Herrin Massacre - The Trials

The Trials

At first, the inquest held by the coroner concluded that all the strikebreakers were killed by unknown individuals, and stated that "the deaths of the decedents were due to the acts direct and indirect of the officials of the Southern Illinois Coal Company." They recommended that the company and its officers be investigated in order to affix appropriate responsibility on them. It was obvious the victims could not gain justice in Herrin.

Two trials were held, the first on November 7, 1922, and the second in the winter of 1923. Only six men were ever indicted for the massacre, and both trials ended in acquittals for all the defendants. The prosecution gave up and dismissed the remaining indictments. Otis Clark was the first man to be tried on a total of 214 charges. Two years later, Clark would be shot and killed. Another of the accused would die in a mine accident.

A Williamson County Grand Jury investigating the incident faulted the Southern Illinois Coal Company for introducing strike breakers and armed guards, and for committing illegal activities such as closing public highways. It criticized the state administration for refusing to take necessary measures once the trouble had begun. Herbert David Croly of the New Republic criticized the state of Illinois for allowing the Illinois Chamber of Commerce to fund the investigation. Croly described the retaliation for the deaths of two strikers (the third had been mortally wounded) "atrocious", but noted that while the perpetrators were likely to escape punishment, those who harmed strikers—such as Hamrock after Ludlow, or Wheeler after Bisbee—likewise frequently escaped justice. Croly noted that the local government was sympathetic to the union, as was public sentiment, and under such circumstances, the union had a responsibility to police its own members.

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