By J.R. Zane
October 14, 1998
When Schuylkill County Sheriff Rowland Beddall arrived in Shenandoah on the evening of the riot, July 30, 1902, the huge crowd which had formed at the corner of Main and Center Street was beginning to disperse. Despite this, the Sheriff telegraphed Harrisburg and requested the Governor immediately call out troops. Governor Stone indicated troops would be dispatched only if citizens of Shenandoah petitioned for help. To the dismay of the Sheriff, the citizens refused to sign the petition being circulated. But to Sheriffs Beddall's delight, the Governor changed his mind before midnight and ordered the 4th, 8th and 12th Regiments and the Governor's Troop of Cavalry be sent to the Anthracite region.
In my prior article on the Bloody First Ward, much was stated about the senseless murder of Joseph Beddall, the Sheriff's brother. The violence was not simply one powerless ethnic group against a more powerful ethnic group. By 1902, Lithuanians were assuming positions of authority in the Shenandoah area. Joseph Lauraitis, one of the policemen wounded during the riot, was a Lithuanian patrolman. Severely beaten by the mob, he lost the middle finger on his left hand and his head wound required 45 stitches. Sadly, the violence was perpetrated by fellow immigrants.
After the riot, a number of people were arrested. Peter Shomas and George Somachis, who had both suffered gun shot wounds, were taken into custody at Miners' Hospital while having their wounds tended. Others wounded and arrested included: Anthony Luskus, John Wakavage, John Dumbroski, Anthony Pomewicz, and George Savinkas. All had been shot and/or received wounds from rock-throwing. Additional arrests included: Wladislaw Rovinsky, Anthony Klimowicz, Stanyslaw Zukowski, William Stupowitz, Joseph Dumbroski, and Joseph Wenskunas.
Most of the publicity focused on Joseph Paliewicz, a local First Ward butcher, and Matt Paulauskas (a/k/a Polowski), a one-armed saloon keeper. Both were charged with capital homicide. These arrests came as a tremendous surprise to the Lithuanian community and foreign mine workers. Polowski had been their leader in many affairs and was financially secure. It was said he was "the man" whom the politicians dealt with when interested in 'corralling' the "Lithuanian vote." A respected citizen, his word was his bond. Until his arrest, Polowski was looked upon as "one of the most civilized foreigners" by the Press. He had been considered an exemplary Shenandoah citizen. His arrest, rather then frightening the Lithuanian community, only accentuated the bitterness towards those in authority. An arrest warrant for capital homicide was also issued against Anthony 'Uncle Dan' Marcavage, a middle-aged Lithuanian.
Because of the large number of Lithuanians accused of rioting, assault and homicide, the Lithuanian Citizens Association D.K.L.A. of Shenandoah, a well-respected local group, issued the following resolution:"According to the public press, all blame and responsibility for the recent disturbances in this borough seem laid at the door of the Lithuanian People,The Lithuanian community was rightfully upset over the stigma the rioting had given its people and the accompanying anti-Lithuanian press coverage. Frank Yonickas had just been convicted for a murder he committed earlier in the year at a Christening. This tragedy had been in the news repeatedly. The Pottsville Republican featured front page coverage which included statements that "the homicide was committed during the progress of a Christening where it is a custom of the Lithuanians to dispose of considerable amounts of beer . . ." Generally, The Pottsville paper reflected an anti-Shenandoah slant. General headline coverage of criminal court news would oft read something like, "Shenandoah AGAIN [or AS USUAL] leads the area in the number of criminal offenses."
Whereas, it is known that recent trouble was caused by lawless elements of many nationalities and the Lithuanian people of this section are as law abiding as any other class of residents, and that there are no Anarchistic tendencies tolerated among them and such reports are breeders of unwarranted prejudices against the Lithuanian people as a whole,
Resolved, we condemn any violations of the law by any individuals but we also condemn the methods of reporting the recent disturbances which couple the recent disturbances with the Lithuanian People as a class."
The rioting only increased the high level of prejudice prevalent in the area. Many in the County believed the "foreigners" were directly and indirectly involved in 'the state of unrest' which had infected the entire Anthracite region. It was believed "those foreigners" were protracting the strike and "it could have been settled had it not been for them." The Pottsville Republican published an article which stated, "these foreigners live in such squalor as a rule and this discredits the respectability and deservedness of the mining class . . . yet by this (the squalor they are used too) means that the foreigners are able to strike much longer than the American miners without hard suffering." The general consensus was, "Lithuanians and other Eastern Europeans are so used to the lowest of lifestyles that they had nothing to lose by striking."
Within a few months after the rioting, Joseph Paliewicz's murder trial began. Jury selection was time consuming and tedious. Many jurors were excused for a myriad of reasons, including opposition to the death penalty being sought by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania or racial prejudice. Paliewicz would attend the trial accompanied by his neatly dressed wife, born to a prominent Lithuanian family. The defendant was described as a 23 year-old, tall, lanky Lithuanian butcher with features that "denote moral and intellectual strength." He "could speak and understand English fairly well and he took a keen interest in the proceedings".
After a ten day trial, the jury, selected primarily from the other end of Schuylkill County, returned its verdict. Would Joseph Paliewicz's defense of "mistaken identity" be successful? The defendant's wife, who the newspapers described as "an intelligent, tidy and fairly good-looking young woman", would not be present to hear the outcome as she left daily on the evening train to Shenandoah.
Front page headlines at The Pottsville Republican proclaimed, "The coils are tightening around Joseph Paliewicz, the young Lithuanian of Shenandoah, who is being tried . . . for murder . . ." Before the jury entered the Courtroom, the Court House corridors were cleared. Walking through the halls, the jurors looked pale, anxious, sadly careworn. A veteran attorney could be heard whispering to a colleague, "From the look on their faces it has to be a death verdict for certain! If he doesn't hang on the scaffolds then it will be life imprisonment!"
Outside the Court House, near the gallows, a hangman examined his noose, waiting for the verdict, the opportunity to earn his paltry fee. Fate was against him. It took the jury only two ballots to find the defendant not guilty. On November 21, 1902, Joseph Paliewicz was, once again, a free men.
With hundreds of witnesses to the event, only two individuals, both of questionable reputation, could identify Paliewicz as the assailant. Other witnesses testified the defendant was not even near the victim The State was, therefore, unable to prove its case "beyond a reasonable doubt." When Paliewicz's handcuffs were removed, a spontaneous round of applause erupted throughout the Courthouse. The Judge immediately ordered that those "acting up" be taken into custody by the deputies. Fortunately, only one individual was to be punished, a young man who had placed his hat on his head after the verdict was rendered!
Joseph Paliewicz testified on his own behalf, but his attestation was most unusual: he denied any Lithuanian heritage. Under oath, he stated he was born in Krajwincy, Suwalki, Russian Poland and had never heard the Lithuanian language until he arrived in Shenandoah in 1898. "I cannot speak that language and I do not understand that language," he defiantly stated. His strategy? He was Polish, not Lithuanian! Since the attacker was identified as a Lithuanian, he could not possibly be guilty as charged. And, he added, since he was 32 years of age and not the young man of 23 years reported by the newspapers, he couldn't possibly be the murderer. The fact that he admitted being the only one in the crowd with a club in his hands was mere coincidence. "I don't know where that club came from," he told the jury. Case closed.
Several individuals arrested during the riots were tried and convicted. In a few instances, a defendant would be found "not guilty", but ordered to pay court costs. Shenandoah continued to ferment under the presence of the troops sent to maintain order. When the coal miner's strike dragged into October, hardship reared its ugly head. Bare-footed women would sneak into soldiers' camps searching for food scraps thrown out of mess tents.
Observing the situation, Private Stewart Culin began to wrote "A Trooper's Narrative of Service in the Anthracite Coal Strike, 1902", describing his first glimpses of Shenandoah:"The city of Shenandoah, brightly illuminated by electricity, lay in the valley below, with the twin spires of the Lithuanian church rising amid tall clouds of steam above the level of our hill top."With insightful detail, he described young children of Lithuanian and Polish miners who seemed ashamed to speak in their native tongues. The Trooper received numerous reports of "foreign-born" miner violence and disorder - that Lithuanians and Polish were "constantly drilling with arms" in the streets of Shenandoah and forming secret militias. For the most part, Trooper Culin found the Lithuanians of Shenandoah to be pleasant and law-abiding. An astute observer of the differences between the various nationalities, he noted certain styles and patterns in dress distinctively Polish or Lithuanian, and that such style or pattern would never be purchased or worn by the other nationality. He befriended the Lithuanian pastor, Father Abromaitis, who explained Lithuanians of Shenandoah came from both Russian and Prussian dominated territory, that they were children of small farmers who emigrated to escape conscription or to better their fortune. Three different Lithuanian dialects were spoken in Shenandoah and over two-thirds could read and write in their native language.
With an election approaching, the influence of the Socialist Party gained momentum in the Lithuanian community. On October 18, 1902, members of a large Socialist Parade marched through the streets of Shenandoah. Approximately 1,000 men participated. J.W. Slater, candidate for Governor, and Adolph Tabor, the local state representative candidate, were featured. The First Lithuanian Band of Shenandoah greeted the candidates at the railroad station, escorting them to Hotel Franey and Robbins' Hall. The chief marshal of the Socialist parade was Anthony Sokaloski. The deputies were John Paskey, Anthony Norkiewicz, Carl Bochis, Ben Rochkus, William Abromaitis, Lewis Matulewich, and Enoch Rice. Most, if not all of the socialist party organizers, were Lithuanian.
By the end of October, the bitter and violent strike ended and Shenandoah erupted in jubilation. Again, a parade proceeded through town with the Lithuanian Local supplying 2,600 of the 9,000 marching men. Leading the March was the beloved, "First Lithuanian Band."
In the November election, the Lithuanian community voiced their disapproval of a continued status quo. The Socialist candidate for governor did extremely well in Shenandoah's First Ward and surrounding smaller mining communities. Larger Lithuanian populations out-polled both the Republican and Democrat candidates by wide margins.
The era of economic unrest, civil disobedience, and socialist beliefs was short-lived. Shenandoah's Lithuanian community soon blended with the general population The area would remain a strong Union and Democrat bastion but the radical overtones were never repeated. In late 1903, the District Attorney quietly dropped the homicide charges that remained pending against saloon keeper Matt Polowski.
Chronology of the Anthracite Coal Strike of 1902
For further reading, I suggest the following:
Donald Miller and Richard Sharpless,
The Kingdom Of Coal: Work, Enterprise, and Ethnic Communities in the Mine Fields,
University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, 1985
Copyright c 1998 by Jay Zane and Lithuanian Global Resources.
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