Today, the Liberty Nickel Five-Cent Coin remembers the events during the Great Railway Strike of March 1886.
In early 1886, the railway workmen of the Southwestern or Gould system believed the company was not honoring the terms of their contract.
The Southwestern system at that time consisted of over 4000 miles of track and employed 14,000 men in various positions.
On March 1, 1886, the men began the Greatest Railway Strike.
Due to riots and other difficulties, on March 26, officials in Washington DC ordered US troops to the St. Louis area to protect the US Mail.
In the meantime, local law enforcement including the US Marshals attempted to keep law and order and some of the trains moving.
From The Country Gentleman magazine of April 1, 1886:
Review of Passing Events.
The Knights of Labor.—The great railway strike on the Gould Southwest system still continues.
Acts of violence by men along the blockaded lines are hourly reported, and the situation is assuming a serious aspect.
The Missouri Pacific firmly refuses to accede to the demands of the men who have left its employ, and are making desperate efforts to send out freight trains.
One, manned by 125 policemen, and with the assistance of 100 more in the yards. succeeded in getting out of St. Louis March 25.
At Pacific it was stopped by 100 strikers, who blockaded the track with timbers piled ten feet high; but the Sheriff of the county and the police forced back the mob, removed the obstructions and the train proceeded.
At 3 P. M. the yardmen, switchmen and shop men in the employ of the Eastern trunk lines at East St. Louis quit work.
Millions of dollars of railroad property is practically in the hands of the strikers, and the local authorities are incapable of affording the necessary protection.
A prominent Knight said: “If Hoxie doesn’t recognize the Knights, within two weeks this strike will extend from ocean to ocean and the traffic of the whole country will be suspended. We mean business, and as there are 2,000,000 of us, we can force recognition.”
At noon, March 26, a passenger train was seized at Gray’s Summitt and side-tracked.
In the afternoon the company sent an engine from St. Louis, guarded by 20 men armed with Winchester rifles, to pull the train to its destination.
A company of national troops is concentrated in the region threatened with riot in St. Louis.
Governor Marmaduke has issued a proclamation calling on the Missouri Pacific Railway Company to resume the traffic of the country, and warning all persons against interposing obstacles in the way of such resumption; also pledging the whole power of the State to sustain the road and its servants.—
One thousand five hundred morocco workers quit work March 23, at Wilmington, Del., but resumed on the following day, with the understanding that a conference would be soon held to settle matters in dispute.
The strike put in jeopardy over $1,000,000 worth of skins.
Five thousand cloak makers are idle in New-York City, and the street car lines running in Broadway, Brooklyn, were tied up, March 26, 250 men having struck.
Other old labor difficulties in different parts of the country are yet unsettled and new ones are daily occurring.
Grand Master Workman Powderly, in a secret circular to the Knights of Labor of America, made public March 26, says that he must resign if the local organizations continue to disregard the principals of the order.
Conciliation and arbitration he says, should be used in the settlement of disputes between employer and employee. Strikes and boycotts should not be resorted to until every other means has failed.
He warns all members against busty, ill-considered action.
Latest.—At a conference between President Jay Gould and Powderly, Sunday, March 28, an agreement was reached which will, it is hoped, end the Southwest strike.
The Liberty Nickel Five-Cent Coin shows with an artist’s image of an effort to start a freight train in East St. Louis under the guard of the US Marshals during the Great Railway Strike of 1886.