1919: Wesley Everest lynched during the Centralia Massacre

1 comment November 11th, 2019 Headsman

A century ago today, an Armistice Day parade turned the Pacific Northwest logging town of Centralia, Washington into a battlefield. By the time night fell on the Centralia Massacre* four American Legionnaires had been shot dead … and then the cover of darkness was used to revenge them with the lynching that evening of Wobbly labor agitator Wesley Everest.

Before Amazon and Starbucks and Microsoft and even before Boeing, the economic engine of early Washington state consisted of cutting down its mighty ancient trees.

The spruce and fir trees were torn from the verdant Northwest by rough men working dangerous jobs in brutally exploitive conditions. “Loggers dealt with adulterated food, fleas and other vermin in their overcrowded housing, straw for bedding, the smell of disgusting wet socks drying near the bunkhouse’s one heater, latrines located directly next to the dining hall so that they could smell feces when they sat down to eat, etc.,” writes labor historian Erik Loomis. “They were paid next to nothing for their work and frequently ripped off by a collusion of timber operators and employment agencies.”

Small wonder that this part of the world yielded ready soil for radical labor organizers. The syndicalist labor union Industrial Workers of the World (IWW, familiarly nicknamed “Wobblies”) made notable inroads there.


Section of the map of the Northern Pacific rail network (rail lines in red), circa 1900.

In the town of Centralia, inland and convenient to the continent-straddling Northern Pacific Railway which whisked away the produce of her logging camps, Wobblies’ presence dated back at least as far as 1914.

They’d been the locus of violence previous to the events in this post: in 1918, a Red Cross parade addled on wartime jingoism turned into the sack of the IWW’s union hall. Vowing that they’d not suffer invasion again the Wobblies armed themselves, and they were on guard for the large parade Centralia had scheduled for the first anniversary of the Great War’s end — suspiciously routed to pass right in front of the new IWW hall.

Every history of the Centralia Massacre says at this point that the facts are in dispute as to who started what on that day, but it can be fairly said that a deliberate provocation deliberately provoked and before you knew it war veterans of the then-newformed American Legion were storming the Wobblies, under gunfire.

Ere the hive of radicalism was overrun, three Legionnaires had been shot dead.

Meanwhile, fleeing via an adjacent alley as he reloaded his .44 pistol went one of the hall’s armed defenders, Wesley Everest. The enraged mob pursued him, and as the IWW’s (obviously partisan) official site observes, this fact likely saved other Wobblies in the hall from summary execution. Instead they were bundled into jail where they’d soon be joined by Mr. Everest.

Running pell-mell down the alley the mob gave a shout of exaltation as Everest slowed his pace and turned to face them. They stopped cold, however, as a number of quick shots rang out and bullets whistled and zipped around them. Everest turned in his tracks and was off again like a flash, reloading his pistol as he ran. The mob again resumed the pursuit. The logger ran through an open gateway, paused to turn and again fire at his pursuers; then he ran between two frame dwellings to the open street. When the mob again caught the trail they were evidently under the impression that the logger’s ammunition was exhausted. At all events they took up the chase with redoubled energy. Some men in the mob had rifles and now and then a pot-shot would be taken at the fleeing figure. The marksmanship of both sides seems to have been poor for no one appears to have been injured.

DALE HUBBARD

This kind of running fight was kept up until Everest reached the river. Having kept off his pursuers thus far the boy started boldly for the comparative security of the opposite shore, splashing the water violently as he waded out into the stream. The mob was getting closer all the time. Suddenly Everest seemed to change his mind and began to retrace his steps to the shore. Here he stood dripping wet in the tangled grasses to await the arrival of the mob bent on his destruction. Everest had lost his hat and his wet hair stuck to his forehead. His gun was now so hot he could hardly hold it and the last of his ammunition was in the magazine. Eye witnesses declare his face still wore a quizzical, half bantering smile when the mob overtook him. With the pistol held loosely in his rough hand Everest stood at bay, ready to make a last stand for his life. Seeing him thus, and no doubt thinking his last bullet had been expended, the mob made a rush for its quarry.

“Stand back!” he shouted. “If there are ‘bulls’ in the crowd, I’ll submit to arrest; otherwise lay off of me.”

No attention was paid to his words. Everest shot from the hip four times, — then his gun stalled. A group of soldiers started to run in his direction. Everest was tugging at the gun with both hands. Raising it suddenly he took careful aim and fired. All the soldiers but one wavered and stopped. Everest fired twice, both bullets taking effect. Two more shots were fired almost point blank before the logger dropped his assailant at his feet. Then he tossed away the empty gun and the mob surged upon him.

The legionaire who had been shot was Dale Hubbard, a nephew of F.B. Hubbard, the lumber baron. He was a strong, brave and misguided young man — worthy of a nobler death.

“LET’S FINISH THE JOB!”

Everest attempted a fight with his fists but was overpowered and severely beaten. A number of men clamoured for immediate lynching, but saner council prevailed for the time and he was dragged through the streets towards the city jail. When the mob was half a block from this place the “hot heads” made another attempt to cheat the state executioner. A wave of fury seemed here to sweep the crowd. Men fought with one another for a chance to strike, kick or spit in the face of their victim. It was an orgy of hatred and blood-lust. Everest’s arms were pinioned, blows, kicks and curses rained upon him from every side. One business man clawed strips of bleeding flesh from his face. A woman slapped his battered cheek with a well groomed hand. A soldier tried to lunge a hunting rifle at the helpless logger; the crowd was too thick. He bumped them aside with the butt of the gun to get room. Then he crashed the muzzle with full force into Everest’s mouth. Teeth were broken and blood flowed profusely.

A rope appeared from somewhere. “Let’s finish the job!” cried a voice. The rope was placed about the neck of the logger. “You haven’t got guts enough to lynch a man in the daytime,” was all he said.

At this juncture a woman brushed through the crowd and took the rope from Everest’s neck. Looking into the distorted faces of the mob she cried indignantly, “You are curs and cowards to treat a man like that!”

There may be human beings in Centralia after all.

Wesley Everest was taken to the city jail and thrown without ceremony upon the cement floor of the “bull pen.” In the surrounding cells were his comrades who had been arrested in the union hall. Here he lay in a wet heap, twitching with agony. A tiny bright stream of blood gathered at his side and trailed slowly along the floor. Only an occasional quivering moan escaped his torn lips as the hours slowly passed by.

Dead in the fray outside the union hall were three World War I soldiers: Arthur McElfresh, Ben Cassagranda, and Warren Grimm, the last of whom had the distinction of participating in the unsuccessful American invasion of Bolshevik Russia — plus Dale Hubbard, the man shot dead while attempting to apprehend Everest. All four were Legionnaires who have been honored as martyrs by that organ ever since.**

The IWW, conversely, says the same for Everest, for once night fell he was hauled from his cell and lynched to Mellen Street Bridge: “Hangman’s Bridge” as it was later known — although the present-day bridge dates only to 1958, replacing Everest’s gallows.

And even though anyone involved is long dead by now the affair has remained a charged topic for the hundred years from that day to this; a local newspaper marked the centennial by noting that memorial events by the respective factions’ descendants brought “confrontation even now, even about how to memorialize the dead and imprisoned.” (Although Everest was the only Wobbly lynched, a number of his comrades tossed into prison for years on trumped-up charges, prey to the Red Scare run amok in those years; even the union’s lawyer was prosecuted, albeit unsuccessfully. It goes without saying that nobody ever answered for the lynching.)

There has been for many decades a memorial in Centralia’s George Washington Park commemorating the dead Legionnaires; more recently, Centralia’s cityscape was also enhanced by a rival mural celebrating Everest.


“The Resurrection of Wesley Everest” by activist muralist Mike Alewitz (1997). (cc) image by Richard Colt.

* Also sometimes called the “Centralia Tragedy”. It’s not to be confused with the U.S. Civil War’s Centralia Massacre — which occurred in 1864 in a town of the same name in the bloody border state of Missouri. North America has numerous settlements called Centralia including several with no massacre at all, yet.

** Four Legionnaires plus Wesley Everest make five victims for Armistice Day. There’s a sixth man whose death can be attributed to the affair: a sheriff’s deputy who was mistakenly shot dead a couple of days later when he was unable to give the countersign to a paranoid posse.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Activists,Arts and Literature,Borderline "Executions",Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Gibbeted,Hanged,History,Lynching,Martyrs,Murder,No Formal Charge,Power,Public Executions,USA,Washington

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1917: Frank Little of the IWW lynched

4 comments August 1st, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1917, Wobbly labor organizer Frank Little was abducted from his hotel and hanged from a railroad trestle in Butte, Montana.

An executive board member of the radical Industrial Workers of the World, the half-Cherokee Little had only rolled into Montana’s copper mining hub two weeks before. A roving agitator who had organized workers all around the west, he would be a signal martyr to America’s nascent Red Scare.

It was a fraught moment nationwide, and worldwide. After winning re-election on the slogan “He kept us out of war,” Woodrow Wilson upon his inauguration immediately (try to act surprised) got the United States into World War I. Just as it had in Europe, the question of war put American labor to the test: would it transfer opposition to war into resistance, or would it line up patriotically with its state?

This outstanding IWW poster (via the University of Arizona’s web exhibit on the labor deportations that had expelled Frank Little from Arizona just days before he arrived in Butte) pits the militant Wobbly position against the nationalist American Federation of Labor.*

And Little was one of the most stridently anti-war in his movement.

Either we’re for their capitalist slaughter fest or against it. I’m ready to face a firing squad** rather than compromise. (Source)

Anaconda Copper could nowise welcome this character’s arrival, where he would organize already-striking miners and mix in militant anti-war rhetoric with incendiary potential in the cocktail of immigrant workers being asked (in many cases) to wage war on their homelands.

The local labor conflict, an exceptionally brutal instance of a pattern across the country and especially in western mining country, was probably savage enough on its own to make Little a marked man. Whether his anti-war activity or his union activity motivated his death is not sure, but the dilemma was probably a false one for his killers just as it was for Little himself: they were two heads of the coin. As American troops poured into Europe, and particularly as the Bolshevik Revolution later in 1917 spurred a worldwide Communist scare (and a separate American military expedition), both public and private power violently pursued left-wing elements.

Caption: Copper Trust to the Press: “It’s all right, pal; just tell them he was a traitor.” (Source.)

The film An Injury To One (review) deftly weaves those themes and others together into the tale of a crime which is also the tale of a time and place:

This note was found pinned to Little’s body. “3-7-77”, a Montana vigilante calling card, indicates the dimensions of a grave.

Officially (again, act surprised), it’s an unsolved crime. Even though the New York Times report the day after the hanging quoted a labor official claiming “certain” knowledge of five of the six men in the posse, and a prosecutor vowing, “it is a cold-blooded murder and every effort will be used to apprehend the men who did it,” nobody ever went on trial for lynching Little.

Company goons, likely aided by the infamous union-busting Pinkerton detective agency, are the presumed culprits. And it is the nature of lynchings to make extrajudicial the rough justice sought by a certain constituency, as expressed by Montana’s Helena Independent:

Good work! Let them continue to hang every I.W.W. in the state. The time has come. It is beyond the comprehension of the average citizen why the war department has not ordered certain leaders arrested and shot. The people will not stand for much more.

A massive funeral turnout brought federal troops to quash labor unrest in Butte … and in the years to come, the IWW would be hunted from pillar to post.

Pro-Wobbly sites give adoring biographical treatment and fairly extensive resource lists on Little here and here.

Little is buried in Butte. His grave marker reads:

Slain By Capitalist Interests For Organizing And Inspiring His Fellow Men.

* The AFL, now the AFL-CIO, remains the dominant institution in American labor today.

** Little undoubtedly had in mind the precedent of his fellow-martyr Joe Hill, executed judicially two years before in Utah.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Activists,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Lynching,Martyrs,Montana,USA,Wartime Executions

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1915: Joe Hill

7 comments November 19th, 2007 Headsman

On this date in 1915, songwriter, poet and labor activist Joe Hill was shot in Utah for the murder of a local butcher.

Even before his execution, the Swedish immigrant was widely thought to have been railroaded for his IWW affiliation.

Though state authorities had little use for the worldwide clemency bid whose backers included U.S. President Woodrow Wilson — powerless to intervene officially, since the execution was a state matter — Hill walked spryly into his martyrdom. The strange post-mortem career of his totemic ashes is the least of the ways Hill lives on.

His dauntless last message to fellow Wobbly Bill Haywood — “Don’t waste any time mourning. Organize.” — is a permanent fixture on pins and placards among every stripe of left activist. The songs he wrote remain in print — and in performance.

And the Depression-era tribute ballad “I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill Last Night” can seamlessly serenade ripped-from-the-headlines footage, as a Paul Robeson rendition does in these clips of 1998 protests against then-New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Activists,Artists,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,Famous Last Words,History,Language,Martyrs,Murder,Popular Culture,Shot,USA,Utah,Wrongful Executions

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,


Calendar

December 2019
M T W T F S S
« Nov    
 1
2345678
9101112131415
16171819202122
23242526272829
3031  

Archives

Categories

Execution Playing Cards

Exclusively available on this site: our one-of-a-kind custom playing card deck.

Every card features a historical execution from England, France, Germany, or Russia!