History of the Bloody First Ward
by Jay Zane
Copyright © 1998 by Jay Zane, Attorney at Law, and the Lithuanian
Global Genealogical Society, All Rights Reserved.
On September 10, 1897, a group
of miners marched from Hazleton to Lattimer in nearby Luzerne County
to assist some coalminers on strike against the high prices the employers
were charging the miners in the "company store."
The group was savagely gunned down by county law enforcement officials
resulting in nineteen miners being killed and over forty seriously
injured. Five of the fatalities were Lithuanian immigrants. Soon after
the tragedy, a large rally was held in the Lithuanian Church of St.
George at Shenandoah to show solidarity with their fallen brothers.
Over 4,000 people attended the rally, presided over by the pastor
and his curate. While no one was ever punished for the brutal "Lattimer
Massacre", unity and strength among various immigrant groups
began to take hold. Further unrest occurred in 1900 when a general
walkout resulted in clashes between eastern European miners and company
guards in Shenandoah resulting in one death and numerous injuries.
None of this would compare to the events 1902.
The United Mine Workers
went out on strike in May, 1902. Tensions mounted as the miners
were replaced by "scab" laborers which the miners believed
would undermine their cause and prolong the strike. Shenandoah was
one of the major hotbeds of the strike. The most angry area of the
borough was the “First Ward” inhabited
by the Lithuanians, Poles and other Eastern Europeans who supported
the U.M.W. 100%.
On July 30, 1902, the streets
of the First Ward flowed with blood. Joseph Beddall, a local hardware
store owner, went to assist his cousin, a deputy sheriff at the
time. Thousands of miners and their supporters were demonstrating
when the angry crowd turned on Mr. Beddall on Centre Street near
the train station. He was assaulted, kicked, and beaten "almost
to jelly". The Shenandoah police were summoned and a desperate
fight ensued. Shots rang. It was never determined who fired the
first shot. Bullets began flying in all directions. By the end the
melee, over 30 persons were seriously injured and three persons
were killed. The Chief of police was shot in the arm, and other
officers were wounded.
The newspaper listed the other fatal victims as “foreigners”.
The Pennsylvania National Guard was soon called into Shenandoah
to keep the peace. This Anthracite Coal strike of 1902 resulted
from the Mine operators rejecting labor's demands for an eight hour
work day and other reasonable proposals. The lengthy strike led
to near starvation conditions among the miners and their families.
Organized labor had to give out vouchers (not convertible to currency)
to be used at grocery stores. Approximately 1.5 million dollars
in relief was dispensed during this long strike which was only settled
through the intervention of U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt.
In the weeks that followed, the streets of Shenandoah would be
patrolled by soldiers riding on horseback, brandishing rifles and
bayonets. My great grandparents had their home in the heart of “
the battlefield” : The First Ward of Shenandoah.
A bullet flew over the head of my great grandmother Victoria Alex
and smashed into the wall of her home. Eventually the miners were
victorious, public opinion was on their side. The Anthracite strikes
proved to be historic in the growth of organized labor. The United
Mine Workers had grown nationally from 11,000 in 1898 to 250,000
in 1901. However , the monopolistic practices of the coal companies
passed on the increased labor costs directly to the citizens which
led consumers to seek other, more competitive fuels such as natural
gas, petroleum and soft coal. The price-fixing by the coal companies
was responsible for the decline and eventual fall of "King
July 30, 1902 was the date
the First Ward of Shenandoah earned its reputation and nickname
as The Bloody First.” The following day,
the town physicians were still busy. One physician removed over
18 bullets. Khaki clad soldiers were summoned to restore law and
order. Although the County Sheriff pleaded with Governor Stone to
declare martial law in Schuylkill County, the Governor refused.
The state's fourth and eighth regiments would patrol the streets
of the First Ward until the strike ended in October of 1902. The
Miner's Journal covered the strike as follows:
"Rioting At Shenandoah: Three Dead, Many Injured
Mob’s Victim Died Late Last Evening - Joseph
Beddall, who was so terribly beaten by a mob of foreigners at Shenandoah,
died at the Miner's Hospital from a brain concussion. Death relieved
his suffering last evening. The crowds are becoming larger as nightfall
At first, several "foreigners" threw stones at the
troops but the citizens and the troops gradually became accustomed
to one another and violence was kept to a minimum. The 1,500 troops
set camp at Columbia Park , preparing themselves for a long stay."
The August 5th edition of
the newspaper covered the large funeral for Joseph Beddall with
little mention or sympathy for other victims. The paper gave a report
of "another drunken brawl by the foreign element" being
broken up by the troops.” The troops considered the southern
end of Shenandoah to be the toughest part of town and government
officials confessed to the General their inability to cope with
the insurrection. Two companies of infantry had to be stationed
in the southern section of town.
The deputy sheriff gave
the following report as to the July 29th incident:
"On Wed. July 30, 1902 at about 5:00 p.m. while in Shenandoah
and on my way home, passing up Main Street near Poplar, my attention
was directed to crowds collecting and men running in large numbers
to the east of me, towards the Lehigh Valley and Reading Railroads.
I went over towards them and heard a number of men yelling "scab."
I asked the assistance of the citizens of Shenandoah to persuade
the crowd to disperse. I passed on up in a northeastwardly direction
on the Reading Railroad track. The crowd followed. When near Emerick
Street my attention was drawn to three men who were following me
up the railroad to the depot. The crowd was yelling "scab",
"scab", "scab," and other offensive names. I
turned and saw 3 men who I did not know and never saw before. They
proved to be Mr. Good, Mr. Henner, and Mr. Vaughn who worked for
the railroad. Mr. Good told the crowd "we are not scabs but
work for the railroad." They told me their names and stated
that they had been sent from Pottsville to get machinery and were
going to the station to take the 6:10 train back to Pottsville.
By this time the crowd had surged forward. We kept on moving toward
the Reading Station when one of the crowd tore the paper from the
bundles, which revealed a dinner pail and overalls. Immediately
all three men were pounced upon and knocked down. Stones were being
thrown at them and they were being beaten and kicked violently.
I previously told them that I was a Sheriff and must preserve peace
and that they must disperse. I attempted to read the riot act which
I drew out of my pocket when one of the crowd knocked the paper
out of my hand and someone shouted: "To hell with the sheriff...we
must kill scabs!" I had then been hit a number of times with
I drew my revolver thinking that the crowd would then move
back. I waived my revolver in the air and finally fired twice in
the air over the heads of the crowd. The crowd did not fall back,
but pressed in and continued to beat the 3 men and then I fired
again several times and the crowd was checked by this somewhat and
I hurried the 3 men to the depot. The men were badly beaten and
the crowd continued to pelt us with stones. The crowds surrounded
the depot and their numbers increased to thousands. They howled
and yelled like fiends and threw rocks and stones through the windows.
I held the crowd at bay and defended the 3 men until the arrival
of the police. With their assistance I got the 3 men into the engine
and the train departed under a shower of stones and rocks and bullets.
Two hours later I learned that my brother Joseph Beddall was brutally
beaten and murdered coming to my assistance."
Cavalry Trooper Stewart
Culin gave a more sympathetic view of the situation in Shenandoah.
When he arrived with his troops, he was impressed by the cleanness
of the population. "The miners were quiet and undemonstrative,
the women were barefooted, in calico dresses. The styles and patterns
of dress differentiated the Polish from the Lithuanian women. Swarms
of children played about with absolute freedom and unconcern. ..,”
he reported, describing the first ward as the most dangerous in
To Culin, nearly every other house appeared to be a saloon with
signs bearing foreign names. After a while, the trooper became compassionate
towards the plight of the miners, realizing the ever-present dangers
with no insurance. He was impressed by the high standard of intelligence
among the workers and objected to the prejudice shown to them. Later
he befriended the pastor of St. George's Church, Father Abromaitis,
who explained to him that the Lithuanian spoken in Shenandoah came
from both Russian , Polish and Prussian Lithuania. As a result,
three different dialects of Lithuanian were spoken.
Danger still existed. The troops would be periodically rattled
by the explosion of dynamite. Perhaps a home of a "scab"
or mine boss in nearby Gilberton would be a target of the striking
miners. The troops would have daily drills, frequently galloped
through the surrounding villages and towns. When on patrol, the
soldiers wore side arms ,carried ammunition and always rode with
loaded carbines advanced when passing through any of the mining
towns. Peace would eventually come to Shenandoah and the history
of the Bloody First Ward would fade with the passage of time.
Part II: The Trials
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