Jane Little Botkin
from Frank Little and the IWW: the Blood That Stained an American Family
With my friends, I drove west out of El Paso along I-10 toward Deming, NM, a route that would take us into Arizona copper country where my uncle Frank Little cut his teeth on union organizing. We decided not to take the more southern border route, NM-9, just hovering above Northern Mexico, until necessary. Having been brought up on the Mexican border, we all knew the risks (and advantages) of traveling in far West Texas and southern New Mexico. But southern Arizona was new for us, and we weren’t going to chance being stranded in a remote desert area, even in broad daylight. We traveled with plenty of water and snacks just in case. If I were to travel the route now, I would also carry my pistol with me.
I recall once when my husband and I were arrowhead hunting on BLM land, specifically on a mesa overlooking El Paso directly below. We thought we had only to watch out for the heat and rattlesnakes. But at 2 o’clock in the afternoon, a border patrol suddenly appeared into the sandy, mesquite-covered area where we had parked. Thinking we were about to get in trouble for hunting on government land, we prepared for trouble. Instead the agents warned us in the strongest of terms to be out of the area by 4 o’clock, and certainly before dusk. According to the agents, gun runners would show no mercy if they came upon us. And we were not even in Mexico, but the US! We could even see where our house was standing below.
So, we girls avoided back-tracking most of the route on NM-9 and NM-80 that the El Paso and Southwestern Railroad had followed on July 12, 1917, when it carried 1,186 men in manure-strewn cattle-and-box cars from Bisbee, Arizona, to Hermanas, New Mexico, in temperatures upwards of 110 degrees. Their journey had taken 52 hours with little to no food and water. I didn’t need to see this scenery. I already knew what the area would look like and how hot the desert sun would have been. The deportation had been the result of a conspiracy among copper mining companies, uber-patriotic Bisbee home-guards, and local law enforcement worried about a copper strike during war-time. Their solution was to deport the miners and other individuals they suspected of being treasonous or just plain troublesome. Many had just spoken out against the war.
To listen to a July 12, 2017 NPR segment, which used part of my Bisbee presentation, click http://www.wbur.org/hereandnow/2017/07/12/bisbee-arizona-mining-deportation.
Just before the Arizona state line, we finally dipped south, and now followed 80 into Arizona until just blocks from the Mexican-border wall in Douglas, Arizona. In the early morning hours on July 12, 1917, Douglas’s Phelps-Dodge smelter siren had blared at a pre-designated time. Instead of warning about a Pancho Villa raid, the siren had called more gunmen to arrive in Bisbee to help with the “Great Wobbly Roundup.”
Now we were ready to make our acquaintance with Bisbee, Arizona, where I knew for a fact Frank Little had first arrived in late 1903. He returned to Bisbee often, with his final trip occurring in summer 1917. Leaving the mining town the evening of June 19, 1917, he had missed the infamous “Roundup!”
My Arizona research trip to uncover Frank Little’s life continued after Tucson—the next stop, was Scottsdale, where we left Ceci at a business meeting. Nancy and I planned to have a nice dinner with my new-found Harper cousin, Susie, before driving to Arizona State University in Tempe the next morning.
Once again, I had an ambitious list of documents I wished to examine, many of which Dr. Christine Marin had recommended. And once again, an archivist, this time Nancy Godoy, accommodated us, rolling carts of files to one table where my friend Nancy and I could converse as we sifted through files. Instead of examining mainly primary documents, we read piles of scholarly documents relating to Chicano studies and Arizona history, papers that helped lay a groundwork for my investigation. I examined each author’s sourcing, as I had learned long ago that many scholars relied on the conclusions of their peers. As a result, an error could be perpetuated for years. For example, scholars often repeated that my great-great-grandfather, Frank’s father, was a Quaker doctor. False. Also, that my great-great-grandmother, Frank’s mother, was Cherokee. She had just a drop of American Indian blood. They reported that Frank had cut his teeth as a hard rock miner in Arizona in 1900. False. They repeated that he had proven his IWW union credentials in the Goldfield, Nevada, battle between miners and mining interests. Also false.
After I asked permission to copy one particular document that was copyright protected, the archivist surreptitiously contacted the archives head. We observed his entrance to the research area where he sat down at a table near us, feigning interest in a file. I was getting used to this kind of scrutiny. I didn’t look like a serious, scholarly researcher, and my friend Nancy certainly didn’t. We looked like two gals out to have a good time. Our Texas accents surely grated on some people’s nerves. So Nancy and I just looked at each other, both understanding his intent, and continued our discussion of documents. Moments later, he approached us and after asking if I was, indeed, Frank Little’s niece, consented to call the document’s author for permission. We were granted access.
For each paper I copied, I knew that I would have to find the actual primary sources each author used for my own evaluation. I will not reveal how much I paid for all the photocopying. Let’s just say I could have paid for two more nights at Scottsdale’s Embassy Suites instead of the photocopies.
With the bulk of our Arizona paper research behind us, Nancy and I were now ready to go where Frank agitated. This was going to be fun.
The “Great Wobbly Drive” commenced on July 12, 1917. At precisely 6:30 A.M., newsboys circulated an early edition of the Bisbee Daily Review, its banner screaming, “Women and Children Keep Off Streets Today.” A siren at the Douglas smelter blared, not for warning of a Mexican invasion or Pancho Villa attack, but to engage more gunmen. Simultaneously, vigilantes with white armbands ambushed men arriving for morning picket duty outside Bisbee mines and businesses. Other men, armed with machine guns, rifles, and clubs, went door to door without warrants, waking up sleeping families. Husbands, fathers, and sons, prodded with gun butts, were ordered into the streets amidst wails of protesting wives and mothers. While remembering their hats, many men dressed sockless.
A procession of over one thousand men, many of whom were not strikers or even miners, began a three-mile march to the Warren baseball park that morning at 9:00 nine o’clock. Their women followed, climbing into the bleachers to observe what was happening. On the Calumet and Arizona Mining Company office roof, a machine gun was pointed downward toward the captives.
For more information and photos, click Bisbee Deportation at the University of Arizona.
After interviews and research in Bisbee’s Mining and Historical Museum and the Shattuck Memorial Research and the Copper Queen libraries, we were ready to leave Bisbee for Tucson and the University of Arizona’s archives. Just as in Victor, Colorado, I realized that bitter memories and hard opinions still existed among descendants, this time regarding the Bisbee deportation and unions. One museum docent scoffed at the notion of an established IWW presence in Bisbee when I asked where the union hall was located where the men would have met. I pressed her no further even though I possessed hard evidence that they had organized, although briefly, and held meetings.
In Tucson, my friends and I met special collections librarian Veronica Reyes in order to research my uncle Frank Little. Ms. Reyes had received a list of primary documents that I wished to examine and had the documents pulled, ready to go. This was a new endeavor for Ceci and Nancy, who were instructed how to “check out” each document, take it to a tall table in the quiet room, and carefully examine. Since we were not permitted to share a table, I oversaw which documents each would examine. If they found certain key words that I had provided them, then I was called over to examine. Then, if I gave a thumbs up, they took the document back to the archives’ desk and requested a photo copy. The desk began an accounting of my copies.
Ceci is maybe 5’1” tall. The tables were about three feet tall with chairs too low for sitting and viewing the tabletops. She bravely stood over mining company ledgers and time books for six hours, her sharp banker’s eyes looking for Frank. Since I already knew which letters and telegrams both to and from Frank were held in this archive, I only had to give Nancy the identifying information and she was able to pull and copy those documents. As for me, I dug and dug, searching for much more relating to Frank’s involvement in union organizing in Arizona. My eyes became bleary as I read letters, Bisbee deportation files, diaries, trial transcripts, etc. There was no time to stop for lunch.
My photocopying bill grew, and by day’s end, I wrote a substantial check. But this day, I finally held in my hands tangible evidence of Frank’s life. I marveled at his words. And I owed my friends a dinner.
Frank Little had his first venture as a Western Federation of Miners' organizer in the Clifton-Metcalf-Morenci mining district in Greenlee County, Arizona. He failed miserably in this first attempt, mainly because of racial divisions. I had plenty of scholarly research regarding the area, piecemeal accounts from old newspapers, and WFM meeting minutes regarding my uncle’s role, but I needed to see the camp for myself. The problem is, like so many other old mining locations, large open pit mining consumed much of the old mining district, leaving Clifton the sole survivor after Freeport-McMoRan expanded its open-pit mining operation in 1983.
Less than a hundred miles southeast of Globe, Arizona, veering northeast off U. S. Highway 70, is U. S. Highway 191, the old Coronado Trail. After we left the flattened, lush landscape of the Gila River valley from our hotel in Thatcher, our journey on U. S. Highway 191 branched the Black Hills Byway, a twenty-one-mile loop that traces the old Safford-Clifton trail. Years earlier, when Frank was called to Clifton from Globe, the old trail was just a rutted trace worn by a steady procession of men and mules through volcano-like mountains.
Emerging from the mountains, the byway rejoined U. S. Highway 191, and presented a panorama of blue sky with Clifton, Arizona, stretched below along the green banks of the serpentine San Francisco River. The view was gorgeous. To the northwest, the huge open-pit operation, its strata of ochre and turquoise hues, added color to the crumbling, brown community that is Clifton today. When Frank arrived in 1906, the rough mining community sprawled along Chase Creek, more a dry wash that monsoon rains might transform into a raging river. An interesting aside, famous Apache chief Geronimo claimed to have been born near here, the area also his last refuge before being captured.
Nancy and I toured the “tougher than Tombstone” town, which once bustled with mining offices, boarding houses, general stores, theaters, saloons, and rough enterprises characteristic of mining camps. Mostly vacant, two-storied brick buildings have changed little since Frank’s first arrival. I discovered that three years prior to Frank’s union participation there, an incident involving placing Irish-Catholic orphans into Mexican-Catholic homes generated an outrage and subsequent kidnapping, highlighting and growing racial tensions. A good book to read about this incident is Linda Gordon’s The Great Arizona Orphan Abduction (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999). Sacred Heart Catholic Church, scene of the adoption, remains prominent on its raised foundation with a newer stone facade.
Just like Bisbee, mining rubble was strewn among dead buildings. On lower slopes of the desert mountains, shot with green-and-purple-shadowed canyons surrounding Clifton, were black maws of ancient tunnels, which formerly disgorged ore cars full of copper. So Nancy and I walked the old streets below these hills, photographing both ruins and repurposed frontier buildings. We were especially fascinated with Clifton’s jail and delighted to know that it was rumored to have incarcerated boisterous Texans above all others! Naturally we went inside.
Post #15 cont'd
One unusual find was special for us. While asking our questions in the Copper Queen library, a mother and daughter had entered with their questions about a man who disappeared in Morenci, Arizona. The woman told how her great-grandfather, Spaniard Amalis Ortis, had moved to Morenci to work as miner. He was lost somehow, and even though they had visited the site of the old mining camp, they found no clues to his disappearance. Unfortunately, the docent could not help.
I had asked for the ladies’ contact information, saying that I would be going to Clifton-Morenci on this trip, promising to forward anything that I found. But it was in the University of Arizona archives that we found what happened to their ancestor, not in Morenci. When Ceci opened the Morenci mine’s death and accident ledger, there Amalis was, a thirty-two-year-old victim of disease, likely from unsanitary mining camp conditions. His sudden death had apparently prevented his receiving last rites. I photocopied the page and later emailed it to the family who would never have a grave to honor. At least I had Frank’s gravesite to touch.
Nancy, Ceci, and I arrived at the Copper Queen Hotel in Bisbee, Arizona. We had had a safe trip traveling from El Paso, as few cars traveled the same road for the last portion of the trip. The Copper Queen Consolidated Mining Company, a Phelps Dodge company, had built the Copper Queen Hotel in 1902, primarily to impress investors and dignitaries visiting the mining town. Built on the side of a hill, the forest-green-and-white Italianate-styled hotel boasted four stories of guest rooms, a smoking room, saloon, and dining room. I chose the hotel because I knew Frank Little had stayed there in 1903 and 1917.
Near the hotel, Brewery Avenue, coursing in the bottom of a gulch and named for a brewery once sitting at its entrance, parallels O. K. Street, both streets traveling north up the hill. Artisan beer joints and local coffee houses along with small music venues checker the area today, but when Frank walked this area, it was lined with a mélange of saloons, gambling houses, opium dens, and upward, houses of ill-repute with steep wooden stairs climbing to various cribs whose tenants offered carnal delights.
Overlooking the ravine of Brewery Avenue, Mexican wooden shanties once lined on top of each other on Chihuahua Hill (today’s “B” Hill). Southeast of the hotel is the Copper Queen Mine where Frank likely found work in 1903 and north of the hotel is a city park where Frank gave speeches to miners in 1917. Directly below the hotel is the old Phelps Dodge & Company building, now the Bisbee Mining and Historical Museum, both buildings in an area now called the Copper Queen Plaza. We had our work cut out for us but planned to weave the trip with fun. Southwest of the Plaza began Main Street, the main artery that we planned to canvass for art and mining relics later.
We passed through Copper Queen Hotel’s Palm room with its Tiffany-glassed cathedral ceiling to the registration desk, near the same heavy, tiger oak front desk that held the guest ledger when Frank arrived over one hundred years ago. Along with our room keys, the receptionist gave us a DVD about the Copper Queen Hotel’s hauntings. Ceci scoffed, but Nancy and I were eager to watch the video later. Ceci planned to stay in her own room down the hall from us on the supposedly-haunted third floor where she could sleep soundly and not be bothered by a couple of women who let their imaginations stray. But Ceci was staying in the Julia Lowell room, a room that a prostitute used for entertaining her clients and in which she supposedly took her life. After seeing the red-velvet bed spread and draperies in the room, we taunted Ceci with little success. (Click here for stories regarding the Copper Queen Hotel’s haunted history.)
Before settling in for our first haunted evening, we toured the rest of the hotel, including the Copper Queen Saloon where the ubiquitous Old West portrait of a nude Lillie Langtry resides. Did Frank stop in here? How could he have had the necessary funds to stay in such a fine hotel where meals cost as much as a night's stay? He did sign the registry ledger, and he had arrived from California where Fred and Emma had lived.
I had a difficult time leaving the romance we discovered in Colorado, even though Frank’s adventures were not there. I was exhilarated to discover what my other uncle Fred had been doing and how Emma Harper fit in. With Emma’s discovery, I felt like my research was turning up one surprise after another. I was never bored.
Besides finding my new Harper cousin during the months researching in Oklahoma and Colorado, I had discovered MaryJoy Martin, an immensely talented investigator and author of Western labor history. MaryJoy, a resident of Colorado and biographer of Vincent St. John, who was a member of the Western Federation of Miners and a founder of the Industrial World of Workers, kept my head on straight. She encouraged me whenever I needed a historical bridge to cross or just kind words when I became muddled in the baggage of my family’s past. She also has files and files of research regarding western labor history. If I had a question, she answered it with optimism. I honestly do not think I could have finished the project without her enthusiasm. I had discovered the task to tell Frank’s story was enormous, if not overwhelming.
Another individual helped me at this point. Paul Espinosa of Espinosa Productions had produced a documentary called Los Mineros. The film was powerful, revealing extreme actions taken toward immigrant laborers in the Clifton-Morenci mining district (Arizona) where I had found Frank. I emailed Mr. Espinosa for a copy of the documentary. He not only provided the DVD but also provided another contact. I next presented myself to Dr. Christine Marin, retired archivist and historian of Mexican-American studies from Arizona State University, whose recommendations introduced me to the minority perspective in Arizona labor conflicts. I began reading all the books, theses, and other documents Dr. Marin recommended. As my personal library grew, more avenues opened for additional research. At this point, my husband commented that he sure hoped I would at least sell enough books to pay for the trips and materials!
By now, I was able to track Frank easily, and I had created a timeline of his life. But a body of facts is boring without the flesh to bring it to life. I wanted to know more, all details about his daily life and its context. So finally, after months of documenting and noting what I learned from this research, I
had prepared another itinerary, this time for Arizona. I intended to research Bisbee, Globe, Miami, Clifton-Morenci, Tucson, and Tempe. I had an ambitious list of primary documents to find, historians to interview, and even a mine to tour. This time, not only my friend Nancy traveled with me, but another old friend from our childhood, Ceci. I knew I could put her banker's eyes on the mining ledgers. We were set! With its back door replaced, my trusty Toyota land cruiser turned west.
From my research, I knew that my uncle Frank Little had claimed former Arizona mining camps Globe, in early years, and Miami, in later years, as his mailing address. I would later find out that Frank had no permanent home, returning to Oklahoma occasionally, and probably considered Fresno, California, his home base.
Eighty miles east of Phoenix along today’s U.S. Highway 60, Globe straddles Pinal Creek in the heart of Arizona’s picturesque Tonto National Forest between spectacular vistas of the Apache Mountains on the east and the Pinal Mountains to the west. Globe became a center of labor agitation amid Phelps Dodge spies, loyalty leagues, and insidious ethnic bigotries, which, like Bisbee, plays a major role in Frank’s evolution as a fiery labor agitator.
Just four miles to the west of Globe is Miami, an emergent mining camp in 1907 largely dependent on Miami Copper Company. Miami (pronounced “My-am-uh” by locals) provides an important setting for Frank Little’s future agitation, but in this earlier time the close communities of Globe and Miami were isolated from the rest of Arizona except for the Gila Valley, Globe, and Northern Railway linking them to the outside world to the east. Like misshapen beads on a crooked wire, major mines strung the communities together through the valley with Old Dominion to the east, Miami Copper in the middle, and by 1909, the Inspiration to the northwest.
Frank’s last speech in Arizona was in a sandy wash in the middle of Miami, so that is where Nancy and I headed next. I had no contacts in Miami. The closest historical society was in Globe to the east, so we stopped at the Gila County Library on Miami’s Adonis Avenue. The decision turned out to be a blessing.
Delvan Burch Hayward, head librarian and a "downwinder," is a descendant of miners. Though tight-lipped about events in her family’s past, she was quick to make an important phone call to John Michael Benson, also a descendent of a mining family. In fact, his father had been a mine manager, and Benson had been born in Cananea, Mexico, where his father had worked for an American-owned mining company.
These two took us for a delightful afternoon tour of historic Miami, and Delvan even hosted our lunch. Benson entertained, using various dialects his immigrant parents and grandparents spoke, while providing solid details about life in Miami through the perspective of a mining family. The fact that my uncle had been an IWW agitator against the very mine management in which his family had been involved did not faze his willingness to share. He loves history. In particular, he recalled detailed stories his father had told him, including events when the mining company destroyed evidence of discriminatory practices. Miami and Globe both had been “white men’s” mining camps.
A later interview with contractor Fred Barcón in Globe, whose grandfather had worked as a laborer in the mine, revealed shocking treatment of Mexican and Mexican-American workers, reinforcing Paul Espinosa’s documentary Los Mineros, although the film is primarily about the Clifton-Morenci mining district. With Barcón’s help, I was able to determine the location of Frank’s last speech in Miami.
After we left Miami, we met Vernon Perry, president at the Gila Historical Society in Globe. There a vertical file, full of local history, helped flesh out the Old Dominion mine managers’ perspective on events between 1905 and, particularly, 1917. I am very grateful for the hospitality and willingness to share unpleasant stories from these individuals.
When we first drove into Bisbee, we couldn’t help but notice an enormous open-pit mine, dug so deeply that it invited tourists to a viewing platform for examination. The Lavender Pit, not named for the beautiful spiraling colors that wraps its sides, is the product of Phelps Dodge Corporation’s more recent copper excavation. The pit is actually attractive depending on the light, and later we discovered a variety of paintings highlighting its beauty in Bisbee’s galleries.
But the pit did not exist when Frank Little entered Bisbee in 1903 to find work. I decided that if I was going to fully understand Frank’s early life as a hard rock miner then I needed to learn as much as I could about work in a mine. There are many mine tours where people get to walk inside tunnels just so far, but that really isn’t seeing a mine. Frank Little more than likely worked in the Copper Queen Mine, and as luck would have it, the mine still exists and offers a more experiential tour. Click here for information on this tour.
All three of us were eager to go a mile inside the dry, horizontal mine that offered a 47-degree temperature, a much better work environment than the vertical mines in Butte, Montana, where men descended down multiple levels in oppressive, wet, conditions. Butte’s Never Sweat Mine had temperatures that could reach 120 degrees.
Once we were outfitted with warm, yellow slickers, hard hats, and battery packs for our helmet lights, our tour guide, a retired Phelps Dodge miner, gave safety warnings and we were on our way via a rail that snaked along the tunnel floor. I had introduced myself before we began and explained that I would be asking types of questions different from what a typical tourist would ask, and I hoped he would indulge me. For the next hour, he would pause at times and say, “where is the lady who is writing the book?” as we traveled the tunnel to different areas. I balanced my notepad on one knee and tried not to drop my pen each time my ride jarred to a stop in the dim lighting. We stopped to learn the differences between the ribs, stopes, and head of the mine. At times we left the tracks and walked into areas where our guide explained the dangers and daily life inside the mine. I attempted to distinguish the types of ores and the hierarchy of mining jobs available underground. I also learned that hard rock miners owned a dicey existence.
When Frank worked the Copper Queen, he used candles for illumination, not a carbide lantern, and he wore a soft, canvas miner’s cap, not a hard hat. He had to listen for shouts warning of falling ore or cave-ins. But he plugged his ears when using noisy, steam-powered “widowmaker” drills or “buzzies” that shot out rocks and dust, causing blindness and even death. His knees and back hurt from climbing wooden ladders between levels, and his lungs were congested from dry silica dust, stirred in the air from drilling and blasting. He likely ingested arsenic from his fingers every time he ate. No, this was not a job for the fainthearted. These were real men who risked their lives every day they went to work.
Our tour over, we “brassed out” inside the visitors’ area, turned in our gear, and began digesting our experience. But this had been a pleasant event, not at all representative of what Frank experienced or the other thousands of miners who worked deep underground for less than $3 a day in extreme danger. My heart began to fill with a new empathy and understanding for these hardworking men, and it wouldn’t be too long before my views about this time period in American history began to broaden and change.
Many Miami and Globe residents claim to be “downwinders,” individuals who were exposed to radioactive contamination or nuclear fallout from atmospheric or underground nuclear weapons testing in Nevada during the1950s. Their claims have proven to be accurate. By 2010, the government had paid out over $61million to claims just in Globe. Under the US Justice Department’s regulations, an approved “downwinder” was compensated $50,000. Click here for a PBS interview about downwinders in Gila County, Arizona.
The author, left, and her friend ready for the Copper Queen Mine tour.