20th Century, Great Lakes, History, Industry, Intercession, Judgment & Counter-Judgment Cycle, Logging, Minnesota, omnipresent history, trade, Unions, World War I

Workers Strike at Largest Sawmill in the World 1917

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1917

“Workers at the Virginia and Rainy Lake Lumber Company sawmill, the largest in the world, strike for higher pay and safer working conditions. Organizers from the radical International Workers of the World spread the strike to the logging camps before police break it up with arrests and force.” *

Minnesota’s history of logging in this era is rife with irony. On one hand, it is a shining example of cooperation and productivity. 

“The VRL Lumber Co. was the largest on earth producing on average a million board feet of lumber a day seven days a week. Production on such a vast scale required an enormous supply of virgin white and red pine harvesting a total of four billion board feet over a 20 year period.” **

On the other hand, this mill was pitifully negligent in its care for its workers’ health and well-being. 

“Toilet facilities were primitive in the extreme. Privies were no more than shallow, open pits with a roof and some poles for seats. Excrement was only rarely treated with lime or even covered with dirt. State inspectors repeatedly and despairingly observed that “there seems to prevail an idea that toilet facilities in a camp are superfluous.””

Safety precautions were ignored, too. Engaged in strenuous manual labor with lethal tools in frigid weather, lumberjacks had an extremely high accident rate. Although immediate first aid was therefore the jacks’ greatest medical need, a survey of logging

camps several years before the strike revealed that “in none . . . were there any facilities for giving first aid to the injured.” **

Below is the an eye-witness testimony regarding the ‘jacks accommodations.

“Prospects of a major IWW walkout were enhanced, however, by the working and living conditions of the lumberjacks. Typically, jacks lived in rough-cut lumber shanties. A bunkhouse 30 feet by 80 feet by 11 feet would house anywhere from 60 to 90 men in rows of double-decked wooden bunks lining each wall. Each individual bed with its mattress of loose straw slept two men. Each jack received two or three woolen blankets from the camp (sheets were unknown). The turnover was so high that four or five men might easily use the same blankets each season. 

Virtually all the beds, blankets, and men were infested with lice. In 1914 inspectors from the State Department of Labor and Industries observed that “the conditions under which the men were housed made it impossible for men to keep their bodies free from vermin.” 

Bunkhouses were ventilated only by doors at each cud and one or two small skylights in the roof. One or perhaps two iron stoves, kept fired all night, provided heat. The poor ventilation compounded sanitary problems.

The men worked 11-hour days in the cold northern Minnesota winter and generally wore two or three sets of underwear in addition to their outer garments. The combination of wet snow and hard labor soaked the jacks’ clothes every day, but the men were without washing facilities either for themselves or what they wore. 

Since most of them put on all the clothing they owned, dozens of sets of wet-from-sweat clothes hung near the stove every night to dry for the next day. The steam from the clothing joined the stench of tightly-packed, unwashed bodies in the bunkhouse, prompting one Wobbly to comment that “the bunk houses in which the lumber jacks sleep are enough to gag a skunk.” **

“Chronology

December 24, 1916

Timber mill workers at the Virginia and Rainy Lake Lumber Company draw up a list of demands.

December 26, 1916

Workers present their demands to the superintendent of manufacturing, Chester R. Rogers.

December 27, 1916

Mill workers decide to go ahead with the strike.

December 28, 1916

Pickets begin at the company’s gates. One thousand workers go on strike. Flying squads (IWW messengers) head north to lumber camps.

January 1, 1917

One thousand lumberjacks walk out of the camps.

January 2, 1917

A thousand more lumberjacks strike. Lumberjacks are banished from Virginia, Minnesota.

February 1, 1917

The lumber strike is officially called off.” ***

So, what was the aftermath of this strike, and how did it improve the lives of lumberjacks and those that worked the sawmill? Below is an excerpt from Wobbly (IWW) records:

“The mill workers returned to their jobs in the last week of January. The lumberjacks held on a bit longer and neither the Virginia and Rainy Lake Company nor the International Lumber Company was able to reopen logging operations until February. What remained of the Wobbly lumber strike leadership gathered in Duluth. On February 1 the leaders called off the strike, claiming a partial victory by way of improved conditions.

Most companies did attend to their camps better after the strike. The ILC bought new blankets for the men and raised slightly the base pay. The quality of food seems to have been improved, too, in most camps. In 1917 the Virginia and Rainy Lake Company spent nearly 20 per cent more per man for food than earlier. Wartime price inflation accounted for part, but not most, of the increase.” ****

What say You of this event and the broken relationships between loggers, their representatives in the IWW, and the V.R.L. company managers and International Lumber Company (ILC) owners? We invite Your timeless knowledge, and graceful judgment into their circumstance Ruach Ha Kodesh. How do we begin to make right this wrong from Your perspective? How have we offended You and the principles of Your kingdom?

You have said clearly through the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Corinthians:

“Do I say this from a human perspective? Doesn’t the Law say the same thing? For it is written in the Law of Moses: “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.” Isn’t He actually speaking on our behalf? Indeed, this was written for us, because when the plowman plows and the thresher threshes, they should also expect to share in the harvest.” I Corinthians 9:8-10

We acknowledge, first, our offense to You through the judgments of Virginia and Rainy Lake Lumber Company and the ILC. We offend You as employers when we do not provide a Sabbath rest. We offend You when do not provide for the lives and safety of Your workers. We offend You when we fail to provide food, clothing, and adequate shelter for those in our care. We offend You when profit becomes an idol that forgets the contributions of the employees to the health of the corporation. Will You forgive VRL Co.  and the International Lumber Company in this era, and create right relationships that lead to blessing in our timber industry’s management both in the present and future?

Similarly, we have offended You through the judgments of the lumberjacks and sawmill workers towards the VRL Company’s owners and ILC managers. We offend You when we do not take a Sabbath where it is offered. We offend You when we expect our employer to solve our unmentioned problems, and fail to be proactive in our own needs. We offend You as workers through the misbelief that profit is a given, therefore, the company has unlimited resources to spend on labor. Will You forgive the lumberjacks and millworkers of VRL Co. and ILC of this era, and create new 

interconnections between laborers, labor unions, and executives of our logging industry that lead to present and future blessings for all?

Above all, we especially ask for the release of the victims of the injustices of this era from the prisons of their counter-judgments. We know that there are those who lost life and limb. We know that there are those who were circumstantially hemmed in who felt they had no choice but to submit to abusive work conditions to survive. 

Will You forgive those who were ensnared through the maintenance of offense towards the abuses of Virginia and Rainy Lake Lumber Company and the ILC? Will You give them gifts of grace that look to You for justice, while not resubmitting themselves to abuse? Will You take these judgments and counter-judgments up, out, and onto the Cross of Christ? Will You remove the log from the eyes of all in the logging industry?

* http://www.mnhs.org/about/dipity_timeline.htm

** http://monarchtreepublishing.com/Ilets/1916-Lumbering-Strike.pdf

** Testimony of Jay Hall; Sixteenth Biennial Report, p. 117; Boose, in International Socialist Review, 14:414

*** Chronology and an excellent brief summary by Anja Witek can be viewed at this MNopedia link. http://www.mnopedia.org/event/iww-lumber-strike-1916-1917

**** https://iww.org/node/1524

 

 

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19th Century, Agriculture, Business, education, farming, Food, History, horses, Intercession, Minnesota, omnipresent history, Science, trade

Kelley on the Grange

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1867
“Elk River homesteader Oliver H. Kelley, claiming to be “as full of public spirit as a dog is full of fleas,” leads the founding of the Patrons of Husbandry, or Grange.
The organization, which includes women as equal members, sweeps across rural America, promoting scientific agriculture and enriching the social and cultural life of farm families.” *

What was Mr. Kelley like as a human, Jesus? What desires did You put into his nature for his fellow farmers?
“Encourage them to read and think; to plant fruits and flowers,—beautify their homes; elevate them; make them progressive,” he wrote in a letter to a friend. “I long to see the great army of producers in our country, turn their eyes up from their work; stir up those brains, now mere machines … set them to think,—let them feel that they are human beings, the strength of the nation, their labor honorable, and farming the highest calling on earth.” **

His zeal reminds me of the heart of the Benedictines, whom are renowned for “ora et labora”; prayer and work. Dear Father, how we need that balance between heart and head! Kelley, sort of, reminds me of those with a prophetic calling who operate in the spirit of encouragement. ***

Lord, make more like Kelley, who want to lift up humanity! Lord, may those of us who have this call remain humble, and not cross over in judgment of our neighbor! Will You grow the Grange, and dignify our labor today?
http://www.mnhs.org/about/dipity_timeline.htm
** http://www.mnopedia.org/person/kelley-oliver-hudson-1826-1913
*** http://www.religious-vocation.com/differences_religious_orders.html
**** Images are from https://images.google.com/?gws_rd=ssl; again, an amazing resource!

 

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19th Century, Agriculture, Emigration, Exploration, farming, Food, History, Immigration, Minnesota, Native Americans, State Government, trade, Treaties

Settlement in Minnesota 1849 to 1860

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“The number of non-Indian people in Minnesota jumps from 3,814 in 1849 to 172,072 in 1860, a 4,500 percent increase! The newcomers break sod, start businesses, plot towns, look for jobs, and dream of getting rich.

Pent-up demand for good agricultural land is the primary reason. Iowa and Wisconsin had been heavily settled and had both passed from territorial to statehood status by 1848. It had been dangerous and illegal to settle on land in most of Minnesota before treaties with the Dakota and the Ojibwe were signed. But after several treaties were ratified in the 1850s, the floodgates of migration burst open.” *

When we move, we make assessments of our new neighbors and neighborhood. They, in return, watch us move into their neighborhood, and may ‘size us up’ by our friendliness, possessions, (or lack of possessions), our physical appearance, etc. These assessments, I believe, are instincts designed for our survival, but must be tempered or they can morph into prejudice.

Lord, what were the judgments of these ‘new neighbors’ in Minnesota? Will You forgive us the inheritance of those who knowingly moved into the state illegally? Will You forgive the betrayals committed between settler and tribe, and their counter-betrayals? Will You break the power of the derogatory words and names given among these groups? Will You break the vows made in anger, envy, revenge, arrogance, unforgiveness, fear, and unbelief of each group towards its real or supposed nemesis?

Thinking about the impact of these past separations on the present, will You forgive the heart behind the relocation of Native Americans? Will you free us from the bondages and entanglements within poorly made treaties? Will You bring Your heart of restoration to Minnesota? Will You bring to light a new kind of history in Minnesota? Will You write a history that remembers the good, the pleasing, the fair, the gracious, the restored relationship on our hearts? Will you give us Your eyes to see our neighbors’ inherent value?

*mnhs.org/about/dipity_timeline.htm

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19th Century, Business, Economics, History, Industry, Minnesota, Native Americans, Politics, trade

1st Lumber Mills in MN 1848

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Pioneer businessman Franklin Steele builds a sawmill at the falls of Saint Anthony. By 1856, there are eight mills at the falls.*

May I sit with You and observe this chapter of life in my state? Mr. Steele came here through the invitation of the man who would become his brother-in-law; Henry Hastings Sibley, a prominent Minnesotan. He staked an advantageous claim on the east bank of the St. Anthony Falls. Soon, he established a partial dam, sawmills, and a crew upriver to supply him logs, and commence a successful business. **

Digging further, this is what I found:
“But Steele surreptitiously staked the first claim on the choicest land before sunrise on the first day of legal settlement.” *** Is there nothing new under the sun? Once again, a man becomes successful through an inside scoop, and bending the rules to his advantage. We, indeed, are people of mixed motives, bearing both good and bad fruit!

Will You forgive his offense to You in making an illegal claim? Will You forgive his offense to all parties affected in his day whether Native, immigrant, loggers, and sawyers? Will You restore the losses of Steele’s contemporaries?

Yet, we too sometimes exhibit the same heart as Steele; we try to grow beautiful things from ugly roots! We often esteem the shrewd, and shun those led by conscience. We are so in love with success stories that we brush past those whom our heroes stepped on and over in the process. Will You forgive us our “illegal claims” today?

Precisely because I am a man with a mixed up heart like Franklin, I am drawn to Your mercy! Through Your kindness, I can offer honest thanks for the accomplishments of others with on-again/off-again hearts. Thanks for providing ample waterpower in Minnesota! Thanks for the resources of wood! Thanks for Franklin Steele who put together an enterprise to use both for the betterment of Minnesota!

http://www.mnhs.org/about/dipity_timeline.htm
** http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Franklin_Steele
*** http://www.nps.gov/miss/learn/historyculture/upload/River_Ch_6.pdf

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19th Century, Business, Economics, History, Logging, Minnesota, Native Americans, trade

Stillwater as Lumber Center 1844

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Maine lumberman John McKusick forms the Stillwater Lumber Company. Other New Englanders follow, making Stillwater the early center of Minnesota lumbering.*

May I watch this moment in 1844 with You? Can I sit with You on the east bank of the St. Croix bluff and take in the whole valley? I can practically smell the forest, and feel the calming flow of the St. Croix river.
On this day I remember to You the Ojibwe and Dakota nations that shared this land with us. Will You remember their open-handedness? I thank You for all, past present and future, who are blessed by this kindness.

The forests of this valley, and its’ proximity to such a wide river must have been an amazing discovery to lumbermen like McKusick. Huge trees could be harvested, rolled downhill, and floated to the sawmill. What prime real estate for the woodsman?!

May I thank You for Mc Kusick and the utility of these vast stands of timber? May we ponder the needs those woods supplied for that generation? Thank You for the hard, but good work provided through logging in that era.

As with almost any endeavor, with success comes competition. I know too little about the specifics of the competitive nature of these loggers in Stillwater, but relate to them as human who knows what it’s like to protect something valuable. It is easy to over invest in one’s work, to have our nose so close to the grindstone that we can’t see beyond it.

Will You forgive their fears of losing face, of being lesser? Will You forgive their offenses to You and each other through over harvesting, stealing logs, ignoring boundaries? Will You bless those who practiced happy competition, and enjoyed the camaraderie of Your woods?

Last thought, You present us with an odd paradox in our behavior; we often love what we harvest. Who loves the soil more than the farmer? Who loves ducks like their hunters? Who loves the woods like the logger? Who loves words like the writer?

Thank You for whatever it is we harvest now, or our future generations! May we humbly acknowledge You, and our dependence on Your resources. You commanded the Hebrews to not harvest up to the edges of their fields, but leave some behind so the needy would have food. Will You bless us to do this now and always, whatever our field or forest looks like?

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19th Century, Culture, Economics, History, Minnesota, riverboat, Technology, trade, Transportation

Steamboats 1840 to 1870  

mississippi-riverboat

Steamboat trips up the scenic Mississippi are the fashion for Eastern tourists in the 1840s. By the mid-1850s steamboats, carrying supplies and immigrants as well as tourists, arrive in St. Paul at the rate of four or five a day during the summer months.*

Holy Spirit, will You journey with me through the steamboat era of the Mississippi? Will You allow me to bounce ideas off You, and alert me to any related subjects? Thanks that You are in, around and through all times and places! I love You for that!
Thanks for the gift of the steamboat! The idea of going effortlessly upstream must have been revolutionary in 1840. What would be an appropriate analogy to present Minnesotans’; skiing uphill at Afton or Wild Mountain? Maybe waterskiing without a rope or a boat?
I thank You for the relational benefits of this mode of transportation to our midwestern forefathers and foremothers. Technology is often viewed in terms of its innate capabilities, but not in terms of the relationships those capabilities may unlock. Transportation advancements seem to inherently effect relationships by changing how we view our geography.
For example, before the steamboat one imagines that it would be much easier for Northerners to travel south, downstream, on the Mississippi than Southerners to travel north. Is it a stretch to imagine that this creates a one-way relational path? If one can only passively receive visitors, products, news, from the north how would that impact one’s world-view.
Conversely, imagine what it would be like to only be a giver on this unidirectional path. A farmer works all season, loads up his crop, brings it to a river town, and sends it away. He feels the immediate reward of the sale of his harvest, but is largely isolated from any connections to those downstream.
Will You forgive any judgments between north and south based out of this one-way relational paradigm? Will You forgive any resentments based on an identity of being primarily a “giver” or a “receiver”? Will You forgive past judgments based on geographic isolation instead of real relationship?
Lord of Hesed, will You create in our generation a desire for real relationship, while aided by technology, not based on technology? Will You show us ways to reverse any symbolic or real curses resulting from one-way relationships? Will You make our mighty rivers flow upstream, and give us a future of blessed two-way, real relationships with our world and fellow man?

*Note – PrayThroughHistory uses the timeline located for several years at the Minnesota Historical Society Web site, at this URL: mnhs.org/about/dipity_timeline.htm .  The current URL is http://www.dipity.com/Minnesota/History/Minnesota-History/ and only works if typed, not pasted, in browser. It is worth the effort!

 

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19th Century, Business, Culture, History, livestock, maps, Minnesota, Native Americans, trade, Transportation

Red River Oxcart Trade 1840 to 1850

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Métis families (formed by marriages between whites and Indians) take their furs from the Red River Valley to St. Paul in oxcarts. Long caravans of up to 200 carts travel from as far away as Winnipeg, Canada, making St. Paul one of the leading fur markets in the country from the 1840s to the 1860s.*

My first question, Lord, is who are the Metis people? Doing what any modern American would do when faced with something they haven’t encountered before I went straight to wikipedia, and found the following excerpt below.

“The Métis are the descendants of Indigenous Cree or Anishinaabe women who married French or Scottish fur traders during the early colonial period. They have a specific, unique culture. Most are found among the Michif-speaking peoples of the Red River region in modern ManitobaNorth Dakota, and Minnesota.[1] The Red River peoples are part of the same ethnic group as many of the Canadian Métis peoples. There is also a broader but limited use of the term to describe any people who descend from the united culture created by the intermarriage of various French and British fur traders and various Algonquian, Cree and other Native American groups intermarrying during the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. This use would exclude from Métis people-hood those whose ancestries became mixed between these different ethnic groups in other settings or more recently than about 1870.” **

So now I have a place to begin my prayer; with at least an inkling of a back story of the Metis. God, I don’t really feel too prayerful tonight, but I’m willing to wait with You and see where it goes. Ok?

To begin, thank You that the Metis are Your people, and included in Your family. Thanks that You have watched over and led them for generations before their participation in the fur trade took place. Today I give your gratitude for the this era of the oxcart trail!

Next, I thank You that Metis marriages became an intersection between Scotch, Irish, French, Cree, Anishinaabe, and perhaps more nations of people! My late aunt, Ingrid Trobisch, an author and marriage counselor once told me, “Interracial marriages may be doubly difficult, but they are also doubly blessed.” I  commend  and honor these marriages that forged a new and unique culture from their culture of origin to You Good Father! Will you bless the Metis and all their future generations with the same forbearing spirit?

How interesting that, again, a people group becomes synonymous with a form of transportation: the Sami people of Finland the reindeer, the Arabs the horse, the Peruvians the llama, and the Metis the oxcart. All through history You have given us gifts and innovative thoughts that improve our lives. Thank You for these gifts. Will You bless those who rode these caravans, and continue to provide for their needs in the present and future? Will You cause us to pause as we drive I-94 west of Minneapolis, and remember who those who first blazed this road; the Metis?

Lord, I ponder what those in the future will think about us when the car is an antiquated beast. Will our interstates lead them somewhere, or will they cease to have purpose ? Will we be associated with our vehicles? In any case, I ask that You bless the future forms of transportation that may be discovered here in Minnesota, and that they would be inhabited by people who drive them to intersect with their neighbors as the Metis did.

*Note – PrayThroughHistory uses the timeline located for several years at the Minnesota Historical Society Web site, at this URL: mnhs.org/about/dipity_timeline.htm .  The current URL is www.dipity.com/Minnesota/History/Minnesota-History/ and only works if typed, not pasted, in browser. It is worth the effort!

** https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Métis

 

 

 

 

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