Southern Illinois Coal Miners
n By the 1920s half of the 60,000 miners in Illinois
lived in Franklin and Williamson County.
n These miners belonged to The United Miner Workers
n Over a period of 20+ years the average day pay of a miner
went from $1.25 a day to as high as $15.00 a day.
n The jump in pay was due to the workers uniting and
demanding both higher wages and better working
n When miners and mine owners couldn’t come to an
agreement the miners would go on strike crippling the mine
owners ability to mine and sell their coal.
n Most Southern Illinois citizens were loyal to the union and
sympathetic to the miners demands.
Franklin County Coal Miners
West Mine Circa 1920
Hand Loading Coal Cars
Southern Illinois Strip Mine
Abandon Southern Illinois Strip
Southern Illinois Coal Company
n The Southern Illinois Coal Company was owned by
William Lester of Cleveland, OH
n In September of 1921 the company opened a strip mine
half way between Herrin and Marion.
n Due to start up cost and the cost of equipment the company
had a large debt and was desprite to mine coal .
n It is probably fair to say that Lester didn’t understand the
culture of a Southern Illinois Coal Miner.
Prelude to Massacre
n April 1, 1922 UMWA Coal Miners go on strike.
n June 13, 1922 The Southern Illinois Coal Company
fires its union miners.
n June 15, 1922 the Company brings in workers from
the Chicago area to work and protect the mine.
n June 16, 1922 the Burlington Railroad is notified that
16 coal cars are ready for transport from the mine.
n Despite warnings the company had decided to mine coal
and break the strike and the Union.
Prelude to Massacre
n June 17, 1922 The Chicago Tribune reports that the
Southern Illinois Coal Company had started shipping
n Illinois officials begin to express concern that violence
would erupt due to the company’s decision to mine and
n June 18 & 19, 1922 meetings are held in Marion by
local and state officials to try and resolve the situation
n Williamson County Sherriff Melvin Thaxton was
uncommitted or mysteriously absent from meeting.
Prelude to Massacre
n June 20, 1922 hundreds of union miners hold a mass
meeting at the Sunnyside Mine near Herrin with State
Senator William Sneed.
n Sneed was also the president of the UMWA sub district
that included Williamson County
n June 21, 1922 several hundred miners gather in the
n Mobs were looting hardware stores in Herrin taking guns
n By 3:30 that afternoon the mine was surrounded by union
miners and over 500 shots had already been fired by the
two sides. The Southern Illinois Coal Company was under
Sunny Side Mine
n The Massacre occurred over a two day period June 21
and 22, 1922
n On June 21st striking miners surround the mine and a
shoot out between the striking miners and “scabs”
n During the night a series of explosions occurred
blowing up the water plant and coal shovel.
n At dawn on the 22nd the men trapped at the mine try
to call for help but the phone line was dead.
Lester Mine Coal Shovel
destroyed during the siege
n After a discussion with the trapped men C.K.
McDowell the mine superintendent agreed to
n The strikebreakers agreed to surrender in the striking
miners would give them safe passage out of the
county. The striking miners agreed to the terms.
n The strikebreakers were lined up and marched along
the railroad toward Herrin 5 miles to the Northwest.
n At the Crenshaw crossing a half mile from the mine
several miners waited for the procession.
n A discussion took place about what should happen to
the strikebreakers. During this time strikebreakers
were being beaten with the butts of guns. After some
time the procession moved forward.
n At Moake crossing a half mile further down the track
the first murder occurred when McDowell couldn’t
go any further. He was led off of the track and a few
minutes later shot.
n A mile further down the track at the powerhouse the
procession came to a stop.
n At the power plant striking miners planned to take
four strike breakers at a time down the road and kill
n At this point a man named Hugh Willis drove up and
instructed the miners to stop. He said there were to
many women and children around and to take the
“scabs into the woods and kill as many as you can”.
n The strikebreakers were marched into Harrison
Woods until they reached a barbed wire fence. At
this point they were told to run.
n At this point the striking miners opened fire. By the
time it was over 26 of the strikebreakers were dead or
n At Herrin Cemetery the Massacre came to an end
with word that the sheriff was on his way. Wounded
men still breathing had their throats slit, while one by
standard urinated in the faces of the victims. When a
reporter tried to give water to a dying man he was
threatened and told to back away.
n The sheriff arrived about mid-morning when it was
determined that is was safe
Painted in 1941
n News of the massacre not only spread quickly
throughout Southern Illinois but made headlines
around the nation. Newspapers from New York City
to San Francisco reported what had occurred in
n On both the floor of the U.S. Senate and the U.S.
House of Representatives members condemned the
violence that had occurred in Williamson County.
n The nation was demanding justice for the dead strike
National Newspapers report the
n A coroner’s jury of six men of which three were
union miners found that all the strikebreakers killed
on June 21 and 22 were killed by unknown parties.
The also found that the deaths were due to the “direct
and indirect acts by the officials of the Southern
Illinois Coal Company” and recommended that an
investigation be undertaken to fix blame on those
n Once again the outrage of the nation was voiced in
newspapers and in Congress.
n On August 18, 1922 Judge D. T. Hartwell summoned
a special grand jury to convene at Marion on August
28 to investigate the Herrin Killings.
n The first to be indictment for the killings was Otis
Clark farmer and miner. Hearing of the charges
Clark turned himself in to the sheriff. By September
23 the Grand Jury had indicted 44 men for murder
associated with the Herrin Massacre.