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The Eight-Hour Day

Contingent of Arizona Rangers that eventually restored order at Clifton-Morenci.

The Arizona Territorial 22nd Legislative Assembly passed an eight-hour law in 1903. The law required underground miners to work no more than eight hours a day. The miners had been paid $2.50 for a 10-hour work day. When mining companies in the Clifton-Morenci area refused to pay miners the same wage for an eight hours work day, a strike was called and more than 3,500 miners were idled.
Clifton-Morenci was where the first copper in Arizona was smelted in 1873. By 1903, the copper companies claimed their copper ore was the worst in the West. In Clifton-Morenci, the owners claimed, it took more than 30 tons of ore to make 1 ton of copper. In other camps in the West, it only took 10 to 14 tons or ore to make 1 ton of copper. The mining companies were willing to pay miners nine hours of pay for eight hours of work to end the strike.
The leader of the strike was known as “Three Fingered Jack” Laustaunau. He was described as “…a Roumanian that landed in New York the day President Garfield was shot…he (also) knew it was coming.” Other demands the strikers made included “…not to allow the company to employ men not a member of the society. The (company) store…must not increase the price of goods…if a man is discharged a good reason must be given or the man must be restored to his job. All hospital and insurance fees must be done away with.”
It was reported that the strikers started on the day the eight hour law took effect. The heavily armed strikers forced their way into Mine Superintendent Alexander McLean’s office and gave him one minute to close the mine. He later testified the leaders threatened to blow up the mines and loot the towns if their demands were not met. Superintendent McLean shut down the mines.
Reports circulated that mobs of 1,000 armed men were roaming the towns. Editorials stated they “…have created a reign of terror and are a grave menace to the lives and property of peaceable citizens. The rioters must be suppressed.”
Acting governor and Commander-in-Chief Isaac Stoddard ordered the Arizona Rangers and the Arizona National Guard to the area to quell the uprising. A request was also made to Washington, D. C. to send federal troops to the community.
Being headquartered in Douglas, Capt. Thomas Rynning was able to get his Rangers quickly to the area. Rynning had been a member of the Eighth Cavalry, had been a member of the Rough Riders and had built railroad bridges for the Southern Pacific before becoming an Arizona Ranger.
Capt. Rynning and 16 Rangers descended on Morenci. The Arizona Republican reported that more than 2,000 armed men were marching in the area. It was reported the Arizona Rangers’ plan was “…to quietly arrest the agitating leaders, who are supposed to be Italians, the greater number of the strikers being Mexicans.”
Nature stepped in and helped the Rangers and the growing number of troops. A violent storm followed by flash flooding swept through the towns. Water from six to 20 feet deep roared through the towns killing up to 30 people and destroying “…the Bessemer Café building, the Manila Saloon, and the Susie Chinese store.” Ten miles of narrow gauge railroad and several bridges were washed away.
In the next few days, 200 soldiers from the Arizona National Guard joined the 65 lawmen, including the entire force of Arizona Rangers. Troops from Fort Huachuca, Fort Grant and Fort Bliss were on the mountains surrounding the mines with their Krag Jorgenson rifles aimed at the strikers.
Frank Colombo, A. Salcido and “Three Fingered Jack” Laustaunau were arrested. Laustaunau was accused of being “…responsible for stirring up the ignorant Mexicans to a dangerous pitch of excitement.”
The Arizona Republican blamed the workers for the need for the show of force. The paper editorialized “…no man has a right to prevent another from working…an assault by rioters whether they be strikers or anarchists on the property of a corporation is no more to be tolerated than an assault by robbers on a stagecoach or of burglars on a bank. Without order there is no protection to property.”
On the other hand, the Tucson Citizen stated “…the whole action of Stoddard shows the reckless spirit of militarism and imperialism that pervades the mind of the average Republican official.”
The miners went back to work for $2.25 for an eight-hour work day, the original offer of the mines. “Three Fingered Jack” was convicted of inciting the miners to riot. He was sentenced to a lengthy stay at the Territorial Prison in Yuma. He eventually died there while locked up in the solitary confinement dungeon known as the “Snake Den.”
Capt. Thomas Rynning was given an expensive gold watch by the mining companies in appreciation for the efforts of the Arizona Rangers. In 1907, Rynning left the Rangers and was appointed Superintendent of the Territorial Prison in Yuma.
Mike Miller. Arizona Sate Library, Archives and Public Records, Archives Division, Phoenix, #97-7174.

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