Gem
Pop. 100

Now considered a near ghost town, Gem was named after the area’s first mine, the Gem of the Mountain. This small mining settlement was established in 1886 after silver was discovered in its hills. In addition to a having a saloon that was run by the mayor of town, Gem also hosted one of the more famous labor disputes.

In 1892, the price of silver dropped greatly. Many mines around Coeur d’Alene were closed until prices increased. The railroads and smelters agreed to lower their fees and the companies offered to reopen their mines if miners would accept lower wages. However, union miners balked at the plan and refused to accept the terms. In response, some mining companies hired immigrants to work the mines and protected them with company guards. On July 11, 1892, union miners from the surrounding areas gathered in Gem and began marching toward the mine and mill. They were greeted by armed guards, and shots on both sides broke out. During the exchange, the mill burnt to the ground. Remarkably, only one man was killed with just seven others were injured. The union workers then surrounded the surrendered guards and non-union workers and placed them under careful watch at Gem’s Union Hall. Later, as the day and night shift took place, a non-union man crossing the Canyon Creek Bridge was shot down. The mine’s guards had had enough. As women and children were escorted to Wallace, an intense gun battle between the guards and union workers took place. Finally, the county sheriff and U.S. marshals arrived, and a conference was held between the union men and the mine manager, A.L. Gross. The non-union men were outnumbered, and union miners gave Gross an ultimatum: surrender the mine or lose it. Since Gross refused to surrender the mine, he lost it. As a result, all non-union workers lost their jobs, were forced to surrender their weapons, and received orders to leave town.

Although the non-union workers complied with the decree, mine owners convinced Governor Wiley to declare martial law. When troops arrived on July 13, the union men were forced to surrender their position. On July 25, twenty-five prisoners were taken to Boise for trial. The men all pleaded not guilty to the charges, but ten were eventually found guilty of contempt of court and sentenced to a short stay in jail. Other prisoners were taken to Coeur d’Alene for a twenty-three day trial where four men were found guilty. All the other prisoners were eventually acquitted.

Despite rounding up several of the union workers, martial law remained in effect in Gem for four months, and the mine was not allowed to reopen until the following year. Although a tense truce was reached in 1892, it was broken in the 1899 Bunker Hill mining incident spurred by the activity of the Western Federation of Miners. As it turns out, the jail sentences for the Gem union workers gave them plenty of opportunity to develop a new and improved union organization, a group that just so happened to call itself the Western Federation of Miners.

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