Monday, June 6, 2011

The Ground We Walk On: A History of The Jackson Miners Union (Post 11)

By David Roddy (Previous posts in this series here.)

Sheriff T.K. Norman and the Jackson Miners Union

The year was 1903, the month was April, and the gold miners of Amador County were on strike. Hundreds of miners, primarily Italian and Austrian immigrants, patrolled the parameter of the mines as other miners made their way to work, pleading with them to join the strike. By April 17, all the mines around Jackson were closed.

Conservative forces in early 20th century America painted European immigrants
as stealing from Anglo-American wage earners. Mine owners and newspapers in
Amador County blamed such immigrants for labor upheavals.
Image from Judge Magazine.

Anxiously, the Amador Mine Owners Association wrote a letter to Sheriff T.K. Norman:
We…demand that at once you appoint a sufficient number of deputies to protect our men and mines and on your failure to do so we hereby notify you that we will hold you and your bondmen for all loss and injury sustained.

By 1903, Mine Owners Associations across the American West had launched an ideological war against labor unions, particularly the radical W.F.M. Their call to deputize Amador citizens against the strikers reflects the image of the union they were trying to portray. The strike was to be seen as inspired by foreign (or at least out of state) radicals, and composed of immigrant mobs threatening violence to strikebreakers and the destruction of property.

Sheriff Norman, after limiting the number of strikers picketing each mine, ignored the demands of the mine owners. The Amador Ledger printed his reply on the 18th:
To Mine Owners: Replying to your notification of the 17th instant, I will state that no official information has been brought to this office, and in fact I have no information or knowledge of an infraction or threatened infraction of the law within the limits of Amador County by members of the Jackson Union.
Furthermore, I wish to inform each and all of you that infraction of the law within the limits of county will be suppressed and the perpetrators thereof promptly apprehended. In conclusion I must say at present we should congratulate ourselves upon the peaceable and orderly conduct of affairs.
Sheriff Norman's reporting of the event stands in stark contrast with the image painted by the mine owners of angry mobs of miners. Elected the previous November, Norman described himself in the campaign as a “regular Republican.” While the presidency of Republican Theodore Roosevelt gave popular acknowledgement to labor unions, the counties Republican newspaper, The Amador Ledger, was staunchly opposed to the Miners Union. Norman was therefore acting against the grain of the local party.

Individual mine owners also called upon the Sheriff to protect their mines, and the Oneida Mine was particularly desperate for law enforcement to break the strike. On the 18th, a message came from mine owners in San Francisco.
Members of the Jackson Labor Union, aided and abetted by outside members of the Western Federation of Miners, have approached our property and threatened injury thereto unless our Company accedes to their arbitrary demands. It is apparent to even the casual observer that the premonitory symptoms of mob rule and mob violence are present, and there is no telling when riotous and unlawful attempts to destroy the property of the Oneida Mine Company may be carried out.
The message, repeating the previous statement by the Mine Owners Association, stated:
“Should any damage be done to its property through your neglect to take proper precautions to prevent it, the Oneida Mine Company will hold the county of Amador responsible therefore and will also hold you and your bondsmen personally responsible.”

As if to underscore the perceived threat of violent union men, the Oneida reported a cut belt in their mine, and claimed the union was sabotaging their equipment. Nonetheless, the Sheriff stood his ground and allowed the strike to continue. On the 25th, the Union committee wrote the Sheriff office the following handwritten note:
              Jackson Miners Union #115, W. F. of M. extends to you through our committee a vote of thanks for the noble stand you have taken in behalf of the strikers during our late trouble in this district.

Jackson Miners Union letter to Sheriff T.K. Norman
The cordial relationship between the Union and the Sheriff seems anomalous when compared with the violent strikes occurring elsewhere in America, and is perhaps indicative of the local community supporting the union’s efforts to a degree greater than contemporary newspapers imply. Further evidence of this is District Attorney C.P. Vicini labeling the strike action “just.” Perhaps this environment allowed the strikers sufficient support to continue their strike into the last weeks of April.


Amador Ledger [Jackson, Ca] 20 March 1903

Amador Mine Owners Association. Letter to T.K. Norman, April 17, 1903. From Amador County Archives

"Amador Sheriff Will Not Appoint Deputies” Amador Ledger [Jackson, Ca] 28 April 1903

Jackson Miners Union No. 115. Letter to T.K. Norman, April 25, 1903. From Amador County Archives.

Hampton, E. Superintendent Oneida Gold Mining and Milling Company. Letter to T.K. Norman, April 20, 1903. From Amador County Archives.

Limbaugh, Ronald H., and Willard P. Fuller. Calaveras Gold: the Impact of Mining on a Mother Lode County. Reno: University of Nevada, 2004.

Oneida Mine & Milling Company. Letter to T.K. Norman, April 18, 1903. From Amador County Archives.

“Reports from Jackson” Amador Dispatch [Jackson, Ca] 28 April 1903, From Amador County Archives


  1. funny, i have a book all about jackson and i dont remember mentioning this!! great job david!

  2. Well isn't this just magnificent. Makes me wanna go into a mine!
    I enjoy reading your blog. I look forward to read it everyday.

    - Gregory <3

  3. Wow. That's amazing. I really admire that sheriff and also the strikers. Great job, Amador!!!!
    Thank you dear Blogger.