William Bauchop Wilson
Strike of 1899 - 1900
The Blossburg Advertiser April 7, 1899, Vol.15, No. 18
W.B. Wilson leaves to-day to begin his labor of organizing this district. Reports received yesterday show that a portion of the Berwind-White miners have received the scale. The battle is now on and while mortals cannot command success, Wilson will do more - he'll deserve it. Success in this case means better conditions for 50,000 men and their families.
The Blossburg Advertiser April 14, 1899, Vol.15, No. 19
Last Tuesday a notice was posted on the bulletin board at Arnot, saying that after May 1st the miners train running from Blossburg to Landrus would be discontinued. That the complaints about dirty coal compelled the company to discharge 250 men and only those living in the company's houses, at Arnot and Landrus, would be employeed. At the same time the mail train would run from Elmira to Arnot, instead of Blossburg, meaning that 260 Erie employees living here will be discharged on May 1st. At the time Nearing of Morris Run gave notice that no miner or day hand living in Blossburg could work at Morris Run. Nearing's act caused no surprise. But Lincoln's notice was a surprise. The greater portion, some 200, own nice homes in Blossburg and this thrift and saving for years of hard work is jeoparidized.
A BAD BLOW AT BLOSSBURG
Some people profess to believe that this trouble was planned last year by ex-Superintendent Loomis, because he was not given the franchise to light this town. Many miners profess to see in this move of Lincoln's a strategetic attempt to get the Maple Hill coal dug on his own terms. Some say that behind it is a desire to lower the price of real estate in Blossburg and by what is wanted cheap and then start a boom by locating some manufactories here. Whatever it means one thing is certain unless the people of this town get a hussle on a post-mortem might as well begin now.
In the meantime Senator Merrick ought to have Nearing thrown out of the hospital board, for if organized labor in Allegheny County knew that Gov. Stone kept such a tyrant as Nearing in a state office, Stone's political career would end with his governorship.
The Blossburg Advertiser April 21, 1899, Vol.15, No. 20
There will be a mass meeting of the miners of Arnot and Bear Run, on Saturday, April 22, at the opera house at Arnot at 1 p. m. W.B. Wilson will address the meeting. Business of the greatest importance will be transacted and every miner should be present.
The Blossburg Advertiser April 28, 1899, Vol.15, No. 21
The order discharging 250 men residing in Blossburg will be carried out on May 1st. The miners' train from here will be discontinued. Those are human certainties. There is no use of hoping against hope or trying to discount the inevitable. "Clean coal" is shibboleth. The various interviews show that the Erie company will have clean coal or shut down the mines. It is this fact, not from any desire on the (part) of Supt. Lincoln to injure Blossburg, which causes this harsh policy. Still Lincoln's chumming with Nearing, and the latter simultaneously adopting the same harsh policy towards the Blossburg miners, leads many to think that Mr. Lincoln is ingenious rather than ingenuous. But they must remember that this is nothing new on Nearing's part. For 35 years he has manifested the most unwavering hostility towards Blossburg and if he has won Lincoln from the "open door" policy of the Erie to his "sphere of influence," that fact will develop itself shortly. There is one thing to be borne in mind in connection with the tale about closing down the mines. The company gets $13,000 a year rent for its store and over $20,000 rent from the houses. Are they going to lop off this income? The officials say that the competition between coal companies is so keen that the comsumers will not buy dirty coal when they can get clean coal for the same price.
"CLEAN COAL" THE CAUSE
Saturday a mass meeting was held in the opera house in Arnot to take action in the matter. W.B. Wilson addressed the meeting and said that the miners did not know what they had to face. That there were rumors and stories which conflicted with one another and he thought the proper thing to do was to appoint a committee to visit Supt. Lincoln, learn what the facts were and seek a modification of the alleged order. A committee of eight was appointed and they met Mr. Lincoln on Monday. He received them cordially and treated them in a very gentlemanly manner.
The miners held a meeting at the same place on Tuesday to hear the report of the committee. John Lyons as chairman of the committee stated that they had asked Supt. Lincoln if he could not modify the order. He replied that he could not and that he felt very sorry for the men. But that the question had resolved itself into a business one with the company and all sentiment had to be laid aside. Then they asked him to give them a month longer so that they could hear from their friends in various mining regions. He replied that the railroad company would not take the coal, and said his first orders were to shut down the mines at Arnot, but that he went to New York and after a long talk with the officials they agreed to keep the mines running till May 1st and if the coal sent out had dirt in it, then after 90 days the mines at Arnot would be shut down and the work concentrated at Bear Run. [Three-quarters of the Blossburg men work at Bear Run, where the cleanest coal is, and just why this place is closed is not apparent.]
Supt. Lincoln said he would not promise to give any man work outside of the men living in company houses at Arnot and Landrus, but that he had instructed Mr. Dartt to give what men he could work in the woods and other laboring work if they sought it and if any went away he would give them a recommend. He said that he had come to the conclusion that two and three men working in one room was the main cause of dirty coal being sent out and that only one man should work a room hereafter. He also said that when school closed that there were about 40 boys in Arnot, whose fathers desired to take them in the mines. He said that miners who owned farms would not be hired at all, but after the men at Arnot and Landrus had been given places, then those living at Blossburg would get places, if there were any left.
At the close of Mr. Lyons' statement a motion was made that the committee again interview Mr. Lincoln and ask him to prepare a list in the order of the size of their families and the length of time they had worked for the company. This motion was opposed by President Kane and advocated by W.B. Wilson, the idea advanced to prevent discrimination. The motion was carried.
This blow falls the heaviest on those who have been frugal, investing their hard-won savings in a home and spent their scanty earnings to support their churches, educate their children so as to make them better citizens. It is these upon whom the blow falls the hardest many of them having worked their since the mines were opened. They see the fruits of long years of hard toil made valueless to them and they feel gloomy. If, as the officials say, the coal mining in this county is a thing of the past, the sooner the men go elsewhere the better off they will be. There is no use of working just to keep four company stores going and living from hand to mouth. It is spring. Work is plenty in all the coal producing states. But the old ties and cosy homes are hard to sever and depart from.
The Blossburg Advertiser April 28, 1899, Vol.15, No. 21
Mining affairs in District 2 are rapidly assuming a roseate hue. When the new officers took hold in April, there was little organization. Thousands of men were working at any price they could get. In one short month all this has been changed. Out of 50,000 miners in the district over 40,000 are organized. Something like 15,000 of them have received an advance in wages ranging from 7 per cent to 50 per cent. That is to say, the work of W.B. Wilson and his fellow-officers has caused the miners of the district to receive an increase of about $15,000 weekly to their pay. By the time this paper reaches its readers fully 25,000 more miners will have received a 10 per cent advance. But what is the greatest triumph won by these officers is, that today the mine operators in central and southern Pennsylvania will meet committees of their employees at Clearfield, Pa, and amicably discuss and adopt means to get better prices for both miners and operators. Could there be more pleaseing news than that? Instead of the strikes and wranglings, the hates and bitterness of by-gone days, but the wise and skillful policy of Wilson and his coadjutors, this happy event is brought about. It seems like the dawn of the millenium in mining matters, where the lion and the lamb meet and gambol together.
A conservative estimate places at $1,500,000 what the miners of the district will gain in wages, during the current year, from the efforts of their district officials during the past month. Organization and "walking delegates" are good things, cheap demagogues and editorial blatherskites to the contrary notwithstanding.
One of the greatest obstacles the organizers have to content with is the chirpings of the man who writes the Grit's mining news from central Pennsylvania. If ever there was a "carping critic" it is he. When James Sweeney was president of the district, he was kept in hot water all the time by this man. Petty objections, puerile suggestions, labored explanations, ingenious prognostication and suspicious hallucinations seem to be food and drink to the Grit's man. He should diet himself and change his microscope for a pair of spectacles which would permit him to see things at their usual size, instead of seeing elephants when there are only fleas. Let him remove the louse from his eyebrow and not waste any more ammunition.
The Blossburg Advertiser May 5, 1899, Vol.15, No. 22
The ax fell as per notice and last Saturday found the Blossburg miners busy in their gardens or packing their "turkeys" to give the road a welt. Miners have been leaving here in squads of three and five for a week for other places and between Arnot, Fall Brook and Blossburg an exodus is taking place. Some who have left say that they will never work in these or any other mines again, but will take any sort of work before they will ruin their health working in wet, badly ventilated mines for the means to buy a living at a pluck-me. The fact of the matter is, no class of men are subjected to as many impositions as the miner. Legislatures pass laws to relieve the miners from these impositions but the operators laugh them to scorn. The state pays mine inspectors but the inspection has not remedied one cause of complaint since the offices were created 25 years ago. The state has a Bureau of Mining, so have some people six toes on one foot. It is a hard thing to say, yet it is eminently true, that all the betterment in the condition of the miners has come through the medium of strikes and consequent turbulence. It is a disgrace to Pennsylvania that this is the case, but Pennsylvania is not happy unless it has a disgrace or two on hand. The Commonwealth's mining laws are good laws but the way they are administratered make them a by-word and a jeer, a stench in the nostrils. It is well to bear this fact in mind before you indulge in any fine indignation at "lawless miners."
Miners at Arnot to the number of 118 have been sent to work in places of the Blossburg miners at Landrus. Some Arnot miners left rather than do this. Those who accepted are mostly men with large families who feel unable to break the bonds and strike out for greener pastures. The five or six miners living in company houses in Blossburg have not been laid off, but have been given work at their old places. Supt. Lincoln told several Blossburg men, when they settled up, that there would be places for about 25 miners from Blossburg. He intimated that the "old hands," with large families would be selected. The going of so many men will severely cripple the churches and schools and beneficial societies, as the main-stay of these has been the steady, thrifty men who own homes.
The luckiest men in this section are those who purchased farms from the Morris Run coal company. They all have good houses and barns, a team, a cow or two. Some have young orchards set out and it is astonishing to see the progress these men have made in the short time they have been there. They are given the first chance to work so that they can make their payment. There has been some gossip about the deeds, but inspection of them show they are sound as a pebble. The hemlock timber and mineral rights are reserved for 15 years. All the slope land east of Morris Run and as far north as Blakes is being cut into farms. Three houses have been built on the road to Fall Brook, and as the land has only a sparce growth of shrubs it will be easily cleared. There is a rumor - and the same rumor has been going for 20 years - that this company will open up its coal lands at the "Red Rocks," south-east of Blossburg, and there is also a rumor that the company has found 4 feet of coal south of Blossburg. It is like finding money to bet that if these rumors are true no good from them will benefit Blossburg as long as the "Little Czar" holds the sceptre. It is safe to say that coal mining will continue at Morris Run - just enough to pay the rent and the store going - for ten years.
"Ichabod" is written on Fall Brook "its glory has departed." Men who have lived there for 40 years, and who ought to know, say that this year will wind up the lumber operations. It is estimated that there are about 900 tons of bark left and it will be taken this year. As to the amount of coal left, men differ. There are about 70 miners there, and men in whom we have confidence, because they ought to know what they are talking about, say that if these 70 men were given steady work they would exhaust the coal in a year. A few say otherwise, but give no reasons for their statements. But eight families reside in the Fallow, the rest of the houses are rotting away. The same can be said of Dublin. On Canton, Catawissa, and Main Streets, most of the houses have tentants. But none of these houses owe the company anything. Take those on Canton Street as a sample. They were built in 1862 at a cost of about $200 each. The average rent was $6 per month and the repairs mostly came out of the tentant's pocket. That is to say, the company has received $2,664 in rent for the use of a house which cost $200. As there were hundreds of these houses you can figure for yourself there value as a money producer. The same can be said of all the mining towns. The log rows in Morris Run have probably paid for themselves 25 times over. Those at Arnot and Antrim have only been used for 30 years. No board of county commissioners were ever able to see much taxing value in these valuable properties. The worse thing about these houses was their outside appearance. Inside were neatness, the best furniture, an organ or piano, carpets, plenty of good books and a hospitality equal to any on earth. There were a few cases where drink and dirt held sway. The number of churches supported by these people shows well. There are two handsome edifices at Fall Brook; six at Morris Run; five at Arnot and one at Antrim.
Men are gradually leaving Fall Brook for other places, some going as far south as Alabama and as far west as Washington. The men here were more hopeful and cheery than in any of the four towns, and seemingly, no one cared a snap whether school kept or not. "We are alive," they say, even if others have been a long time dead.
Matters at Arnot are shaping up in a slow fashion. There are a great many men who will not believe but what Supt. Lincoln's order was to get the Maple Hill coal dug at his own price. The same men also say he may as well abandon it, and other Blossburg miners say that they would make a stagger at it out of spite. These men profess to believe that had the Arnot men refused to accept the places on Bear Run the company would have receded from its position. The miners in these two towns have acted as a unit on mining matters for thirty years, but this has made a distinct cleavage which will be extremely hard to re-unite. Supt. Lincoln has uniformly treated the discharged men with great courtesy. He has given some of them passes over the Erie to other places and in other ways sought to make their burden lighter.
The Antrim miners are gradually leaving. Antrim was never anything but a stony batter at its best and it is extremely doubtful whether it was able to make expense. It cost a cool million to get the first coal to market. The whole thing was a blunder and miners never made much more than a living, and but few will leave it with any regrets.
The loss of these men would be badly felt in any section. Ninety-nine per cent of them are good citizens in all senses of the word. Forty years residence among them enables us to speak by the card. They are honest, industrious, thrifty, supporting their churches and schools with great liberality, trying to educate and better the condition of their children, and generally taking the right side of public questions. In all the history of mining in this county never as much as a stick of timber was lost to these companies by a lawless act of their employees. No other mining region in United States can show a similar record. Knowing all the above facts, we always stood up for these men, rejoiced when they resisted corporate oppression and lawlessness and grieved when they were unsuccessful. The forbearance of these men under many deep provocations and their refusal to follow the lawless example of the corporations, constitute not the least part of this remarkable record.