History: Baseball, Grand Junction, & the Pullman Strike of 1894
GJ History Columnist
Never let it be said that Grand Junction hasn’t impact American history.
During the national railroad Pullman strike of June 23 to Aug. 2, 1894, all railroad lines were stopped west of Chicago, Ill., to California. Colorado was right in middle of the strike when passenger and stock trains were backed up in both directions from Grand Junction.
How did this happen? On June 29, 1894, Pullman Factory workers joined the American Railroad Union (ARU) led by Eugene Debs, and launched a boycott refusing to run trains containing Pullman cars. The Switchmen Mutual Aid Union wanted the strike and the engineers, conductors and brakemen did not; they just wanted to do their jobs.
The strike spread over 27 states and 29 railroad companies, and 125,000 workers “walked off” the job rather than handle Pullman cars.
The effect was immediately felt here in Grand Junction when, on June 30, the Grand Junction News and Daily Sentinel reported in their newspapers that “all trains entering here are held and no wheels are turning.” As long as a Pullman coach was attached to a train, no one would touch it; and the trains with their passengers were delayed for days at the Union Depot.
By July 2 President Grover Cleveland had called up the U.S. Army to keep the trains running because the mail had to be delivered. Armed federal marshals were hired to protect passengers from strikers and were on the trains coming into Grand Junction.
While the army didn’t come here, they were in other parts of Colorado putting down strikers and working to keep the trains running. It was reported that 50 feet of the Midland Railroad track was blown up near Glenwood Springs. Thankfully for Grand Junction, the only excitement here was when armed U.S. Marshals from the trains marched in town as a body, looking for local strikers. They failed to find anyone, but the marshals made a bad impression upon the local people by this event.
This bit of Grand Junction history might have gone unwritten and forgotten had not a photo being sold online from Chicago about a baseball game in Grand Junction consisting of train passengers, including Leadville’s crack baseball team, along with strikers and locals.
The writer of this story bought the photo, and found pasted on the back newspaper clippings about the game. Checking the 1894 Daily Sentinel and Grand Junction News, it confirmed the photo and that a baseball game was held; however the clippings on the back of the photo apparently did not come from local newspapers.
Over 120 years ago — on Wednesday, July 4, 1894 — train passengers stuck in-route to Salt Lake City came together and played a baseball game with the local Grand Junction boys at the stockyards in the afternoon.
The clipping from the photo stated: “The baseball game yesterday (July 4, 1894) at the stock yards between the traveling men and the town players on one side and the railroad boys on the other resulted in a victory for the former, by a score of 29 to 19. Captain Wielandy, of St. Louis, had his working clothes on and as a “coach” knocks Latham silly. Owen Kern was captain of the railroad nine and Swaney umpired.”
Also mentioned on the photo was “H.B. Palmer, John L. Dixon, Paul J. Wielandy, Leadville Baseball team, U.S. Marshals protecting the Depot and passengers during the Pullman Boycott strike at Grand Junction, Colorado, from July 2 to July 12, 1894.”
Our local newspapers reported the Grand Junction team was ahead when the federal marshals cut the game short, as they thought the trains were being allowed to leave to their destination.
While the trains were in Grand Junction, the strikers and passengers were peaceful with an understanding on both sides, as all were everyday working people who just wanted a better life for their families.
The Pullman strike ended on Aug. 2, 1894. The strikers were allowed to go back to work if they renounced the union. Eugene Debs was arrested and sent to jail for six months for interfering with the mail. Other leaders were fired and blacklisted from all railroads.
While in jail, Eugene Debs read a book by Karl Marx and he became a leading socialist figure in the United States, running for president in 1900. In 1908 he came to Grand Junction in his personal train, named the “Red Special,” and spoke to over 1,000 people at the Park Opera House. But that’s another story.
In 1894, due to the Pullman strike, President Grover Cleveland and Congress designated Labor Day as a federal holiday.
The real story is that, given a difficult circumstance, the stranded passengers, the strikers and the locals were able to come together and find common ground in the stockyards and have a good ole’ game of American baseball.
Photos and information: Museum of Western Colorado, Loyd Files Research Room, Michael Menard; Marie Tipping, Grand Junction News, Daily Sentinel, Snap Photo, Pullman Strike History, Richard Schneirov, Labor Day History.
Garry Brewer is storyteller of the tribe; finder of odd knowledge and uninteresting items; a bore to his grandchildren; a pain to his wife on spelling; but a locator of golden nuggets, truths and pearls of wisdom. Email Garry at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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