Skip to main content

Part 1 - A Tongue of Flame

The martyr cannot be dishonored. Every lash inflicted is a tongue of flame; every prison a more illustrious abode; every burned book or house en-lightens the world; every suppressed or expunged word reverberates through the earth from side to side. The minds of men are at last aroused; reason looks out and justifies her own, and malice finds all her work is ruin. It is the whipper who is whipped and the tyrant who is undone. -—Emerson.

THE CENTRALIA CONSPIRACY

MURDER OR SELF-DEFENSE?

This booklet is not an apology for murder. It is an honest effort to unravel the tangled mesh of circumstances that led up to the Armistice Day tragedy in Centralia, Washington. The writer is one of those who believe that the taking of human life is justifiable only in self-defense. Even then the act is a horrible reversion to the brute-to the low plane of savagery. Civilization, to be worthy of the name, must afford other methods of settling human differences than those of blood letting.

The nation was shocked on November 11, 1919, to read of the killing of four American Legion men by members of the Industrial Workers of the World in Centralia. The capitalist newspapers announced to the world that these unoffending paraders were killed in cold blood-that they were murdered from ambush without provocation of any kind. If the author were convinced that there was even a slight possibility of this being true, he would not raise his voice to defend the perpetrators of such a cowardly crime.

But there are two sides to every question and perhaps the newspapers presented only one of these. Dr. Frank Bickford, an ex-service man who participated in the affair, testified at the coroner's inquest that the Legion men were attempting to raid the union hall when they were killed. Sworn testimony of various eyewitnesses has revealed the fact that some of the "unoffending paraders" carried coils of rope and that others were armed with such weapons as would work the demolition of the hall and bodily injury to its occupants. These things throw an entirely different light on the subject. If this is true it means that the union loggers fired only in self-defense and not with the intention of committing wanton and malicious murder as has been stated. Now, as at least two of the union men who did the shooting were ex-soldiers, it appears that the tragedy must have resulted from something more than a mere quarrel between loggers and soldiers. There must be something back of it all that the public generally doesn't know about.

There is only one body of men in the Northwest who would hate a union hall enough to have it raided-the lumber "interests." And now we get at the kernel of the matter, which is the fact that the affair was the outgrowth of a struggle between the lumber trust and its employees-between Organized Capital and Organized Labor.

A LABOR CASE

And so, after all, the famous trial at Montesano was not a murder trial but a labor trial in the strict sense of the word. Under the law, it must be remembered, a man is not committing murder in defending his life and property from the felonious assault of a mob bent on killing and destruction. There is no doubt whatever but what the lumber trust had plotted to "make an example" of the loggers and destroy their hall on this occasion. And this was not the first time that such atrocities had been attempted and actually committed. Isn't it peculiar that, out of many similar raids, you only heard of the one where the men defended themselves? Self-preservation is the first law of nature, but the preservation of its holy profits is the first law of the lumber trust. The organized lumber workers were considered a menace to the super-prosperity of a few profiteers hence the attempted raid and the subsequent killing.

What is more significant is the fact the raid had been carefully planned weeks in advance. There is a great deal of evidence to prove this point.

There is no question that the whole affair was the outcome of a struggle-a class struggle, if you please between the union loggers and the lumber interests; the former seeking to organize the workers in the woods and the latter fighting this movement with all the means at its disposal.

In this light the Centralia affair does not appear as an isolated incident but rather an incident in an eventful industrial conflict, little known and less understood, between the lumber barons and loggers of the Pacific Northwest. This viewpoint will place Centralia in its proper perspective and enable one to trace the tragedy back to the circumstances and conditions that gave it birth.

But was there a conspiracy on the part of the lumber interests to commit murder and violence in an effort to drive organized labor from its domain? Weeks of patient investigating in and around the scene or the occurrence has convinced the present writer that such a conspiracy has existed. A considerable amount of startling evidence has been unearthed that has hitherto been suppressed. If you care to consider Labor's version of this unfortunate incident you are urged to read the following truthful account of this almost unbelievable piece of medieval intrigue and brutality.

The facts will speak for themselves. Credit them or not, but read!

THE FORESTS OF THE NORTHWEST

The Pacific Northwest is world famed for its timber. The first white explorers to set foot upon its fertile soil were awed by the magnitude and grandeur of its boundless stretches of virgin forests. Nature has never endowed any section of our fair world with such an immensity of kingly trees. Towering into the sky to unthinkable heights, they stand as living monuments to the fecundity of natural life. Imagine, if you can, the vast wide region of the West coast, hills, slopes and valleys, covered with millions of fir, spruce and cedar trees, raising their verdant crests a hundred, two hundred or two hundred and fifty feet into the air. 

When Columbus first landed on the uncharted continent these trees were already ancient. There they stood, straight and majestic with green and foam-flecked streams purling here and there at their feet, crowning the rugged landscape with superlative beauty, overtopped only by the snow-capped mountains waiting for the hand of man to put them to the multitudinous uses of modern civilization. Imagine, if you can, the first explorer, gazing awe-stricken down those "calm cathedral isles," wondering at the lavish bounty of our Mother Earth in supplying her children with such inexhaustible resources.

But little could the first explorer know that the criminal clutch of Greed was soon to seize these mighty forests, guard them from the human race with bayonets, hangman's ropes and legal statutes; and use them, robber-baron like, to exact unimaginable tribute from the men and women of the world who need them. Little did the first explorer dream that the day would come when individuals would claim private ownership of that which prolific nature had travailed through centuries to bestow upon mankind.

But that day has come and with it the struggle between master and man that was to result in Centralia-or possibly many Centralias.

Next page: Part 2 - Lumber: A Basic Industry