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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 Coal."

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 advances.

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 stones.

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 Shenandoah.

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.

CONTINUED
Part II: The Trials


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