This Day in Texas History:
Coxey’s Army Marches on El Paso
March 22, 1894
On this day in 1894, a contingent of “Coxey’s Army” arrived in El Paso. In the wake of the 1893 panic Jacob Sechler Coxey of Massillon, Ohio, a businessman and reformer, led an army of jobless men to Washington to induce Congress to provide assistance.
A group from Los Angeles arrived in El Paso on the evening of March 22, and, after marching on the city hall, were given food and allowed to camp for the night. Hoping for transportation from the railroad, they camped alongside the tracks for two days. They boarded a Southern Pacific train that uncoupled their car 70 miles east of El Paso, leaving them stranded in a barren region without food or water.
After an order from Governor James S. Hogg, and negotiations with the railroads
and the citizens of El Paso, the “army” was finally transported to Washington, arriving weeks after Coxey had been arrested.
In the wake of the 1893 panic Jacob Sechler Coxey, interested in fiat money, prepared to lead an army of jobless men to Washington to induce Congress to issue legal-tender currency to be spent on roads and other improvements. His appeal drew response from as far as the Pacific Coast, where contingents of his army were formed. In charge in Los Angeles was Lewis C. Fry. Fry and his men set out on foot from Los Angeles on March 16, 1894, and later boarded a freight train. Several towns gave them food and sped them onward. On March 21 the mayor of El Paso wired Governor James Stephen Hogg, asking him to request the War Department to place the garrison at Fort Bliss at the service of the state to repel the expected invasion. Hogg refused, assuring him that Texas was able to enforce its laws and asking him to report any violations.
On the evening of March 22 Fry and 700 men arrived in El Paso and marched to the city hall, where they were fed and allowed to camp for the night. The next evening they marched to the railroad yards to await an eastbound train. As the railroads held back trains suited to their purpose, the men camped near the tracks for two days. They boarded a Southern Pacific freight on Easter, March 25, 1894, the day Coxey led his men out of Massillon. Seventy miles east of El Paso, trainmen uncoupled the cars on which the men were riding and left them stranded on the Finlay switch, in a barren region. The only inhabitants within miles were a few Mexican families, and no supplies of food or water were within reach. Indignant at this action, Governor Hogg insisted that the railroad company that brought the men into the state should carry them on through. Some of the hungry men walked to Sierra Blanca, twenty miles farther east, and a few were able to hop trains.
Except for several beeves donated by ranchmen and food sent by El Paso people, Fry’s men still had nothing to eat three days later. Their plight aroused increasing sympathy. Six El Paso citizens telegraphed the governor that “the infamy of the Southern Pacific in hauling these men from California into the desert, refusing to haul them farther, is without parallel for barbarity.” Dallas residents met and endorsed the governor’s order that the Southern Pacific transport Fry’s men to a place of refuge. The railroad’s general manager refused until El Paso people raised money for a special train. At Finlay and Sierra Blanca the men crowded into this train of five coaches and two baggage cars and arrived in San Antonio on the afternoon of March 29. They were then transferred to a freight train of the International-Great Northern and stopped briefly in Austin early the next morning, but the police denied their wish to see the governor. After stops at Taylor, Hearne, and Palestine, the weary travelers-packed so densely that many could not lie down-arrived in Longview on March 31. They transferred to a Texas and Pacific train for Texarkana and there on April 1, 1894, to the Iron Mountain line. Some reached Washington weeks after Coxey was arrested on May 1, 1894, for carrying a banner and walking on the grass.