Part 17 - Lynching: an American Institution
Wesley Everest was dragged out of the middle machine. A rope was attached to a girder with the other end tied in a noose around his neck. His almost lifeless body was hauled to the side of the bridge. The headlights of two of the machines threw a white light over the horrible scene. Just as the lynchers let go of their victim the fingers of the half dead logger clung convulsively to the planking of the bridge. A business man stamped on them with a curse until the grip was broken. There was a swishing sound; then a sudden crunching jerk and the rope tied to the girder began to writhe and twist like a live thing. This lasted but a short time. The lynchers peered over the railing into the darkness. Then they slowly pulled up the dead body, attached a longer rope and repeated the performance. This did not seem to suit them either, so they again dragged the corpse through the railings and tied a still longer rope around the horribly broken neck of the dead logger. The business men were evidently enjoying their work, and besides, the more rope the more souvenirs for their friends, who would prize them highly.
This time the knot was tied by a young sailor. He knew how to tie a good knot and was proud of the fact. He boasted of the stunt afterwards to a man he thought as beastly as himself. In all probability he never dreamed he was talking for publication. But he was.
The rope had now been lengthened to about fifteen feet. The broken and gory body was kicked through the railing for the last time. The knot on the girder did not move any more. Then the lynchers returned to their luxurious cars and procured their rifles. A headlight flashed the dangling figure into ghastly relief. It was riddled with volley after volley. The man who fired the first shot boasted of the deed afterwards to a brother lodge member. He didn't know he was talking for publication either.
On the following morning the corpse was cut down by an unknown hand. It drifted away with the current. A few hours later Frank Christianson, a tool of the lumber trust from the Attorney General's office, arrived in Centralia. "We've got to get that body," this worthy official declared, "or the wobs will find it and raise hell over its condition."
The corpse was located after a search. It was not buried, however, but carted back to the city jail, there to be used as a terrible object lesson for the benefit of the incarcerated union men. The unrecognizable form was placed in a cell between two of the loggers who had loved the lynched boy as a comrade and a friend. Something must be done to make the union men admit that they, and not the lumber interests, had conspired to commit murder. This was the final act of ruthlessness. It was fruitful in results. One "confession," one Judas and one shattered mind were the result of their last deed of fiendish terrorism.
No undertaker could be found to bury Everest's body, so after two days it was dropped into a hole in the ground by four union loggers who had been arrested on suspicion and were released from jail for this purpose. The "burial" is supposed to have taken place in the new cemetery; the body being carried thither in an auto truck. The union loggers who really dug the grave declare, however, that the interment took place at a desolate spot "somewhere along a railroad track." Another body was seen, covered with ashes in a cart, being taken away for burial on the morning of the twelfth. There are persistent rumors that more than one man was lynched on the eve of Armistice day. A guard of heavily armed soldiers had charge of the funeral. The grave has since been obliterated. Rumor has it that the body has since been removed to Camp Lewis. No one seems to know why or when.
"AS COMICAL AS A CORNER"
An informal inquest was held in the city jail. A man from Portland performed the autopsy, that is, he hung the body up by the heels and played a water hose on it. Everest was reported by the corner's jury to have met his death at the hands of parties unknown. It was here that Dr. Bickford let slip the statement about the hall being raided before the shooting started. This was the first inkling of truth to reach the public. Coroner Livingstone, in a jocular mood, reported the inquest to a meeting of gentlemen at the Elks' Club. In explaining the death of the union logger, Dr. Livingstone stated that Wesley Everest had broken out of jail, gone to the Chehalis river bridge and jumped off with a rope around his neck. Finding the rope too short he climbed back and fastened on a longer one; jumped off again, broke his neck and then shot himself full of holes. Livingstone's audience, appreciative of his tact and levity, laughed long and hearty. Business men still chuckle over the joke in Centralia. "As funny as a funeral" is no longer the stock saying in this humorous little town; "as comical as a coroner" is now the approved form.
Acting on the theory that "a strong offensive is the best defense," the terrorists took immediate steps to conceal all traces of their crime and to shift the blame onto the shoulders of their victims. The capitalist press did yeoman service in this cause by deluging the nation with a veritable avalanche of lies.
For days the district around Centralia and the city itself were at the mercy of a mob. The homes of all workers suspected of being sympathetic to Labor were spied upon or surrounded and entered without warrant. Doors were battered down at times, and women and children abused and insulted. Heavily armed posses were sent out in all directions in search of "reds." All roads were patrolled by armed business men in automobiles. A strict mail and wire censorship was established. It was the open season for "wobblies" and intimidation was the order of the day. The White Terror was supreme.
An Associated Press reporter was compelled to leave town hastily without bag or baggage because he inadvertently published Dr. Bickford's indiscreet remark about the starting of the trouble. Men and women did not dare to think, much less think aloud. Some of them in the district are still that way.
To Eugene Barnett's little home came a posse armed to the teeth. They asked for Barnett and were told by his young wife that he had gone up the hill with his rifle. Placing a bayonet to her breast they demanded entrance. The brave little woman refused to admit them until they had shown a warrant. Barnett surrendered when he had made sure he was to be arrested and not mobbed.
O.C. Bland, Bert Bland, John Lamb and Loren Roberts were also apprehended in due time. Two loggers, John Doe Davis and Ole Hanson, who were said to have also fired on the mob, have not yet been arrested. A vigorous search is still being made for them in all parts of the country. It is believed by many that one of these men was lynched like Everest on the night of November 11th.
Next page: Part 18 - Hypocrisy and Terror