UA Library

In 1985, the Arizona Historical Society interviewed Walter Douglas, grandson of James S. Douglas, who founded the Phelps Dodge copper company. Based on his grandfather's tales passed down to him, Douglas talked about the political climate in Bisbee at the time of the deportation. In this excerpt of the transcript, AHS notations appear in brackets.

Arizona Historical Society Library, AV0001-20.


Walter Douglas Interview

AHS: What were the circumstances of the Bisbee deportation as you heard of them from your family?

WD: Well, the company had its own union and they were getting along fine. They had an agreement with their own union, the company union, that anytime copper went over fourteen cents the employees would all get a bonus, and it worked out fine. But the Pittsburgh Steel people and so forth didn't like it. So they had an organization at that time known as IWW, it was Independent [Industrial] Workers of the World, which later became the wobblies. They came in droves with the idea of disrupting the mine. They tried to come in and sign up the local people but they were satisfied with the deal they had and they weren't about to get involved. So about twelve hundred, I guess, of these people from out-of-state--most of them came from Pennsylvania and some came from Wyoming--and they decided they were going to stop the mine. So they put guards and stuff up at each mine shaft and tried to keep the workers from going to work.

WD: They did everything they could to ruin the operation. Well the company got kind of fed up with it. At that time it was both companies, C and A and PD. So they got together and talked it all over and there was a fellow by the name of Jim Rynning [Thomas Rynning?]--he was an Arizona Ranger, a colonel in the Arizona Rangers, which is now DPS [Department of Public Safety]--and they came down to Pittsburgh with my dad and Colonel Greenway and the rest of the people around there and they decided the only thing to do . . . . They couldn't shoot them on the property or anything, so they thought, well they didn't belong there, they were all out-of-towners, so they would just gather them up, round them up, and ship them out. So they called in all the deputies in Cochise County and made them lieutenants or something to run the posse, and they got the ranchers all around in San Pedro Valley and Sulphur Springs and all that, brought in cowboys, and PD Merc, which is the Mercantile Company, supplied them all with rifles and stuff. They proceeded one early morning to round up all of these guys and drive them down Bisbee Road to Warren to put them in the ball park because it had a ten foot wooden fence around it. Then they went down there and they talked them and they says, "If you're going to come to work, all right, but if you're going to just cause a lot of trouble we're going to have to put you out of town, and we don't want you to come back." So then they backed a cattle train in on that siding by the ball park, loaded them all in, and put in water and food and everything else and sent them to Columbus, New Mexico. And when they got them over there they put the train on the siding and took the engine and caboose off and brought it back and they deported twelve hundred and some people. I was seven years old at that time and our house was up on a hill and I remember the baby-sitter we had taking my brother and I up there in the window and we could watch them going down Bisbee Road. Twelve hundred people's quite a few, you know, plus the cowboys that were herding them. (laughs) They put them all on the train and that was the last of it. But, of course they brought suit against the company, they brought suit against my dad. They threatened him with jail and everything because he violated their civil rights and enslaved them, they said, because they didn't give them any food and water. Federal investigators came out and they had court hearings in El Paso and in Bisbee and they proved that they had been fed and watered and everything else was given to them, even the transportation.(laughter)

AHS: Free transportation.

WD: Yes, free transportation. So it just fizzled out, but there's still some people that say we were violating civil rights. Well that might have been so, in a way by making them . . . but they were not residents of Bisbee and what people don't realize is the company was working as hard as it could because there was a war on, WWI, and they depended on that copper, and these people trying to tie up the mine and the smelter, it just didn't go over so big. And people look at it now, well it was terrible with all these people . . . The conditions, circumstances were entirely different and the state itself was only five years old at the time. The governor did his best, he sent the guard down there to help out, but they didn't have much of a guard, a five-year-old state didn't, but they did have the Arizona Rangers. They were the equivalent of DPS, and they took care of the situation pretty well. There was nobody killed or anything. I think one person got killed--two people got in an argument--but aside from that for that much of a disturbance, it was pretty good.

AHS: Was there a lot of public support that you heard about in that area for the deportment?

WD: Oh yes, everybody was all for it because they were just disrupting their living and . . . of course the merchants and all those people, they were part of the posse that run them out because they didn't want any part of it.

AHS: Do you think that PD might have put any pressure on, say the merchants, to support this type of action?

WD: Well I don't think they had to. I mean the people . . . if somebody moved into Tucson all of a sudden and decided to disrupt everything, the local people would get together and run them out. It's a . . . sensible thing to do. But you'll hear, Bisbee '17, that book [written by Robert Houston], there's a long story behind that, see. Byrkit, that wrote it was a graduate of NAU, and he went to work for his dad. His dad was the manager at Ajo. He started going around, rousing the rabble over at Ajo, and his dad fired him. So he went back to Flagstaff and set up a business to write a book and all of it was against PD because he got flang out of his job.(laughs) So that's why he's been very bitter about the whole thing.

AHS: I think he was the author of Forging the Copper Collar?

WD: No, another guy did that. But he wrote Bisbee '17 which was the first one that stirred up commotion. Of course that all went on KUAT-TV and whatever pictures they had and so forth. How my dad was against the workers and all that sort of stuff. That's when I became despicable.

AHS: Did you ever hear your dad express any type of regret over that in later years?

WD: Oh no, no. It was something that had to be done, and they did it. See right after that Dad became president and we moved to New York . . .