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Sunday, June 22, 2014

COXEY'S ARMY CLIMBING MOUNTAINS

I said earlier that I would not enjoyed being there at the first day of the march of Coxey’s Army because it was cold and raining. But the second day, Monday, March 25th, was worse. It actually snowed. Marching to the northwest, the Army only reached Louisville, Ohio, a distance of barely six miles. The New York Times noted, “When the sun rose…this morning (March 26th) not a soldier….was visible… Fifty-eight of them went to the police station, where they were given lodgings on the cold stone floor.” 
"Oz, left to himself, smiled to think of his success in giving the Scarecrow and the Tin Woodman and the Lion exactly what they thought they wanted. "How can I help being a humbug," he said, "when all these people make me do things that everybody knows can't be done? It was easy to make the Scarecrow and the Lion and the Woodman happy, because they imagined I could do anything."
1900  L. Frank Baum  "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz"
The plan laid out by Coxey and Browne to get their hoped for 100,000 man army over the 800 miles of bad roads between Massillon, Ohio and Washington, D.C. was to cover an average of 15 miles each day. But it took three days, until Wednesday, March 27th, for the Army to cover the twenty-seven miles through Alliance, to the Quaker settlement of Salem, Ohio. 
But with their arrival here things began improving – a little. The townspeople opened their homes and the weather turned warmer. However this last proved to be a two edged sword as on Friday, the 29th the army managed just ten miles through thick mud to Columbiana, where they were provided with 1,000 loaves of bread, or about ten for every man in Coxey’s Army. 
The goal was to establish a basic routine. Each morning the Army would leave camp at 10:30 A.M., and sought to achieve the planned 15 miles . This distance had been established by Sherman’s march through Georgia, as the Civil War dominated the culture of the 1890’s the way the history of World War Two dominated American culture for sixty years afterward.
The “Army Of Peace” as Browne called it in his pamphlets, was organized following guidelines from the same experience.  Each five men formed a "group" (squad), each designated by cloth badges. Twenty groups formed a "commune" (platoon), five communes a "community", (company) two communities a "canton" (battalion) and two cantons formed a "division", commanded by a marshal. It must have looked extraordinarily impressive on paper, but when the paper army was replaced with eighty hungry and desperate men, the privates must have been tripping over their officers. The press corps had not failed to notice this touch of farce,  and played it to the hilt. A half century later my mother would describe any unorganized ineffective endeavor by saying, "They were spread out like Coxey's Army."
After camping overnight in East Palestine and then in Waterford, Ohio, on April first, the Army crossed into Pennsylvania and was warmly received in New Beaver. Their numbers had now increased to 137, and one more day’s march brought them to the outskirts of Pittsburg. The Pittsburg Commercial Gazette headlined on April 4th that “enthusiastic crowds greet the pilgrims of poverty”. That night the Army camped on a baseball field in the suburb of Allegheny. Carl Browne announced a parade to be held right through the center of town, but the local politicians said no. Browne complained to the press, “They have not treated us decently and have penned our men up like a lot of cattle.” 
What Jacob Coxey meant was that the police locked the gates of the ballpark, confining the army inside, like the carriers of some infectious disease. But Coxey and Browne still made speeches standing on wagons in the center of the field, and the Gazette estimated that “15,000 to 20,000 people” stood outside the fence to hear. When the divisions formed in a steady drizzle the next morning, Browne announced that a local manufacturer had donated 500 pairs of shoes to the marchers. Noted the Gazette, “The army could hardly work its way through the crowd around the baseball grounds…” An impromptu parade was formed as the Army marched out of town. “All business had been suspended and everybody was out to see the army. ... “. By now the Coxey's Army had grown to over 400 men.
For the first time national politicians began to take notice of the march. Secretary of Agriculture J. Sterling Morton described the marchers he had never seen this way: “If a life history of each individual in Coxey’s Army could be truthfully written, it would show, no doubt, that each of them has paid out, from birth to death, more money for tobacco, whiskey and beer, than for clothing, education, taxes and food all put together.” The press dutifully reported the Secretary’s opinion, but never asked the marchers themselves, as the Professor from Chicago had done, and they never bothered to report his findings, either.
At the same time the press had begun to hound the Coxey relatives for dirt on the father of the rebellion. Jacob Coxey’s father refused to talk to them anymore. But before he had reached that point they quoted him as describing his eldest son as “stiff necked” and “pig headed”, and one Jacob’s sisters described the warrior for the unemployed as “an embarrassment”. To listen to such quotes you might not know that Jacob Coxey was one of the most successful and wealthiest men in Ohio, not from inheritance but by the sweat of his own brow and brain.

Snowfall  now delayed the army’s progress over the mountains. Noted the New York Times on April 11th, "Coxey's Commonweal Army is still encamped in a grove…and is likely to remain there some time unless the severe mountain storm prevailing subsides by noon to-morrow. The furious storm of last (night) continued though out the day.” Coxey himself had moved ahead into Maryland, to make arraignments for the future encampments, leaving Carl Browne in charge. And it quickly became evident that there was trouble brewing in the army. 
The greatest threat to Coxey’s Army and the social revolution it was seeking to inspire, would be internal.
"Don't you dare to bite Toto! You ought to be ashamed of yourself, a big beast like you, to bite a poor little dog!"
"I didn't bite him," said the Lion, as he rubbed his nose with his paw where Dorothy had hit it. 
"No, but you tried to," she retorted. "You are nothing but a big coward." 
"I know it," said the Lion, hanging his head in shame. "I've always known it. But how can I help it?" 
1900  L. Frank Baum  "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz"
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