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

Massillon, Ohio; approximately 1900. From University of Texas Libraries.

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  The New York Times reported that Coxey’s life insurance policy had been revoked, with “officials of the company fearing that he may meet with a violent end in his present enterprise,” and that “everyone regarded the affair as a huge joke.”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

Branches by Nebojsa Mladjenovic on Flicker. (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Coxey’s Army left Massillon, Ohio on March 25, 1894.  By the 26th, 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

New York Times - March 27, 1894

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

Snowballs by Tobias Abel on Flicker. (CC BY-ND 2.0)

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 – From The Canton Repository, March 25, 1894.

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.

Coxey's Army, location unknown. Photo from the Ohio History Connection.

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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April 9, 1894: Coxey Puts Up Toll

Headline from The Chicago Tribune, Tuesday, April 10, 1894

“One dollar eighty-seven cents,” said Mrs. Clabaugh resolutely. Coxey paid the money in nickels and pennies, took a receipt, and the army marched on.

UNIONTOWN, Pa., April 9.-[Special.]– One lone woman met Coxey’s army of the commonweal in combat today and ignominiously defeated it. The woman’s name is Mrs. Annie Clabaugh and she is tollkeeper at the toll-gate two miles east of Brownesville. Mrs. Clabaugh, with no more deadly weapon than a woolen fascinator, hold up Coxey’s army on the high road and forced it to pay toll.…
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April 9, 1894: Army Must Return to the West; Utah Courts Order the Men Back Into the Car – They Must Be Moved.

While much of the media coverage centered on Jacob Coxey’s march from Massillon, Ohio, at least forty other “Industrial Armies” of unemployed workers were organized in 1894 for the purpose of marching to Washington, D.C.  Fry’s Army organized in Los Angeles; the Northwestern Industrial Army gathered in Seattle; Kelly’s Army marched from San Francisco, with Jack London among the marchers.

From The Chicago Tribune, Tuesday, April 10, 1894.

OGDEN, Utah, April 9.-This evening Judges Miner and Merritt signed a mandatory restraining order on the Southern Pacific railroad restraining them from keeping or allowing the industrial army brought by said company “unlawfully into said territory” and ordering them all back into the twenty seven box cars, or from keeping any portion of the army in the cars in this territory any longer than is absolutely necessary to carry them away.…
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April 14, 1894: Commonwealers Nigh Unto Riot

Carl Browne, from Histories of the National Mall

From The New York Times, Sunday, April 15, 1894:

FROSTBURG, MD., April 14 — Revolt in the ranks of Coxey’s army today leaves the Commonwealers in a state bordering on riot. Chief Marshal Carl Browne of California was deposed as Marshal, and Louis Smith, “The Unknown,” is in full charge.

[pullquote]During one of the halts, Smith ordered the men to march, and Browne called a halt. In a war of words, Browne denounced “The Unknown” as a Pinkerton detective. Smith called for support, and all but the wagonmen responded.…
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April 15, 1894: The “Unknown” Set Adrift

Coxey's Army at the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal - From C&O Canal Trust

From The New York Times, Sunday, April 16, 1894:

CUMBERLAND, MD., April 15 — The once famous “Unknown” of Coxey’s army was stripped of his veiled glory to-day and likewise of his honors as a Commonwealer. Carl Browne, the deposed leader of yesterday, has entire charge of the body tonight.

Gen. Coxey next took the stump, and spoke at length on the necessity of peace, showing determination only on the statement that the “Unknown” would have to go. He said if the men wished to stick to the “Unknown” they could, but none of the commissary wagons would go with them.

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April 16, 1894: Coxey Charters Canalboats

Coxey's Army on the canal--Second barge belongs to the Consolidation Coal Company - From the Ray Stannard Baker Collection at the Library of Congress.

From The New York Times, Monday April 17, 1894

CUMBERLAND, Md., April 16. — While the heads of the Commonweal Army have been pushing preparations for the coming exodus from Cumberland, the army has been resting and living luxuriously. The Spring sunshine has been, a tonic to the frost-bitten travelers. Many of the soldiers went into the river, where, stripped to the waist, they bathed in the ice water, to-day, with a liberal allowance of soap from the great stock contributed at Alliance…

…The estrangement of Jesse Coxey, the prodigal son, from his father, consequent on Jesse’s revolt the “Unknown” Smith on Saturday has been arbitrated, and the boy is back in the fold of the Commonweal…

…The army will go by water to Williamsport.…
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