Chapter 19 Continues
The story so far: A fatal accident incites fury among the miners.
When Sheriff Turner arrived, Mr. Augustine Stone walked out of the company office. He was one of three owners of the Oliver Mining Company. The miners rarely saw him in the flesh. But they saw his signature on their paltry paychecks every month. Some of the men in the back of the crowd began to boo Stone.
“Hush!” Mr. Stone said. “Who started this?” The foreman pointed at Aino.
The men started screaming at him. They swore in thirty languages.
“Sheriff,” Stone said. “Arrest this man for inciting a riot.” He pointed to Aino.
“Yes, sir,” Sheriff Turner said. He pulled out his handcuffs.
“He ain’t the murderer!” a miner yelled.
“And as for the rest of you, I suggest you get back to work. Accidents happen. It’s unfortunate. Perhaps in the future you will exercise the safety precautions we have spelled out clearly for all of you. Safety first, that’s our motto. Now go. You are not getting paid for standing out here.”
“Murder, murder!” the crowd was more vocal now.
Stone looked up at the men on horseback and exchanged some words with the manager who was closest to him. The guard took aim and fired into the chanting miners. A man fell to the ground screaming. He was shot in the chest. Avi Nurmi wailed and ran to her husband’s side. “Oh God, oh God!”
The crowd grew silent as Avi’s cries rose. Her children were there now. Lily and Katka could clearly hear her sons speaking to their father in Finnish. “Eivat die, Isa! Eivat die, Isa …”
“Anyone else?” Stone asked.
Women gathered around Avi Nurmi. “Shh, now. The doctor will come, the doctor will come.”
“He’s dying,” she said in Finnish. “Don’t die, Hans.” The Finnish women began to sing the Finnish prayer for the dead.
The men put down their rocks and took off their hats. Some of the men sang, too, as if the calming rhythm of their voices could somehow make the bullet that had torn through Hans Nurmi’s chest disappear. In the midst of the song, the doctor arrived with the undertaker in a wagon. The doctor was directed to Hans Nurmi, whose blood had formed a small lake around his body. The doctor took his pulse, ripped away his clothing to reveal the wound and shook his head. “I’ll do my best, ma’am,” he said, then to some men standing nearby, “Load ‘em all up.”
Hans Nurmi was placed in the buggy with the two dead bodies. His wife, Avi, crawled in next to him. Her boys would have to run behind. The undertaker took the reins, while the doctor sat with Hans.
As the buggy pulled away, Mr. Augustine Stone picked up the megaphone. “Nothing to be done. Back to work.”
The wind kicked up some red dust. It was October and the breeze was cold.
“Back to work, I said. If you want a job tomorrow, you go back to work now.”
A few miners picked up their shovels. Slowly, others followed suit. One by one, they headed for the cage. They descended from the despair of the afternoon into the darkness of the mine.
They did as they always did after the whistle blew. They went back to work. Except, of course, for the two dead miners who were hauled off to the coroner, and Aino, who went to jail, and Mr. Hans Nurmi, who went to the doctor’s office where he was treated unsuccessfully for a gunshot wound.
The Oliver Mining Company would pay for the funerals of the Latvian and the Italian man. Aino was let go. The Italian’s brother would receive a small settlement check. But Avi Nurmi and her sons were on their own. The company log recorded Hans’ death as “Suicide on company grounds.”
From The Iron Range Ladies Journal:
The men went back to work because that is what they always do. They went back to work because they worried about losing their jobs. They went back to work because they know the extreme importance of being able to support their wives and children, whether here, or in their homeland. When they went back underground, after three men had died, the killing stopped. But for how long? Will the whistle blow again tomorrow? Will it blow again next week? To keep up with the war demand, the Oliver is willing to sacrifice safety for profit. What would happen if our men were to say, “We are not willing to sacrifice our safety for your profit?” I ask you, dear reader, what would happen then?
Once again, the editor of The Chronicle mentioned the Iron Range Ladies Journal in his editorial, stating that, “the pamphlet is un-American. Its articles openly incite the wives of miners to support their husbands who refuse to do their jobs as required by their contract.” The negative press from what many called The Company Man’s Chronicle fueled the need for more copies of The Journal. In November, they printed more than one hundred copies and all of them sold.
Tomorrow: Chapter 20 continues.