July 6, 1889: Three dead, 30 injured after labor riot in West End

On this day in Duluth in 1889, nearly three dozen men were injured in a gun battle with police during a labor dispute, and three of them would later die. According to Dick Hudelson’s By the Ore Docks, Laborers constructing Duluth’s streets and sewers were paid $1.50 a day and wanted that raised to $1.75—the rate it had been the previous year, so they went on strike in early July. Strikers tried to prevent scabs from working, but police intervened. Tension between strikers, scabs, and police mounted until July 6, when a mob of strikers estimated at “between five hundred and 2,000 men”—several armed with pistols—broke into two groups at West Michigan Street at 20th Avenue West. One attacked the scabs and the other threw rocks at the police. Shots soon erupted. “Nearly half” of the 29 police officers involved were hit by gunfire, but none seriously wounded. Over 30 strikers and scabs were thought to be injured in some way. Two Finnish strikers later died of gunshot wounds, as did 18-year-old Thomas Fitzsimmons, described as a “bystander struck by a stray bullet. Most of the strikers were Finnish or Scandinavian. Italians were blamed for most of the trouble, though few participated and the only Italian arrested was acquitted—as were all others charged. After a few more days of unrest, the street workers got their raise. The officers involved in the riot all received medals and posed for a group photograph. The following year, newly elected mayor M. J. Davis appointed Samuel McQuade chief of police and instructed him to draw up “a new set of rules to govern the use of force by police.”

Mayor Sutphin and the Duluth police officers who suppressed the labor riot of July 6, 1888. (Image: University of Minnesota Duluth Kathryn A. Martin Library Archives and Special Collections)