The Lattimer Massacre

The climactic scene in The Breaker Boys is an event that went down in history as the Lattimer Massacre, a labor march that ended in the tragic deaths of 19 coal miners at the Lattimer Mines near Hazleton, Pennsylvania.

    Throughout the summer of 1897, the novel’s young protagonist, Nate Tanner, has been hearing talk of labor trouble between his family, who owns a number of mines in the region, and the workers – including his friends, who pick slate in the coal breakers. 

    The workers want higher wages and better conditions. The independent owners feel squeezed by curtailed profits due to railroad monopolies.

    One by one, area collieries go out on strike, led by the newly formed United Mine Workers. Finally, on September 10, the striking miners march to Lattimer, the last operating colliery in the region, with the intention of shutting it down.

    Luzerne County Sheriff James Martin and his deputies follow the march, ostensibly to keep things from getting out of hand. There are 88 lawmen, and hundreds of marchers. When the marchers reach Lattimer, a scuffle breaks out between the sheriff and some miners ... shots are fired, and a free-for-all ensues. In addition to the dead, 39 miners are wounded.

  In the days and weeks following the tragedy, most of the coal operators make some concessions, and the strike ends. Outrage over the shootings helps the union’s cause. In the following months, membership in the United Mine Workers increases by 15,000 in the Pennsylvania coal region.




Striking Slavic miners march toward Lattimer, Sept. 10. 1897.