Scenes From the Bisbee Deportation – 1917

On the morning of July 12th, 1917, a well armed band of vigilantes and lawmen rounded up and deported over one thousand members and sympathizers of the International Workers of the World, known as the IWW. Its members favored worker owned and operated industries, and proposed to abolish wages, while controlling industrial production through labor councils.

Cochise County Sheriff Harry Wheeler met with Phelps Dodge officials, and secretly organized a round-up of strikers and sympathizers within two local groups: the Citizen’s Protective League, and the Worker’s Loyalty League. Their members supported the mining companies, while distrusting the IWW’s growing support among Mexican and other foreign workers.

These photos are from the Walter Reuther Library, and the University of Arizona’s Bisbee Deportation Collection.

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The University of Arizona’s Web Exhibit on the Bisbee Deportation of 1917 contains the following story told in the Bisbee Daily Review. The Bisbee Daily Review was owned by Phelps Dodge, which consolidated the mining claims of Bisbee, and later merged with Freeport McMoran.

The Great Wobbly Drive

The Bisbee Daily Review

Friday Morning, July 13, 1917

Never, since the mountains raised their heads to look down in this pleasant valley, have they seen such a display of patriotism and high-minded public spirit as they witnessed in the dawning of Wednesday morning when the 3.000 armed citizens marched forward in defense of their town, its industries, its business, its homes and its honor word to the nation.

Led by Harry C. Wheeler, sheriff of Cochise County, and his lieutenants picked from very walk of life in this community, and aided by 1,000 good men and true from out sister city of Douglas, these citizens arose in their just wrath and their righteous might and, at one stroke, in one hour, broke the power of the I. W. W., the “wobblies,” the agitators, the idlers, the wreckers and the open sympathizers and abettors of this scum in the Warren District forever.

The time had come to strike or be stricken, and the Bisbee citizens who had been watching the situation, hour by hour, since it started, knew it. Every inducement, plea and promise of protection possible had been made to the men to go back to work. Every man had been drawn from the bad and dangerous company he had elected to keep that could be induced to come. It was no longer a question of patience or of loss of money, or of a desire to exhaust every honest effort, IT WAS A QUESTION OF BEATING THESE FOREIGN TERRORISTS AND PROFESSIONAL AGITATORS AND STRIKERS TO IT.

The time had come to bruise the head of the serpent. The policies of peace had failed. The Mexicans were beginning to parade by the hundred. The “wobblies” were beginning to show their teeth. The “wobblies” were beginning to show their teeth. Their dupes were beginning to get hungry. And the citizens, who were watching every move of their enemy, every mood, every turn, every ripple, KNEW THAT THEY MUST STRIKE QUICKLY AND HARD.

And never was there such a blow with all the power of unity and concerted action behind it.

Douglas and Bisbee walking hand in hand to sweep their streets and brush their hearthstones.

Out of the dawn marched these citizens like phantoms in the shadows cast by the mountains. The “wobblies” pickets had just gone on duty. “Forward, men!” was the cry of the officers; and lo, they were upon them, like a storm, from five different training camps.

The surprise was as complete as though these deputies had descended from the heavens. The “wobblies” reeled like drunken men. They were more than surprised; they were dazed. They threw up their hands at command and held them aloft while they were searched. They were herded in throngs and held there by hundreds who hemmed them in with rifles. They cheered a little, but it was a weak cheer and soon died away. A few kept up an air of bravado, but the large majority of them were either depressed or serious or stolid or looked wildly about them.

The strikers had been struck. The pickets were picketed. The intimidators were intimidated.

Men stood on guard about them who had been called in the darkness from their homes and their fearful wives and wondering children, and these men were in deadly earnest. They had laid aside the avocations of peace and taken up the weapons of war and they were determined to do a thorough job of it. If these terrorists wanted war, they were to have it. If these vermin wanted idleness, they were to have it in box cars and not upon the public streets of Bisbee.

A few “wobblies” resisted with their hands and were punished by hands. One “wobbly” resisted with a weapon and he died by a weapon. One deputy, O. P. McRae—and his name will be honored upon this town as long as it stands—gave up his life in defense of his country and his home.

Only the united, dominant, resolute, resistless bearing of the deputies prevented heavy loss of life upon our streets yesterday. The “wobblies” heading this strike, most of them, had records for violence. They did not lack either the brute courage or desperation of outlawry. The surprise upset and dismayed them, and the numbers and spirit of the deputies overawed them. They recovered enough by the time they were started on the march to Warren for deportation to jibe a little and jeer a little. But it was only a little, and their former strident tones were low.

It was the greatest mornings work since the pick was first struck in this canyon.

It was a blow at traitors, spies and anarchists that will make this clique tremble everywhere west of the Rocky Mountains.

The marching feet of these 3,000 men in Bisbee yesterday sounded the death knell of “wobblyism” and the I. W. W. in Arizona. It was a deportation upon a staggering scale. It was Bisbee’s answer to the impudent, arrogant effort, of a lawless lot of outcasts to dictate her and industrial and business affairs—the greatest copper city in the world to the blackest and most infamous organization in the world. And, long withheld, it could only be one kind of an answer—the one that would be heard as far as copper is mined between these oceans.

And how can we name properly or praise properly these men who came forward, at the risk of their own lives to clean their city—these merchants, miners, doctors, lawyers, clerks, office men, professional and laboring men young men and old men, who left their families by darkness and their work and their business by daylight, to advance upon and arrest and deport nearly 1,200 desperate, lawless, defiant men; these men who were called at that hour in the morning when, even brave soldiers declare, their courage is at the lowest, and who failed not; these minute men of 1917?

July 12 will stand always as a big day for Bisbee. It is only two days removed from the French liberty day, for July 14, the Bastille fell. The bastille of labor unrest without a just grievance fell in this southwest country yesterday. And it will never be built again by the shaking, unclean hands of the I. W. W. and their crew.

And for Harry C. Wheeler, sheriff of Cochise county, the man who was responsible for and led the drive that resulted in the greatest number of arrests ever made in one day by any sheriff, high or low, in this country or the old—to him goes the honor and recognition of all who love their homes and respect high-minded courageous officials. Yes, and more than this, the quiet, genial, modest, soft-spoken little sheriff was won the admiration of men who are hard judges of manhood. No one can properly appreciate the great responsibility this sheriff unflinchingly assumed when he decided that the drive should be made last night. No one could foresee what the dawn was to usher in. It required more than mere courage to make this decision and carry it through with such success, firmness and skill. It required force of character and cool, sound judgment and leadership and resolution and firm faith in the principles upon which he based his action.

It takes a great deal to rouse a city until it will pour the bulk of its citizens down streets of danger with weapons in their hands, seeking a horde of fierce men. Those from a distance will likely both praise and blame; according their lights, their learnings and their and their knowledge, they will think we were harsh and they will think we are patriotic. But we who have lived in the midst of the unrest since the first of the year, and who know its origin and its flimsy pretexts and its despicable and dangerous methods, know that we were too patient in the first place, and we know that we took the only means possible to deal with our intolerable situation. And in the end we know, and this is the finest thought of all, that if we were firm we were also humane, and that if we took extreme measures, we took them in a way true to the best traditions of American citizenhood.

If a man prefers a box car to a good home it is his own business. Every one to his hobby. And yet there are some men who prefer to work.

Pretty big contract to eat 1,500 reds of the I. W. W. for breakfast on a summer morning, but Bisbee did it, and never had a more satisfactory meal in her life.

The “martyrs to the cause of labor” are now on their way. They no longer infest our streets on sidewalks and corners, nor do they intimidate our workingman with their threats.

And the women who stayed at home, bravely and uncomplainingly, yet with white, anxious faces, what of them? After all, the women play both the braver and the greater part. Man goes forth to kill or be killed with the eyes of the world upon him and stirred to heights by marching feet and cheers. But the woman sits alone and wrestles with her grief and fears in a darkened room. She has only her sublime faith to sustain her as she waits to hear the best or the worst from those she loves. Waiting saps courage and multiplies fears. But she waits, and her courage fails not. The praise goes to the men who venture forth in a great cause, but the women at home play the harder part.

It looked easy, that job of yesterday morning, but it wasn’t. It was all in the way it was done. Courage was necessary to make the decision, careful organization was necessary alone, and sound judgment and dash and initiative just at the right time. It looked easy because the “wobblies” milled like sheep under the threatening muzzles of hundreds of rifles that encircled them. But make no mistake, if there had been any marked indecision or confusion or desertion from the ranks, these fellows would have started a reign of terror in the heart of the city as quick as a wink. No set of men who will fly in the face of a community and defy the United States government are to be despised in a street riot. And another thing that must not be overlooked in considering the cheapness and comparative easy with which the victory was won to get that ring of rifles at the right spot at the right time was the big thing. Once this is done, almost any battle is over before it started. “Do unto the other fellow what he would like to do to you, only do it first,” said David Harum.

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