Who killed Police Officer Benjamin Franklin Yost? A Mollie Maguire Story


Chapter 19 - Anti-Monopoly Convention

About the 4th of March, 1875, an Anti-Monopoly Convention was appointed to take place at Harrisburg, having for its principal purpose a movement against the Philadelphia and Reading Coal and Iron Company, by individual and other large operators. Among them was Muff Lawler, who reported, on his return, that there were nearly three hundred representatives present, and it was decided to ask the Legislature, by resolution, to cause an investigation to be made, by committee, of the officers of the Philadelphia and Reading Coal and Iron Company, and say why their charter should not be rescinded. 

Proceedings at Harrisburg Yesterday – Speeches and Resolutions – New York Times

Harrisburg, PA, March 3 – The Anti-Monopoly Convention contains representatives from all the labor organizations in New York and Pennsylvania, including the Grangers and retail coal dealers. An address was read by Horace H. Day, of New York, representing the Industrial Congress of the United States, who received a vote of thanks. E.M. Davis, of Philadelphia, also delivered an address on the moneyed power of the country, and its tendency to foster monopolies. The Convention adopted resolutions condemning the passage by the Legislature of any bill which will not hold the employer responsible for the competency of the apprentice when he becomes a master mechanic, urging the passage of some law which will restrain the large corporations from charging excessive rates of transportation, condemning the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad Company for discharging those of its employees who are members of corporate labor organizations, and recommending the enactment of a law by the Legislature appointing a commission to examine into the causes of the difficulties existing between labor and capital, which shall report the testimony taken and the conclusion arrived at to the Legislature at the next session.

The Convention reassembled this afternoon at 2 o’clock in Barr’s Hall, President John F. Walsh, of Schuylkill County, in the chair. A number of resolutions were adopted tending to oppose monopoly, among them the following:

Resolved, That the action of the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad Company in procuring by fraud and deception the charter known originally as the Laurel Run Improvement Company, and now called the Philadelphia and Reading Coal and Iron Company, whereby special privileges of great value to them and danger to the community were granted, and their abuse of said privileges, demand immediate attention. Upon the Legislature of the State we urge the appointment of a joint committee of both Houses to investigate the affairs of both corporations with instructions to report an act repealing all or so much of their charters as may be detrimental or dangerous to the public welfare.

A discussion of one hour took place on the subject of uniting the laboring classes of the United States. Senator Staunton, of Luzerne, addressed the convention on a bill before the Legislature in the interests of the miners and laborers in the coal fields.

An evening session was held for the further discussion of the question of uniting the mechanics, miners, and laboring men of the country. Several delegates from New York addressed the convention.

James McParland Report March 11, 1875

The operative remarks today, that the miners seem to have a great deal of determination and say they will not succumb to the Reading Rail Road Co., under any circumstances. The operative made some quiet inquiry among the Molly Maguires today, in regard to the affairs at Ashton and learned that the Molly Maguires are very numerous in that section. Thomas Fisher of Summit Hill is County Delegate for Carbon County and Pat McKenna of Storm Hill is the Bodymaster, and it is generally thought by the Molly Maguires of Shenandoah City, that the parties who created the disturbance at Ashton, are not only Molly Maguires, but was more belonging to the various secret organizations.

The Legislature of Pennsylvania, listening to the repeated demands of the Anti-Monopoly Convention, appointed a committee to investigate the affairs of the Philadelphia and Reading Company. That commission convened and heard testimony as the complainants could bring before it, as well as the pleadings of the attorneys for the Philadelphia and Reading Company. Mr. Gowen, the President of the Philadelphia and Reading Railway Company, personally appeared before the committee and made answer to the charges. 

It was the sixth of July that the committee was in Pottsville. Franklin Gowen alluded to troubles in the coal region: “It will not do to say that these troubles result from the inadequacy of the price paid for labor, because, without exception, the rates paid are the highest in the world. The high rates have had the effect of attracting to the coal region a surplus of labor, more than sufficient to do the work required; and it is the effort of this surplus to receive an employment which it cannot really get that has led to all these disturbances. I have had printed for your use a statement, from the daily reports coming to me during the strike, of the outrages in the coal region. Here I want to correct an impression that goes out to the public, that these outrages are intended to injure the property of the employer. They are not. We do not believe that they are. They are perpetrated for no other purpose than to intimidate the workingmen themselves and to prevent them from going to work. I shall not read the list; it is at your service; and you can look over it and see the position we have occupied for months. But let me mention a few of the glaring instances of tyranny and oppression. At a colliery, called the Ben Franklin Colliery, the employees of which were perfectly satisfied with their wages, had accepted the reduction early in the season, and were working peacefully and contentedly, the torch of the incendiary was applied to the breaker at night. These men, having families to support, working there contentedly and peacefully, were driven out of employment by a few dangerous men, simply for the purpose of preventing them from earning their daily bread. I had some interest in the subject of the amount of their wages, and I asked the owner of the colliery what his miners were actually earning at the time when they were prevented from working by the burning of the structure in which they were employed, and he told me that the lowest miner on his pay-list earned sixty dollars a month, and the highest one hundred and thirty dollars; and yet, although these men were peaceful, law-abiding men, they were driven out of employment by an incendiary fire. At another colliery, within five or six miles of this, a band of twenty or thirty men, in the evening – almost in broad daylight – went to the breaker, and by force drove the men away and burnt the structure down. It belonged to a poor man. It was a small operation. The savings of his lifetime were probably gone, and his own employees, who had nothing against him, and who were perfectly willing to work, were thrown out of employment, and probably remain out of employment to this day.”

When Franklin Gowen concluded, the committee made its report, showing that there was no ground of action, and that was the last heard of Legislative investigating the Company. In the meantime, Gowen pressed McParland to investigate and report on the officers and members of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, believing that they were the same as the Molly Maguires.

James McParland Report July 8, 1875

            Operative J. Mc.F. reports that the Molly Maguires appear to take but little interest in the investigating committee. There are men in Pottsville from all parts of the County, and they all agree in saying that it is impossible for an Irishman to get a job at present.

James McParland Report July 9, 1875

            The Molly Maguires declare that the investigation was a humbug and say there was nothing in it. They all complain of hard times. At 11AM the investigating committee left Pottsville.

James McParland Report July 20, 1875

            Austin Maley, the Borough Constable, this morning informed the operative, that Charles Haase wanted him, the operative, to try and get bail for him by next Thursday, if possible. He said the operative was the only man in the crowd who had any brains and he thought he could get bail for him if he tried. Operative J.Mc.F. mentioned the subject to McAndrews and Morris, the former said he thought he could get the bail.

James McParland Report July 21, 1875

            The operative had a talk with John Kehoe, County Delegate of Girardville today, he reports everything quiet in his County. Kehoe asked Reilly to go bail for Charles Haase. Reilly said he would, if he could be accepted. Kehoe then requested operative J.Mc.F. to go to Pottsville tomorrow, and take Reilly with him and see if they could get Haase out. Kehoe stands bail for some six or seven men, amounting in the aggregate to some $10,000. He does not own a foot of real estate.

James McParland Report July 22, 1875

            This morning Reilly told the operative that he could not possibly go to Pottsville today, as there was a liquor merchant in town, and he must remain and see him. He said he would willingly give bail for Haase if he could, but as he was not worth $1,000, he did not think there was any use in trying. The operative thought it would be a good plan to see Haase, as perhaps he might be able to gain some important information by him. Therefore he went to Pottsville and had an interview with him in the jail. He told Haase that he had done all in his power to obtain bail for him but had not yet succeeded; this made the prisoner feel very blue. He talked freely with the operative, but did not appear to know anything in particular of the doings of the Molly Maguires. After the operative’s return to Shenandoah, he was told by McAndrews that he would see Colihan, of Gilberton tomorrow, and see if he could obtain bail of him.

                                                                Charles Haase

Charles Haase, who was just from Summit (Hill), where he had gone to secure work and see some relatives, reported that the Laborer’s Union and the Mollies had made common cause in the fight on Summit Hill, headed by Tom Fisher, County Delegate, Pat McKenna, Bodymaster (of Storm Hill), and a prominent Mollie named (Daniel) Boyle, (Bodymaster of Summit Hill). They were determined that, unless the collieries submitted to the general demand, they should not have men to do their work. Now, McParland had testimony to link the officers of the AOH to the troubles of the Labor Union. McParland ascertained the names of some of the officers and members of the AOH, but did not know the first name of the Bodymaster of Summit Hill. McParland just knew the last name of Boyle.

James McParland Report July 24, 1875

            McAndrews and Reilly went to Gilberton yesterday, but failed to obtain the bail, as Colihan said he was not able to be bondsman for $1,000.

                                                     Chapter 20 - Hugh McGeehan

                   Hugh McGeehan was born on or about 1852 in Glenfin, County Donegal, Ireland. He emigrated with some of his family, to the United States sometime after 1870, for he is not listed in the census. He resided in the Storm Hill section of Lansford, Carbon County, Pennsylvania, at the boarding house of Margaret Boyle. Standing 6’ 0” tall, Hugh first made his living as a miner for the Lehigh and Wilkes Barre Coal Company. He had joined the Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH), Storm Hill chapter and became heavily involved in demonstrating for the rights of workers during the Long Strike of 1875.
       One of these demonstrations, McGeehan headed a parade of striking miners through the Borough of Tamaqua. A contemporary newspaper had this account: “
At noon today a large body of miners from Summit Hill collieries arrived in Tamaqua and made a street demonstration. They were headed by a solitary drummer and a man carrying an American flag. Every person carried a heavy cudgel and looked as if prepared for business. The object of the display was to induce the men working at Colonel Cake’s Philadelphia breaker to strike. The appearance of the strikers made considerable excitement in the town, and the Lehigh men were greeted in a loyal manner by the Schuylkill brethren. Four hundred miners paraded the streets today at Tamaqua. They went to the mines located near this town and found that the men had all quit work. They fired their revolvers in the air and informed the proprietors that they had no objection to coal being mined for the town’s own consumption, but none should be shipped abroad, which was agreed to. They made no disturbance and conducted themselves quietly.”

For his labor activities, he was blacklisted, supposedly by Landsford mine boss John P. Jones. However, William D. Zehner, Superintendent, testified at Hugh's trial that he discharged McGeehan "before we resumed work after the strike."
       On the night of July 5th, 1875, Officer Benjamin Yost is murdered in Tamaqua, Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania. On August 9th, Pinkerton detective James McParland joins McGeehan and Alec Campbell at the Ambrosher's saloon for a drink. Campbell tells McParland he is there to help Hugh McGeehan get a liquor license to open a saloon. On August 14th, Hugh McGeehan opens a tavern in Summit Hill, Carbon County, Pennsylvania, in a building leased from Nathan Clouse and sponsored by Alex Campbell.
       The Vigilance Committee of Tamaqua or the Flying Squadron of the Reading Railroad Police used a more violent approach against those that were labeled ‘Molly Maguires’. Hugh McGeehan was identified on a “Strictly Confidential” handbill, as the murderer of Officer Yost. There were two attempts against his life, for he was shot at by vigilantes, once in late December, 1875, and then again while walking home early in January, 1876. Although he was not wounded, he could point to bullet holes in his clothes (Riffenburgh, page 112).

On January 9th, 1876, Hugh McGeehan marries Maria Duggan, in St. Joseph's Church, of Summit Hill, witnessed by James Walsh and Maria McGee. The honeymoon was short lived, for on February 5th, 1876, McGeehan was arrested for Yost’s murder. On July 24th, after two trials, he is found guilty, with others of the murder of Yost. On June 21, 1877, McGeehan is given capital punishment in the yard of the Schuylkill County prison. His body is taken back to Summit Hill, where he is buried alongside Alex Campbell and James Boyle in St. Joseph’s Cemetery behind the church.