Seattle Now & Then: Issaquah Coal Strike

(click to enlarge photos)

THEN: A company of state militia pose on what is now Issaquah’s E. Sunset Way. The Bellevue Hotel is in the background of what was then still called Gilman after Daniel Gilman, one of the promoters who opened King County’s resource-rich hinterlands to industrial development in the late 1880s with the construction of the Seattle Lake Shore and Eastern Railroad. Courtesy, Issaquah Historical Museum.
NOW: To repeat the U.P. Hadley’s historical record, Jean Sherrard has “leaned” his look west on Sunset Way a little to the southwest.
During the summer of 1891, a Tacoma photographer name U.P. Hadley, boarded a fast train there with a company of state militia mustered to secure peace in Gilman (Issaquah), a coal town then on strike – or trying to be.   The Oregon Improvement Company (OIC), undermined by strikes in Franklin, Newcastle and Black Diamond as well, described the miners – many of then members of the early union, Knights of Labor – as “unreasonable in their demands, unruly and above discipline.”
A few weeks earlier the OIC had devised a kind of “southern strategy” when it sent an agent named T.B. Corey to Missouri with ten railroad cars.  Corey filled them with Negro miners he lured with the promise of assured opportunity in the West.  The company kept the move so under wraps that both the striking miners and their unwitting “scabs” were surprised when the train arrived.  The black southerners discovered that they had been tricked into breaking a strike.  It was a strategy so successful that the organized miners either picked up and left town or answered the company’s racism with some of their own.  As expected by the OIC, with the import of black replacements, the miners’ actions addressing working conditions were overwhelmed by a single – that of race.

In his “Chronological History of Seattle” Thomas Prosch, a publishing historian at the time, noted for 1891 that “The coming of the negroes caused a tremendous sensation all over the county, was hotly discussed in every quarter, and was approved by some people but disapproved by more.” Erica Maniez, director of the Issaquah Historical Museum, adds that the militia was called, in part, because “Issaquah was considered then to be very pro labor.”

Director Maniez also has a date  – July 18, 1891 – for the Hadley portrait of the riflemen presenting before their canvas billets.  Most of the 29 photographs that Hadley took during his days in Gilman are of the troops hanging out, doing canteen, playing cards and visiting Snoqualmie Falls.  After about two weeks the Tacomans went home.


Here ordinarily Jean asks “Anything to add, Paul?”  I answer with some variation on “Yes.”  This time, however, the Word Press program that runs the blog is not allowing me to go forward with more photos.  We are stopped, and just when we had so much to give – including a few more of Hadley’s photos of the Tacoma rifles at Issaquah, and also other past features covering Issaquah, and North Bend and much else.  When this injury is healed we will put it up as an addendum.

At ease with, it seems, a table borrowed from the hotel for playing cards.







One thought on “Seattle Now & Then: Issaquah Coal Strike”

  1. there’s some sort of rumpus afoot amidst the card players. i count three drawn handguns and the fellow between the canteen drinker and the standing man who faces away from the camera at the table appears to be in the act of pilfering a bayonet.

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