Almost Yesterday: The Flat River Riot of 1917
It seems like Almost Yesterday that the lead mining area of Southeast Missouri was caught up in a tense situation known as the “Flat River Riot.”
From the early decades of the 18th century the lead of St. Francois County was of national importance. This was especially true when America was at war.
The greatest demand for lead came in the early 20th century and during World War I, when approximately 70% of the national lead supply came from the Missouri “Lead Belt.” Much of the labor for the new American industry came from large numbers of immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe. Many of these immigrants came to St. Louis, and into Missouri’s mining regions. Many of the immigrants were brought in by the mine companies, others lured by the promise of a new life in a new land.Many of these alien miners were from countries that America went to war with in April of 1917, thus increasing tension with miners who were U. S. citizens. The alien miners were also not subject to the draft and military service as the citizen miners were, -adding to the hostility.
On July 13, 1917, a fight erupted between American citizen miners and alien miners, evolving into a “riot.” In two days approximately 1,000 to 1,500 of the alien miners were forcibly driven from the area. Units of the Missouri National Guard and the U. S. Army moved in to establish order, and remained in place until the end of the war.
Many of the alien miners were permitted back into the area if they became U. S. citizens, but many left and did not return.
It was July of 1917, but it seems like almost yesterday.