Wednesday, July 31, 2019

3-7-77, On the Anniversary of Frank Little's Murder

 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. 

As it turns out, there are myriad theories concerning the significance of 3-7-7, 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.   

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 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.

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.  Undesirables 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. 

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, carried out on this anniversary—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.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

The Bisbee Deportation: An Ugly History That Has Not Been Rewritten

Tomorrow, July 12, is the 102nd anniversary of the infamous Bisbee Deportation.  This horrendous action of Americans taking illegal action against other Americans will be memorialized in Bisbee, Arizona, with a host of speakers.  Historians will try to explain the illogical hatred and misplaced patriotism of individuals responsible for the deportation, locals will bring to life the deportees themselves, and murdered victims will be remembered.  After sweeping the infamous act away for generations, the old mining town will relive each moment of the events from that early summer morning.  Most residents know that history by heart now, mostly because of certain individuals’ hard research and preparation used to prepare a centennial two years ago. In fact, Bisbee has done a remarkable job of accepting its history—not rewriting it—instead celebrating the unique role the town played in western labor history.  I was present for the centennial and because of my personal family relationship and subsequent research, feel somewhat connected to the events that led up to the deportation.  Below is an excerpt describing the deportation from Frank Little and the IWW:  The Blood That Stained an American Family.  

At precisely 6:30 A. M. on July 12, newsboys circulated an early edition of the Bisbee Daily Review, its banner screaming, “Women and Children Keep Off Streets Today.” A siren at the Douglas smelter blared, not for warning of a Mexican invasion or Pancho Villa attack, but to engage more gunmen. Simultaneously, vigilantes with white armbands ambushed men arriving for morning picket duty outside Bisbee mines and businesses. Other men, armed with machine guns, rifles, and clubs, went door to door without warrants, waking up sleeping families.  Husbands, fathers, and sons, prodded with gun butts, were ordered into the streets amidst wails of protesting wives and mothers.  While remembering their hats, many men dressed sockless.  

A procession of over one thousand men, many of whom were not strikers or even miners, began a three-mile march to the Warren baseball park at 9:00 A. M.  Their women followed, climbing into the bleachers to observe what was happening.  On the Calumet and Arizona Mining Company office roof, a machine gun was pointed downward toward the captives.  

At 11:00 A. M., a train with nineteen El Paso and Southwestern Railroad cattle-and-box cars arrived from tracks at the rear of the ball field on orders of Walter Douglas. Crammed into the cars, deep with manure, were 1,186 men while armed guards stood on top.  A few lucky husbands received hastily wrapped bundles of food from wives who fully understood the gravity of the situation. As the temperature climbed above 110 degrees, the train departed.  Deportees in smothering boxcars watched their women stumble alongside, slowly fading into the haze of Warren.  Without food and little water, the deportees journeyed past gunmen lined on both sides of the track and machine guns on knolls leveled at them.  After 52 hours of travel with few stops, the train finally drew into a siding in Hermanas, New Mexico.  There the undesirables were abandoned in the hot desert sun.  For Bisbee residents, July 12, 1917, would be the day when “patriotism was pitted” against principles. 

Interestingly enough, I discovered Jane Street, subject of my newest book, in Bisbee.  She arrived just before the deportation to meet with Frank Little.  I am currently writing the chapter that describes this meeting, and events from the Bisbee Deportation Centennial flood my brain as I set up Bisbee's context in relation to Jane.  Funny how I have come full circle. 

On Monday, July 15, PBS is hosting the American documentary Bisbee’17, that was produced while I was in Bisbee two years ago. Meeting Robert Greene, writer and director, in an ancient-but-neon-lit bar up Brewery Gulch is a memorable moment for me.  He thanked me for allowing his crew to film my presentation.  No, I am not in the documentary.    

A July 12, 2017, NPR recording regarding the Bisbee Deportation used small parts of my presentation, click for a listen.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Home from the Western Writers of America Conference

Home from the Western Writers of America Conference.  For my friends and family who have no idea what this entails--most of you, let me explain briefly!  This is the premiere organization that supports Western authors (all stripes), historians, screen-play writers, song writers, poets, and by extension, producers and actors who benefit from the work that the writers produce.  Some of them also belong to the organization, hence the fun with Peter Sherayco (Texas Jack Vermillion in Tombstone), Bobby Carradine (in lots of movies but you may remember him as the oldest boy-cowboy in John Wayne's movie Cowboys), and Howard Kazanjian.  And yes, David Morrell, who wrote First Blood that most of you know as Rambo, is even a WWA board member.  He is a western writer too.  What is most important, in my opinion, aside from the organization's support in helping authors craft their works, is trying to keep the genre alive, right down to our children in schools. Our organization raises money to enrich curriculum for schools to help in that regard.  So proud of this. As our world becomes smaller and countries' cultures intermingle, we risk losing our particular history of identity - the beautiful and the ugly, which we should never candy-coat.  If anyone read my blog about the young lady on the airplane who didn't know who Butch Cassidy was, let alone Paul Newman and Robert Redford, you realize there is a cultural deficiency in America.  The western is not just a shoot-'em-up story.  It is our history as Americans, our spirit even today, as evidenced in collections of individual stories about historic events, present-day individuals, landscapes, and American attitudes past and present.  Yes, my book about my uncle radical Frank Little fit in beautifully, as will my upcoming book about rebel-girl Jane Street, and, in research-phase, Wyoming Lawman Hank Boedeker.  All three individuals were dauntless. While knowing who a famous western outlaw is not that important, it is essential that our youth understand their history and how it figures into the broader American story, no matter if that child's family came as immigrants, or descended from a slave, is a card-carrying tribal member, or is a Viet-Nam refugee who embraced the American spirit, which is Western from the get-go.  Western history and its stories are still being made--every day.  I am so pleased to have found a place that supports my excitement in telling stories, my love of historical research, and networking with the most interesting people in the world!

Monday, April 22, 2019

In Remembrance of the Ludlow Massacre, 1914

I found that Frank Little, subject of my first book Frank Little and the IWW:  The Blood That Stained an American Family, often spoke of Ludlow 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. Immigrant women and children had suffocated and burned in a pit below a tent where they were hiding from Colorado National Guard's Gatling gunfire in the 1914 attack.  Frank was murdered for his words on August 1, 1917

Frank 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.  

He 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.  

Afterwards, famous rebel-girl Elizabeth Gurley Flynn went even further, expressing deep disappointment in Colorado’s women, who sympathized with the mining company.  She expected better of them—all mothers, wives, and daughters should have protested in a loud voice against the Ludlow episode.  Now as I write Jane Street and the Rebel Maids, about a young woman who went up against the ladies of Denver's Capitol Hill--some of whom sided with the militia's thugs, I understand Mary Harris Jones's statement  

"God almighty made women and the Rockefeller gang of thieves made the ladies."

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 either book project. 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 accidentally 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 reveals 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.”

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Growing up with ASARCO, EL Paso, TX

The University of Oklahoma Press recently released a new book that certainly caught my attention.  Copper Stain, by Elaine Hampton and Cynthia C. Ontiveros, should be an excellent read.  I was raised on El Paso's northeast side but moved near ASARCO (the west side) after I turned 18.  The smelter's community plays a small role in my book Frank Little and the IWW:  The Blood That Stained an American Family.  I thought I would share an old blog post from my Frank Little website, though Copper Stain should tell a broader, poignant story about the people who suffered the most from ASARCO's legacy.  I congratulate its authors!  The old posting begins below:

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 dingy-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 laden 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.

When we students parked on a "scenic" overlook above I-10, just below Sun Bowl stadium, we observed the dismal living conditions of Mexicans who occupied an area called "las colonias," just on the other side of the interstate.  Some families 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.

“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 Chihuahuan 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 for the west side, aside from the Franklin Mountains. 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.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Jane Street and the Rebel Maids: Sex, Syndicalism, and Denver's Capitol Hill

Moving along quickly on my new book, that is what I can tell you.  Hence my absence from the blog!  This is what I can share with you:

In the course of my research for writing Frank Little and the IWW:  The Blood That Stained an American Family, I came across Jane Street, a “feisty, little housemaid” who uniquely and successfully organized domestics, many immigrant women, in Denver, Colorado, in 1916.  Just before he was murdered in Butte, Montana, in 1917, Frank Little had tried to help her negotiate a new charter with Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) Secretary-Treasurer Bill Haywood and an all-male General Executive Board.  Jane had been ostracized due to internecine, even misogynistic, reports regarding her mishandling of the IWW’s Domestics’ Industrial Union, her American patriotism, and her morality. Two years later, during a sweep for IWW radicals, the Bureau of Investigation arrested Jane for criminal syndicalism.  Surprisingly, she was not indicted because she was an American woman, despite her apparent criminality according to the 1918 Sedition Act. [Check it out here - unbelievable law that was later repealed.] In addition, my own Danish-immigrant grandmother had been a house servant in a Boulder, Colorado, mansion in 1916, the same time Jane organized the housemaids on Denver’s Capitol Hill where the elite resided.  

Intrigued for personal reasons, I discovered that in IWW history, Jane was almost nonexistent, an “aberration in a masculine organization in its least adulterated and most radical region (the West),” as one contemporary historian wrote.  In books on women’s studies and labor history, with the exception of Meredith Tax’s the Rising of Women: Feminist Solidarity and Class Conflict, 1880-1917, Jane’s story had been largely marginalized.  In 1980, Tax used the tools that were available to her at the time, a 1917 letter that Jane had written another organizer and various newspaper stories.  I have been able to delve much more deeply in conveying Jane’s story.  My primary research includes Jane’s personal papers and writings   (Yes, I have her personal papers!), various family members’ information (not just the Street family), Bureau of Investigation files, periodicals, photos, and other documents, along with an abundance of scholarly research on domestic labor history written during the last twenty-five years.

This book is not a purposeful study of feminism, the Industrial Workers of the World, or domestic studies although these subjects are surely present.  Instead, the book traces the life of a woman who was not even a maid, her indoctrination into the IWW, her remarkable success organizing the “unorganizable,” and her downfall due to sex.  Real life characters include Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, Jane’s role model, and charismatic scoundrels and lovers, including a one-legged bicycle daredevil, who inspired or influenced many of Jane’s decisions. Historical context includes Colorado’s Ludlow Massacre and social and political unrest leading up to World War I.

Themes involving sexual exploitation, violent assault, misogyny, and “virile” syndicalism permeate Jane’s story.  In the book’s periphery, Western women, with their unique spirit and backgrounds, strive to bring independence to all classes of women except for the housemaids.  Jane Street, who originally supports the IWW’s fight as a class war and not a gender war, evolves into an organizer for female domestics in a battle staged against some of Denver’s well-known suffragists and club women, even as she fights her male counterparts along the way.  Both groups betray her.  

Are you interested?  The book should be available to the public early 2020.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Anniversary of the Everett Massacre

Today is the anniversary of a horrific incident (which seems too mild of a word to use), where innocent men lost their lives at the hands of vigilantes who disagreed idealogically.  The Everett Massacre reminds us Americans how we have a capacity to turn thoughtless,  ugly, really, when it comes to our divisions.  Today, we still have not learned lessons from our past.

The University of Washington has a wonderful archive on the Everett Massacre, also known as "Bloody Sunday," here:  On this site are photos, stories, faces of the people involved.

The following is a repost from my "Chasing Rabbits" page at

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.

Gun shots opened immediately—a crossfire—with the Veronatrapped 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.

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.