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Copyright 1996-2004
Kevin E. Musser


The Dally-Jane Murders in Painesdale
during the Copper Strike of 1913-14
(A personal account)

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The Michigan National Guard, camped at Calumet 1913 during the copper strike,
was called to Painesdale on more than one occasion. (KEMusser Collection)

Forward by: Kevin E. Musser

For anyone interested in the Michigan Copper strike of 1913-14 you would know of the tragedy at the Italian Hall in Calumet, where 73 people, mainly children, died as a result of someone yelling "fire" during a Christmas party. You may have even heard of the murders of Steve Putrich and Alois Tigan who were murdered, after an incident of trespassing across Copper Range property, at their home near Painesdale, known as the "Seeberville Murders".

Lesser known are the Dally-Jane murders in Painesdale that took three lives and injured another during the strike.

Calumet born and wandering miners, John Huhta and his brother were tried and convicted for their part in a triple murder that occurred at the boarding house of Thomas Dally on Baltic Street in Painesdale at 1:55am, December 7th 1913. Killed by random rifle shots fired into their home from the woods on the outskirts of Painesdale were brothers, Arthur and Harry Jane and boarding house operator Thomas Dally.

cabutton.jpg (6702 bytes)Trying to operate the Champion Mine during the strike was risky enough, working in the mine as a "scab" was about as risky as it gets. The English miners who lived at the boarding house were trying to work during the strike and therefore were a target for the Western Federation of Miners. This event added to the dislike of the union by the "Citizens' Alliance" and the Mining Gazette headline shouted the next day "FOREIGN AGITATORS MUST BE DRIVEN FROM DISTRICT AT ONCE". Further stating "It took cold blooded murder to arouse citizens of Houghton and Keweenaw Counties to a sense of their duty in the matter of taking upon themselves the task of ridding the Copper Country of agitators who have held the district in a reign of terror since July 23". Further stating on December 8th, "the people of Painesdale and all the south range towns are in a white heat of indignation over the murder, and all kinds of threats are publicly expressed".

Attached to the Dally's home was the house of Adna Nicholson which was also functioning as a boarding house. The Nicholson house also received fire from the woods, injuring Mary Nicholson, the thirteen year old daughter of Adna.

Daniel Nicholson, grandson of Adna and source of the following story relates:

"The house was on the west end of Baltic Street. The 125th Infantry of the Michigan Nat'l Guard was called in and a guard was posted at Grandfathers house. Those killed were Mr. Thomas Dally, and the James [sic] brothers who had just arrived from England and were due to start work at the mine the following week! My Aunt Mary was wounded in the head and shoulder blade but survived. Two Finnish brothers named Hutta [sic] and an Austrian named Verbanec were responsible. Verbanac escaped but the Hutta [sic] brothers were sentenced to life at Marquette. The house (images available in the Mining Gazette Archives) took something like 30 rounds of 30/30 soft nose. My Father was four years old at the time, but never forgot the incident. My Aunt Mary (now deceased) supplied all the times and dates. My Grandfather moved everybody to Detroit sometime in the 20's. I think that the whole thing stemmed from the fact that the James Brothers were scabs, and the union people didn't like it. I wanted to set things straight as I have a bad heart, my father is dead, and only my son is carrying the Nicholson name. My father had been trying to get an article published before he died in 1987. I have taken up his crusade to get people to notice as this meant a lot to him."

The following story, recollected by Kenneth Nicholson, son of Adna, four years old at the time of the murder, was slightly edited to change the last names to Jane instead of James and Huhta instead of Hutta, the names used by Mr. Nicholson in his original story. A few additional lines were removed as they distracted the reader from the main story.

This publication, although not in Readers Digest as was the hope of Kenneth Nicholson, was the wish of Daniel Nicholson, the grandson of Adna Nicholson and son of Kenneth Nicholson, who posted a note on my CopperRange.org discussion board one day to bring some attention to this tragedy. It sparked my interest as I have long enjoyed Arthur Thurner's "Rebels on the Range" and it got me re-reading it again for about the 5th time. Daniel points out that Mr. Thurner is incorrect on page 120 of his book where he states Eldred Nicholson was the owner of the attached boarding house, when it was indeed Adna Nicholson. Daniel now lives in the Philippines and our exchanges of email and documents brought this story to you. Although not a polished manuscript by any means, it does, however, shed light on the life, and most importantly, the feelings of the average working miner during a time when they had few rights and were treated more like equipment than people.

Hope you enjoy it.                                                                                                                KEMusser May 2004

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Highland Street in Painesdale,
about the time of the Dally-Jane murders
(KEMusser Collection)

Under Fire

By Kenneth A. Nicholson

The time was Sunday morning, 1:55am, December 7, 1913. The place was Painesdale, Michigan. Painesdale is located in the southeast section of Houghton County. It was named for one of the Boston "copper Barons". In 1913 there were about 5000 residents; most of the homes were owned by the Copper Range Mining Company.

Our family had returned from a Christmas play and concert at the Methodist Church, about two miles away, in the center of the town. Our neighbors, who lived in the other half of our double house, had been attending the same church gathering. For three of them, it was their last church meeting.

We lived in a three-story "double house". The other half of the house was occupied by Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Dally. The Dally's ran a "Cousin Jack" (Cornish) boarding house. Besides the Dally's there were five boarders. Two of these, the Jane brothers, had just arrived from England the previous week. They were scheduled to start work in the mines on the following Monday.

The Jane brothers were sleeping in a double bed on the third floor. Mr. and Mrs. Dally slept in a room on the first floor, at the front of the house. Normally it would have been used as a parlor.

My father, Adna Nicholson, my mother, Ada, and my two-year old sister, Phyllis, were sleeping in a double bed in a room on the second floor. In this same room, I was sleeping on an iron cot, which had drop sides. In an adjacent bedroom slept my three sisters, Rozanne (eleven), Mary (thirteen) and Marcia (sixteen).

Our house, on the west end of Baltic street, was the last house on the street. Beyond that, about 50 yards in distance, was a low, wooded hill.

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North end of Painesdale (B Location)

Early that Sunday morning, all Hell broke loose! It seemed as though all of the windows in the house were breaking, at once! We could hear continuous volleys of rifle shots! The close range made the shots deafening. We could hear the bullets ripping through the wooded house, and splinters were flying everywhere! We were Under Fire! The shots were coming from that wooded hill, overlooking our house.

I remember my father yelling at me, "Lie down". Later, bullet holes were found in the wall above and below where I had been lying, about twelve inches apart.

Along with the noise of the shots from the high-powered deer rifles, screams and yells were coming from the boarding house next door. My sisters were all crying. I guess I was too scared to cry.

When the firing stopped, we found my sister, Mary, had been wounded twice. A grazing shot had hit her on the head, a more serious wound was found in her shoulder blade. Bullets had passed through the pillow under her head, and under the pillow of my sister, Marcia's head. Marcia and Rozanne were not harmed - physically.

On the other side of the house, the situation was much more serious. Mrs. Dally was in a state of hysteria. Her husband was seriously wounded in the head. Mrs. Dally, who normally would have been in bed alongside her husband, had been sitting up, to wait for one of her boarders who was working overtime at the mine.

On the third floor, the Jane brothers, sleeping alongside each other, were killed instantly - by the same bullet, which passed through their heads. Mr. Dally died of his head wound that same morning at 5am.

My mother, a "gutsy" practical nurse, probed for the bullet in my sister Mary's shoulder. She extracted it, then placed temporary dressings on the wound and on the head wound. My father set out, alone and on foot, to get help. The only telephone available was at Siller's Hotel and saloon, located a mile away. He called the mine doctor at the mine's medical facility. The dispensary was about a mile from the hotel. The doctor there hitched up his horse to his buggy, picked up my father at the hotel, and galloped to our house.

Checking first on Mr. Dally, the doctor found that nothing could be done for him. He then came to our house. There, in an unforgettable scene, using the flickering glow of a kerosene lamp, he dressed my sister Mary's wounds.

There was no more sleep that night. When the sheriff and deputies arrived, they searched the hill from where the firing had come. They determined that at least two, and possibly, three persons had done the shooting. Resting their rifles on the trunk of a fallen tree, they had riddled the house with bullets, firing at least thirty-two shots. They had used soft nose 30-30 bullets.

The National Guard was called out. A guard was posted at our house around the clock. Ensuing arrests were made. Two Finnish immigrant brothers named Huhta, and an Austrian named Verbanac, were charged with first degree murder in connection with the shooting. Later, Verbanac escaped from custody and was never recaptured. thus, only two men, the Huhta brothers, were brought to trial at the Houghton County Court of Michigan. They were sentenced to life imprisonment in Marquette Michigan State Prison, one of the toughest prisons in the country, then as now. It was the poor-man's version of Alcatraz.

This act of terrorism, brought on by an ongoing strike at that time, succeeded in losing for the strikers whatever public support they might have had. The bitterness caused by the strike lingered for a while. The strike was eventually settled, however, nobody won. I learned by this a great bit of wisdom - "Nobody is ever all right, or all wrong". Eventually, tempered by that ancient healer, time, the bitter feelings were cast off, and second generation teens once again dated and married. They became "just people" in this vast melting pot, the United States.

Why Did This Happen?

Painesdale, Michigan, had a kind of caste system, or "pecking order". The "top dog" was the mining Superintendent. He was a graduate mining engineer. He reported directly to top management in Boston. He lived on a spacious estate, with a mansion to match. Close by, the lower management lived on a street known as "the Hill". These doctors and engineering staff people lived the "good life". Down farther in the town resided the "mining captains" and supervisors of various surface operations. Still a bit farther from the center of town lived the assistant supervisors and school teachers.

The Copper Range Mining Company enjoyed better working and living conditions than did the other mines of the Keweenaw Peninsula of Michigan in 1913. However, a fledgling labor union, the International Workers of the World, was flexing its muscles. Known as the I.W.W., they organized most of the miners in the "Copper Country". These miners were immigrant Finns, Austrians, Italians, Poles, and Englishmen. Interestingly enough, the English were the first experienced underground, hard rock miners in this country.

These English miners, or "Cousinjacks", as they were called, came from Cornwall, England. Tin and iron ore had been mined in underground mines of England for centuries. Although the English were immigrants themselves, they regarded all other ethnic people as foreigners. Only the English were regarded as skilled miners; they were the teachers; they were the supervisors. All other were but laborers, doing tedious and back-breaking work. All others were unskilled, and uneducated, speaking only broken English at best.

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"Cousin Jacks" working the Baltic Lode
(KEMusser Collection)

This atmosphere provided a fertile ground in which to plant the seed of "Unionism". The foreigners were in the majority. One man, one vote- this was the way. The democratic system of the United States mandated that the majority make the decision, regardless of right or wrong. And so, the entire Copper Country was organized and a strike was "called". Only the English speaking miners did not go on strike - they "scabbed".

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Copper Country Miners (KEMusser Collection)

In retrospect, I think the wide gap between the ethnic groups and the English was caused by religious differences. Although they all shared the dangers and hardships of underground work, their commonality ended there. The English were for the most part Methodist and Anglicans. The Finns attended the Finnish Lutheran Church. The Austrians included Serbs, Croats and Slavs; they, together with the Polish and Italians, attended the Catholic Church, and enjoyed a semblance of bonding, therein.

The English and the other ethnic groups did not mingle socially. My family was but marginally accepted by the English. My mother was Irish, and my father was Scottish and English. Although we were Anglicans, we attended the Methodist Church and that was our bond.

Not long after the fatal events of December 7, 1913, mine management moved Mrs. Dally out of the house were the shooting occurred. We were not so fortunate. It took seven months of continual harassment of the mine management by my mother, before we were given another house in which to live. In July we moved to a residence on the edge of where the "English people" lived. This helped to ease some of the memories of that tragedy. But, seventy years later, I still experience flashbacks. I can still picture in my mind vivid scenes from that night of terror, when we were -
                                                                             Under Fire

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A miners parade in Hancock during the strike
(KEMusser Collection)

If you found this story of interest you might visit these other
Michigan Copper Mining Strike resources on the Internet and in print:

The Michigan Copper Strike of 1913 (History Today)

Chuck Voelker's Copper Strike of 1913-14 pages, including the Italian Hall

An Italian Hall WebPages by Thomas James Katona


Western Federation of Miners

1913 Massacre, The Movie

The Italian Hall Disaster, Calumet, Michigan

Rebels on the Range, By Arthur W. Thurner (Available for purchase at Copper World, most detailed and available account of the strike ever printed, a must for anyone interested in the strike or interested in Copper Country history)