Billy Buster And The Strike Breakers

April 18, 1896
Sarah Waters
I am not so naïve as to think my father an innocent. I love him just the same if not more, knowing that he has the strength of character to make hard choices. I envy him that strength. I wonder if it is also the envy of other men. Perhaps that would better explain the day’s events.

It all began this morning while I was at school. The noise of the unscheduled train arriving in town was only a small disruption. Subject of only two questions, “What’s that train arriving for?” and, “Who’s coming to town?” Mr. Stone no more knew the answers than I or anyone else in the classroom.

Later I would learn, Mr. Parker had paid for a special train to arrive in our town carrying fifty desperate men. They were in fact so desperate they were willing to risk their lives doing mining work they had never been trained for. Some of them wanted to turn back the moment they learned they were getting involved in a union strike, but most would do anything for the money. That is why Mr. Parker chose them no doubt.

The men were quickly loaded from train to carriage and arrived soon after at the entrance to the mine. This is where the real trouble started. The striking workers were picketing the entrance, their job being to prevent anyone from entering the mine. Up until today it had been a pointless and boring job.

It is unclear which group or even which man started the fight. The rumors around town have it narrowed to either my father or one of the new men, a Joseph Morris. I have a theory of my own though and I am sticking to it until proven wrong. This fight was not started by either of them but by Mr. Parker himself via the hired hands otherwise known as the strike busters. More specifically I suspect the leader of this group, one William C. Howe or Billy Buster as he is better known in newspaper stories.

The fight itself was not long. A few lost teeth, black eyes, swollen jaws, and bruised egos seems to be the extent of the physical damage. No worse than a Friday night bar fight. Conveniently the sheriff missed the opening punch but was on the scene from the start. He decided to arrest my father for illegally detaining the new workers and clearly trumped up charges of assault and battery.

As soon as I arrived in town on Jasper, I was flooded by the news from concerned friends. I had truly intended to work my shift and go home and no doubt I should have regardless. I just could not make the choice to leave my father sitting in a jail without doing anything to help. The argument with mother was brief, but I am sure she will finish it at the next opportunity.

“Your father’s business is none of yours. Get in there and do your work.” She ordered.

“It becomes our business when his freedom has been taken away. Or will you tell me that does not effect us?”

“Sarah, do as I tell you this instant.” She was pleading more than telling.

“No, mother. Go home and wait for me.”

“What? How dare you say no to me.”

“Go home, mother.”

She grabbed at my arm but I kept it free.

“You can’t stop me.” I said.

“You’ll only make matters worse, Sarah. Please for once in your life, listen to me.”

“I always listen, we simply do not agree and on so many things. I am sorry mother, but I will not stand idly by when father clearly needs my help.”

“Fine. You do what you think you have to do but know there are consequences for your actions and you’ll have to face them.”

“If there are then I will. Now please, go home. I don’t think it is safe around here.”

I remounted Jasper. (Only three tries!!!) I headed to the train station first. I might have been on the way to do the dumbest thing of my life but I was at least smart enough to have a backup plan. At the train station I stopped in the telegraph office and sent a message to Samuel.

Next I headed toward the jail which doubles as the sheriff’s office in our pathetic town. On the way there I was suddenly surrounded by the strike busters and Billy Buster himself sidled up next to me.

“Where you headed Miss?”

“My business is my own.”

“Unless it isn’t. You’re Waters’ daughter aren‘t you?”

“What if I am?”

He chuckled.

“I’ve heard all about you Miss.”

“And I you Mr. Howe.”

“Call me Billy.”

“Not even if you were a goat, Mr. Howe.”

A couple of men snorted their laughter until his menacing gaze caught them. Interesting, his own men are afraid of him. I wonder what hold he has on them as he is certainly not bigger than any of them. Perhaps it is the coiled whip on his left hip or the shiny white handled six-shooter on his right. Such weapons can make weak men powerful if they know how to use them.

“I can see you won’t be taking my advice, Miss Waters, but I’ll give it to you all the same. After this morning’s incident things are getting heated ‘round here. Your father is pushing the wrong people and it could be dangerous for you. Now a smart woman would let me escort her home and post a guard to protect her until these matters are settled.”

“You’re right Mr. Howe.”

“I am?” The shock in his voice was worth the bitter taste in my mouth.

“I won’t be taking your advice and if you’d so kindly get out of my way, I think we are done.”

“Gotta love a woman with spirit. You better hope it doesn’t get you killed.”

With that ominous statement he and his men did ride off and leave me be. I can only guess the amount of witnesses in town are the only reason they didn’t push things further.

A few moments later I stood before the sheriff in his cramped office. I felt secluded and dangerously alone from the moment I entered. I probably should have turned around and waited to hear back from Sam, but I have never had much patience. Despite my trepidation I pressed on.

“Good afternoon, sheriff.”

“Sarah, what brings you by?”

“I heard a rumor that you were holding my father.”

“Quite so but don’t you worry. It’ll all be over when this messy strike business ends.”

“I can’t believe you’d be taking Mr. Parker’s side? After Uncle Mike have you no conscience?”

“Sarah, these things are more complicated than you can understand. Don’t you worry your little head about it. Right now what this town needs is for that mine to get back to producing. These are hard times for folks and without the money that comes from operating that mine, this town will dry up and disappear.”

“Without the safety precautions my father is advocating the miners will die off and leave this town full of widowed mothers and orphaned children. I fail to see how that’s much better.”

“You are exaggerating the situation and preventing the mine from operating is not a way to negotiate for anything. It’s nothing but blackmail tactics and no business man this side of Hades would negotiate under these conditions. Leave this matter to those who understand it. Go home and when your father comes around to proper thinking he’ll be along as well.”

“By proper thinking you mean your way of thinking. It is clear from what you’ve said here you aren’t holding him with evidence but with contempt for his position on the strike. I demand you release him at once.”

“No little woman comes into my office and demands anything!”

“I’ll demand what I like from whom I like.”

The sheriff looked as if he wanted to strangle me or maybe even shoot me where I stood but after a quiet moment of hard stares between us he sighed.

“Take some friendly advice, Sarah. Go home before you get mixed up in this mess.”

“My home is with my father. Until you release him I’m not leaving.”

“Yes, you are.”

The sheriff grabbed hold of my shoulder. I slapped him. It was an instinctual reaction, brought on by his unexpected touch and the heat of our argument.

“That’s it. You want to stay so badly, now you will.”

He dragged me forcefully by my hair into the back room where the jail cells were. I heard my father shout out in surprise. A moment later I was thrown to the floor inside of a cell. I think it will be a long night.


Anonymous said...

Excellent instalment. Shaded of Westerns, of Steenbeck and Depression era, and some good humour too.
Thank you, Miss, for a good read.
Mr R Fane

Anonymous said...

Steinbeck. I beg your pardon.