The Washington Post, “The Zeal and Fate of Louis Walsh”

A foot soldier in the labor wars of the early 1900s, he created a written record of life in a tumultuous time — then disappeared into the haze of history. What happened to him?

By Adam Hochschild, September 28, 2022

We often speak of today’s United States as torn by an unprecedented political divide. But however severe that tension may seem, it’s nothing new. Although now almost entirely forgotten, an equally great political chasm, frequently exploding into violence, ran through this country a century ago. In the Americans of that era, it called forth extremes of behavior: of commitment and cruelty, of sacrifice and betrayal.

Sometimes one person’s experience can be a window onto a time of upheaval. This is the tale of one such life — that of a man whose full story would not emerge until decades later. His vantage point was near the bottom of the social ladder, a place where few memoirs, diaries or other written records are produced. Yet he left behind a vivid, extraordinarily detailed, often day-to-day account of the battles that consumed our society 100 years ago, in an America as divided as is our own today.

The battles in which this man fought were between big business and labor. It was not just a philosophical divide, but a near war. Between 1890 and 1910, 75 strikes saw workers killed, for a total toll of 308 deaths. In 1899, hundreds of rebellious Idaho miners fighting police and corporate detectives blew up a company mill, after hijacking a train that became known as the Dynamite Express. In 1913 and 1914, more than 70 people, including women and children, died in battles between Colorado miners and National Guard troops defending a Rockefeller-owned coal mine.

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