The governor has on many occasions called upon the Missouri National Guard to respond during natural disasters including devastating storms and flooding throughout the state. On other occasions, the state militia was mobilized to provide protection for citizens and property during moments of threatened and actual civil unrest, including a labor strike that occurred in the community of Mindenmines in 1934.
The period of the Great Depression was characterized by high unemployment rates in a number of major industries in the United States. The stress of an economic depression created high levels of tension between management and organized labor with many strikes unfolding in its wake.
“As unemployment soared in the early years of the 1930s, the labor movement seemed helpless, unable to protect jobs let alone wage rates,” noted an article on the University of Washington’s (Seattle) website. The article further explained, “Across the nation, 1934 saw huge organizing campaigns followed by major strikes.”
In southwest Missouri, it was not only friction between labor and management that resulted in disputes, but disagreements between competing types of miners employed in bordering states. This tension led to a militant response by state leaders to protect against threats to company property and employees. As reported by the Emporia Gazette (Emporia, Kansas) on April 30, 1934, the citizens of southwest Missouri were “(w)arned to expect 1,000 trouble-making miners from Pittsburgh, Kan., mining district, possibly bent on destruction of machinery.” In response, the article explained, “… the national guard and state patrolmen were being mobilized at Minden(mines), west of … the Kansas line.”
Located in Barton County, Mindenmines, Missouri, had a population of 787 inhabitants according to the 1930 U.S. Census. However, the area became the hub of sensational news accounts when certain mine workers grew frustrated because of their unemployment.
“Trouble between strip miners and deep shaft miners, both members of the United Mine Workers of America, has been developing for several weeks since the NRA (National Recovery Administration) order for a seven-hour working day and higher wage rates was issued,” wrote the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on April 30, 1934.
The NRA was an agency established in 1933 under President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “New Deal,” creating minimum wage standards in addition to setting price controls and maximum weekly hours that employees could work. In 1935, many of the provisions of the NRA were invalidated when ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court.
“The strip mines in this field have put the order into effect, and have continued to employ about 2000 miners in Missouri and in the neighboring Kansas field,” explained the aforementioned St. Louis Post-Dispatch article. “Operators of deep shaft mines, contending their higher production costs makes it impossible for them to comply, have shut down, throwing about 2000 miners out of work.”
Rowland Diggs Sr., in his book, The History and Lineage of the 203rd Engineer Battalion, wrote that the problem for the miners was compounded by the contention of coal mine operators that “coal is cheaper in Illinois and elsewhere,” compared to extracted from the deep shaft mines in Kansas and Missouri.
The coal collected through these mining activities was used primarily by companies such as the Missouri Pacific Railroad in powering their locomotives, reported a number of local newspapers. The unemployed deep shaft miners from Kansas, threatening to shut down the strip mining operations and destroy equipment such as huge steam shovels they believed were used to replace them, created enough concern that the Barton County (Missouri) prosecuting attorney and sheriff requested troops to help maintain the peace.
“As a result of this controversy, the peace officers of Barton County asked for the (National) Guard,” wrote Major Leroy Simmons in the book, The History of the Missouri National Guard, which was printed in November 1934.
Several companies, elements of the 203rd Coast Artillery, were mobilized in response, reported the April 30, 1934, edition of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. This force consisted of approximately 170 Missouri National Guard soldiers in addition to the dispatch of three airplanes to scout for striking miners in the area. According to the May 1, 1934, edition of the Maryville Daily Forum, “Col. Ray Watson of Webb City commanded the Missouri troops. (He) … stationed most of his (soldiers) at Minden, but placed a few guards, equipped with machine guns and full fighting materials, at the mines of the Alson Coal Company and the Clemens Coal Company, just this side of the Kansas line.”
Maj. Leroy Simmons, in the previously mentioned Missouri National Guard history book, wrote that two batteries were withdrawn after only two days of service and, on May 4, 1934, “the situation had so cleared that it was deemed unnecessary to remain longer, and the rest of the troops were sent to their home stations.”
An amicable compromise was eventually achieved though conferences between mine operators and union officials, and threats to the mine sites in Missouri subsided. However, for several weeks, there were recurrent strikes and labor struggles for those once employed by many of the Kansas mining companies.
The ensuing decades would find the Missouri National Guard maintaining a frenetic pace of activity in supporting their dual state and federal mission, responding to state emergency duty from the riot at the Missouri State Penitentiary in 1954 to the Great Flood of 1993 and, more recently, deployments in the Global War on Terrorism.
As noted in a 2008 report by the Commission on the National Guard and Reserves, incidents such as those unfolding decades ago near Mindenmines highlight the unique role performed by the National Guard when responding to emergencies.
“The state can … be expected to use its National Guard, which plays a leading role in state emergency response and is commanded by the state’s governor unless federalized.” The report further noted, “The National Guard operating in state status is generally the ‘first military responder’ to domestic incidents.”
Jeremy P. Ämick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.
Jeremy P. Amick is a military historian and author dedicated to preserving our nation's military legacies.