A Stolen Train
On this date in 1894, the Oakes Republican reported that a band of armed men had seized a train east of Bismarck. It took place when the train stopped at Dawson. When the engineer went into the telegraph office, an armed mob swarmed over the engine. They detached it from the rest of the train and forced the fireman to drive it. Deputy Marshals attempted to retake the train, but they were outnumbered. One of the deputies was shot and seriously wounded.
After the engine sped off to the east, Marshal Daggett wired Colonel Miller of Jamestown to ask for help. Miller immediately appointed deputies and boarded a train to head west. Daggett also recruited deputies and they boarded a train to take up the chase, heading east. They were all advised to take no chances, but use whatever force was necessary to capture the fugitives.
Before long, the hijackers found themselves boxed in. Colonel Miller was ahead of them, with Marshal Daggett was closing in from behind. Desperate to make their getaway, they abandoned the train and fled into the woods.
The two posses surrounded them and soon took them into custody. They were to be brought back to Bismarck for trial.
The hijackers were identified as Coxeyites. 1894 was the second year of a four-year depression. Coxeyites, also known as Coxey’s Army, were unemployed workers led by Ohio businessman Jacob Coxey. Their plan was to march on Washington to demand government projects like building roads. This would put the unemployed back to work. They would spur the economy with their paychecks and raise the country out of the depression.
Coxey led the eastern contingent from Ohio to Washington. A western “army” set out from California, but few made it the entire distance. Many just dropped out along the way. Others, like the North Dakota train hijackers, wound up running afoul of the law. Another group commandeered a Northern Pacific train, but didn’t get out of Montana before they were arrested. Other trains were hijacked in Colorado and Montana.
Eventually, six thousand protesters made it to Washington. Coxey and other protest leaders were arrested for walking on the grass of the Capitol. The protesters gradually lost their enthusiasm and their interest dwindled away. Although the protest was unsuccessful, it is notable for being the first protest march on Washington.
Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher
Oakes Republican. “Expect a Fight.” Oakes ND. 15 June 1894. Page 1.
Sully County Watchman. “They Stole a Train.” 22 June 1894. Page 3.
Little Falls Weekly Transcript. “Coxey at the Capitol.” “No Coxeyites in North Dakota.” Little Falls MN. 4 May 1894. Page 1.
Coxey’s Army. “Coxey’s Army on the Move.” http://www.coxeysarmy.org/ Accessed 19 May 2020.