Too often there is a glaring inconsistency between our democratic purposes in this war abroad and the autocratic conduct of some of those guiding industry at home. This inconsistency is emphasized by episodes such as the Bisbee deportations.
Presidential Mediation Commission
in its report on the Bisbee deportation
On July 12, 1917, nearly 1200 men - mostly striking workers in the Bisbee, Arizona
copper mines - were herded into cattle boxcars by an armed vigilante force - the largest posse ever assembled - and driven across the New Mexico border, where they were dumped and abandoned. These men were forcibly prevented from returning to their homes and families and, after weeks in the New Mexico desert, they eventually dispersed
to other parts of the country - many forced to sell their land and belongings at the point of a gun
The boxcars were specially provided by the El Paso and Southwestern Railroad, a mining company subsidiary. The deportation was carried out under tight security under the direction of the county sheriff. All telephone and telegraph lines were seized; both incoming and outgoing messages were refused for 24 hours before and after the deportation. Arizona's Governor, George W. P. Hunt, was not notified because it was thought that he might have made some attempt to intervene.
The US government's investigation found no violations of federal law and in the only civil case that went to court, charging the vigilantes with kidnapping, the vigilantes were acquitted. The presiding judge in the trial developed a legal standard referred to as "the law of necessity" - since the posse believed their actions were necessary, they couldn't be held culpable. The mining companies hired Ivy Lee to manage the public relations battle and billed it as an act of patriotism:
It will be found that the Bisbee deportation is generally classified as a war phenomenon, it having been perfromed by bona fide citizens, unmasked, who were determined that our government should not be embarassed in the production of copper to prosecute the war, and who also at that time (and since) have felt that in carrying out the deportation and ridding the district of a large number of aliens and undesirable citizens, performed a very favorable service to the country, to the district and their families
-- Samuel Morse
public relations man for the mining companies
In truth, this was nothing but union busting
. The IWW
was leading the miners towards a general strike. The mining companies would use any pretext
to break the unions. There were plenty of aliens working in the mines, of that there is no doubt, because the company brought them in at lower wages -- mostly from Mexico. So while the price of copper had nearly tripled since the start of the war (World War I
), wages for miners had barely increased.
The men deported from Bisbee weren't just miners. Citizens were forced to declare their allegiance to either the company or the workers. Any man who refused to wear a white armband on his sleeve was rounded up and deported - waiters, cooks, barbers, clerks ...
Because of the war, Governor Hunt - who was sympathetic to the workers - didn't have any National Guard troops at his command. Federal troops were brought in to maintain order, but not to protect the miners or return them to their homes. The soldiers were there to support the mining companies. For even though President Wilson's Mediation Commission found that the deportation "was totally illegal and unjustified," one of Wilson's closest friends, Walter Douglas, was the head of Phelps Dodge - the largest of the Bisbee mines.