March 25, 1894: In dreams, he sees an army. Then Coxey awakes, and sees only fifty tramps.

The New York Times ran a number of wire service reports immediately before Coxey’s Army left Massillon, Ohio on March 25, 1894. Coming from Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Washington D.C., the tone of the writing can best be described as bewildered amusement.

It is claimed by Marshal Browne that nearly fifty recruits have arrived in Massillon, but up to last night, none of them had been discovered, and reputable Massillonians asserted that the arrivals were all in the mind of the the “Seer and Prophet” as the Marshal styles himself. 

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March 25, 1894: Coxey’s Army on the Move

On March 25, 1894, Jacob Coxey and his 75 member army stepped off from Massillon, Ohio on their march to Washington D.C.  By the time they reached Canton, about eight miles away, the number had reached 50.  The New York Times reported that Coxey’s life insurance policy had been revoked, with “officials of the company fearing that he may meet with a violent end in his present enterprise,” and that “everyone regarded the affair as a huge joke.”  However, recently having found ten Times articles on Coxey’s Army from March 1894 alone, I don’t think anyone could argue the fact that Jacob Coxey certainly knew how to use the media.…
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March 26, 1894: Coxey’s Army is Straggling Along

Coxey’s Army left Massillon, Ohio on March 25, 1894.  By March 26, there were troubles. From The New York Times:

Last Night the Soldiers Slept in a Police Station – Discontent Brewing.

CANTON, Ohio, March 26. — When the sun rose on Camp Lexington this morning not a soldier of the Commonweal Army was visible. The cold weather had driven them all out of their big tent during the night. Fifty-eight of them went to the police station, where they were given lodgings on the cold stone floor.

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March 27, 1894: Lacks But Two Of A Hundred

It has been two days since the march began, and Coxey’s Army of the unemployed is still in Stark County, Ohio.  The army has picked up some new members, but they have also lost quite a few.  And Jacob Coxey is gone; he’s headed to Chicago.  Meanwhile, some deserters have already made it as far west as Richmond, Indiana.  And politicians are starting to comment on the march.

ALLIANCE, Ohio, March 27. — The Coxey army reached Alliance at 12:50 today, hungry, cold, tired, but enthusiastic.

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March 28, 1894: Weary and Worn

On March 29, The San Francisco Call carried wire reports from across the country, covering the march and those who were traveling to participate in it.

From the headlines:


Coxey’s Ragged Army Is Straggling On.


They Were Prepared to Snowball the Soldiers.


So Far the Deserters Along the Line Far Outnumber the New Recruits.

Alliance, Ohio, March 28.— Coxey’s army broke camp, after a good night’s rest on clean straw and a plentiful breakfast of fried ham and pork, bread and coffee, at 9 o’clock this morning, with 193 men in line by actual count.

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April 2, 1894: Coxey’s Army Grows

Map of the J.S. Coxey Good Roads Commonweal

By April 2, Coxey’s Army had crossed into Pennsylvania. The Chicago Tribune reported that the group was now numbering nearly 250 men. The media was also picking up on the rivalry between marshal Carl Browne and “The Great Unknown.”

Beaver Falls, PA., Contributes To Commonweal

Provisions Pour Into the Camp and the Leaders Are Sanguine and Happy Again – Coxey Fears for Food in the Mountains and Wants No More Men Until They Are Crossed – Genuineness of the Recruits in Doubt-The “Unknown” Grows In Interest as Browne Declines.
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April 4, 1894: Lock Up Coxey’s Men.

With ten days in, this is not quite the welcome that the army has experienced in earlier cities. The media, previously having ridiculed the group, is now reporting from a slightly different perspective, that of sympathy. But that will change, soon enough…

From The Chicago Tribune – April 5, 1894:

Allegheny City, Pa., April 4 — [Special] Coxey’s Army is imprisoned in Allegheny. Some of its troopers lie behind the bars of the Central Station; the others are behind a twenty-five foot fence in the baseball club grounds.…
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April 6, 1894: Afraid of His Army

Headline from The Chicago Tribune, Saturday, April 7, 1894

Now over 500 strong, the Commonweal is ready to head into the mountains, where the terrain will be rugged, and supplies will be few.  The marchers appear to be able to make it through. But, is Coxey himself up to the task?

From The Chicago Tribune – April 7, 1894:

McKeesport, Pa., April 6 — [Special] Gen. Coxey is growing frightened at the monster he has created and would reduce its size and unwieldiness if he could. He has issued orders that no more recruits be allowed to join and has gone even further.…
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April 7, 1894: Coxey’s Advance Cohort Arrested

Headline from The New York Times, Sunday, April 8, 1894

WASHINGTON, April 7. – The advance guard of Coxey’s Army, forty-one in number, got within two miles of Washington this evening, and were taken in charge by the police and locked up.

They came in on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad in freight cars, and when they reached Eckington, a suburb of the city, a squad of police took them from the cars and marched them from the cars and marched them to the Ninth Precinct Station House where they will be held until Monday for examination.…
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April 8, 1894: Jail Yawning for Gen. Coxey

Headline from The New York Times, Monday, April 9, 1894

Note the change of tone in the news coverage of (and government response to) the Coxey movement, as compared to that at the beginning of the march: from crackpot, to harmless, to drama. And now, perceived as a threat.

Plans are being put into motion which will ultimately thwart the efforts of citizens to exercise their First Amendment right to free speech. And to provide a distraction from the purpose of the march: to make the case for good roads and for public investment in the nation’s infrastructure, which will result in reduced unemployment.…
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