On the Durst Brothers' Ranch at Wheatland which is near Marysville, California, farm workers were on strike led by the Industrial Workers of the World. The struggle was over wages and the practice of withholding part of the wages until the end of season, forfeited should the picker not finish the season for any reason. Also at issue were lack of drinking water, lack of adequate food, lack of sanitation. Illness was common in the camp, including typhoid and dysentery, especially among the children.
On Saturday evening, August 2nd, 1913, a protest meeting was held, led by Richard "Blackie" Ford and Herman D. Suhr. Another meeting was called for the next morning, Sunday August the 3rd and demands were issued.This so enraged Ralph Durst that he struck Ford and called in the law to have him arrested. No arrest warrant was presented, and, therefore, picketers would not allow the arrest.
Another meeting was held later that afternoon at about 5:30 in the afternoon.
Writing for the January 3, 1914 issue of Solidarity, Mortimer Downing, former editor of the Industrial Worker, picks up the story:
Dick Ford, speaking as the chairman of the meeting reached down and took from a mother an infant, saying, "It is not so much for ourselves we are fighting as that this little baby may never see the conditions which now exist on this ranch." He put the baby back into its mother's arms as he saw eleven armed men, in two automobiles, tearing down toward the meeting place. The workers then began a song. Into this meeting, where the grandsire, the husband, the youth and the babies were gathered in an effort to gain something like living conditions these armed men charged. Sheriff George Voss has sworn, "When I arrived that meeting was orderly and peaceful." The crowd opened to let him and his followers enter. Then one of his deputies, Lee Anderson, struck Dick Ford with a club, knocking him from his stand. Anderson also fired a shot. Another deputy, Henry Dakin, fired a shot gun. Remember, this crowd was a dense mass of men, women and children, some of them babies at the breast. Panic struck the mass. Dakin began to volley with his automatic shot gun. There was a surge around the speaker's stand. Voss went down. From his tent charged an unidentified Puerto Rican. He thrust himself into the mass, clubbed some of the officers, got a gun, cleared a space for himself and fell dead before a load of buckshot from Henry Dakin's gun.SOURCES
Thirty seconds or so the firing lasted. When the smoke cleared, Dakin an Durst and others of these bullies had fled like jack rabbits. Four men lay dead upon the ground. Among them, District Attorney Edward T. Manwell, a deputy named Eugene Reardon, the Puerto Rican and an unidentified English lad. About a score were wounded, among them women.
Charges of murder, indiscriminative, have been placed for the killing of Manwell and Reardon. This Puerto Rican and the English boy sleep in their bloody graves and the law takes no account-they were only workers.
History of the Labor Movement in the United States Vol. 4
The Industrial Workers of the World 1905-1917
-by Philip S Foner
International Pub, 1965
An IWW Anthology
-ed by Joyce L Kornbluh
Charles H Kerr Pub, 1988
-of January 3, 1914
Wheatland Hop Pickers' Defense Committee:
"The Wheatland Boys"
International Socialist Review
- of Jan. 1914
Mr Block by Joe Hill
Performed by Utah Phillips
According to some accounts the hop pickers were singing this song when they were attacked on that Bloody Sunday.