Word spread: the March 22 incident became a rallying cry. Stanley M. Gue, secretary of IWW Local 13, wrote in the Industrial Worker: “The day for appeals has gone. The time has come when we can tell you the true story of our predicament with all its ghastly trimmings.”
Since the local press reported only denials, Gue urged workers to “tell the story day and night. Smear the misery of those boys in jail, the misery of our class over everything.” He concluded with a call to arms: “Come to San Diego a hundred thousand strong. Roads into San Diego are guarded by armed deputies.”
Toward the end of March, the city instituted a new, “move on” ordinance: police could break up any gathering anywhere, busting heads if necessary.
On March 29, in front of his bookstore at Seventh and D, Grant Webster watched 18 policemen club Thomas Kilwallen for refusing to move on. Every time he tried to escape, they pounded him again. Webster heard one officer say, “We’ll kill one of you damned anarchists yet.” The sight reminded Webster “of the time I saw 16 small boys worrying a defenseless dog.”
San Diegans against the IWW began wearing small American flags on their lapels. A flag crimped in the center identified a vigilante. People downtown got used to hearing the “riot call.” A fire-whistle at Kettner and Broadway made five blasts, paused, then made five more: a signal that the Committee of 1000 must assemble.
On April 2, a fight broke out at Fourth and E. Several men “roughly handled” Patrolman Langford. He was unarmed and not in uniform. Sailors from the USS Maryland, and the police — “who were not slow in using their clubs” — stopped the free-for-all.
The next day Chief Wilson decried the attack on Langford: thus far, he told the Sun, police have been “too lenient.” The IWW will “get all that is coming to them from now on.”
On April 4, the Industrial Worker questioned the IWW’s “soft,” nonviolent tactics in San Diego for the first time. When Wilson began shipping prisoners to the county line, the direct-action approach — stuff the jails and stop the system — became ineffective. Instead of passive resistance, the Worker demanded an eye for an eye: “Take warning [Police Superintendent] Sehon, Wilson, [District Attorney] Utley — take heed members of the ‘vigilance committee.’ Your names will be broadcast. Reparation will be exacted! He laughs best who laughs last.”
That same day, the “riot call” blasted. Between 90 and 100 IWW’s had hopped a train at Santa Ana headed for San Diego. District Attorney Utley and Chief Wilson called a “consultation” at Utley’s office. Among those attending: Sehon, Chamber of Commerce Secretary Choate, Chief of Detectives Myers, banker Julius Wangenheim, and Francis Bierman, a Union reporter — later alleged by Emma Goldman to be a ringleader of the vigilantes, and by others as Joseph Spreckels’s point man.
The committee decided to deputize as many people as they could and stop the train at the county line. Secretary Choate rounded up San Diegans “willing to let business go and serve as deputies.”
Utley downplayed the conference. “There is nothing for publication at this time,” he told reporters. But what may have come out of it was an all-out declaration of war against the Wobblies’ invasion.
That afternoon 30 prisoners vanished from jail. Some said police turned them over to a citizens’ committee for “re-education” at Sorrento Valley.
An estimated 45 newly deputized constables rode on horseback to San Onofre. Over 100 other San Diegans headed north in cars or on the 3:00 train. They packed blankets and provisions for several days and vowed “inspirational lessons in patriotism.”
The night before, a posse had stopped the Santa Fe at the county line. They ordered 72 “vagrants” down from the freight cars and beat them. In the morning, bragging about the “fun” they were having, vigilantes herded their captives across the county line. Three couldn’t walk. The official word: two tripped when hopping down from the train; the third broke his leg when he slipped on tracks and fell off a bridge.
Charles Hanson, a veteran of three free-speech fights, was the third. He told the Industrial Worker that vigilantes forced him to kiss the flag (“You son of a bitch, come on, kiss it, God damn you!”) and run a gauntlet through over 100 men — two lines, 50 each — armed with whips, clubs, and broken whiskey bottles. He didn’t get far when a wagon spoke shattered his kneecap. As he bled in the dust, Hanson watched a “cowardly and inhuman cracking of heads.”
At 1:00 a.m. on April 5, a freight train from Los Angeles reached the county line. On board were over 100 men, half under 21. The train slowed to an unscheduled halt. Four hundred “citizens” — men, and some women — lined both sides of the tracks. Some carried lanterns. Many sported constables’ badges and all wrapped a white handkerchief around the left elbow: the sign of a vigilante.
Albert Tucker was one of the “free travelers” on the train. “The moon was shining dimly through the clouds,” he recalled, “and I could see pick handles, wagon spokes, and every kind of club imaginable swinging from the wrists of all of them.”
He also saw rifles, aimed at the Wobblies, and “black snakes” — 18-inch fire hoses filled with sand at one end, tacks at the other. A black snake left no marks.
“We were ordered to unload,” Tucker recalled, “and we refused. Then they closed around the flat car we were on and began clubbing and knocking and pulling men off by their heels.”
A half-hour later, hundreds of “drunk and hollering and cursing” vigilantes marched “bruised and bleeding” captives single-file to a nearby cattle corral. Inside, the men had to keep moving in a circle with their hands over their heads. Those who fell were beaten. Anyone acting like a leader got “an extra beating.” Vigilantes dragged unconscious Wobblies out of the corral and into the darkness. Rifle fire chased those who tried to flee. “Afterwards,” says Tucker, “there was a lot of our men unaccounted for and never have been heard from since.”
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