E-text prepared by Curtis A. Weyant
The Centralia Conspiracy
By Ralph Chaplin
A Tongue of Flame
The martyr cannot be dishonored. Every lash inflicted is a tongue of flame; every prison a more illustrious abode; every burned book or house enlightens the world; every suppressed or expunged word reverberates through the earth from side to side. The minds of men are at last aroused; reason looks out and justifies her own, and malice finds all her work is ruin. It is the whipper who is whipped and the tyrant who is undone.—Emerson.
Murder or Self-Defense?
This booklet is not an apology for murder. It is an honest effort to unravel the tangled mesh of circumstances that led up to the Armistice Day tragedy in Centralia, Washington. The writer is one of those who believe that the taking of human life is justifiable only in self-defense. Even then the act is a horrible reversion to the brute—to the low plane of savagery. Civilization, to be worthy of the name, must afford other methods of settling human differences than those of blood letting.
The nation was shocked on November 11, 1919, to read of the killing of four American Legion men by members of the Industrial Workers of the World in Centralia. The capitalist newspapers announced to the world that these unoffending paraders were killed in cold blood—that they were murdered from ambush without provocation of any kind. If the author were convinced that there was even a slight possibility of this being true, he would not raise his voice to defend the perpetrators of such a cowardly crime.
But there are two sides to every question and perhaps the newspapers presented only one of these. Dr. Frank Bickford, an ex-service man who participated in the affair, testified at the coroner's inquest that the Legion men were attempting to raid the union hall when they were killed. Sworn testimony of various eyewitnesses has revealed the fact that some of the "unoffending paraders" carried coils of rope and that others were armed with such weapons as would work the demolition of the hall and bodily injury to its occupants. These things throw an entirely different light on the subject. If this is true it means that the union loggers fired only in self-defense and not with the intention of committing wanton and malicious murder as has been stated. Now, as at least two of the union men who did the shooting were ex-soldiers, it appears that the tragedy must have resulted from something more than a mere quarrel between loggers and soldiers. There must be something back of it all that the public generally doesn't know about.
There is only one body of men in the Northwest who would hate a union hall enough to have it raided—the lumber "interests." And now we get at the kernel of the matter, which is the fact that the affair was the outgrowth of a struggle between the lumber trust and its employees—between Organized Capital and Organized Labor.
A Labor Case
And so, after all, the famous trial at Montesano was not a murder trial but a labor trial in the strict sense of the word. Under the law, it must be remembered, a man is not committing murder in defending his life and property from the felonious assault of a mob bent on killing and destruction. There is no doubt whatever but what the lumber trust had plotted to "make an example" of the loggers and destroy their hall on this occasion. And this was not the first time that such atrocities had been attempted and actually committed. Isn't it peculiar that, out of many similar raids, you only heard of the one where the men defended themselves? Self-preservation is the first law of nature, but the preservation of its holy profits is the first law of the lumber trust. The organized lumber workers were considered a menace to the super-prosperity of a few profiteers—hence the attempted raid and the subsequent killing.
What is more significant is the fact the raid had been carefully planned weeks in advance. There is a great deal of evidence to prove this point.
There is no question that the whole affair was the outcome of a struggle—a class struggle, if you please—between the union loggers and the lumber interests; the former seeking to organize the workers in the woods and the latter fighting this movement with all the means at its disposal.
In this light the Centralia affair does not appear as an isolated incident but rather an incident in an eventful industrial conflict, little known and less understood, between the lumber barons and loggers of the Pacific Northwest. This viewpoint will place Centralia in its proper perspective and enable one to trace the tragedy back to the circumstances and conditions that gave it birth.
But was there a conspiracy on the part of the lumber interests to commit murder and violence in an effort to drive organized labor from its domain? Weeks of patient investigating in and around the scene or the occurrence has convinced the present writer that such a conspiracy has existed. A considerable amount of startling evidence has been unearthed that has hitherto been suppressed. If you care to consider Labor's version of this unfortunate incident you are urged to read the following truthful account of this almost unbelievable piece of mediaeval intrigue and brutality.
The facts will speak for themselves. Credit them or not, but read!
The Forests of the Northwest
The Pacific Northwest is world famed for its timber. The first white explorers to set foot upon its fertile soil were awed by the magnitude and grandeur of its boundless stretches of virgin forests. Nature has never endowed any section of our fair world with such an immensity of kingly trees. Towering into the sky to unthinkable heights, they stand as living monuments to the fecundity of natural life. Imagine, if you can, the vast wide region of the West coast, hills, slopes and valleys, covered with millions of fir, spruce and cedar trees, raising their verdant crests a hundred, two hundred or two hundred and fifty feet into the air.
When Columbus first landed on the uncharted continent these trees were already ancient. There they stood, straight and majestic with green and foam-flecked streams purling here and there at their feet, crowning the rugged landscape with superlative beauty, overtopped only by the snow-capped mountains—waiting for the hand of man to put them to the multitudinous uses of modern civilization. Imagine, if you can, the first explorer, gazing awe-stricken down those "calm cathedral isles," wondering at the lavish bounty of our Mother Earth in supplying her children with such inexhaustible resources.
But little could the first explorer know that the criminal clutch of Greed was soon to seize these mighty forests, guard them from the human race with bayonets, hangman's ropes and legal statutes; and use them, robber-baron like, to exact unimaginable tribute from the men and women of the world who need them. Little did the first explorer dream that the day would come when individuals would claim private ownership of that which prolific nature had travailed through centuries to bestow upon mankind.
But that day has come and with it the struggle between master and man that was to result in Centralia—or possibly many Centralias.
Lumber—A Basic Industry
It seems the most logical thing in the world to believe that the natural resources of the Earth, upon which the race depends for food, clothing and shelter, should be owned collectively by the race instead of being the private property of a few social parasites. It seems that reason would preclude the possibility of any other arrangement, and that it would be considered as absurd for individuals to lay claim to forests, mines, railroads and factories as it would be for individuals to lay claim to the ownership of the sunlight that warms us or to the air we breathe. But the poor human race, in its bungling efforts to learn how to live in our beautiful world, appears destined to find out by bitter experience that the private ownership of the means of life is both criminal and disastrous.
Lumber is one of the basic industries—one of the industries mankind never could have done without. The whole structure of what we call civilization is built upon wooden timbers, ax-hewn or machine finished as the case may be. Without the product of the forests humanity would never have learned the use of fire, the primitive bow and arrow or the bulging galleys of ancient commerce. Without the firm and fibrous flesh of the mighty monarchs of the forest men might never have had barges for fishing or weapons for the chase; they would not have had carts for their oxen or kilns for the fashioning of pottery; they would not have had dwellings, temples or cities; they would not have had furniture nor fittings nor roofs above their heads. Wood is one of the most primitive and indispensable of human necessities. Without its use we would still be groping in the gloom and misery of early savagery, suffering from the cold of outer space and defenseless in the midst of a harsh and hostile environment.
From Pioneer to Parasite
So it happened that the first pioneers in the northern were forced to bare their arms and match their strength with the wooded wilderness. At first the subjugation of the forests was a social effort. The lives and future prosperity of the settlers must be made secure from the raids of the Indians and the inclemency of the elements. Manfully did these men labor until their work was done. But this period did not last long, for the tide of emigration was sweeping westward over the sun-baked prairies to the promised land in the golden West.
Towns sprang up like magic, new trees were felled, sawmills erected and huge logs in ever increasing numbers were driven down the foaming torrents each year at spring time. The country was new, the market for lumber constantly growing and expanding. But the monopolist was unknown and the lynch-mobs of the lumber trust still sleeping in the womb of the Future. So passed the not unhappy period when opportunity was open to everyone, when freedom was dear to the hearts of all. It was at this time that the spirit of real Americanism was born, when the clean, sturdy name "America" spelled freedom, justice and independence. Patriotism in these days was not a mask for profiteers and murderers were not permitted to hide their bloody hands in the folds of their nation's flag.
But modern capitalism was creeping like a black curse upon the land. Stealing, coercing, cajoling, defrauding, it spread from its plague-center in Wall St., leaving misery, class antagonism and resentment in its trial. The old free America of our fathers was undergoing a profound change. Equality of opportunity was doomed. A new social alignment was being created. Monopoly was loosed upon the land. Fabulous fortunes were being made as wealth was becoming centered into fewer and fewer hands. Modern capitalism was entrenching itself for the final and inevitable struggle for world domination. In due time the social parasites of the East, foreseeing that the forests of Maine, Michigan and Wisconsin could not last forever, began to look to the woods of the Northwest with covetous eyes.
Stealing the People's Forest Land
The history of the acquisition of the forests of Washington, Montana, Idaho, Oregon and California is a long, sordid story of thinly veiled robbery and intrigue. The methods of the lumber barons in invading and seizing its "holdings" did not differ greatly, however, from those of the steel and oil kings, the railroad magnates or any of the other industrial potentates who acquired great wealth by pilfering America and peonizing its people. The whole sorry proceeding was disgraceful, high-handed and treacherous, and only made possible by reason of the blindness of the generous American people, drugged with the vanishing hope of "success" and too confident of the continued possession of its blood-bought liberties. And do the lumber barons were unhindered in their infamous work of debauchery, bribery, murder and brazen fraud.
As a result the monopoly of the Northwestern woods became an established fact. The lumber trust came into "its own." The new social alignment was complete, with the idle, absentee landlord at one end and the migratory and possessionless lumber jack at the other. The parasites had appropriated to themselves the standing timber of the Northwest; but the brawny logger whose labor had made possible the development of the industry was given, as his share of the spoils, a crumby "bindle" and a rebellious heart. The masters had gained undisputed control of the timber of the country, three quarters of which is located in the Northwest; but the workers who felled the trees, drove the logs, dressed, finished and loaded the lumber were left in the state of helpless dependency from which they could only extricate themselves by means of organization. And it is this effort to form a union and establish union headquarters that led to the tragedy at Centralia.
The lumber barons had not only achieved a monopoly of the woods but a perfect feudal domination of the woods as well. Within their domain banks, ships, railways and mills bore their private insignia-and politicians, Employers' Associations, preachers, newspapers, fraternal orders and judges and gun-men were always at their beck and call. The power they wield is tremendous and their profits would ransom a kingdom. Naturally they did not intend to permit either power or profits to be menaced by a mass of weather-beaten slaves in stag shirts and overalls. And so the struggle waxed fiercer just as the lumberjack learned to contend successfully for living conditions and adequate remuneration. It was the old, old conflict of human rights against property rights. Let us see how they compared in strength.
The Triumph of Monopoly
The following extract from a document entitled "The Lumber Industry," by the Honorable Herbert Knox Smith and published by the U.S. Department of Commerce (Bureau of Corporations) will give some idea of the holdings and influence of the lumber trust:
"Ten monopoly groups, aggregating only one thousand, eight hundred and two holders, monopolized one thousand, two hundred and eight billion eight hundred million (1,208,800,000,000) board feet of standing timber—each a foot square and an inch thick. These figures are so stupendous that they are meaningless without a hackneyed device to bring their meaning home. These one thousand, eight hundred and two timber business monopolists held enough standing timber; an indispensable natural resource, to yield the planks necessary (over and above manufacturing wastage) to make a floating bridge more than two feet thick and more than five miles wide from New York to Liverpool. It would supply one inch planks for a roof over France, Germany and Italy. It would build a fence eleven miles high along our entire coast line. All monopolized by one thousand, eight hundred and two holders, or interests more or less interlocked. One of those interests—a grant of only three holders—monopolized at one time two hundred and thirty-seven billion, five hundred million (237,500,000,000) feet which would make a column one foot square and three million miles high. Although controlled by only three holders, that interest comprised over eight percent of all the standing timber in the United States at that time."
The above illuminating figures, quoted from "The I.W.A. in the Lumber Industry," by James Rowan, will give some idea of the magnitude and power of the lumber trust.
Opposing this colossal aggregation of wealth and cussedness were the thousands of hard-driven and exploited lumberworkers in the woods and sawmills. These had neither wealth nor influence—nothing but their hard, bare hands and a growing sense of solidarity. And the masters of the forests were more afraid of this solidarity than anything else in the world—and they fought it more bitterly, as events will show. Centralia is only one of the incidents of this struggle between owner and worker. But let us see what this hated and indispensable logger-the productive and human basis of the lumber industry, the man who made all these things possible, is like.
The Human Element—"The Timber Beast"
Lumber workers are, by nature of their employment, divided into two categories—the saw-mill hand and the logger. The former, like his brothers in the Eastern factories, is an indoor type while the latter is essentially a man of the open air. Both types are necessary to the production of finished lumber, and to both union organization is an imperative necessity.
Sawmill work is machine work—rapid, tedious and often dangerous. There is the uninteresting repetition of the same act of motions day in and day out. The sights, sounds and smells of the mill are never varied. The fact that the mill is permanently located tends to keep mill workers grouped about the place of their employment. Many of them, especially in the shingle mills, have lost fingers or hands in feeding the lumber to the screaming saws. It has been estimated that fully a half of these men are married and remain settled in the mill communities. The other half, however, are not nearly so migratory as the lumberjack. Sawmill workers are not the "rough-necks" of the industry. They are of the more conservative "home-guard" element and characterized by the psychology of all factory workers.
The logger, on the other hand, (and it is with him our narrative is chiefly concerned), is accustomed to hard and hazardous work in the open woods. His occupation makes him of necessity migratory. The camp, following the uncut timber from place to place, makes it impossible for him to acquire a family and settle down. Scarcely one out of ten has ever dared assume the responsibility of matrimony. The necessity of shipping from a central point in going from one job to another usually forces a migratory existence upon the lumberjack in spite of his best intentions to live otherwise.
What Is a Casual Laborer?
The problem of the logger is that of the casual laborer in general. Broadly speaking, there are three distinct classes of casual laborers: First, the "harvest stiff" of the middle West who follows the ripening crops from Kansas to the Dakotas, finding winter employment in the North, Middle Western woods, in construction camps or on the ice fields. Then there is the harvest worker of "the Coast" who garners the fruit, hops and grain, and does the canning of California, Washington and Oregon, finding out-of-season employment wherever possible. Finally there is the Northwestern logger, whose work, unlike that of the Middle Western "jack" is not seasonal, but who is compelled nevertheless to remain migratory. As a rule, however, his habitat is confined, according to preference or force of circumstances, to either the "long log" country of Western Washington and Oregon as well as California, or to the "short log" country of Eastern Washington and Oregon, Northern Idaho and Western Montana. Minnesota, Michigan, and Wisconsin are in what is called the "short log" region.
As a rule the logger of the Northwest follows the woods to the exclusion of all other employment. He is militantly a lumberjack and is inclined to be a trifle "patriotic" and disputatious as to the relative importance of his own particular branch of the industry. "Long loggers," for instance, view with a suspicion of disdain the work of "short loggers" and vice versa.
"Lumber-Jack" The Giant Killer
But the lumber-jack is a casual worker and he is the finished product of modern capitalism. He is the perfect proletarian type—possessionless, homeless, and rebellious. He is the reverse side of the gilded medal of present day society. On the one side is the third generation idle rich—arrogant and parasitical, and on the other, the actual producer, economically helpless and denied access to the means of production unless he "beg his lordly fellow worm to give him leave to toil," as Robert Burns has it.
The logger of the Northwest has his faults. He is not any more perfect than the rest of us. The years of degradation and struggle he has endured in the woods have not failed to leave their mark upon him. But, as the wage workers go, he is not the common but the uncommon type both as regards physical strength and cleanliness and mental alertness. He is generous to a fault and has all the qualities Lincoln and Whitman loved in men.
In the first place, whether as faller, rigging man or on the "drive," his work is muscular and out of doors. He must at all times conquer the forest and battle with the elements. There is a tang and adventure to his labor in the impressive solitude of the woods that gives him a steady eye, a strong arm and a clear brain. Being constantly close to the great green heart of Nature, he acquires the dignity and independence of the savage rather than the passive and unresisting submission of the factory worker. The fact that he is free from family ties also tends to make him ready for an industrial frolic or fight at any time. In daily matching his prowess and skill with the products of the earth he feels in a way, that the woods "belong" to him and develops a contempt for the unseen and unknown employers who kindly permit him to enrich them with his labor. He is constantly reminded of the glaring absurdity of the private ownership of natural resources. Instinctively he becomes a rebel against the injustice and contradictions of capitalist society.
Dwarfed to ant-like insignificance by the verdant immensity around him, the logger toils daily with ax, saw and cable. One after another forest giants of dizzy height crash to the earth with a sound like thunder. In a short time they are loaded on flat cars and hurried across the stump-dotted clearing to the river, whence they are dispatched to the noisy, ever-waiting saws at the mill. And always the logger knows in his heart that this is not done that people may have lumber for their needs, but rather that some overfed parasite may first add to his holy dividends. Production for profit always strikes the logger with the full force of objective observation. And is it any wonder, with the process of exploitation thus naked always before his eyes, that he should have been among the very first workers to challenge the flimsy title of the lumber barons to the private ownership of the woods?
The Factory Worker and the Lumber-Jack
Without wishing to disparage the ultimate worth of either; it might be well to contrast for a moment the factory worker of the East with the lumber-jack of the Pacific Northwest. To the factory hand the master's claim to the exclusive title of the means of production is not so evidently absurd. Around him are huge, smoking buildings filled with roaring machinery—all man-made. As a rule he simply takes for granted that his employers—whoever they are—own these just as he himself owns, for instance, his pipe or his furniture. Only when he learns, from thoughtful observation or study, that such things are the appropriated products of the labor of himself and his kind, does the truth dawn upon him that labor produces all and is entitled to its own.
It must be admitted that factory life tends to dispirit and cow the workers who spend their lives in the gloomy confines of the modern mill or shop. Obedient to the shrill whistle they pour out of their clustered grey dwellings in the early morning. Out of the labor ghettos they swarm and into their dismal slave-pens. Then the long monotonous, daily "grind," and home again to repeat the identical proceeding on the following day. Almost always, tired, trained to harsh discipline or content with low comfort; they are all too liable to feel that capitalism is invincibly colossal and that the possibility of a better day is hopelessly remote. Most of them are unacquainted with their neighbors. They live in small family or boarding house units and, having no common meeting place, realize only with difficulty the mighty potency of their vast numbers. To them organization appears desirable at times but unattainable. The dickering conservatism of craft unionism appeals to their cautious natures. They act only en masse, under awful compulsion and then their release of repressed slave emotion is sudden and terrible.
Not so with the weather-tanned husky of the Northwestern woods. His job life is a group life. He walks to his daily task with his fellow workers. He is seldom employed for long away from them. At a common table he eats with them, and they all sleep in common bunk houses. The trees themselves teach him to scorn his master's adventitious claim to exclusive ownership. The circumstances of his daily occupation show him the need of class solidarity. His strong body clamours constantly for the sweetness and comforts of life that are denied him, his alert brain urges him to organize and his independent spirit gives him the courage and tenacity to achieve his aims. The union hall is often his only home and the One Big Union his best-beloved. He is fond of reading and discussion. He resents industrial slavery as an insult. He resented filth, overwork and poverty, he resented being made to carry his own bundle of blankets from job to job; he gritted his teeth together and fought until he had ground these obnoxious things under his iron-caulked heel. The lumber trust hated him just in proportion as he gained and used his industrial power; but neither curses, promises nor blows could make him budge. He knew what he wanted and he knew how to get what he wanted. And his boss didn't like it very well.
The lumber-jack is secretive and not given to expressed emotion—excepting in his union songs. The bosses don't like his songs either. But the logger isn't worried a bit. Working away in the woods every day, or in his bunk at night, he dreams his dream of the world as he thinks it should be—that "wild wobbly dream" that every passing day brings closer to realization—and he wants all who work around him to share his vision and his determination to win so that all will be ready and worthy to live in the New Day that is dawning.
In a word the Northwestern lumber-jack was too human and too stubborn ever to repudiate his red-blooded manhood at the behest of his masters and become a serf. His union meant to him all that he possessed or hoped to gain. Is it any wonder that he endured the tortures of hell during the period of the war rather than yield his Red Card—or that he is still determined and still undefeated? Is it any wonder the lumber barons hated him, and sought to break his spirit with brute force and legal cunning—or that they conspired to murder it at Centralia with mob violence—and failed?
Why the Loggers Organized
The condition of the logger previous to the period of organization beggars description. Modern industrial autocracy seemed with him to develop its most inhuman characteristics. The evil plant of wage slavery appeared to bear its most noxious blossoms in the woods.
The hours of labor were unendurably long, ten hours being the general rule—with the exception of the Grays Harbor district, where the eleven or even twelve hour day prevailed. In addition to this men were compelled to walk considerable distances to and from their work and meals through the wet brush.
Not infrequently the noon lunch was made almost impossible because of the order to be back on the job when work commenced. A ten hour stretch of arduous labor, in a climate where incessant rain is the rule for at least six months of the year, was enough to try the strength and patience of even the strongest. The wages too were pitiably inadequate.
The camps themselves, always more or less temporary affairs, were inferior to the cow-shed accommodations of a cattle ranch. The bunk house were over-crowded, ill-smelling and unsanitary. In these ramshackle affairs the loggers were packed like sardines. The bunks were arranged tier over tier and nearly always without mattresses. They were uniformly vermin-infested and sometimes of the "muzzle-loading" variety. No blankets were furnished, each logger being compelled to supply his own. There were no facilities for bathing or the washing and drying of sweaty clothing. Lighting and ventilation were of course, always poor.
In addition to these discomforts the unorganized logger was charged a monthly hospital fee for imaginary medical service. Also it was nearly always necessary to pay for the opportunity of enjoying these privileges by purchasing employment from a "job shark" or securing the good graces of a "man catcher." The former often had "business agreements" with the camp foreman and, in many cases, a man could not get a job unless he had a ticket from a labor agent in some shipping point.
It may be said that the conditions just described were more prevalent in some parts of the lumber country than in others. Nevertheless, these prevailed pretty generally in all sections of the industry before the workers attempted to better them by organizing. At all events such were the conditions the lumber barons sought with all their power to preserve and the loggers to change.
Organization and the Opening Struggle
A few years before the birth of the Industrial workers of the World the lumber workers had started to organize. By 1905, when the above mentioned union was launched, lumber-workers were already united in considerable numbers in the old Western afterwards the American Labor Union. This organization took steps to affiliate with the Industrial Workers of the World and was thus among the very first to seek a larger share of life in the ranks of that militant and maligned organization. Strike followed strike with varying success and the conditions of the loggers began perceptibly to improve.
Scattered here and there in the cities of the Northwest were many locals of the Industrial Workers of the World. Not until 1912, however, were these consolidated into a real industrial unit. For the first time a sufficient number of loggers and saw mill men were organized to be grouped into an integral part of the One Big Union. This was done with reasonable success. In the following year the American Federation of Labor attempted a similar task but without lasting results, the loggers preferring the industrial to the craft form of organization. Besides this, they were predisposed to sympathize with the ideal of solidarity and Industrial Democracy for which their own union had stood from the beginning.
The "timber beast" was starting to reap the benefits of his organized power. Also he was about to feel the force and hatred of the "interests" arrayed against him. He was soon to learn that the path of labor unionism is strewn with more rocks than roses. He was making an earnest effort to emerge from the squalor and misery of peonage and was soon to see that his overlords were satisfied to keep him right where he had always been.
Strange to say, almost the first really important clash occurred in the very heart of the lumber trust's domain, in the little city of Aberdeen, Grays Harbor County—only a short distance from Centralia, of mob fame!
This was in 1912. A strike had started in the saw mills over demands of a $2.50 daily wage. Some of the saw mill workers were members of the Industrial Workers of the World. They were supported by the union loggers of Western Washington. The struggle was bitterly contested and lasted for several weeks. The lumber trust bared its fangs and struck viciously at the workers in a manner that has since characterized its tactics in all labor disputes.
The jails of Aberdeen and adjoining towns were filled with strikers. Picket lines were broken up and the pickets arrested. When the wives of the strikers with babies in their arms, took the places of their imprisoned husbands, the fire hose was turned on them with great force, in many instances knocking them to the ground. Loggers and sawmill men alike were unmercifully beaten. Many were slugged by mobs with pick handles, taken to the outskirts of the city and told that their return would be the occasion of a lynching. At one time an armed mob of business men dragged nearly four hundred strikers from their homes or boarding houses, herded them into waiting boxcars, sealed up the doors and were about to deport them en masse. The sheriff, getting wind of this unheard-of proceeding, stopped it at the last moment. Many men were badly scarred by beatings they received. One logger was crippled for life by the brutal treatment accorded him.
But the strikers won their demands and conditions were materially improved. The Industrial Workers of the World continued to grow in numbers and prestige. This event may be considered the beginning of the labor movement on Grays Harbor that the lumber trust sought finally to crush with mob violence on a certain memorable day in Centralia seven years later.
Following the Aberdeen strike one or two minor clashes occurred. The lumber workers were usually successful. During this period they were quietly but effectually spreading One Big Union propaganda throughout the camps and mills in the district. Also they were organizing their fellow workers in increasing numbers into their union. The lumber trust, smarting under its last defeat, was alarmed and alert.
A Massacre and a New Law
But no really important event occurred until 1916. At this time the union loggers, organized in the Industrial Workers of the World, had started a drive for membership around Puget Sound. Loggers and mill hands were eager for the message of Industrial Unionism. Meetings were well attended and the sentiment in favor of the organization was steadily growing. The A.F. of L. shingle weavers and longshoremen were on strike and had asked the I.W.W. to help them secure free speech in Everett. The ever-watchful lumber interests decided the time to strike had again arrived. The events of "Bloody Sunday" are too well known to need repeating here. Suffice to say that after a summer replete with illegal beatings and jailings five men were killed in cold blood and forty wounded in a final desperate effort to drive the union out of the city of Everett, Washington. These unarmed loggers were slaughtered and wounded by the gunfire of a gang of business men and plug-uglies of the lumber interests. True to form, the lumber trust had every union man in sight arrested and seventy-four charged with the murder of a gunman who had been killed by the cross-fire of his own comrades. None of the desperadoes who had done the actual murdering was ever prosecuted or even reprimanded. The charge against the members of the Industrial Workers of the World was pressed. The case was tried in court and the Industrialists declared "not guilty." George Vanderveer was attorney for the defense.
The lumber interests were infuriated at their defeat, and from this time on the struggle raged in deadly earnest. Almost everything from mob law to open assassination had been tried without avail. The execrated One Big Union idea was gaining members and power every day. The situation was truly alarming. Their heretofore trustworthy "wage plugs" were showing unmistakable symptoms of intelligence. Workingmen were waking up. They were, in appalling numbers, demanding the right to live like men. Something must be done something new and drastic—to split asunder this on-coming phalanx of industrial power.
But the gun-man-and-mob method was discarded, temporarily at least, in favor of the machinations of lumber trust tools in the law making bodies. Big Business can make laws as easily as it can break them—and with as little impunity. So the notorious Washington "Criminal Syndicalism" law was devised. This law, however, struck a snag. The honest-minded governor of the state, recognizing its transparent character and far-reaching effects, promptly vetoed the measure. After the death of Governor Lister the criminal syndicalism law was passed, however, by the next State Legislature. Since that time it has been used against the American Federation of Labor, the Industrial Workers of the World, the Socialist Party and even common citizens not affiliated with any of these organizations. The criminal syndicalism law registers the high water mark of reaction. It infringes more on the liberties of the people than any of the labor-crushing laws that blackened Russia during the dynasty of the Romanoffs. It would disgrace the anti-Celestial legislation of Hell.
The Eight Hour Day and "Treason"
Nineteen hundred and seventeen was an eventful year. It was then the greatest strike in the history of the lumber industry occurred-the strike for the eight hour day. For years the logger and mill hand had fought against the unrestrained greed of the lumber interests. Step by step, in the face of fiercest opposition, they had fought for the right to live like men; and step by step they had been gaining. Each failure or success had shown them the weakness or the strength of their union. They had been consolidating their forces as well as learning how to use them. The lumber trust had been making huge profits the while, but the lumber workers were still working ten hours or more and the logger was still packing his dirty blankets from job to job. Dissatisfaction with conditions was wider and more prevalent then ever before. Then came the war.
As soon as this country had taken its stand with the allied imperialists the price of lumber, needed for war purposes, was boosted to sky high figures. From $16.00 to $116.00 per thousand feet is quite a jump; but recent disclosures show that the Government paid as high as $1200.00 per thousand for spruce that private concerns were purchasing for less than one tenth of that sum. Gay parties with plenty of wild women and hard drink are alleged to have been instrumental in enabling the "patriotic" lumber trust to put these little deals across. Due to the duplicity of this same bunch of predatory gentlemen the airplane and ship building program of the United States turned out to be a scandal instead of a success. Out of 21,000 feet of spruce delivered to a Massachusetts factory, inspectors could only pass 400 feet as fit for use. Keep these facts and figures in mind when you read about what happened to the "disloyal" lumber workers during the war-and afterwards.
Discontent had been smouldering in the woods for a long time. It was soon fanned to a flame by the brazen profiteering of the lumber trust. The loggers had been biding their time—rather sullenly it is true—for the day when the wrongs they had endured so patiently and so long might be rectified. Their quarrel with the lumber interests was an old one. The time was becoming propitious.
In the early summer of 1917 the strike started. Sweeping through the short log country it spread like wild-fire over nearly all the Northwestern lumber districts. The tie-up was practically complete. The industry was paralyzed. The lumber trust, its mouth drooling in anticipation of the many millions it was about to make in profits, shattered high heaven with its cries of rage. Immediately its loyal henchmen in the Wilson administration rushed to the rescue. Profiteering might be condoned, moralized over or winked at, but militant labor unionism was a menace to the government and the prosecution of the war. It must be crushed. For was it not treacherous and treasonable for loggers to strike for living conditions when Uncle Sam needed the wood and the lumber interests the money? So Woodrow Wilson and his coterie of political troglodytes from the slave-owning districts of the old South, started out to teach militant labor a lesson. Corporation lawyers were assembled. Indictments were made to order. The bloodhounds of the Department of "Justice" were unleashed. Grand Juries of "patriotic" business men were impaneled and did their expected work not wisely but too well. All the gun-men and stool-pigeons of Big Business got busy. And the opera bouffe of "saving our form of government" was staged.
Industrial Heretics and the White Terror
For a time it seemed as though the strikers would surely be defeated. The onslaught was terrific, but the loggers held out bravely. Workers were beaten and jailed by the hundreds. Men were herded like cattle in blistering "bull-pens," to be freed after months of misery, looking more like skeletons than human beings. Ellensburg and Yakima will never be forgotten in Washington. One logger was even burned to death while locked in a small iron-barred shack that had been dignified with the title of "jail." In the Northwest even the military were used and the bayonet of the soldier could be seen glistening beside the cold steel of the hired thug. Union halls were raided in all parts of the land. Thousands of workers were deported. Dozens were tarred and feathered and mobbed. Some were even taken out in the dead of night and hanged to railway bridges. Hundreds were convicted of imaginary offenses and sent to prison for terms from one to twenty years. Scores were held in filthy jails for as long as twenty-six months awaiting trial. The Espionage Law, which never convicted a spy, and the Criminal Syndicalism Laws, which never convicted a criminal, were used savagely and with full force against the workers in their struggle for better conditions. By means of newspaper-made war hysteria the profiteers of Big Business entrenched themselves in public opinion. By posing as "100% Americans" (how stale and trite the phrase has become from their long misuse of it!) these social parasites sought to convince the nation that they, and not the truly American unionists whose backs they were trying to break, were working for the best interests of the American people. Our form of government, forsooth, must be saved. Our institutions must be rescued from the clutch of the "reds." Thus was the war-frenzy of their dupes lashed to madness and the guarantees of the constitution suspended as far as the working class was concerned.
So all the good, wise and noisy men of the nation were induced by diverse means to cry out against the strikers and their union. The worst passions of the respectable people were appealed to. The hoarse blood-cry of the mob was raised. It was echoed and re-echoed from press and pulpit. The very air quivered from its reverberations. Lynching parties became "respectable." Indictments were flourished. Hand-cuffs flashed. The clinking feet of workers going to prison rivaled the sound of the soldiers marching to war. And while all this was happening, a certain paunchy little English Jew with moth-eaten hair and blotchy jowls the accredited head of a great labor union glared through his thick spectacles and nodded his perverse approval. But the lumber trust licked its fat lips and leered at its swollen dividends. All was well and the world was being made "safe for democracy!"
Autocracy vs. Unionism
This unprecedented struggle was really a test of strength between industrial autocracy and militant unionism. The former was determined to restore the palmy days of peonage for all time to come, the latter to fight to the last ditch in spite of hell and high water. The lumber trust sought to break the strike of the loggers and destroy their organization. In the ensuing fracas the lumber barons came out only second best—and they were bad losers. After the war-fever had died down—one year after the signing of the Armistice—they were still trying in Centralia to attain their ignoble ends by means of mob violence.
But at this time the ranks of the strikers were unbroken. The heads of the loggers were "bloody but unbowed." Even at last, when compelled to yield to privation and brute force and return to work, they turned defeat to victory by "carrying the strike onto the job." As a body they refused to work more than eight hours. Secretary of War Baker and President Wilson had both vainly urged the lumber interests to grant the eight hour day. The determined industrialists gained this demand, after all else had failed, by simply blowing a whistle when the time was up. Most of their other demands were won as well. In spite of even the Disque despotism, mattresses, clean linen and shower baths were reluctantly granted as the fruits of victory.
But even as these lines are written the jails and prisons of America are filled to overflowing with men and women whose only crime is loyalty to the working class. The war profiteers are still wallowing in luxury. None has ever been placed behind the bars. Before he was lynched in Butte, Frank Little had said, "I stand for the solidarity of labor." That was enough. The vials of wrath were poured on his head for no other reason. And for no other reason was the hatred of the employing class directed at the valiant hundreds who now rot in prison for longer terms than those meted out to felons. William Haywood and Eugene Debs are behind steel bars today for the same cause. The boys at Centralia were conspired against because they too stood "for the solidarity of labor." It is simply lying and camouflage to attempt to trace such persecutions to any other source. These are things America will be ashamed of when she comes to her senses. Such gruesome events are paralleled in no country save the Germany of Kaiser Wilhelm or the Russia of the Czar.
This picture of labor persecution in free America—terrible but true—will serve as a background for the dramatic history of the events leading up to the climactic tragedy at Centralia on Armistice Day, 1919.
While in Washington...
All over the state of Washington the mobbing, jailing and tar and feathering of workers continued the order of the day until long after the cessation of hostilities in Europe. The organization had always urged and disciplined its members to avoid violence as an unworthy weapon. Usually the loggers have left their halls to the mercy of the mobs when they knew a raid was contemplated. Centralia is the one exception. Here the outrages heaped upon them could be no longer endured.
In Yakima and Sedro Woolley, among other places in 1918, union men were stripped of their clothing, beaten with rope ends and hot tar applied to the bleeding flesh. They were then driven half naked into the woods. A man was hanged at night in South Montesano about this time and another had been tarred and feathered. As a rule the men were taken unaware before being treated in this manner. In one instance a stationary delegate of the Industrial Workers of the World received word that he was to be "decorated" and rode out of town on a rail. He slit a pillow open and placed it in the window with a note attached stating that he knew of the plan; would be ready for them, and would gladly supply his own feathers. He did not leave town either on a rail or otherwise.
In Seattle, Tacoma and many other towns, union halls and print shops were raided and their contents destroyed or burned. In the former city in 1919, men, women and children were knocked insensible by policemen and detectives riding up and down the sidewalks in automobiles, striking to right and left with "billy" and night stick as they went. These were accompanied by auto trucks filled with hidden riflemen and an armored tank bristling with machine guns. A peaceable meeting of union men was being dispersed.
[Illustration: Loren Roberts
American. Logger. 19 years old. Loren's mother said of him at the trial: "Loren was a good boy, he brought his money home regularly for three years. After his father took sick he was the only support for his father and me and the three younger ones." The father was a sawyer in a mill and died of tuberculosis after an accident had broken his strength. This boy, the weakest of the men on trial, was driven insane by the unspeakable "third degree" administered in the city jail. One of the lumber trust lawyers was in the jail at the time Roberts signed his so-called "confession." "Tell him to quit stalling," said a prosecutor to Vanderveer, when Roberts left the witness stand. "You cur!" replied the defense attorney in a low voice, "you know who is responsible for this boy's condition." Roberts was one of the loggers on Seminary Hill.]
In Centralia, Aberdeen and Montesano, in Grays Harbor County, the struggle was more local but not less intense. No fewer than twenty-five loggers on different occasions were taken from their beds at night and treated to tar and feathers. A great number were jailed for indefinite periods on indefinite charges. As an additional punishment these were frequently locked in their cells and the fire hose played on their drenched and shivering bodies. "Breech of jail discipline" was the reason given for this "cruel and unusual" form of lumber trust punishment.
In Aberdeen and Montesano there were several raids and many deportations of the tar and feather variety. In Aberdeen in the fall of 1917 during a "patriotic" parade, the battered hall of the union loggers was again forcibly entered in the absence of its owners. Furniture, office fixtures, Victrola and books were dumped into the street and destroyed. In the town of Centralia, about a year before the tragedy, the Union Secretary was kidnapped and taken into the woods by a mob of well dressed business men. He was made to "run the gauntlet" and severely beaten. There was a strong sentiment in favor of lynching him on the spot, but one of the mob objected saying it would be "too raw." The victim was then escorted to the outskirts of the city and warned not to return under pain of usual penalty. On more than one occasion loggers who had expressed themselves in favor of the Industrial Workers of the World, were found in the morning dangling from trees in the neighborhood. No explanation but that of "suicide" was ever offered. The whole story of the atrocities perpetrated during these days of the White Terror, in all probability, will never be published. The criminals are all well known but their influence is too powerful to ever make it expedient to expose their crimes. Besides, who would care to get a gentleman in trouble for killing a mere "Wobbly"? The few instances noted above will, however, give the reader some slight idea of the gruesome events that were leading inevitably to that grim day in Centralia in November, 1919.
Weathering the Storm
Through it all the industrialists clung to their Red Cards and to the One Big Union for which they had sacrificed so much. Time after time, with incomparable patience, they would refurnish and reopen their beleaguered halls, heal up the wounds of rope, tar or "billy" and proceed with the work of organization as though nothing had happened. With union cards or credentials hidden in their heavy shoes they would meet secretly in the woods at night. Here they would consult about members who had been mobbed, jailed or killed, about caring for their families—if they had any—about carrying on the work of propaganda and laying plans for the future progress of their union. Perhaps they would take time to chant a rebel song or two in low voices. Then, back on the job again to "line up the slaves for the New Society!"
Through a veritable inferno of torment and persecution these men had refused to be driven from the woods or to give up their union—the Industrial Workers of the World. Between the two dreadful alternatives of peonage or persecution they chose the latter—and the lesser. Can you imagine what their peonage must have been like?
But Centralia was destined to be the scene of the most dramatic portion of the struggle between the entrenched interests and the union loggers. Here the long persecuted industrialists made a stand for their lives and fought to defend their own, thus giving the glib-tongued lawyers of the prosecution the opportunity of accusing them of "wantonly murdering unoffending paraders" on Armistice Day.
Centralia in appearance is a creditable small American city—the kind of city smug people show their friends with pride from the rose-scented tranquility of a super-six in passage. The streets are wide and clean, the buildings comfortable, the lawns and shade trees attractive. Centralia is somewhat of a coquette but she is as sinister and cowardly as she is pretty. There is a shudder lurking in every corner and a nameless fear sucks the sweetness out of every breeze. Song birds warble at the outskirts of the town but one is always haunted by the cries of the human beings who have been tortured and killed within her confines.
A red-faced business man motors leisurely down the wet street. He shouts a laughing greeting to a well dressed group at the curb who respond in kind. But the roughly dressed lumberworkers drop their glances in passing one another. The Fear is always upon them. As these lines are written several hundred discontented shingle-weavers are threatened with deportation if they dare to strike. They will not strike, for they know too well the consequences. The man-hunt of a few months ago is not forgotten and the terror of it grips their hearts whenever they think of opposing the will of the Moloch that dominates their every move.
Around Centralia are wooded hills; men have been beaten beneath them and lynched from their limbs. The beautiful Chehalis River flows near by; Wesley Everest was left dangling from one of its bridges. But Centralia is provokingly pretty for all that. It is small wonder that the lumber trust and its henchmen wish to keep it all for themselves.
Well tended roads lead in every direction, bordered with clearings of worked out camps and studded with occasional tree stumps of great age and truly prodigious size. At intervals are busy saw mills with thousands of feet of odorous lumber piled up in orderly rows. In all directions stretches the pillared immensity of the forests. The vistas through the trees seen enchanted rather than real—unbelievable green and of form and depth that remind one of painted settings for a Maeterlinck fable rather than matter-of-fact timber land.
The High Priests of Labor Hatred
Practically all of this land is controlled by the trusts; much of it by the Eastern Railway and Lumber Company, of which F.B. Hubbard is the head. The strike of 1917 almost ruined this worthy gentleman. He has always been a strong advocate of the open shop, but during the last few years he has permitted his rabid labor-hatred to reach the point of fanaticism. This Hubbard figures prominently in Centralia's business, social and mob circles. He is one of the moving spirits in the Centralia conspiracy. The Eastern Railway and Lumber Company, besides large tracts of land, owns saw-mills, coal mines and a railway. The Centralia newspapers are its mouthpieces while the Chamber of Commerce and the Elks' Club are its general headquarters. The Farmers' & Merchants' Bank is its local citadel of power. In charge of this bank is a sinister character, one Uhlman, a German of the old school and a typical Prussian junker. At one time he was an officer in the German army but at present is a "100% American"—an easy metamorphosis for a Prussian in these days. His native born "brother-at-arms" is George Dysart whose son led the posses in the man-hunt that followed the shooting. In Centralia this bank and its Hun dictator dominates the financial, political and social activities of the community. Business men, lawyers, editors, doctors and local authorities all kow-tow to the institution and its Prussian president. And woe be to any who dare do otherwise! The power of the "interests" is a vengeful power and will have no other power before it. Even the mighty arm of the law becomes palsied in its presence.
The Farmers' & Merchants' Bank is the local instrumentality of the invisible government that holds the nation in its clutch. Kaiser Uhlman has more influence than the city mayor and more power than the police force. The law has always been a little thing to him and his clique. The inscription on the shield of this bank is said to read "To hell with the Constitution; this is Lewis County." As events will show, this inspiring maxim has been faithfully adhered to. One of the mandates of this delectable nest of highbinders is that no headquarters of the Union of the lumber workers shall ever be permitted within the sacred precincts of the city of Centralia.
The Loved and Hated Union Hall
Now the loggers, being denied the luxury of home and family life, have but three places they can call "home." The bunkhouse in the camp, the cheap rooming house in town and the Union Hall. This latter is by far the best loved of all. It is here the men can gather around a crackling wood fire, smoke their pipes and warm their souls with the glow of comradeship. Here they can, between jobs or after work, discuss the vicissitudes of their daily lives, read their books and magazines and sing their songs of solidarity, or merely listen to the "tinned" humor or harmony of the much-prized Victrola. Also they here attend to affairs of their Union—line up members, hold business and educational meetings and a weekly "open forum." Once in awhile a rough and wholesome "smoker" is given. The features of this great event are planned for weeks in advance and sometimes talked about for months afterwards.
These halls are at all times open to the public and inducements are made to get workers to come in and read a thoughtful treatise on Industrial questions. The latch-string is always out for people who care to listen to a lecture on economics or similar subjects. Inside the hall there is usually a long reading-table littered with books, magazines or papers. In a rack or case at the wall are to be found copies of the "Seattle Union Record," "The Butte Daily Bulletin," "The New Solidarity," "The Industrial Worker," "The Liberator," "The New Republic" and "The Nation." Always there is a shelf of thumb-worn books on history, science, economics and socialism. On the walls are lithographs or engravings of noted champions of the cause of Labor, a few photographs of local interest and the monthly Bulletins and Statements of the Union. Invariably there is a blackboard with jobs, wages and hours written in chalk for the benefit of men seeking employment. There are always a number of chairs in the room and a roll top desk for the secretary. Sometimes at the end of the hall is a plank rostrum—a modest altar to the Goddess of Free Speech and open discussion. This is what the loved and hated I.W.W. Halls are like—the halls that have been raided and destroyed by the hundreds during the last three years.
Remember, too, that in each of these raids the union men were not the aggressors and that there was never any attempt at reprisal. In spite of the fact that the lumber workers were within their legal right to keep open their halls and to defend them from felonious attack, it had never happened until November 11, that active resistance was offered the marauders. This fact alone speaks volumes for the long-suffering patience of the logger and for his desire to settle his problems by peaceable means wherever possible. But the Centralia raid was the straw that broke the camel's back. The lumber trust went a little too far on this occasion and it got the surprise of its life. Four of its misguided dupes paid for their lawlessness with their lives, and a number of others were wounded. There has not since been a raid on a union hall in the Northwestern District.
It is well that workingmen and women throughout the country should understand the truth about the Armistice Day tragedy in Centralia and the circumstances that led up to it. But in order to know why the hall was raided it is necessary first to understand why this, and all similar halls, are hated by the oligarchies of the woods.
The issue contested is whether the loggers have the right to organize themselves into a union, or whether they must remain chattels—mere hewers of wood and helpless in the face of the rapacity of their industrial overlords—or whether they have the right to keep open their halls and peacefully to conduct the affairs of their union. The lumber workers contend that they are entitled by law to do these things and the employers assert that, law or no law, they shall not do so. In other words, it is a question of whether labor organization shall retain its foothold in the lumber industry or be "driven from the woods."
Pioneers of Unionism
It is hard for workers in most of the other industries—especially in the East—to understand the problems, struggles and aspirations of the husky and unconquerable lumber workers of the Northwest. The reason is that the average union man takes his union for granted. He goes to his union meetings, discusses the affairs of his craft, industry or class, and he carries his card—all as a matter of course. It seldom enters his mind that the privileges and benefits that surround him and the protection he enjoys are the result of the efforts and sacrifices of the nameless thousands of pioneers that cleared the way. But these unknown heroes of the great struggle of the classes did precede him with their loyal hearts and strong hands; otherwise workers now organized would have to start the long hard battle at the beginning and count their gains a step at a time, just as did the early champions of industrial organization, or as the loggers of the West Coast are now doing.
The working class owes all honor and respect to the first men who planted the standard of labor solidarity on the hostile frontier of unorganized industry. They were the men who made possible all things that came after and all things that are still to come. They were the trail blazers. It is easier to follow them than to have gone before them—or with them. They established the outposts of unionism in the wilderness of Industrial autocracy. Their voices were the first to proclaim the burning message of Labor's power, of Labor's mission and of Labor's ultimate emancipation. Their breasts were the first to receive the blows of the enemy; their unprotected bodies were shielding the countless thousands to follow. They were the forerunners of the solidarity of Toil. They fought in a good and great cause; for without solidarity, Labor would have attained nothing yesterday, gained nothing today nor dare to hope for anything tomorrow.
The Block House and the Union Hall
In the Northwest today the rebel lumberjack is a pioneer. Just as our fathers had to face the enmity of the Indians, so are these men called upon to face the fury of the predatory interests that have usurped the richest timber resources of the richest nation in the world. Just outside Centralia stands a weatherbeaten landmark. It is an old, brown dilapidated block house of early days. In many ways it reminds one of the battered and wrecked union halls to be found in the heart of the city.
The evolution of industry has replaced the block house with the union hall as the embattled center of assault and defense. The weapons are no longer the rifle and the tomahawk but the boycott and the strike. The frontier is no longer territorial but industrial. The new struggle is as portentous as the old. The stakes are larger and the warfare even more bitter.
The painted and be-feathered scalp-hunter of the Sioux or Iroquois were not more heartless in maiming, mutilating and killing their victims than the "respectable" profit-hunters of today—the type of men who conceived the raid on the Union Hall in Centralia on Armistice Day—and who fiendishly tortured and hanged Wesley Everest for the crime of defending himself from their inhuman rage. It seems incredible that such deeds could be possible in the twentieth century. It is incredible to those who have not followed in the bloody trail of the lumber trust and who are not familiar with its ruthlessness, its greed and its lust for power.
As might be expected the I.W.W. Halls in Washington were hated by the lumber barons with a deep and undying hatred. Union halls were a standing challenge to their hitherto undisputed right to the complete domination of the forests. Like the blockhouses of early days, these humble meeting places were the outposts of a new and better order planted in the stronghold of the old. And they were hated accordingly. The thieves who had invaded the resources of the nation had long ago seized the woods and still held them in a grip of steel. They were not going to tolerate the encroachments of the One Big Union of the lumber workers. Events will prove that they did not hesitate at anything to achieve their purposes.
The First Centralia Hall
In the year 1918 a union hall stood on one of the side streets in Centralia. It was similar to the halls that have just been described. This was not, however, the hall in which the Armistice Day tragedy took place. You must always remember that there were two halls raided in Centralia; one in 1918 and another in 1919. The loggers did not defend the first hall and many of them were manhandled by the mob that wrecked it. The loggers did defend the second and were given as reward a hanging, a speedy, fair and impartial conviction and sentences of from 25 to 40 years. No member of the mob has ever been punished or even taken to task for this misdeed. Their names are known to everybody. They kiss their wives and babies at night and go to church on Sundays. People tip their hats to them on the street. Yet they are a greater menace to the institutions of this country than all the "reds" in the land. In a world where Mammon is king the king can do no wrong. But the question of "right" or "wrong" did not concern the lumber interests when they raided the Union hall in 1918. "Yes, we raided the hall, what are you going to do about it," is the position they take in the matter.
During the 1917 strike the two lumber trust papers in Centralia, the "Hub" and the "Chronicle" were bitter in their denunciation of the strikers. Repeatedly they urged that most drastic and violent measures be taken by the authorities and "citizens" to break the strike, smash the union and punish the strikers. The war-frenzy was at its height and these miserable sheets went about their work like Czarist papers inciting a pogrom. The lumber workers were accused of "disloyalty," "treason," "anarchy"—anything that would tend to make their cause unpopular. The Abolitionists were spoken about in identical terms before the civil war. As soon as the right atmosphere for their crime had been created the employers struck and struck hard.
It was in April, 1918. Like many other cities in the land Centralia was conducting a Red Cross drive. Among the features of this event were a bazaar and a parade.
The profits of the lumber trust were soaring to dizzy heights at this time and their patriotism was proportionately exalted.
There was the usual brand of hypocritical and fervid speechmaking. The flag was waved, the Government was lauded and the Constitution praised. Then, after the war-like proclivities of the stay-at-home heroes had been sufficiently worked upon; flag, Government and Constitution were forgotten long enough for the gang to go down the street and raid the "wobbly" hall.
Dominating the festivities was the figure of F.B. Hubbard, at that time President of the Employers' Association of the State of Washington. This is neither Hubbard's first nor last appearance as a terrorist and mob-leader—usually behind the scenes, however, or putting in a last minute appearance.
The 1918 Raid
It had been rumored about town that the Union Hall was to be wrecked on this day but the loggers at the hall were of the opinion that the business men, having driven their Secretary out of town a short time previously, would not dare to perpetrate another atrocity so soon afterwards. In this they were sadly mistaken.
Down the street marched the parade, at first presenting no unusual appearance. The Chief of Police, the Mayor and the Governor of the State were given places of honor at the head of the procession. Company G of the National Guard and a gang of broad-cloth hoodlums disguised as "Elks" made up the main body of the marchers. But the crafty and unscrupulous Hubbard had laid his plans in advance with characteristic cunning. The parade, like a scorpion, carried its sting in the rear.
Along the main avenue went the guardsmen and the gentlemen of the Elks Club. So far nothing extraordinary had happened. Then the procession swerved to a side street. This must be the right thing for the line of march had been arranged by the Chamber of Commerce itself. A couple of blocks more and the parade had reached the intersection of First Street and Tower Avenue. What happened then the Mayor and Chief of Police probably could not have stopped even had the Governor himself ordered them to do so. From somewhere in the line of march a voice cried out, "Let's raid the I.W.W. Hall!" And the crowd at the tail end of the procession broke ranks and leaped to their work with a will.
In a short time the intervening block that separated them from the Union Hall was covered. The building was stormed with clubs and stones. Every window was shattered and every door was smashed, the very sides of the building were torn off by the mob in its blind fury. Inside the rioters tore down the partitions and broke up chairs and pictures. The union men were surrounded, beaten and driven to the street where they were forced to watch furniture, records, typewriter and literature demolished and burned before their eyes. An American flag hanging in the hall, was torn down and destroyed. A Victrola and a desk were carried to the street with considerable care. The former was auctioned off on the spot for the benefit of the Red Cross. James Churchill, owner of a glove factory, won the machine. He still boasts of its possession. The desk was appropriated by F.B. Hubbard himself. This was turned over to an expressman and carted to the Chamber of Commerce. A small boy picked up the typewriter case and started to take it to a nearby hotel office. One of the terrorists detected the act and gave warning. The mob seized the lad, took him to a nearby light pole and threatened to lynch him if he did not tell them where books and papers were secreted which somebody said had been carried away by him. The boy denied having done this, but the hoodlums went into the hotel, ransacked and overturned everything. Not finding what they wanted, they left a notice that the proprietor would have to take the sign down from his building in just twenty-four hours. Then the mob surged around the unfortunate men who had been found in the Union hall. With cuffs and blows these were dragged to waiting trucks where they were lifted by the ears to the body of the machine and knocked prostrate one at a time. Sometimes a man would be dropped to the ground just after he had been lifted from his feet. Here he would lay with ear drums bursting and writhing from the kicks and blows that had been freely given. Like all similar mobs this one carried ropes, which were placed about the necks of the loggers. "Here's and I.W.W." yelled someone. "What shall we do with him?" A cry was given to "lynch him!" Some were taken to the city jail and the rest were dumped unceremoniously on the other side of the county line.
Since that time the wrecked hall has remained tenantless and unrepaired. Grey and gaunt like a house in battle-scarred Belgium, it stands a mute testimony of the labor-hating ferocity of the lumber trust. Repeated efforts have since been made to destroy the remains with fire. The defense had tried without avail to introduce a photograph of the ruin as evidence to prove that the second hall was raided in a similar manner on Armistice Day, 1919. Judge Wilson refused to permit the jury to see either the photographs or the hall. But in case of another trial...?
Evidently the lumber trust thought it better to have all traces of its previous crime obliterated.
The raid of 1918 did not weaken the lumber workers' Union in Centralia. On the contrary it served to strengthen it. But not until more than a year had passed were the loggers able to establish a new headquarters. This hall was located next door to the Roderick Hotel on Tower Avenue, between Second and Third Streets. Hardly was this hall opened when threats were circulated by the Chamber of Commerce that it, like the previous one, was marked for destruction. The business element was lined up solid in denunciation of and opposition to the Union Hall and all that it stood for. But other anti-labor matters took up their attention and it was some time before the second raid was actually accomplished.
There was one rift in the lute of lumber trust solidarity in Centralia. Business and professional men had long been groveling in sycophantic servility at the feet of "the clique." There was only one notable exception.
A Lawyer—and a Man
A young lawyer had settled in the city a few years previous to the Armistice Day tragedy. Together with his parents and four brothers he had left his home in Minnesota to seek fame and fortune in the woods of Washington. He had worked his way through McAlester College and the Law School of the University of Minnesota. He was young, ambitious, red-headed and husky, a loving husband and the proud father of a beautiful baby girl. Nature had endowed him with a dangerous combination of gifts,—a brilliant mind and a kind heart. His name was just plain Smith—Elmer Smith—and he came from the old rugged American stock.
Smith started to practice law in Centralia, but unlike his brother attorneys, he held to the assumption that all men are equal under the law—even the hated I.W.W. In a short time his brilliant mind and kind heart had won him as much hatred from the lumber barons as love from the down-trodden,—which is saying a good deal. The "interests" studied the young lawyer carefully for awhile and soon decided that he could be neither bullied or bought. So they determined to either break his spirit or to break his neck. Smith is at present in prison charged with murder. This is how it happened:
Smith established his office in the First Guarantee Bank Building which was quite the proper thing to do. Then he began to handle law suits for wage-earners, which was altogether the reverse. Caste rules in Centralia, and Elmer Smith was violating its most sacred mandataries by giving the "working trash" the benefit of his talents instead of people really worth while.
Warren O. Grimm, who was afterwards shot while trying to break into the Union Hall with the mob, once cautioned Smith of the folly and danger of such a course. "You'll get along all right," said he, "if you will come in with us." Then he continued:
"How would you feel if one of your clients would come up to you in public, slap you on the back and say 'Hello, Elmer?'"
"Very proud," answered the young lawyer.
[Illustration: Wesley Everest
Logger. American (old Washington pioneer stock). Joined the Industrial Workers of the World in 1917. A returned soldier. Earnest, sincere, quiet, he was the "Jimmy Higgins" of the Centralia branch of the Lumberworkers Union. Everest was mistaken for Britt Smith, the Union secretary, whom the mob had started out to lynch. He was pursued by a gang of terrorists and unmercifully manhandled. Later—at night—he was taken from the city jail and hanged to a bridge. In the automobile, on the way to the lynching, he was unsexed by a human fiend—a well known Centralia business man—who used a razor on his helpless victim. Even the lynchers were forced to admit that Everest was the most "dead game" man they had ever seen.]
Some months previous Smith had taken a case for an I.W.W. logger. He won it. Other cases in which workers needed legal advice came to him. He took them. A young girl was working at the Centralia "Chronicle." She was receiving a weekly wage of three dollars which is in defiance of the minimum wage law of the state for women. Smith won the case. Also he collected hundreds of dollars in back wages for workers whom the companies had sought to defraud. Workers in the clutches of loan sharks were extricated by means of the bankruptcy laws, hitherto only used by their masters. An automobile firm was making a practice of replacing Ford engines with old ones when a machine was brought in for repairs. One of the victims brought his case to Smith. and a lawsuit followed. This was an unheard-of proceeding, for heretofore such little business tricks had been kept out of court by common understanding.
A worker, formerly employed by a subsidiary of the Eastern Lumber & Railway Company, had been deprived of his wages on a technicality of the law by the corporation attorneys. This man had a large family and hard circumstances were forced upon them by this misfortune. One of his little girls died from what the doctor called malnutrition—plain starvation. Smith filed suit and openly stated that the lawyers of the corporation were responsible for the death of the child. The indignation of the business and professional element blazed to white heat. A suit for libel and disbarment proceedings were started against him. Nothing could be done in this direction as Smith had not only justice but the law on his side. His enemies were waiting with great impatience for a more favorable opportunity to strike him down. Open threats were beginning to be heard against him.
A Union lecturer came to town. The meeting was well attended. A vigilance committee of provocateurs and business men was in the audience. At the close of the lecture those gentlemen started to pass the signal for action. Elmer Smith sauntered down the aisle, shook hands with the speaker and told him he would walk to the train with him.
The following morning the door to Smith's office was ornamented with a cardboard sign. It read: "Are you an American? You had better say so. Citizens' Committee." This was lettered in lead pencil. Across the bottom were scrawled these words: "No more I.W.W. meetings for you."
In 1918 an event occurred which served further to tighten the noose about the stubborn neck of the young lawyer. On this occasion the terrorists of the city perpetrated another shameful crime against the working class—and the law.
Blind Tom—A Blemish on America
Tom Lassiter made his living by selling newspapers at a little stand on a street corner. Tom is blind, a good soul and well liked by the loggers. But Tom has vision enough to see that there is something wrong with the hideous capitalist system we live under; and so he kept papers on sale that would help enlighten the workers. Among these were the "Seattle Union Record," "The Industrial Worker" and "Solidarity." To put it plainly, Tom was a thorn in the side of the local respectability because of his modest efforts to make people thing. And his doom had also been sealed.
Early in June the newsstand was broken into and all his clothing, literature and little personal belongings were taken to a vacant lot and burned. A warning sign was left on a short pole stuck in the ashes. The message, "You leave town in 24 hours, U.S. Soldiers, Sailors and Marines," was left on the table in his room.
With true Wobbly determination, Lassiter secured a new stock of papers and immediately re-opened his little stand. About this time a Centralia business man, J.H. Roberts by name, was heard to say "This man (Lassiter) is within his legal rights and if we can't do anything by law we'll take the law into our own hands." This is precisely what happened.
On the afternoon of June 30th, Blind Tom was crossing Tower Avenue with hesitating steps when, without warning, two business men seized his groping arms and yelled in his ear, "We'll get you out of town this time!" Lassiter called for help. The good Samaritan came along in the form of a brute-faced creature known as W.R. Patton, a rich property owner of the city. This Christian gentleman sneaked up behind the blind man and lunged him forcibly into a waiting Oakland automobile. The machine is owned by Cornelius McIntyre who is said to have been one of the kidnapping party.
"Shut up or I'll smash your mouth so you can't yell," said one of his assailants as Lassiter was forced, still screaming for help, into the car. Turning to the driver one of the party said, "Step on her and let's get out of here." About this time Constable Luther Patton appeared on the scene. W.R. Patton walked over to where the constable stood and shouted to the bystanders, "We'll arrest the first person that objects, interferes or gets too loud."
"A good smash on the jaw would do more good," suggested the kind-hearted official.
"Well, we got that one pretty slick and now there are two more we have to get," stated W.R. Patton, a short time afterwards.
Blind Tom was dropped helpless in a ditch just over the county line. He was picked up by a passing car and eventually made his way to Olympia, capital of the state. In about a week he was back in Centralia. But before he could again resume his paper selling he was arrested on a charge of "criminal syndicalism." He is now awaiting conviction at Chehalis.
Before his arrest, however, Lassiter engaged Elmer Smith as his attorney. Smith appealed to County Attorney Herman Allen for protection for his client. After a half-hearted effort to locate the kidnappers—who were known to everybody—this official gave up the task saying he was "Too busy to bother with the affair, and, besides, the offense was only 'third degree assault' which is punishable with a fine of but one dollar and costs." The young lawyer did not waste any more time with the County authorities. Instead he secured sworn statements of the facts in the case and submitted them to the Governor. These were duly acknowledged and placed on file in Olympia. But up to date no action has been taken by the executive to prosecute the criminals who committed the crime.
"Handle these I.W.W. cases if you want to," said a local attorney to Elmer Smith, counsel for one of the banks, "but sooner or later they're all going to be hanged or deported anyway."
Smith was feathering a nest for himself—feathering it with steel and stone and a possible coil of hempen rope. The shadow of the prison bars was falling blacker on his red head with every passing moment. His fearless championing of the cause of the "under dog" had won him the implacable hatred of his own class. To them his acts of kindness and humanity were nothing less than treason. Smith had been ungrateful to the clique that had offered him every inducement to "come in with us". A lawyer with a heart is as dangerous as a working man with his brains. Elmer Smith would be punished all right; it would just be a matter of time.
The indifference of the County and State authorities regarding the kidnapping of blind Tom gave the terrorists renewed confidence in the efficacy and "legality" of their methods. Also it gave them a hint as to the form their future depredations were to take. And so, with the implied approval of everyone worth considering, they went about their plotting with still greater determination and a soothing sense of security.
The Conspiracy Develops
The cessation of hostilities in Europe deprived the gangsters of the cloak of "patriotism" as a cover for their crimes. But this cloak was too convenient to be discarded so easily. "Let the man in uniform do it" was an axiom that had been proved both profitable and safe. Then came the organization of the local post of the American Legion and the now famous Citizen's Protective League—of which more afterwards.
With the signing of the Armistice, and the consequent almost imperceptible lifting of the White Terror that dominated the country, the organization of the loggers began daily to gather strength. The Chamber of Commerce began to growl menacingly, the Employers' Association to threaten and the lumber trust papers to incite open violence. And the American Legion began to function as a "cats paw" for the men behind the scenes.
Why should the beautiful city of Centralia tolerate the hated Union hall any longer? Other halls had been raided, men had been tarred and feathered and deported—no one had ever been punished! Why should the good citizens of Centralia endure a lumberworkers headquarters and their despised union itself right in the midst of their peaceful community? Why indeed! The matter appeared simple enough from any angle. So then and there the conspiracy was hatched that resulted in the tragedy on Armistice Day. But the forces at work to bring about this unhappy conclusion were far from local. Let us see what these were like before the actual details of the conspiracy are recounted.
There were three distinct phases of this campaign to "rid the woods of the agitators." These three phases dovetail together perfectly. Each one is a perfect part of a shrewdly calculated and mercilessly executed conspiracy to commit constructive murder and unlawful entry. The diabolical plan itself was designed to brush aside the laws of the land, trample the Constitution underfoot and bring about an unparalleled orgy of unbridled labor hatred and labor repression that would settle the question of unionism for a long time.
The Conspiracy—And a Snag
First of all comes the propaganda stage with the full force of the editorial virulence of the trust-controlled newspapers directed against labor in favor of "law and order," i.e., the lumber interests. All the machinery of newspaper publicity was used to vilify the lumber worker and to discredit his Union. Nothing was left unsaid that would tend to produce intolerance and hatred or to incite mob violence. This is not only true of Centralia, but of all the cities and towns located in the lumber district. Centralia happened to be the place where the tree of anti-labor propaganda first bore its ghastly fruit. Space does not permit us to quote the countless horrible things the I.W.W. was supposed to stand for and to be constantly planning to do. Statements from the lips of General Wood and young Roosevelt to the effect that citizens should not argue with Bolshevists but meet them "head on" were very conspicuously displayed on all occasions. Any addle-headed mediocrity, in or out of uniform, who had anything particularly atrocious to say against the labor movement in general or the "radicals" in particular, was afforded every opportunity to do so. The papers were vying with one another in devising effectual, if somewhat informal, means of dealing with the "red menace."
Supported by, and partly the result of this barrage of lies, misrepresentation and incitation, came the period of attempted repression by "law". This was probably the easiest thing of all because the grip of Big Business upon the law-making and law-enforcing machinery of the nation is incredible. At all events a state's "criminal syndicalism law" had been conveniently passed and was being applied vigorously against union men, A.F. of L. and I.W.W. alike, but chiefly against the Lumber Workers' Industrial Union, No. 500, of the Industrial Workers of the World, the basic lumber industry being the largest in the Northwest and the growing power of the organized lumberjack being therefore more to be feared.
No doubt the lumber interests had great hope that the execution of these made-to-order laws would clear up the atmosphere so far as the lumber situation was concerned. But they were doomed to a cruel and surprising disappointment.
A number of arrests were made in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and even Nevada. Fifty or sixty men all told were arrested and their trials rushed as test cases. During this period from April 25th to October 28th, 1919, the lumber trust saw with chagrin and dismay each of the state cases in turn either won outright by the defendants or else dismissed in the realization that it would be impossible to win them. By October 28th George F. Vanderveer, chief attorney for the defense, declared there were not a single member of the I.W.W. in custody in Washington, Idaho or Montana under this charge. In Seattle, Washington, an injunction was obtained restraining the mayor from closing down the new Union hall in that city under the new law. Thus it appeared that the nefarious plan of the employers and their subservient lawmaking adjuncts, to outlaw the lumber workers Union and to penalize the activities of its members, was to be doomed to an ignominious failure.
Renewed Efforts—Legal and Otherwise
Furious at the realization of their own impotency the "interests" launched forth upon a new campaign. This truly machiavellian scheme was devised to make it impossible for accused men to secure legal defense of any kind. All labor cases were to be tried simultaneously, thus making it impossible for the defendants to secure adequate counsel. George F. Russell, Secretary-Manager of the Washington Employers' Association, addressed meetings over the state urging all Washington Prosecuting Attorneys to organize that this end might be achieved. It is reported that Governor Hart, of Washington, looked upon the scheme with favor when it was brought to his personal attention by Mr. Russell.
However, the fact remains that the lumber trust was losing and that it would have to devise even more drastic measures if it were to hope to escape the prospect of a very humiliating defeat. And, all the while the organization of the lumber workers continued to grow.
In Washington the situation was becoming more tense, momentarily. Many towns in the heart of the lumber district had passed absurd criminal syndicalism ordinances. These prohibited membership in the I.W.W.; made it unlawful to rent premises to the organization or to circulate its literature. The Employers' Association had boasted that it was due to its efforts that these ordinances had been passed. But still they were faced with the provocative and unforgettable fact, that the I.W.W. was no more dead than the cat with the proverbial nine lives. Where halls had been closed or raided the lumber workers were transacting their union affairs right on the job or in the bunkhouses, just as though nothing had happened. What was more deplorable a few Union halls were still open and doing business at the same old stand. Centralia was one of these; drastic measures must be applied at once or loggers in other localities might be encouraged to open halls also. As events prove these measures were taken—and they were drastic.