We stayed in Bisbee on the last day of ‘Boys Weekend’. It was the reverse of the previous day in Tombstone. We started the day in a cemetery and ended in a fascinating museum.
Established on its current site in 1912, Evergreen Cemetery replaced the Old Park Cemetery which had been established in Brewery Gulch twenty years earlier. Around the turn of the 20th century, some Bisbee residents became concerned about Old Park Cemetery’s Brewery Gulch location being upslope of the city’s water source so, in 1914, the City Council ordered that all the graves in Old Park Cemetery be relocated to the new Evergreen site. Evergreen is still in use and now contains more than 10,000 graves.
While not as historically familiar as the Boothill Graveyard in Tombstone, the Evergreen Cemetery is a terrific adjunct to a visit to the Bisbee Mining & Historical Museum as so many of those mentioned and pictured in the museum’s collections are buried in Evergreen.
Some sections of the cemetery are quite stately as the wealthier citizens created monuments to reflect their position in the community. Others are much more modest. The cemetery represents the complete spectrum of ethnic and economic diversity in the town’s history.
The Bisbee Mining & Historical Museum (very cool website!) was a happy surprise. Located in the heart of historic Old Bisbee in the building that was once the headquarters of the Copper Queen Consolidated Mining Company, the museum building is on the National Registry of Landmarks. The museum is also a member of the Smithsonian Institution’s Affiliate Program. The first floor of the museum focuses on the history of Bisbee. The second floor focuses exclusively on the history of copper mining with emphasis on the city’s Copper Queen mine which operated into the 1970’s and continues, on a limited basis, to produce copper through alternative methods.
The exhibits on both floors are interesting but the display that struck me as most compelling was the history of a labor dispute that has come to be known as the “Bisbee Deportation”.
Full disclosure; I was born in the Southern Illinois coal country. The men in both my maternal and paternal family lines were coal miners going back several generations. My father was the first male in his family not to work in the mines though his older brother’s did. Suffice it to say, I grew up with a strong bias toward supporting trade unionism in general and mining unions in particular. I think I knew of John L Lewis; President of the United Mine Workers, before I knew of John F Kennedy.
An attempt by the Western Federation of Miners to organize the Bisbee mine workers in 1906-1907 had failed. About 1914 the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW – also known as ‘The Wobblies’) established offices in Arizona with the goal of organizing the State’s mine workers. In Bisbee they established Metal Mine Workers Industrial Union Local #800.
Established in 1905, the IWW is controversial in the history of the American Labor movement because of their radical, some would argue Marxist, political agenda and their alleged use of violence in labor disputes. While the IWW still exists today, the peak of their success was in the 1910’s – 1920’s, especially in the Western United States.
In June 1917 the IWW was calling on workers in the Bisbee area to strike. It was an unpopular position at the time. The U.S. had declared war and joined the World War I conflict just two months earlier. Intelligence had uncovered an effort by Germany to engage Mexico as an ally with their pledge to support Mexico’s efforts to re-take Arizona and New Mexico which had been transferred to the U.S. sixty years earlier. The IWW was an organization with clear ‘internationist’ goals and many viewed supporting the union in time of war as unpatriotic. Of course the mine owners also had an economic motive to suppress union activity under any circumstances. These environmental factors notwithstanding, the union was succeeding in organizing workers and on June 26, 1917 3000 workers in Bisbee went on strike.
Executing a plan allegedly developed by Walter Douglas, General Manager of the Phelps Dodge Corporation, owners of the Copper Queen Mine, County Sheriff Harry Wheeler formed the “Workman’s Loyalty League”. Wheeler deputized and armed more than 2000 men as a posse and on July 11, 1917, identified by their white arm bands, they took men from the picket lines, union organizers or suspected union sympathizers from their homes and any men on the street who were not working and marched them to the local baseball field for “trial” on the charges of “vagrancy, treason, and of being disturbers of the peace”. If a citizen the Loyalty League found “respectable” vouched for a man and the man agreed to abandon the strike and return to work, he was released. At the end of the process more than 1200 men were still held prisoner. The men were loaded onto boxcars and transported 200 miles through the desert, without food or water, and unloaded at Hermanas, New Mexico, without money or transportation. They were warned not to return to Bisbee under threat of lynching.
During the deportation, employees of the mining companies seized the telegraph offices to prevent news of the events from leaving the area. Loyalty League members guarded the roads around Bisbee for several months and allowed no one to enter or leave the city without a ‘passport’ signed by the Sheriff. After the deportation, some of the deportees managed to return to their families in Bisbee and obtain work under assumed names. Most never returned to Arizona.
While the Bisbee Deportation was underway, a similar strike-breaking effort was taking place in Jerome, Arizona, a mining town about 300 miles northwest of Bisbee. About 250 vigilantes rounded up 60 men suspected of being IWW supporters and deported them by train to Needles California and Kingman Arizona.
In the aftermath of the deportations, a federal commission investigating the events concluded; “The deportation was wholly illegal and without authority in law, either State or Federal.” The Justice Department ordered the arrest of 21 mining executives, including Douglas, as well as numerous elected officials. All were released when a trial court ruled that no Federal laws had been broken. The Justice Department appealed but the US Supreme Court, in an 8-1 ruling, upheld the lower court’s determination and said it was a matter for the State. No State charges were filed against the organizers of the Deportation.
There are a number of reasons why this story pushes buttons for me. What I find most intriguing however is how little is known about these events. I took courses in business history and labor relations in college and never heard of the Bisbee Deportation. I was speaking with a docent in the history archives at the museum, a Bisbee native. He told me he did not hear of the Deportation until he went away to an Arizona university in another part of the state, despite having grown up at a time when there were people in the community who’d witnessed and remembered the events.
… not one of America’s finest hours.