assembled in the hall and called to order by the Town Supervisor, Mr. McCarthy. Before the meeting opened two Deputy Sheriffs who had sneaked in were requested to get out. All capitalistic reporters were excluded, the only reporter who was permitted to be present being the reporter for the Alarm and Arbeiter-Zeitung. The men seemed afraid to speak, and after the Chairman had called on the audience several times without any response, the audience in turn called upon Mr. A.R. Parsons to speak. Mr. Parsons declined, but they insisted, when he made a few remarks upon the necessity of organization, at the conclusion of which several of the men objected to taking such action. One of the men spoke up and said: “We are assembled here to consider what to do. We have got the military in our town; we are under intimidation. We want the military to leave our town and let us alone. If we organize now it will be the means of losing our bread forever, and probably our lives besides.”

Another speaker said: “We can’t organize. The bosses would break it up; they did it before. It would not be allowed. They would starve us out and break it up.”

Mr. Parsons answered and said: “Then you are slaves.”

The men hung their heads, and with tears in their eyes several of them replied: “Alas, sir, it is too true.”

Another speaker then said: “As we have started and have lived so far without bread, we must keep on with our struggle against the bosses. We don’t want those blue-jackets on the hill to kill the people for nothing.” (Great cheering.)

There were such expressions as “We will stick for our rights,” “We will not go to work,” “We will stand out,” “Let us keep out until we get our wages,” etc. The meeting was unanimous in staying out until the wages demanded were paid.

A committee of eight, composed of two persons each from the Polish, Swedish, German, and Irish nationalities, was appointed to wait upon the quarry-owners and tell them what they want, and report back to a meeting to be held for that purpose. The meeting resolved to stand by the committee and help them to the last if the bosses should victimize them for acting in such a capacity. The Town Supervisor advised them to appoint the committee and stated that he thought they would not suffer, when an Irishman spoke out and said: “If it do, sir, thank God, sir, you can support them” (great laughter), when Mr. McCarthy said: “That knocks me out.”

After appointing the committee the meeting adjourned.

The meeting was conducted mainly by Irishmen, the Chairman, Secretary, etc., being Irish, and is proof that there is no’ word of truth in the capitalistic newspaper reports that this strike is being conducted by Poles and Bohemians alone.

The lesson of this strike will be worth to workingmen all that it has cost if it is carefully considered and taken to heart; that they must organize for the purpose of offering opposition to the oppressing class; that without organization they are weak and helpless slaves.

The strike ended last Wednesday, the men being compelled to go to work at the quarry-owners’ terms. The quarry-owners now intend to open “truck” stores in retaliation for the friendly feeling expressed by the business men of Lemont toward the strikers.

The Alarm was an important paper at a momentous moment in the history of the US and international workers’ movement. The Alarm was the paper of the International Working People’s Association produced weekly in Chicago and edited by Albert Parsons. The IWPA was formed by anarchists and social revolutionists who left the Socialist Labor Party in 1883 led by Johann Most who had recently arrived in the States. The SLP was then dominated by German-speaking Lassalleans focused on electoral work, and a smaller group of Marxists largely focused on craft unions. In the immigrant slums of proletarian Chicago, neither were as appealing as the city’s Lehr-und-Wehr Vereine (Education and Defense Societies) which armed and trained themselves for the class war. With 5000 members by the mid-1880s, the IWPA quickly far outgrew the SLP, and signified the larger dominance of anarchism on radical thought in that decade. The Alarm first appeared on October 4, 1884, one of eight IWPA papers that formed, but the only one in English. Parsons was formerly the assistant-editor of the SLP’s ‘People’ newspaper and a pioneer member of the American Typographical Union. By early 1886 Alarm claimed a run of 3000, while the other Chicago IWPA papers, the daily German Arbeiter-Zeitung (Workers’ Newspaper) edited by August Spies and weeklies Der Vorbote (The Harbinger) had between 7-8000 each, while the weekly Der Fackel (The Torch) ran 12000 copies an issue. A Czech-language weekly Budoucnost (The Future) was also produced. Parsons, assisted by Lizzie Holmes and his wife Lucy Parsons, issued a militant working-class paper. The Alarm was incendiary in its language, literally. Along with openly advocating the use of force, The Alarm published bomb-making instructions. Suppressed immediately after May 4, 1886, the last issue edited by Parson was April 24. On November 5, 1887, one week before Parson’s execution, The Alarm was relaunched by Dyer Lum but only lasted half a year. Restarted again in 1888, The Alarm finally ended in February 1889. The Alarm is a crucial resource to understanding the rise of anarchism in the US and the world of Haymarket and one of the most radical eras in US working class history.

PDF of issue: https://dds.crl.edu/item/54012

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