Friday, May 19, 2017

Henry Gittinger and "the black cloud"

The little essay that follows, written during December of 1919 by Henry W. Gittinger, editor and publisher of The Chariton Leader, is neither definitive nor especially accurate history (dates --- and some of his assertions --- are skewed). But I found his brief review of coal mining history in western Lucas County interesting. Plus, I'd never seen the black miners who began arriving to work in Lucas-area mines during the early 1880s and subsequently formed the base of Lucas County's black population referred to as a "black cloud."

The essay and other Lucas-related news appeared in The Leader of Dec. 18, 1919, on a page headed "Lucas Ledger." Henry had acquired rights to the Ledger name as well as the old newspaper's subscription list back in 1911 when its former editor folded his tent, packed his press and headed for greener pastures.

Gittinger revived the The Ledger name in The Leader during December of 1919 as the Iowa-Nebraska Mine was being developed in the hills southwest of Lucas --- now within Stephens State Forest. This was to be the last major effort to revive the coal mining industry in the Lucas area in a big way. Although the new mine did not live up to expectations, it continued to operate into 1923.

Henry continued to include a "Lucas Ledger" page in his newspaper well into 1920, when he sold out and moved briefly to Des Moines to pursue other interests. The new owners discontinued the Ledger and although Henry rejoined The Leader in 1922 as editor but no longer owner, it was not revived.

The political references in the essay are no longer relevant --- although it's worth pointing out that black miners and their families dominated Lucas County's political scene during the 1880s and early 1890s only in the East Cleveland precinct so the influence attributed to them here is overstated. 

Nor did either unionization or black miners --- recruited in Virginia during the summer of 1883 by the Whitebreast Coal & Mining Co. to show white miners who was boss --- kill mining in Jackson Township. That was a factor of mined-out coalfields and management decisions. As mining declined in western Lucas County, it rose and flourished in central and northeastern parts of the county.

Henry's reference in his opening paragraph to the "first of November" refers to the nationwide United Mine Workers strike called by Lucas native John L. Lewis, then acting president of the UMW, on Nov. 1, 1919, that was ended by an injunction obtained by President Woodrow Wilson, which Lewis obeyed. Lewis went on to be elected UMW president during 1920.


Owing to the locating of the new coal works, just west of Lucas, it would appear that the pristine glory of Lucas is to be restored, not that the town has waned, but once it was quickened by the activities of those who delved deep into the earth and exhumed the black diamonds, the value of which we have realized since the first of November. The switch out to the mine has been delayed owing to the cold weather, but Glenn Roberts, the contractor, will push the work with all haste when weather conditions will permit, and by the time the next summer coal demands begin, Lucas will be furnishing a large daily output.

And, by the way, why would it not be profitable to turn to the retrospect for a brief moment. This is the westermost coal field in Iowa (deep vein) on the line of the Burlington, and therefore will have the advantage of a shorter haul.

It was as far back as 1876 when the first coal was discovered near Lucas, and soon the great activities began and Cleveland came into existence and became the headquarters of the Whitebreast Coal company, at that time the largest works in close proximity of Lucas, and there was "quick coming to and fro," for there was life all along the line. This was the outgrowth of a prospecting company composed of G.C. Osgood, L.R. Fix, Wesley Jones, of Burlington, and William Haven, of Ottumwa, the same William Haven who developed the Inland mine near Chariton, and who was instrumental in getting the Central Iowa Fuel Co. in to develop the field, so to him is properly due the entire coal development in Lucas county.

But what is past is past, the future has not been revealed and the present pressages much.


The things of which we speak were in the "good old days" before labor unions had become so well organized and "chips" were issued in the company stories. On the first forenoon that the Osgood store (for miners' trade) was opened, $3,000 worth of goods had been passed over the counters before dinner, and the profits were good, because company stores were not in business for the proprietor's health, or as an act of benevolence.

Then there came the big strike and things were never the same as before, although the men went back to work after a time, but the company had invoked a black cloud from Virginia, and within that black cloud was the African who became a competitor in the under world diamond field, and a city was built for him at East Cleveland --- and here he flourished like a green bay tree ---- and was courted much by the local politicians who used to recline on the hillsides just before election time, catch the "fathers of the first families of Virginia" in their nets and flatter them into promises of support, for they were very "promising" sovereigns --- and sometimes they did and sometimes they didn't. It is said and believed that the political history of Lucas county would have read differently had the Hon. George Boggs, who was an aspirant for the state senate, been able to clinch the colored promise, but he was oppressed and chagrined to see the procession pass by, carrying his opponent's transparence and gayly singing:

"We lubs you, Marsa Boggs.
But yo' maybe won't be dar!"
Neither was he at the wind up.

And the East Cleveland precinct blighted many ambitions as well as starting numerous other fellow citizens on their pilgrimage to preferential glory, for the East Cleveland African was a mighty political force as well as a strike buster.


In those days when one came down from the table lands on the train from the east --- down the steep grade, the steepest on the Burlington route in the state, his eyes scanned the base of the hills and beheld the triple cities --- East Cleveland (where hovered the black cloud), Cleveland and further to the west, Lucas, with their turrets and spires; their domes and steeples --- and the tall stacks and the shafts where the smoke floated out and upward towards the sky --- and his ears heard the rumble and roar of activity. But like the cities of antiquity the white Cleveland has been obliterated and the black shadow is gone. But Lucas endures, active, vigorous and supreme as the central mart of a fertile country ---- with this new mine soon to open.

But even in the palmy days of the Whitebreast Coal Company near Lucas --- or near its beginning, there was tribulation. On the third day of August, 1878, the top works were burned and a number of men were at the bottom of the shaft in various parts of the mine and there was danger of suffocation. It was then that T.J. Phillips, the superintendent, proved that he was a hero. He fastened a wire cable, dropped it into the pit, braved the falling debris, and entered the shaft, going hand over hand to the bottom, 338 feet, to the rescue, rendezvousing the men at the air shaft and starting the fans. Had he not done this they would have perished. As a man he was of peculiar makeup --- austere and even tyrannical at times, and yet underneath it all he would brave any hazard or personal risk when a fellow mortal was in danger. And as a concluding thought --- he feared not to enter the pit through fire and descend to a great depth on a wire rope in order to rescue doomed men, yet he had not power to be elected governor of Iowa on the democratic ticket years later. This is a mere reflection and has no connection with the incident narrated.

But we have not set out to write a history of Lucas or the west end of the county, still it is brought to our mind that the first known settlers to locate in Jackson township was in the year 1850, and among these were Joseph Mundell, E.C. Rankin, Adrain S. Yoakley, all coming together. William Quinn came in 1851, Nathan Dix in 1852, and Moses Marsh in 1853, and John Mundell, S.W. Prim and the Worthings pitched their tents here in 1854. How many, or how few, of their descendants are now numbered with her citizens. Lucas was not yet --- not until H.S. Russell, trustee for the Burlington railroad company, established the station and town in 1868 --- May. And gave the town of Russell, in the east part of the county his own name. E.C. Rankin became a big land owner and later conducted a store and kept the post office at Tallahoma, to the north or northwest --- all passed away and forgotten.

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