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UMWA Marker Honors Mine Workers

Eileen Mountjoy

 

In 1990, the centennial year of the United Mine Workers of America, will be marked by celebrations, both large and small, across the coal fields of several states.  On an international scale, the United Mine Workers Journal, for example, has sponsored a year-long project on the history of the union, encouraging locals around the country to research their own past through documents, photographs and interviews with older members.  A major history of the UMWA, prepared by a professional historian utilizing the international's own archival materials, is also nearing completion.  Closer to Indiana County, April 1, the day chosen to honor Johnny Mitchell, the UMWA's 5th president, was celebrated in several locations, including St. Michael and Spangler.  On these occasions, speakers often refer to the deaths of innocent miners' wives and children in Ludlow, Colorado, in 1914, and the dramatic incidents in Matewan, West Virginia, in 1920, or the Battle of Blair Mountain, also in that state, during the UMWA's formative years.  The names of labor heroes and heroines, some famous, such as Mother Jones, William B. Wilson and John Brophy, will be frequently heard this year, and some, not so famous, such as Dominick Gellotte, from Nanty-Glo in Cambria County, have also been written about.

Here in Indiana County, the history of the UMWA and the establishment of locals has been relatively free of violence. The use of the blacklist, large-scale evictions, and, in the l920's, an anti-conspiracy law to prevent miners from organizing were all employed in the District 2 area.  But more brutal methods of worker control were much more common in neighboring states where absentee landlords and periodic depressions in the coal industry created a powderkeg when combined with the desperation of striking miners. Nevertheless, the UMWA's struggle for existence left its mark on Indiana County, kept before our eyes in the powerful image of a tall granite obelisk in the little town of Creekside, approximately one and a half miles from the former mining town of Ernest. The tipple at Ernest has gone now, and the steaming coke ovens and the huge brick machine shops exist only in photographs. The houses themselves, adapted now to the tastes of individual owners, are losing the repetitive sameness that marked Pennsylvania's turn-of-the-century coal towns. A generation from now, the monument at Creekside alone may remain unchanged to testify to the courage of a handful of long-dead coal miners seeking a better way of life for themselves and their families.

The stone column, 7'11" high, isn't immediately apparent from Route 110. It stands on one of Creekside's back streets, up on a hill, and, blocked from view by houses until, by car or on foot, it is suddenly visible. Chiseled deeply into the polished grey surface are these words: "Nicola Macera Killed June 8, 1906, During the Strike of the Bituminous Coal Miners. Erected by District 2, UMWA. The UMWA Deplore His Death and Honor His Memory." On the opposite side, the words are repeated again, this time in Italian. The story behind the monument's erection has been nearly lost in the 84 years since its original dedication. The search for the answers takes us to microfilmed issues of the Indiana County Gazette, the dockets of criminal trials housed in the county courthouse, and the archives of the UMWA District 2 housed in IUP's Special Collections in Stapleton Library. The origins of the tragedy of Nicola Macera, however, date to 1904, when miners in District 2 agreed to a small wage cut. This was necessitated, operators argued at a meeting held in Clearfield, by low wages in the non-union coal fields to the south, which gave those mines a competitive advantage that could only be met by cutting wages locally.

This small reduction in miners' paychecks gave many coal companies in Indiana, Jefferson, Cambria, and Armstrong counties the impetus to make a second attempt two years later, but at the same time delegates at the 1906 National Convention were equally determined to recover the 1904 loss by a national agreement. At the meeting, a resolution was passed authorizing a nationwide strike call, which, in addition, prohibited national officers from making piecemeal settlements.  John Mitchell, who was then president, and William B. Wilson, rejected this rigid position, and urged the passing of a second resolution which authorized the national and district officers to sign with any operators who would restore the 1904 scale. This action, which was strongly opposed by District 2 officers, changed a nine-year policy of holding the miners together until the Central Competitive Field had signed and then using that base for the rest of the country. John Brophy, in his autobiography, recalled subsequent events: ("Piecemeal) settlements were made in a fairly short time n the Midwest. But in District 2, the results were a long and disastrous strike…. Demand for restoration of the 1904 scale was submitted to the operators' association in March, but no meeting was even held; the increase was not even considered."

In addition, two other restrictions were made by the coal operators, Brophy remembered. First, in case of a strike, both district and local UMWA treasuries would be liable for damaged. Second, non-union miners could be hired by any coal company. "The strike, begun on April 1, dragged on for over three and a half months. Only 20% of the concerns signed up. This drained our treasury, as District 2 paid out over $340,000 in fines and strike relief." Still, this was not enough, and the national sent $100,000 for assistance as well. At the end of the first ten weeks of the strike, the Ernest local, which had been renting meeting space in nearby Creekside, decided to organize a peaceful demonstration to show their determination to resist the coal operators' restrictions and to regain the pay scale of 1904. On the evening of June 7, a 12-piece miners' band arrived from Anita, Jefferson County, bearing trombones, cornets, drums, and flags bearing the stars and stripes as well as an UMWA emblem.

At 6:00 a.m., Friday, June 8, the band left Creekside and marched northeast to Ernest to accompany local members back to Creekside where a meeting was scheduled for 9:00 a.m.… The miners, following behind the band, formed "quite a procession," according to Indiana County Gazette reporters, who on June 13 struggled to unravel the subsequent tangle of events and to present their conclusions to their reading audience. Chief among the several key figures in the leading story on June 13, l906, was a recent immigrant from an unknown village in Italy, whose identity at first was uncertain. Over eight decades later, the name of Nicola Macera lives on in Indiana County, alone among the dozens of others who were talked about for a brief time and then forgotten.  In an admirable attempt to produce well-balanced journalism, the Gazette story presented the countless details at Ernest that late spring day, beginning with this first sentence: "Seven men were shot in a riot between a number of coal miners and a party of State Constabulary and Sheriffs' deputies at Ernest Friday morning at about 7:l5 o'clock." ... "and there are, of course," the writer remarked, no doubt from previous experience, "two stories as to its causes and the responsibility for it."

The office of the Jefferson & Clearfield Coal & Iron Company's Ernest mine was located near what is now the town's lowest street, roughly adjacent to the mule barns, fan house, power house, and machine shops. Inside, the mine superintendent, the foreman, company guards and payroll personnel attended to their duties. On that fateful day, members of the Pennsylvania State Constabulary, the Indiana County Sheriff and several deputies, and a former Rayne Township deputy constable hired by the coal company as a "town cop" were also on the scene. Suddenly, shouts and gunshots took the place of the sounds of band music and marching feet. In a few moments, the "riot" was over, leaving six men lying wounded on the bloodstained dirt road that ran between the mine office and the fan house.

One of the sheriff's deputies, Clair Snyder, Indiana, was also injured. Quickly, the procession, together with a few spectators, dispersed. Three of the miners and the deputy sheriff were first carried to the company doctor's office and rushed by train to the miners' hospital in Adrian, Jefferson County. The three remaining miners were carried to the coal company office, placed on stretchers, and later borne back to Creekside, followed by their stunned and silent brothers. By the next morning, the three men were being cared for in Creekside were recovering from gunshot wounds of the head, chest, and neck. Tony Macro (or Macera), who was an employee of his brother's in a store in Creekside, was the most seriously hurt, having been "shot in the side and the bullet…near the breast in the region of his heart." From his bed, Macro, before a justice, swore that he had seen the man who had fired at him, and that it had been William North, special officer for the Jefferson & Clearfield Coal & Iron Company. Frank Pino, a miner, was shot in the back, but, according to witnesses, he had walked, on foot, "the whole distance from the center of the riot to Creekside, where he lay hovering between life and death for six weeks." Shortly after noon on June 9, news reached Creekside that one of the men taken to the Adrian Hospital had died. Immediately, two miners known to us only as Arico and Defeo traveled to Indiana and went before Justice Carnahan, bringing a charge of murder against John Reed, general superintendent of the Jefferson and Clearfield Coal and Coke mines; William Reed, superintendent of the Ernest mine; William North; several of the members of the State Constabulary and seven sheriff's deputies who had also been on the site of the shooting.

"All of the defendants," noted the paper, "came into Indiana and gave themselves up," on the evening of the same day. Bail was fixed at $15,000 each, with an additional $1,000 for William North, who was under a charge of felonious shooting with an attempt to kill. "President Lucius Robinson, of the Coal Company," the paper informed its readers, "had anticipated some such action and had arranged with the Savings and Trust Company, of town, to furnish any amount of bail for the officers… The matter of bail was therefor easily adjusted and the officials returned to Ernest the same night." On Sunday, in the event that "more trouble" might occur, "seven a additional State Constables from the troop located at Greensburg came to Indiana on Sunday and went directly to Ernest to augment the squad already there." The remains of the "foreigner" who had gunshot wounds were brought from Adrian Hospital by train on Monday evening and taken to the undertaking rooms of Henry H. Steving. Coroner W. D. Gates authorized a jury to investigate "the cause of, and the responsibility for," his death. Dr. W.A. Simpson and Dr. E. F. Shaulis performed a post-mortem on the corpse, tracing the course of the bullet, which was recovered.

Retrieval of the bullet further complicated the already confusing details surrounding the "riot," at Ernest. "The ball was of thirty-two caliber," noted the Gazette. "An interesting fact in connection with the size is, that the State Constabulary are armed with thirty-eight caliber revolvers and could not have fired the shot which struck the man." Having presented the findings of Coroner W.D. Gates, the reporter summarized the few facts surrounding the life of the Italian immigrant who had made such a long journey from his homeland and who had died without ever realizing the hopes that had brought him to America. "There is a discrepancy somewhere concerning the named of the deceased. The parties at Creekside, who made the charges against the officers, knew the man as Giovanni Petoraki, while at the Adrian Hospital, where he had died, he was known as Nickola Macher. The latter is also the name which his friends gave to Coroner Gates.

"The dead man was not a coal miner," the article continued. "He was a stone mason and had been in Ernest but a short time. It seems he had no near relatives or friends in this vicinity. The remains were interred in the Catholic cemetery (St. Bernard's) Tuesday morning at 11 A. M." In the six months following the fatal shooting, most of the residents of Indiana County forgot about the Italian stone mason and the "riot" that occurred on that morning in June. But on the day after Christmas, 1906, the killing, once again, made the newspaper's front page. In a lengthy article which nearly filled the Gazette on December 26, newsroom reporters repeated their earlier efforts to sort out the jumble of information for the citizens of Indiana County.

The trial of William North, accused of fatally wounding Nicola Macera, lasted for three days. During the proceedings, numerous witnesses, both for the prosecution and for the defense, took the stand. Half a dozen local attorneys, including such well-known names as B.M. Clark, Harry White and John A. Scott, examined and cross-examined the miners, coal company officials, sheriff's deputies and members of the state constabulary, and a benchful of bystanders who had been at the scene of the shooting on June 8.  As had been observed in the original Gazette story printed five days after the tragedy at Ernest, those in attendance at the Indiana county Courthouse during the trial heard two distinctly different interpretations of the events. By the conclusion of the proceedings, however, evidence seemed to show with reasonable certainty that Nicola Macera had been shot, not y William North, but by an inexperienced sheriff's deputy, the only man present that day who had a 32-calibre revolver in his possession. In addition, there was a strong suggestion that Macera, too, was carrying a gun. "The jury, in the case of the shooting of Nicola Macera was out for only 26 minutes," the Gazette reported.

"William North was found 'not guilty,' and, although the cost of the murder trial will be paid by the county, those of the other various suits and counter-suits of assault and riot will be divided equally between the coal company and the UMWA."' With an almost audible sigh of relief, the Gazette reporter drew a grueling work week to a conclusion: "This relieves the taxpayers of the likelihood of a heavy burden, and, so far as the troubles at Ernest are concerned, the docket is clear." For the members of District 2, UMWA, however, the docket was not "clear," and the events of June 8, 1906, where not to be relegated to the category of yesterday's news.

Almost a year later, during the third week of March 1907, a District Miners' Convention was held at DuBois. Although delegates had much pressing business to attend to, including a loss of 3,000 members, "due to the strike, in the past 12 months," the shooting and death of the young stone mason at Ernest also "received much attention." At the end of the meeting, the following resolution was adopted:

"Whereas, on the 8th day of June 1906, while a number of strikers were marching from Creekside to Ernest, PA, on the public road, making a peaceful demonstration, (there was violence) the result of which six of our brothers were wounded and one, by the name of Nicola Macera, was killed. "We the delegates representing the miners of District 2 in convention resolve: That we condemn the action, … of suppressing … the noble effort of the laboring classes for the betterment of its condition; that we extend our sympathy to the brothers who were ready to sacrifice their lives for the love of our cause." And, in the intervening months, it was evidently learned that Macera had a family in Italy, as, "…we donate out of the District Treasury the sum of $200 to be forwarded to the widow and children of said Nicola Macera." Finally, district officers were "empowered to make arrangements for the erection of a modest monument on the spot where the victims fell, to be inaugurated on the eighth day of June, 1907." In the Special collections and Archives at IUP, in Box 2 of the collection know as Collection 52-District 2, UMWA, the remaining details surrounding the monument's design, purchase and transportation are revealed. Among the papers of Richard Gilbert, secretary-treasurer of District 2 at the time, are two relevant documents. The first noted the payment of $260 for a "lot in Creekside," near the rented union hall of the Ernest local.

For, despite the district delegates' desire to place the memorial "on the spot where the victims fell," the property near the mine office, mule barns and fan house were, of course, owned by the coal company. The lot, evidently, was also purchased so that the Ernest local could build a meeting hall to replace the rented quarters. While Ernest Local 1412 instead constructed their hall at the entrance to what is now Blue Spruce Park, the local still owns the lot and the monument in Creekside. A second document, also located in the District 2 collection at IUP, provides specific details concerning the design and purchase of the monument itself. This order form, on a handsome letterhead, was sent from the office of East End Monumental works on Penn Avenue in Pittsburgh.

It specifies that "one monument, of Chester granite, of a height of 12' will be finished in a good, workmanlike manner, and set on lot 63 in South Newville Town, (the former name of Creekside,) in Indiana County, Pennsylvania, on or about August 10th, 1907." Cost of the entire project, to "be paid when the work is finished," totaled $294. On June 9, 1990, this same monument, dedicated to the memory of Nicola Macera and representing a chapter in the history of the labor movement in Indiana County, will be rededicated by the members of the Ernest Local 1412.

At the ceremony, to be held at 7 p.m., Ron Airhart, president of Local 1412, will lay a wreath at the base of the memorial. At that time, the entire community will join in the nationwide observation of the first 100 years of the United Mine workers of America. UMWA president Richard Trumpka may attend the dance that will follow at the Ernest Union Hall. Recognition will be made, of both the struggles and accomplishments of the organization in the past, as well as the challenges to be faced by miners and their families as the union enters its second century of existence.

UMWA Marker

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    Indiana, PA 15705
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