"As the nineteenth century drew to a close, Bunker Hill was a thriving enterprise. In 1893, when Bradley assumed its management, the corporation had been deeply in debt and had never paid a dividend. In the years since, it had moved into the black, paying over $600,000 in dividends. By April 1899, the miners union concluded that the time had come to confront Bunker Hill head-on, in hopes of compelling union recognition and union wages. Early that month, Ed Boyce, president of the Western Federation of Miners, then based in Butte, met with leaders of the Wardner union. On April 18, notices sprouted in the mining camp warning anyone not yet a union member to join immediately. On April 23, a workers' delegation called on Bunker Hill's acting manager, Frederick Burbidge, to present its demands. Burbidge put into effect a plan aimed at driving a wedge between the union members (roughly 100 men) and the rest of the company's workforce (about 350). He promptly granted a wage increase—to the "old scale" of $3.50 a day for miners, $3.00 for muckers—thus, it was hoped, satisfying the nonunion faction. But he refused the request for union recognition. Albert Burch, the superintendent, said the company would "shut down and remain closed for twenty years" before it would recognize the union. Union men should report to the office, where they'd be paid and dismissed. On his own initiative that day, Burch fired seventeen men he believed to be union members.
|Before the wreck|
Early on April 9, Burbidge heard from undercover detectives that more efforts would be made to intimidate his nonunion workers. He promptly alerted Steunenberg, who warned Young to stay on top of the situation. The threat that bright spring morning came not from Wardner's embattled union but from the entrenched unionists along Canyon Creek. Up the narrow canyon in the cramped mining camp of Burke, the Northern Pacific's"down train" was about to make its seven-mile morning run to Wallace, when the engineer, Levi W. Hutton, and the conductor, George Olmstead, noted 250 miners in their "digging clothes," some wearing masks and others armed with rifles, climbing aboard the two passenger cars and eight boxcars. Hutton and Olmstead later claimed innocence in the matter, though authorities accused them of "moral cowardice and truculent subserviency." According to Hutton, two masked men with Winchesters jumped into his cab and told him, "Pull out for Wallace, and be damned quick about it!" A mile down the track, in the mining camp of Mace, a hundred more miners got on. The masked men ordered another stop at the powder house of the Helena-Frisco mine, where workers loaded eighty wooden boxes, each containing fifty pounds of dynamite. At Gem, another 150 to 200 miners armed with rifles joined their colleagues on the train, along with three freight cars to accommodate the newcomers.
When the train completed its scheduled run at Wallace, the station platform seethed with 200 more miners, who'd walked seven miles from Mullan, retrieving weapons cached in a manure pile along the way. The authorities later pointed to this as proof of how carefully the operation had been planned, allegedly at mining camp meetings the night before (the men of Mullan--representing the largest local union in the state-defiantly refused to wear disguises). Now the masked men in the cab ordered Hutton to head for Wardner, twelve miles west. "We can't go to Wardner," he said he told his captors, explaining that the Northern Pacific track didn't go there and they'd have to ask permission to run on the "foreign track" of the Oregon Railway and Navigation Company. Even with running orders it wasn't safe: "This engine weighs about 115 tons and we'll go through the bridges. Besides, there are trains on the O.R. & N. and we're liable to have a collision and kill fifty men."
A railway agent named Lambert refused permission to run on his tracks, but the masked men were adamant. So the rogue train pushed through the transfer switch, ringing its bell and sounding its whistle, which Hutton had rigged with a chime made by a Wallace plumber, giving it a distinctive tone. As an additional precaution, Hutton ordered the brakeman, Thomas Chester, to act as flagman, waving his red banner to warn any oncoming train of their unscheduled run. Since there were many curves on this stretch--requiring the flagman to intercept any train that might be out of sight round the turn—the train crawled along, reaching Kellogg just before noon.
A mile from its destination, several hundred men from the Bunker Hill and Last Chance mines managed to squeeze aboard. As the train pulled into the Kellogg depot, which served as the railhead for Wardner's mines and mills, nearly a thousand men were jammed onto the nine freight and ore cars, one passenger coach, and two engines (one front and one rear). Some two hundred had covered their faces with masks made from pillowcases, buckskin, or American flags; these same men were armed with Winchesters, shotguns, and baseball bats. The 'train was 'literally black with men' recalled a Spkane newsman. 'The engine itself was covered all over with armed men and everywhere a man could gain a place to sit or stand or hold on to, he was there.' Each miner on the train wore a strip of white muslin buttonhole or a white cloth tied around his right arm.
|After the wreck|
Others had a bolder scheme in mind, placing sixty boxes of dynamite at three locations below the concentrator. At 2:35, they lit the fuses. In a few seconds three consecutive blasts reduced the concentrator to splintered wood and billows of dust. The Bunker Hill office containing all the records, the company boardinghouse, and several smaller buildings were also destroyed by the explosion or fire. By 2:50, the raiding party and most of the others who'd arrived in Kellogg at noon were back on the train—now dubbed the Dynamite Express—which hastily retreated. From Kellogg to Wallace, ranchers and laboring people lined the tracks and, according to one eyewitness, "cheered the [union] men lustily as they passed."
—Big Trouble: A Murder in a Small Western Town Sets Off a Struggle for the Soul of America
by J. Anthony Lukas.
|"The governor of Idaho trying to be a peace maker was also killed in this explosion." Someone had either heard a bad rumor or had their history wrong as we know the governor, Frank Steunenberg, was not killed in this explosion.|
|As you have seen many times before, Frank was killed in this explosion when he entered the side gate of his home on 16th Avenue in Caldwell, Idaho on 12/30/1905 |
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Sunday, November 16, 2008: April 28th and 29th, 1899 - INSURRECTION IS PROCLAIMED/SIXTY RIOTERS ARRESTED
Saturday, March 14, 2009: June 29, 1899 - WARM RECEPTION WAITING-GATLING GUN TO GUARD THE BUNKER HILL MILL