Mitch Troutman's Blog

Standing Down the Police

By Mitch Troutman

In 1935 the coal bootleggers were feeling strong. They were unionized and had just defeated a series of anti-bootlegger bills in the statehouse. They held a truce with the state police, who would not interfere with their activities unless shooting broke out. That meant the only police they had to deal with were the town cops (who were sympathetic, if not bootleggers themselves), the county sheriff (who wouldn’t interfere) and the largest police force: the Coal & Iron Police.

The much-hated Coal & Iron Police were privately employed by the coal companies. At the beginning of the Great Depression, friend-of-the-bootleggers Governor Pinchot stripped them of the state power they had held for a half-century.

So when bootleg miners caught wind of a C&I Cop taking down license plate numbers in Edgewood, they left their mines and confronted him. Outnumbers 100-to-1, they stripped him of his pistol and notebook.

Not only that, but they escorted him back to the offices of the Cameron Colliery (largest coal mine in the anthracite), whose very land they were illegally mining from, and told him not to step foot in Edgewood. He obeyed.

Believe it or not, this was barely newsworthy. Bootleg coal miners were in constant conflict with the police throughout the Depression. Cameron might have been the largest colliery, but Edgewood was the largest bootlegger tract, with as many as 100 separate coal holes operating in broad daylight on company lands. Just a few months before, Stevens had tried to bring a Stripping Shovel into Edgewood. In response, the miners barricaded it out and marched it back into town. When Stevens again tried to move the shovel, the miners loaded it with dynamite and detonated. No one was arrested.

The full story of the Edgewood shovel is the Bootleg Coal Rebellion book, but safe to say, disarming a Coal & Iron Cop was just another day of the week for the bootleg miners, who faced greater risk masking a living underground than they did in the face of police.

To read the full story of the showdown in Edgewood, pre-order the Bootleg Coal Rebellion: The Pennsylvania Miners Who Seized an Industry, 1925-1942. Use codeword “bootleg” for 20% off!

Mitch Troutman is a writer, educator, organizer, and jack-of-all-trades living in Central Pennsylvania. He is a direct descendent of bootleg coal miners and belongs to the group Anthracite Unite.