UA Library

Robert Dickson worked as an engineer at the Copper Queen Mine in 1917. As a high-level employee of Phelps Dodge, he was sympathetic to the management's point of view. Robert Henry and Christina Ellen Dickson recount the events leading up to and including the deportation in Dickson Saga: Story of Our Married Life, 1970. Pages 26-29 are excerpted here.

Special Collections, B9791 D554 D55


Wobbly Tactics

Following the Villa raid, the President called out various State National Guard units and moved troops quickly to the border. We had about 50,000 troops in our area, including the 22nd Infantry, District of Columbia National Guard, etc. Troops were there for several months. Bisbee was then quite a gay place. Taverns were quite busy. A burlesque troupe set up a theatre in the open; the seats being 2 x 10 boards set up on beer barrels.

U.S. declared war on Germany, April 6, 1917. Before that time it was rumored that there had been many German spies working in the mines and smelters. The German Consul at Cananea (a copper mine 30 miles south of Bisbee), working under the Ambassador at Mexico City, directed sabotage in the copper camps, with the idea of stopping copper production, a much needed metal for munitions. The German Minister of foreign affairs sent a coded telegram to the German Minister at Mexico City, notifying him that Germany was preparing for unrestricted submarine warfare, and instructing him to inform the President of Mexico that in case the U. S. entered the war with the Allies and if Mexico would join Germany in declaration of war against the United States, Mexico's reward would be recovery of their lost territory-Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. The British intercepted the message; they had broken the German code and delivered the contents of the telegram to the United States. The Mexican Government did not take the bait, but they did nothing to stop German activities in their country.

The Germans were quick to realize that the radical organization, "Industrial Workers of the World" could be used in their schemes. This organization, already known for its terrorist tactics in the Northwest, started harassing the war effort by causing strikes in Butte, Montana, and Globe, Arizona. An armed uprising in Jerome was quickly nipped in the bud. The first sign of coming events was pickets in front of the English Kitchen, a restaurant. Despite the beating up of the pickets by cow punchers, the pickets continued, but the restaurant kept on operating with the usual number of customers. By May 1917, Bisbee had become the Mecca for bums and undesirables of all descriptions. The mines were short of labor and many new men were hired. Some of the newcomers went to work in the mines where they could influence others; others just sat around agitating with room and board money coming from unknown sources. Nightly soap box orators harangued groups on Brewery Gulch on labor conditions, promising shorter hours, increased pay, etc. Copper was then 15 cents per lb. and wages were $5.85 per day, the highest of any mining camp and much higher than in average industry.

On June 21, a strike was called in Butte, Mont. and about 80% of the crew walked out. On June 26th, a meeting was called by the I. W. W. in City Park: Bisbee. There had been a Western Federation of Miners, though small in numbers, for some time. Without a vote of the members, a committee from the I. W. W. presented a list of demands to the managers of the three companies --Copper Queen, C. & A. Co. and Shattuck Denn. The mine managers replied that they could not negotiate with an organization inimical to good government and treasonable in time of war. A strike was called and about half of the underground crew did not show up for work. Picket lines were thrown across strategic paths on company property, manned by husky strangers, and in a short time the mines were forced to stop operations. Activities outlined in the 1. W. W. strike manual were invoked. The surface mechanics continued working. Nightly meetings and parades continued. A soup kitchen on O.K. street furnished food. The German Consul in Cananea, Mexico (45 miles S. W. of Bisbee) was apparently supplying funds. The wives of men who were working were harassed and some of the few men working were beaten. Two laundries were picketed by 15 men, but a woman, owner of one of the laundries, ran them off. We lived in the Ruff House and several times strange groups of men were seen walking up the street taking notes. Mr. Ruff was foreman of the Southwest Mine.

Sheriff Harry Wheeler of Cochise County appealed to the Governor for aid, but Governor Campbell replied that the National Guard was federalized. He then appealed to President Wilson, citing the stoppage of copper, but to no avail. In the meantime the "Wobblies" were having a field day. Wheeler appointed 200 extra deputies on June 29th.

Finally on July 11, 1917, after three weeks of disturbances, he took the situation in hand, calling on all citizens to assist him. Some 1200 men responded to his famous proclamation and were deputized. The Wobblies had thrown picket lines in front of the post office, near the Junction Mine in Lowell and at other strategic places, hemming off the mines. At 6 A.M. a special newspaper edition of the 'Bisbee Review' and 'Bisbee Ore' contained a proclamation of the sheriff--ordering women and children to keep off the street that day (July 12) and urging deputies to arrest on charges of vagrancy, treason and being disturbers of the peace of Cochise County all those strange men who have congregated here from other parts and sections for the purpose of harassing and intimidating all men who desire to pursue their daily toil. Simultaneously five bands of deputy sheriffs appeared as if by magic--some from alleys, others from storerooms, and some sprang down from the low roofs of buildings. Every morning there had been a picket force of several hundred in front of the Post Office but the sheriff's maneuver was a little early and it overtook the early bunch off their guard. As picket reinforcements arrived in smaller detachments they were placed under arrest piecemeal. All the pickets surrendered peaceably, and were assembled in bunches at several places.

In addition to the pickets a number of undesirables known as "tin horn gamblers," a junk man who bought stolen goods but was above the law, and an attorney, Bill Cleary, who egged on the demonstrators, were marched with the picket groups to the Warren ballpark, about 3 miles east of Bisbee. Here they were interrogated and any one disassociating himself, or one promising to go to work, was released. Two men lost their lives, one Orson McRae, a deputy, and the other a notorious agitator.

At Warren 1183 were loaded into 20 box cars with food and water and shipped to the U.S. Army at Columbus, N.M. They remained under army care until little by little they departed of their own free will. President Wilson denounced the act and sent a committee to investigate and report. They advised that the facts be laid before the appropriate bodies for action. A number were indicted and one Harry Wooton stood trial in Douglas. The jury found him not guilty because the deportation was an act of necessity. The cases against the rest of the defendants were dismissed. The paramount issue was the right of a community to defend itself when threatened with an overwhelming peril.

Mine production started July 13 and continued without interruption. The speed with which the citizens of Bisbee put an end to sabotage of copper production, when the nation was fighting for life, was favorably received over the whole country. The strike had lasted only 15 days. That put an end to the I. W. W. series of strikes.