Gold in the Sun, 1900-1919
CHAPTER EIGHT: The Wobblies and A Story Nobody Likes to Remember
With the beginning of the Mexican revolution led by Francisco I. Madero in 1910 and 1911 a number of conspirators in Los Angeles started slipping arms across the border into Baja California to carry out a separate insurrection of their own, by which they hoped not only to overthrow the dictator Porfirio Díaz but society as well.
They were members of the Liberal Party which had alienated itself from the main Mexican revolutionary spirit. Their leader was Ricardo Flores Magón who had just been released from prison in the United States for violation of neutrality laws and was one of the followers of Karl Marx who went beyond the Socialists to advocate direct action.
Their cry was “Bread, Land and Liberty” and their aim was the redistribution of land, seizure of the means of production and the abolishing of paid hand work. Similar uprisings by the Liberal Party took place simultaneously in thirteen Mexican states and help was confidently expected from Socialists in Europe. It was six years before the Communist revolution in Russia.
In Los Angeles they had received sympathy and financial help from the I.W.W., or Wobblies, as members of the Industrial Workers of the World were known, who also believed in direct action and had infiltrated California in large numbers to agitate among the unemployed and agricultural workers and engaged in such violence as the seizure of freight trains.
Baja California in 1911 was an isolated territory with most of the Northern area still in the hands of foreigners who had received gigantic land concessions from indifferent Mexican governments. The largest holder was an English firm which had acquired 18,000,000 acres from the original grantees and subsequently had sold or leased some of it to American interests. Harrison Gray Otis and his son-in-law Harry Chandler, of the Los Angeles newspaper family, held a tract of 832,000 acres lying below Mexicali and extending all the way to the Gulf of California.
Development had been slow, in no way matching the growth of Upper California or even of the Southern territory. The population of the Northern territory was perhaps 7000 or 8000, with the capital, Ensenada, seventy-five miles south of San Diego, having about 1000. Mexicali, just across the line from Calexico in the Imperial Valley, and Tijuana, also on the border and fifteen miles below San Diego, each had somewhere between 500 and 1000. Tecate was a settlement a short distance from Campo on the American side where the Gaskill brothers had shot down a group of Mexican bandits in 1875.
Mining had declined, roads were poor or nonexistent and the climate, except along the coast, was unfavorable, but, as in Imperial Valley, the possibilities in the irrigation of arid lands were beginning to be realized. The San Diego & Arizona Railway tracks were creeping into the territory on the way to El Centro and Yuma and connections with the Southern Pacific to the east and to Los Angeles, and promised to open more lands to agriculture and trade.
That was the situation when Flores Magón dispatched a tiny revolutionary army of eight men, led by José Maria Leyva and Simon Berthold, toward Baja California. At Holtville in Imperial Valley they conferred at I.W.W. headquarters and then slipped across the border and at the Laguna Salada, the bed of a dry desert lake, they were joined by a dozen Mexicans and Indians and entered and captured Mexicali on January 29.
The capture of Mexicali, though not impressive, as they had failed to find any gold in the customs house, greatly excited California radicals and at a meeting in Los Angeles on February 5, Jack London, the writer, circulated a manifesto proclaiming:
“We socialists, anarchists, hoboes, chicken thieves, outlaws and undesirable citizens of the U.S. are with you heart and soul. You will notice that we are not respectable. Neither are you. No revolutionary can possibly be respectable in these days of the reign of property…I for one wish there were more outlaws of the sort that formed the gallant band that took Mexicali.”
José Maria Leyva had nominated himself a general and permitted a reporter for the Associated Press to witness an inspection of his troops:
“The rebel soldiers presented a grotesque appearance. Only eight of the men were mounted. Some were astride horses, without either saddles or bridles, and using only halters to guide their steeds. Four White men were in the company, having the appearance of typical Western ranch hands. All of the men were armed with rifles and small arms and appeared to have an abundance of ammunition.”
Though it had not penetrated the peninsula of Baja California, the Madero revolution on the mainland was violent and widespread and President Taft ordered 20,000 American troops to patrol the border, thus cutting off a heavy arms traffic. Army units from Fort Rosecrans patrolled the border from San Diego to Calexico.
A war message, perhaps the first to be delivered by airplane, was dropped from a French Antoinette monoplane flown by a millionaire aviator Harry S. Harkness. Harkness, a captain in the New York division of the United States Aeronautical Reserve, flew his monoplane from Curtiss’ flying school at North Island to the border near Tijuana, dropped a packet containing orders from Maj. G. H. McManus at Fort Rosecrans to Lieut. George Ruhlen Jr., and then flew back, averaging, The San Diego Union reported, “fully sixty miles an hour” for the round trip.
A short time later the Aeronautical Reserve proposed to the War Department that aviator Eugene V. Ely, who had flown the first airplane off an improvised landing on a naval ship, and a number of other pilots be engaged to reconnoiter along the boundary line, and it was expected that the success of this mission might have a great influence on the War Department’s decision on scouting by aviation.
After picking up reinforcements and supplies the rebels were expected to march on Ensenada and Tijuana. Various reports had them being joined by hundreds of Cocopah Indians and an “American Legion” made up mostly of I.W.W. members with red ribbons on their sleeves. Tijuana was in a state of excitement. Many residents crossed into American territory, taking their valuables with them. The town was patrolled by an armed guarcr of citizens under Lieut. Gov. Juan Larroque and the Mexican government had a force of about fifty, many of whom also were Americans, patrolling the border to prevent the smuggling of arms to the revolutionaries.
At about this time a curious aspect of the border “war” began to unfold. Richard Wells Ferris, one-time actor and promoter, had been employed to publicize the ground-breaking ceremonies for the Panama-California Exposition and had promised San Diegans that he would “dream up” some lively publicity stunts. Advertisements began to appear in newspapers in New York recruiting volunteers to participate under “General Dick Ferris” in a campaign to “annex” Baja California and he sent telegrams to Mexican generals insisting that the peninsula rightfully belonged to the United States and that if not surrendered “the Panama Pacific Expedition will sail from San Francisco at an early date.”
The Mexican government as well as the rebels merely reacted with irritation and for a time Ferris disappeared from the newspapers, but a woman named Flora Russell, of Los Angeles, rode into the territory and planted a flag of her own design proclaiming a republic observing women’s rights.
The rebels pressed on, capturing Tecate on March 12, but Federal troops were becoming active. Tecate fell to them a few days later and José María Leyva was forced back to Mexicali. In a raid on the mining town of El Alamo, Berthold, a veteran Magonista who had been active in Los Angeles labor struggles, was fatally wounded. On April 8, an American I.W.W. named Stanley Williams led an attack against the Federals south of Mexicali and also was fatally wounded. Jack Mosby, a deserter from the United States Marines and an active member of the I.W.W., assumed temporary command of the rebels and plundered much of the country in the triangle between Mexicali, Tijuana and Ensenada. An election among the rebels conveyed command to a Welsh soldier of fortune who had served the British Army in India and South Africa. His name was Caryl Ap Rhys Pryce and he was the first leader not connected with the I.W.W.
Support for the rebel cause was urged in San Diego by Emma Goldman, the woman anarchist whose speeches and writings had incited the assassin of President McKinley. In a talk in Germania Hall before about 200 persons, Miss Goldman also accused Wall Street of being responsible for the presence of American troops on the border and the shutting off of guns and supplies for the Madero revolution. She said:
“I call upon you as Americans to use every effort to call on the President to withdraw the American troops. You Americans who preach liberty and boast of independent freedom should not allow American interference. Let the Mexicans fight it out among themselves.”
“Splendid Emma,” as she was known among anarchists, was assisted in her San Diego appearance by two members of a newly formed Anti-Interference League, the Socialist Kasper Bauer and the liberal lawyer E. E. Kirk. The San Diego Sun was carried away by what it thought was the idealism of the Americans participating in the revolution against “Barbarous Mexico” and suspecting it was largely a filibustering expedition similar to those of the 1850’s, exclaimed in an editorial:
“Texas was conquered by Americans. It is American yet…If Lower California should wake up some morning to find the Stars and Stripes floating over it, San Diego would suddenly become more than ever a City of Destiny.”
Recruits were sought openly on the streets of San Diego and I.W.W. halls and they were promised $1 a day and 160 acres of land. The battle for Tijuana drew near and the United States took unusual precautions along the border. Rear Adm. Chauncey Thomas, commander of the Pacific Fleet, arrived at Coronado early in March and was quoted as follows:
“The cruisers are now at anchor, the gunboat Yorktown arrived tonight, and the transport Buffalo with 500 Marines aboard is expected before morning. We don’t know where we are going; we don’t know what we are going to do, but we are ready for our orders.”
A force of 4500 naval and marine personnel was being assembled at San Diego and all shore leaves were canceled and every ship kept steam up. A provisional Army brigade, composed of the 8th and 30th Infantry and auxiliary troops, arrived by train from San Francisco and tents were put up in neat rows west of the main road between Roseville and Fort Rosecrans. Brig. Gen. Tasker H. Bliss, commander of the Department of California, visited border towns and made his headquarters at the fort. By mid-April San Diego was an armed camp and the entire Pacific Fleet was in the bay. The ships formed a line almost two miles long.
The long-expected attack on Tijuana began on May 8 and curious San Diegans lined the hills above the town to watch the drama. The defenders of the town numbered somewhere between seventy and 150 and they had little ammunition. The rebel army had filled out its ranks to about 220 assorted radicals, drifters, adventurers and criminals, with Mexican citizens in the minority.
After some preliminary maneuvering and exchanges of fire, Pryce ordered a general attack at dawn on May 10. Soon after 8 o’clock it was all over and the rebels held Tijuana. Estimates of the number of dead varied, but twenty or more of the Federal defenders were killed and perhaps a dozen or more of the rebels. One of the dead was the lieutenant governor, Juan Larroque, whose body subsequently was buried in San Diego’s Catholic cemetery in Mission Hills.
A Red flag was raised over one building, though other store owners hoped for protection by raising the American flag as well as the Red flag. Pryce sent a message assuring San Diego that no men had been burned at the stake. Though he ordered all liquor in the town destroyed, there was considerable looting both by rebels and spectators from the American side. Two criminals escaped from the San Diego county jail and rode bicycles to Tijuana to join the insurrection.
Trains of the San Diego & Arizona, which were running to construction camps near Agua Caliente and hauling some freight as well, were harassed by rebels and the reports of Conductor W. G. McCormick tell of encounters with mixed bands of Americans, Negroes and Mexicans. At one point a train was stopped and McCormick and a company agent, C. E. Crowley, were summoned before Gen. Pryce who wanted to know if Spreckels was building the line. When informed that he was, Pryce said:
“Well, Mr. Crowley, war is war, and we must have supplies for man and beast, and I will not draw on you for more than is necessary and will receipt for everything taken, but as Spreckels has millions and large interests in this section, it is my intention to make him and other large holders contribute heavily to the support of my army.”
On May 17, Pryce, accompanied by his adjutant C. W. Hopkins, slipped across the border and registered at the U. S. Grant Hotel as “Mr. Graham,” but his identity quickly became known and he was introduced to many San Diegans. Warned of imminent arrest on orders of Gen. Bliss, Pryce and Hopkins attempted to flee but were intercepted and taken to Fort Rosecrans.
Dick Ferris, the publicity promoter for the exposition, and Kirk, the liberal lawyer, went to Pryce’s aid and in court challenged the Army’s right to hold him and his adjutant in the absence of martial law and Superior Judge W. A. Sloane granted a writ of habeas corpus. They as well as all other rebels were released, including the American Jack Mosby who had been found on this side of the line.
As a result of the publicity, ranks of the rebels grew with the arrival of more California I.W.W.’s, Italian anarchists from the Northwest, and Indian and Mexican bands from Sonora. The cause of the Liberal Party, however, was not advancing elsewhere in Mexico and the revolutionists led by Madero were taking the country. Díaz made peace with Madero and resigned as President. Former Federalist forces in the peninsula, however, were gathering to attack the rebels and in June Pryce secretly crossed the border again to meet with Magón and other conspirators in Los Angeles to decide on what to do.
In his absence Dick Ferris stepped back into the picture and one of the rebels by the name of Louis James is supposed to have suggested that he proclaim himself in command of the army, which he did, at least in publicity releases, and he advised the rebels to haul down the Red flag and abandon Socialism and anarchism and “every other ism that you have got into.”
Ferris then returned to his office in the Exposition headquarters and James continued to speak for him and announced his election, in absentia, as President of Tijuana. Ferris designed a flag with two horizontal bars and a white star and proclaimed the new Republic of Lower California. The Liberal Party’s Junta from Los Angeles arrived in Tijuana, without Pryce, who realized that the cause had been lost. Jack Mosby was elected commander of the army. Ferris was declared persona non grata and his flag publicly burned. An appeal for volunteers was published by the Liberal Party Junta in the I.W.W.’S Industrial Worker Which said that five months had passed since the Red flag had been raised over Mexicali, and that while victory had followed victory, more men and money were needed and there could be no “peace in Mexico until the Red flag flies over the workingman’s country and Capitalism shall have been overthrown.” Pryce, however, wrote to the rebels advising them to disband.
The Junta refused to come to terms with representatives of Madero and Mosby undertook his own negotiations, demanding for each of his men $100 as well as the dollar a day and the 160 acres of land that had been promised them when they joined the Magón revolution. But the end was to come from another direction. A force of 560 Mexican soldiers and volunteers advanced on Tijuana from Ensenada. Mosby gathered his 155 men and commandeered a five-car San Diego & Arizona work train for his infantry, and with the cavalry riding alongside, moved to meet the advancing Federalists. The battle on June 22 on the approach to Tijuana just north of the hot springs, lasted three hours and a defeated Mosby, with thirty of his men dead and “weeping like a child,” fled across the border into the United States. With him went his American and alien followers. The San Diego Union reported:
“Lined up in single file, they marched through the gateway of the custom house, and proceeded to the camp of the American soldiers about an eighth of a mile beyond…Late in the afternoon, they were placed aboard a train and brought to San Diego…The government boat Lieut. George M. Harris …conveyed them to Fort Rosecrans…There are ninety-three of them in the barracks…and four in the hospital.”
When the rebels were interned temporarily at Fort Rosecrans, twelve of them were identified as deserters from the Army, Navy or Marines, including Mosby. Ricardo Flores Magón and his brother Enrique and other Junta leaders were convicted of violation of neutrality laws and sent to prison. Pryce and Ferris also were indicted, but in time the charges against them were dropped. Pryce played cowboy roles in Hollywood and in World War I served in the British and Canadian armies. Ferris, after resigning from the exposition company, capitalized on his notoriety, appeared on the stage as The Man From Mexico and then turned to various promotional schemes. Mosby was shot and killed while trying to escape when being transported to prison as a deserter.
Many of the I.W.W.’s remained in the area and with rising unemployment in the country they were joined by other agitators in street corner meetings and were in general calling for the overthrow of capitalism and in particular endeavoring to destroy craft unions which were in a state of organization. A pamphlet written by a recognized representative of the I.W.W. and a resident of San Diego, Laura Payne Emerson, was circulated under the heading, “The Crack of Doom or the Fall of Capitalism,” and it read, in part:
Industrial unionism, the capitalist well knows, spells the abolition of the wage system…When the workers who make these great industries possible get ready for action they will no longer beg for some master to give them enough to live on, but take what belongs to them.
San Diego was known as a tolerant city but agitators became such a nuisance that sixty-five merchants on December 8 petitioned the Common Council to prohibit assemblies in a forty-nine block zone centering on Fifth and E Streets. Another petition was submitted by 250 Wobblies and Socialists and their liberal sympathizers insisting on a right of free speech anywhere at any time. While the Council hesitated, the situation grew tense.
On a Saturday night, January 6, 1912, a real estate man by the name of R. J. Walsh attempted to drive his auto through a mob of about a thousand Wobblies, Socialists and spectators on E between Fifth and Sixth Streets, and the response to the honking of his horn was the slashing of a tire. Police Chief Keno Wilson and a riot squad rushed to the scene in the department’s black touring car and when the crowd refused to disperse began making arrests on charges of inciting to riot. It was an hour before the streets were cleared. Councilman Sehon, commissioner of police, watched but took no part. It was a difficult time for him, torn perhaps between his liberal views, military background and his responsibility as a city official.
The Socialists and I.W.W.’s returned to the scene the following night but the crowd was orderly and listened to speeches by Laura Emerson, Kaspar Bauer and E. E. Kirk, who had figured in the border revolutionary events, and later they adjourned to Germania Hall where the Rev. A. Lyle De Jarnette urged the socialization of the church. Kirk said:
“The police caught us napping Saturday night, but tonight we were ready for them, and we had cash money on hand to use in case arrests were made. The fight for free speech in San Diego has but begun and it will be a fight to the finish.”
On Monday the Council passed a modified version of the ordinance sought by the merchants which banned street corner speaking in an area bounded by C and F Streets and Fourth and Sixth Streets, but enforcement was delayed when the city attorney questioned the legality of an emergency clause suspending the usual thirty-day waiting period. The ordinance was almost a duplicate of one in effect in Los Angeles and its constitutionality had been upheld as being within the ordinary police powers of a city. So what began as a challenge to the restriction of a right of free speech soon turned into a license to create disorder.
No arrests were made when Socialists and Wobblies invited arrest in street corner speeches, so they and their supporters prepared for a showdown by organizing a chapter of the California Free Speech League and elected Wood Hubbard, of the I.W.W., as secretary. “Free speech” meetings advocated open violation of the law but the city attorney advised them that they would be free to talk on any street corner in any other section of the city.
The day after the ordinance went into effect, on February 9, the police arrested forty-one men in the forbidden zone. Chief Wilson said:
“All these men have violated some law, whether they are street speakers or not, of that I am sure. So I’m going to charge some of them with disturbing the peace and others with offenses which I shall figure out by tomorrow.”
A call for help went to all I.W.W. chapters in California and soon radicals and hoboes began pouring into the city. On February 13, Commissioner Sehon moved into action and ordered a roundup of all vagrants. Seven more persons were arrested when they attempted to speak before a street audience of more than a thousand. All of those arrested demanded jury trials to clog the jail and the small number of available courts and from their cells they yelled or sang “no flag but the red flag.”
The attention of the nation was focused on the situation when Mayor Wadham received a telegram from Vincent St. John, general secretary of the Industrial Workers of the World, from Chicago, which warned:
“This fight will be continued until free speech is established in San Diego if it takes 20,000 members and twenty years to do so.”
At that very moment, according to the later testimony of Chief of Detectives Joseph Myers, there were at least 150 men on the road between Los Angeles and San Diego and hundreds of others were reported leaving all parts of the country for San Diego. They came by auto, by railroad passenger cars or jammed in box cars. The Board of Supervisors ordered the hiring of an armed guard to patrol the San Diego County line and conveyed authority to disperse gatherings of three or more persons. Sheriff Fred M. Jennings refused a request of District Attorney H. S. Utley to swear in a number of deputies and so Harry Place, a constable, organized an armed body of men, according to later testimony of Fred H. Moore and Marcus W. Robbins, attorneys for the Free Speech League, and maintained a border guard and stopped and searched autos, wagons and trains. The city rapidly was reaching a state of hysteria. Gov. Hiram Johnson rejected a plea to call out the State Militia. The Evening Tribune commented:
“Why are the taxpayers of San Diego compelled to endure this imposition. Simply because the law which these lawbreakers flout prevents the citizens of San Diego from taking these impudent outlaws away from the police and hanging them or shooting them. This would end the trouble in an hour.”
A climax came on March 10 when protestors gathered in the morning before the city jail on Second Street, with speakers, among them Mrs. Laura Emerson, haranguing the police from soap boxes and hundreds of spectators flocking to the scene until there was a crowd of almost 5000 persons. The situation was beyond the control of a force of less than a half hundred police officers and Fire Department engines arrived and firemen hooked up their hoses and sprayed the crowd with water. Some of them held their ground for an hour. News reports in other cities painted a picture of injustice. The Oakland World reported:
“For a full hour hundreds packed themselves in a solid mass around Mrs. Emerson as she stood upon the speakers stand. Bending themselves to the terrific torrent that poured upon them they held their ground until swept from their feet by the irresistible flood.
“An old gray haired woman was knocked down by the direct force of the stream from the hose…A mother was deluged with a babe in her arms.
An awestruck American patriot wrapped himself in the flag to test its efficacy against police outrage, but he was knocked down and jailed and fined $30.00 for insulting the national emblem.”
An investigation conducted later at the instigation of Gov. Hiram Johnson found that the water treatment had been effective and there had been no serious consequences in the way of illness or injuries.
An announcement signed “The Vigilantes” appeared in The San Diego Union of April 12, 1912. It read, in part:
“The constitution of the State of California guarantees the right of free speech and public assembly…but it denies that right to all those who have no respect for law or order, or of the officials who are charged with the execution of the laws…We propose to keep up the deportation of these undesirable citizens…as fast as we can catch them, and hereafter they will not only be carried to the county line and dumped there, but we intend to leave our mark on them in the shape of tar rubbed into their hair, so that a shave will be necessary to remove it, and this is what these agitators (all of them) may expect from now on, that the outside world may know that they have been to San Diego.”
The police, with the city and county jails overflowing and more hoboes and Wobblies on the way, sent prisoners to jails in Santa Ana and Riverside and turned loose late at night others against whom charges could not be immediately substantiated. The Vigilantes took care of them, and a number of them subsequently described their experiences in testimony taken by Harris Weinstock, named by Gov. Johnson as a special commissioner to investigate the disturbances in San Diego. They were taken in groups in autos to Sorrento Valley where they faced scores of men, unmasked and carrying lanterns, who forced them to kneel and kiss the American flag or sing the National Anthem, and then they were taken to San Onofre, where they were herded for the night into cattle pens. In the morning they were made to run through double rows of men armed with clubs, whips and guns, and repeatedly beaten, and then, after the flag-kissing episode had been repeated, sent on their way along the railroad tracks with a warning never to return.
Others trying to enter the county were hauled off box cars, beaten, and driven back along the tracks. Some persons innocent of participation were seized in police or Vigilante raids on I.W.W. headquarters. It was claimed that one man was kicked to death in the jail but an autopsy indicated he had died of natural causes.
One of the most publicized incidents concerned A. R. Sauer, editor of a weekly newspaper which had borrowed its name from the original San Diego Herald published in the 1850’s, and who had spoken out against the Vigilantes. This was on April 5, and the report of Commissioner Weinstock stated:
“Emboldened by the support and approval of some of the leading San Diego daily newspapers and its leading commercial bodies, members of the so-called vigilance committee became so reckless in their contempt of the law and for the provisions of the Constitution that, antagonized by his bold and, to them, distasteful, utterances, A. R. Sauer, editor of the San Diego Herald, was kidnapped by the so-called vigilantes. Sauer who was on the way home from his office in the evening, before darkness really had fallen, was accosted by a number of men, placed in an auto and hurried out of town. Arrived at the outskirts, the editor was compelled to descend, followed by his captors, who placed a rope about his neck. The other end of the rope was flung over the limb of a tree, and Sauer was hauled clear of the ground. In view of which treatment he was constrained to promise that he would leave San Diego and never return. The threat was made, according to Sauer’s story, that if he divulged the names of his captors he would suffer the penalty of death.”
Sauer made his way to Los Angeles and soon afterward returned to San Diego and resumed publishing of the newspaper. He promised to identify the Vigilantes whom he had recognized but never did so.
In a public address, Superior Judge Sloane, who later was to become a member of the State Supreme Court, warned that while “in this day and land of initiative, referendum and recall there is no excuse for organized disobedience and defiance of the enforcement of law…I would urge with equal earnestness it is the duty of those who enforce the law, to act within the law…”
It was then that an aroused Gov. Johnson finally sent Weinstock, a business man, to San Diego to investigate and he conducted hearings in the Grand Jury chambers from April 18 to 20, in which a great deal of voluntary testimony was taken, and all public officials with the exception of District Attorney Utley cooperated except as to self-incrimination or identification of Vigilantes. The American Federation of Labor at San Francisco also sent a committee and reported a number of conversations with San Diego business men in which Spalding was quoted as saying, “We are going to run this element out of town,” and J. M. Porter, a real estate man and identified as a leader of the Vigilantes, as asserting that, “We are fighting for our homes…We don’t care about Weinstock or Gov. Johnson…Only troops can stop us.”
Weinstock found that while the I.W.W.’s had been careful not to commit overt acts, they had deliberately invaded San Diego to disrupt normal government and the processes of law, and that they were committed to revolution; the police were above average in intelligence, and in character and personality, and there was no evidence of mistreatment of prisoners in the crowded jail, but acts of brutality had been committed away from the jail. He warned that radical tactics and philosophy imported from Europe, which had led to violence in Spokane and Fresno as well as San Diego, could menace the peace and welfare of the entire country.
After Weinstock had departed, conditions quieted down for a while, though Wobblies still sought entrance to the town and arrests continued. In one incident in which there was conflicting testimony, a European-born radical by the name of Joseph Mikolasek was shot during an encounter with two police officers who had been watching the I.W.W. headquarters. This was on May 8. The officers, H. C. Stevens and R. M. Heddon, said that two men jumped out of the darkness and started shooting at them. Stevens was wounded but managed to shoot back and the assailants fled. Heddon was felled by a blow from an ax wielded by a third man who had come running out of the I.W.W. headquarters and who was identified as Mikolasek. Bleeding and on the ground, Heddon raised himself and fired three bullets into Mikolasek who staggered away and collapsed on a porch a few blocks away. Before dying he said that when he heard the shots he thought the officers were after him and were going to resume beating him, and he had acted in self defense.
The shots resulted in a city-wide riot call. Maybe the revolution had come. Repeated blasts of the powerhouse steam whistle summoned hundreds of citizens to the police station where they were armed with billy clubs and divided into patrols. Though the assailants who had shot at the police were never identified, the violence that the I.W.W. leaders had sought to avoid in order to frustrate the law in a campaign of civil disobedience, had at last occurred, and many of their more timid followers and transients began to desert. The liberals who had believed they were championing the right of free speech began to have second thoughts on the subject. A mass funeral planned for Mikolasek as a martyr to free speech was transferred to Los Angeles when police refused to permit the paraders to carry Red flags through the streets.
The last chapter came on May 14. In view of the shooting of Mikolasek and the effort to transform him into a martyr Emma Goldman moved up the time of her next lecture engagement in San Diego, and ignoring telegraphic advice from Chief Wilson that she remain away, she boarded the train to San Diego with her manager and traveling companion, Ben Reitman. There was a large crowd at the depot, but Mr. and Mrs. E. E. Kirk, who were to have met them, were nowhere to be seen. Slipping unnoticed out of their car, Emma Goldman and Reitman boarded the U. S. Grant Hotel’s doubledeck autobus and proceeded to the top section where they found the Kirks. In her autobiography, Living My Life, she tells what happened:
“We had barely taken our seats when someone shouted: “Here she is, here’s the Goldman woman!” At once the cry was taken up by the crowd. Fashionably dressed women stood up in their cars screaming: “We want that anarchist murderess!” In an instant there was a rush for the autobus, hands reaching up to pull me down. With unusual presence of mind, the chauffeur started the car at full speed, scattering the crowd in all directions.”
With police assistance Miss Goldman and Reitman entered the hotel and were assigned a large suite of rooms. Toward evening there was a bedlam of auto horns and whistles and a thousand persons filled the street below waving flags and singing patriotic songs, and she was informed that city officials wished to confer with her in another room:
“I entered a room filled with men. The window-blinds were partly drawn, but the large electric street light in front disclosed an agitated mass below. The Mayor approached me. “You hear that mob,” he said, indicating the street; “they mean business. They want to get you and Reitman out of the hotel, even if they have to take you by force. We cannot guarantee anything. If you consent to leave, we will give you protection and get you safely out of town.” “
Other reports indicate that the conference with city officials did not concern a threat to her safety but an anxiety to avoid further demonstrations, and Mayor Wadham was not present but was represented by Chief Wilson and Commissioner Sehon. Another person present was the chief of the California division of the United States Secret Service. In her version of the incident, however, she insists that she demanded that the officials enforce the law and disperse the crowd. She returned to her quarters to find Reitman missing. The hotel manager, J. H. Holmes, who she said had been sympathetic, now pleaded with her to leave San Diego. She went to the station to take the Owl Train leaving at 2:45 in the morning and again heard the sound of a mob:
“ “Hurry, hurry!” someone cried: “get in quick!”
“Before I had time to make another step, I was picked up, carried to the train, and literally thrown into the compartment. The blinds were pulled down and I was locked in. The Vigilantes had arrived and were rushing up and down the platform, shouting and trying to board the train. The crew was on guard, refusing to let them on. There was mad yelling and cursing–hideous and terrifying moments till at last the train pulled out.”
In their publications the Wobblies, who had only contempt for the anarchists whom they considered undependable, charged her with having been more frightened than defiant and retreating before an imaginary danger from a crowd more interested in hissing and jeering than in harming her. In Los Angeles she was reunited with Reitman, and in her autobiography she quotes him as reporting he had been taken on a twenty-mile auto ride and then:
“When we reached the county line, the auto stopped at a deserted spot. The men formed a ring and told me to undress. They tore my clothes off: They knocked me down, and when I lay naked on the ground, they kicked and beat me until I was almost insensible. With a lighted cigar they burned the letters I.W.W. on my buttocks; then they poured a can of tar over my head and, in the absence of feathers, rubbed sage brush on my body…They forced me to kiss the flag and sing The Star Spangled Banner. When they tired of the fun, they gave me my underwear for fear we should meet any women. They also gave me back my vest, in order that I might carry my money, railroad ticket, and watch. The rest of my clothes they kept. I was ordered to make a speech, and then they commanded me to run the gauntlet. The Vigilantes lined up, and as I ran past them, each one gave me a blow or a kick. Then they let me go.”
The city had been saved, the Wobblies and itinerants vanquished, and in a short time it seemed as if it all had been a bad dream. Prisoners held in jails in Orange and Riverside counties as well as in San Diego slowly were released. The last of them pleaded guilty during a smallpox epidemic in the jail and received suspended sentences. Federal investigations were launched in a desultory manner and nothing came of them. There are no accurate reports of how many persons answered the call of the radicals and actually invaded or tried to invade the town but estimates ran as high as several thousands. It had been a high point of a revolutionary movement.
In a few years the people of this small town in a distant corner of a vast country, who had reacted with such fury, and outside the law, to a shapeless threat to the order of their ways, brought about a civic and cultural achievement that would leave a heritage known around the world.
Return to Books.
GOLD IN THE SUN
Ch. 1 The Town That Wanted to Grow Up and Be Something
Ch. 2 Here Come the Cultists and the Health Seekers
Ch. 3 Who Could Have Guessed These Stones Were Gems
Ch. 4 The River That Proved It Was Lord of the Desert
Ch. 5 The Auto Challenges the Train and Shapes the City
Ch. 6 It Was Not Yet Too Late to Design a City – Or Was It?
Ch. 7 Beauty Wins A Round in Parks and the Exposition
Ch. 8 The Wobblies and A Story No One Likes to Remember
Ch. 9 San Francisco Shows How Politics Should Be Played
Ch. 10 A ‘Magic City’ Surprises Even Those Who Built It
Ch. 11 The Rainmaker – And Who Caused the Big Flood?
Ch. 12 The Military Appreciated What the Natives Did Not
Ch.13 Southern California and the Gold Nobody Noticed