APRIL 2021

APRIL 2021
FEATHERING THEIR OWN NEST

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Thursday, April 08, 2021

COXEY'S ARMY - Chapter Two - CLIMBING MOUNTAINS

 

I said earlier that I would not have 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, 25 March, 1892, it  was worse. It actually snowed. 
Marching to the northwest that day, Coxey's "Petition in Boots" only reached Louisville, Ohio, a distance of barely six miles. The New York Times noted, “When the sun rose…this morning (26 March) not a soldier….was visible… Fifty-eight of them went to the police station, where they were given lodgings on the cold stone floor.” 
"How can I help being a humbug," (Oz) 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 was designed to get their hoped for 100,000 man army over the 800 miles of bad roads between Massillon, Ohio and Washington, D.C.  Each morning the Army would leave camp at 10:30 A.M., and sought to achieve 15 miles before night fall.  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” or the Army of the Commonweal" as Browne called it in his pamphlets, was organized following guidelines from the same experience.  Five men formed a "group" (or squad), each designated by cloth badges. Twenty groups formed a "commune" (a platoon), five communes a "community", (an infantry company) two communities a "canton" (or a 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 in their reporting. A half century later my mother would describe any unorganized ineffective endeavor by saying, "They were spread out like Coxey's Army."  It took until Wednesday, 27 March, for the Army to cover the twenty-Seven miles to the Quaker settlement of Salem, Ohio. 
The townspeople of Salem opened their homes and barns to give the marchers a place to sleep. The weather turned warmer. However this proved to be a two edged sword as on Friday, 29 March, the army managed just ten miles through thick mud to Columbiana. But at least upon arrival they were provided with 1,000 loaves of bread, or about ten for every man in Coxey’s Army. 
After camping overnight in East Palestine and then in Waterford, Ohio, on the first day of April, 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 Pittsburgh. 
The Commercial Gazette headlined on 4 April 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 Pittsburgh, but the 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 Browne 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 (above), and the Gazette estimated that “15,000 to 20,000 people” stood outside the fence to hear what they had to say.
When the cantons 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 public notice. 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 44 year old father of the rebellion. Who was this man who had bankrolled the voices of the great unwashed? Jacob Coxey was a true self made man. He started in as a water boy at a rolling iron mill, Now wealthy, in  1881 he moved to Massolin, Ohio. 
It was called The Port of Massolin, because of the 300 mile long Ohio River and Lake Erie Canal. 
By 1850 the canal had been superseded by railroads. 
But by then Massolin manufactured steam tractors for farms and iron bridge construction. Jacob even bought a small farm and a sandstone quarry.  
And just about every building that went up in Massolin was built from Coxey sandstone. By 1890 Jacob was one of the richest men in Ohio, and had become fed up with the terrible roads in his adopted state, and frustrated with the vice grip the railroads had over the nation's growth. He  began to conceive of a way to improve the roads and encourage investment nationwide.  The press found his original ideas crazy and incomprehensible. 
Tired of being misquoted, Jacob Coxey’s father finally refused to talk to the press 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 11 April, "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 the threat from Coxey’s Army and the social revolution it was seeking to inspire, was brewing trouble within its own ranks.
"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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