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Pullman Strike

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In May of 1894, a labor dispute known as the Pullman strike began in Illinois. Related riots reflected discontent with labor conditions on the railroad and would soon reverberate across the country, affecting a wide swath of states, including North Dakota.

These disputes involved George Pullman, the industrialist who designed and manufactured the Pullman sleeping car. He had founded a community named Pullman for his workers, but in 1894, when the demand for manufacturing faltered, he cut wages and jobs and increased working hours, but did not lower rent or prices in the town he created. Ensuing strikes led to violence, prompting President Cleveland to use federal troops to maintain control.

A paper in Nebraska reported, "that the Pullman company has employed a steady method of oppression in the treatment of its employees … However … it is a doubtful question whether an organization … has the right to prevent the running of Pullman cars on any line and inconveniencing the entire public …"

By the end of June eleven rail lines were tied up or crippled by the boycott. This included the Northern Pacific through North Dakota. At Fargo, all the NP employees were ordered out, and no one was working in the shops. And as soon as trains came in, the crews deserted, walking off the job.

By early July, the federal troops were in place allowing the first passenger train from the east in eleven days to arrive in Dickinson. Soldiers from Fort Snelling were aboard to quell any disturbance.

On this date, the Bismarck Weekly noted that a train arriving the day before had met with no interference. No small wonder, since at Fargo, a deputy marshal had boarded the train and stayed ‘til reaching Mandan, and soldiers had been stationed at the door of each coach, with rifle and fixed bayonet, making sure no trouble makers were allowed aboard.

When the train arrived at Bismarck, there was a cheer from the crowd assembled to meet it. The Tribune noted, "it was pleasing to witness the reestablishment of communication and resumption of mail service." Only stopping for 15-20 minutes, the train continued to Mandan, met by another large crowd.

By the end of July, the strike was over, but 34 people had been killed during the dispute. Strikers and troops both dispersed, and shortly thereafter, Labor Day was established as a federal holiday.

Dakota Datebook by Sarah Walker

The Courier, June 30, 1894, p1 (Lincoln, Nebraska)
The Bismarck Weekly Tribune, June 29, 1894, p1
The Dickinson Press, July 14, 1894, p3
The Bismarck Weekly Tribune, July 13, 1894, p3

Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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