When Wobblie leader A.S. Embree returned to Bisbee after the Deportation, he was arrested and tried for inciting a riot. The jury quickly agreed that he was not guilty.
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The first of many trials
Table of Contents
- 1 The first of many trials
- 2 Witness heard threats, but not from Embree
- 3 Embree discusses his role
- 4 Told to avoid confrontation, hurt feelings
- 5 Different perspective in 1920 report
- 6 Embree arrested Sept. 14
- 7 Why Embree returned
- 8 Planning the trial
- 9 Charged with being a “bad actor”
- 10 At work in Chicago
- 11 Embree eventually goes to prison
- 12 “Most dangerous Red”
After the Bisbee Deportation of July 1917, there would be trials (and tribulations) for participants on all sides. Most of the court trials would go nowhere.
Most well known, of course, is the 1920 trial in Cochise County Superior Court of one particular man who had participated as a deputy in the deportation, and who was chosen to be representative of the hundreds who had been indicted. The jury found Harry Wootton not guilty because of a successful argument of the “law of necessity.”
What is not as well publicized, however, was the trial held immediately in the wake of the deportation of one A.S. Embree, a leader among the IWW strikers in Bisbee, who was charged with instigating a riot.
Embree was to be found not guilty by a Pima County Superior Court jury on Dec. 1, 1917.
During the trial, which had been moved to Tucson at Embree’s request, Cochise County Attorney John Mason Ross told the jury that the Bisbee strikers “attacked a Mexican workman in presence of defendant,” the Bisbee Daily Review reported the following day, “and when defendant led a party of pickets to a laundry at Bisbee and the pickets were alleged to have threatened to blow up the building.”
Embree’s attorney, A. A. Worsley, told the jury that the defendant had told the pickets “to use peaceful methods and that the defendant had not taken a personal part in the acts of violence.” (Worsley would assist the Cochise County Attorney’s Office in the 1920 trial of Wootton.)
It took the jury only about five minutes to reach a verdict of not guilty.
Witness heard threats, but not from Embree
Prosecution witness Tom Hargis, a deputy sheriff, testified that he saw Embree on the picket line during the disturbances in late June and early July and he heard pickets make threats of violence again those who continued to work. But he did not hear Embree make such threats. Instead, he quoted from one of Embree’s speeches:
“The government is about to set the price of copper and we want to get our $6 a day flat before they do. We’ve six of the biggest logging camps shut down and practically every copper mining camp in the west and we are going to tie up every copper mining camp in the United States. You make your demands. We don’t give a damn what they are. We’ll stay with you if you stay with us.”
“[H]e favored turning a machine gun on the Copper Queen dispensary, which was the headquarters of the deputy sheriffs, and then blowing up the mines while the workers were in the mines….”
Hargis said Embree was speaking as a representative of the Industrial Workers of the World union.
Prosecution witness Helen Grass testified to hearing a striker says he was a machine gun operator and that if the strike was not won, “he favored turning a machine gun on the Copper Queen dispensary, which was the headquarters of the deputy sheriffs, and then blowing up the mines while the workers were in the mines,” the newspaper reported.
Embree, whom the paper described as a “slight, wiring young man,” took the witness stand in his defense, to be examined by another of his attorneys, A. S. Gillmore of Tombstone.
Embree discusses his role
Embree said he was a member of the executive council of the Metal Miners Workers Industrial Union No. 800, the technical name of the state branch of the IWW. He said he had lived in Bisbee for nearly a year and had worked for the Calumet & Arizona Mining Co. (C&A) as a mucker.
The committee which negotiated with the companies was elected at a meeting of the Metal Miners’ union in their hall, about 100 feet from the depot (perhaps in the Pythian Castle), where most of the unions in Bisbee met, Embree said.
The meeting was held June 21 to draw up the demands of the union, which were adopted by those present at the meeting and the committee was elected to present the demands and give power to call a strike if they were refused.
Subsequent to this, the smeltermen’s union adopted the demands, he added. The smelters for both Copper Queen (Phelps Dodge) and the C&A were in Douglas.
“Their policy of the strike was to avoid violence.”
(The demands were presented and rejected by the above-mentioned companies and by the Shattuck-Arizona firm.)
Told to avoid confrontation, hurt feelings
After the strike began, the committee was in entire charge, Embree said. “Their policy of the strike was to avoid violence,” the Review reported the witness saying “They warned the pickets repeatedly against threatening men goign to work, and instructed the men that they might walk beside the men going to work and speak briefly to them.
“They were not to call them ‘scabs’ or hurt their feelings, believing they should be friendly and thus win.”
Embree testified that 80 percent of the men who quit had been gained over that way. “Usually the pickets said, ‘Be a man and join us,’ The captains of the pickets held daily conferences with the committee,” the newspaper continued reporting his testimony.
Embree told of speaking in the city park, always with the permission of Mayor Jacob Erickson, and of holding a conference with the mayor.
Different perspective in 1920 report
In reporting the results of the trial of those who enacted the deportation, the Review said in its May 1, 1920 edition that on the afternoon of July 11, 1917 there was a meeting among Mayor Erickson, Embree and others, during which the mayor, “incensed at the disloyal speeches made in the park (City Park) by IWW agitators, informed A.S. Embree, one of the strike leaders, that the strikers were forbidden to use the park for meetings without a permit.
“He also called Embree’s attention to city ordinances forbidding troublesome congregations on the streets. Embree replied that he and the strikers were tired of being ‘deprived of our rights’ and declared that he would no longer be responsible for the conduct of the IWW trikers as he could ‘no longer control them.’
“‘If you can’t control them, I can,’ replied Sheriff [Harry] Wheeler.”
“‘If you can’t control them, I can,’ replied Sheriff [Harry] Wheeler.”
Wheeler already had deputized hundreds of citizens and “immediately after Embree’s declaration that he could no longer control his men, Wheeler called a meeting of all the captains of deputies and of representative citizens and city officials.”
This was on the night of July 11. It was at this meeting that Wheeler “told of conditions as he had found them in the district, of his fears that the IWW and their following were getting so desperate that bloodshed and the wholesale destruction of property appeared imminent and of his firm belief that drastic action was necessary to prevent such a catastrophe.”
This led to the deportation of the following day.
Embree arrested Sept. 14
The story of Embree’s arrest in Bisbee was told on the front page of the Sept. 15, 1917 Review, under the headline: Bisbee is writing final chapter in IWW plot to destroy local industries.
Wheeler and his deputies were arresting deportees “as fast as they arrived in the district from the detention camp” at Columbus, N.M., the paper reported. “One hundred have been arrested since [Sept. 12], when the exodus from the exile camp at Columbus started westward toward the Warren District.”
Wheeler told six married men, whose families live in the district, that they could remain “so long as they behave themselves and comply with the laws.” The Review speculated that all of them were expected to leave, since none of the mining companies would give them jobs.
“The one exception to the rule that married men may remain in Bisbee unmolested was made in the case of A.S. Embree, one of the leaders of the IWWs in the Columbus camp and himself an admitted IWW and leader of the strike here.”
He was arrested when he arrived in Douglas and brought to Bisbee by Wheeler by automobile. Reported the newspaper:
“I have a warrent for you charging you with inciting a riot on or about July 11,” Sheriff Wheeler told Embree.
“You may think you were sincere and were doing right in deporting us on July 12, but I consider you a lawbreaker yourself,” Embree told the little sheriff with a flash of resentment.
“We could not agree on that point if we remained here for a lifetime,” Wheeler told Embree as he turned him over to a deputy sheriff for confinement in the Lowell jail.
The Review went to the jail to interview Embree who “was industriously picking what he termed ‘gray backs’ [probably the body louse] and other vermin from the blankets of his bunk. ‘I cannot sleep here,’ he said between intervals of scratching. ‘This is an awful hole to place a man. I surely do not want to be left here all night.’ He stayed, however.”
The article said Embree was a Newfoundlander by birth, but claimed to be an American citizen. “He is an almost perfect type of the IWW of the Southwest. He is small, has gray eyes and curly hair, talks rapidly and thinks clearly.”
Why Embree returned
He said he returned to the area expecting to be arrested. He knew he could not go to El Paso, Deming, N.M. or Silver City without being arrested, “for they are not places for a man without money and I have none.
“So I decided to come back here to answer the charges I had heard were filed against me. I want to get a verdict and either be acquitted or convicted and have it over. My wife and 8-year-old son are here and I wanted to see them.
“There was no chance for a man to get out and get work in this country when he is broke so I had to come here.”
“There was no chance for a man to get out and get work in this country when he is broke so I had to come here. The army cut our rations from 23 cents worth of food a day at Columbus to less than 8 cents worth and we could not live on that.”
On Sunday, Sept. 15, The Tombstone Epitaph reported that Wheeler had arrived at the county seat from Bisbee that morning, bringing Embree with him. He brought four other men who had been deported and had returned as well, bringing to 18 IWW members then confined in the county jail.
Planning the trial
He was to be arraigned before Judge Fowler the next day on the charge of inciting a riot. The others were to be examined Sunday afternoon “and held until they are ordered to report for training,” with the army.
Embree was ordered held in lieu of $3,000 bond. His wife and son would head over to Tombstone a couple of days later for a visit.
Cochise County appointed J.T. Kingbury and W.G. Gilmore to defend Embree. The venue for the trial would be changed to Pima County, because the defendant said he could not obtain a fair trial in Cochise. Judge O’Connor of Santa Cruz County would preside.
The trial was to begin on Nov. 24, but because the Pima County court calendar was so busy, it had to be delayed, and word was not received in Bisbee until several of the 30 or so witnesses had left for Tucson. But the following Monday, many Bisbee witnesses — 25 Cochise County citizens in total — caught the train for Tucson.
But it would be delayed again, for a day, this time because of the county attorney’s illness, and the jury, already selected, was locked up for the night.
Finally, on Wednesday, Nov. 28, 1917, Embree’s trial got under way. The prosecution began its case, questioning Vance Johnson, who was chairman of the Cochise County Board of Supervisors and owners of the Warren Laundry, which the IWW attempted to organize. The two women, who were employees of the laundry and whose testimony is given earlier in this article, also took the stand, as did Sheriff Wheeler and Mayor Erickson.
The newspaper speculated that the trial, which recessed on Nov. 29 for the Thanksgiving holiday, would not conclude until Saturday or the following Monday, since the prosecution still had 10 more witnesses and the defense had eight when the trial resumed Friday.
The trial indeed lasted until Saturday afternoon, and the jury, out for only five minutes, found Embree not guilty and he was released from custody.
Charged with being a “bad actor”
A few days later, the Review commented on the trial, saying that if anyone “can get any satisfaction or happiness out of the acquittal of Embree at Tucson last week they are welcome.”
He was charged with inciting a riot and of “being a bad actor generally,” the paper said. Embree and “his fellows did a lot of harm. They led a lot of workingmen into a strike without a shadow of a grievance and they plunged the entire district into the unrest and disordered business conditions that a strike always brings.”
On Dec. 7, the Review reported that Embree, along with his wife and son, had returned to Bisbee to pack up their belongings and “left on the outgoing train last evening.
“He stated that he did not care to remain in Bisbee, but that he had business of importance in another part of the country that required his attention.”
At work in Chicago
Embree was mentioned in the Review again in January 1918. He was in Chicago and was looking for information about men who had been deported from Bisbee.
Quoting the union’s official newspaper, The Industrial Worker, the local paper said that Embree “requests that all members give as much aid as possible in securing the addresses of all fellow workers who were deported from Bisbee . . . as it is intended to bring suit for damages by May or June.”
Indeed, the suits were filed in July, by 166 men, including Embree, asking $3.4 million in damages, but that’s a story for another time.
Embree would be back in the news in Bisbee in September, when, as acting secretary-treasurer of the IWW, he was arrested by federal officers in Chicago on charges of violation of the espionage act by writing materials that discouraged the production of food and military supplies. He was acting at the time for “Big Bill” Haywood, who had just been sentenced to serve 20 years in Leavenworth.
This apparently wasn’t the only time he was arrested there and in no instance, it seems, was he convicted..
Embree eventually goes to prison
While A.S. Embree was found not guilty of any crime during the Bisbee stike in 1917, the nationwide “war” against the IWW eventually got him. The Review reported May 26, 1921 that the superior court at Wallace, Idaho, convicted him of criminal syndicalism and he was sentenced to 1 to 10 years. He would spend three years in prison, then head to Colorado to organize coal miners.
The story said Embree “admitted on the stand” that he was a member of the IWW and that for two months in 1918 he acted as “supreme office” in Chicago during the absence of William D. Haywood.
The article said that after his acquittal in Tucson, Embree went to Phoenix, where he was in charge of the IWW headquarters, and later to Butte, where he also worked for the union.
He then went to Idaho and was “arrested while circulating literature of the organization and making speeches in its behalf.” He was arrested more than six months prior to the trial and conviction. He was to be tried right away, in August of 1920, but the case was postponed.
A representative of the Idaho court was in Bisbee and “secured considerable information in regard to Embree’s activities during the IWW strike here,” the Review reported.
“Most dangerous Red”
In reporting Embree’s arrest in Idaho, The Caldwell Tribune in October 1920 said the Embree (misidentified as C.S. Embree) “is considered by many who are familiar with the IWW movement to be the most dangerous Red, outside of Big Bill Haywood, in the United States.”
Embree “is considered by many who are familiar with the IWW movement to be the most dangerous Red, outside of Big Bill Haywood, in the United States.”
Embree was arrested by Idaho’s newly established state policy, called the state constabulary. The same article said that the IWW “generally are opposed” to the state police. Embree was arrested under the state’s “criminal syndicalism law,” which had been enacted in March 1917. The Idaho law served as a prototype for similar laws in other states, including California, Montana and many others.
Criminal syndicalism was defined in Idaho as “the doctrine which advocates crime, sabotage, violence, or other unlawful methods of terrorism as a means of accomplishing industrial or political reform.” In all states, such laws undoubted had the IWW top of mind for enactment.