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     Bisbee, Arizona is a delightful little town. Located at over 5,000 ft. elevation in the Mule Mountains of Cochise County, its climate is less punishing than that of the surrounding desert. It is part artist colony and part retirement community and is unique in Arizona in having more breweries than Circle Ks. Bisbee is a great place to spend a weekend. It was also the scene of one of the most egregious acts of pro-corporate, anti-labor vigilantism in American history, the Bisbee Deportation.


A Company Town

      Something like this could only happen in a company town, one isolated from the rest of civilization, and that was Bisbee. The original mining claims in Mule Canyon, now called Tombstone Canyon, were filed in 1877. Different companies came and went, new claims were filed. The biggest claim, the "Mother Lode", was the Copper Queen. Eastern capital entered the picture and Phelps Dodge bought the Copper Queen mine in 1885. There were other companies operating in what was now called the Warren District, after George Warren who filed most of the original claims. There was the Calumet & Arizona Mining Company and the Shattuck-Arizona Mining Co., but the Copper Queen Mining Company, owned by Phelps Dodge, was the most important. The Copper Queen owned the newspaper and the hospital. The Copper Queen Mercantile was the only store for a while and even when independent retail stores opened they still bought their goods from the CQ. They had the biggest and best hotel, the Copper Queen, which still operates today. Only the bars, whorehouses and opium dens were truly independent. The professional class were just as dependent on the company as the underground miners.

The Price of Copper

      In a mining town, where only one commodity is produced, everything depends on the market price of that commodity. So it was in Bisbee where prosperity and privation, hiring and layoffs alternated with the price of the red metal. The town had been booming in January of 1914 with copper at 13½ cents a pound. Then came the war in Europe. Uncertainty brought on by the war paralyzed the US copper industry. By November the price had dropped to 11 cents. There were layoffs and real poverty in Bisbee. People starved in the Mexican part of town.

      Things turned around pretty quick though. The First World War was fought with massed artillery. Artillery shells are made of brass, brass requires copper. In mid-1915 the Allies placed orders in the US for 25 million shell casings, requiring 101 million pounds of copper. Happy days indeed. By the summer of 1916 copper had rebounded to 26½ cents a pound. It would reach 37 cents by March of 1917 and Bisbee boomed like never before. The workforce in the Warren District was nearly 7,000 men and they were earning the best wages of any copper camp in the country.

Why the Strike ?

      It seems odd that there should be labor trouble at a time when everybody's working and wages are high. I've already mentioned the paternalistic, even feudal, system in Bisbee. This alone must have bothered some. They might well have expected even higher pay and better conditions with the market at an all time high. The main reason for the strike had to do with the workforce in the Warren District. Like any mining town in the early 20th century, there were workers of all different nationalities, and there was a hierarchy. The best jobs, and pay, went to Anglo miners from Wales, Cornwall and elsewhere in the British Isles. Below them were the Italians,  Serbs and other Southern Slavs. At the very bottom were the Mexicans. As the mines increased production, a labor shortage meant that more immigrants were hired. There was ethnic resentment against "foreign labor, who could live on a pittance."

Enter the IWW

      The Western Federation of Miners had tried to organize the Warren District earlier in the decade. The companies responded with mass firings and shut-downs. In 1906 the workers had rejected union representation by an overwhelming vote and the companies had fired 400 union sympathizers. The WFM did not give up. They changed their name to the International Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers and were ready to try again in 1916 to unionize the Warren District. They were not alone. Another union had been active in the district since 1912, the Industrial Workers of the World. The IWW was a more militant union, willing to use sabotage and intimidation. They also aimed their efforts at the lower strata of workers, the unskilled immigrants, the "bindle-stiffs." The Wobblies were more international, with their ties to European anarchists and syndicalists, and less patriotic. They were resented by the IUMMSW. Labor was split, along ethnic lines and between the two unions. The companies were not.

The Strike

      In late 1916 and early 1917 the Wobblies had succeeded in staging strikes in other Arizona mining camps, Chloride, Ajo and Jerome. Those strikes had resulted in arrests and deportations but they were victories by IWW standards. In 1917 they called for a strike in Bisbee. They presented their demands on June 24. They wanted better safety and working conditions and an end to the sliding pay scale which resulted in ethnic inequality. They wanted a flat scale for all, $6 per shift underground, $4 above. By June 27 half the miners in the Warren District were out on strike. Almost the entire surface crew at the Copper Queen, 250 Mexicans, walked off the job. The companies reacted. War had been declared on April 6, the Wobblies were labeled pro-German outside agitators. The newspapers called them "aliens" and "traitors." Walter Douglas, President of Phelps Dodge, formed the Workman's Loyalty League, an organization of "patriotic" pro-company workers. The IUMMSW declared the strike to be "unauthorized". There had already been a deportation at Jerome, another Phelps Dodge property. 100 suspected IWW members had been rounded up and jailed on July 10 with the help of local business people and the IUMMSW.

      Cochise County Sheriff Harry Wheeler chaired a meeting on the night of July 11 to plan the Bisbee deportation. Walter Douglas was not in attendance, but executives from other mines were there, as well as officials from the El Paso and Southwestern Railroad. The operation was planned in detail. 2,200 Loyalty Leaguers had been deputized by the Sheriff. This posse, armed, wearing white armbands for recognition and carrying lists of undesirables, was to round up the strikers, put them on a train and send them to Columbus, New Mexico "where Uncle Sam would take care of them."

"This is the Loyalty League call"

      That was the call that went out through switchboards in Bisbee and Douglas at 2:00 AM on July 12. That morning's Bisbee Daily Review announced that "a Sheriff's posse of 1,200 men in Bisbee and 1,000 men in Douglas, all loyal Americans [had formed] for the purpose of arresting on the charges of vagrancy, treason, and of 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." By 4:00 AM the deputies had taken up their prearranged positions in town. The Sheriff began the operation by placing a machine gun opposite the entrance to the Union Hall and ordering the Wobbly leaders out. When the building was vacated, Wheeler gave the order and at 6:20 the deputies began knocking on doors and arresting suspects. The very fact that a miner was not at work was reason for arrest and many townspeople who were neither strikers nor Wobblies were arrested as sympathizers. You can bet that some personal scores were settled as well.


      Some 2,000 arrestees were assembled in front of the Bisbee Post Office and at 7:30 the order was given to "fall in there, march."  The undesirables were marched, three abreast and under armed guard, through Bisbee and Lowell to the ballpark in Warren, two miles away. On the baseball field, arrestees, provided they were not IWW members, were given a chance to avoid deportation and return to work. About 700 men accepted the offer and were freed amid the hoots and jeers of those left behind. At 11:00 AM an El Paso & Southwestern locomotive with 23 boxcars and cattle cars puled into Warren station immediately adjacent the ball field. Within an hour the deportees were boarded and at noon the "Wobbly Special" pulled out of Warren. On board were the 1,286 deportees and 186 armed Loyalty Leaguer guards. The train arrived at Columbus the next day, but was forced to backtrack 17 miles to Hermanas when the town constable at Columbus told the deputies that the town could not accommodate the deportees. The train was unloaded at Hermanas where the men spent the night. An EP&S train brought food the next day and on July 14 the US Army escorted the men back to Columbus where they were housed in a camp built earlier to house Mexicans fleeing Pancho Villa's forces.  


James Brew

      Two men died during the Bisbee Deportation. When the deputies came for James H. Brew, a card-carrying IWW member, Brew opened fire. He fired several shots, one of which killed Orson P. McRae, a shift boss at the Copper Queen and a member of the Loyalty League. McRae's companions promptly shot and killed Brew. A few years ago, Bisbee native and former Cochise County Attorney John Pintek started a campaign to erect a monument to James Brew. Pintek was a prominent Bisbee Democrat whose father had been rounded-up in 1917. He had wanted to put a monument at the Warren ballpark but Brew is still a controversial figure in Bisbee and he couldn't get agreement. The monument is located next to Brew's original grave marker in Bisbee's Evergreen Cemetery. Baja Arizona Kossack Bisbonian was a member of the committee that erected the monument.



Originally posted to Azazello on Tue Jul 12, 2011 at 08:50 AM PDT.

Also republished by Baja Arizona Kossacks and Community Spotlight.

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