Illinois on the Mother
you enter what was once profitable coal mining country, where small towns
and large coal mines dotted the area. The first stop along this
Route 66 is Braidwood, a town founded in 1865 when a rich vein of coal was
discovered by quite by accident.
In 1865 William Henneberry was digging a
water well on the Thomas Byron farm, when he found instead, rich black
coal and the boom was on. Named for James Braidwood, who sank the first
deep coal mining shaft near Wilimington in 1872, the
settlement was called home to some 2,000 people by 1873.
In the beginning, Braidwood was a wild and wooly town filled with immigrants from
all over the world, along with their varying political, religious, and
cultural ideals. These differences often spawned violence
in the new and crusty town.
One such occasion occurred in April of
1876 when elections were being held for town officers and a fight
broke out just before the polls closed. When Marshall Simms went
into the crowd and arrested one of the ringleaders named Pat Creeley,
the mob went wild. When the crowd wrestled Simms to the ground,
the marshal drew his revolver meaning to use it as a club. Someone in the crowd grabbed it from him and Creeley was released. Fortunately, Marshal Simms was unharmed. The crowd then grew
wilder and several innocent bystanders were attacked and beaten. Next,
the rioters attacked the polls themselves, stealing the whole record
of the election and beating the ballot counter senseless. No
arrests were ever made for this outrageous event.
By the next year, the country was in the
throws of a depression and the coal miners were asked to take a cut in
pay, for which they accepted in the winter, but when another cut was
imminent in the summer of 1877, the miners went on strike. The
coal mining companies soon brought in strikebreakers from other
localities and after a month transported blacks from the impoverished
south by the train carloads. Soon, the black strikebreakers were
referred to as "black legs.”
a Sunday in July several of the black miners were walking in a line
when they were verbally abused with a litany of offensive language
from white coal miners and their wives. By the end of the month,
the striking miners formed groups with plans to kill the
strikebreakers, especially the "black legs.” Though the mining
companies assured them protection, most of the African-American miners fled. Local officials requested help from the governor who soon
sent 1,300 soldiers to restore order, 200 of which stayed within Braidwood for several weeks.
Eventually the strike was
broken and some of the black miners returned to their jobs and stayed in
the area to raise their families.
However, Braidwood still retained its
reputation as a wild town full of transients, tramps and thieves. The good citizens of the town locked their doors at night in fear of being
robbed. Women were never seen on the street after the sun went down
and people never told anyone when they might be gone for several days for
fear their valuables would be missing when they returned home. This
atmosphere of fear finally led to the accidental shooting of the town
marshal by the local Catholic Priest on Sunday, November 19, 1878.
On that fateful day
Father McGuire had been so ill that he did not even conduct mass. His best friend, Marshal Muldowney, had spent most of the day with the
priest, then left around 6:00 pm. Shortly, Father McGuire went
upstairs and retired. Between 8 and 9 p.m., however, the marshal
returned to lock the door and put out the lights.