Celebrating Labor Day in 1890, The Butchers’ Picnic

Labor Day in 1890 was celebrated on Monday, September 1, although some events associated with the day were celebrated several days before. One-a butchers’ picnic held at Loveland, Iowa, on Sunday-attracted the attention of the Omaha Daily Bee, partly because of the role played by the butchers of Omaha and South Omaha in what the Bee on September 2 described as a rowdy event.

The Bee noted that the picnic, sponsored by the butchers of Council Bluffs, had included an invitation to the butchers of Omaha and South Omaha to participate. “The South Omaha butchers conceived the idea that it would be fun to stay away and play a practical joke on their Council Bluffs brethren, . . . They sent a defiant challenge to the Missouri Valley boys [only four miles from the picnic site at Loveland] to be on hand with all of their best fighters for South Omaha was coming up there to clean out all western Iowa.”

Missouri Valley butchers sent a large contingent to the picnic to defend their honor against Omaha and South Omaha. Between six hundred and one thousand people attended. “Not one of the South Omaha men who had sent the defiant challenge was present. They relied upon THE BEE to tell them all about the fun they created. The Missouri Valley fellows were there for business, and they seemed anxious to get to work as soon as possible.

“The first exciting incident occurred when the two immense wagon loads of beer [fifty kegs, according to the Bee] were hauled up from the depot to the picnic grounds. It was 11:30 when the beer arrived on the grounds. The wagons passed in front of a little church where services were being held. The male part of the congregation began to drop out in ones and twos, and by the time the kegs reached the picnic grounds, . . . the congregation consisted of the preacher and a few women.

“The men had surrounded the beer wagons. The spigots were driven into half a dozen of the kegs, when the horrible discovery was made that there were no glasses on the grounds. An hour elapsed before the tumblers came, and by that time the impromptu beer booth that had been hastily erected was surrounded by a crowd of men that resembled a swarm of bees. When the glasses began to circulate the fighting commenced. . . . The real battle did not begin until after 2 o’clock when the [Missouri] Valley crowds grew tired waiting for the appearance of the men who had challenged them,” and vented their anger by pummeling anyone within range.

Fortunately, said the Bee, “[t]here was only one pistol in the entire crowd, and that was snapped twice and found to be unloaded and was thrown into the river. Nobody was seriously hurt, but blood flowed like beer. . . . The picnic altogether was the most remarkable event that has transpired for many years, and it is probable that if the South Omaha contingent had put in an appearance there would have been work for the coroner.”


John Nelson’s photograph depicts a butcher and his helpers inside a butcher shop. NSHS RG3542.PH:095-21


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