Chapter 27 - American Boy's Life of Theodore Roosevelt by Edward Stratemeyer

Destruction of St. Pierre—American Aid—The Great Coal Strike—President Roosevelt ends the Difficulty—Tour through New England—The Trolley Accident in the Berkshires—A Providential Escape from Death

During the summer of 1902 two matters of great importance occurred in which the whole people of our nation were deeply interested.

Early in May occurred tremendous volcanic eruptions on the islands of Martinique and St. Vincent. At the former island, Mont Pelee threw such a rain of fire upon the town of St. Pierre that the entire place, with about thirty thousand people, was wiped out of existence in a minute. At other points the eruptions were not so bad, yet hundreds lost their lives, and all of the islands of the Lesser Antilles were thrown into a state bordering upon panic.

It was felt that something must be done, and at once, for the sufferers, and a large fund for relief was gathered, of which the Americans contributed their full share. The volcanic disturbances continued for some time, and as it was thought they might also cover certain portions of Central America, nothing was done further concerning a canal to unite the two oceans.

The other event of importance was the strike of thousands upon thousands of coal-miners, working in Pennsylvania and other states. The miners did not think they were being treated rightly and went out in a body, and for many weeks not a pound of coal of any kind was mined. This produced a double hardship, for people could get no coal either for the fall or winter, and the miners were, in some cases, reduced almost to the verge of starvation. Neither the workmen nor the operators of the mines would give in, and soon there was more or less violence, and some soldiers had to be called out in an effort to preserve order.

As matters went from bad to worse, and it looked as if the entire eastern section of our country would have to go without coal for the winter, there were loud demands that the government take hold of the difficulty and settle the matter, if not in one way, then in another.

At last, early in October, the whole country was aroused, for it was felt that with no coal a winter of untold suffering stared the people in the face. President Roosevelt held a conference at Washington with the mine operators and the representatives of the miners.

"We must get together, gentlemen," said he. "The country cannot do without coal, and you must supply it to us." And he laid down the law in a manner not to be misunderstood.

Another conference followed, and then a third, and at last the coal operators asked the President to appoint a Commission to decide upon the points in dispute. To this the representative of the mine workers agreed, and as a result a Commission was appointed by President Roosevelt, which was to settle all points in dispute, and by its decision each side was to abide. In the meantime, while the Commission was at work, the mine workers were to resume their labors. The mines were thereupon once more put in operation, after a strike lasting over five months. This is the greatest coal strike known in American history, and it is not likely that the people at large will ever again permit themselves to suffer for the want of coal as they did during that fall and the winter which followed.

Early in June occurred the centennial celebration of the founding of the United States Military Academy at West Point. The occasion was made one of great interest, and among the many distinguished visitors were President Roosevelt and General Miles, head of our army at that time. The President reviewed the cadets and made a speech to them, complimenting them on their truly excellent showing as soldiers.

Although very busy with matters of state, President Roosevelt received an urgent call to deliver a Fourth of July oration at Pittsburg. He consented, and spoke to a vast assemblage on the rights and duties of American citizens.

To remain in Washington during the hot summer months was out of the question with President Roosevelt and his family, and early in the season he removed to Oyster Bay, there to enjoy himself as best he might during the short time allowed him for recreation.

That the business of the administration might not be too seriously interrupted, he hired a few rooms over a bank building in the village of Oyster Bay, and these were fitted up for himself and his several secretaries and assistants. To the bank building he rode or drove every day, spending an hour or more over the routine work required. By this means undesirable visitors were kept away from his private residence, and he was permitted to enjoy himself as he pleased in company with his family.

While Mr. Roosevelt was summering at Oyster Bay, it was arranged that he should make a short tour through New England, to last from August 22 to September 3. The trip covered every New England State, and was one of great pleasure to the President until the last day. Everywhere he went he was greeted by enthusiastic crowds, and, of course, had to make one of his characteristic speeches, accompanied by a great deal of hand-shaking.

On the last day of the trip he was at Dalton, Massachusetts, the home of Governor Crane. It had been planned to drive from Dalton to Lenox, a beautiful spot, adjoining Laurel Lake, where are located the summer homes of many American millionnaires.

The trip was begun without a thought of what was to follow. In the party, besides President Roosevelt, were Governor Crane, Secretary Cortelyou (afterward made a member of the Cabinet), United States Secret Service officer William Craig, and the driver of the carriage. It may be mentioned here that William Craig was detailed as a special guard for the President, and had been with him since the tour was begun.

There are a number of trolley lines in this section of Massachusetts, all centring in Pittsfield. As the mass of the people were very anxious to see President Roosevelt, the trolleys going to the points where he would pass were crowded, and the cars were run with more than usual speed.

As the carriage containing the President and his companions attempted to cross the trolley tracks a car came bounding along at a rapid rate of speed. There seemed to be no time in which to stop the car, and in an instant the long and heavy affair crashed into the carriage with all force, hurling the occupants to the street in all directions. The Secret Service officer, William Craig, was instantly killed, and the driver of the carriage was seriously hurt.

There was immediate and great excitement, and for the time being it was feared that President Roosevelt had been seriously injured. He had been struck a sharp blow on the leg, and had fallen on his face, cutting it not a little. The shock was a severe one, but in a little while he was himself once more, although his face was much swollen. Later still a small abscess formed on the injured limb, but this was skilfully treated by his physician, and soon disappeared. The others in the carriage escaped with but a few bruises and a general shaking-up.

The result of this accident, small as it was to the President personally, showed well how firmly he was seated in the affection of his fellow-citizens. From all over the country, as well as from his friends in foreign climes, telegrams of congratulation came pouring in. Everybody was glad that he had escaped, and everybody wished to show how he felt over the affair.

"President Roosevelt was much affected by the messages received," said one who was in a position to know. "It showed him that his friends were in every walk of life, from the highest to the lowest. Had he met death, as did the Secret Service officer detailed to guard over him, the shock to the people, coming so soon after the assassination of President McKinley, would have been tremendous."

The President had already been persuaded to consent to a short trip to the South, from September 5 to 10, and then a trip to the West, lasting until September 19, or longer. The trips came to an end on September 23, in Indiana, because of the abscess on the lower limb already mentioned, yet on November 19 he was given a grand reception by the people of Memphis, Tennessee, who flocked around him and were glad to see him as well as ever.

"We are so glad you escaped from that trolley accident!" was heard a hundred times.

"We can't afford to lose you, Mr. President," said others. "Really good men are too scarce." And then a cheer would go up for "The hero of San Juan Hill!"

His speeches on these trips were largely about the trusts and monopolies that are trying to control various industries of our country. It is an intricate subject, yet it can be said that Mr. Roosevelt understands it as well as any one, and is laboring hard to do what is right and best, both for the consumer and the capitalist.

Congress had, some time before, voted a large sum for the extension and improvement of the White House, and while Mr. Roosevelt and his family were at Oyster Bay these improvements were begun. They continued during the fall, and the President made his temporary home at a private residence in the capital city. Here it was he was treated for his wounded limb, and here he ended the coal strike, as already chronicled.