Tuesday, November 11, 2014

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks #25 ~ William Eickelberg, You're Fired!

First just the facts:

Name: William Eicklberg

Born: 24 Mar 1863, Cölpin, Mecklenburg-Strelitz, Germany

Married: 01 Jan 1884 to Nellie Auflick, Charleston, West Virginia

Died:11 Dec 1934, Denver, Colorado [Find A Grave memorial]

Imaging discovering that your great-great grandfather had been fired from his job. Not only that, but it was splashed across the pages of several newspapers. It was a little shocking to read, in bold type at the top of page 3 in The Denver Rocky Mountain News, “EICKELBEG FIRED.” So, how did he end up being publicly dismissed from his job? Let’s start with a little background.

The Eickelberg family arrived in the United States on September 20, 1865 just as the Civil War was ending. The family landed at Castle Garden, New York and shortly made their way to southern Ohio. At 2 ½ William was probably wide-eyed at all the new sights.

At the time of the 1870 federal census, the family is living in the small town of Minersville, in Meigs County, Ohio. As the name implies, mining (of both coal and salt) plays a central role in the economy of this area of Meigs County. In that 1870 census William’s father is listed as a “salt maker” while in 1880 both William, now 17, and his father are listed as “common laborer.” There is no evidence here that either of the Eickelbergs worked in the mines, but certainly mining was all around. It’s possible that one or both did spend some time underground.

When William married on January 1, 1884 his bride, Nellie (Mary Ellen) Auflick, was from a mining family living in nearby Sutton. The Auflicks were already in Meigs County in 1860 when we find Nellie’s father Thomas listed as a “coal digger.”

William and Nellie’s first child was born in 1885 in Carbon, Indiana; a city which was founded by the Carbon Block Coal Company. Once again, coal-mining and the Eickelbergs seem to go together. Later that same year, the family had moved to Breckinridge, Colorado, where William worked in the mining business. From there, the family moved to Lafayette, Colorado, another mining town, where they operated a rooming house, probably for coal miners.

Clearly William has been around coal mining virtually his entire life. I don’t yet know when he became deputy state mine inspector, but I did find a number of snippets in the local papers mentioning his activities in the 1890s.

From page 2 of The Boulder Daily Camera on May 8, 1894:

William Eickelberg, deputy state coal mine inspector, is in the city today, accompanied by D.E. Davis of Lafayette. Mr. Eickelberg’s present trip is made in his official capacity in the pursuit of which he has become recognized as a most conscientious and exacting official. It is said that the coal mines of Colorado were never so thoroughly equipped with everything in the line of preventives of injury and accidents to the operatives as at the present time. Boulder county has just reason to felicitate itself upon the fact that much of this is due to its own representative, Mr. Eickelberg, in the office of state inspector. 

This certainly does not sound like a man on the verge of being fired, does it? Yet just a few short months later, on Thursday, August 23, 1894 his firing is announced in The Denver Rocky Mountain News. We read that the William was “endeavoring to undermine his superior…” It further discusses how he was not working “in harmony” with the Chief Inspector, D. J. Reed because William felt that he should have been appointed Chief.

 It appears that the real issue, however, is a battle of wills between Chief Inspector Reed and the governor of Colorado, Davis Hanson Waite. According to Mr. Reed, Governor Waite had appointed Eickelberg as his assistant and he, Reed, “…was not consulted in the matter at all.” There are reported threats by the Governor to fire Reed and counter claims by Reed that the Governor does not have that power.

So, was William just a disgruntled employee upset that he was not given the top job or is he somehow a pawn in a larger political battle? If I had to guess, I’d say probably a little of both.

Fortunately The Denver Rocky Mountain News was not the only newspaper to comment on the event. The Boulder Daily Camera reported on the firing in this way:

Coal Mine Inspector Reed has fired his deputy William Eickelberg of Lafayette. There has been no love between the men from the first, the deputy having the governor's favor which was denied to the inspector, himself. Some reforms are said to have been accomplished by these gentlemen and miners in this section feel especially kind toward Mr. Eickelberg, by whose order the coal mines have been placed in such condition that the men can work with some degree of comfort and risk of loss of life and limb has been rendered nominal. Reed knows very little about this business but his deputy was a well equipped official from the start and should have been inspector.

William Eickelberg - left
It would appear that William Eickelberg had the favor of the “common man” in this episode of his life. A few months after this affair, he would pen an impassioned letter to the newspaper urging his, “fellow miners and laborers the necessity of united action on Nov. 6th.” He is asking them to be sure and vote for the Populist Party. Governor Waite had been elected from this party in 1893 and the governor appears to have been a supporter of unions as well as women’s suffrage.

 How interesting to find out that great-great-grandpa was a rabble-rouser!