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"History of Eau Claire County Wisconsin, 1914, Past and Present"

Chapter  23

The Sawdust War

(-as transcribed from pages 385 - 386)

In the early 80's Eau Claire was known throughout the country as a great sawmill center. The industry had developed from the early 50's and but few labor disputes or difficulties had occurred.

Early in July, 1881, agitation for a ten-hour day was started and on Monday, July 18, with scarcely any warning, several hundred men employed by the Eau Claire Lumber Company quit work at an early hour in the morning. Their demand for a ten-hour day was refused. A procession was formed and the strikers went around several of the other mills, compelling all men to quit work and join their ranks. They were successful in gaining recruits at every mill but one, that of Sherman Bros., on the east side of Half Moon Lake. The fires were put out at some of the mills and in several instances physical violence was resorted to, to induce the workers to leave. As days went by the excitement became more intense and labor agitation made threats of destruction of the milling properties.

Mayor E. J. Farr kept Governor William E. Smith informed of the condition of affairs. The Governor came to the city and personally investigated the trouble, with the result that on July 22, 1881, General Edwin E. Bryant, Adjutant General of Wisconsin, issued Special Orders No. 20, directing Lieutenant-Colonel W. B. Britton to assemble A Company (the Janesville Guards), for active service at Eau Claire. Lieutenant-Colonel Chandler P. Chapman was ordered to assemble the Lake City Guards, the Governor's Guard, the Guppy Guard, and the Watertown Rifles and proceed to Eau Claire. Captain B. F. Parker, at Mausten [sic], was also directed to assemble his company and proceed to Eau Claire. All of these companies arrived the following day and reported to the Mayor, Hon. E. J. Farr. In all there were about three hundred and seventy-five officers and men. Shortly before their arrival some of the more prominent strike leaders were arrested.

A portion of the companies encamped on Randall Park, which was named "Camp Farr," and others at the County Court House. The presence of the troops in the city had a quieting influence and the differences between the employers and the employees were finally settled. A portion of the troops remained until July 28.

Previous to the departure of the soldiers, the ladies of the west side served a banquet to officers and men. Mayor Farr and a number of leading citizens were also present and made addresses complimentary to the conduct and discipline of the troops.

Among people of note who had their home in Eau Claire we mention the widow of G. P. R. James, the English historian and novelist. Mrs. James dwelt here with her two sons for many years after the death of her husband in Venice, where he was then British Consul-General. She was a woman of refinement, strength of character and many lovable traits which endeared her to all who knew her. Also the wife of Ole Bull, the renowned violinist, passed apart of her childhood in the village, and after her marriage to the eminent musician was a frequent visitor here with her father, the Honorable J. G. Thorp.

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