Still on strike! Recollections of a Bisbee deportee - Fred Watson

Bisbee deportation
Bisbee deportation

An account by a striking miner and Wobbly (Industrial Workers of the World member) who was deported with 1,185 other strikers to New Mexico by armed vigilantes hired by copper bosses to defeat the strike.

Submitted by libcom on January 5, 2006

Born in England, Watson rode a lumber car from Tucson into Bisbee in 1914. He was deported with the 'wobblies' and other strikers who were loaded into cattle cars on July 12, 1917, by an armed posse of peace officers and Company men and sent to Columbus, New Mexico. His recollections were recorded on tape by Dr. Robert Houston of the University of Arizona on February 12, 1977. His narrative has been rearranged for greater coherence, but his words have not been changed. His attitudes and assumptions are typical of the union position.

Recollections of a Bisbee Deportee: STILL ON STRIKE! by Fred Watson
From the Journal of Arizona History 18 (Summer 1977): 171-184

HOW IT COULD HAVE HAPPENED in a civilized country I'll never know. This is the only country it could have happened in.

As far as we're concerned, we're still on strike!

I was working as a tool nipper at the Shattuck Mine. I lived up Cousin Jack Alley - Brophy Avenue. Arizona was dry then, but in seventeen there was still drinking and gambling going on. The chippies were up at the top of Brewery Gulch. It was a pretty tough town. The conditions in the mines were intolerable. Absolutely. They never mentioned anything the miners asked for. Their demands were never mentioned.

There was a lot of radicals in those days. Real tough. There was so much propaganda - I guess [from] the IWWs - that one in ten understood. [Greenway] and those guys, they really thought they were doing right. I believe Douglas and those people sitting up on that porch up there with three telephones directing operations [thought so]. I sleep up there [on the porch of Greenway's house] peacefully every night.

There was no IWW hall. Oh, they had a headquarters up there in Brewery Gulch, but it was raided. It was really raided. I never was in it. There was English, Americans, Mexicans, Italians - well you know about the mining element - Finns, Swedes, Bohunks. They didn't think of themselves as radicals. Just union men. We were all "German sympathizers." I bet you there wasn't a German amongst the bunch. But a wobbly had horns.

I never was at a meeting at all. They had two meetings up in the park. The last one, the speaker that was here, his name was Texas Clark. And that was the last meeting. After that we couldn't even go near there.

I was working night shift [when the strike was called]. We were just coming off night shift at two o'clock in the morning. This fellow was at the track right by the post office. Incidentally he was a Cousin Jack, like I was. He said to me, "What shift are you on?"

"I bet I ain't on any," I said, "I bet I ain't on any shift."

"No," he said, "you ain't. They called a strike at midnight last night."

It was peaceful all the time. There never was any trouble. They had a big flag at the post office, the full length of that door. And you had to push it to one side to get in and out. That's where the picket line was. They were waiting for us to got there and tear it down. We never touched it.

The English Kitchen, it was run by the PD [Phelps Dodge]. They come out on strike, the cooks and waiters, and they had a fellow called Grey who was picketing. There was a fellow there night after night after night they called Shotgun Johnson. Tried to kick up a fight with our picket, but he wouldn't do it. Just kept on walking up and down. You ought to hear the names he called him.

And incidentally Governor Hunt came into town. He used to come in unannounced. Went up to the [Copper] Queen and got a room and was going to eat at the English Kitchen. And the picket was there, and he said, "Oh, oh, what's the matter?"

"Oh," he said, "the cooks and waiters are out." So he went next door and ate at the greasy spoon. Ate his dinner there. He wouldn't go through the picket line.

Well, to show you what the Shattuck was like, there was a fellow working on the Shattuck went to eat in the English Kitchen through the picket line. He went to work next day on the day shift on the Shattuck and you know how they used to line up to get on the cage. He lined up with his lunch bucket; got on the cage. Nobody else went on. Nobody would go on there. Everything was tied up just like that. Joe Walker was the general foreman. And he came out.

"What's the matter?"

"No one will get on the cage with him," one of the shift bosses says.

"What for?"

"Well, he ate in the English Kitchen last night."

He told the guy to get off. Went in the office and gave him his time. Everything went on. He didn't have any job. That went on at the Shattuck.

I was arrested on the picket line. Technical. For obstructing traffic. Three of us. Right in front of the post office. And incidentally the trial was put off till the twelfth of July. That was the day we were run out. It's still pending, you know. Bill Cleary the lawyer came up with me, and there was the chief engineer. His name was Ryan. Had puttees and everything on. And old what-you-call-him [Cleary] started telling Ryan about his puttees and everything. He was strictly anti-English and he put up a talk and said England must be a great place to live. You see there was a strike here in 1907 and they shipped people from the Old Country over here, which they can't do today, but they advertised in all the newspapers over there, about the working conditions over here, and hundreds of Limeys came over and broke the strike. So that's why most of the Cousin Jacks were on the Company side. Well, the guy turned to me and he says, "Where were you born?"

I say, "I was born in England."

And he says, "You were arrested on the picket line?"

"Yes," I said.

He said, "You're the first goddamned Limey that was ever arrested on a picket line. I'm going to defend you if it's the last thing I do."

At this time Pancho Villa was raiding the border. The government put a siren on the smelter down there with the understanding that it wasn't to be used except for invasion or trouble with Pancho Villa, but they blew it that morning [July 12, 1917] real early. They were telling around that we were tunneling under the post office and that we were going to blow it up. So they had the siren going and they had 200 gunmen that came from Douglas. Colonel John C. Greenway went to the Western Union office and told them to receive no telegrams or send any out for twenty-four hours, and the Western Union sued them for $10,000 and got it. Now, how many people know about that?

My father-in-law, he didn't know anything about the unions or anything. He worked at the PD. He was the chief clerk. He was eating breakfast with his wife and the family. We were not married then. We had a big fat romance going. The gunmen went in and told him he couldn't go to work. Keep off the street. Couldn't go to work. So the old man picked up his hat and threw it on the table. He was a Scotchman. He said, "There's nobody going to tell me when I can go to work and when I can't go to work." Put his coat on and out he went. They had him in line. Got down to the post office - down to the depot. He didn't know what the score was. The train was there - stock train - and incidentally they took the engineer and fireman off and had them in line till they found out they were interfering with the mail and they had a hell of a time persuading that engineer and fireman to get back on there. Well, anyhow, the boss of the store saw the old man there in line. He said, "What are you doing there?"

"I don't know," he says. "I don't know a thing. They just put me here and told me to stay."

Jenkins, his name was Jenkins, pulled him out of there. "Come on, get out of there," and he put a white rag around his arm. That was a token of surrender, you know.

The fellow that was killed that morning. His name was Orson McRae. There was three of them went to the fence. This happened on Chihuahua [Sacramento] Hill - I was standing by the depot. This fellow, I forget what his name was - Brew- McRae was there for him, you know. He came to the door. He said, "McRae, if you come through that gate, I'm going to blast you."

He said, "I'm coming through."

He came through the gate and he blasted him. Killed him right there. I was standing there watching them.

He went back in, put the gun down and come back out with his hands up, and they shot him like a dog.

McRae was buried with great honors, with a flag draped on the casket on the rotunda of the PD store, and the Elks buried him with a big fanfare. The guy that shot McRae, they buried him at midnight, at the Elks, and Jimmy McDonald, [a deputy] sheriff, was an Elk, and he was going to go to the funeral. And they told him nobody could go to this funeral. Jimmy pulled his gun and says, "Hell there ain't!" He said, "I'm going," and he went to the funeral. That's why I tell you, it don't make any difference what you belong to or who you are, in a day like that you're on the picket like, you're just riffraff.

They took men out of the barber shops. Why is it they went to the barber shops and trampled them under foot on the streets that morning? Why did they go in restaurants where we had cooks and waiters with their white jackets and big hats [and put them] in line? Why did they get those? They didn't work in the mines. There was a fellow in a white coat that worked in there, and he used to work in the mines. They went in there and they wanted to know, "Are you with these guys or against them?"

He said, "I've made my living off those fellows for ten years. Why wouldn't I be with them?"

His pool hall was wrecked because he was in line with us. It was union busting and a good opportunity.

They got me out of bed looking down a double-barrelled shotgun and I don't believe one of them was a citizen. I believe Tommy Madden was, but the others - I have my doubts. I don't think Joe Holt was a citizen. I wouldn't swear to that but I went to school with him. They got me down to the street. I had a pair of pants and my shirt and underwear on, and I had sense enough to grab my wallet that was in my good clothes. I wasn't even broke.

And incidentally my brother-in-law that used to have a profitable business - furniture business (the Allen block up there is named after him) - he was the captain of the gunmen. Got me out of bed. Remember that he held out, him and Mrs. Hoy that was editor of the Bisbee Ore, they held out to the last minute. Charley Allen, my brother-in-law, and Mrs. Hoy told them, "We've been making our living off these people for thirty years, and you're going to run them out of town!"

They said, "Charley, you either go along with us or you go out. There's no alternative."

You either put a white rag around your arm or you left town.

I saw more guns here in Bisbee than any town I ever was in in my life. They never talked anything else but guns between here and Tombstone.

When we were going into the boxcars, around by the chute, there was three of us there and we were all tool nippers on the Shattuck - three of us. Old Joe Walker was there. "Where you going?" he said.

"Joe, I don't know, but we're going."

In the boxcar I was in, there was nothing but sheep dung. Whether there was any bread and water in the others (I know very well there wasn't) I don't know. I can't vouch for the rest of them. The boxcar I was in had nothing and I never saw any sandwiches. The first thing I ate was a piece of hardtack and a drink of water, and I vomited it right back. [The story that there was food and water in the cars], that was a big farce. No water.

I stayed there in the camp for six weeks, till it broke up. You never saw a bunch of men in your life stay together like we did. The Army didn't know what the hell to do. They didn't know what to do with us. They told us we were free to go, anywhere. And we told them. We said, "We're not going anywhere but to Bisbee. That's where we came from. We never committed any crime. That's where we're going back to. That's where we want to go, so you can take us back there."

You know the cooks and waiters. We had our own cooks. The cooks had come out on strike in the camp. They wouldn't work in the camp. Reporters came from the El Paso Times - to write a story. And the next day the El Paso Times came out with big headlines that deporting us didn't stop us from striking. There was an officer at the gate. He was a lieutenant and it was the Twelfth Cavalry, colored. That officer saw that report and he took that paper and tore it up and threw it up in the air. Just raised hell. He wouldn't let a reporter come within ten miles of him.

I came from the camp after it broke up to Deming, New Mexico, and there was a fellow there running a saloon that was a Cousin Jack, like I am. He was all right. I told him I wanted to get back (he knew I'd been run out, you know). He said, "There's some soldiers coming in tonight with some bootleg whiskey." You know there was a camp down in Douglas. I rode into Douglas with a bunch of soldiers with bootleg whiskey. And I went down close to the border and I got into a cheap hotel down there, and the next morning I met my wife (we weren't married then). She got my clothes from a family called McWilliams. They went up to my room and got all my clothes, and the next morning she took the bus down there with my clothes in a suitcase and she gave them to me and I got all cleaned up and dressed up and everything, and was walking up and down with her. The gunmen were all around there and they never looked at us twice. So that night she came back to town and I took the Golden State Limited back East.

I come back for the trial [held at Tombstone in February, 1920]. When the trial was going on. I used to come over and stay with my wife's folks. My father-in-law, he said, "That guy's only a bum. He'll never make a living for you or anyone else."

She said, "I'm going to marry him anyway."

And my father-in-law died with us in Long Beach.

I think most people were sorry for Harry Wheeler. He was just a dumb sheriff. Ever see a sheriff with any brains? He had nothing to do with it. I only met him a couple of times. Union men didn't have a hell of a lot of use for a sheriff. He was just some little puppet. Where is Harry Wheeler alongside Douglas? He couldn't engineer a thing like that.

When the trial was going on. I was coming down the courthouse steps. Harry called me by my first name. He knew I was a Mason; he was a Mason too. He said, "Are you going to Bisbee, Fred?"

I said, "Yes."

He said, "Come on and ride with me."

I said, "No, no, Harry. I ain't going to ride with you."

"Why?" he said.

"You'd drive me over the dump."

"Aw," he said, "come on."

"Well," I said, "you'd have done it in 1917. Why wouldn't you do it now?" I said, "I ain't going to ride with you at all. Not a foot."

He never asked me again.

I was gone for seven years. We had a family when we come back. We were married in Santa Ana. I worked for the Shell Oil Company out there for twenty-eight years. I have a pension from Shell as well as my social security, and I live in Greenway's house.

It wasn't us that suffered. It was the ones that were left in here when the kangaroo court was established. Do you know who was the judge of the kangaroo court? It was the elected justice of the peace - Judge Thomas. He wound up as judge of the superior court. Of course he's dead. Anyone who came back from Columbus was thrown in the hoosegow and treated the same - brought before the kangaroo court. Men with money in the bank and everything. They were given a certain time to sell their property at what the Company wanted to give them and a certain length of time to leave town. And he signed it, and they had a gunman walking in front of them and behind them until the business was transacted. They were told when to go to the bank, and they had gunmen with them.

Those were the people that suffered, the women that were left in here and were afraid to go down the street.

"How's chances to go up to your place tonight? Your old man won't be home for a long time."

You know what gunmen are - the riffraff of the world. And they were ruling the roost. My wife can tell you. She's reluctant. She thinks it will get her notoriety, and she's for peace at any price. You can't get her to talk about it. She says, "Fritz" - she calls me Fritz - "that's sixty years ago. Why don't you forget it?"

And I say, "I'll forget it when I die! I'll forget it when I die!"

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