In 1917, the Phelps Dodge Corporation owned a number of copper and other mines in Arizona. Mining conditions in the region were difficult, and working conditions (including mine safety, pay, and camp living conditions) extremely poor. Discrimination against Mexican American workers by Caucasian supervisors was routine and extensive. During the winter of 1915–6, a successful if bitter four-month strike in the Clifton-Morenci district led to widespread discontent and unionization among miners in the state.
However, the International Union of Mine, Mill, and Smelter Workers (IUMMSW) and its president, Charles Moyer, did little to support the nascent union movement on the grounds that the miners were too militant. Between February and May 1917, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) stepped in and began signing up several hundred miners as members. The IWW formed Metal Mine Workers Union No. 800. Although Local 800 counted more than 1,000 members, only about 400 paid dues.
In May 1917, IWW Local 800 presented a list of demands to Phelps Dodge. They asked for an end to physical examinations, two workers on each drilling machine, two men working the ore elevators, an end to blasting while men were in the mine, an end to the bonus system, no more assignment of construction work to miners, replacement of the sliding scale of wages with a $6.00 per day shift rate, and no discrimination against union members. The company flatly refused all the demands.
IWW Local 800 called a strike, to begin on June 26, 1917. When the strike occurred as scheduled, not only the miners at Phelps Dodge but those at other mines also walked out. More than 3,000 miners—about 85 percent of all mine workers in Bisbee—went on strike.
Although the strike was peaceful, local authorities immediately asked for federal troops to break the strike. Cochise County Sheriff Harry Wheeler set up his headquarters in Bisbee on the very first day of the strike. On July 2, Wheeler asked Republican Governor Thomas Edward Campbell to request federal troops. Campbell quickly telegraphed the White House and made the request. But President Woodrow Wilson declined to send in the Army, and instead appointed former Arizona Governor George W. P. Hunt as a mediator.
The president of Phelps Dodge at the time was Walter S. Douglas. He was the son of Dr. James Douglas, developer of the Copper Queen mine and a member of the board of directors of the Phelps Dodge Corporation. Walter Douglas was a political opponent of Hunt's, and had virulently attacked the former governor for his refusal to send the state militia to suppress mining strikes during his previous time in office. Walter Douglas was also president of the American Mining Congress, an employer association, and had won office by vowing to break every union in every mine and restore the open shop. Determined to keep Bisbee free of IWW influence, Douglas established a Citizen's Protective League in 1916, and organized a Workers' Loyalty League (some of whose members were IUMMSW miners).
The Jerome deportation proved to be a test run for Phelps Dodge, which moved to implement the same plan in Bisbee.
On July 11, 1917, Sheriff Wheeler met with Phelps Dodge corporate executives to plan the deportation. 2,200 men from Bisbee and the nearby town of Douglas were recruited and deputized as a posse—the largest posse ever assembled. Phelps Dodge officials also met with executives of the El Paso and Southwestern Railroad, who agreed to provide rail transportation for any deportees. The morning of July 12, the Bisbee Daily Review carried a notice announcing that
At 4:00 a.m. the 2,200 deputies dispersed through the town of Bisbee and took up their positions in pre-identified, strategic places. Each wore a white armband for identification, and carried a list of the men on strike. At 6:30 a.m., the deputies moved through town and arrested every man on their list as well as any man who refused to work in the mines. Several men who owned local grocery stores were also arrested, and the deputies helped themselves to the cash in the registers and to all the goods they could carry. Many male citizens of the town were arrested seemingly at random, and anyone who had voiced support for the strike or the IWW was also seized. Two men died: One was a deputy shot by a miner he had tried to arrest, and the other was the miner himself (shot dead by three other deputies moments later).
At 7:30 a.m., the 2,000 arrestees were assembled in front of the Bisbee Post Office and marched two miles (3 km) to Warren Ballpark. Sheriff Wheeler oversaw the march from a car outfitted with a loaded Marlin 7.62 mm belt-fed machine gun. At the baseball field, the arrestees were told that if they denounced the IWW and went back to work, they would be freed. Only men who were not IWW members or organizers were given this choice. About 700 men agreed to these terms, while the rest sang, jeered or shouted profanities.
At 11:00 a.m., 23 cattle cars belonging to the El Paso and Southwestern Railroad arrived in Bisbee. The remaining 1,286 arrestees were forced at gunpoint to board the cars, many of which had over three inches (76 mm) of manure on the floor. Although temperatures were in the mid-90s Fahrenheit, no water had been provided to the men since the arrests began at dawn.
The train stopped east of Douglas to take on water, some of which was provided to the deportees on the packed cars. Two machine guns guarded the train from nearby hilltops, which another 200 armed men patrolled the tracks. The train continued to Columbus, New Mexico (about away), arriving at about 9:30 p.m. The train slowly traveled another to Hermanas, not stopping until 3:00 a.m.
During the Bisbee Deportation, Phelps Dodge Corporation executives seized control of the telegraph and telephones to prevent news of the kidnappings from being reported. Company executives refused to let Western Union send wires out of town, and stopped Associated Press reporters from filing stories. News of the Bisbee Deportation was made known only after an IWW attorney, who met the train in Hermanas, issued a press release.
Only a handful ever returned to Bisbee. Sheriff Wheeler established guards at all entrances to Bisbee and Douglas. Any citizen seeking to exit or enter the town over the next several months had to have a "passport" issued by Wheeler. Any adult male in town who was not known to the sheriff's men was brought before a secret sheriff's kangaroo court. Hundreds of citizens were tried, and most of them deported and threatened with lynching if they returned. Even long-time citizens of Bisbee were deported by this "court".
National press reaction to the Bisbee Deportation was extremely muted. Although many newspapers carried stories about the event, most newspapers editorialized that the workers "must have" been violent and therefore "gotten what they deserved." Some major papers said that Sheriff Wheeler had gone too far, but declared that the sheriff should have imprisoned the miners rather than deported them.
Deported citizens of Bisbee pleaded with President Wilson for protection and permission to return to their homes. In October 1917, Wilson appointed a commission of five individuals, led by Secretary of Labor William B. Wilson (with assistance from Assistant Secretary of Labor Felix Frankfurter), to investigate labor disputes in Arizona. The commission heard testimony during the first five days of November 1917. In its final report, issued on November 6, 1917, the commission denounced the Bisbee Deportation. "The deportation was wholly illegal and without authority in law, either State or Federal," the commissioners wrote.
On May 15, 1918, the U.S. Department of Justice ordered the arrest of 21 Phelps Dodge executives, Calumet and Arizona Co. executives, and several Bisbee and Cochise County elected leaders and law enforcement officers. The arrestees included Walter Douglas, and would have included Sheriff Wheeler if he had not been serving in France with the American Expeditionary Force during World War I. A pre-trial motion by the defense led a federal district court to release the 21 men on the grounds that no federal laws had been violated. The Justice Department appealed. But in United States v. Wheeler, 254 U.S. 281 (1920), Chief Justice Edward Douglass White ruled for an 8-to-1 majority that no federal law protected the freedom of movement. Protecting citizens' right to movement was a state function, White argued, and had to be enforced solely in state court.
But no state criminal charges were ever brought. Some workers filed civil suits, but the first civil jury found that the deportations had been good public policy and refused to grant relief. Most of the other suits were quietly dropped, although a few workers received payments in the $500 to $1,250 range.
The Bisbee Deportation proved to be a watershed for deportations in the United States. The public popularity of the Bisbee and Jerome deportations led many politicians to see deportation as an acceptable public policy. For several decades thereafter, deportation became American public policy. For example, on October 6, 1918, the Congress passed the Alien Act, which authorized the federal government to deport any alien who at any time (prior to or after his or her entry into the United States) supported or was a member of an anarchist organization. In December 1919, following the early Lusk Committee and Palmer Raids, the Alien Act of 1918 was used to deport nearly 250 labor union organizers and other suspected radicals without trial to Russia, aboard The Buford. In the 1930s, mass deportations led to the removal of up to 2 million Mexicans and Mexican Americans from the United States. In 1942, the federal government forcibly deported 120,000 Japanese Americans to the interior of the country in response to anti-Japanese hysteria following the attack on Pearl Harbor. In 1954, the federal government implemented Operation Wetback, a program created in response to public hysteria about illegal immigration. Operation Wetback led to the deportation of nearly 1.3 million Mexican workers. These and other examples of mass deportation drew their inspiration and acceptance from the Bisbee Deportation and the public support for that incident.
Docile Children and Dangerous Revolutionaries: The Racial Hierarchy of Manliness and the Bisbee Deportation of 1917
Jun 01, 2003; On July 12, 1917, three months after the United States entered World War I, a dramatic event in a remote copper-mining town near...