On this day: 1886 Bay View Massacre remembered

On this day: 1886 Bay View Massacre remembered
Posted at 2:08 PM, May 05, 2016

On May 5th, 1886, thousands of Milwaukee workers marched toward the Bay View Rolling Mills. Seven of them were marching to their death.

Fighting for an 8-hour workday, the tension had been growing for days. According to a 1910 Milwaukee Free Press article, a labor parade was held three days prior, followed by a picnic at the Milwaukee Garden where things were quiet and peaceful.

However, the Wisconsin National Guard was already making inquiries to the Sheriff of Milwaukee as to the need for militia for the morning of the parade. The sheriff didn't find it necessary, but that would change. 

Former Mayor Emil Wallber spoke with the Free Press, recalling the events that led up to that day.

"Delegations of merchants called on Governor Jeremiah Rusk, requesting him to immediately call out all of the available militia in Wisconsin, they (the merchants) anticipating trouble, and looking for the state to protect their property in case of rioting."  

However, according to the Free Press, the mayor, along with the sheriff and the police chief, saw no need for troops.

"The next morning another meeting was called and I was informed that Gov. Rusk had ordered out several companies of militia," said Wallber. "During the day reports came in thick and fast that in all parts of the city uprisings were taking place and that large bodies of laboring men were marching toward the manufacturing plants intent on rioting and destruction." 

According to the Wisconsin Labor History Society, strikes were going on all over the city. Around 1,500 people, including women and children, had started marching towards the Bay View Rolling Mills, the largest manufacturer in the city. The Wisconsin National Guard was waiting for them, and had a standing order from the governor: do whatever possible to keep the property of the Mill and the lives of the militia men safe. 

According to The Story of Bay View, by Bernhard C. Korn, (quoted from the Milwaukee Sentinel on May 6th, 1886), Col. George P. Traeumer told his men:  "Don't lose your heard but  wait for the order to fire before you pull a trigger.  And when you do fire, take an aim, pick out your man and kill him."

Seven unarmed workers were killed, including one 13-year-old boy. 

Starting in 1986, the Bay View Historical society has held an Anniversary Commemoration at the site of the State Historical Marker near S. Superior St. and E. Russell Ave.