a hard-hitting advocate for truth, fairness, and justice” [woodyguthrie.org]. Later Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, and others from his circle, were targeted for their activist stances on such issues as the right to unionize, equal rights, and free speech. Sound familiar?
We all know Woody Guthrie’s song, “This Land is My Land.” But I find that his “Dust Bowl” ballads best liken his views to Frank Little’s:
Another life cut short, Woody Guthrie died from Huntington’s Disease in 1967 at the age of 55.
So, along with our military heroes, we honor the others, the ones who wore hard hats, the ones who gave their lives underground in a most horrifying manner, to mine a metal required for war.
Ultimately Woody Guthrie found his soapbox—on a radio show. A Guthrie family organization states that, through radio airwaves, Guthrie “developed his talent for controversial social commentary and criticism. On topics ranging from corrupt politicians, lawyers, and businessmen to praising the compassionate and humanist principles of Jesus Christ, the outlaw hero Pretty Boy Floyd, and the union organizers that were fighting for the rights of migrant workers in California’s agricultural communities, Guthrie proved himself
Harrison Gray Otis
Wherever little children are hungry and cry
Wherever people ain't free
Wherever men are fightin' for their rights
That's where I'm a-gonna be, Ma
That's where I'm a-gonna be
From “Tom Joad”
The second reason is because of Frank Little, my uncle. In researching Frank Little and the IWW, I discovered he not only sympathized with these women, but also helped Jane Street organize, supporting her at a time when male-dominated-union apathy, if not condescension, of women’s labor struggles undermined any real western labor organization. If fact, as this story plays out, certain male union members (not Frank!), under the guise of providing “fatherly direction” to the nascent liberation-de-la-femme uprising, determined that the new union headquarters, its rooms available for out-of-work maids, was their personal smorgasbord, enticing vulnerable girls for sexual favors. So, the house maids’ uprising is more than a melodrama—a thread of white slavery now entered my research. Enter the YWCA, whose members determined that housewives should “educate” the poor girls in gentility, education, and training; Denver’s Chamber of Commerce; a burglary of the union’s famous index card file; and a fascinating historical story emerges.
So, I wondered, what did Red Harvest have to do with Frank? Was the title a reference to the rounding up of Communists in our country? Dashiell Hammett had been ensnared during the McCarthy hearings and went to jail in 1951. While many believed that the IWW were a bunch of Communists, this belief could not be further from the truth. The IWW did not believe in affiliating with any political party in 1917, though a few Wobblies later joined the Communist Party. Besides, Hammett wrote the novel in 1929, a dozen years after Frank’s murder. The IWWs had been called Reds, primarily because of the Russian Revolution, which had occurred in early 1917. The term was likely used because most IWWs were socialists.
With his son-in-law Harry Chandler, Otis owned thousands of ranchland acres in Baja California under the California-Mexico Land and Cattle Company. Many American capitalist giants, including Guggenheim, Rockefeller, Morgan, and Hearst, had joined Otis in unfettered control of Mexican acres, railroads, factories, and mines, operating their interests with Mexican labor. Amid rumors that Wobblies (IWWs) were crossing international boundaries to assist Mexican and Canadian workingmen who labored under American interests, Otis, who had connections with President Taft, promptly combatted unionists and socialists, this time with federal support. If industrial unionists and Socialists interrupted the supply of cheap labor, both the capitalists and beleaguered Mexican president Porfirio Díaz would lose profits.
Sacred Heart Church, Clifton, AZ
When I was an aspiring college student at the University of Texas at El Paso back in the early seventies, I had to park my car in a designated area beyond some low sand dunes and navigate a beaten trail just south of the dorms before my feet hit pavement. Immediately to my left was I-10, and beyond that, railroad tracks, the border fence, a corralled Rio Grande, and Mexico. On many occasions, my mouth immediately filled with a metallic taste—ASARCO was emitting fumes on these days. While I understood that the charcoal-colored boulders and buildings next to I-10 and the university were due to these emissions, I, like many other students, had no idea that the fumes were heavy with toxins. The discolored landscape and leaden taste just came with attending UTEP. I also had no idea that my uncle, Frank Little, had arrived near ASARCO over fifty years prior and barely escaped with his life. He likely was targeting Mexican workers who lived in Smeltertown, a poor community on the United States side of the river, that supplied labor for the American Smelting and Refining Company.
ASARCO's Smeltertown Cemetery, (source El Paso Times)
“El Paso sought to evacuate Smeltertown, which a local newspaper described as ‘a grimy feudal kingdom spread beneath the Company Castle,’ but many residents resisted. In May 1975, an injunction ordered ASARCO to modernize and make environmental improvements, which eventually cost some $120 million. Against their wishes the residents were forced to move; their former homes were razed, leaving only the abandoned school and church buildings to mark the site of El Paso's first major industrial community.” Also remaining is the cemetery.
Despite all the attention to ASARCO and Smeltertown, in the 1970s UTEP’s athletic program provided its athletes summer jobs at the refinery. Go figure!
But what about Frank Little? He had arrived in El Paso likely between November 1916 and March 1917, prior to an IWW meeting. Gunmen, company-hired thugs, had jumped Frank, violently kicking him in the abdomen, the cause of a hernia that almost incapacitated him. By the time of the spring Chicago meeting, he was in great pain. Whether Frank just happened to take the El Paso route after visiting my great-great-grandmother or to agitate El Paso’s ASARCO plant and meet with Mexican agitators there is unknown.
In January 1916, Pancho Villa’s raid on a Chihuahua ASARCO plant sent workers to El Paso’s refinery for protection. The Mexican Revolution had been raging since 1909 as various leaders (Díaz, Madero, the Magóns, Villa, Zapata, etc.) “ate their own.” The IWW had tried to organize labor against American-owned companies in Mexico but also disliked Villa. In Arizona, site of ASARCO’s corporate headquarters, the IWW was about to organize a strike of metal mine workers, and Frank was in charge.
Paid detectives also could have had information regarding Frank’s itinerary and sought him out for their own reasons. A network of spies operated throughout the mining districts. To facilitate encrypted messages, mining companies had implemented code books that spies and operators used when wiring warning of radical activities among camps and the locations of radical organizers. Could ASARCO’s management have received notice of Frank’s whereabouts?
As for ASARCO, the landmark smoke stacks were demolished on April 13, 2013. Crowds of El Pasoans arrived to view the historic event from the UTEP side of I-10. To many, ASARCO’s demise was long overdue. For me, I now feel slightly discombobulated driving on I-10 since the tallest concrete stack was my point of reference. But for many Mexican and Mexican-American families, its destruction marks the end of a poverty-filled era, characterized by illness and death during the tenure of an American-owned corporate giant.
At midnight, the shirtless prisoners were driven three miles out of town on a country road where a mob of Tulsa citizens was waiting, roused by Tulsa World’s editor. Earlier that day, the editor had called for more hemp, stating “a knowledge of how to tie a knot that will stick might come in handy in a few days.” Illuminated by police car headlights, the prisoners were tied to trees and whipped “in the name of the women and children of Belgium,” and their bloody wounds were tarred and feathered. The incident nationally became known as the Tulsa Outrage.
Convicted for not owning war bonds? Shameful. So, who were this riff-raff, anyway? I investigated. On a Monday evening, eleven men had been hauled away from their IWW hall in paddy-wagons, without explanation, and thrown in jail. The charge? Vagrancy.
Later in court that same night, they pled “not guilty,” and defense attorney Charles Richardson addressed the court, “Your Honor, if the police have any evidence that these men have been guilty of any act of disloyalty to this government, I will withdraw from the case now.” After no response, the judge selected one of the men for Richardson to defend. The results would apply to all the other prisoners who would also serve as “witnesses,” along with several other men in the courtroom.
The individual selected was a young man who was no vagrant, but an employee of a pipe-line company who had come to Tulsa to cash his paycheck the Saturday before. Since the bank had been closed, he had stayed over in the IWW hall after contracting to work for another company earlier in the day, Monday morning. He carried an IWW membership card. He likely had been a member of the Oil Workers Industrial Union.
Richardson countered the vagrancy claim informing the court that membership in the IWW was for bona-fide wage earners. In fact, most of the men testified as to where they worked and how long and the amount of pay they received. One man had not missed a day of work in ten months, worked a great deal overtime, and had lived in Tulsa for six years. Another local resident, who had lived in Tulsa eighteen years, was a father of ten children who owned his own home.
On cross examination, the city attorney asked each witness (including defendants) what their attitudes were toward the government, toward the state, and toward the city. Did they own war bonds? Everyone responded with their loyalties. Still, all eleven men were found guilty at 10:40 P. M. and assessed a $100 fine each. The judge remarked, “These are not ordinary times.” Indeed.
Even as the eleven men were being placed back into the jail, several claimed to have their fine money ready to pay. Their pleas were ignored, even when they offered to pay more. Six others, spectator-witnesses in the courtroom, some of whom were not even IWW members, were also arrested and thrown into the cell.
A report to the Industrial Relations Committee later confirmed that nine leaders of a mob, including five members of the Tulsa police force, participated in the horrific event that followed. US Deputy Marshal John Moran, in charge of the Tulsa office, later said that he was opposed to this kind of business and even tried to get them not to do it, but his words found deaf ears. He evidently did not stop them either.
The tarred-and-feathered included Tom McCaffery, John Myers, John Doyle, Charles Walsh, W. H. Walton, L. R. Mitchell, Joseph French, J. R. Hill, Gunnard Johnson, Robert McDonald, J. F. Ryan, E. M. Boyd, and Jack Sneed (note: not a German among them).
Why does the Tulsa Outrage interest me so much? My uncle Frank Little had already been murdered. True. But, after his big brother Fred was arrested in California in 1918, Bureau of Investigation agents raided my Aunt Emma’s Fresno home two more times. On one occasion after my aunt was suspiciously detained, the same men entered the house with no warrant, threatening my cousins, the two teenage boys and a seven-year-old girl, to cooperate. “Remember Tulsa,” they cautioned.
Wallace Cargill, a poor dirt farmer in Oklahoma, was seriously wounded on his own land during a rebellion of primarily American Indian and African-American tenant farmers in 1917. He was rumored to have had Frank Little’s photo in his pocket. He, like the other farmers, were part of the Working Class Union (WCU), a radical group originally organized in 1913 in Louisiana after out-of-work lumber workers found themselves adrift and the IWW leadership rejected farmers because they were not true wageworkers.
In 1911, tenant farmers, such as Cargill, had met my uncle in moon-blanched woods in the middle of the night to plead for membership in the IWW. Surrounding the secret meeting were armed guards to protect the small group from growing Oklahoma vigilantism, i.e. Knights of Liberty and KKK. The tenant farmers were surely disappointed when Frank Little told them the IWW could not help them.
Enter the WCU. Its membership was secret. Many were members of the Jones Family, a deliberately misleading name for its members. The two groups sought abolition of rents, labor reforms such as the eight-hour day and a workers' compensation program, old age pensions, child labor laws, and free school textbooks. Unlike the Socialists and the IWW, the WCU did not reject the use of violence. And, this is why the Green Corn Rebellion became bloody.
What I did not know about Jack London was that he had hoboed in his youth, even joining a western contingent of Coxey’s Army to protest against unemployment following the Panic of 1893. Kelly’s Army, the western group which London joined, marched to Ohio to join the main body before its planned march to Washington, D.C., in 1894. My mother often used the expression “enough to feed Coxey’s army” when referring to the large amount of food she would prepare for special family events, but I never knew the origin of the phrase until researching my uncle Frank Little. (Betting my mother didn’t know the exact origin of her words either since she evidently picked up an entire lexicon of expressions from my grandmother.) What I do know is that former members of this ragtag group later marched from the Pacific Northwest to join Frank in his Fresno free speech fight ten years later.
3-7-77. The only clue attached to Frank Little’s corpse swinging on a hemp rope from a Milwaukee Railroad trestle in Butte, Montana, on August 1, 1917. A Bureau of Intelligence agent in charge noted that the pasteboard placard warned the dimensions of a grave: 3-feet wide, 7-feet deep, and 77-inches long. If so, the warning pinned to Frank’s underwear would surely act as a deterrent to future labor agitation. But did 3-7-77 really indicate thus? Why not just write “six-feet under”? After my University of Oklahoma Press editor questioned the assessment, I was driven to do further research.
One theory is that the numbered code first appeared on November 1, 1879, in Helena. The city had become home to desperados who murdered and robbed the citizenry. The Montana Vigilante Code, painted on tents, fences, and walls, strongly advised outlaws to
from the Washington Post, 9-24-1916
The second time Woody Guthrie’s name popped up was during an academic review of my manuscript, Frank Little and the IWW: The Blood That Stained an American Family. An Oklahoma historian strongly supported its publication stating, though he personally was a “left wing” kind of guy, he was reminded of a story about Woody Guthrie when Guthrie was accused of being too far left-wing. Guthrie had responded in his best Okie drawl, “Aw, left-wing, right-wing, chicken wing, it don’t make no difference to me, I just support programs that help my people.” The professor went on to say that thoughtful readers of any point on the ideological spectrum could see the importance of my book in modern day when “red state” Oklahoma means conservative Republican, but during Frank’s life, it meant far left, as in “reds” or socialists.
When hoboes did stay in one place, it was a “jungle” or camp, often near railroad tracks and water, where a fluctuating population could find the most basic needs for survival or quickly board a train for work. In describing the migratory farm worker, Frank once wrote, “When you see one tramping along the road, he generally has a load on his back that the average prospector would be ashamed to put on a jackass. In fact, most of the jackasses would have enough sense to kick it off.” During harvest season, he added, a steady line of these bindle stiffs “tramping down the highway” begged for the “right to work to earn enough to buy a little grub, take it down to the jungles by a river or beside an irrigation ditch, and then cook it up in old tin cans which their masters had thrown away.”
Recently, as we drove through Fresno’s downtown streets, I wondered about this new generation of bindle stiffs, the homeless we saw living in an enormous tent-and-cardboard colony, its blue-and-tan tarps fluttering in soft warm breezes. Were they workers, or “occupiers”?
Just a hundred years earlier, a poster hung in a Fresno's IWW hall. A drawing of a bindle stiff walking down a railroad track with his bundle over his arm read: “He built the ROAD with others of his CLASS, he built the road and now for many a mile he packs his load and wonders why the H--ll he built the road. The "Blanket Stiff.”
leave town. While some considered the meaning to be that the bad guys had 3 hours, 7 minutes, and 77 seconds to leave town, why say 77 seconds? Why not 8 minutes and 17 seconds? Were the vigilantes poetic? Not likely.
What a profound statement! We immediately identify with Frank Little.
Yes, Helen Keller was a Socialist. And despite all her freethinking, her words, and, especially, her condemnation of IWW persecution, the Bureau of Investigation ultimately determined that Ms. Keller was not a danger. Free speech was protected, at least, in her case.
Propaganda posters against WWI
Excellent source for further reading!
Recently on the NBC show, “Who Do You Think You Are,” Modern Family actress Julie Bowen discovered that her great-grandfather played a role in targeting German immigrants and Americans who were perceived to be pro-German during the World War I years. A talented illustrator and self-made man, ironically with the German surname Frey, her great-grandfather served his country working with the United States Justice Department, ultimately heading the national American Protection League. I was fascinated by Ms. Bowen’s reaction to the details of what her ancestor did. I knew she would be shocked and disappointed.
The America Protective League (APL) was formed in 1917 in Chicago by another advertising executive, A. M. Briggs. The United States government depended on print media and advertising agencies such as his to help popularize this foreign war, one in which there was no attack on American soil. It is no surprise that Charles Frey, who also owned an advertising company in Chicago, was caught up in the uber-patriotism of World War I, joining Chicago’s APL. Eventually the private-citizen-spy organization moved to Washington, D. C., including Mr. Frey, where it could work closely with the Bureau of Investigation, the precursor to the modern Federal Bureau of Investigation.
After raising social consciousness of the plight of the Mexican peon under Porfirio Díaz, Magón and his brother Enrique were tried, found guilty, and jailed for breaking neutrality laws.
When the Bureau of Investigation finished compiling, at least one thousand individuals were named. With more arrests inevitable, and aided by unscrupulous newspaper editors, the nation became whipped into hysteria by accounts of more German influence. German airplanes flew over western states and German money financed traitorous activities on American soil. With each outrageous story, membership in local Loyalty Leagues increased, and the APL acted on their tips, seeking out American traitors. Others took the law into their own hands. Several towns and cities were rife with incidents of horse whipping, tarring and feathering, deportations, and mock trials with mock hangings of Non-Partisan League members and IWWs for refusal to support the YMCA and Red Cross.
My great-grandfather Alonzo Little, Frank’s eldest brother, was arrested, his house searched for seditious material, in the fall of 1917. Nothing was found, and he was released, startled, back to our family. They had been wise. Everything relating to Frank was put away or destroyed. My great-grandfather was a farmer, not a union organizer, and possessed no antiwar materials. Besides, Frank had prewarned him of such consequences. My other uncle, Fred, was not so lucky. He was arrested and then imprisoned without
On September 26, 1911, the day that Frank Little and the other delegates visited Waldheim Cemetery, they considered August Spies’ “prophetic utterance” before he was hanged, the words inscribed on the monument commemorating the lost labor leaders: “The day will come when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you strangle today.”
The quotation could not have been more profound, and my uncle’s voice would be strangled almost six years later.
My uncle Frank Little made his first trip to Chicago just before September 18, 1911. He had been invited to attend the sixth annual IWW convention. The convention had commenced in the Schweitzer-Turner Hall, formerly Uhlich Hall, in Chicago. The hall had been the birthplace of the American Labor Union, and Chicago, an aged, industrial city of skyscrapers, made an appropriate setting for the industrial union’s annual meeting. One week into the convention, Frank and other delegates recessed to show respect to an event hallowed in all American labor unions: the upcoming anniversary of the 1887 Haymarket executions.
Of the men mentioned above, not one was found guilty of violence or sabotage. All were given prison terms from five to twenty years for their words.
From Woody Guthrie’s
It was early springtime when the strike was on,
They drove us miners out of doors,
Out from the houses that the Company owned,
We moved into tents up at old Ludlow.
I was worried bad about my children,
Soldiers guarding the railroad bridge,
Every once in a while a bullet would fly,
Kick up gravel under my feet.
We were so afraid you would kill our children,
We dug us a cave that was seven foot deep,
Carried our young ones and pregnant women
Down inside the cave to sleep…
So, it is no surprise that, despite a deep pride of mining and craftsmanship among fatigued miners, constant fear shadowed nearby. Below their neighborhoods, a reported ten thousand miles of dangerous tunnels ran under Butte, some shafts as deep as one mile. One could literally walk from one mine to another mine under the city. However, many considered it a victory just to be able to walk out of the mine each day. Children looked for fathers trudging through mine gates after work while wives and mothers listened for wailing whistles heralding mining calamities.
Mining conditions were horrible. Doctors responding to mining companies’ white-washed health and accident reports countered that the “slaughter of miners in Butte was appalling.” Common fatal ailments included pneumonia, caused by sandpapered lungs from an accumulation of rock dust; silicosis; lead poisoning; and tuberculosis. Compounding disease were new accidents among recent immigrants, occurring with the use of unfamiliar, modern technology.
Instead of telling a man to “Go to hell!” he was advised to “Go to Butte!” as Butte was about as near hell as a man could go where normal underground temperatures ranged between 110 and 120 degrees. Working in areas of old timber, miners had to watch diligently for fire that ignited easily in the oily works. To stop fires from spreading underground, mining companies installed bulkheads between tunnels to other mines.
Sealed bulkheads, in which North Butte Mining Company was supposed to have installed manhole doors, contributed enormously to the loss of life on June 8, 1917, when the Granite Shaft ignited in Speculator Mine. A worker accidentally touched his carbide lantern to a frayed, oily electrical cable. Ironically, miners had been installing a sprinkler system to improve safety.
I think I will linger a little longer on Oklahoma injustices before moving on to an entirely new Chasing Rabbits post. I love this state, home to my Little family heritage, but like new territories, its politics were fickle as its new inhabitants struggled to define who they would become. Critic George Milburn, in describing Oklahoman social opinions, once wrote that “attitudes in Oklahoma are almost as unpredictable as the weather. Where a man comes home in the evening with a fringe of icicles on his straw hat.”
So not surprisingly, Oklahoma, a once pre-WWI radical, agrarian territory, quickly transformed to a far right, rabid oil-rich state once America entered the war. Those caught in the middle needed to duck to avoid partisan missiles, including my Little family members.
As an example, in September 1917, four wealthy Bartlesville oil men put a price on German sympathizers, offering ten dollars for every pro-German brought in, with an extra five dollars for men from Washington County. Were the oil men members of the American Protective League? Or, just businessmen worried about striking workers? (See Chasing Rabbits post “Bureau of Investigation.”)
On November 9, 1917, as the nationwide search for radicals widened, eleven Wobblies who had been convicted for vagrancy and not owning war bonds and six others who testified in the accused’s defenses were detained by city police in Tulsa. Moments later, policemen escorted the prisoners out of the city jail into waiting cars and the muscled grip of the Knights of Liberty. Some of the heavily armed, black-robed Knights were the same police who originally made the arrests, while others were Chamber of Commerce members, well-respected businessmen, and a preacher. The Tulsa police chief, likewise robed, regulated the prisoners’ beatings, per witness testimony in a pamphlet later published by the National Civil Liberties Bureau.
Was Frank Little there as some have written? Not likely. In Michigan during August 1916, Frank had been kidnapped, mock hanged, and beaten senseless. In fact, some of his injuries were still evident when he was hanged for real on August 1, 1917. By mid-November 1916, an ailing Frank Little was in Chicago, involved with the IWW’s general executive board, preparing for the upcoming IWW convention. No doubt, the recent Everett Massacre was certainly on the board members’ minds.
Like Frank, Woody Guthrie was a hobo during a period of his life. He had headed west looking for work during the Depression, riding freight trains and walking the open road, all the while observing folk he encountered daily in tent jungles. Also like Frank, Guthrie found native antagonism toward these same itinerant farm workers who had invaded the Golden State looking for any type of work.
University of Oklahoma Press, 2017
The answer to this is an emphatic nothing. My uncle was an old-school IWW who was interested in truth and justice for the worker, and he abhorred political parties and political action. But as a young adult growing up, I was not so certain about this. Remember, I had been told that my uncle was a socialist who was hanged from a railroad trestle, suggesting he had been murdered for his ideology. Of course, this was not true.
How did I discover Frank Little’s interests, views, vision? Through stacks and stacks of IWW documents, first-hand descriptions, his peers’ evaluations, discussions with other labor historians, and, most importantly, through Frank’s actions in life. This research involved studying papers from the Walter R. Reuther Library at Wayne State University, including WFM and IWW convention documents, personal letters between Frank and other IWWs, and digesting IWW biographies and essays, etc. An enormous task that took years.
In my research, I found that my uncle had discovered socialism, the ideology, when he joined the Western Federation of Miners sometime around 1903. The WFM were composed of many socialists, not uncommon for this time in American history, since immigrant-miners had brought their European beliefs with them. Add corporate owners who behaved like tyrannical dictators who owned the laborers, the worst possible light was shed on capitalism. The WFM’s ideology was all about the worker, not surprising in this time of robber barons, unsafe working conditions, low pay, and blatant disregard for the little guy. By 1905 Frank, like many others, joined the Socialist Party of America (SPA). I did discover who influenced him, as well as Frank’s own words regarding the fusion of the IWW and the SPA.
But this relationship dissolved within several years, primarily because of the IWW’s relationship to the WFM, internecine fighting, and backbiting over individuals’ different socialist views. The 1907 WFM convention minutes are painful to read, but read them I did. And there was my uncle, attending his first convention as a delegate, bravely speaking up for what he believed. He was fiercely in line with Vincent St. John, who would become General Secretary-Treasurer of the IWW, and who did not want to tie the WFM Preamble to politics. St. John later paid a price in Leavenworth Prison after the 1918 Chicago trial against the IWW.
So, something had changed. Frank now sided with IWW leaders St. John and Bill Haywood, to solely promote direct action to achieve IWW objectives, including untraditional support of immigrants—and this made him a radical, especially during wartime. By 1910, the IWW offered a salve to the displaced hoboes who were typically apolitical and rarely stayed in one place long enough to vote. While AFL’s Samuel Gompers asserted that the lot of the migratory worker was worse than slavery, the AFL did little to help migrants who did not vote. Not surprisingly, an adversarial relationship grew between the IWW and AFL that mining companies later milked.
Photographer Jacob Riis documented life in New York tenements. Called "Street Arabs," orphans, mostly boys, created a nuisance.
None of my social studies or American literature classes taught this! In my college American lit classes, my nose was trained to pick up the scent of metaphors, imagery, symbolism, and hyperbole employed to support innocuous thematic statements analyzing frontier literature, but never the socialist bent of the authors who wrote the lovely poems, short stories, and novels.
After Jack London died an untimely death in 1916, the IWW paid tribute to the man and honored his wife. I wonder if Frank Little ever met him. Possibly, but it pleases me to think that Jack London surely knew of Frank Little.
As it turns out, there are myriad theories concerning the significance of 3-7-77, known as the Montana Vigilante Code, and all stem from vigilante justice. Montanans are and were self-reliant. In a case of disorderly conduct, the code served as a dire warning. Get out of town–-or else. In Frank’s case, when the government would not step in to censor his incendiary language, a copper company acted on its own in Butte. Frank had had two prior warnings. The third warning pinned to his body was for the living.
Did my uncle Frank Little participate in the Mexican Revolution, specifically in the Battle of Tijuana? One historian thought so, and wrote as much. I was not so certain for several reasons. First, Frank never advocated violence of any kind, but not because of a Quaker background. He wasn’t raised a Quaker nor were his parents Quaker—despite misinformation that various historians have perpetuated. Did he ever carry a gun? Definitely. He surely would have known how to shoot a squirrel out of a tree for dinner. All Oklahoma boys had this skill. In 1913 he carried a pistol after being beaten in Duluth and then kidnapped in Superior. But would he have carried a 30.30 and worn a bandolier slung across his shoulders in a battle that some have ridiculed for its circus-like aftermath?
I had to investigate one person’s assertion of my uncle’s participation because in this project to tell Frank’s life, I could leave no stray scholarly allegation untouched. Yes, another rabbit to chase. A little background first.
Jane Little Botkin
Gun shots opened immediately—a crossfire—with the Verona trapped between vigilantes in the tugboats and law enforcement and other vigilantes on the docks. Deputies, hidden in a warehouse along the docks, also opened fire.
Men panicked in the boat, almost capsizing it, and some dove into the water while many others, who could not swim, fell overboard. Quick to act, a Wobbly cut the ties to the dock, ordered the engines reversed, and the Verona made her escape backing out of the area.
Afterwards, four men lay dead on its decks, one was dying, and thirty-one were wounded. At the dock, one deputy was killed, another was dying, and twenty wounded. An unknown number fell overboard, some wounded, and their bodies never found. What was to be called Bloody Sunday was immediately known as the Everett Massacre to workingmen. No one knows who fired that first shot.
On November 5, 1916, about 250 Wobblies boarded the steamers Verona and Calista bound for Everett, Washington, to protest harassment and censorship at the hands of law enforcement, vigilantes, and armed strikebreakers supporting the local lumber and milling companies. Their employers and AFL-affiliated labor councils wanted “open shop.” Forty IWWs had already been arrested, stripped, and made to run a gauntlet of several hundred vigilantes, who beat them with guns, clubs, and whips, near Seattle a week earlier.
When the Verona glided into Everett’s dock first, armed vigilantes and law enforcement met the boat. Other men, some drunk, waited in tugboats that began surrounding the steamer in a semicircle. On a hill above, a crowd formed to watch the anticipated violence, and some could hear the IWWs singing “Hold the Fort.” While a member of the steamer’s crew tied the boat to the dock, a sheriff and his deputies approached and began a heated exchange with some of the men on board. Then one shot rang out.
In 1885-86, industrial companies across the country, in the face of organized protests promoting an eight-hour work day, responded with blacklists, lock-outs, spies, thug strikebreakers, and other measures designed to intimidate workers. Chicago had been particularly impacted due to its enormous immigrant work force that worked for $1.60 for a ten-hour day. In particular McCormick Harvesting Machine Company’s workers, which employed mainly Irish immigrant Americans, had struck. A simplified follow up is this: after the resulting lockout, strikebreakers, and a deadly protest outside McCormick’s factory, thousands of other workers, many immigrant, went on strike May 1 with the cry, "Eight-hour day with no cut in pay."
As we approach Memorial Day to honor our fallen heroes, we often neglect those who died while supporting our country’s military actions here at home, often voluntarily but sometimes involuntarily. Typically, Americans are unfamiliar with the migrant agricultural workers, one hundred years ago, who followed wheat harvests to reap grain supporting American allies; working men who mined zinc for bullet casings; working women who slaved in factories to make such bullets; or miners who pulled copper from the ground in large quantities for electrical, automotive, and military needs. A war, no matter its popularity or unpopularity, requires many more hands than those gripping a rifle.
One hundred years ago, the United States was in turmoil over a European War that had been raging since 1914. This war was an unpopular war, one where American companies and corporations could gain vast wealth on the backs of working men and women who labored here at home. America had not been attacked—there was no “Pearl Harbor” or Jewish genocide at the hands of a maniac. Instead, an assassination, various slights, bruised egos, and a power land grab drew European nations into a war that ended with countless deaths, three ruined countries (Turkey, Germany, and Austria-Hungary), and the beginnings of a new Bolshevik Russia. President Woodrow Wilson, who had campaigned on a promise to keep our country out of the war, capitulated.
In Butte, Montana, the war was carried out on the backs of laboring men who mined and milled. Large mining corporations, such as Anaconda Mining Company, in efforts to increase capital, took advantage of a predominantly first-and-second-generation immigrant mining force, ignoring safety requirements.
This analysis got me to thinking. Guthrie’s reminder that no matter our philosophical differences or our political perspectives, most Americans want the best for their brothers and sisters. Frank Little was no different, and his passion for helping workers and their families was sincere. It is the context in which he lived that colors his historical prominence, thus requiring an informed, educated mind to evaluate his contributions in American history.
On May 4, 1886, after Chicago’s city and business leaders employed anti-union measures against the city’s May Day demonstrations, a peaceful rally began at Haymarket Square, a commercial area near Randolph and Desplaines streets. In the crowd were workers, and even Chicago’s mayor, who listened to speeches from Albert Parsons, a newspaper editor and labor activist who had just led thousands of workers in the May Day parade, and August Spies, a German newspaper editor and labor activist who had promoted the peaceful demonstration at the square. When Samuel Fielden, a Methodist preacher and labor activist, began speaking, a small army of Chicago police approached, demanding that the crowd disperse and the speakers climb down from their perch in a wagon. Then a bomb exploded in front of the police, killing six men.
due process for weeks. He was a card-carrying IWW who had committed no violence or sabotage. But his words and possession of print material voicing his and the organization’s antiwar views were seditious under the law. Fred was lucky. He was released while others were convicted of sedition and assigned twenty-year prison terms.
In 1919, the APL was officially disbanded, and in 1920, the Sedition Act was repealed. An American lesson learned? Unofficially, for several years afterwards, former APL members continued secret vigilance, providing information to A. Mitchell Palmer (of the famous Palmer raids), and later J. Edgar Hoover of the new Federal Bureau of Investigation. In the south, some former APL members felt more comfortable in the KKK.
The history of arrests, searches, seizures, and trials destroyed many individuals and families, resulting in a generation of children, including Little family members, who could not trust the American justice system and hesitated to express themselves out of fear or shame. I empathize with Julie Bowen. Her reaction probably falls more within the span of shame. But again, it’s just history. It is what it is.
Later that evening at Sacred Heart Catholic Church, foster-mothers obediently lined up to collect children, previously matched to their Catholic Clifton homes. Observers noted that all sixteen children were fair-skinned with Irish surnames, and all new mothers were brown-skinned. In fact, the new parents mostly came from mining families who earned a Mexican wage. Ironically, the same Irish children had been the subject of ethnic discrimination in New York City, while in Arizona, they suddenly became “white” and not Irish.
On the evening of October 2, 1904, Morenci and Clifton Anglo women orchestrated a kidnapping from the inferior “half-breed” foster-mothers, generating mob rule that lasted several days. In the end, nineteen children “were rescued” by armed vigilantes into the arms of “white” women, while twenty-one children barely escaped with the nuns onto a train bound back east. The priest was run out of town for having the stupidity of selecting parents of an obviously inferior race. The Arizona Bulletin condemned Catholics for selling "sweet, innocent, white American babies" to "squalid, half-civilized Mexicans of the lowest class."
Photo from Lisa Wareham, May 2017
During the last few months, in Washington State, at Pasco and throughout the Yakima Valley, many IWW members have been arrested without warrants, thrown into "bullpens" without access to attorney, denied bail and trial by jury, and some of them shot. Did any of the leading newspapers denounce these acts as unlawful, cruel, undemocratic? No. On the contrary, most of them indirectly praised the perpetrators of these crimes for their patriotic service!
On August 1, 1917, in Butte, Montana, a cripple, Frank Little, a member of the executive board of the IWW was forced out of bed at three o'clock in the morning by masked citizens, dragged behind an automobile and hanged on a railroad trestle. Were the offenders punished? No. A high government official has publicly condoned this murder, thereby upholding lynch law and mob rule.
On the 12th of last July twelve hundred miners were deported from Bisbee, Arizona, without legal process. Among them were many who were not IWWs or even in sympathy with them. They were all packed into freight cars like cattle and flung upon the desert of New Mexico, where they would have died of thirst and hunger if an outraged society had not protested. President Wilson telegraphed the Governor of Arizona that it was a bad thing to do, and a commission was sent to investigate. But nothing has been done. No measures have been taken to return the miners to their homes and families.
groups’ anti-red squads such as the APL, Loyalty Leagues of American, Knights of Liberty, and yes, even the Ku Klux Klan, joined in the madness, seeking out anyone who spoke German, had German surnames, did not purchase war bonds, made comments against the war (which Frank Little did in spades!), failed to register for the military, or otherwise looked crosswise at the United States’ participation in the Great War. Some accused individuals of sedition for having my uncle’s death photo in their pockets.
“The proper function of man is to live, not to exist.”
― Jack London, To Build A Fire
Rebels who joined Magónistas in the Battle of Tijuana, courtesy of the Joseph Labadie Library
One day after my uncle’s murder, on August 2, 1917, a war broke out in southeastern Oklahoma, primarily in the former Creek and Seminole lands along the South Canadian river. The farmers who participated, members of the WCU, were dead-set against the recent Selective Service Act of 1917. America had entered the Great War, World War I, and many, such as the poor Oklahoma tenant farmers, believed the battle to be a “rich man’s war, poor man’s fight.” Farmer John Spears, whom locals called “General Spears,” organized others in the area to rebel against the draft. He raised a red flag of rebellion above his barn, and about three hundred farmers armed themselves. They planned to cut telegraph lines, burn bridges, and destroy railroad trestles on a march to Washington, D. C. There, they would force President Woodrow Wilson to end American participation in the war. How, I have no idea.
Why is the event called “Green Corn Rebellion”? The militant group claimed they could eat green corn along the way. To the participating American Indian tenant farmers, the month of August was the month of the Green Corn Moon. I prefer the latter description.
In researching my uncle’s connection to the rebels, I discovered an online discussion among some of the American Indian participants’ descendants. Their conversation revealed that they still held Frank Little in high esteem, reporting that he had spoken personally to their grandfathers and great-grandfathers. They honored Frank Little as one of their own. In Dr. Davis D. Joyce and Fred R. Harris, Alternative Oklahoma: Contrarian views of the Sooner State, (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2007), an elderly Seminole-Muscogee Creek woman, whose uncle had been imprisoned after the rebellion, is quoted, "The full moon of late July, early August it was, the Moon of the Green Corn. It was not easy to persuade our poor white and black brothers and sisters to rise up. We told them that rising up, standing up, whatever the consequences, would inspire future generations. Our courage, our bravery would be remembered and copied. That has been the Indian way for centuries, since the invasions. Fight and tell the story so that those who come after or their descendants will rise up once again. It may take a thousand years, but that is how we continue and eventually prevail."
The woman was not off-base. Although the insurrection was put down very quickly, and several men lost their lives, the Green Corn Rebellion became a watershed event for resistance from multi-cultural groups against “incorporators,” the commercial, industrial, and financial forces that were consolidating America under a conservative capitalist and nationalist authority in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
After the mob was broken and a posse was rumored to have found a fifteen-cent photo of Frank stuffed in a pocket on Cargill’s bleeding body, the Justice Department generated a future count for federal indictment: conspiring with Frank H. Little, now deceased, and with other persons to prevent by force the execution of federal laws pertaining to the prosecution of war, i.e. denouncing and resisting conscription.
As for Frank Little, he was indicted posthumously for sedition.
For further reading, see Nigel A. Sellars, Treasonous Tenant Farmers and Seditious Sharecroppers: The 1917 Green Corn Rebellion Trials at http://nationalaglawcenter.org/wp-content/uploads/assets/bibarticles/sellars_treasonous.pdf.
I die like a true rebel. Don’t waste any time mourning—organize! It is a hundred miles from here to Wyoming. Could you arrange to have my body hauled to the state line to be buried? I don’t want to be found dead in Utah.
– Joe Hill
Today Montana Highway Patrol officers wear 3-7-77 on their uniforms, honoring the early vigilantes in Montana Territory. While they may not know the origin of the enigmatic code, it is no matter—the emblem strikes fear for the criminal and peace of mind for the citizen. The code is part of their collective history and they are proud of it. They should be.
But for me, great-grandniece of Frank Little, the code recalls a despicable act, one that reminds us Americans how precious our free speech is, and if we don't pay attention, how quickly a dissenting group can justify taking away our rights.
It takes courage to steer one's course through a storm of abuse and ignominy.
Later, in the 1918 IWW trial in Chicago, Illinois, Joe Hill’s ashes resurfaced, their origin not clear, although clearly the ashes were entered as seditious propaganda. Were these the ashes found in Frank Little’s belongings? Another mangled packet of ashes was discovered by a Chicago postmaster in late 1917. Under the Espionage Act, the US government had given permission for inspection of suspicious materials coming through the mail. Perhaps these were the ashes entered into the trial though one report states that the packet remained at U.S. Postal Service headquarters in Washington until the 1940s, eventually “landing at the U.S. National Archives and out of sight for decades.”
So, my answer as to whether my uncle had Hill’s ashes in his belongings is affirmative. The remaining question in my mind is what was Frank Little waiting for? Why hadn’t he spread the ashes to the winds? Perhaps he carried the ashes to remind him of his own historical position. I believe that my uncle deeply understood the impact his death could have on labor. Like Joe Hill, days after Frank’s death, “WE NEVER FORGET” was shouted underneath his name on postcards highlighting his unjust murder. And a national strike ensued.
For more on Joe Hill’s ashes, I found this article quite interesting! See “Reduced to Ashes” at http://local.sltrib.com/charts/joehill/ashes.html).
Did Frank, and his brother (also my uncle) Fred Little, actively assist the Magónistas in their crusade against Díaz? Frank likely ventured south to evaluate an emerging free speech fight amid the McNamara fiasco in Los Angeles and may have joined spectators and tourists in the first Tijuana battle’s circus-like aftermath. San Diegans, who had been watching the battle from the border, entered Mexico where a red flag flew above the customs house. Amid the celebration in days following, the Magónistas taxed proceeds from gambling houses and saloons as well as sold battle artifacts to raise money for the Liberales. Photographers seized the opportunity to create penny postcards for mementos of the battle.
Frank certainly could have assisted PLM organization in San Diego. However, by June 1, 1911, he was not in Mexico, as proven by a 1955 interview with Wobbly Sam Murray, who had participated in the second Tijuana battle. Had Frank Little been to the Mexican Baja during the Mexican Revolution in the summer of 1911, Murray would have included this observation in his eyewitness testimony since Frank Little was equally famous to IWW martyr Joe Hill by 1955. While Murray definitively placed himself and his close friend Joe Hill in Tijuana in early June, both lugging ancient 30.30 rifles and wearing bandoliers, he never made mention of Frank participating in the battle or even arriving in Tijuana. The Industrial Worker also continuously ran eyewitness accounts from its members in Tijuana.
I loved reading Jack London when I was a kid. I was especially fascinated with his stories of the Pacific Northwest, including his well-known “To Build a Fire.” I identified with this story for a reason. My father’s maternal grandfather died near Skagway in 1898, supposedly of pneumonia, while making the fabled Chilkoot trek to Alaskan gold fields. I imagined my g-grandfather freezing, possibly wet, when sickness set in. Sadly, he never held his only child, my grandmother, who was born days after his death. The family never recovered his body, and to this day, mystery shrouds what really happened to him. But, many tragic stories were like my g-grandfather’s, families who never heard from their loved ones because of the harsh frontier. Jack London also suffered on this trail, eventually coming down with scurvy.
London’s stories illustrate other corrosive elements on the gold trail, circumstances that separate righteous men from scoundrels, the gullible juxtaposed alongside the greedy. Dark tales of human imperfection are framed by nature’s purity, often represented by an animal in London’s short stories and novels, with Call of the Wild, being, perhaps, the most famous.
Last September 5, an army of officials raided every hall and office of the IWW from Maine to California. They rounded up 166 IWW officers, members and sympathizers, and now they are in jail in Chicago, awaiting trial on the general charge of conspiracy.
In a short time, these men will be tried in a Chicago court. The newspapers will be full of stupid, if not malicious comments on their trial. Let us keep an open mind. Let us try to preserve the integrity of our judgment against the misrepresentation, ignorance and cowardice of the day. Let us refuse to yield to conventional lies and censure. Let us keep our hearts tender towards those who are struggling mightily against the greatest evils of the age. Who is truly indicted, they or the social system that has produced them? A society that permits the conditions out of which the IWWs have sprung, stands self-condemned….
In the March 1918 edition of the magazine The Liberator, Ms. Keller wrote her support of the IWW in an article entitled “In Behalf of the IWW.” This article immediately aroused Bureau of Investigation agents to spy on her. You be the judge. Below are excerpts from her article:
I was courting a woman and had a fight with a man
He fired a pistol that lodged in me
Old Prosecutor Leatherwood can beat out his brains
But I'm not going to tell you this lady's name.
Down through the long weary years the will of the ruling class has been to suppress either the man or his message when they antagonized its interests. From the execution of the propagandist and the burning of books, down through the various degrees of censorship and expurgation to the highly civilized legal indictment and winking at mob crime by constituted authorities, the cry has ever been "crucify him!" The ideas and activities of minorities are misunderstood and misrepresented. It is easier to condemn than to investigate. It takes courage to steer one's course through a storm of abuse and ignominy. But I believe that discussion of even the most bitterly controverted matters is demanded by our love of justice, by our sense of fairness and an honest desire to understand the problems that are rending society. Let us review the facts relating to the situation of the IWWs since the United States entered the war with the declared purpose to conserve the liberties of the free peoples of the world.
Dedicated on June 25, 1893, the Haymarket Martyrs monument by sculptor Albert Weinert consists of a monumental figure of a woman standing over the body of a fallen worker, both in bronze. The inscription reads, "1887," the year of the executions, and August Spies’ words, recorded just before his execution. On the back of the monument are listed the names of the men. On the top of the monument, a bronze plaque contains text of a pardon later issued by Illinois governor John Peter Altgeld, who criticized the trial. In 1997 the monument was designated a National Historic Landmark.
Were Joe Hill’s ashes found in Frank Little’s valise after Frank’s murder on August 1, 1917? I have been asked this question several times. The answer is not so easily given. Unfortunately, the Bureau of Investigation’s reports are contradictory. But here is what I know.
Immensely liked by fellow workers, Joe Hill (Hillström) was the infinitely talented Swedish immigrant musician-turned-dock worker whom Frank likely first encountered in Fresno during the free-speech fight. The IWW’s Little Red Song Book, which was revised yearly, carried Hill’s songs to the American West, helping unify the working class into a solo voice and contributing to a new genre of American folk protest music. Decades later American songwriter Woody Guthrie, inspired by Hill’s songs, wrote lyrics that described the murder, trial, and execution of Hill.
Butte was a city of widows and cemeteries in 1917. When Frank Little arrived, bodies still were being pulled out of the Speculator Mine. It was this mining disaster that finally sparked the 1917 strikes after two years of smoldering, labor bitterness.
Thus, this disaster serves as a reminder that while we honor our military, those who died on foreign soils to protect our American freedom, we must also revere working men and women who died supporting the war effort, especially the Speculator dead. Butte, Montana, has already begun a summer of commemoration, a remembrance of the extraordinary loss of life, the resulting labor unrest, a heinous murder (Frank Little’s), and wartime occupation.
After the first Battle of Tijuana, the red flag flew above the customs house.
Although the Magóns, along with Los Angeles and San Diego IWW leaders, appear to have strategized PLM operations from across their chess board on American soil, Frank’s name was never mentioned in connection with the Mexican Revolution among the many reports to the Worker. Again, he appears to have been an interested bystander amid the simultaneous conflicts in Tijuana, San Diego, and Los Angeles. One must also consider Frank’s propensity for the courtroom rather than the battlefield. Frank spent considerable time in court, many times acting as a defense advocate.
Among the Tijuana victors were IWW rebels and other filibusterers, mainly soldiers of fortune, former military veterans, con men, and common adventurers. Unfortunately for the Magónistas, the Maderistas ultimately won after Porfirio Díaz resigned in ignominy May 25, 1911. On June 22, the Liberales lost the second battle of Tijuana against newly organized Mexican federal forces under Madero. The ragtag Magónistas broke and ran for the border where U.S. soldiers waited to arrest the anarchists. Sam Murray was captured, but Joe Hill escaped. I am certain Frank Little was not one of them.
Arrested were eight men, including Spies, Parsons, and Fielden. One of the arrested had been home playing cards during the carnage, and five of the men were of German descent, contributing to a wave of xenophobia throughout the city. Of these men, seven were convicted with little evidence, and four hanged. The actual bomber was never found.
While researching the Clifton-Morenci Mining district in Arizona, I came across a peculiar event that highlights the extreme prejudice in early mining camps against Mexicans and Mexican-Americans (called Mexicans no matter where they were born). Thus, I had a new rabbit to follow. My uncle Frank Little’s first job as an organizer was in this camp, and his task was beset with difficulties, partly related to this event and a wildcat miners’ strike in 1903.
I had previously interviewed individuals, descendants of both Anglo and Hispanic mine workers and mine management, and discovered a double standard that existed in Arizona mining hierarchies, especially in Clifton-Morenci. The Western Federation of Miners had been exceptionally resistant to organizing and helping Mexican miners, resulting in mining companies employing a dual wage system with little labor resistance. Having grown up in El Paso, Texas, I was well familiar with the concept "Mexican pay for Mexican labor."
Sometimes called the Irish Orphan Abduction, a kidnapping, based on disregard for Catholic Mexicans as proper parents, turned the Morenci mining camp into a war zone for several days in 1904.
The Times Building bombing, 1910
After a brief legal battle to return the children to their foster-families, an Arizona Territorial Supreme Court judge ruled on January 21, 1905, that it was obvious which group could best provide for the orphans-–not the defense’s reported “lowest class of half-breed Mexican-Indians,” but the “good women of the place.”
Thus, I discovered that this was the racial atmosphere in which Frank Little entered, just nine months later. His job was to organize Mexicans—who surely had little reason to trust him.
Frank Little often spoke of Ludlow, Colorado, in his last years. His final words regarding the Colorado coal miners' tent colony were on July 20, 1917, during a fiery speech at Finn Hall in Butte, Montana. He had been addressing a group of mine workers and others he ascertained to be “prostitutes of the press,” that is, reporters who had been contributing to a narrative against the Butte Metal Mine Workers Union’s strike. Frank reminded miners that Rockefeller-employed train engineers and brakemen, members of the AFL, had carried Colorado National Guardsmen and company-hired gunmen to Ludlow to punish a coal miners’ strike against a Rockefeller-owned Colorado Coal and Iron Company. No true union man would have done that, he declared.
Typical of labor events during this period, the ensuing deaths became called a “massacre.” My husband and I had been to Ludlow long before I began this project. But with Frank’s words, I wanted to know more.
I was already schooled about labor conflicts involving coal miners on Colorado’s Front Range. My Danish Great-grandmother Peterson had married a second time to a Frenchman named Julian Gradel. Gradel had been a political heavyweight and a mine superintendent in Louisville, Colorado. He and my great-grandmother lived among other French and Italian immigrants in a solidly middle-class neighborhood. He was mine management, and they owned their home. Still, there had been multiple labor conflicts in Louisville over intolerable working and living conditions, unacceptable wages, company-hired thugs, union recognition, and martial law.
In 1910, the longest coal strike in Colorado history began, and miners in the Northern Coal Fields, where Louisville sat, were to be out of work almost five years. By 1913, coal miners statewide were on strike, including those in Ludlow.
One week after the Ludlow Massacre, on April 27, 1914, thousands of shots were fired in Louisville. One man was killed, and federal troops were called in. But my step-great-grandfather was already dead from a gunshot wound, though it had been accidently self-inflicted three years earlier.
Unlike Louisville, Ludlow had been a tent colony of 1200, primarily poor Mexican and Italian immigrant mine workers and their families who had been forced out of their company houses. The camp was located about 18 miles northwest of Trinidad and about 25 miles south of Walsenburg, a historical town best known for its infamous inhabitant, Jesse James’ murderer, Robert Ford.
During a fourteen-hour standoff between hired strike breakers and the Colorado National Guard against the miners, a Gatling gun atop a hill fired thousands of shots into the camp. Women and children fled to their tents—and the cellars dug below them—for protection. After the gunfire ended, among the dead were two women and eleven children who had asphyxiated and burned below their fired tent. Bodies of two miners were displayed near the railroad tracks as a warning to other workers who might consider striking.
John D. Rockefeller claimed no responsibility for the deaths, stating there was no Ludlow massacre. He claimed the engagement started as a desperate fight for life by two small squads of militia against the entire tent colony. Decades later archaeological evidence revealed otherwise.
A monument of a man, woman, and child, in memory of the miners and their families who died that day, looms over the cellar where the women and children died. When my husband and I visited, the white-stone figures were missing their heads, a desecration to their memory, and the cellar’s maw was unsettling. Today all have been restored. Although the United Mine Workers of America own the site, the Ludlow Massacre, a watershed event in labor history, has been designated a National Historical Landmark.
As a final aside, Mother (Mary Harris) Jones, the widow of a miner, is well-known for supporting the miners and their families during the Colorado coal miners’ strike. The folk song, “She’ll Be Coming Around the Mountain,” has been attributed to her travels among mining camps, though the original version was an old Southern spiritual titled, “When the Chariot Comes.”
In feminist studies, Jane Street’s leadership of the Denver housemaids’ uprising is often mentioned. But her inclusion is just that—a mention—and no one has really told her story. But I will. Jane Street is the subject of my next book, and already the research of her story is captivating my musings.
On September 5, 1917, a national plan to raid radical organizations’ offices, headquarters, homes, etc., was efficiently carried out at exactly noon, Chicago time. Arrests and seizure of materials yielded more information that the Bureau would use for identifying other dissidents. Purple mimeograph and carbon copies of all IWW communications, membership and dues lists, and other papers provided a treasure trove of names. Which members of the IWW might turn evidence or testify to IWW activities from various localities? Which union members, newspapers and magazines, and professors and other professionals were in sympathy of the IWW? Who did field agents determine were radicals? Who had donated money at any time to the IWW? Who subscribed to foreign radical publications? What other organizations, such as the Civil Liberties Union, supported the IWW? Who were the radical writers of the period? Who corresponded with IWW officials?
Joe Hill was cremated on November 26, 1915, a day after his Chicago funeral. Frank Little had attended.
The cremated remains were divided into six hundred small packets, their outsides labeled “Ashes – Joe Hill, Murdered by the Capitalist Class, November 19, 1915.” On the back of each packet was Hill’s “will” along with IWW’s martyr slogan, “WE NEVER FORGET.” IWW secretary-treasurer William Haywood included instructions to recipients of these ashes to wait for distribution on May Day 1916, at significant locations.
Apparently, my uncle did not distribute his packet of Hill’s ashes. Newspapers reported that among Frank Little’s personal effects collected in his Butte, Montana, boarding house room was an envelope containing ashes. On the envelope was the title “Ashes Joe Hill.” Yet, the Bureau of Investigation agent in charge, in listing items found in Frank’s suitcase, neglects to mention the packet.
A feisty young woman, for whatever reason, decided to organize domestic servants employed by Denver society women in the spring of 1916. Jane Street, not even a maid herself (despite what has been written), determined that a new union, under the umbrella of the Industrial Workers of the World, would better the lives of these women, many immigrant girls who had no other vocation or skills to support themselves. Jane’s cause likely aroused the ire of millionaire husbands who had to listen to their pampered wives’ complaints. Dealing with union workers in their gold and silver camps was one thing, but a labor conflict in their households was an entirely different animal. Imagine house maids blacklisting certain tyrannical mistresses!
Why did I chase this “rabbit”? For two reasons. The first is that my seventeen-year-old grandmother, Louise Peterson Little, was such a servant. Only she worked in a mansion in Boulder, Colorado, thirty miles north of Denver. The Boulder housemaids intently observed their sisters’ mutiny as the rebellion spread.
Jane Street is an attractive historical character herself. Beautiful, and bohemian as illustrated by her outlook on life and the musical talents she and her sister shared, she moved around the country, birthing three children by different fathers. Perhaps she discovered true love once she met a one-legged, world-renowned bicyclist named Charles Devlin. How Devlin’s story intertwines with Jane’s is remarkable, fraught with union organization, Thiel and Pinkerton spies, jealous lovers, and vengeful IWW leaders. Only after she was ensnared by Bureau of Investigation agents at the end of WWI does she disappear from the radical scene.
A little background. From the 1840s into the twentieth century, a flood of Irish immigrants had entered New York City, and like the Mexicans in Arizona, earned pitiful wages and lived in squalor. Ragtag urchins swarmed New York streets, begged for handouts, and participated in petty crimes--a general nuisance. A famous historical photograph shows such a group of orphaned boys, piled like puppies asleep on a New York street.
Courtesy of the Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Archives
I also discovered in my research that to the old IWW, any socialist political party, including the SPA and De Leon’s Socialist Labor Party, believing in arbitration and the ballot box was considered espousing “yellow socialism,” or “revolutionary socialism,” while the IWWs boldly adopted red, the color of “revolutionary industrial unionism,” as symbolic of their cause. Naturally their choice of the revolutionary color subsequently accented the first Red Scare in the United States. Frank agreed with the western Wobblies’ mantra, “It’s better to be called Red than be called Yellow.” I found that Frank even engaged in debates against members of the SPA to prove his point about political action!
Newspaper archives and Bureau of Investigation files further revealed that by 1920 the IWW had taken serious blows, thanks to the German scare and World War I, the Espionage and Sedition Acts. Goals changed for some IWWs who moved on and joined the new Communist Labor Party. Many old-school IWWs did not make this change. Their goals had never been political. Biographer MaryJoy Martin remarked that when asked to join the Communist Labor Party, Vincent St. John had refused, telling those IWWs who did join that party politics did not interest him. His goals, like Frank’s, were non-political, although he had fought for justice for the worker, all workers, every ethnicity and gender. According to James Cannon, an IWW and founding member of the Communist Labor Party who knew Frank Little well, the IWW’s general anti-Communism views and its exclusion of political-party interests were the reasons for the ultimate failure of the IWW.
Thus, Frank Little is universal in his appeal, and because of this, many groups take ownership of his legacy, his memory. What an honor to my uncle! Although he serves as rallying cry for diverse groups, I believe that his historical legacy is mostly engrained in yet another aspect—he gave the disenfranchised a voice through peaceful protest. For others unfamiliar with labor history, Frank Little stands as a soldier for free speech. His death in Butte was merely the denouement to a life dedicated to leading a non-violent approach to protest, encouraging hardy, weather-beaten faces to hold fast, despite receiving inhumane treatment at the hands of their employers.
Like Frank, I do not engage in politics nor is my book a political discourse. Instead, Frank Little and the IWW: The Blood That Stained an American Family proudly explores the life of an extraordinary pioneer in the American labor movement and its connection to the Little family. In doing so, I hope to present an honest story concerning my uncle, who was once labeled a traitorous villain by those with political agendas.
In January 1914, Salt Lake City grocer John Morrison and his son were murdered by two masked men just before their store’s closing. Nothing was stolen. The teenager got off one shot before dying and allegedly hit one of the men, based on a few bloody stains found in snow a block away and a missing bullet in a .38 caliber revolver. Later that same evening, Joe Hill appeared at Dr. Frank McHugh’s house for treatment of a gunshot wound in his chest. Hill confided to the doctor that he had been shot by a friend over a woman.
When a couple claimed that they saw a sandy-haired man matching Joe Hill’s description near the store, Utah Governor William Spry announced a $500 reward for information or his capture. Within days, McHugh stepped forward to report Hill’s injury and claim the money. Authorities arrested Hill on McHugh’s word alone, dragging him from bed after shooting him in the hand as he reached for his pants. They ignored information that a felon of the same description, Magnus Olson (alias Frank Z. Wilson), had been in the area at the time of the murder.
Hill had indeed quarreled with a friend over a woman, resulting in a broken engagement and his gunshot wound. Yet he loyally refused to drag his friend Otto Applequist or Hilda Erickson, Applequist’s former fiancée, into the criminal investigation, stoically accepting charges against him. In 1949 Erickson corroborated Hill’s story, describing the fight and gunshot. Unfortunately, her account would be thirty-three years too late. Despite lack of concrete evidence, Hill was found guilty. Under Utah law Hill was given the option of being shot to death or hanged at the gallows. Hill quipped, "I'll take the shooting. I've been shot a couple times before, and I think I can take it."
My uncle had been in Bill Haywood’s Chicago office when the GEB received word of Joe Hill’s impending execution during fall 1915. Ralph Chaplin later wrote that Haywood received Hill’s farewell note in silence, made no comment, and then stared out a window. Haywood then shoved the letter across his desk to Frank, who haltingly read it aloud to the other men in the room. With his characteristic tongue-in-cheek humor, Hill wrote
Joe Hill was executed on November 19, 1915, convicted on circumstantial evidence. After being strapped in a chair with a red cardboard heart, or black bull’s eye, pinned on his breast for a target, he shouted the orders himself to the firing squad.
His last will, written in verse, included a final request for his remains:
Ricardo and Enrique Magón
When I was a kid at Halloween in El Paso, Texas, I often resorted to the easiest costume I could put together, short of cutting two holes in a white sheet and trick-or-treating as a ghost. While many of my peers often dressed as beatniks, my friends and I would dress as hoboes. Easy. Ragged clothes, smudged cheeks, holey tennis shoes, a bag on a stick, and voila! We didn’t intend to be cruel. After all, some schools had Hobo Day where everyone dressed up. With Roger Miller singing “King of the Road” on our transistor radios, we were inspired! Going door to door, we begged for our handouts, Halloween treats.
I also had no idea that part of the ‘60s lexicon originated from hoboes, or bindle stiffs (called thus because of the bag or bindle they carried on their backs). My friends and I used their words, including tramp (hobo), ditch (to get rid of something), can (police station), fink (or in our case, a “rat fink,” a person who snitches), flop or dump (place to “hang.”) Who knew? I certainly didn’t.
Not until I was deep into my California research of Frank Little did I realize the significance of the hobo culture, how it originated, its connection to me, and, of course, my famous hobo-agitator uncle. I must admit—I had hated this historical period, that is, early twentieth century with its industrial growth, labor unions, and robber barons. When I taught US history many years later, I was still uninspired to dig deeply in the era. Until Frank.
Just like Frank, I grew up in an anti-establishment period. The United States was experiencing an unpopular war in the 1960s, in contrast to years between 1914 and 1917, when Americans were deeply divided about getting into World War I. Many American workers had found themselves displaced during Reconstruction, families often struggling to start all over again after the Civil War. Their children and grandchildren, faced with family debt and hopelessness, often tramped, becoming part of a temporary labor force across the country. Throw in two economic panics (1893 and 1907), a heavily-enlisted immigration force to fuel the American industrial revolution, mechanization, and labor unrest, and a growing population of unskilled migratory workers hit the road seeking work.
Many of these men had left homes in the East or were recent immigrants who found the American dream out of reach. If one were to ask for an inventory of skills in a hobo camp or “jungle,” a diversity of trades would be found. American economic conditions between 1907 and 1914 had compelled even skilled men to search for seasonable jobs, their homes and families often lost. Some preferred drifting with no responsibilities and required little to satisfy their needs. However, walking was not their preferred method of drifting from job to job.
A recent television car advertisement shows a dreamy-faced young woman traveling in an open box car, her Labrador retriever beside her. Freedom. Then her daydream cuts to reality, sitting in a wonderful car that can take her on an open road deviating away from the train’s tracks. While this scene is enticing, riding the rails was a dangerous endeavor for Wobblies who often became hoboes.
Freeloading train travel had inherent dangers. Because railroad workers were unionized, a paid-up union membership card usually protected men, including IWWs, and provided them with free passage. Brakemen otherwise booted off freeloaders without union affiliations. But trains also carried bootleggers and hijackers who stole hoboes’ small valuables at gunpoint. Later, railroad detectives patrolled to make sure “stiffs” could not board idle trains. Jumping on and off slow-moving trains was dangerous in itself. Some men died or lost limbs. As an example, in 1913 my uncle miscalculated a jump onto a Western Pacific train and badly sprained his ankle.
Like Frank, hoboes were typically apolitical and rarely stayed in one place long enough to vote. While AFL’s Samuel Gompers asserted that the lot of the migratory worker was worse than slavery, the AFL did little to help migrants who did not vote. Thus, the Industrial Workers of the World—which did not discriminate ethnicity, creed, color, or gender—captured their memberships.
Sisters of Charity Foundling Hospital
One hundred sixty-eight, mostly children and the grandson of miner-hero Mangus Duggan (center), pose inside the Orphan Girl mine in Butte, MT, in commemoration of those lost on June 8, 1917.
By the time I studied American history in high school and college, the event called the Haymarket Affair was just a small index entry in my US history textbook. True, the longer our recorded history, the less material or time have our teachers to spend on historical events. But, for Frank and his peers, the Haymarket Affair, or massacre as other Americans called it, was a singular labor event. Today the Haymarket Affair is generally considered the origin of our international May Day observance.
The Industrial Workers of the World shared the brunt of blame, despite the fact that "the organization took no part in the Green Corn Rebellion and was related to the WCU only by virtue of the latter group having formed in response to the IWW's refusal to organize tenant farmers." The IWW was accused for every action of the WCU, and the rebellion was ultimately used as a justification for further measures against the IWW nationally.
The resulting inferno was instantaneous as oil-covered insulation burst into flames. Nine hundred men were at work in tunnels, scattered on different levels with no exits below a spreading fire that discharged deadly gases and smoke downward. Some men were instantly fried like blackened steaks—most suffered toxic gas inhalation. Some calmly took time to write good-by letters, while others desperately scrapped their fingers to the bones trying to open imaginary manhole doors in blocked passages. Some individual stories emerged, speaking of great heroism and sacrifice.
The enormous loss of life, 168 men, makes the Granite Mountain-Speculator Fire of 1917 the greatest hard-rock mining disaster in American history.
Believed to be Dr. Walter R. Little, Frank Little's father, dressed in American Indian jacket. Walter doctored the Doolin-Dalton gang.
My experience with unpopular family history is the flipside of Ms. Bowen’s. My great-granduncle Frank Little was the type of radical that the APL targeted, except he had already been hanged by other uber-patriots under a copper company's direction a few months earlier. The Bureau of Investigation, along with Pinkerton, Burns, and Thiel private detectives, followed his activities relentlessly through the early months of 1917, past his death on August 1, 1917, to January 13, 1921, when the Frank Little investigation was officially put to rest. Other citizen-
In 1911 Díaz was under attack from all directions. Emilio Zapata, Pancho Villa, and their campesino liberation army rose in revolt, initially aiding presidential challenger Francisco Madero. Others followed, including brothers Ricardo and Enrique Magón and the Partido Liberal Mexicano (PLM), who promoted their own version of Tierra y Libertad!
APL members were basically the secret service of the Justice Department, unpaid volunteers who received military rank, though not in any official military capacity. Their job was to conduct raids and surveillance on anyone suspected of having German sympathies under the umbrella of the Sedition Act. Scary. Julie Bowen struggled to maintain composure upon receiving the news of her great-grandfather’s wartime activities. I admire her acceptance of her family history being just that—history—no matter the roles our families played—slave owners, APL leaders, radical union leaders, or even criminals. It is what it is, to use a trite expression.
Though the remaining indicted were pardoned, some posthumously, the effects of a partisan judicial system and public had a profound impact on future labor movements, including those of the IWW and Frank Little. The hasty denunciation, trial, and execution of the Haymarket defendants deserves reflection, even today.
Haymarket Martyrs' monument, Waldheim Cemetery, Chicago, ILL.
Dashiell Hammett, author of The Maltese Falcon and creator of detective Sam Spade, told his long-time partner and playwright Lillian Hellman that he was offered $5,000 to kill Frank Little back in 1917. The offer upset him so much that he left Butte and the Pinkertons, for whom he worked. While some have doubted his claim, Hellman states in her memoir, Scoundrel Time, that in the first months of their relationship Hammett admitted that he
Jack London had become a drifter, a populist protestor, and a spectator to workingmen’s struggles as he worked on Pacific Northwest fishing boats, in California canneries and plants, and in Klondike gold fields. Like Frank, he even spent thirty days in jail for vagrancy, in New York. Unlike Frank, Jack London became extremely wealthy once his experiences were put on paper for popular fiction and nonfiction works. Yet London never forgot the worker.
The IWW loved London, and London empathized, if not identified, with the IWW. During my research, I often came across London’s name in IWW convention minutes and IWW periodicals. He gave input on IWW stickers and labor events, as well as shared his observations about the human condition in speeches and essays for journals such as International Socialist Review [ISR].
Along with Helen Keller, Clarence Darrow, Eugene Debs, Carl Sandburg, and Upton Sinclair, Jack London wrote on topics appealing to the Socialist movement. Some were “regulars” in the ISR whose works were sold to supplement Socialist party literature. London’s speeches “The Tramp” and “The Scab,” and essays such as “Revolution” cemented his place in radical literature. I had no idea.
Red Harvest is about a Continental (Pinkerton) Agency detective who is sent to Personville (Butte), upon the request of a wealthy newspaper owner, but after his client is murdered, the operative decides his job is to clean up the cesspool that is locally pronounced "Poisonville." The police chief is corrupt and controls the town, maintaining a fragile relationship with the darker side of Poisonville’s prostitution and gang element. Meanwhile, the client’s father is a wealthy industrialist who is used to controlling the town and who tries to control the detective. Like Butte, martial law is ultimately declared and the military is called to occupy the town at the request of the industrialist. Also like Butte, several years later Poisonville’s police force is cleaned up.
While Red Harvest is supposedly based upon Butte’s Anaconda Road Massacre where strikers were fired upon and men killed at the Anaconda Mining Company’s suggestion, parallels between Poisonville’s police chief Noonan and Butte’s policemen Jere Murphy and Ed Morrisey are striking. Both men held heavy fists over Butte’s law breakers and those whose views simply differed from the controlling company. Except for the operative’s being a “good guy” in the novel, Poisonville could certainly have been the Butte that Frank Little encountered in 1917 with its hired guns and controlling mining company. Otherwise no clues to his murder are evident.
Other children, whose impoverished Irish Catholic parents had few options, found themselves relinquished to mostly Protestant missions. With a truancy law in place, any child not in school during school hours could also be arrested and brought to these organizations. Some parents never found their snatched children because the children had been placed on notorious orphan trains heading for good Protestant homes away from the city. By 1910, some 110,000 children had been shipped out West, a few to good homes while others went to “parents” who needed extra labor, no matter how small the hands. Enter the Sisters of Charity Foundling Hospital, a Catholic organization that recognized that Catholic Irish children should be placed in Catholic families. What better place than Arizona?
On Saturday, October 1, 1904, an orphan train stopped in Clifton, Arizona, in front of the mining camp’s finest white women assembled near the train platform. Nuns had dressed the little girls in starched white frocks, their heads decorated in ribbons and curls. The little boys made their Clifton debut in stylish sailor suits. Forty exhausted children, ranging in ages from two to six years old, were to find new homes governed by devout Catholic beliefs, sixteen in Clifton, and the rest in Morenci the following morning. But the knot of women was unaware that new foster-families had already been assigned to the attractive children.
“It’s better to be called red than yellow!”
In April 1911 two AFL steelworkers, the McNamara brothers, were arrested for the bombing of the Los Angeles Times building. Prior to the sensational crime, Times newspaper owner-mogul Harrison Gray Otis had antagonized organized labor in southern California for weeks, using his newspaper to whip up hysteria against immigrant labor and AFL unionization. Otis helped form the Merchants and Manufacturers Association (M&M) to support his anti-union campaign. The M&M conspired with city officials to ban free speech on Los Angeles streets, antagonizing the AFL. As a result, Otis’s building had been destroyed and an after-hours staff trying to meet a late deadline had been killed. Labor unrest swiftly followed. Federal authorities began taking notice.
Another theory, a date, March 7, 1877. But historians provide no evidence of a significant event on this day, though this appears to be the most concise, logical explanation.
Still another theory is that the original warning came from a group of 77 Helena men. A secret organization? Perhaps. Disreputables were to purchase a $3 train ticket and leave by 7 AM. Fredrick Allen in his book A Decent Orderly Lynching: The Montana Vigilantes, 2nd ed. (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2009), states such. Would recently arrived vagrants know the intended meaning of the code? Hmmm.
A more recent theory is presented below from the Montana Heritage Project:
The inner circle of vigilantes was composed of Masons, a fraternal organization with an ancient history, and the Masons chose the numbers.
According to John Ellingsen, Curator for Bovey Restorations in Virginia City as well as secretary of the Lodge of Masons there, a man died in Bannack in 1863 and requested a Masonic funeral. Though the Masons in Montana at that time were not authorized to hold meetings, they were allowed to conduct funerals. A few men put out the word and were surprised when 76 Masons showed up at the funeral. This was the first time this group of Masons met together and, counting the man whose funeral it was, there were 77 Masons present.
Surrounded by criminal violence, these men, who trusted each other because of their brotherhood in the Masonic Order, decided to fight back. Though their actions were not formally sanctioned by the Masonic Order, these men organized the Vigilance Committee in Virginia City. They decided that for a meeting to take place, the 3 principal officers and a quorum of at least 7 members would be needed. To these numbers, the vigilantes added the number of members present at their first meeting: 77. They took 3-7-77 as a sign, both for themselves and their opponents.
Perhaps. To me, this seems an awfully complicated reason for a simple warning, though Masons keeping the secret is logical..
New York Times
April 21, 1914
The Ludlow camp is a mass of charred debris and buried beneath it is a story of horror imparalleled [sic] in the history of industrial warfare. In the holes which had been dug for their protection against the rifles' fire, the women and children died like trapped rats when the flames swept over them. One pit, uncovered [the day after the massacre] disclosed the bodies of ten children and two women.
I first came across Woody Guthrie while researching another lyricist, IWW Joe Hill, whom Guthrie had honored through verse. Both men composed lyrics for working class audiences, though a generation apart. But unlike the Swedish-born Hill, Guthrie was an American product, born in Okemah, Oklahoma, the son of a cowboy-politician and musical mother. And like my Oklahoman uncle Frank Little, he witnessed his family’s economic collapse; Frank’s, after the Panic of 1893 and years of drought, and Guthrie’s, after Oklahoma’s oil boom collapsed. So, it is no surprise that all three men—Guthrie, Hill, and Little—preached populist sentiments that appealed to workers.
Gunshots immediately rang out with many police hitting each other in the crossfire. Four workers were killed and scores of people wounded as police emptied their revolvers amidst the fleeing crowd.
When we students parked on an scenic overlook above I-10, just below Sun Bowl stadium, we could observe the dismal living conditions of Mexicans who occupied an area called "las colonias," just on the other side of the interstate. They lived in ancient adobe buildings, others in shacks, constructed of cardboard boxes, or plywood, if they were lucky. We watched families bathe and get drinking water from the muddy river. In winter months, since wood was scarce, these families burned tires for warmth, sending black plumes of smoke upward. Before anyone seriously talked about pollution, El Paso’s winter inversion was astounding—and it made for spectacular sunsets.
We could also see ASARCO’s Smeltertown, with its plastered-adobe housing, elementary school, and cemetery. Many had died in Smeltertown. The Texas Historical Association reports that by the time the city of El Paso and the state of Texas filed a $1 million suit against ASARCO, charging the company with violations of the Texas Clean Air Act, the county health department found that the smelter had emitted more than 1,000 metric tons of lead between 1969 and 1971. In 1972 tests found that seventy-two Smeltertown residents, including thirty-five children who had to be hospitalized, were suffering from lead poisoning. A 1975 study found levels indicative of "undue lead absorption" in 43 percent of those living within one mile of the smelter and projected abnormal lead absorption in more than 2,700 local children between the ages of one and nineteen years old. Thus, the elementary school was shut down.
had worked as a strikebreaker for the Pinkertons in Butte, Montana. He had been angry when he told her of an Anaconda Copper Company officer’s bribe for murder. Hellman wrote that Hammett thus believed he was living in a corrupt society of sorts, and that nothing short of a revolution would change the status quo. Dashiell Hammett later became a member of the Communist Party.
Would you believe that Helen Keller was suspected of being a menace to American society? Oh my! Ms. Keller became so much more than the little girl everyone read about in Annie Sullivan’s Miracle Worker. My freshmen English students loved her story, and even today, my ten-year-old granddaughter can readily elaborate on Helen’s early life. How many of you know about Keller’s adult life? Helen Keller was the subject of criminal investigation because of her words, an offender according to the 1917 Espionage Act. And yes, she spoke of my uncle, Frank Little. I had to investigate further.
In researching the catalysts that resulted in my uncle Frank Little becoming a radical labor organizer, I naturally began with the Little family itself. As a kid, I had cut my teeth on stories of American Indians and outlaws associated with homesteading in Indian Territory and later, Oklahoma Territory. Every Little aunt, uncle, cousin, and sibling had, so I suspected that Frank knew these stories from firsthand experiences. In addition, my family seemed to harbor resentment against big government and distrust of anyone finagling in family affairs, more of a libertarian streak, I guess. Perhaps I imagined this. But one thing is for certain—orneriness runs through the family; perhaps this is what sparked contempt for certain groups of people. Having heard these stories, I am certain that the same feelings were present in Frank’s home.
My great-grandmother Ella Evans Little, Frank Little’s sister-in-law, filled my father and his cousins’ heads with dramatic stories when she kept them, which was often. My grampa, her eldest son and orneriest of the bunch, was an oil worker, and the camps in which he worked were not friendly to my father, a motherless boy with lots of free time during summer months. Great-grandma Little and the Oklahoma homestead solved the problem. Great-grandma’s stories passed down to my cousins and me, though I believed many of them to be exaggerations—imaginative stories about cowboys and Indians.
For example, Great-grandma Little told how uprooted Indians regularly visited the homestead at dinnertime. She began dumping salt into whatever she was cooking. Problem solved, though she claimed the men still stole chickens whenever they could. American Indians still influenced Oklahoma Territory, including around the homestead; after all, this land had been theirs. My great-grandma’s quilts even used native designs, which she copied from teepees, and we have a photo of a man dressed in an American Indian jacket, believed to be Walter R. Little, Frank’s father. For homesteader and American Indian alike, conflicts surely occurred.
Great-grandma Little also claimed to have known Jesse James. When my great-grandaunts took her to see the new Jesse James movie starring Tyrone Power in 1939, she stood up, remarked that the actor on the screen didn’t look a thing like Jesse—and marched out.
I researched the James gang, and although Great-grandma Little’s family lived in Cass County, Missouri, and Jesse’s in Clay County, two counties above, she had been born in 1869, over twenty years later than Jesse James. Civil War and Reconstruction years in Missouri had been exceptionally violent. A very young Jesse James rode with bushwhacker William Quantrill, spreading death and devastation across Kansas and Missouri, and later with his own outlaw gang. When Jesse was murdered in 1882, my Great-grandma Little was only thirteen years old. Still, with Jesse James’ notorious activities, I cannot doubt that my great-grandmother saw the outlaw in the flesh. In fact, many Missourians respected him deeply as they perceived his attacks on trains and banks to be heroic—their defense against capitalism and its robber barons who prospered in the years following the Civil War.
In addition to the Jesse James’ stories, Great-grandma told stories about the Dalton gang. They had lived in Bates county, Missouri, where the Walter R. Little family lived, and of course, Frank. This time, family stories involved other members of the Little family—not just Great-grandma Little holding horses for the gang when they arrived at a barn dance in Indian Territory. The Evans (Great-grandma Little was an Evans), Little, and Dalton families had joined the exodus from Missouri to Indian Territory about the same time. And all families lived in and around Vinita, IT, and in the Cooweescoowee district of the Cherokee Nation. Great-grandma’s father was a Methodist missionary to the Cherokee, Osage, and Delaware Indians, while Walter R. Little, her father-in-law and Frank’s father, was simply looking for greener grasses.
I had heard the stories about how my great-great-grandfather Walter R. Little doctored these outlaws, including Bill Doolin, who rode with them. There were stories about money for services left on the Little’s kitchen table during the night, a kidnapping to an outlaw hideout to repair broken limbs, a witnessing to the infamous Ingalls shootout, and kind acts of appreciation. Emmett Dalton, after taking a neighbor family’s farm horse in a desperate race from law enforcement, ran the creature to death. Fourteen years later, after Emmett was released from prison, he gifted the same family with a pair of white mules. The Little family seemed to hold deep respect for these same men who broke laws, robbing banks and trains.
But were these stories true? Exaggerations that every eighty-niner family told? If so, how did these relationships affect Frank Little? A Dalton biographer does refer to an unnamed doctor that the Daltons used and who lived near Stillwater. I did see my g-g-grandfather’s medical accounts book where he recorded services for removing bullets out of Bill Doolin’s arm. This entry was the only hard documentation I could find until the photographs appeared.
My father’s first cousin Jack A. Little, also a recipient of Ella Evans Little’s stories, and his wife Carolyn Endecott Little had shared as much family information as they could recall. As my project progressed, Jack continued to dig into folders, the family Bible, and boxes he hadn’t studied in years. His father Glen, my grampa’s little brother born in 1907, had been a family story-keeper. Glen shared stories with his sons, nephews, and nieces about the Dalton and Doolin families, and of course, Frank Little, whom he knew well. It was Glen who had first shown me the medical accounts book belonging to Walter R. Little.
Jack called me one day to tell me he had found some old photographs of cowboys. Would I be interested? Of course! When I received the photos, scanned the images, and zoomed in to see faces, I paused in awe. Mixed in Jack and Carolyn’s family photos and papers, had been six sepia-toned photographs, all matted similarly. Four of the photos, labeled Dalton cave on their reverse, are of a bunch of outlaws in or around a cave. The men are clowning, pistols in hand, as they pose for the photographer. In one photo, Emmett Dalton clearly stands on his horse, Grat and Bill sit on theirs, each grinning, holding a prairie chicken and pistols. The other men are unidentifiable to me, although their faces are clear. Another photo is of the same men with a roped steer, and yet another is a double exposure of two family photographs in front of a log cabin.
Carolyn told how she had played in this same cave that is located just above today’s Oilton, Oklahoma. All the folks in Creek county know it. Her family, it seems, also knew the Daltons well, as she claimed the photos to have come down through her family, through her father, coincidentally named Emmett.
And so, the mystery continues as I try to authenticate these photos. Historians are very hesitant to verify faces, as evidenced by the recent Billy the Kid photo authentication. The problem is that no one has seen a photo of the Dalton men animated--smiling--and other photographs are rare and often retouched. But Jack and Carolyn’s photos are clear and beautiful, and we will succeed in getting them authenticated for valuation. As for Frank Little, no doubt family interaction with outlaws occurred, and his formative experiences in Missouri and Oklahoma had an impact on his belief system.
Montana Vigilante Code attached to Frank Little's corpse. (Anaconda Standard, August 2, 1917, p1)