Railroads offered special trains from Springfield and surrounding communities for Mother Jones’ funeral and burial on December 8, 1930.
Some made a great effort to be there to be there, not only to honor her life, but to fight for the survival of their union as a fighting organization.
One was Frank Keeney, (left) the former leader of West Virginia's District 17 of the UMWA, which had been decimated after the Blair Mountain uprising of 1921.
He drove from West Virginia in heavy rains with Alexander Howat, (right) leader of the Kansas miners and, at the time, President of a rump UMWA group that was organizing in West Virginia. Also in the car on the way from West Virginia was Panama Illinois miner-organizer William Daesch.
Howat wrote of the experience in a letter two days later, to Kansas UMWA secretary Peter Pierard:
“Three of us drove here from Charleston, W. Va and spoke at a big miners meeting at Cedar Grove Sunday afternoon, then drove back from Charleston to Mt. Olive, Ill.. Sunday night and attended the burial of Mother Jones. The round trip was about 1250 miles. We never slept a wink Saturday and Sunday night. . . . Frank Keeney from West Virginia made the trip from here over there and on the return trip to Mt. Olive Tom Tippett came with us. Believe me we had a wild old ride in order to make it in time, and (the) car almost turned over at least a dozen different times. It was a wet pavement nearly all the way both ways, as it rained nearly all along the road.
I never saw such a turnout of people in all my life as the crowd that turned out to attend the burial of Mother Jones.”
Frank Keeney had been in Illinois regularly and became more radicalized in the years after the 1921 defeat. The funeral was not the first or last time he would visit Union Miners Cemetery. In 1931, Keeney was part of a call for a rank-and-file meeting in St. Louis to honor Mother Jones' memory.
Tom Tippett (left) was from a family of Illinois miners. Their family had hosted Mother Jones in the Peoria, Illinois area.
Tippett referred to Mother Jones as “the most wonderful woman in the world." When Tippett organized and reported with Keeney in West Virginia, he noted that West Virginia miners and their families reverently carried a flag Mother Jones had once held.
In the mid 1930s Tippett won a grant from Guggenheim, and wrote an acclaimed novel about Illinois miners struggles, Horseshoe Bottoms.
Left: A newspaper article from a West Virginia paper tells of the trip back to Illinois by the organizers of a renegade union effort.
Notably, William Daesch mentioned here hailed from Panama, Illinois. That was John L. Lewis' home local. In 1929, the Panama local declared Lewis "unfit to be a member of the UMWA" and expelled him from local membership, withdrawing his card.
Mother Jones' last bequest was giving $1000 from her autobiography proceeds towards funding this miners rump movement. Miners felt the stakes were high, and sought to use Mother Jones' memory to defeat a union leader who they argued was autocratic and corrupt.
These are just some profiles of the thousands of people who sought to honor the spirit of Mother Jones by paying their last respects.