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Coal Mining History in Illinois

Aggressive Diggers, Coal Miners at War
      The Superior Coal Company, a subsidiary of Chicago & Northwestern Railroad Company, established their office in Gillespie, and bought 40,000 acres of coal and mineral rights in 1903 from the Dorsey family and began to sink mines to furnish coal for their locomotives.
Number 1 (1903 - 1951) was to the north and east of Benld at what is now Eagarville.
Number 2 (1903 - 1952/3) was to the south of Benld at Sawyerville.
Number 3 (1904 - 1953) was to the west of Benld at Mount Clare.
      The establishment of Benld occurred in 1903 and incorporation took place in 1904. The primary mode of transportation to and from work was walking. Benld was laid out in the midst of these three mines, making the walking distance only two to three miles at the most.
      Situated in almost the middle of three mines, Benld furnished the residences of the immigrants that settled in this area to work in the coal mines to raise their families. People came from many countries, some of which are Austria, Bohemia, Croatia, England, France, Galecia, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Russia, Scotland, Slovakia, and Sweden.
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      In the spring of 1911, much disagreement among the different nationalities that worked in the coal mines created a "war like" environment.
      More trouble occurred in the spring of 1912.
      Some of the newspaper accounts of the events describe the life and times during the strife.
Brief Biography of the Sheriff, Elmo Etter
National Guard in Benld in 1911
      National Guardsmen set up camp to keep order during
unrest on part of the local mines in 1911 in Benld.
The Rock Island Argus, March 21, 1911, Page 1
Ten Companies Sent by Governor to Gillespie, Ill.
Foreigners Surly When Union Declines Permission to Strike.

      Gillespie, Ill., March 21 -- Ten companies of militia are on duty at the mines in this vicinity.
      The miners at Benld became dissatisfied a week ago with working conditions and quit work. Union officials having ruled against a strike, the Americans returned to work. The foreigners have been endeavoring by means of force and otherwise to get the Americans out.
      Trouble became acute last night after deputy sheriffs of Macoupin county were driven away. An appeal was then made to the governor for troops. About 1,000 foreigners who gathered this morning, and arriving to Americans out of the mines one and three. They then returned
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      _?_ night a vigilance committee of citizens patrolled the street. Other armed citizens were ready to meet the marchers from Benld, and declared an Intention to attack them should they enter the town. The conservative element prevailed, however, and, after marching through the town and after visiting the two mines, the foreigners returned to Benld.
      Colonel Lang, commanding the troops, proposes to march his men to Benld and disarm the belligerents. If necessary he will proclaim martial law. Citizens here fear bloodshed at Benld, as it is said the foreigners are drunk and in a disagreeable temper.
1,000 IN BAND.
      There were nearly 1,000 men in the procession of foreigners that came from Benld. They were armed with a varied assortment of firearms, old rifles, muskets, shotguns, revolvers and Winchesters, and marched to the music of an Italian band. Crowds watched them from the sidewalks and, despite the threats made during the night that they would not be allowed to march through Gillespie, the demonstration passed without opposition.
      The procession first stopped at mine No. 1, passed through the main street of Gillespie, thence on to mine No. 3 and back to Benld.
Three months ago John P. Reese came to Gillespie from Iowa to take up the superintendency of the properties. Reese inaugurated several changes and reforms that were not favorably received by the foreign element among the miners. A strike was inaugurated but the union officials declared it illegal and ordered the men back to work. The foreigners refused to obey orders and have been in an ugly mood several days culminating last night in the demonstration at Benld that caused the authorities to ask the assistance of troops.
      When the mob reached mine No. 1 they found no one at work the miners acting upon advice to absent themselves until tomorrow when they will return to the mines under the protection of soldiers. The marchers then passed through town to mine No. 3. which they also found deserted. They then returned to Benld, where the saloons are still open.
      The foreigners, it is said, imbibed freely and it is feared will resist the attempt of troops to disarm them. Sheriff Etter has sworn in 100 deputies and backed by the soldiers will this afternoon attempt to arrest the rioters.
      Benld, Ill., March 21. -- The arrival this morning of the militia from Springfield and Danville found this mining town quiet. The miners, who, had been armed and troublesome for several days, suddenly left for one of the nearby mining camps. No word has been received as to their progress towards the different camps. Trouble is feared if the militia undertakes to disarm the striking miners. Leaders of the miners' union are endeavoring to induce their men to return to work.
      Springfield, Ill., March 21. A report from the commander of the troops at Gillespie says the Benld miners met the troops on arrival there but made no threatening demonstration.
Urbana Daily Courier, Urbana, Illinois, March 22, 1911, Page 1
Take Possession of Benld and Overawe Aliens.
Strike at Superior Coal Company's Mines Follows Reforms Displeasing to the Foreigners -- Saloons Ordered Closed.

      Gillespie, Ill., March 22. -- With soldiers of the Illinois National Guard protecting the three mines of the Superior Coal company and patrolling the town of Benld, south of here, immediate danger of a battle between the foreign coal diggers and the English speaking miners has been averted. The civil authorities are preparing to prosecute those who bore arms in a demonstration calculated to awe their brethren who wanted to return to work.
      Operations in mine No. 1, located here, and one of the three shafts owned by the Superior company, were resumed today. Orders were also given that such workmen as desire may return to work in mine No. 3. There are 325 guardsmen on duty.
Arrests Are to Follow
      Sheriff Elmo Etter of Macoupin county, is in Benld with a force of fifty deputies and co-operating with Col. Edward J. Lang, commanding the National Guard. State's Attorney James Murphy of Carlinville is also on the scene giving the sheriff counsel.
      That wholesale arrests are to follow is the statement from both the state's attorney and the sheriff. Warrants will be issued for all who are known to have borne arms.
      The saloons have been closed at Colonel Lang's "suggestion." There are 23 saloons in Benld, one for every 104 inhabitants.
      When it was realized that the petition presented by Mayor Romell to Colonel Lang would not accomplish the desired result, a citizen's committee, composed of F. W. Edwards, Louis Toiga and Edward Lowery left town for Springfield to personally urge Governor Deneen to call the troops off.
May Withdraw Troops.
      A long distance telephone message to Benld from this committee conveyed the information, that the chief executive had said the troops "might be recalled today."
      Colonel Lang and Sheriff Etter visited the three mines of the Superior Coal company after camp had been pitched near the interurban railroad station. The reconnisance completed, patrols were located at the three mines and other patrols assigned to duty in the town of Benld proper.
      When the first squad was sent out on patrol duty a large crowd collected, pressing closely upon the guardsmen. An unidentified miner sprang at one of the men with an open knife. The guardsman presented the bayonet end of his rifle and charged. The man fled.
Armed Men in March
      Five hundred strong, armed with a varied assortment of firearms, old rifles, muskets, shotguns and revolvers, and marching to the music of an Italian band, the foreign-speaking miners of Benld conducted a sunrise demonstration against their English-speaking brethren of Gillespie, hollering, yelling and calling upon those who stood upon the sidewalks to get in line. The procession passed through the main street. Counseling of the older citizens and business men of Gillespie against the commission of any overt act prevented bloodshed.
      Three months, ago John P. Reese came to Gillespie from Iowa to take the superintendency of the three properties of the Superior company. Reese inaugurated several changes that were not favorably received by the foreign element among the miners.
Gillespie News, Gillespie, Illinois, March 22, 1911
      From one end of the state to the other the news has been handed out under scare headlines, the story of the troubles at Gillespie and Benld. newspaper reporters from every big city within the state and the Associated Press for the rest of the United States have been here and the pictures they have painted have given them the title of the "Prince of Liars." Yellow journalism was seen at its best, facts of all kinds were distorted and warped until the truth was crushed out of them, leaving only the story of an imagination, which was drawing its daily bread by being able to satisfy the gaping public who turn from truth to fiction.
      When nothing happened to give to their papers they made things happen with their imagination. They took little things and enlarged into enormous proportions. They did not want the truth, they wanted to satisfy the appetite of their readers with just that brand of vitals that they demand, and who is responsible for that? The American public. The newspaper which wrote the story without scare headlines, who endeavored to give the actual facts, was not in demand, the public would turn from the conservative paper to spend its money for the "Yellow Journal," and yet we hear the same people denounce the newspapers for not publishing the truth. the public does not want the truth, they want sensational headlines, sensational descriptions, facts distorted. The rankest, meanest and most exaggerated accounts are what they want and the only thing that will satisfy them. We do not conduct this paper for the benefit of a gang of sensation hunters, we want readers who want the truth and we give it to them.
      For the first time in the history of Southern Macoupin County it has been found advisable for the Sheriff to call on the Governor for the State Militia. It is a peculiar situation seldom found in the labor annals. A situation where the State Officials of the miners have ordered the men under them to return to work. The Americans are ready and willing to obey their officials only to be prevented by their foreign brothers. It is a house divided within itself.
      The recent situation is only the crisis of a situation that has been held in check for several years past.
No. 2 Coal Mine at Sawyerville       It is no time for lurid newspaper accounts as a plain statement of facts is bad enough. For two years past there has always been more or less trouble over the placing of machines at Mine No. 2 of the Superior Coal Company. The men have claimed that there were enough machines in operation at this mine, while the company has asserted that they did not get the tonnage the first two hours in the morning. A short time ago Supt. John P. Reese ordered another machine installed on the day shift; this order brought opposition from the No. 2 miners and the case was taken to the Executive Board. The Executive Board rendered a decision in favor of the company; the No. 2 miners, in order to retaliate began loading the boxes short and the company stopped work at the mine for a few days, thinking that the matter would soon adjust itself. This did not prove to be the case, and when No. 2 mine was started again the same results of short loading was continued and it had also spread to No. 1 and No. 3 mines.
      A committee from the Board members was sent to Sawyerville and after a canvas of the situation they ordered the miners to load their cars as they did previous to this trouble.
      This, the miners refused to do and a large number of miners at each of the mines was discharged. The mines were then closed down and a joint meeting of the Operators' Association and the State Officials of the Miners was held in St. Louis and the matter thoroughly discussed and ended in the State Officials of the Miners sending a telegram to the presidents of the three locals in which they informed them that the Miners were subject to a fine of $10 for violation of their constitution and $5 for the violation of their agreement and that they must return to work at once and that no transfer cards would be issued.
      A mass meeting of the three locals was held in Gillespie last Saturday morning and the telegram was from the State Officials was read to the men by their presidents. A motion was made to adjourn and no action was taken n their instruction from their officials.
No. 1 Coal Mine at Eagarville       The American element of the miners were anxious and willing to return to work. Sheriff Etter was apprised of the situation and immediately came to Gillespie, bringing with him a number of deputies. Monday morning about one hundred American miners started to go to work at Mine No. 1, the deputies being at the mine to prevent trouble. When the Americans arrived near the mine, they met about 250 armed foreigners with whom the deputies were unable to cope with and were told to return home. This they did.
      The situation had arrived at a stage with which the Sheriff and his deputies could not cope and Sheriff Etter called on the Government for State troops. The Governor responded promptly and sent into Gillespie Tuesday morning ten companies of militia. The militia began arriving here early Tuesday morning and continued to arrive until afternoon.
      Tuesday morning a body of about 700 foreigners headed by a band and armed marched from Benld to the Mine No. 1 and from there they marched to Gillespie and returned to Benld by way of Mine No. 3. It is said to their credit that they did not attempt to to do any damage, and as they met with no opposition, the soldiers having not yet arrived, they returned to Benld without any trouble.
      Three hundred and forty members of the Illinois National Guard under command of Colonel Edward J. Land, are camped at Benld and are ready to nip in the bud any riot that might occur between the miners.
      Only one company is stationed at Gillespie, that being Company I, Fourth Infantry, of Shelbyville, under the command of Cap. John Bullington. The other detachments are camped at Benld. They are as follows:
      Company H, Fourth Infantry, of Shelbyville, Captain Owen Mulkey.
      Company B, Fourth Infantry, of Paris, Captain John Coady.
      Company I, Fifth Infantry, of Springfield, Lieutenant Kenneth Guyton.
      Troop D, First Cavalry, of Springfield, Captian W. Nuess.
      Company L, Fourth Infantry, of Decatur, Captain William Klauser.
      While everyone in this section is glad that there was no trouble when these men marched through the business section of Gillespie, yet the fact must not be lost sight of that had anything occurred to arouse the anger of this mob, our town was at their mercy and the result of such such an attack can only be anticipated. It is generally a fact in this free America that your neighbors visit you armed to the teeth on a friendly visit. Was there any occasion for this visit, and if so, was there any occasion to come armed? Was it not a violation of the constitution of the United States for armed men to congregate and parade, why was it brought about?. We will leave the answer to those who armed and led the parade.
      Was there any reason for 250 armed foreigners to gather at Mine No. 1 to prevent union miners, acting under the order of their union officials, from going to work? Was this also a friendly visit of these foreigners who brushed the deputy sheriffs aside and compelled the American brethern, in their own country, to return to their homes? Then, if there was no occasion for this visit, why were they armed to the gourds with their weapons? We will leave this answer to those who led this mob and to those who composed it.
      We have nothing to say against our sister city of Benld. We do not hold the authorities or the good people of that town responsible for these mobs, although they came from their town and the surrounding country adjacent to that city. We appreciate the fact that had the officials or the citizens of Benld attempted to interfere with the plans of these foreigners, there would have been trouble, yet this country cannot allow such things to happen, the right of American citizens must be upheld and their interests safeguarded, no matter the mode of doing it.
      There had been no trouble in Gillespie, our miners were quiet and orderly and ready and willing to return to work and they had not been molested by the foreigners on Monday morning, the No. 1 mine at least would have been in operation and no doubt, No. 3 also.
      It is to be deplored that it was necessary for the Sheriff to call upon the Government for militia. but the peace and safety of this country must be preserved, men must be allowed to follow their usual mode of making a living without being interfered with. Peaceful citizens must be protected in their rights and the law must be upheld at any odds.
      Sheriff Etter arrived in Gillespie from Carlinville again at 10:52 after going home for a short rest as he had been on the go for the last four days.
      As we go to press everything is quiet. Adj. General Dickson arrived in Benld at 3:00 o'clock and the Sheriff and the Adj. General are in conference in Benld.
      The present trouble is the outgrowth to a certain extent of the placing of another machine at the No. 2 mine near Sawyerville, and the fact that State Officials of the United Mine Workers have upheld the company in this action.
      The State Officials of the United Mine Workers sent a telegram to the Presidents of the three locals in which they informed them that the miners were subject to a fine of $10 for violation of the constitution and $5 for the violation of the agreement, that they must return to work and not to issue any transfer cards.
      A mass meeting was called in the park in Gillespie last Saturday morning attended by the members of the three locals. The telegram from the State Miners' Officials was read but the meeting was adjourned without taking any action.
      The American element at No. 1 mine decided to return to work Monday morning and Sheriff Etter sent a detachment of Deputy Sheriffs to this city Sunday night to protect the mine property and the men.
      Monday morning the miners endeavored to go to work at Mine No. 1 and were met by 250 armed foreigners who so out numbered the deputies that they were powerless and the men were compelled to return to their homes.
      Monday Sheriff Etter called upon Governor Deneen for the militia as he was unable to handle the situation any longer.
      Tuesday morning at 8 o'clock the militia began to arrive in Gillespie. They had all assembled here by 1 o'clock in the afternoon.
      At 1 o'clock the soldiers were loaded upon seven Interurban cars and taken to Benld. Upon their arrival they closed the saloons and took charge of the situation and up to the time of going to press they are still in charge.
      The American miners of No. 1 and No. 3 had decided to try to go to work Wednesday morning but failed to do so.
      If there is one man in this country who certainly has been worked to a finish in the past week it is Sheriff Elmo Etter. Mr. Etter has not only been engaged in doing everything in his power looking after the situation here but he has also had the Interurban strike to look after. He has sworn in a hoard of Special Deputy Sheriffs her and is making every effort in his power to master the situation.

Urbana Daily Courier, Urbana, Illinois, March 23, 1911, Page 7
Miners Strike Disapproved.
      Springfield, March 23. -- That the Illinois State Mine Workers' association will not sanction the strike of miners at the Northwestern Railroad company's mine at Benld was decided at a meeting of the executive board of the organization, held at state headquarters in this city. A message was directed to the strikers notifying them that their action is not approved by the association, and they will be ruled out of the mine workers union should they hold out.
The True Republican, Sycamore, Illinois March 25, 1911, Page 6
Sheriff Tells Governor He Is Able to Keep Peace at Benld and Gillespie.
      Springfield , Ill., March 23. -- The state militia sent Tuesday morning by Governor Deneen on request of Sheriff Etter of Macoupin county to keep peace at the mining towns of Benld and Gillespie have returned home. The order for withdrawal was issued when Sheriff Etter made formal request of the governor assuring the executive that he was confident there would be no trouble and that he could handle the situation.
Urbana Daily Courier, Urbana, Illinois, April 5, 1911, Page 7
Strike Settlement Expected.
      Springfield, April 5. -- It Is probable the miners' strike at Benld will be settled this week. The miners local at Benld and Gillespie have opened negotiations through the state miners' organization, and a final termination of the trouble, which resulted In calling out the state militia, will be adjusted. It was rumored the operators of the mines were considering a proposition to shut down for the summer months.
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Urbana Daily Courier-Herald, Urbana, Illinois, May 10, 1912, Page 1
Special to The Courier-Herald :
      Gillespie, Ill., May 10. -- Five men were shot in a riot among 300 miners at Benld, a coal town two miles south of here today. A strike for some time has been on. Strikers appeared at the mines early today and wanted to return to work. A battle occurred, when men gathered to prevent other men from working. The mine is owned by the Superior Coal Co. Foreigners are arming themselves and the sheriff expects further trouble and is busy swearing in deputies to prevent trouble.
The Rock Island Argus, May 10, 1912, Page 1
Guns Used by Both Sides.

      Benld, Ill., May 10. -- One man was fatally and three seriously injured in a revolver fight participated in by 900 miners of the Superior Coal company today. The trouble was due to a disagreement whether the men should go to work. The same forces fought yesterday with clubs. One had a broken arm. All are foreigners.
Urbana Daily Courier-Herald, Urbana, Illinois, May 11, 1912, Page 1
Police Charge Mob of Men and Women.
Five Shot in Illinois
      Springfield, III., May 11. -- A disagreement between foreign and American miners at Benld, Macoupin county, as to whether they should go to work without awaiting the result of the referendum vote now being taken in the state, resulted in one man being fatally injured and four others wounded. About 500 American miners from Gillespie, who were going to work in mine No. 3, were attacked by a similar number of foreign miners from Benld, who work In mine No. 2. Shots were exchanged between the two bodies, with the above result.
The Rock Island Argus, May 15, 1912, Page 1
Want State Constabulary.
      St. Louis, May 15. -- As a result of the riot at Benld, Ill., coal operators of the Fifth and Ninth Illinois districts were named as a committee to meet with representatives of labor organizations to demand the establishment of a state constabulary.

Elmo Etter
Macoupin County, Illinois Sheriff in 1911
He was born on August 21, 1875 in Western Mound Township of Macoupin County, Illinois
The son of George Davidson (1845-1920) & Mary C. (nee McCoy) (1852-1908) Etter
The 1880 & 1900 Census lists him as living with his parents in Western Mound Township of Macoupin County, Illinois
His occupation in 1900 was : School Teacher
According to History of Macoupin County, Illinois, by Charles A. Walker; S. J. Clarke Publishing Company; 1911
            Elmo Etter was elected Treasurer in 1906
            Elmo Etter was elected Sheriff in 1908
1910 Census shows him as a Roomer in the household of Alexander & Flora G. Bell
            residing in Ward 2 of Carlinville, Macoupin County, Illinois
            with his occupation as Treasurer of Macoupin County, Illinois
In the above newspaper accounts during the spring of 1911, he is Sheriff of Macoupin County, Illinois
World War I Draft Registration (September 12, 1918) :
            Elmo Etter, Born on August 21, 1875
            Tall, medium build, blue eyes, dark hair
            424 North Broad, Carlinville, Macoupin County, Illinois
            Mine Carpenter for Standard Oil of Indiana, at Carlinville, Macoupin County, Illinois
            Contact - Mae Etter
1920 Census - Residing in Ward 4 of Carlinville, Macoupin County, Illinois
            Spouse is May Etter
            Occupation is Coal Miner
He died on July 21, 1923, of a heart condition (per Coroner's Inquest of July 25, 1923)
He is buried in Carlinville City Cemetery, Carlinville, Macoupin County, Illinois

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