Part 15 - Wesley Everest
But Destiny had decided to spare one man the bitter irony of judicial murder. Wesley Everest still had a pocket full of cartridges and a forty-four automatic that could speak for itself.
This soldier-lumberjack had done most of the shooting in the hall. He held off the mob until the very last moment, and, instead of seeking refuge in the refrigerator after the "paraders" had been dispersed, he ran out of the back door, reloading his pistol as he went. It is believed by many that Arthur McElfresh was killed inside the hall by a bullet fired by Everest.
In the yard at the rear of the hall the mob had already reorganized for an attack from that direction. Before anyone knew what had happened Everest had broken through their ranks and scaled the fence. "Don't follow me and I won't shoot," he called to the crowd and displaying the still smoking blue steel pistol in his hand.
"There goes the secretary!" yelled someone, as the logger started at top speed down the alley. The mob surged in pursuit, collapsing the board fence before them with sheer force of numbers. There was a rope in the crowd and the union secretary was the man they wanted. The chase that followed probably saved the life, not only of Britt Smith, but the remaining loggers in the hall as well.
Running pell-mell down the alley the mob gave a shout of exaltation as Everest slowed his pace and turned to face them. They stopped cold, however, as a number of quick shots rang out and bullets whistled and zipped around them. Everest turned in his tracks and was off again like a flash, reloading his pistol as he ran. The mob again resumed the pursuit. The logger ran through an open gateway, paused to turn and again fire at his pursuers; then he ran between two frame dwellings to the open street. When the mob again caught the trail they were evidently under the impression that the logger's ammunition was exhausted. At all events they took up the chase with redoubled energy. Some men in the mob had rifles and now and then a pot-shot would be taken at the fleeing figure. The marksmanship of both sides seems to have been poor for no one appears to have been injured.
This kind of running fight was kept up until Everest reached the river. Having kept off his pursuers thus far the boy started boldly for the comparative security of the opposite shore, splashing the water violently as he waded out into the stream. The mob was getting closer all the time. Suddenly Everest seemed to change his mind and began to retrace his steps to the shore. Here he stood dripping wet in the tangled grasses to await the arrival of the mob bent on his destruction. Everest had lost his hat and his wet hair stuck to his forehead. His gun was now so hot he could hardly hold it and the last of his ammunition was in the magazine. Eye witnesses declare his face still wore a quizzical, half bantering smile when the mob overtook him. With the pistol held loosely in his rough hand Everest stood at bay, ready to make a last stand for his life. Seeing him thus, and no doubt thinking his last bullet had been expended, the mob made a rush for its quarry.
"Stand back!" he shouted. "If there are 'bulls' in the crowd, I'll submit to arrest; otherwise lay off of me."
No attention was paid to his words. Everest shot from the hip four times,--then his gun stalled. A group of soldiers started to run in his direction. Everest was tugging at the gun with both hands. Raising it suddenly he took careful aim and fired. All the soldiers but one wavered and stopped. Everest fired twice, both bullets taking effect. Two more shots were fired almost point blank before the logger dropped his assailant at his feet. Then he tossed away the empty gun and the mob surged upon him.
The legionaire who had been shot was Dale Hubbard, a nephew of F.B. Hubbard, the lumber baron. He was a strong, brave and misguided young man--worthy of a nobler death.
"LET'S FINISH THE JOB!"
Everest attempted a fight with his fists but was overpowered and severely beaten. A number of men clamoured for immediate lynching, but saner council prevailed for the time and he was dragged through the streets towards the city jail. When the mob was half a block from this place the "hot heads" made another attempt to cheat the state executioner. A wave of fury seemed here to sweep the crowd. Men fought with one another for a chance to strike, kick or spit in the face of their victim. It was an orgy of hatred and blood-lust. Everest's arms were pinioned, blows, kicks and curses rained upon him from every side. One business man clawed strips of bleeding flesh from his face. A woman slapped his battered cheek with a well groomed hand. A soldier tried to lunge a hunting rifle at the helpless logger; the crowd was too thick. He bumped them aside with the butt of the gun to get room. Then he crashed the muzzle with full force into Everest's mouth. Teeth were broken and blood flowed profusely.
A rope appeared from somewhere. "Let's finish the job!" cried a voice. The rope was placed about the neck of the logger. "You haven't got guts enough to lynch a man in the daytime," was all he said.
At this juncture a woman brushed through the crowd and took the rope from Everest's neck. Looking into the distorted faces of the mob she cried indignantly, "You are curs and cowards to treat a man like that!"
There may be human beings in Centralia after all.
Wesley Everest was taken to the city jail and thrown without ceremony upon the cement floor of the "bull pen." In the surrounding cells were his comrades who had been arrested in the union hall. Here he lay in a wet heap, twitching with agony. A tiny bright stream of blood gathered at his side and trailed slowly along the floor. Only an occasional quivering moan escaped his torn lips as the hours slowly passed by.
"HERE IS YOUR MAN"
Later, at night, when it was quite dark, the lights of the jail were suddenly snapped off. At the same instant the entire city was plunged in darkness. A clamour of voices was heard beyond the walls. There was a hoarse shout as the panel of the outer door was smashed in. "Don't shoot, men," said the policemen on guard, "Here is your man." It was night now, and the business men had no further reason for not lynching the supposed secretary. Everest heard their approaching foot steps in the dark. He arose drunkenly to meet them. "Tell the boys I died for my class," he whispered brokenly to the union men in the cells. These were the last words he uttered in the jail. There were sounds of a short struggle and of many blows. Then a door slammed and, in a short time the lights were switched on. The darkened city was again illuminated at the same moment. Outside three luxurious automobiles were purring them selves out of sight in the darkness.
The only man who had protested the lynching at the last moment was William Scales. "Don't kill him, men," he is said to have begged of the mob. But it was too late. "If you don't go through with this you're an I.W.W. too," they told him. Scales could not calm the evil passions he had helped to arouse.
But how did it happen that the lights were turned out at such an opportune time? Could it be that city officials were working hand in glove with the lynch mob?
Defense Attorney Vanderveer offered to prove to the court that such was the case. He offered to prove this was a part of the greater conspiracy against the union loggers and their hall,--offered to prove it point by point from the very beginning. Incidentally Vanderveer offered to prove that Earl Craft, electrician in charge of the city lighting plant, had left the station at seven o'clock on Armistice day after securely locking the door; and that while Craft was away the lights of the city were turned off and Wesley Everest taken out and lynched. Furthermore, he offered to prove that when Craft returned, the lights were again turned on and the city electrician, his assistant and the Mayor of Centralia were in the building with the door again locked.
These offers were received by his honor with impassive judicial dignity, but the faces of the lumber trust attorneys were wreathed with smiles at the audacity of the suggestion. The corporation lawyers very politely registered their objections which the judge as politely sustained.
Next page: Part 16 - The Night of Horrors