Last month we told the story of large numbers of the unemployed, dubbed “Industrials,” who had amassed in Puyallup in April 1894 hoping they could catch the train here to join Coxey’s Army, which intended to converge on Washington D.C.
Dennis Larsen’s telling of the story continues: The town was full of armed police, 70 U.S. marshals, 14 deputy sheriffs, the town marshal, and three or four of his deputies. The numbers varied by newspaper and date.
On Sunday, April 29, Mayor Hallenbeck swore in 25 special policemen.
“Mrs. Hobart of Whatcom, the Populist orator, appeared here yesterday afternoon (Sunday, April 29) and caused more trouble in 15 minutes than the whole Commonweal Army in the Pacific Northwest has, The Tacoma News reported. “Her address was highly inflammatory. She urged the men not to be bound by the laws, which she said were made by corporations, and advised them to ‘borrow’ some cars to go east on. She aroused the men to a great pitch of enthusiasm. The cheering could be heard five blocks away.”
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The Industrials called for a mass meeting at the Puyallup opera house Sunday night. The speakers were to be “Generals” Shepard of Seattle and Jumbo Cantwell of Tacoma, among others. Some of the men remained in their barracks, rather worn out from the marching and weather. But the townspeople turned out in large numbers to get a look at the leaders of the movement that had taken over their city.
Over the next two days there were meetings and much discussion but no movement on the question of a train ride. The Tacoma News published a story that the management of the Northern Pacific was setting the stage for a strike. A conductor was interviewed and said, “Again, the sympathy of the railroad boys is to a very great extent with the poor devils who are out of employment, and we would like to give them a lift.”
Most of the citizens of Puyallup didn’t really care how the Industrials left town; they just wanted them to leave. Two committees met with the “Generals” Tuesday morning in Christian Hall. D. H. Loro, late populist candidate for mayor, presided.
The governor arrived on May 2 on the 5 p.m. train where he was met by John P. Hartman Jr., one of Meeker’s attorneys, an officer of the Puyallup National Bank and the head of the committee that requested him to come. The Puyallup Brass Band was in attendance, as were most of the leading citizens of the city and 3,000 spectators, including Cantwell and Shepard. A procession made its way to the opera house.
The morning of May 4 saw the army start to disperse. The 1,300 men each tried to find their own way to Spokane, by either walking or stealing rides on trains. The evening found Cantwell at the Hot Springs near Auburn and the Commonwealers scattered for miles along the tracks north from Puyallup. A number of the Industrials hopped a freight train that seemed to intentionally slow down as it went by, apparently without objection from the Northern Pacific. As The Tacoma News reported, “The siege of Puyallup is over.”
That evening the city council met. Ezra Meeker proposed that the town provide jobs for the Industrials who remained in Puyallup. The men would work on the town’s streets under supervision of appointed foremen. The Meeker faction would provide food as pay for the work, and the City would provide the supervision. The Meeker proposal passed, and the “siege of Puyallup” passed into history.
All that remains of this visceral turmoil is a photo and a short notice in the city council minutes.