Episode 132: Herrin Massacre
I always talked about how the best kept secret ever and the people of hair took though secrets in what they saw to their grape. This author Scott duty in the summer of nineteen twenty two in a town called Heron in southern Illinois. Twenty three people were murdered over two days. Men Women Women and children came out of their houses to watch and in some cases take part in the violence. I don't understand how this just happens. How was there any voice of reason in this whole thing seeing that an and I hear this in your voice and and it's what I learned through the four or five years of research and you keep thinking you know? We all grew up watching movies. The Guy in the blackout. The guy in the white hat the good guy all movies in well so forth so on now No one stepped forward. No one stepped forward and no would discuss it more than and fifty years after the murders two college students from Southern Illinois University went to heron and started asking people to talk about what had happened and they literally drove over to Herron with a an old school type per quarter and taped men at the local pool hall in downtown Town Heron in the one thousand nine hundred seventy s guys that were alive and had participated in the massacre. Now had they thought about it. Of course you know young people. They'll do crazy things. They would have never done that but they actually got people to talk to them about what had happened human nature when somebody tried to take eleven away from me. You're going to buy even wild animal dude at what happened in here in Illinois in one thousand nine hundred twenty two is the story about what happens when the job you thought you had is taken away it's a story about money and work pride and loyalty royalty and a story about coal anyplace. Coal is in the ground. There's trouble I'm phoebe judge. This is criminal here in Illinois was cold. How local residents used to say that you could be a coal miner or a former armor inherent but the mining work was the better path and one of the reasons that working in the mines was better was because of the Union Union the United Mine Workers of America? Tell me what the unions did for the mineworkers inherent well they changed. Change their lives They knocked back that hundred hour. Work Week to a sixty hour work week to a forty hour workweek but the most important thing is the men started to have a say in how deep they'd mind how the minds were put together. What kind of construction would go into it? The safety aspects and more important the wages because they went from making nothing to Mike in a pretty decent living when the United States call commission visited hair and they wrote in their report sort that the town really believed in the union that it had quote brought them into the promise land when their government had been careless or indifferent different to their needs and then in the spring of Nineteen twenty two the united mine workers announced a national strike it would be the largest ever and would include six hundred thousand miners from every coal producing state in the country. They were striking for better. Pay On April first minors all over. The country stopped work just outside of Herron. A man named William J Lester had recently bought land and open to mine. He was new at it. He wasn't from hereon and he was in debt. Here's longtime herron resident. Joe Walker speaking in nineteen seventy eight. I was right here right in the middle of it knew all about about it. They were anxious getting a cold and didn't know anything about the CO Venice Williams J. Lester didn't WanNa stop working just just. Because the miners were on strike he had sixty thousand tons of coal that he was being told he wasn't allowed to sell an and because mines were shut down all over the country the price of coal had skyrocketed. He was sitting on call worth about three point. Seven million dollars today so lester decided to bring in Non Union Labor to help him ship and sell it. Well anybody that was acquainted in southern Illinois. I knew that you couldn't do that. Other mine operators Worn Lester not ought to cross the Union Lester still moved forward. He reportedly said I need the money. Why shouldn't I MM-HMM June fifteenth about fifty men arrived from Chicago some would work molesters mine and some would protect those workers from the people of Heron the people of hair in had been on strike for two WHO and a half months? The folks didn't have welfare fall back on There was no federal government programs. You didn't work you didn't eat. So when when Leicester decided to bring in Non Union workers that meant that all of the striking workers who who did network one point at the mine. We're just kind of sitting there in town watching these train. Cars Roll into town with these workers who were there to replace the strike breakers. Oh exactly exactly what you had was literally thousands of people and this is for their livelihood. Their wives their children their families. So what do you think's going to happen. And it did on June sixteenth. Lester notified the railroad railroad that he had sixteen cars of coal. Ready for shipment. The first railroad crew refused to touch it but a second crew eventually agreed to transport it. Many people continued to warn Lester to stop. He wouldn't he'd already hired heavily armed private detectives from Chicago Agency called the Hargreave secret service on June twentieth. A telegram from the President of the United Mine Workers of America was published in local newspapers. It said that union members would be quote justified in treating this crowd as an outlaw organization on the morning of June twenty-first in broad daylight on a state eight highway the united mine workers ambushed a truck and a car. The truck had nonunion workers at the car had detectives in it and I mean I mean just shot both vehicles all and then went to the local Neighbors right there along the state highway handed over their rifles and shotguns. Gunson said hold these. I'll be back for them. All over town people gathered weapons even breaking into hardware stores. Take guns and ammunition right. There was a hardware store down. The street was a hardware store and they went and got all their shotguns arrival duck and the man. The Union men told the store owners when they were taking lever action winchester rifles and pump mm shotguns in hand guns and ammunition belt to the Union. The unions good for it when one store owner called the local union leader to make sure the Union Union would pay for the guns. The union leader said yes. His members were just going bird hunting. He said at three thirty that afternoon after noon. Leicester's mind superintendent. A man named Claude McDowell called the sheriff's Office to say that Leicester's mine was completely surrounded and that five hundred shots had been exchanged Williamson County. Sheriff Melvin Thaksin was a former a union miner himself most accounts of what happened on June twenty. First and twenty second make a note the Cherif Paxton extend was hard to find through all of this. He's quoted as saying I have the situation well in hand and there's no danger no one lifts a finger not one person. Nobody calls the National Guard. no-one these you guys are on their own on both sides. So there's bullets fly an bullets flying. It's a war zone for the better part of eighteen hours and this gunfight went awed and till daylight Scott duty says that in the middle of the night that night most of the security guards lester brought from Chicago to protect protect. The nonunion workers snuck out of the mine and left. Leicester was also nowhere to be seen. He checked himself into a hotel in Chicago. Three hundred miles away from his Oto. He'd agreed to stop mining if the Union would allow his men to return home unharmed. Well a group of about one hundred union miners approach the front of the mine where the white flag they discussed. Terms terms of surrender dislike a war zone. They agreed to march them to the train station at Herron and that they will allow them safe passage to leave That didn't happen. That's when things went bad We'll be right back. Support for criminal comes from third love. They offer bras and over eighty sizes ISAS and their online fit finder. Quiz can help you find the perfect Bra. In just sixty seconds. Third Love has a sixty day trial period. If you don't love it returns and exchanges Are Free and easy and third love makes more than Bras. I've got their organic cotton robe. Which I think is just great? It is too large pockets. It's easy to wash and dry and it comes in. Its own travel back right now. Criminal listeners can get fifteen percent off your first order go to third love dot com slash criminal to find your perfect fitting Bra and get fifteen percent off your first purchase. That's third love dot com slash criminal for fifteen percent off today. Thanks to Sun Basket for their support. Sun Basket delivers everything you need for delicious healthy dinners dinners right to your door. Everything is pre portioned and ready to prep and cook and you can choose from fourteen recipes offered each week. I just made their tie salmon with orange cabbage law right now. Some basket is offering thirty five dollars off your order when you go to some basket dot com slash criminal and enter Promo code criminal at checkout. That's sun basket dot com slash criminal and enter Promo Code criminal at checkout for thirty five dollars off your order. The local chapter of the United Mine Workers of America agreed to stop firing at William Leicester's stirs mine. If the strikebreaking miners left town immediately and Lester shut down the operation. Here's former here in union and minor. Joe Shumate you let one Gab. Move and it's just like cancer. Just keep Fred and at what was fighting out there lester strip. We've you gotta nip it in the bud. You might. A huge crowd of the Union. Miners gathered to escort the strikebreakers away from the mine and one man reportedly yelled the only way to free the country of strikebreakers to kill them all off and stop the breed. Someone one called the local leader of the United Mine Workers of America. A man named Hugh Willis and he says I'll be right there. That's when things went bad Hugh Willis shows up and he's automobile blocks the highway and tells the men take these men out into the woods. Woods shoot all you can. Don't shoot them in front of these women and children because now the whole highway is lined with people on both sides of the road. They they literally lined him up against a barbed wire fence about one hundred yards off the road and it literally dependent on if you were in first in line or last in line once they got to the offense and they started hearing the shooting. The people that were in the front of the line jumped the fence and started running through the woods and the town inherent a man in the crowd reportedly yelled. Here's where you run the gauntlet. Let's see how fast you can run between here and Chicago. So they're lost the run further lives. Can you imagine Ah. I can't even imagine what was going through their minds. I keep thinking. Where's the police were the soldiers? What in the hell is going on? How did this happen one one of the locals thought and heard a rumor and shouted it out? The National Guard is on the way their words were. The guard is on. Its way which was not true. Well that caused the locals to disperse a little bit afraid of the National Guard. So the wounded laid there. Some men escape escape through the fences hidden barnes. They were caught. They wound up with six men in front of the Herron Grade School right downtown hair the march which the men through town near restaurants and candy stores and people's home. They told the men to crawl the tied them together. These shot one man in the foot and he brought the rest of the men down when they got to the cemetery. They shot them all. Some men didn't die right away and they slit their throats. A huge crowd of men women and children came to the cemetery to watch. Here's one of them from the nineteen seventy eight recording. I didn't like it allows out there. Cemetery and people get killed is like killing dogs. That's right they're coaches shit. Four five six feet from they wouldn't leave. They killed him. I remember it well. They want to. Maybe there's determined to kill him. which finally did of course there was an AP wire service reporter order down from Saint Louis who witnessed it all and he said I'll never forget a beautiful young blonde haired woman holding a baby baby in her arms with flowered dress stepping on the men's wounds to see if they would grown to see if they were dead or not he said that has stuck with me and you know this is almost thirty years prior? He said I think about it every day. He tried to give water talk to a couple of the men that were still alive and he was told they'll get no water and you'll get the same if you don't back off. I guess the way to put it. It'd be like shooting somebody in the head today in front of CNN or Fox or whoever. They're sitting there with her camera. Just did it. How did the whole thing and I I think? Many people were appalled by what they saw and as the day turned into that afternoon I think folks started realizing what had happened now. Having having said that they gathered all their bodies up and displayed them in a downtown building for a day some people reportedly spit on on the corpses. One woman was later quoted as saying to her children. Look at the dirty bombs who tried to take the bread out of your mouths. It's finally a police officer. Couldn't stand it anymore. They were sticking cigarettes and Cigar Butts. And these deadman's mouths. Finally he couldn't take it anymore and they put a rope up To keep people back off the dead man. The massacre was National Channel News here in was described as an unconquered province of lawlessness and a stench in the nostrils of humanity president. Warren harding referred to what happened in Herrin as a shocking crime butchery and madness that shamed and horrified the country in the days following the massacre. Her not one person was arrested. Weeks passed MM still no arrests. It was unbelievable to everyone. There had been clemmie of witnesses. Hundreds and hundreds of people people had seen what had happened when questioned witnesses would describe what they had seen often in horrific detail but when it came just saying who had done what people said they just didn't know a piece in the saint. Louis Times asked show unionism be set above the laws of God and of man eventually the State of Illinois collected a list of names of men they would attempt to hold responsible in court. The state's attorney was a man named Dallas duty. The first murder trial began on November. The eighth nineteen twenty. Two jury selection lasted for weeks because Dulles duty could not find twelve men. He felt were impartial impartial. Over the years reports have come out. The union tried to bribe all kinds of people jurors. Bruce said they were offered bribes. Delves duty said. He was offered a bribe and a man from the next town over named Anderson Man Thompson claimed and in a recorded interview with his granddaughter. The union told him to locate potential witnesses. They couldn't trust and to temporarily relocate. Okay them we witnessed we couldn't depend on takeaway. Kevin said Lord Yeah. He describes putting them up in Saint Louis Hotel and paying them small salaries for their cooperation when he got what word that it was safe to do. So he brought the witnesses back home to hear it. The jury came back with a not guilty. Verdict in Dallas. Duty tried again. The second trial began in February nineteen twenty. Three six miners. Were accused which of murdering one of Leicester's men again. The jury came back with a not guilty verdict de las duty told reporters that he was giving up. He felt that Herron Jurors. We're GONNA come back with a not guilty verdict. No matter what evidence he present it. It is a hopeless proposition. He said I don't know who around here would would condemn. I am the coal miners. I certainly don't. That's what makes you a unionist believing it and willing to fight for it like country. It was is terrible at the time everybody was really tore up but nothing anybody and he could do. That was between a union and nonunion miners Blame the Union miners for it. Taking their jobs couldn't blame them though they were scabbed came in here to take jobs away from a union man man. That was the main thing in people's mind and they weren't going to get away with it. I felt the same way about it and Thank it with the decision they had to make and I think they made the right decision Money is the root of all evil. Well I would say that Community was shocked to think people were killed. But they were They were upset to think that a man would come in here to take another man job and Robbie's family. That's just the way they looked at it. Did you look at it that way. I look at it that way. Twenty three men were killed old during those two days in Herrin in June of nineteen twenty two three of the men were local and twenty had been brought to town by William Lester records later showed that in some cases the men Lester hired had been referred by Chicago employment agencies and may have come. I'm to Herron with no idea that they were breaking strike. Many people felt there is only one person to blame for their deaths. And the deaths of the local miners William J Lester. The men from out of town whose bodies were not claimed. We're buried anonymously in two thousand nine Scott duty when looking for those graves and you can't make this up. What had happened? Was the town in their haste and their urgency to bury the past lost track where the massacre victims were buried along with about one hundred other poor people. They started selling the lot in the nineteen eighties and burying local people. On top of poor people that had been buried in that section of the the cemetery. So here's what happened. The herrin massacre victims had local hair nights buried in amongst them and on top of them because they they had forgotten their history. That is the ability of the locals to keep what had happened. Buried Art Criminals created by Lawrence Spore. And me me. Media will soon as our senior producer. Susannah Roberson is our assistant producer audio mix by raw buyers special things the Special Collections Research Center at Southern Illinois University carbondale and Mac Rozanski for help locating the audio recorded by the college students agents in one thousand nine hundred seventy eight thanks to John. GRISWOLD and Richard Koetter. Julian Alexander makes original illustrations for each episode of criminal. You can see them at. This is criminal. Dot Com where on facebook and twitter at criminal show criminal is recorded in the studios of North Carolina Public Public Radio W.. UNC were proud member of Radio topiary from PX. A collection of the best podcasts around shows it was like the heart the heart went on hiatus. And now it's back with a new team. The heart sets out to tell stories about love love in the most universal sense what it means to love ourselves while loving each other. I'm aware of this whole other universe around verizon in people especially by important artists that it's like I'm trapped inside myself. She talks to me and I forget the reform professionalism lightness. I've been sort of -plication of whiteness. I've been trained to perform my whole life talking to just it's like a reflex. It's just like it happened. What's inside of me like it just seems it's like a a switches switch is flipped and it just happens in spite of myself as if my body responds if my mind even does go lesson? I'm phoebe judge. This is criminal. Yeah not our acts.