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Bisbee Deportation 1917

The Bisbee Deportation of 1917 is an event specific to Arizona that influenced the labor movement throughout the United States. What started as a labor dispute between copper mining companies and their workers turned into vigilante action against the allegedly nefarious activities of the Industrial Workers of the World (I.W.W.). This led to the deportation of over 1,000 striking miners from Bisbee on 12 July, 1917.

A strike started in June, 1917, in the copper mining districts of Arizona, which produced about one-fourth of the entire copper output of the United States. While not expressed in so many words, the dominant feeling of protest was that the industry was conducted upon an autocratic basis. The workers did not have representation in determining those conditions of their employment which vitally affected their lives as well as the company's output. Many complaints were unfounded, but there was no safeguard against injustice except the say-so of one side to the controversy. In none of the mines was there direct dealing between companies and unions. In some mines grievance committees had been recently established, but they were distrusted by the workers as subject to company control, and, in any event, were not effective, because the final determination of every issue was left with the company.

In place of orderly processes of adjustment workers were given the alternative of submission or strike. The men sought the power to secure industrial justice in matters of vital concern to them. The power they sought would in no way impinge on the correlative power which must reside in management. Only by a proper balance of adequate power on each side can just equilibrium in industry be attained. In the minds of the workers only the right to organize secured them an equality of bargaining power and protection against abuses. There was no demand for a closed shop. There was a demand for security against discrimination directed at union membership. The companies denied discrimination, but refused to put the denial to the reasonable test of disinterested adjustment.

The men demanded the removal of certain existing grievances as to wages, hours, and working conditions, but the specific grievances were, on the whole, of relatively minor importance. The crux of the conflict was the insistence of the men that the right and the power to obtain just treatment were in themselves basic conditions of employment, and that they should not be compelled to depend for just treatment on the benevolence or uncontrolled will of the employers.

When the strikes at the copper mines grew serious, Republican Arizona Governor Thos. E. Campbell went at once to Globe, and in his endeavors to reconcile the differences between employers and laborers he showed sympathy for the workmen with a real grievance as well as an appreciation of the rights of property owners. In the Bisbee deportation trouble he was as firm in denouncing the lawless methods employed by those responsible for the deportation and the subsequent arbitrary methods used in dealing with "labor agitators" as he was in expressing his condemnation of the I. W. W., whose seditious doctrines and threatened violence had precipitated the affair. In the governor's words: ". . . The principles of the Industrial Workers of the World are a stench in the nostrils of decent Americans. Insofar as my power as governor of Arizona extends, I shall not tolerate, in the remotest degree, their application in Arizona. A menace to civil well being and industrial progress in time of peace, the toleration of such doctrines during a state of war is treason."

The sheriff of Cochise county, in which is located the mining town of Bisbee, had requested, through the Governor of the State, the despatching of federal troops to preserve order, the State militia having previously been drafted into federal service. But upon separate investigations on two different occasions by a representative of the War Department the situation was found so peaceful as not to justify the presence of troops.

On July 10 nearly a hundred miners in Jerome, Ariz., were taken from their homes early in the morning by the Loyalty League. They were loaded on cattle cars. The train was headed towards California, but was turned back at the state line by the officials of that state. The men were then taken to Prescott, Ariz., where they were held in jail for three weeks before they were released.

The Bisbee deportation a few days later was carried out under the sheriff of Cochise county. It was formally decided upon at a meeting of citizens on the night of July 16, participated in by the managers and other officials of the Copper Queen Consolidated Mining Company (Phelps-Dodge Corporation, Copper Queen division) and the Calumet and Arizona Mining Company. Those who planned and directed the deportation purposely abstained from consulting about their plans either with the United States attorney in Arizona, or the law officers of the State or county or their own legal advisers. In order to carry out the plans for the deportation into successful execution, the leaders in the enterprise utilized the local offices of the Bell Telephone Company, and exercised or attempted to exercise a censorship over parts of interstate connections of both the telephone and telegraph lines in order to prevent any knowledge of the deportation reaching the outside world.

At Bisbee, Ariz., at five o'clock in the morning of July 12, over 2,000 company officials, gunmen, businessmen, etc., armed with rifles, similarly dragged 1,200 strikers and sympathizers from their beds and compelled them to march miles to Lowell, and neighboring towns. They were finally corralled into a ball park at Lowell, until a train of cattle cars was made up. The miners were forced into the cars amid rioting, in which one man, a striker, was killed. The train was sent through the desert to Columbus, New Mexico. The authorities at Columbus refused to permit those in charge of the deportation to leave the men there, and the train carried them back to the desert town of Hermanas, New Mexico, a nearby station. The deportees were wholly without adequate supply of food and water and shelter for two days. At Hermanas the deported men were abandoned by the guards who had brought them and they were left to shift for themselves.

The situation was brought to the attention of the War Department, and on July 14 the deportees were escorted by troops to Columbus, New Mexico, where they were maintained by the Government until the middle of September. Here they stayed for three months, being furnished army rations, waiting for the Government to give them protection in returning to Bisbee. This the government steadfastly refused to do, and finally, when the army rations were cut off, the camp broke up. Some of the men drifted back to Bisbee where they were promptly arrested. Others scattered to different parts of the country.

According to an Army census, of the deported men 199 were native-born Americans, 468 were citizens, 472 were registered under the selective-draft law, and 433 were married. Of the foreign-born, over twenty nationalities were represented, including 141 British, 82 Serbians, and 179 Slavs. Germans and Austro-Hungarians (other than Slavs) were comparatively few.

Following the deportation of the twelfth, in the language of Governor Campbell of Arizona, "the constitutional rights of citizens and others have been ignored by processes not provided by law, viz. : by deputy sheriffs who refused persons admittance into the district and the passing of judgment by a tribunal without legal jurisdiction resulting in further deportations." Immediately after the first deportation, and until late in August, the function of the local judiciary was usurped by a body which to all intents and purposes was a vigilance committee, having no authority whatever in law. It caused the deportation of large numbers of others. So far as this committee is concerned, its activities were abandoned at the request of the Governor of Arizona late in August.

The deportation was wholly illegal and without authority in law either State or Federal.

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Page last modified: 05-07-2011 02:21:00 Zulu