Just a few days after A.S. Embree was found not guilty of rioting during the 1917 strike in Bisbee — don’t know if the timing was coincidental — the community honored Sheriff Harry Wheeler with a banquet at the Country Club south of Warren attended by 300 “leading citizens.”
The organizer of the Deportation lamented being rejected by the army, lambasted Embree, complained about President Wilson’s Mediation Commission report and showed his usual modesty.
“My friends, you pay me too much honor in this matter,” Wheeler said. “There were scores of men in that drive the morning of July 12 who are entitled to more honor than I; who did more than I that day for the district and our home fires. I merely did my duty. I couldn’t shirk. You could. But you didn’t.”
The Bisbee Daily Review reported Dec. 6 that attendance at the banquet “overwhelmed the committee on arrangements and there were not enough places for the guests at the long tables.
“It was a splendid gathering of high-class, patriotic business men of the district. All were strong still in the faith, and they had gathered there to try to show the man who had led them and failed not, just how they felt about it.” The banquet was given by the Commercial Club, and those attending cheered Wheeler “again and again.”
Wheeler and his “mother”
Having been rejected by the army because of an injury he received as an Arizona Ranger a decade earlier. Referring to the nation and the refusal of a commission, Wheeler said that “My mother has spanked me, but she has fed and clothed me and I rest upon her bosom, and I love her with all my heart and strength and soul.”
The “little sheriff” made a speech, the paper said, and “did not mince words, but spoke as he shoots, straight to the mark.” Because of his rejection by the army, Wheeler appreciated the banquet, he said.
“I have been feeling bad about the failure to realize my life ambbition and fight for my country. I was epressed and discouraged, but when I came here tonight and received your grand welcome and heard your kind words, I was thrilled with the feeling that I have done some small bit for my country after all. Your reception makes me believe that my mother loves me still.”
Why Embree went free
Embree with acquitted the prior week “because we could not connect him directly with attempting to incite a riot,” Wheeler said. But the leader of the Industrial Workers of the World, the IWW, “told me while he was in jail that he had no country. He said that this land of his birth meant no more to him than that dung hill out there, and he pointed a heap outside the jail window.” [Embree apparently was born in Canada, but claimed U.S. citizenship.]
“I do not hate Embree,” Wheeler said. “But I hate his principles. He is honest in them. He believes them. He and his kind ought to be deported further than New Mexico. They ought to be sent to an island of the sea where they could set up a kingdom of their own. The hyenas would howl over that kingdom in six months.”
Untruths in commission’s report
Wheeler told the Commercial Club that the president’s commission “reported to him things about this district and the deportation of the wobblies that were not true. You know it and I know it. We all know it well. This report did not give the exact conditions in this district the day before we took the upper hand and beat them to it.”
The sheriff had particular disdain for Felix Frankfurter, secretary to the commission and a future U.S. Supreme Court associate justice. “A man with a German name, the secretary to the secretary of that commission, was outspoken and offensive in his unfriendliness to us while the honorable commission was here. He wrote that report and it was tinged nad poisoned with his venom.”
He added that testimony in the Embree trial “brought out many things in connection with the strike and the men behind it that branded them as disloyal traitors. And that testimony is down in black and white and it will be forwarded to Washington to stand against the Frankfurther report.”
Wheeler brought about great applause which “made the Country Club ring,” but also absolute silence. “And now, my friends, I want you all to stand up and pay tribute in silence for a moment to the first American soldier killed in France,” he said.
The 300 guests “rose as one man and stood before the speaker for a long minute and one could hae heard a pin drop in the banquest room,” the Review reported.
The long front-page article ended with a report that it “was one grand success, this Wheeler banquet, and the modest sheriff and his loyal and admiring friends had a jim dandy time together.”