the Fire in the Hole script and accompanying images to learn
more about Bisbee, Arizona and the great deportation of 1,200 union miners;
In 1912 Arizona became
the nation's 48th state. Like other Western states, mining had been at the
core of the state's development. Arizona was riding a brief wave of labor-friendly
sentiment known as the populist movement. The populists were opposed to the
control of government by corporations and industrialists. The new state enacted
labor laws and new taxes for corporations.
"And then the copper
companies realized they had to do something. And they kind of dropped their
differences and came together. And by 1915 they had a full-scale counter offensive
going against the liberal movement."
was an effort by mining interests to re-establish their control of government
through power, payoffs and hand-picked candidates. By 1916, the pendulum of
power was swinging back in the direction of mining interests. The change in
climate was felt most dramatically in mining towns like Bisbee, Arizona near
the Mexican border.
Nichol/Bisbee Mining Museum:
"The copper companies
shaped the city, absolutely. Without the copper there is no reason for anybody
to be here. The copper companies built the town, the copper companies were
the reason for the town, copper's sway for the populous was probably, in a
certain sense, absolute."
As Bisbee boomed with
copper production, the copper companies actively recruited immigrant workers
to fill the round-the-clock shifts. There were limits. Chinese were not allowed
in Bisbee after dark, and Mexican nationals were not allowed to work underground.
But Bisbee soon attracted waves of Southern Europeans.
"They came to work for
less pay. But more enlightened progressive and populist type people were here
also, and they were able to use their influence through unions...and on the
job arguments to make these people realize they had been taken advantage of.
So they became disenchanted with the copper companies, and turned against
The workers were largely
held in check by the fact that Bisbee miners had been some of the best-paid
in the region. . .making up to 45-cents an hour. But the outbreak of World
War One shattered the fragile stability of the town.
"Copper went up. It went
from fourteen cents a pound to twenty-seven cents a pound to thirty-five cents
a pound. It really stimulated mine production."
While the Bisbee economy
boomed and inflation roared ahead, the wages of miners were held in check
by an agreement between mine owners.
"So they could see this
great disparity between how they were benefitting from the rising copper,
and how the copper companies were benefitting from the rise of copper, the
price of copper. So the whole mind of what the war was doing in terms of economics
was open and blatant."
The discontent was fertile
ground for union organizing, and by the first months of 1917 several unions
were making their presence felt in the area--including the Industrial Workers
of the World.
"Right away, right from
the start the corporate entities are tremendously anti-labor organizing. Not
anti-labor, but the organization of it. I think they viewed it as any king
does. . .they were going to lose their sway. They could see that the fiefdom
they had controlled for so many years was being, there was change that was
coming from underneath, and they didn't like it."
The mine companies aggressively
tried to root-out union organizers. A key figure in the mine crackdown was
Walter Douglas, President of the Phelps-Dodge Corporation. Phelps-Dodge owned
Bisbee's Copper Queen Mine. Walter Douglas was powerful. . .and Walter Douglas
"The people were absolutely
afraid of him. Everybody was afraid of him, even the Governor of Arizona won't
call him by name, who is outspoken about everything else."
To Walter Douglas, the
presence of the Industrial Workers of the World in the mine fields of Arizona
was more than he could bear. In the face of patriotic fervor over America's
entry into World War One, the Wobblies argued against the war and urged workers
to undermine the war effort. Using wages as the key issue, the I.W.W. and
other union organizers encouraged copper miners to go out on strike on June
Bisbee Daily Review:
The I.W.W. and their
agents and their dupes are striking against the success and safety of our
government's soldiers when they strike in the great copper mines that must
be depended upon to furnish guns and shells for our armies. Such strikes are
vicious, wicked, senseless and unpatriotic." –The Bisbee Daily Review
"There will be no compromise.
You cannot compromise with a rattlesnake. I believe the government will be
able to show that there is German influence behind this movement." –Walter
In the first weeks of
July, Bisbee underwent a wrenching internal split. Half of the miners went
out on strike, half stayed on the job. The conflict broke awkwardly along
ethnic and economic lines. The town newspaper, owned by the copper company,
began beating the drum for action against the striking miners.
Bisbee Daily Review:
"Those who are not for
us are against us. There can be no half-way ground. An infected sore can become
a cancer if it is not cut out." -- The Bisbee Daily Review
Copper company officials
dramatically revealed a cave full of dynamite, which they claim the I.W.W.
was gathering to destroy the mines. No one doubted the company's report of
mad bombers loose in the mines of Bisbee. Harry Wheeler. . .a former rough
rider with Teddy Roosevelt during the Spanish-American war. . . was the local
sheriff. Faced with company demands that he act to protect the mines, he deputized
a force organized and ultimately armed by the companies known as the loyalty
"The loyalty league is
formed and who is it? Well its half the town. And this is the great catastrophe
for Bisbee, is that half the town rounds up the other half of the town."
As union organizers delivered
impassioned anti-company and anti-war speeches in Bisbee's new park, wheeler
was using the Bisbee Daily Review to organize the loyalty league into a strike
"To all deputies: remember,
you are deputized for protection of self and property and the maintenance
of peace. You are subject to my call, a call which will be made when necessary."
-- Harry Wheeler, Sheriff
But a pivotal event would
play out in northern arizona that would shape Bisbee's future. In May of 1917,
the United Verde Copper Mine near Jerome, Arizona had settled a strike with
miners. United Verde was under the leadership of James Douglas. . .the younger
brother of Walter Douglas. . . .and whose home overlooked the nearby mining
Out of several thousand
miners, less than two hundred were members of the I.W.W. But in early July
of 1917 those Wobblies demanded another strike. On the evening of July 9th
several hundred men, many of them miners, agreed to get rid of the Wobblies
once and for all.
The next morning, armed
vigilantes rounded-up 67 I.W.W. members and forced them on a train. In the
northwest corner of Arizona they were kicked off and told never to return
to Jerome. Such deportations were not new in the American West. . .but all
previous attempts would pale compared to what would happen next in Bisbee.
On July 11th Walter Douglas
arrived at his home in Bisbee, fresh from a meeting with the governor. News
of the Jerome deportation had just arrived in Bisbee as well. That night,
leaders of the area's major copper companies would meet at the Copper Queen
Mine offices. They gave the green light to a long standing plan to kill the
radical union movement in their mines. The Bisbee deportation was on.
"By six-thirty, almost
two thousand men had volunteered. They separated themselves from the people
they were rounding up by wearing a white armband. And at six-thirty in the
morning they proceeded to go up and down the canyons of Bisbee. . .and they
were literally knocking on doors and dragging people out of bed at six-thirty
in the morning, rounding them up."
"Some guys didn't even
have time to put their shoes on. And you would see these people being brought
down the streets of Bisbee. Bisbee's on a hill, and they'd be coming down
these streets downtown to where the railroad depot was."
Bisbee Daily Review:
"What a study in faces
as the procession rambled by. Old offenders with sullen brows and smoldering
eyes. Foreigners with heavy stolid looks and bearded unwashed faces. Sorrowful,
simple, soulless faces passed like a bad dream." -- The Bisbee Daily Review
"They were rounded up.
Eventually close to fifteen-hundred of them. They were taken, marched to a
ballpark about four miles away, and put in the ballpark and some of them were
given a chance to say that they would support the company and go back to work.
And once this identity been established, the train backs in very close to
the ball park in warren which I said is a couple miles outside of Bisbee.
And by noon they started to load the people on the boxcars and cattle cars."
The train, pulling 23
cars, turned away from Bisbee and headed east. . .toward the vast, rough landscape
on the border between New Mexico and the nation of Mexico. In an ironic twist,
the train was staffed by a union crew.
"I got out and asked
the head brakeman whether he belonged to the brotherhood or not. And he told
me that he did. And I asked him if he wasn't a little ashamed of the extent
he was playing, and he said ‘No, we're doing this for Uncle Sam.'" -- Fred
One hundred miles out
of Bisbee the train neared the Mexican border crossing town of Columbus, New
Mexico. But the governor of New Mexico had learned of the deportation, and
ordered the train not to stop in his state. Early on the morning of July 13th,
1917 the train carrying twelve-hundred Bisbee union miners backed up to a
flat range a few miles outside of Columbus. . .and stopped.
"They just kinda left
the train without telling anybody anything. And of course all of these people
had been told if they tried to open the doors and come out they would be shot.
So somebody kinda looks around and they see there is nobody there. And gradually
they start getting out of the cars, and there's nobody there. And here they
are out in the middle of the desert. And they don't even know where they are,
really. No food. No water."
Eventually a nearby Army
unit learned of the deportation and brought blankets, food and water to the
men. They found a huddled mass of men. . .tired and poor. . .and seventy percent
recent immigrants from a foreign land. Only a small percentage identified
themselves as card-carrying members of the Industrial Workers of the World.
With the deportation
came a firm order to the union miners never to return to Bisbee. To make sure,
checkpoints were established on the roadways leading to town.
Bisbee Daily Review:
"Any talk of them coming
back is nonsense. They will not be allowed to come back. The business of this
district is the mining of copper, not the building of schools of anarchism."–The
Bisbee Daily Review
"Probably they were fearful
of return of the agitators. Maybe they were fearful of news coverage. Everybody
was stopped and questioned and they were very careful of who they let into
the community for a long time afterwards."
On the streets of Bisbee,
the members of the loyalty league and the management of the mine companies
congratulated themselves on a job well done.
"It was a certain sense
of smug satisfaction in a way. There is no guilt. They felt absolutely righteous
But in the New Mexican
desert, hundreds of men would languish for months. The nation would argue
over the deportation. Some calling it the largest wholesale denial of justice
and rights in the nation's history. Others calling it a fitting response to
agitators during wartime. When a Bisbee doctor criticized the deportation,
he was sentenced to ninety days in jail.
Most of the deported
miners would simply drift off. . .a few tried to sue the mine companies. With
external pressure building, in 1920, two-hundred members of the loyalty league
were charged with kidnaping. . .and a Phelps-Dodge employee, Harry Wooten,
was selected as a test case. The three-month trial had an endless stream of
Loyalty League members proudly reciting their role in the planning and execution
of the deportation. The jury deliberated less than twenty minutes before returning
a not guilty verdict. Charges against 200 others were dismissed. Investigations
and speeches soon faded. . .and a chapter in the nation's working history
would quietly close.
On a July day in 1917,
twelve hundred men were dragged from their beds at gunpoint. . .loaded on
to cattle cars. . .taken to the desert and forgotten.