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Great Southwest Railroad Strike of 1886: Topics in Chronicling America

In 1886, Knights of Labor led a strike, spanning over four states, for better wages and treatement. This guide provides access to material related to "Great Southwest Railroad Strike" in the Chronicling America digital collection of historic newspapers.


Map of the southwestern railway system of St. Louis and East St. Louis, where the railroad strike occurs. May 7, 1886. Griggs Courier (Cooperstown, Griggs County, ND), Image 4. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers.

“The order for the general strike upon the Gould Southwestern system reached that place at 10:30 this morning and every man in the Missouri Pacific shops put up his tools and walked out,” read the March 7, 1886 St. Paul Daily Globe. The strike spread from Missouri to Kansas, Arkansas, and even Texas. It was widely covered in newspapers as the Knights of Labor constantly battled Jay Gould for better wages and treatment. The strike climaxed with violent clashes between strikers and police throughout the month of April, then abated over the remaining summer months. Read more about it!

The information in this guide focuses on primary source materials found in the digitized historic newspapers from the digital collection Chronicling America.

The timeline below highlights important dates related to this topic and a section of this guide provides some suggested search strategies for further research in the collection.


March 1886 The strike begins when a member of the Knights of Labor is fired for initiating a company meeting in Texas. In St. Louis, strikers of the Knights of Labor board a train and intentionally kill the engine. The executive board of the Knights of Labor inquires about possible conferences between Missouri and Texas Pacific officials to resolve the strike. Railroad businessman, Jay Gould is first notified of the strike a few days later. On March 20 strikers begin burning railroad bridges in Texas. A week later governors of Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas and Texas demand that roads and railroads in their jurisdictions resume business. After discussions between Gould and the Knights of Labor executive board, the strike is thought to be over in late March.
April 1886 During hiring discussions with the leader of the Knights of Labor, Jay Gould specifies the hiring of employees for the railroads--persons who injured company property will not be hired, nor will any discrimination fall on workers who did not participate in the strike. A few days later, violence erupts at Fort Worth, Texas between strikers and police. Texas mobilizes local military to corral the strikers. Knights of Labor call on their members to continue to strike after discussions with Jay Gould break down.
May 4, 1886 After violence continues throughout the month of April, a Congressional committee advises the Knights of Labor to end the strike.
August 1, 1886 Due to internal squabbles, the Knights of Labor dissolve and cease to exist. The strike is ultimately a failure.