Genealogy Trails

Haymarket Riot

Chicago, Illinois
May 4, 1886

©Original work and transcriptions by Kim Torp


WHAT WAS IT?: A bomb was exploded during a Union Labor Rally in the Haymarket Square, in Chicago.

WHEN WAS IT: The evening of May 4, 1886

WHERE DID IT TAKE PLACE?: the Haymarket Square, a site on Randolph Street, between Halsted and Des Plaines Streets. Later in the evening, it was moved a half block away to Des Plaines Street, north of Randolph Street to attract more attention.

WHY IT OCCURRED: The Knights of Labor labor union were campaigning for the 8-hour work day and Chicago workers went on strike May 1, 1886. Anarchists joined the cause, and at the McCormick Reaper Works, violence erupted between police and strikers on May 3, where two workers were shot. The May 4 rally at the Haymarket Square was held to protest the events of May 3.

WHO DID IT?: The individual who actually threw the bomb into the police squadron was never identified.

HOW MANY PEOPLE WERE KILLED?: 7 police officers died. There names are listed here

WHAT WAS THE RESULT?: The violence associated with the Knights of Labor tarnished the reputation of the union. "The decline of the Knights of Labor contributed to the rise of the American Federation of Labor, established under the leadership of Samuel Gompers in 1886. Whereas the Knights of Labor aimed at legislative reforms including the eight-hour day and child labor laws, the American Federation of Labor focused on protecting the autonomy and established privileges of individual craft unions" (Source: The Library of Congress)

Printed at the Office of the Arbeiter-Zeitung, 1886

[source: Library of Congress]

Seven police officers were killed when a bomb exploded on a busy city street during the Haymarket Riot labor dispute. The officers were at the scene of a civil disorder when the rioters threw the bomb into the crowd, killing the seven officers and wounding 70 other people. The officers who were killed included Patrolmen Mathias Degan, Patrolman John Barrett, Patrolman George Miller, Patrolman Timothy Flavin, Patrolman Thomas Redden, Patrolman Nels Hansen and Patrolman Michael Sheehan.

These are the policemen that were killed in the Chicago Haymarket riot:

Patrolman Michael Sheehan
Chicago Police Department, Illinois
End of Watch: Sunday, May 9, 1886
Incident Details
Cause of Death: Bomb
Date of Incident: Tuesday, May 4, 1886
Weapon Used: Explosives; Bomb
Suspect Info: Not available

Patrolman Sheehan succumbed to wounds received in a bomb blast five days earlier.

Related Line of Duty Deaths
Patrolman Mathias J. Degan

Chicago Police Department, IL
EOW: Tuesday, May 4, 1886
Cause of Death: Bomb

Patrolman John J. Barrett
Chicago Police Department, IL
EOW: Thursday, May 6, 1886
Cause of Death: Bomb

Patrolman George Miller
Chicago Police Department, IL
EOW: Thursday, May 6, 1886
Cause of Death: Bomb

Patrolman Timothy Flavin
Chicago Police Department, IL
EOW: Saturday, May 8, 1886
Cause of Death: Gunfire

Patrolman Thomas Redden
Chicago Police Department, IL
EOW: Monday, May 17, 1886
Cause of Death: Bomb

Patrolman Nels Hansen
Chicago Police Department, IL
EOW: Monday, June 14, 1886
Cause of Death: Bomb

From the Historical Encyclopedia of Illinois, 1901:

THE HAYMARKET RIOT - An anarchistic outbreak which occurred in Chicago on the evening of May 4 1886.

For several days prior, meetings of dissatisfied workingmen had been addressed by orators who sought to inflame the worst passions of their hearers. The excitement (previously more or less under restraint) culminated on the date mentioned. Haymarket Square in Chicago is a broad open space formed by the widening of West Randolph Street for an open air produce market. An immense concourse assembled there on the evening named inflammatory speeches were made from a cart, which was used as a sort of improvised platform.

During the earlier part of the meeting the Mayor (Carter H. Harrison) was present, but upon his withdrawal the oratory became more impassioned and incendiary. Towards midnight someone, whose identity has never been thoroughly proved, threw a dynamite bomb into the ranks of the police who, under command of Inspector John Bonfield, had ordered the dispersal of the crowd and were endeavoring to enforce the command. Simultaneously a score of men lay dead or bleeding in the street. The majority of the crowd fled, pursued by the officers.Numerous arrests followed during the night and the succeeding morning, and search was made in the office of the principal Anarchistic organ, which resulted in the discovery of considerable evidence of an incriminating character. A Grand Jury of Cook County found indictments for murder against eight of the suspected leaders, all of whom were convicted after a trial extending over several months, both the State and the defense being represented by some of the ablest counsel at the Chicago bar.

Seven of the accused were condemned to death and one (Oscar Neebe) was given twenty years' imprisonment. The death sentence of two, Samuel Fielden and Justus Schwab, was subsequently commuted by Governor Oglesby to life imprisonment, but executive clemency was extended in 1893 by Governor Altgeld to all three of those serving terms in the penitentiary. Of those condemned to execution, one (Louis Linng) committed suicide in the county jail by exploding between his teeth a small dynamite bomb which he had surreptitiously obtained.

The remaining four (August Spies, Albert D. Parsons, Louis Engel and Adolph Fischer) were hanged in the county jail at Chicago on November 14, 1887. The affair attracted wide attention, not only throughout the United States but in other countries also.

Individuals involved in the Haymarket Riot
Border images include clockwise from left: A.R. Parsons, Louis Lingg, Inspector Bonfield, Captain Schaack, Sheriff Matson, Michael Schwab, August Spies, Samuel Fielden, Officer , Mrs. Parsons, Oscar Neebe, Nina van Zandt, Captain Ward, George Engel, and Adolph Fischer.

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©Kim Torp