The Coeur d’ Alene Mining War of 1890

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In the 1890s, Mine owners and union organizers fought for control of the Coeur d’ Alene mines. Suffragist May Arkwright Hutton took up her pen in support of the union.

Industrial violence, which pitted mine owners against unionized labor, broke out in the mining district of Coeur d’Alene in the 1890s. The mine workers had unionized to fight for “decent wages and hours, for safety regulations to minimize the dangers of a cave-in or poisonous air, and for an end to company stores and boardinghouses…” . To fight the miners company officials hired “spies and armed guards, fired union members, and substituted nonunion or scab labor imported from outside the region.”

The Bunker Hill, Idaho Conflict

On July 11, 1892, a gun battle erupted between union members and guards hired by the mine owners which left three dead on each side. At Bunker Hill in Northern Idaho, six hundred armed men seized a $250,000 concentrator; a machine used in mining, and threatened to destroy it unless the company discharged their scab workers. The threat worked as the scabs were discharged and left the area, but the victory was short lived. The Governor of Idaho, Norman Willey, declared martial law and brought in State and Federal troops to round up and arrest the union minors. Hundreds were arrested, including non minors protesters who were sympathetic to the minors, and confined for nearly two months at bull pens in Wallace and Warden, Idaho. Most were eventually released but twenty-five union leaders were transported to Boise for trial.

Western Federation of Minors Established

Included within this group was Ed Boyce who was sentenced to six months in jail. While in jail Boyce organized the Western Federation of Minors, which soon had members throughout the region and in other states and British Columbia. In 1894, Boyce, who was considered a hero too many of his fellow minor was elected to the State Senate, and then two years later as President of the Western Federation of Minors.

May Arkwright Hutton Supports the Unions

In 1899, minors commandeered a freight train and ordered the engineer, Al Hutton, husband of suffragist, May Arkwright Hutton, to drive the train down the tracks, from Burke to Gem, Idaho with the final destination the Bunker Hill mines near Warden, Idaho, picking up men and explosives along the way. The train was stopped at the Bunker Hill complex where the minors burned the company’s office and boarding house and set about three thousand pounds of explosives to the concentrator’s support pillars. The explosion “reduced the structure to matchsticks.” The new Idaho Governor, Frank Steunenberg, asked for Federal troops and arrested every minor who had not left town, some six to seven hundred of them, including men like Al Hutton. The men were rounded up and placed in bull pens. May Hutton went to work and got her husband out of jail. She then focused on the remaining prisoners. “With a pen dipped in rhetorical acid, she wrote a libelous novel entitled The Coeur d’ Alenes; or, A Tale of the Modern Inquisition in Idaho.”

The Huttons Strike it Rich

The railroad refused to rehire Al Hutton when he was released from jail so he had no choice but to devote his working hours to a “small, seemingly unproductive mine—the Hercules—in which he and May had invested their savings of a few hundred dollars. Boyce acquired an interest in the same mine in 1901…” . The mine became one of the great strikes of the Coeur d’Alene area and made all the investors rich.

May Arkwright Hutton’s Public Life and Suffragist Efforts

May Hutton also ran for public office, being elected a State Representative in northern Idaho. Later, in 1907, she and her husband moved to Spokane where her husband built buildings and she lend her pen and her passion to the cause of women’s suffrage, a cause she had advocated since she was a girl. As the President of the Washington Political Equality League, Hutton was at the forefront of the fight for suffrage which passed in Washington State in 1910. Once this fight was won other suffrage organizations disbanded; but not Hutton’s Political Equality League. In 1912, she became the first woman elected as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention and from her headquarters in the Hutton Building she set about on new campaigns until her death in 1915.

Sources:

  1. Lucile Fargo, Spokane Story, (Minneapolis: The Northwest Press, 1950), 224-43
  2. Carlos Schwantes, The Pacific Northwest, An Interpretive History (revised edition, 1996)