“They kilt two Wobs,” recalled “Codger” Bill Lewis, “and ya don’t know how many more bodies they mighta’ dumped in the desert for the coyotes.”
Wobblies considered themselves rough customers able to sing in the face of hardship. None sang that night.
At dawn, constables opened the corral gate and released four or five prisoners at a time. They marched up the tracks and stopped before a mob of vigilantes. Each prisoner had to kneel, kiss the American flag, and sing the “Star Spangled Banner.” If someone refused, or even looked like he might not cooperate, black snakes beat him senseless.
Then, Tucker says, each had to “run a gauntlet of 106 men, every one of which was striking at us as hard as they could.”
As he watched the man before him run, fall, and crawl through two rows of flying handles, Tucker noticed that the clubbers were headhunters: whenever a man raised his head, vigilantes took dead aim.
When Tucker ran the gauntlet, he kept his head low. He emerged black-and-blue. As he hobbled to the county line he bled from “a dozen” wounds and vowed: “If I ever take part in another [free-speech fight], it will be with machine guns and aerial bombs. There must be a better way of fighting — and better results.”
That night, the war continued in town. Unmasked members of the citizen’s committee kidnapped Abraham Sauer, editor of the pro–Free Speech San Diego Herald. They drove him to East County, put a noose around his neck, and told him never to return — or identify them.
Sauer did return. He wrote in the Herald: “The personnel of the vigilantes represent not only merchants and bankers, but church members and bartenders.” He also named the chamber of commerce, the real-estate board, the press, public utilities, “as well as members of the grand jury.”
Sauer never took legal action or named names.
That morning, while the edition was still being printed, 30 vigilantes burst into the printer’s shop and smashed the galleys. From that point on, Sauer smuggled the weekly Herald from Los Angeles and distributed it on the sly.
Union editorials praised the vigilantes: “If this action be lawlessness, make the most of it” (April 7); “These anarchists have gone far enough…hereafter they will not only be carried to the county line and dumped there, we intend to leave our mark on them…so that the outside world may know that they have been to San Diego” (April 12).
Stumpy, the correspondent for Solidarity, wrote in reply: “The jails are full, but they seem to think there is plenty of room in the cemetery.”
- Don Stewart: The Free Speech protest “was an open defiance of civil authority, even now San Diego is being recalled in similar cases of defiance.”
- Joseph Robert Conlin: “To judge the Wobblies by their hopeless newspaper image is to lose sight of [their] many supporters among ‘respectable’ elements of the population.”
- Castanien, Pliny, To Protect and Serve: A History of San Diego and Its Chiefs: 1889–1989, San Diego, 1993.
Conlin, Joseph Robert, Bread and Roses Too: Studies of the Wobblies, Westport, 1969.
Diehl, Robert Warren, “To Speak or Not to Speak, San Diego, 1912,” master’s thesis, University of San Diego, 1976.
Dubofsky, Melvyn, We Shall Be All: A History of the Industrial Workers of the World, Chicago, 1969.
Foner, Philip S., The Industrial Workers of the World, 1905–1917, New York, 1965.
Miller, Jim, Flash, Oakland, 2010.
Stewart, Don, Frontier Port, Los Angeles, 1965.
Winters, Donald E., The Soul of the Wobblies, Westport, 1985.
Articles in the San Diego Union, the Tribune, the Sun, and the Herald.
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