Part 9 - The 1918 Raid
It had been rumored about town that the Union Hall was to be wrecked on this day but the loggers at the hall were of the opinion that the business men, having driven their Secretary out of town a short time previously, would not dare to perpetrate another atrocity so soon afterwards. In this they were sadly mistaken.
Down the street marched the parade, at first presenting no unusual appearance. The Chief of Police, the Mayor and the Governor of the State were given places of honor at the head of the procession. Company G of the National Guard and a gang of broad-cloth hoodlums disguised as "Elks" made up the main body of the marchers. But the crafty and unscrupulous Hubbard had laid his plans in advance with characteristic cunning. The parade, like a scorpion, carried its sting in the rear.
Along the main avenue went the guardsmen and the gentlemen of the Elks Club. So far nothing extraordinary had happened. Then the procession swerved to a side street. This must be the right thing for the line of march had been arranged by the Chamber of Commerce itself. A couple of blocks more and the parade had reached the intersection of First Street and Tower Avenue. What happened then the Mayor and Chief of Police probably could not have stopped even had the Governor himself ordered them to do so. From somewhere in the line of march a voice cried out, "Let's raid the I.W.W. Hall!" And the crowd at the tail end of the procession broke ranks and leaped to their work with a will.
In a short time the intervening block that separated them from the Union Hall was covered. The building was stormed with clubs and stones. Every window was shattered and every door was smashed, the very sides of the building were torn off by the mob in its blind fury. Inside the rioters tore down the partitions and broke up chairs and pictures. The union men were surrounded, beaten and driven to the street where they were forced to watch furniture, records, typewriter and literature demolished and burned before their eyes. An American flag hanging in the hall, was torn down and destroyed. A Victrola and a desk were carried to the street with considerable care. The former was auctioned off on the spot for the benefit of the Red Cross. James Churchill, owner of a glove factory, won the machine. He still boasts of its possession. The desk was appropriated by F.B. Hubbard himself. This was turned over to an expressman and carted to the Chamber of Commerce. A small boy picked up the typewriter case and started to take it to a nearby hotel office. One of the terrorists detected the act and gave warning. The mob seized the lad, took him to a nearby light pole and threatened to lynch him if he did not tell them where books and papers were secreted which somebody said had been carried away by him. The boy denied having done this, but the hoodlums went into the hotel, ransacked and overturned everything. Not finding what they wanted, they left a notice that the proprietor would have to take the sign down from his building in just twenty-four hours. Then the mob surged around the unfortunate men who had been found in the Union hall. With cuffs and blows these were dragged to waiting trucks where they were lifted by the ears to the body of the machine and knocked prostrate one at a time. Sometimes a man would be dropped to the ground just after he had been lifted from his feet. Here he would lay with ear drums bursting and writhing from the kicks and blows that had been freely given. Like all similar mobs this one carried ropes, which were placed about the necks of the loggers. "Here's and I.W.W." yelled someone. "What shall we do with him?" A cry was given to "lynch him!" Some were taken to the city jail and the rest were dumped unceremoniously on the other side of the county line.
Since that time the wrecked hall has remained tenantless and unrepaired. Grey and gaunt like a house in battle-scarred Belgium, it stands a mute testimony of the labor-hating ferocity of the lumber trust. Repeated efforts have since been made to destroy the remains with fire. The defense had tried without avail to introduce a photograph of the ruin as evidence to prove that the second hall was raided in a similar manner on Armistice Day, 1919. Judge Wilson refused to permit the jury to see either the photographs or the hall. But in case of another trial...?
Evidently the lumber trust thought it better to have all traces of its previous crime obliterated.
The raid of 1918 did not weaken the lumber workers' Union in Centralia. On the contrary it served to strengthen it. But not until more than a year had passed were the loggers able to establish a new headquarters. This hall was located next door to the Roderick Hotel on Tower Avenue, between Second and Third Streets. Hardly was this hall opened when threats were circulated by the Chamber of Commerce that it, like the previous one, was marked for destruction. The business element was lined up solid in denunciation of and opposition to the Union Hall and all that it stood for. But other anti-labor matters took up their attention and it was some time before the second raid was actually accomplished.
There was one rift in the lute of lumber trust solidarity in Centralia. Business and professional men had long been groveling in sycophantic servility at the feet of "the clique." There was only one notable exception.
A LAWYER---AND A MAN
A young lawyer had settled in the city a few years previous to the Armistice Day tragedy. Together with his parents and four brothers he had left his home in Minnesota to seek fame and fortune in the woods of Washington. He had worked his way through McAlester College and the Law School of the University of Minnesota. He was young, ambitious, red-headed and husky, a loving husband and the proud father of a beautiful baby girl. Nature had endowed him with a dangerous combination of gifts,--a brilliant mind and a kind heart. His name was just plain Smith--Elmer Smith--and he came from the old rugged American stock.
Smith started to practice law in Centralia, but unlike his brother attorneys, he held to the assumption that all men are equal under the law--even the hated I.W.W. In a short time his brilliant mind and kind heart had won him as much hatred from the lumber barons as love from the down-trodden,--which is saying a good deal. The "interests" studied the young lawyer carefully for awhile and soon decided that he could be neither bullied or bought. So they determined to either break his spirit or to break his neck. Smith is at present in prison charged with murder. This is how it happened:
Smith established his office in the First Guarantee Bank Building which was quite the proper thing to do. Then he began to handle law suits for wage-earners, which was altogether the reverse. Caste rules in Centralia, and Elmer Smith was violating its most sacred mandataries by giving the "working trash" the benefit of his talents instead of people really worth while.
Warren O. Grimm, who was afterwards shot while trying to break into the Union Hall with the mob, once cautioned Smith of the folly and danger of such a course. "You'll get along all right," said he, "if you will come in with us." Then he continued:
"How would you feel if one of your clients would come up to you in public, slap you on the back and say 'Hello, Elmer?'"
Very proud," answered the young lawyer.
Some months previous Smith had taken a case for an I.W.W. logger. He won it. Other cases in which workers needed legal advice came to him. He took them. A young girl was working at the Centralia "Chronicle." She was receiving a weekly wage of three dollars which is in defiance of the minimum wage law of the state for women. Smith won the case. Also he collected hundreds of dollars in back wages for workers whom the companies had sought to defraud. Workers in the clutches of loan sharks were extricated by means of the bankruptcy laws, hitherto only used by their masters. An automobile firm was making a practice of replacing Ford engines with old ones when a machine was brought in for repairs. One of the victims brought his case to Smith. and a lawsuit followed. This was an unheard-of proceeding, for heretofore such little business tricks had been kept out of court by common understanding.
A worker, formerly employed by a subsidiary of the Eastern Lumber & Railway Company, had been deprived of his wages on a technicality of the law by the corporation attorneys. This man had a large family and hard circumstances were forced upon them by this misfortune. One of his little girls died from what the doctor called malnutrition--plain starvation. Smith filed suit and openly stated that the lawyers of the corporation were responsible for the death of the child. The indignation of the business and professional element blazed to white heat. A suit for libel and disbarment proceedings were started against him. Nothing could be done in this direction as Smith had not only justice but the law on his side. His enemies were waiting with great impatience for a more favorable opportunity to strike him down. Open threats were beginning to be heard against him.
A Union lecturer came to town. The meeting was well attended. A vigilance committee of provocateurs and business men was in the audience. At the close of the lecture those gentlemen started to pass the signal for action. Elmer Smith sauntered down the aisle, shook hands with the speaker and told him he would walk to the train with him.
The following morning the door to Smith's office was ornamented with a cardboard sign. It read: "Are you an American? You had better say so. Citizens' Committee." This was lettered in lead pencil. Across the bottom were scrawled these words: "No more I.W.W. meetings for you."
In 1918 an event occurred which served further to tighten the noose about the stubborn neck of the young lawyer. On this occasion the terrorists of the city perpetrated another shameful crime against the working class--and the law.
BLIND TOM---A BLEMISH ON AMERICA
Tom Lassiter made his living by selling newspapers at a little stand on a street corner. Tom is blind, a good soul and well liked by the loggers. But Tom has vision enough to see that there is something wrong with the hideous capitalist system we live under; and so he kept papers on sale that would help enlighten the workers. Among these were the "Seattle Union Record," "The Industrial Worker" and "Solidarity." To put it plainly, Tom was a thorn in the side of the local respectability because of his modest efforts to make people thing. And his doom had also been sealed.
Early in June the newsstand was broken into and all his clothing, literature and little personal belongings were taken to a vacant lot and burned. A warning sign was left on a short pole stuck in the ashes. The message, "You leave town in 24 hours, U.S. Soldiers, Sailors and Marines," was left on the table in his room.
With true Wobbly determination, Lassiter secured a new stock of papers and immediately re-opened his little stand. About this time a Centralia business man, J.H. Roberts by name, was heard to say "This man (Lassiter) is within his legal rights and if we can't do anything by law we'll take the law into our own hands." This is precisely what happened.
On the afternoon of June 30th, Blind Tom was crossing Tower Avenue with hesitating steps when, without warning, two business men seized his groping arms and yelled in his ear, "We'll get you out of town this time!" Lassiter called for help. The good Samaritan came along in the form of a brute-faced creature known as W.R. Patton, a rich property owner of the city. This Christian gentleman sneaked up behind the blind man and lunged him forcibly into a waiting Oakland automobile. The machine is owned by Cornelius McIntyre who is said to have been one of the kidnapping party.
"Shut up or I'll smash your mouth so you can't yell," said one of his assailants as Lassiter was forced, still screaming for help, into the car. Turning to the driver one of the party said, "Step on her and let's get out of here." About this time Constable Luther Patton appeared on the scene. W.R. Patton walked over to where the constable stood and shouted to the bystanders, "We'll arrest the first person that objects, interferes or gets too loud."
"A good smash on the jaw would do more good," suggested the kind-hearted official.
"Well, we got that one pretty slick and now there are two more we have to get," stated W.R. Patton, a short time afterwards.
Blind Tom was dropped helpless in a ditch just over the county line. He was picked up by a passing car and eventually made his way to Olympia, capital of the state. In about a week he was back in Centralia. But before he could again resume his paper selling he was arrested on a charge of "criminal syndicalism." He is now awaiting conviction at Chehalis.
Before his arrest, however, Lassiter engaged Elmer Smith as his attorney. Smith appealed to County Attorney Herman Allen for protection for his client. After a half-hearted effort to locate the kidnappers--who were known to everybody--this official gave up the task saying he was "Too busy to bother with the affair, and, besides, the offense was only "third degree assault" which is punishable with a fine of but one dollar and costs. The young lawyer did not waste any more time with the County authorities. Instead he secured sworn statements of the facts in the case and submitted them to the Governor. These were duly acknowledged and placed on file in Olympia. But up to date no action has been taken by the executive to prosecute the criminals who committed the crime.
"Handle these I.W.W. cases if you want to," said a local attorney to Elmer Smith, counsel for one of the banks, "but sooner or later they're all going to be hanged or deported anyway."
Smith was feathering a nest for himself--feathering it with steel and stone and a possible coil of hempen rope. The shadow of the prison bars was falling blacker on his red head with every passing moment. His fearless championing of the cause of the "under dog" had won him the implacable hatred of his own class. To them his acts of kindness and humanity were nothing less than treason. Smith had been ungrateful to the clique that had offered him every inducement to "come in with us". A lawyer with a heart is as dangerous as a working man with his brains. Elmer Smith would be punished all right; it would just be a matter of time.
The indifference of the County and State authorities regarding the kidnapping of blind Tom gave the terrorists renewed confidence in the efficacy and "legality" of their methods. Also it gave them a hint as to the form their future depredations were to take. And so, with the implied approval of everyone worth considering, they went about their plotting with still greater determination and a soothing sense of security.
Next page: Part 10 - The Conspiracy Develops