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Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The Butte Irish and World War I


    

The Richest Hill on Earth

                                                                                                                                                    
      Butte, Montana, had the largest concentrated population of Irish west of New York City at the time my novel takes place. Hard rock miners. The Butte Irish were American patriots, many enlisting when the United States entered World War I in April, 1917, or  willingly going into uniform when they were drafted.  But some remained what Teddy Roosevelt termed "hyphenated Americans," with a strong loyalty to Ireland, struggling to free itself from Great Britain.  The Butte Irish had protested the draft, not wanting their sons to fight on the side of Great Britain.

                        
               A few years before the war, under the guise of the Robert Emmett Literary Association, a faction of Butte Irish took advantage of the federal government's offer to give surplus Springfield rifles to hunting clubs. After acquiring their share, they formed Company A of the Irish Volunteers of America.  Even Father Michael Hannan, originally from Limerick and pastor of the miners' church, St. Mary's, went out on maneuvers with them as they prepared for the day when they'd return to Ireland to fight for its independence.

               So, when in the summer of 1917, the copper miners of Butte went out on strike for better working conditions and pay, the federal government imagined German and Wobbly influence, one in the same to government agents, stirring Butte's waters.  Federal troops were sent in to patrol its streets.

                In my unpublished manuscript, Marble Creek, in August, 1917, a week after Wobbly Frank Little is lynched in Butte, my character, Malachi O'Neill, arrives to offer his services to the Pearse-Connolly Club at Finlander Hall, where radical elements of Butte hang out. Its members have a plan to help Ireland, which they reveal to O'Neill.

          “Ireland can’t get guns from Germany with the war on.  She needs a new source.  We think we’ve found it.”  He spoke of the Canadian Ross rifle, how the mud in France jammed it so it wouldn't fire and a loose collar caused the bayonets to fall out during charges across no man’s land.  “The Canadian soldiers had enough of it.  They’re using Enfields now.  But it’s a good rifle at long-range, very accurate for snipers. The New York Guard is negotiating with the Canadian government now to buy surplus Rosses for training.  A man in that guard told a Pearce-Connolly member in New York, who sent word here.  Catch my drift, O’Neill?”
        He replied, “Mind, I'll be up and gone if ye tell me ye're plannin' to steal 'em from the New York Guard."
       "Ah, none of that. There's no shipping guns to Ireland from the east coast with all the ports being watched.  Every boat is searched twice - the Americans looking for German spies, the English hunting contraband shipped to Ireland.  The Royal Navy boards ships soon as they enter international waters.  If Canada has surplus guns for the New York Guard, we're betting they’ll have surplus for the Montana Guard to purchase.  We’ve got friends in the guard here willing to make up purchase orders for us.  We’ll bring the guns across the Canadian border, all legal like, but they won't be going to Helena and the guard armory.  We’ll bring 'em here, then transport 'em to the West Coast and contract a boat there.”


I just had to have this old Ross bayonet I purchased on eBay. It plays a part in my novel.
Plans are made.  


      More beer was poured and they toasted.  “To the harp of Ireland.  May it never lack for a string as long as there’s a gut in an Englishman.”  It had a satisfying ring.
And the song that remains with O'Neill through the rest of the story is HERE

Monday, December 7, 2015

Spruce Production Division & the 4 L

                       
A 4L Button I bought on eBay


           In 1917 the United States Army took over the production of lumber, just as it would  the operation of the railroads by December. Because of the draft, most lumberjacks were in the military, leaving foreigners and older men to man saw mills and logging camps.  Not enough men.  Soldiers with backgrounds in lumber were detailed to the Pacific Northwest to cut Sitka spruce for the manufacture of airplanes and ships.

Spruce Production Division soldiers.jpg
Division soldiers on a Sitka spruce stump

Brigadier General Brice P. Disque.jpg
Colonel Bryce Disque
    The officer in charge was Colonel Bryce Disque of the U.S. Signal Corps, His office was in Portland, Oregon. The main barracks were in Vancouver, Washington.

        Colonel Disque knew that strikes in the lumber industry would slow down the war effort and, on the advice of Carleton Parker, he ordered the eight-hour day for the lumber industry, higher pay, and better and cleaner conditions in camps. All of which were to go into effect on March 1, 1918. He also instituted a new union, the Loyal Legion of Loggers and Lumbermen (see button above), which was to include both laborers and management.

           He also was determined to wipe out the Wobbly influence in the woods and brought in newly trained Military Intelligence officers whom he sent out to logging camps as far away as north Idaho and western Montana where the white pine was being logged to snoop out radical elements and sign up the lumberjacks for the 4 L.

          In my novel, Marble Creek, it's Colonel Disque who has Lt. Robert Jamison, a former Pinkerton detective,  attached to the Spruce Division and then sends him undercover to locate Irish radical Malachi O'Neill, believed to be conspiring to transport guns from Butte to Ireland for a rebellion that would distract Great Britain from the war in Europe. While logging with O'Neill on Marble Creek, one of Disque's Military Intelligence officers shows up to sign up the men for the 4 L and deliver a message to Jamieson.

         Jamieson looked down the table at O’Neill.  What would he do?  The Irishman’s dark eyes had narrowed, but his elbows remained on the oilcloth as he shoveled food into his mouth.  His eyes lifted to Jamieson's and they shared a scowl.  Then O’Neill went back to his meat and potatoes.
            “I want you to know that your cook and his crew have already signed up.”  He turned toward the visible part of the kitchen.  “Step out here, men."
            Pork Grease Eddie strolled out carrying a cleaver, followed by the bull cook, Polite John, the pastry cook and the two flunkies. “Sign up boys,” Eddie called out. “I heard those who refused over at the Rutledge camp were visited by some Idaho State Guard troops and hauled off to St. Maries.  Don’t let the boss down.”
            Mouth full of pie, Jamieson looked around.  One by one, loggers in rubber-soled boots were rising and squeaking forward to exchange signed cards for 4L buttons.  When only a few were left at the tables, he followed suit, curious to see what the piece of brass looked like.
When he passed his card to Dean, the young lieutenant studied his name before peering into his bearded face and murmuring, “Got a message for you.”  Jamieson took a button and lifted it toward the hanging lantern overhead, tipping it as though trying to make out the embossing.  “Captain Dengel up in Spokane orders you to bring your man in.  He said he’ll personally get the information out of him.”
Jamieson fisted the badge and hissed, “I don’t take orders from Dengel.”  He strode away and paused at the door to see what O’Neill would do.  Goddamn, he wasn’t going to speed up this case to please Dengel, much less allow him to get his hands on O’Neill.  One thing he'd learned about being a detective is you have to find the rhythm of the case and fall in with it.  Patience.  It just takes patience to do it right.  Follow your hunch when you've got nothing else.

And a fine lumberjack song HERE


Saturday, December 5, 2015

The Milwaukee Road Railroad

Electrified Milwaukee Engine in the Bitterroot Mts.
                                                       



              The Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad was the last transcontinental rail line constructed in the United States, reaching the Pacific in 1909, and adding the word "Pacific" to its name.  Everyone called it the Milwaukee Road.  Electrification was added between Harlowton, Montana and Avery, Idaho, by 1915, because there was plenty of hydro power and copper in Montana, but also because of forest fire danger in the mountains.

         We all love trains, and the Milwaukee Road is a character in my unpublished novel, Marble Creek. During the period my story takes place a train depot sat at Marble Creek, Idaho, on the St. Joe River. 

         My character, Malachi O'Neill, clings to a ladder, riding in front of a boxcar from Butte, Montana, into Idaho.


            He exulted . . . listening to couplers straining and clacking as the train looped around mountains, steel wheels grinding against steel rails in long shrill screams as it descended.  Segments of straight track became scarcer, curves tighter, more frequent.  With little time to relax his hold as cars leaned first one way and then the other in rapid succession, his arms grew weary.  Late afternoon found him peering down into a shadowed deep canyon as the train roared across a long trestle.  Mountainsides were mostly treeless, giving off an acrid stench of burnt timber, though seven years had passed since the 1910 inferno.  The train approached the long black tunnel he disliked, two miles of darkness through a mountain, plunging into it as into a dark throat, engine roaring, wheels pounding, making a deafening din.  Blessed be this electrified engine with no black smoke blowin' down me gullet.  O’Neill dipped his head inside his coat's raised collar as groundwater from the tunnel's roof showered over the train.  Down into the St. Joe Valley it thrummed, through shorter tunnels, over trestles, trolley wires always overhead, and then into a narrow canyon, where Avery, a division point, hugged the St. Joe River.  There the engine was switched to a coal-fired locomotive.

        My favorite train song, "Way Out There" by the Sons of the Pioneers is HERE




                                                                                                                                                                

Friday, December 4, 2015

Fifty Thousand Lumberjacks - The Pacific Northwest Strike of 1917.

Image result for images lumber strike 1917
I.W.W. Poster
          
           In late spring 1917 the Industrial Workers of the World struck the logging and milling industries of the Pacific Northwest for the 8-hour day, better pay and better camp conditions. It couldn't have come at a worse time for the U.S. government, in need of cedar and white pine to build ships, airplanes, barracks and boxes for the war effort.  By summer the strike had spread from Montana, across northern Idaho and into Washington State. In my as yet unpublished novel, Marble Creek, (more about its title in a future blog), my protagonist, Wobbly and Irish radical, Malachi O'Neill, just released from the Everett jail (see previous blog about the Everett Massacre), heads for the Idaho woods to order loggers belonging to the I.W.W. to walk out.

Image result for vintage logging idaho images
Logging camp in Deer Park, north of Spokane, Washington
                                                                                                                     
             A few weeks later, O'Neill organizes a picket line at the MacLean Lumber Mill in St. Maries, Idaho, when Moses Alexander, Governor of Idaho, who has been making whistle stops at struck Idaho mills, arrives.



O'Neill knew how it would be.  Governor Moses Alexander in an expensive dark suit and hat would step down, followed by his entourage, some in uniform.  The mayor and town fathers, boot-lickers all, would be waiting at the station.  And Alonzo MacLean, the mill owner, would don a suit for the occasion, laying aside his high laced boots, tucked-in pants and plaid wool shirt.  The previous day he’d spotted MacLean though his open office door coming down with the “Wobbly Horrors” when he learned a few more men had struck and walked out.  When he saw the group rapidly approach along the dusty road, O’Neill called out, “Here comes the governor.  Ye’ll be givin’ him respect, fellow workers,” adding under his breath, “though they be at their old tricks.”
Governor Alexander went down the crooked picket line, offering his hand to each man, who had to pull his own out of a pocket to shake it. . .  .

. . . O’Neill stood back with fists in pockets.  Son-of-a-bitch rascal, thinking he’s squireen of us all.
Alexander spread the eagle’s wings and unsheathed its talons, speaking of patriotism and their duty to assist in defeating Germany.  He had his spiel down pat, having made the circuit of struck sawmills on Idaho's numerous rivers and lakes, knowing better than to trek into empty logging camps.
           He’d pushed a syndicalism law through the state legislature, directed at the Industrial Workers of the World.  Guts twisted with resentment, O'Neill watched the governor from below.  The strikers weren’t all Wobblies, just sympathetic to I.W.W. aims.  The new treason law, though, frightened the mill workers.  Unlike rough and tumble lumberjacks, they were mostly family men . . .   
  
         . . . The strikers had listened quietly, even respectfully.  Alexander stepped down and

 shook more hands.  And that was that.  He and his followers raise a cloud of fine dust on their way back to his train. . . .  The men in front of the gate were talking among themselves when Sheriff Buck Noland and his deputized thugs moved in to arrest the Wobbly leaders.  O’Neill didn't struggle, but it didn’t save him from being punched in the face after he was handcuffed.  The sheriff’s men held guns on the strikers as O’Neill and two others were dragged to one side and searched for weapons.  As they were close-herded the few blocks to the jail, O’Neill called out to a Wobbly, “Jimmy, ye best be gettin' us a lawyer.”


 And the appropriate I.W.W. song "Fifty Thousand Lumberjacks" can be heard  HERE