Goldfield Labor Wars 1907

I illustrated this cover to go with my story, published in Harbinger Asylum
I illustrated this cover to go with my story, published in Harbinger Asylum

Wobblies Unite The Workers

The headline read “Anarchists Growing Bolder At Goldfield” -The Goldfield Sun, and the year was 1907. Goldfield was becoming a company town and the gold miners had their defense: their union.

Goldfield had been ripe for capitalists, politicians, rebels and anyone with unbridled ambition to take action and cause a ruckus. Goldfield was a clean slate, an open book in 1903. Small mines were about to start turning huge profits. By 1907 the town had grown into a substantial 24 hour town, the largest in Nevada. 20,000 residents lived here and the mines were being consolidated.

Vincent “The Saint” St. John was a professional agitator. With the backing of already famous agitator Big Bill Haywood, his union, the Industrial Workers of the World, the IWW or the “Wobblies”, believed in “One big union”.

In 1905, with their rallying cry “Workers of the World Unite”, the IWW split from the Western Federation of Miners. The WFM’s secretary-treasurer and Socialist William “Big Bill” Haywood opened the first IWW convention in Chicago, June 27th, 1905: “This is the Continental Congress of the working class. We are here to confederate the workers of this country into a working class movement that shall have for its purpose the emancipation of the working class from the slave bondage of capitalism.” Chicago hosted that inaugural IWW convention. In attendance were labor movement standouts Mother Jones and Eugene Debs.

Haywood went on.. “When the corporations and the capitalists understand that you are organized for the express purpose of placing the supervision of industry in the hands of those who do the work, you are going to be harassed and you are going to be subjected to every indignity and cruelty that their minds can invent.”

Laborers of America, especially in the West, were open to the idea of socialism, not state socialism but a socialism for the people: socialism “with its workboots on.”

Climbing out of mines, workers were being subjected to newly installed changing rooms at the mines to be used under observation to prevent “high grading” which is the term for stealing gold ore in their clothing and amongst tools. Until then, the act had been regarded lightly. Miners considered high grading to be a God-given perk of the job. After the banking scare that year, script (company store coupons), was being used to pay wages in lieu of cash.

St. John, the young, successful union agitator, who had earned a reputation for violence in the miners’ strike in Cripple Creek, Colorado, 1901, was now here in Goldfield. “ organization which asks no quarter and will give none; whose battle cry is ‘an injury to one is an injury to all’; an organization which recognizes no division among  workers…”

Harry Jardin, a friend and cohort in St. John’s radical union, went on to bid, unsuccessfully, for the single Nevada congressional seat on the Socialist ticket in 1906. “Get an ax and use your ax at the system that makes slaves of you…” Jardin advised.

St. John and Jardin were among the union leaders indicted for conspiracy for the 1907 Preston-Smith murder trial, where in an act of self-defense, shot a restauranteur during a picketing dispute. Said St. John, “If they pack the jury to hang our men, we will pack hell full of them.” Many years after his death Morrie Preston was pardoned of this killing.

Later, the radical Big Bill Haywood put in his bid for Governor of Colorado while in jail. He had been detained for allegations of the murder of the Idaho Governor, Frank Steunenberg.

Wingfield Consolidates the Mines

All the miners knew was that mine owners like George Wingfield and Senator George Nixon, co-owners of The Goldfield Consolidated Mines Company, were impinging on their right to happiness. These mine owners were the same men who also happened to possess large financial interests in the banks. It was a national bank scare as shares were dropping. The union made demands.

Wingfield: “Compromise be damned. The Goldfield mines will stay closed down until hell freezes over before we open them to let a lot of anarchists tell us how to run our property.” He had the upper hand. Diamondfield Jack Davis, gunman/murderer, was Wingfield’s bodyguard. Wingfield also had the backing of the patriarchs in his newly formed Goldfield Business Men’s and Mine Owners Association.

On December 6th, President Teddy Roosevelt sent troops to Goldfield.

Subsequent to the troop occupation, wages dropped, unions were banned from Goldfield. The miner’s strike ended April 3rd, 1907. Their leaders had been taken out of commission.

Roosevelt eventually sent a presidential commission to investigate. Their findings were stated “The action of the mine operators warrants the belief that they had determined upon a reduction in wages and the refusal of employment to members of the WMF, but that they feared to take this course of action unless they had the protection of federal troops, and that they accordingly laid plans to secure such troops, and then put the programme into effect.”

There was rumored to be a bribe of $50,000 to Governor Sparks. Ida Crouch Hazlett -journalist -The Socialist: “Everything points to the fact that Governor Sparks was paid $50,000 for getting the troops in here. He is nothing but a drunken sot, as tough and disreputable as they make them, and nothing else could be expected.”


Goldfield -The Last Rush on the Western Frontier

-Sally Zanjani

The Ignoble Conspiracy -Radicalism On Trial In Nevada

-Sally Zanjani and Guy Louis Rocha

Radicalism In The Mountain West -1890-1920

-David R. Berman

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