Skip to main content

About this collection

Browse and Search This Collection

Contributed by Cochise County Clerk of the Superior Court

About the Bisbee Deportation Documents
By Wes Patience and Judy Tritz

The Bisbee Deportation documents are comprised of about 1,600 court documents filed in 1919 and 1920 in Cochise County Superior Court, pertaining to Cochise County Case number 2725, entitled, State of Arizona, Plaintiff, vs. Phelps Dodge Corporation, A Corporation, et als., Defendants. Two hundred twenty four men were also named as defendants who were allegedly involved in the Bisbee Deportation of July 12, 1917. The Bisbee Deportation started as a labor dispute between some members of the International Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers Union and the three mining companies in early June of 1917. The issues were focused on working rules, safety regulations and the requirement for a physical examination, rather than wages and benefits. With the arrival of hundreds of Industrial Workers of the World sympathizers in late June who were vowing to shut down all the copper mines from Montana to Mexico, the conflict intensified and culminated in a community action on July 12, 1917.

There was a great deal of tension in Bisbee before the arrival of I.W.W. sympathizers since the United States had declared war on Germany in April of 1917 and the Foreign Minister of Germany had offered financial assistance to Mexico if they chose to invade the United States. In March of 1916 Columbus, New Mexico had been attacked by Pancho Villa supporters and there were citizen militia forces posted along the border from Warren to west of Naco to guard against further incursions.

Tensions were further increased by frequent front page stories in the Bisbee Daily Review about Wobbly activities. Deportations of the I.W.W. ("Wobblies") were carried out in San Diego, Everett, Washington, Ajo, Arizona and most notably Jerome, Arizona in early July of 1917.

The I.W.W. was founded by William Haywood in 1905 as a conventional labor union which successfully won wage demands in Lawrence, Massachusetts and Paterson, New Jersey. By 1912 the I.W.W. had grown more militant and political in the struggle to take over the Western Federation of Miners. Such a stance alienated their most famous member, Eugene V. Debs, who left to form the American Socialist Party. Debs won over a million votes in the 1920 Presidential election but he refused to endorse government takeover of Western mining interests.

The Wobblies' demands in Bisbee were briefly economic ones then called for takeover of the mines. Within a day of the Wobbly leadership's arrival in Bisbee a strike was called, although no vote was ever taken. About 1,000 Bisbee resident miners acknowledged the strike and many others refused to cross the picket lines. Secretary Moyer of the International Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers Union proclaimed publicly that any worker who crossed the picket line was not a scab, since the strike itself was illegal.

The strikers and Wobblies were opposed by the Cochise County Sheriff, the leadership of the mining companies, the Workers' Loyalty League and the Citizen's Protective League (CPL). The Citizen's Protective League had announced its credo and published its membership in September of 1916 in the Bisbee Daily Review. Its membership included business and professional men, most notably the town's leading doctor, four attorneys, a dozen or more merchants, Mayor Jacob Erickson, upper level mining management and the Bisbee Daily Review.

On June 26th and June 27th Sheriff Harry Wheeler, after appealing to Federal and State authorities for assistance and being rejected, deputized for the occasion some 1,200 men from Bisbee and Douglas comprised of miners, businessmen, merchants and lower level supervisors. Dr. N.C. Bledsoe, banker Mike Cunningham, mine owner Lem Shattuck and Mayor Jacob Erickson were among the deputies for the occasion who could more accurately be called a "Posse Comitatus" since their deputy status would expire once the situation was resolved.

There were no violent incidents recorded over the next two weeks although there was plenty of picket line taunts especially at the entrance to the post office. In a statement drafted late in the evening of July 11th, Sheriff Wheeler announced the drastic decision to deport an unspecified number of non-working agitators and accused them of treason and vagrancy. Women and children were urged to stay off the streets and strict instructions were issued to avoid violence. Although many of the members of the Posse Comitatus were armed, the hundreds of photos of the event show only a minority of deputies pro tem with rifles.

By sunrise the next morning (5:18 a.m.) some 1,500 deputies pro tem were assembled including about 200 from Douglas. They wore white armbands to distinguish themselves from the potential deportees. No federal or state officials were informed of the action and the Western Union Telegraph Office on Howell Street was urged not to send outgoing telegrams until further ordered by the mine managers. The roundup began in earnest an hour later with the Posse Comitatus fanning out throughout Old Bisbee and Lowell including Jiggerville where Jim Brew, a resident boilerman's helper, fired through the screen door of his rooming house without warning. Orson McRae, a Calumet and Arizona shift boss and former councilman candidate was killed instantly by two shots. Brew then fired another shot at the five to seven men assembled in the yard of Mrs. Stodgill's rooming house. Several men returned fire and Brew was killed, although a coroner's inquest failed to reveal who fired the fatal shots. At least four deputies accompanied McRae who was the only man to set foot on the porch. Ironically Orson McRae's brother, Arthur, was a roomer at the same house although he was apparently not there at the time.

The posse rounded up more than 1,200 men - mainly unjustly since they were neither Wobblies nor active participants in the strike. Many were detained simply for refusing to cross picket lines or because of sickness. Brew himself had not been to work for five days but there is no evidence of active involvement in Wobbly activities. The three mile march to the Warren Ball Park was an orderly affair with many citizens forming a gauntlet from the Junction mine southward. Once at the ball park most of the detainees sat in the stands. Their jeers and taunts were answered by mining officials urging them to return to work. Perhaps a hundred men agreed to do so. It took more than an hour for the train from El Paso to arrive, driven by a salaried employee since union employees refused to participate in the deportation. The cars were hastily assembled, and were probably in varying state of hygiene. Water and food were promised at Lee Station southeast of Douglas but those rations were inadequate for what was to come.

The train arrived at Camp Furlong by late afternoon, where the army officials there refused to accommodate the detainees because they had no orders from Washington to do so and there were insufficient sanitary and lodging facilities. The train reversed its route westward and spent the night in Las Hermanas while Sheriff Wheeler and the mining officials sought assistance from the Governor of New Mexico and the Federal authorities.

The train returned to Camp Furlong where the army fed them, urged them to dig sanitary facilities and told them they were free to leave at any time. By this time the detainees had received legal counsel from attorney W.B. Cleary of Bisbee, who drafted a statement stating that the men would return to work if President Wilson would nationalize the mines and provide a military escort for the men returning to Bisbee.

By August 5th some two hundred men had left the camp. Some two dozen of them were arrested for vagrancy in communities from Lordsburg, New Mexico to El Paso, Texas. The army did a census of the remaining 850 men. They found that most of the deportees were foreign born, with the largest number of the deportees being Mexican (268), Balkan emigrants (179) and British (including Scots and Irish 149). Despite constant stories in the press about the Wobblies being financed by the German government only 50 detainees were listed as German. The census included questions about matrimonial status, registration for the draft and purchasing of Liberty bonds. Their answers were taken at face value, since most of the deportees brought no paperwork with them. Dozens of men answering "married" were listed as "single" in the 1916-1917 Directory.

The anxiety of Wobblies returning to Bisbee, combined with Anti-German rhetoric and fears of the Mexican Revolution crossing the border led to a blockade around Bisbee, initiated by Sheriff Wheeler. When groups of men did make the pilgrimage from Columbus to Bisbee, Wheeler informed them that there were no jobs left in the mines. Some of the returnees had retained their eligibility for Selective Service and many chose to receive Army paychecks instead of poverty. The citizens raised some $86,000 for families of the deportees, but there were problems administering the program. Although the nation's newspapers initially applauded the Bisbee action, the mood shifted with the input of the Wilson Labor commission which found that the action was illegal, that violations of Selective Service laws had been violated and that the action of closing the Western Union office was blatantly illegal. The commission, which included Felix Frankfurter, also cited the illegal blockade, the refusal to recognize a union and the lack of a grievance process. The commission cited members of the CPL, the sheriff and the mine superintendents for severe criticism. While none of the three superintendents thought the criticism warranted, they immediately set up grievance committees and abolished the physical examination requirement. Although the Bisbee wages were the highest in the Western copper camps those wages were 50% higher by the summer of 1918.

The State of Arizona took no substantive action against the Deportation although former Governor Hunt was an admitted friend of the Wobblies. The new Governor Thomas Campbell was born in Bisbee, won the 1916 election by less than thirty votes, and thus was very cautious in his criticism. The state legislators from Cochise County were split in half: Fred Sutter took the floor of the Arizona Senate to defend the action, while Rosa McKay condemned the action, even traveling to Columbus to meet with the deportees. While the mining companies made a tentative offer of compensation, it was rejected and over 200 deportees filed for relief and damages in Federal Court. The case was dismissed on the grounds that it was not a Federal issue. A federal Grand Jury Indictment against Sheriff Wheeler and twenty Bisbee men was also dismissed. It would be another decade before the Lindbergh Law made interstate kidnapping a Federal crime.

Of the two-hundred, twenty-plus defendants in the Cochise County criminal court case only one went to trial; that of H. E. Wootton in April, 1920. Wootton was a hardware store owner and not a deputy or member of the Citizens' Protective League. He had made a citizen's arrest of a man named Brown and escorted him to the train. There were dozens of witnesses for Wootton who claimed they felt threatened by the picketers and listened to foul and violent language on the streets in the 16 days leading up to the deportation. Brown's testimony and that of the other deportees focused on the rough treatment they received on the march to the ball park. The defense of Wootton focused on the law of Necessity, saying that if a citizen or a community felt threatened they could take action to relieve the perceived threat. Wootton was acquitted by a jury consisting of predominately Sulphur Springs ranchers in only 16 minutes. Another trial occurred in Tucson in 1918 of A. Stuart Embree, the on scene leader in Bisbee. Embree was found not guilty of incitement to riot. One hundred and six members of the I.W.W. were found guilty of sabotage, treason and inciting to riot and sentenced to prison terms in a lengthy Chicago trial in 1919. The I.W.W. leadership formed the American Communist Party by 1920 and their founder William Haywood fled to Russia in April of 1921. Wobbly membership peaked nationally at 150,000 in 1917 but was reduced to less than 100 by 1920. Similarly, the number of mining employees in Bisbee peaked in June of 1917. The combination of a partial shift to pit mining, the casualties of World War One, stricter immigration policies and the world wide influenza epidemic of 1918 - 1919 led to a 20% reduction in the Bisbee work force by 1920.

In February, 2006 this small collection of original court documents was discovered in a locked room containing primarily court clerk exhibits in what used to be the old Cochise County Jail in Bisbee. At this time the location of the remainder of the vast collection of original Bisbee Deportation court documents is unknown although much of it had been microfilmed forty years ago.

Frequently descendents of those involved in the Bisbee Deportation come to Bisbee for genealogy searches. By digitizing these documents and making them available on the Arizona Memory Project website, a portion of their search has become more convenient.

This project was envisioned and coordinated by Denise Lundin, Clerk of Superior Court of Cochise County (retired).

Select the collections to add or remove from your search