Whatever your opinion of current unions, there was a time in our history that they formed the only protection workers had against corporate greed. Such was the case when the continental railway was in its infancy. Unfortunately, the disagreement didn’t end well.
Coal mines were established wherever coal was available. Locomotives required a great deal of coal to fuel the steam engines. I always think of West Virginia as the center for coal production, but there are coal mines across the United States (Including North Central Texas where I live). Not only did the coal fuel the steam engines, it was transported and sold to cities across the rail line for home and corporate use. If you’ve been stuck at a rail crossing and watched a long freight train go by, no doubt you saw cars heaped with coal.
During the Industrial Revolution in the 18th and 19th centuries, coal became the dominant worldwide energy source. In Wyoming, as in other places with growing industry, coal was cheap and abundant. It was much easier to mine coal than to cut wood for fuel. Hotter coal fires brought major changes in the metal industries. Demand grew for the products of the new technologies fueled by coal. Converting coal into clean natural gas was also first considered at this time; cities such as Boston used large ovens to turn coal into gas that fueled streetlights and lamps in homes.
In the second half of the 19 century, more uses for coal were discovered. Civil War weapons factories converted to coal. By 1875, coke, a hotter fuel refined from coal, replaced charcoal as the primary fuel for iron blast furnaces used to make steel. Smith’s Fork in what is now Lincoln County, a long-time trading post for trappers and Indians, changed its name to Cokeville because of large deposits of coke-suitable coal nearby.
According to Chamois L. Anderson in an article for the Wyoming State Historical Society, commercial mining for coal in Wyoming began with the arrival of the Union Pacific Railroad in 1867. Coal was used to fuel steam engines to power locomotives. It was the primary source of fuel for trains until diesel engines replaced the locomotives in the mid-20th century. The U.P.’s route across what soon became Wyoming Territory depended on two main factors, topography and plentiful coal. The route connected the major mines of Carbon, Rock Springs, and Almy, Wyoming, near Evanston.
The first mines were owned by the Wyoming Coal and Mining Company, which leased the land from the railroad. The company mined the coal and sold it to the railroad for a profit. In 1874, the government terminated the agreement between the two companies. Consequently, the Union Pacific Coal Company was formed as the Union Pacific Coal Department by the Union Pacific Railroad, with the railroad effectively taking over the mines. U.P. Coal Company then had a monopoly on coal production in the territory and used the coal primarily for its railroad operations.
Coal mining at Rock Springs, 140 miles west of Carbon, also began in the late 1860s to supply coal to the U.P. During the next century, more than 100 million tons of coal came from Rock Springs mines.
But here’s where Union Pacific Coal became especially greedy. U.P. Coal Company officials held a tight rein on worker pay. In 1875, company executives cut the work rate paid to miners by one-fifth, but kept charging the same coal prices to its buyers. Imagine suddenly being told your income—which was barely a living wage in the first place—was reduced by twenty percent. Yikes!
Coal mining is hard work with numerous dangers. Explosions in the mines are deadly. Working in the mine often causes black lung. One of my favorite authors, Louis L'Amour, once wrote he had black lung from the short time he worked in a coal mine as a boy.
When the miners went on strike, company officials replaced them with Chinese laborers who worked for less. The Chinese were imported and merely wanted to earn a living. That they were working in places formerly manned by miners of European and British descent created hatred against the Chinese as well as against the railroad. This led to a long series of strikes, and eventually to murder.
In 1885, the Rock Springs Massacre made national headlines. The miners’ resentment of the U.P. Coal Company and its pay cuts, combined with rumors that Colorado miners were to receive pay raises, resulted in a major uprising. Members of a union called the Knights of Labor burned the homes of 74 Chinese families, and 28 people were killed. The Chinese fled toward Green River and U.P. trainmen rescued them as they fled along the tracks. Federal troops were called in to restore order and eventually the Chinese returned to work. I didn’t learn what happened to the striking miners.
In my book, A BRIDE FOR LUKE, I deal with such resentment and a similar situation. Wyoming Sheriff Luke Sullivan is charged with avoiding an incident like this. I used a fictional railroad name and a fictional town. However, I believe I fairly represented the miners’ complaints in having my hero character diffuse the situation. I hope you’ll read this book and let me know whether or not you agree.
Blurb for A BRIDE FOR LUKE, Proxy Brides Series book 36
Each is struggling to build a better life . . .
Two strong-willed people are bound to clash . . .
Danger forces them to focus on what is at stake . . .
Maeve Kelly came to America for a better life but found only signs that said No Irish Need Apply. When the cousin with whom she is staying leaves Boston, Maeve is left desperate. Her job at the laundry doesn’t pay enough for her to survive alone. Her friend suggests a way out, Maeve resists but finally accepts. What else can she do?
Sheriff Luke Sullivan is proud of his accomplishments. Known for his strong principles, he is admired and well-respected in the community. When he learns his mother and aunt have schemed to get him a proxy bride he’s furious. If he’d wanted a wife he would have found one. He respects and loves his mother and finally agrees to the marriage. Before he and his bride can adjust to one another, Luke is caught in the middle of an explosive situation between striking miners and the railroad.
Threats against Luke by each side have him fearing for the safety of his wife, mother, and aunt. He must resolve the strike to protect his family and many others. Will he succeed in time to save lives?
Here’s an excerpt:
He pushed back from the table. “How can I keep you safe if you don’t follow orders? Do you understand?”
She put her hands on her hips. “Oh, so it’s orders you’re giving me, is it? Weel, Lucas Brady Sullivan, I take orders from no man. Do you understand?”
“Mae, you’re making something from nothing.” He tapped his chest. “I’m your husband. You promised to obey me when we wed.”
That brought her temper down a notch. She had promised and Father Patrick had lectured her on the husband being the head of the household. “Mayhap I did, but not high handed orders.”
“And what would you consider obeying? You want a written invitation to remain home? Shall I show you the other wanted poster and suggest you avoid that man? You’ve no idea what these other men look like so how would you know if they were walking down the street or shopping in the Mercantile? How can you know who’s an upstanding citizen and who’s a stranger in town? You were in front of the Mercantile when Higgins accosted you.”
She turned toward the sink, hands on her face to hide her shame. “Aye, ‘tis sorry I am. The worry of what’s going to happen has me in bits. I can’t get out of my mind the fact someone may shoot at you from an ambush.”
He wrapped his arms around her. “Don’t fret, honey. I’m doing my best to keep this situation from becoming violent. I can’t focus on my job if I’m worried about where you are and what you’re doing and who’s around you.”
She leaned her head against his broad chest. His strong heartbeat reassured her. “I see the way I was wrong. ‘Twas my mistake and ‘tis sorry I am.”
She looked up at him. “But, for us to have a peaceful marriage you’d best consider making requests instead of giving orders.”
Here’s the Universal Amazon link: http://mybook.to/Maeve
It’s available in e-book and print and is free in KU.
Reviews have been excellent. I hope you’ll read and enjoy it.