Echoes From The Past: Unrest brought troops to Truckee in 1894
During the summer of 1894, a dispute between the American Railway Union and the Pullman Co. over wages and working hours blossomed into a national railroad strike.
The strike, which began in June, soon took a violent turn prompting President Grover Cleveland to call out federal troops to keep the trains rolling. Regular army troops were assigned to the Sierra along the Southern Pacific route following threats of sabotage.
Of particular concern was the vulnerable area over Donner Pass where a train derailment might tie up the entire route for days.
Striking workers had stranded a westbound passenger train in Truckee and other Pullman passenger trains had been halted at Fresno, Lathrop, Red Bluff, Rocklin, Sacramento and Winnemucca.
In Chicago, mobs of looters had destroyed cars and burned and stole property. Twelve people had been killed and many arrested.
By July 18, the San Francisco Examiner reported that there were about 100 regular troops from Company B of the California National Guard stationed in Truckee. On July 20, the Truckee Republican reported that Company C of the Nevada Light Guard had arrived in Truckee with 240 additional soldiers.
The troops were ordered to guard the company’s property and to guard against damage or destruction by fire “or otherwise.” Many citizens in Truckee questioned the need for sending the National Guard since there had been no indication of possible intent to resist the soldiers.
Yet, with rail workers in Truckee holding firm to the strike objectives, troops feared hostilities. To the dismay of the citizenry, the soldiers set up a Gatling gun on a flat car in the middle of town. Guards were posted at every bridge, tunnel and trestle.
Trains rolling through town had guards posted on the platforms of the cars since, only a few days earlier, a train had been derailed west of Sacramento, killing four.
Company B set up a field kitchen near the SP depot in Truckee where breakfast consisted of fried ham, hot bread and butter and coffee. The commissary rationed squads of seven men for three meals daily.
Although the strike resulted in violence in may parts of the country, none occurred in Truckee.
It didn’t take long for the town’s enterprising merchants to befriend the soldiers and soon the officers were enjoying the luxurious rooms and fine dinners at the Truckee Hotel while enlisted men were provided nice accommodations at other hotels or boarding houses in town where the food was a vast improvement from army rations.
By the end of summer, the effect of the troop action had broken the strike and the excitement in town faded. By early fall, all the troops had departed and life in Truckee returned to normal.
Although the failure of the Pullman strike had important consequences for the future of American labor, the friendliness and hospitality of Truckee’s residents toward the soldiers diffused a potentially dangerous situation.
“Echoes From The Past” appears every other week in the Sierra Sun. Guy Coates is vice president and research historian for the Truckee-Donner Historical Society. He can be reached through the Society at 582-0893 or by E-mail at email@example.com.
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