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Sunday, June 29, 2014

COXEY'S ARMY - REVOLT

I suspect there were growing murmurings among the rank and file of Coxey’s Army as they finally breached the mountain ramparts southwest of Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. Each night the men formed a picket line around the encampment while a circus tent was erected as their shelter. Then, each Group would build a cooking fire, while their leaders would collect and distribute rations either bought by Coxey or donated by sympathetic locals. After an early meal, designated groups would be sent out to canvass the area for more donations of food, clothing and money. But the vast majority of the men stayed in camp, where they had little to do but talk.
"Well," said the Head, "I will give you my answer. You have no right to expect me to send you back to Kansas unless you do something for me in return. In this country everyone must pay for everything he gets. If you wish me to use my magic power to send you home again you must do something for me first. Help me and I will help you."
1900  L. Frank Baum  "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz"
What the soldiers in Coxey's Army were talking about  was their leader. Many nights, and every Sunday, Carl Browne would berate the men with ideological harangues, selling his vision of the unity of all working men, along with his version of Christianity - mixed with a little reincarnation. Most of the Army had long since stopped listening to his speeches, referring to him in private as the “Great Humbug.” But they also noticed that after the oration, while they settled into their bed rolls on the cold ground, Browne and Coxey spent every night in warm soft beds in local hotels. And should they ever forget to notice this disparity in creature comforts, The Great Unknown Smith was always careful to point out that he was sharing all the discomforts of the march with them, unlike Mr. Browne.
The Great Unknown Smith had been recruited by Carl Browne (above), and had been his partner in the patent “Blood Purefyer” business before Coxey had appeared in Chicago. Browne even knew The Great’s Unknown Smith's real name, A.B.P. Bazarro, and that the silent veiled lady who always followed him around was really Bizarro's wife. The press, particularly those from Chicago, had known The Great’s real identity all along, but he was such good copy as The Great Uknown Smith, that they had not shared this information with their readers, or the Army. In fact there was an outrageous rumor running about camp that the Great Unknown Smith was in fact a Pinkerton spy - and by his later actions, I suspect he may have been.
In the teeth of a snowstorm, on April 11th, 1894, the Army made the hard march south west, out of Uniontown, Pennsylvania. They were following the old National Highway, which had first been created by President Thomas Jefferson. It was the last significant road improvement project the Federal Government had undertaken, over ninety years earlier.
Now this motley Army was petitioning their government for a new, larger investment in national infrastructure. They were speaking, they said, with their boots, as they struggled past Fort Necessity, built by George Washington -  the construction of which had set off the French and Indian War in North America. They plodded in the snow past the grave of the British General Braddock (above) , who had been ambushed on the road to Pittsburgh. Coxey's Army, speaking for the vast armies of unemployed, trudged step by step over the 2,000 foot high Big Savage Mountain. Every man was cold, wet and exhausted. Patience was in short supply. Reason was slipping away. It was a bad time for a fight, so of course they had one.
As they reached the peak the Great Unknown Smith – who was mounted this day – rode back to the commissary wagons to grab a snack. Carl Browne saw this and was infuriated. He rode up to Smith and berated him, and then returned to the front of the column. After smoldering over the insult for a mile or so on the down slope, Smith rode forward to the lead and verbally unloaded on the buckskinned duomo, calling him a “fat faced fake” and threatening that if Browne ever spoke to him like that again he would “make a punching bag out of your face.” “I found you on your uppers in Chicago” Smith shouted. “I picked you out of the mud.”
Browne immediately ordered the marchers to halt. They stopped. Smith responded by commanding the Army to “Forward March”. The army hesitated, but enough men automatically leaned forward, that Smith (actually Bazarro) sensed an advantage and seized the moment.
He turned his horse and rode back among the men. “You and I have roughed it together,” he reminded them. “You know I have been with you…while others were enjoying their ease. It is for you to say men, who shall command you…Will you have Smith …or this leather coated polecat?” It was a loaded question, and the Army responded as expected,  with chants of “Smith, Smith , Smith!” Even Coxey’s eldest son, Jesse, joined the mutineers. With that,  Smith (actually Bazarro) led the army down the slope, while Browne, now bereft of command, galloped to the nearest telegraph office.
Jacob Coxey was in Cumberland, Maryland, arranging supplies and support in advance of the Army. It was there that Browne's desperate telegram reached him. Coxey immediately hired a carriage and drove all night to intercept his Army at dawn, Saturday, April 14th, as it finally descended from the mountain top, in the well named town of Frostburg (above), just over the Maryland state line. In a perfect bit of historical staging, the Army’s headquarters for the night were in the town’s opera house (below), one of the few buildings not damaged by a tornado which had struck Frostburg the year before.
After listening to several  version of the drama on the road, Coxey stood on a box on the stage (he was not a tall man), and called for a vote for second in command. The results were not what he had hoped for; 158 for The Great Unknown Smith, and just four for Browne. There was an uncomfortable pause, and then Coxey did the greatest thing - the thing that proved him to be a real leader. He said to the men, “I cast 154 votes for Mr. Browne.” It took a few moments for the army to realize the choice they now had to make; give up the march, or give up the Great Unknown Smith. And just as that realization was dawning, into the stunned silence Coxey added, “I further order that the Unknown Smith be forever expelled from the Army.” And he called for an immediate vote of agreement.
A few voices were raised in protest, saying  that if The Great Unknown Smith were expelled, then so should Coxey's eldest son, Jesse Coxey. But even they were disarmed when Coxey  agreed to that logic. And thus so did the Army. The Great Unknown Smith was out. Across the street from the opera house the Great Unknown Smith unloaded again, this time to the press. “I have been deposed by a patent medicine shark, a greasy-coated hypocrite, a seeker for personal advancement.” Like all those caught in the act, Smith’s (actually Bazarro’s) accusations might have been better used as a self portrait.
The next morning Carl Browne called a press conference of his own and revealed what the press already knew, that the Great Unknown Smith was actually A.P. B. Bazarro, a patent medicine salesman and hypocrite. And with that weight lifted, the Army moved on 14 miles to Addison, Maryland.
Twenty years later, Jacob Coxey would explain why he stood up for Carl Browne (above) that cold morning in a half empty opera house, and why he had tolerated the bombast and pretense which Carl Browne exhibited, and why he trusted him despite the man’s less than sterling past. Coxey called Browne “…the most unselfish man of my entire life’s acquaintance. He never gave a thought to pecuniary gain. His whole heart was in the movement to emancipate labor."
The next day, as the march continued into Maryland, the eldest son Jesse Coxey was reinstated on the one (father's) condition, that “he not sulk anymore”. The day after that Coxey’s Army acquired a navy.
Don't speak so loud, or you will be overheard--and I should be ruined. I'm supposed to be a Great Wizard."
"And aren't you?" she asked.
"Not a bit of it, my dear; I'm just a common man."
"You're more than that," said the Scarecrow, in a grieved tone; "you're a humbug."
"Exactly so!" declared the little man, rubbing his hands together as if it pleased him. "I am a humbug."
1900  L. Frank Baum  "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz"
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