Lecture explores deadly 1891 coal miner strike outside Mt. Pleasant
A year before the Homestead Strike of 1892 left nine people dead in a pitched battle between steelworkers and Pinkerton detectives, a little-known skirmish between about 300 striking coal miners and Westmoreland County sheriff’s deputies proved just as deadly.
“It was bigger than Homestead, and it is never talked about,” said Cassandra Vivian, a Mt. Pleasant historian who has conducted extensive research into that strike of April 1891 and others involving miners and coke workers who labored for industrialist Henry Clay Frick’s coke company. “Mobs marched through the streets of Mt. Pleasant, Scottdale and as far as Broadford, brandishing guns, clubs and more. Pinkertons were called in to protect property. The coal and iron police were there to restore order.”
The bloody confrontation occurred as sheriff’s deputies met striking miners in the village of Morewood along Route 981 in East Huntingdon, just outside Mt. Pleasant, Vivian said. Seven miners were killed that day and two more died later, according to a Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission roadside marker. They were among 16,000 miners striking for higher wages.
Vivian will explore the bloody strike and another one in 1894 during a lecture from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday at the Mt. Pleasant Library, 120 S. Church St. Vivian said she hopes to attract people whose ancestors worked in the regional coal mines and have their own stories to tell.
“People know practically nothing about it. It is not taught in schools,” Vivian said.
Scott Giacobbi, a teacher at Mt. Pleasant Area High School, said he does teach students about the massacre.
Those miners who were shot to death during the confrontation were buried in a mass grave in St. John’s Cemetery in Scottdale, according to the marker.
The program is one of a series of lectures that Vivian has conducted in Mt. Pleasant and Connellsville about Frick, his coal mines and coke ovens, and the impact of the immigrants who came to the area to work those jobs.
“We don’t celebrate the history of coal in the area. We don’t celebrate the struggle of those people,” Vivian said.
They faced discrimination and, by 1894, organizations were formed to stop immigration, she said.
She has done research into the coal miners and local industry of that era by scouring old Mt. Pleasant newspapers and going through documents at the Sen. John Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh. She received a $5,000 grant from the Rivers of Steel Heritage Area in Pittsburgh that helped defray the cost of the research project.
Vivian wants to turn the research into local coal mine strikes from 1875 through 1894 into a book centering on the workers, including the immigrants, who toiled for Frick as he amassed wealth and power on his path to becoming one of America’s industrial magnates.
“This is not going to be about the big guys like Frick and his competitors, like Col. (James)Schoonmaker. This is about the little guys who helped to make Frick wealthy,” Vivian said.
Unlike others who depict Frick as a strike-breaking baron because of his actions during the Homestead Strike of 1892, Vivian said she strives to present a balanced view of Frick. She said that Frick’s miners were treated well compared to those who worked for other companies.
“They had the best housing. They had the best safety. He would give them a raise, even before a strike,” Vivian said.
Vivian plans additional lectures on the subject July 21, Sept. 22, and Oct. 20 at The Canteen, 131 W. Crawford St., Connellsville.
Joe Napsha is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-836-5252 or [email protected].