Part 1 out of 3
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
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
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
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
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.
[Illustration: Fir and Spruce Trees
The wood of the West coast abound with tall fir trees. Practically all
high grade spruce comes from this district also. Spruce was a war
necessity and the lumber trust profiteered unmercifully on the government.
U.S. prisons are full of loggers who struck for the 8 hour day in 1917.]
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
[Illustration: Cedar Trees of the Northwest
With these giants the logger daily matches his strength and skill. The
profit-greedy lumber trust has wasted enough trees of smaller size to
supply the world with wood for years to come.]
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.
[Illustration: "Topping a Tree"
After one of these huge trees is "topped" it is called a "spar tree"--very
necessary in a certain kind of logging operations. As soon as the
chopped-off portion falls, the trunk vibrates rapidly from side to side
sometimes shaking the logger to certain death below.]
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
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
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.
[Illustration: A Logger of the Pacific Northwest
This is a type of the men who work in the "long log" region of the West
coast. His is a man's sized job, and his efforts to organize and better
the working conditions in the lumber industry have been manly efforts--and
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
"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
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
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.
[Illustration: Logging Operations
Look around you at the present moment and you will see wood used for many
different purposes. Have you ever stopped to think where the raw material
comes from or what the workers are like who produce it? Here is a scene
from a lumber camp showing the loggers at their daily tasks. The lumber
trust is willing that these men should work-but not organize.]
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
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
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
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!
[Illustration: Eugene Barnett
(After the man-hunt)
Coal miner. Born in North Carolina. Member of U.M.W.A. and I.W.W. Went to
work underground at the age of eight. Self educated, a student and
philosopher. Upon reaching home Barnett, fearful of the mob, took to the
woods with his rifle. He surrendered to the posse only after he had
convinced himself that their purpose was not to lynch him.]
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
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
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
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.
[Illustration: Bert Faulkner
American. Logger. 21 years of age. Member of the Industrial Workers of the
World since 1917. Was in the hall when raid occurred. Faulkner personally
knew Grimm, McElfresh and a number of others who marched in the parade. He
is an ex-soldier himself. The prosecution used a great deal of pressure to
make this boy turn state's evidence. He refused stating that he would tell
nothing but the truth. At the last moment he was discharged from the case
after being held in jail four months.]
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.
[Illustration: Mrs. Elmer Smith and Baby Girl
Mrs. Elmer Smith is the cultured daughter of a Washington judge. Since
Elmer Smith got into trouble many efforts have been made to induce his
wife to leave him. Mrs. Smith prefers, however, to stick with her rebel
lawyer whom she loves and admires.]
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
[Illustration: Britt Smith
American. Logger. 35 years old. Had followed the woods for twenty years.
Smith made his home in the hall that was raided and was secretary of the
Union. When the mob broke into the jail and seized Wesley Everest to
torture and lynch him they cried, "We've got Britt Smith!" Smith was the
man they wanted and it was to break his neck that ropes were carried in
the "parade." Not until Everest's body was brought back to the city jail
was it discovered that the mob had lynched the wrong man.]
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
[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.
[Illustration: Lumberworkers Union Hall, Raided in 1918
The first of the two halls to be wrecked by Centralia's terrorists. This
picture was not permitted to be introduced as evidence of the conspiracy
to raid the new hall. Judge Wilson didn't want the jury to know anything
about this event.]
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.
[Illustration: The Scene of the Armistice Day Tragedy
This is what was left of the Union hall the loggers tried to defend on
November 11th. Three of the raiders, Grimm, McElfresh and Cassagranda,
were killed in the immediate vicinity of the doorway. Several others were
wounded while attempting to rush the doors.]
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
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
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.
[Illustration: Seminary Hall
The Union hall looks out on this hill, with Tower avenue and an alley
between. It is claimed that loggers, among others Loren Roberts, Bert
Bland and the missing Ole Hanson, fired at the attacking mob from this
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
[Illustration: Avalon Hotel, Centralia
From this point Elsie Hornbeck claimed she identified Eugene Barnett in
the open window with a rifle. Afterwards she admitted that her
identification was based only on a photograph shown her by the
prosecution. This young lady nearly fainted on the witness stand while
trying to patch her absurd story together.]
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
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
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: Elmer Smith
Attorney at law. Old American stock--born on a homestead in North Dakota.
By championing the cause of the "under-dog" in Centralia Smith brought
down on himself the wrath of the lumber trust. He defended many union men
in the courts, and at one time sought to prosecute the kidnappers of Tom
Lassiter. Smith is the man Warren O. Grimm told would get along all right,
"if you come in with us." He bucked the lumber trust instead and landed in
prison on a trumped-up murder charge. Smith was found "not guilty" by the
jury, but immediately re-arrested on practically the same charge. He is
not related to Britt Smith.]
[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
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
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
"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."
[Illustration: Where Barnett's Rifle Was Supposed to Have Been Found
Eugene Barnett was said to have left his rifle under this sign-board as he
fled from the scene of the shooting. It would have been much easier to
hide a gun in the tall brush in the foreground. In reality Barnett did not
have a rifle on November 11th and was never within a mile of this place.
Prosecutor Cunningham said he had "been looking all over for that rifle"
when it was turned over to him by a stool pigeon. Strangely enough
Cunningham knew the number of the gun before he placed hands on it.]
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
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.
[Illustration: His Uncle Planned It
Dale Hubbard, killed in self-defense by Wesley Everest, Armistice Day,
1919. F. Hubbard, a lumber baron and uncle of the dead man, is held to
have been the instigator of the plot in which his nephew was shot. Hubbard
was martyrized by the lumber trust's determination "to let the men in
uniform do it."]
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
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.
The Employers Show Their Fangs
That the Employers' Association was assiduously preparing its members for
action suitable for the situation is evidenced by the following quotations
from the official bulletin addressed privately "to Members of the
Employers' Association of Washington". Note them carefully; they are
published as "suggestions to members" over the written signature of George
F. Russell Secretary-Manager:
June 25th, 1918.--"Provide a penalty for idleness ... Common labor now
works a few days and then loafs to spend the money earned ... Active
prosecution of the I.W.W. and other radicals."
April 30th, 1919.--"Keep business out of the control of radicals and
I.W.W.... Overcome agitation ... Closer co-operation between employers and
employees ... Suppress the agitators ... Hang the Bolshevists."
May 31st, 1919.--"If the agitators were taken care of we would have very
little trouble ... Propaganda to counteract radicals and overcome
agitation ... Put the I.W.W. in jail."
June 30th, 1919.--"Make some of the Seattle papers print the truth ... Get
rid of the I.W.W.'s."
July 2nd, 1919.--"Educate along the line of the three R's and the golden
rule, economy and self denial ... Import Japanese labor ... Import Chinese
July 31st, 1919.--"Deport about ten Russians in this community."
August 31st, 1919.--"Personal contact between employer and employee,
stringent treatment of the I.W.W."
October 15th, 1919. "There are many I.W.W.s--mostly in the
October 31st, 1919.--(A little over a week before the Centralia raid.)
"Run your business or quit ... Business men and tax payers of Vancouver,
Washington, have organized the Loyal Citizen's Protective League; opposed
to Bolsheviki and the Soviet form of government and in favor of the open
shop ... Jail the radicals and deport them ... Since the armistice these
radicals have started in again. ONLY TWO COMMUNITIES IN WASHINGTON ALLOW
I.W.W. HEADQUARTERS." (!!!)
[Illustration: Arthur McElfresh
A Centralia druggist. His wife warned him not to march to the union
headquarters because "she knew he'd get hurt." McElfresh is the man said
to have been shot inside the hall when the mob burst through the door.]
December 31st, 1919. "Get rid of all the I.W.W. and all other un-American
organizations ... Deport the radicals or use the rope as at Centralia.
Until we get rid of the I.W.W. and radicals we don't expect to do much in
this country ... Keep cleaning up on the I.W.W.... Don't let it die down
... Keep up public sentiment..."
These few choice significant morsels of one hundred percent (on the
dollar) Americanism are quoted almost at random from the private bulletins
of the officials of the Iron Heel in the state of Washington. Here you can
read their sentiments in their own words; you can see how dupes and
hirelings were coached to perpetrate the crime of Centralia, and as many
other similar crimes as they could get away with. Needless to say these
illuminating lines were not intended for the perusal of the working class.
But now that we have obtained them and placed them before your eyes you
can draw your own conclusion. There are many, many more records germane to
this case that we would like to place before you, but the Oligarchy has
closed its steel jaws upon them and they are at present inaccessible. Men
are still afraid to tell the truth in Centralia. Some day the workers may
learn the whole truth about the inside workings of the Centralia
conspiracy. Be that as it may the business interests of the Northwest
lumber country stand bloody handed and doubly damned, black with guilt and
foul with crime; convicted before the bar of public opinion, by their own
statements and their own acts.
Failure and Desperation
Let us see for a moment how the conspiracy of the lumber barons operated
to achieve the unlawful ends for which it was designed. Let us see how
they were driven by their own failure at intrigue to adopt methods so
brutal that they would have disgraced the head-hunter; how they tried to
gain with murder-lust what they had failed to gain lawfully and with
The campaign of lies and slander inaugurated by their private newspapers
failed to convince the workers of the undesirability of labor
organization. In spite of the armies of editors and news-whelps assembled
to its aid, it served only to lash to a murderous frenzy the low instincts
of the anti-labor elements in the community. The campaign of legal
repression, admittedly instituted by the Employers' Association, failed
also in spite of the fact that all the machinery of the state from
dog-catcher down to Governor was at its beck and call on all occasions and
for all purposes.
Having made a mess of things with these methods the lumber barons threw
all scruples to the winds--if they ever had any--threw aside all
pretension of living within the law. They started out, mad-dog like, to
rent, wreck and destroy the last vestige of labor organization from the
woods of the Northwest, and furthermore, to hunt down union men and
martyrize them with the club, the gun, the rope and the courthouse.
It was to cover up their own crimes that the heartless beasts of Big
Business beat the tom-toms of the press in order to lash the "patriotism"
of their dupes and hirelings into hysteria. It was to hide their own
infamy that the loathsome war dance was started that developed perceptibly
from uncomprehending belligerency into the lawless tumult of mobs, raids
and lynching! And it will be an everlasting blot upon the fair name of
America that they were permitted to do so.
The Centralia tragedy was the culmination of a long series of unpunished
atrocities against labor. What is expected of men who have been treated as
these men were treated and who were denied redress or protection under the
law? Every worker in the Northwest knows about the wrongs lumberworkers
have endured--they are matters of common knowledge. It was common
knowledge in Centralia and adjoining towns that the I.W.W. hall was to be
raided on Armistice Day. Yet eight loggers have been sentenced from
twenty-five to forty years in prison for the crime of defending themselves
from the mob that set out to murder them! But let us see how the
conspiracy was operating in Centralia to make the Armistice Day tragedy
The Maelstrom--And Four Men
Centralia was fast becoming the vortex of the conspiracy that was rushing
to its inevitable conclusion. Event followed event in rapid succession,
straws indicating the main current of the flood tide of labor-hatred. The
Commercial Club was seething with intrigue like the court of old France
under Catherine de Medici; only this time it was Industrial Unionism
instead of Huguenots who were being Marked for a new night of St.
Bartholomew. The heresy to be uprooted was belief in industrial instead of
religious freedom; but the stake and the gibbet were awaiting the New Idea
just as they had the old.
The actions of the lumber interests were now but thinly veiled and their
evil purpose all too manifest. The connection between the Employers'
Association of the state and its local representatives in Centralia had
become unmistakably evident. And behind these loomed the gigantic
silhouette of the Employers' Association of the nation--the colossal
"invisible government"--more powerful at times than the Government itself.
More and more stood out the naked brutal fact that the purpose of all this
plotting was to drive the union loggers from the city and to destroy their
hall. The names of the men actively interested in this movement came to
light in spite of strenuous efforts to keep them obscured. Four of these
stand out prominently in the light of the tragedy that followed: George F.
Russell, F.B. Hubbard, William Scales and last, but not least, Warren O.
[Illustration: Warren O. Grimm
Warren O. Grimm, killed at the beginning of the rush on the I.W.W. hall.
At another raid on an I.W.W. hall in 1918 Grimm was said by witnesses to
have been leading the mob, "holding two American flags and dancing like a
whirling dervish." His life-long friend, Frank Van Gilder, testified: "I
stood less than two feet from Grimm when he was shot. He doubled up, put
his hands to his stomach and said to me: 'My God, I'm shot.'" "What did you
do then?" "I turned and left him."]