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1870's Mahanoy City: The Molly Maguires, Part 2

For Part 1, click here.

James McParland

James McParland, a slim 29-year-old Irishman with red hair and a redder face, was assigned the task of infiltrating the Molly Maguires. For his mission, McParland reinvented himself as "James McKenna." He claimed he was a Colorado miner looking for his fortune in Schuylkill County. At the Sheridan House, a rough drinking establishment in Pottsville, McParland bought drinks, danced, played cards and bragged about violent adventures he never had. He was able to win the admiration of local Mollys.

His principle objective was to ingratiate himself with John "Black Jack" Kehoe, the alleged leader of the Schuylkill-area branch of the Molly Maguires. He was often referred to as "The King of the Mollys." James McParland spent two and a half years living alongside the coal miners, eventually gaining their trust and trying to gather enough incriminating evidence to bring them to trial.

On 14 April 1874, McParland succeeded in being sworn into the Ancient Order of Hibernians under their motto: "Friendship, Unity and true Christian Charity." However, it would be more than a year after his initiation, before McParland, under heavy pressure from the mines and the Pinkerton Agency during the Long Strike of 1875, would uncover any "murderous plots."

John "Jack" Kehoe

At the heart of it was Kehoe. John "Jack" Kehoe was born on 3 July 1837 in County Wicklow, Ireland. Kehoe’s father and mother, Joseph and Bridget, emigrated to the United States sometime between 1842 and 1844, before the widespread potato crop failure which led to Ireland’s Great Hunger. The family settled in the anthracite region of Pennsylvania and the men of the Kehoe family (Joseph and his sons Michael, John, Joseph, and Edward) worked in coal collieries in Schuylkill and Carbon counties. They became very familiar with the hazards of mining coal.

On 11 September 1865, Schuylkill County’s Court of Common Pleas granted John Kehoe’s petition for U.S. citizenship. His father Joseph stood as his sponsor.

On 30 September 1866, John Kehoe married Mary Ann O’Donnell, who was born in Tamaqua, PA. The couple had five children who lived to adulthood. By the time of his marriage, Kehoe had worked his way out of the mines and into the ownership of a small hotel in Mahanoy City. His parents and siblings were also living in Mahanoy City at the time of the 1870 census. His father Joseph was serving as a constable. As a bit of context, the Kehoes resided in the West Ward of Mahanoy City while my paternal great-great grandparents, the Schoeners and the Moyers resided in the East Ward. However, the Morris family lived in the West Ward and the patriarch, Ebenezer Morris, a Welsh immigrant, worked as a miner. The Blew family lived outside of the city and farmed. As a result, they may have been the least impacted by the events of the 1870's in Mahanoy City.

Kehoe bought a tavern in Shenandoah and then moved his growing family to a small hotel in Girardville that he named “Hibernian House.” He quickly became a well-respected businessman in the community.

The Hiberian House, Girardville, PA

Kehoe showed strong leadership capability. In 1872, his name appeared on a list of potential Democratic nominees for the Pennsylvania State Assembly. In 1874, Schuylkill County’s Ancient Order of Hibernian (AOH) men elected Kehoe as the county delegate. In 1875, Jack Kehoe, the County Delegate and recognized Czar of the Mollys in Schuylkill County, was elected high constable in Girardville.

Kehoe and his family had the American dream, and what seemed to be a flourishing future, but John Kehoe never forgot his experiences in the mines. Many years of enduring ruthless wage cuts and horrific working conditions, which claimed the lives of many workers, led him to become an outspoken proponent for miners' rights. His efforts to rally for the unionization of workers of the Philadelphia and Reading Coal and Iron Company, a subsidiary of the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad, lead to an alleged affiliation with the Molly Maguires and the moniker of “King of the Mollys.”

During the violent upheaval in 1875, Kehoe strenuously defended the AOH against charges of "Molly Maguire" violence. He wrote: "the Ancient Order of Hibernians … is a chartered organization, recognized by the commonwealth, and composed of men who are law-abiding and seek the elevation of their members … nothing can be more unjust than to charge the order with any acts of lawlessness …"

Meanwhile, under the alias James McKenna, McParland continued to gain the trust of the Molly Maguires, sending regular reports to the Pinkertons. Four prominent murders, and one near murder, in the summer of 1875 provoked widespread outrage and eventually would lead to a series of trials that effectively ended the Molly Maguires' reign of terror.

Per McParland, on Sunday, 1 June 1875, the Mollys held a convention in the Emerald House in Mahanoy City. Czar Kehoe, after offering up a prayer, instructed that Dan Doherty, the alleged murderer of Chief Burgess George Major, be brought into the room. When Doherty entered the room he wore the same coat that he had worn on the day when someone had tried to kill him on the street in Mahanoy City. Kehoe said: "Dan, take off your coat and show it to us." Doherty complied with the request and then pointed out the different bullet holes. Kehoe then asked: "Who do you think did it?" Doherty replied that it was either Jesse Major or “Bully Bill” Thomas. It was then decided that Jesse Major and Thomas must be killed and Kehoe instructed McParland to assign four men to assassinate Thomas. As the militia had been called out to preserve order, McParland argued that it would be foolish to attempt the assassination then.

However, on Monday morning, 28 June, four men carrying out the ordered revenge attack, shot William "Bully Bill" Thomas as he stood in a stable at Shoemaker's Colliery in Mahanoy City and left him for dead. Thomas survived with wounds in the neck, hip and leg, but a horse and two mules were killed. McParland, having advance knowledge of the attack, was unable to warn the victim for fear of blowing his cover.

Officer Benjamin Yost

A week later, police officer Benjamin F. "Frank" Yost, a man who had served honorably in the Civil War, would be shot in Tamaqua. Officer Yost survived for several hours, suffering in great pain from the wound in his abdomen. He was able to give only vague descriptions of his assailants before dying in his wife's arms. McParland learned from fellow body-master James "Powder Keg" Kerrigan that he had issued the order that resulted in Yost's killing. Kerrigan told McParland that Yost was a victim of mistaken identity. The actual target of the revenge killing was another police officer, Bernard McCarron, who had on several occasions years earlier arrested him on disorderly conduct charges and, more recently, had beaten miner James Duffy. Unfortunately for Yost, he had exchanged beats with McCarron on the night in question. Yost's assassins were two members of the Carbon County division of the Mollys, Hugh McGehan and James Doyle. Kerrigan showed McParland the gun used to kill Yost, a .32 caliber revolver owned by James Roarity. Kerrigan also revealed to McParland the names of two other men, Duffy and James Carl, involved in the plot.

The next month, three Mollys murdered mine superintendent John P. Jones in revenge for his decision to fire and blacklist striking miners. Then, just two days later on 1 September, mine superintendent Thomas Sanger and Welsh non-union miner William Uren were gunned down near Wiggan's Patch as they walked to work. The double murder at Wiggan's Patch prompted a vigilante mob to attack the home of Charles O'Donnell, a suspect in the killings, and kill him, his daughter and son.

Responsibility for the murder of superintendent Jones initially fell to McParland, under orders from Kehoe to do a "clean job." Claiming to be seriously ill, McParland procrastinated until the assassination was reassigned. So, instead of McParland's men the job of killing Jones fell to Mollys Michael Doyle and Edward Kelly. The pain McParland felt over Jones's death was soon aggravated when he learned of the two killing in Wiggan's Patch by five armed killers.

By the end of 1875, the job was clearly taking its toll on McParland, who was anxious to put an end to the killing. "I am sick and tired of this work," McParland wrote to Pinkerton. "I hear of murder and bloodshed in all directions. The very sun to me looks crimson; the air is polluted, and the rivers seem running red with human blood. Something must be done to stop it." With the help of McParland, authorities had been gathering substantial evidence of Molly guilt in the string of murders in the anthracite region. It was time to begin to put the alleged perpetrators on trial. For McParland's sake, the trials would come just in time as doubts about McParland were growing fast among the Molly Maguires.


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