Part 13 - The Plot Leaks Out
By degrees the story of the infamous secret committee and its diabolical plan leaked out, adding positive confirmation to the many already credited rumors in circulation. Some of the newspapers quite openly hinted that the I.W.W. Hall was to be the object of the brewing storm. Chief of Police Hughes told a member of the Lewis County Trades Council, William T. Merriman by name, that the business men were organizing to raid the hall and drive its members out of town. Merriman, in turn carried the statement to many of his friends and brother unionists. Soon the prospective raid was the subject of open discussion,-over the breakfast toast, on the street corners, in the camps and mills every place.
So common was the knowledge in fact that many of the craft organizations in Centralia began to discuss openly what they should do about it. They realized that the matter was one which concerned labor and many members wanted to protest and were urging their unions to try to do something. At the Lewis County Trades Council the subject was brought up for discussion by its president, L. F. Dickson. No way of helping the loggers was found, however, if they would so stubbornly try to keep open their headquarters in the face of such opposition. Harry Smith, a brother of Elmer Smith, the attorney, was a delegate at this meeting and reported to his brother the discussion that took place.
Secretary Britt Smith and the loggers at the Union hall were not by any means ignorant of the conspiracy being hatched against them. Day by day they had followed the development of the plot with breathless interest and not a little anxiety. They knew from bitter experience how union men were handled when they were trapped in their halls. But they would not entertain the idea of abandoning their principles and seeking personal safety. Every logging camp for miles around knew of the danger also. The loggers there had gone through the hell of the organization period and had felt the wrath of the lumber barons. Some of them felt that the statement of Secretary of Labor Wilson as to the attitude of the Industrial Workers of the World towards "overthrowing the government," and "violence and destruction" would discourage the terrorists from attempting such a flagrant and brutal injustice as the one contemplated.
Regarding the deportation of I.W.W.'s for belonging to an organization which advocates such things, Secretary of Labor Wilson had stated a short time previously: "An exhaustive study into the by-laws and practices of the I.W.W. has thus far failed to disclose anything that brings it within the class of organizations referred to."
Other of the loggers were buoyed up with the many victories won in the courts on "criminal syndicalism" charges and felt that the raid would be too "raw" a thing for the lumber interests even to consider. All were secure in the knowledge and assurance that they were violating no law in keeping open their hall. And they wanted that hall kept open.
Of course the question of what was to be done was discussed at their business meetings. When news reached them on November 4th of the contemplated "parade" they decided to publish a leaflet telling the Citizens of Centralia about the justice and legality of their position, the aims of their organization and the real reason for the intense hatred which the lumber trust harbored against them. Such leaflet was drawn up by Secretary Britt Smith and approved by the membership. It was an honest, outspoken appeal for public sympathy and support. This leaflet word for word as it was printed and circulated in Centralia is reprinted below:
TO THE CITIZENS OF CENTRALIA
WE MUST APPEAL
"To the law abiding citizens of Centralia and to the working class in general: We beg of you to read and carefully consider the following:
"The profiteering class of Centralia have of late been waving the flag of our country in an endeavor to incite the lawless element of our city to raid our hall and club us out of town. For this purpose they have inspired editorials in the Hub, falsely and viciously attacking the I.W.W., hoping to gain public approval for such revolting criminality. These profiteers are holding numerous secret meetings to that end, and covertly inviting returned service men to do their bidding. In this work they are ably assisted by the bankrupt lumber barons of southwest Washington who led the mob that looted and burned the I.W.W. hall a year ago.
"These criminal thugs call us a band of outlaws bent on destruction. This they do in an attempt to hide their own dastardly work in burning our hall and destroying our property. They say we are a menace; and we are a menace to all mobocrats and pilfering thieves. Never did the I.W.W. burn public or private halls, kidnap their fellow citizens, destroy their property, club their fellows out of town, bootleg or act in any ways as law-breakers. These patriotic profiteers throughout the country have falsely and with out any foundation whatever charged the I.W.W. with every crime on the statute books. For these alleged crimes thousands of us have been jailed in foul and filthy cells throughout this country, often without charge, for months and in some cases, years, and when released re-arrested and again thrust in jail to await a trial that is never called. The only convictions of the I.W.W. were those under the espionage law, where we were forced to trial before jurors, all of whom were at political and industrial enmity toward us, and in courts hostile to the working class. This same class of handpicked courts and juries also convicted many labor leaders, socialists, non-partisans, pacifists, guilty of no crime save that of loyalty to the working class.
"By such courts Jesus the Carpenter was slaughtered upon the charge that 'he stirreth up the people.' Only last month 25 I.W.W. were indicted in Seattle as strike leaders, belonging to an unlawful organization, attempting to overthrow the government and other vile things under the syndicalist law passed by the last legislature. To exterminate the "wobbly" both the court and jury have the lie to every charge. The court held them a lawful organization and their literature was not disloyal nor inciting to violence, though the government had combed the country from Chicago to Seattle for witnesses, and used every pamphlet taken from their hall in government raids.
"In Spokane 13 members were indicted in the Superior Court for wearing the I.W.W. button and displaying their emblem. The jury unanimously acquitted them and the court held it no crime.
"In test cases last month both in the Seattle and Everett Superior Courts, the presiding judge declared the police had no authority in law to close their halls and the padlocks were ordered off and the halls opened.
"Many I.W.W. in and around Centralia went to France and fought and bled for the democracy they never secured. They came home to be threatened with mob violence by the law and order outfit that pilfered every nickel possible from their mothers and fathers while they were fighting in the trenches in the thickest of the fray.
"Our only crime is solidarity, loyalty to the working class and justice to the oppressed."
"LET THE MEN IN UNIFORM DO IT"
On November 6th, the Centralia Post of the American Legion met with a committee from the Chamber of Commerce to arrange for a parade-another "patriotic" parade. The first anniversary of the signing of the armistice was now but a few days distant and Centralia felt it incumbent upon herself to celebrate. Of course the matter was brought up rather circumspectly, but knowing smiles greeted the suggestion. One business man made a motion that the brave boys wear their uniforms. This was agreed upon.
The line of march was also discussed. As the union hall was a little off the customary parade route, Scales suggested that their course lead past the hall "in order to show them how strong we are." It was intimated that a command "eyes right" would be given as the legionaries and business men passed the union headquarters. This was merely a poor excuse of the secret committeemen to get the parade where they needed it. But many innocent men were lured into a "lynching bee" without knowing that they were being led to death by a hidden gang of broad-cloth conspirators who were plotting at murder. Lieutenant Cormier, who afterwards blew the whistle that was the signal for the raid, endorsed the proposal of Scales as did Grimm and McElfresh--all three of them secret committeemen.
Practically no other subject but the "parade" was discussed at this meeting. The success of the project was now assured for it had placed into the hands of the men who alone could arrange to "have the men in uniform do it." The men in uniform had done it once before and people knew what to expect.
The day following this meeting the Centralia Hub published an announcement of the coming event stating that the legionaires had "voted to wear uniforms." The line of march was published for the first time. Any doubts about the real purpose of the parade vanished when people read that the precession was to march from the City Park to Third street and Tower avenue and return. The union hall was on Tower between Second and Third streets, practically at the end of the line of march and plainly the objective of the demonstrators.
"DECENT LABOR" - HANDS OFF!
A short time after the shooting a virulent leaflet was issued by the Mayor's office stating that the "plot to kill had been laid two or three weeks before the tragedy," and that "the attack (of the loggers) was without justification or excuse." Both statements are bare faced lies. The meeting was held the 6th and the line of march made public of the 7th. The loggers could not possibly have planned a week and a half previously to shoot into a parade they knew nothing about and whose line of march had not yet been disclosed. It was proved in court that the union men armed themselves at the very last moment, after everything else had failed and they had been left helpless to face the alternative of being driven out of town or being lynched.
About this time eyewitnesses declare coils of rope were being purchased in a local hardware store. This rope is all cut up into little pieces now and most of it is dirty and stained. But many of Centralia's best families prize their souvenir highly. They say it brings good luck to a family.
A few days after the meeting just described William Dunning, vice president of the Lewis County Trades and Labor Assembly, met Warren Grimm on the street. Having fresh in his mind a recent talk about the raid in the Labor Council meetings, and being well aware of Grimm's standing and influence, Dunning broached the subject.
"We've been discussing the threatened raid on the I.W.W. hall," he said.
"Who are you, an I.W.W.?" asked Grimm.
Dunning replied stating that he was vice president of the Labor Assembly and proceeded to tell Grimm the feeling of his organization on the subject.
"Decent labor ought to keep its hands off," was Grimm's laconic reply.
The Sunday before the raid a public meeting was held in the union hall. About a hundred and fifty persons were in the audience, mostly working men and women of Centralia. A number of loggers were present, dressed in the invariable mackinaw, stagged overalls and caulked shoes. John Foss, an I.W.W. ship builder from Seattle, was the speaker. Secretary Britt Smith was chairman. Walking up and down the isle, selling the union's pamphlets and papers was a muscular and sun-burned young man with a rough, honest face and a pair of clear hazel eyes in which a smile was always twinkling. He wore a khaki army coat above stagged overalls of a slightly darker shade, Wesley Everest, the ex-soldier who was shortly to be mutilated and lynched by the mob.
"I HOPE TO JESUS NOTHING HAPPENS"
The atmosphere of the meeting was already tainted with the Terror. Nerves were on edge. Every time any newcomer would enter the door the audience would look over their shoulders with apprehensive glances. At the conclusion of the meeting the loggers gathered around the secretary and asked him the latest news about the contemplated raid. For reply Britt Smith handed them copies of the leaflet "We Must Appeal" and told of the efforts that had been made and were being made to secure legal protection and to let the public know the real facts in the case.
"If they raid the hall again as they did in 1918 the boys won't stand for it," said a logger.
"If the law won't protect us we've got a right to protect ourselves," ventured another.
"I hope to Jesus nothing happens," replied the secretary.
Wesley Everest laid down his few unsold papers, rolled a brown paper cigarette and smiled enigmatically over the empty seats in the general direction of the new One Big Union label on the front window. His closest friends say he was never afraid of anything in all his life.
None of these men knew that loggers from nearby camps, having heard of the purchase of the coils of rope, were watching the hall night and day to see that "nothing happens."
The next day, after talking things over with Britt Smith, Mrs. McAllister, wife of the proprietor of the Roderick hotel from whom the loggers rented the hall, went to see Chief of Police Hughes. This is how she told of the interview:
"I got worried and I went to the Chief. I says to him 'Are you going to protect my property?' Hughes says, 'We'll do the
The day before the tragedy Elmer Smith dropped in at the Union hall to warn his clients that nothing could now stop the raid. "Defend it if you choose to do so," he told them. "The law gives you that right."
It was on the strength of this remark, overheard by the stool-pigeon, Morgan, and afterwards reported to the prosecution, that Elmer Smith was hailed to prison charged with murder in the first degree. His enemies had been certain all along that his incomprehensible delusion about the law being the same for the poor man as the rich would bring its own punishment. It did; there can no longer be any doubt on the subject.
Next page: Part 14 - The Scorpion's Sting