By any standard measure the suicide of Wesley Everest should be considered unusual.
Everest had only recently returned from the front lines of WWI France, so a suicide isn't all that shocking. However, the circumstances of his death on Veterans Day 1919, should have raised questions with the coroner. That is, if the coroner had bothered to examine the body before declaring it a suicide.
Everest's teeth had been knocked out with a rifle butt. He was then tossed over the side of a bridge several times until his neck was broken from the noose tied around it. Afterward his lifeless body had been shot full of bullets, which is very difficult for a dead man to inflict upon himself.
Perhaps the coroner was just stating that Everest's suicidal action happened long before his death. It happened when he decided to become a member of the Industrial Workers of the World.
"Tell the boys I died for my class."
- Wesley Everest's last recorded words
After the failure of the Patterson Silk Strike of 1913, the east coast IWW mostly collapsed. Into this vacuum arose an IWW active in the coal mines, loading docks, farms, and hobo and logging camps of the western states. Nowhere were they stronger and more active than in the Pacific Northwest.
In the summer of 1916 this led to a confrontation.
The Everett Massacre
On May 1, 1916 the Everett Shingle Weavers Union went on strike. The IWW had no direct affiliation with the shingle weavers, but their philosophy was to support the working class in all its struggles.
When I.W.W. organizer and speaker James Rowan arrived in Everett on June 31, 1916, Everett became the home of the I.W.W.'s newest "Free-Speech Fight". This fight started relatively peacefully. Perhaps purposely, the I.W.W. speakers chose to speak at the corner of Hewitt and Wetmore, a corner where public speaking was illegal, although it was legal at other corners. At first, the speakers were merely arrested and released.
The Everett jail was kept full and the sheriff busy. Eventually the speakers were deported to Seattle instead of just released. The weavers strike was eventually settled at every mill but one - the Jamison Mill.
Until August 19, 1916, the strike had been peaceful. It wasn't meant to last. Strikebreakers, hired by one of the mill owners, Neil Jamison, attacked the picketers by beating them with clubs. The police, standing by, refused to intervene. When picketers retaliated on the scabs later that day the police did intervene.
The IWW then rented out a union hall in Everett. On August 22, Sheriff McRae closed their hall and ordered them to go to Seattle. The wobblies refused. So over the coming weeks several wobblies were beaten and arrested by the police.
Sheriff McRae made being a member of the IWW illegal in Everett. Wobblies that had been arrested were beaten, and any entering Everett were beaten by the police. The IWW refused to give up.
The worst of these beatings was on October 30, 1916. Forty-one I.W.W. members had come by ferry to Everett, to speak at Hewitt and Wetmore. The Sheriff and his deputies beat these men, took them to Beverly Park, and forced them to run through a gauntlet of 'law and order' officials, armed with clubs and whips.
Despite the serious injuries they sustained, many were forced to walk the 25 miles back to Seattle.
The IWW decided to come back in larger numbers on November 5, 1916.
260 wobblie members booked a ticket to Everett via the steamer Verona. Forty more came on the steamer Calista. They planned on having a massive free-speech rally about the events that happened in Beverly Park.
In response, Sheriff McRae and around 200 armed deputies went to the dock to meet the ship.
The Verona arrived first, pulling in along side the dock. McRae asked "Who is your leader?" When he was told "We are all leaders!", he informed passengers they could not land. A single shot was fired, followed by minutes of chaotic shooting. Whether the first shot came from boat or dock was never determined. Passengers aboard the Verona rushed to the opposite side of the ship, nearly capsizing the vessel.
When the ship tilted a railing broke and several wobblies fell into the harbor. There were some weapons aboard the Verona, but most people were unarmed.
175 bullets struck the pilot house alone. The captain, Chance Wiman, survived by hiding behind a safe. IWW member James Billings forced the ships engineer at gunpoint to back out of the dock and return to Seattle.
Five I.W.W. members (Abraham Rabinowitz, Hugo Gerlot, Gus Johnson, Felix Baran and John Looney) were killed, as were two of the deputies (C.O. Curtis and Jefferson Beard). Dozens more from each side were wounded. At least 6 additional I.W.W. members disappeared and were either drowned after falling overboard, or shot while in the water.
On the way back to Seattle the Verona passed the Calista and warned them to return to Seattle.
The local Everett wobblies started their rally anyway, and were then arrested and thrown in jail.
Upon reaching Seattle 74 wobblie members were peacefully arrested. Thomas Tracy was to be tried first for conspiracy to commit the murder of Sheriff's Deputy Jefferson Beard. Originally they were all going to be charged with the murder of Deputy C.O. Curtis, but it was discovered that Curtis had been shot in the back by other deputies.
The Tracy trial went on for months. Wobbly trial lawyer Charles Vanderveer demanded a reenactment of the events, which showed how impossible it would have been to identify from the shore who fired a shot. Tracy was acquitted of all charges, and shortly after all charges against the other 73 defendants were dropped.
No charges were ever brought against Sheriff McRae or the deputies. The national guard was moved into Everett and Seattle, and the local authorities tried to pretend it never happened.
Instead of taking the Everett Massacre as a reason to back down, the IWW organized a massive statewide logger's strike just 8 months later. The strike's objectives were an 8-hour day, improved sanitary conditions, and a union hall.
The strike had mixed results, but it did organize the logging industry and had some improvement in working hours and conditions. One of the workers effected by the labor struggle was a logger named Wesley Everest.
Despite successes like these, the roots of the IWW's demise were already set in stone - their opposition to wars.
The IWW believed that war was a struggle between capitalists where the rich get richer, and the poor die. Just before America's declaration of war, the IWW issued this proclamation: "Capitalists of America, we will fight against you, not for you! There is not a power in the world that can make the working class fight if they refuse."
The public, whipped into a nationalistic frenzy, strongly disagreed with the IWW's stand. IWW organizer Frank Little was strongly opposed to the war, and was lynched just four months after America's entry into the war.
The government used the war as an excuse to crack down on the radical labor union (and any open dissent) using the Espionage Act. 165 IWW leaders were arrested for opposing the draft and given long prison sentences. The union never fully recovered, and the repression didn't end even after the war did.
The Centralia Massacre
Wobblies in Centralia, Washington tried to open a union hall in 1917, but the landlord evicted them when he discovered their identity. However, the following year they succeeded in opening a hall.
During the Red Cross Parade in 1918, a group from the American Legion broke off from the parade and ransacked the union hall. The wobbly members where then removed from their hall by force, beaten and humiliated, and thrown out of town.
The IWW claims this was arranged by business owners who hired thugs. The American Legion and Elks Club said it was just locals who thought the IWW was seditious and un-American. Either way the IWW swore they would never be evicted that way again.
The IWW reopened its union hall in the old Roderick Hotel.
The Armistice Day Parade route that began at 2 p.m. on November 11, 1919, snaked through downtown Centralia and went right in front of the Roderick Hotel. The IWW members, expecting another attack, had armed themselves in advance. Rumors of a repeat of the Red Cross Parade attack were so pervasive that the owner of the Roderick Hotel had asked for assistance from the local sheriff, but was turned down.
What exactly happened when the parade reached the IWW hall is hopelessly disputed, except that it ended in the quick death of three of the Legionnaires — Warren Grimm, Arthur McElfresh and Ben Cassagranda.
Warren Grimm was a leader of the local branch of the American Legion. He was also a veteran of the American Expeditionary Force Siberia where he had fought Bolsheviks firsthand. He was known to be strongly anti-IWW because of their socialist leanings. He led the Centralia American Legion and gave the order to pause in front of the IWW hall.
He was also the first one to die.
According to the Legionnaires, Grimm was shot in middle of the street by a high powered rifle of Wobbly Eugene Barnett, stationed in the Avalon Hotel across the street. Legionnaire McElfresh, standing nearby, was hit next.
In response to this apparent ambush, the Legion members charged the Roderick Hotel.
According to IWW testimony, the Legionnaires charged the union hall before the first shots were fired. One of the marching veterans, Dr. Frank Bickford, backed up the IWW's claim in written testimony. Other testimony show that Legionnaires were carrying coils of rope with them.
Also, since the main aggressors against the union hall were from the back of group, many of the Legionnaires may have honestly believed they were fired on first. Grimm, standing out in front of the group, was the easiest target.
"I fought for democracy in France and I'm going to fight for it here. The first man that comes in this hall, why, he's going to get it."
- Wesley Everest
What happened next is less disputed. As the Legionnaires kicked down the front door of the hall, two Wobblies inside the hotel shot at their attackers. Legionnaires Bernard Eubanks was shot in the leg while charging the hall and Eugene Pfitzer was hit in the arm.
Wobbly Wesley Everest shot and killed legionnaire Ben Cassagranda inside the hall before he ran out the back to escape the mob. Everest made it as far as the Skookumchuck River, when legionnaire Dale Hubbard caught up with him, pointed a gun, and demanded he surrender.
Everest, standing in middle of the river, turned and shot and killed Hubbard and seriously wounded legionnaire John Watt. Unable to ford the river because it was so high, Everest returned to the river bank where the mob descended on him while he tried to reload his weapon.
Several wobblies had hid in a storage locker and surrendered without a fight. The contents of the hall were taken out into the street and burned.
Everest was taken to jail. He had still not given them his name.
Centralia police station; Everest's body being moved
That night someone cut the power to downtown. A mob broke into the prison, pulled Everest from his cell, and lynched him. Neither city undertaker would accept Everest's body, so it was taken back to prison where the prisoners made his coffin.
No one was ever prosecuted for the lynching.
In the growing hysteria, anyone with even vague I.W.W. connections or leanings was jailed. In the search for Wobblies, two groups of vigilantes, each unaware of the other group, converged on an empty cabin. Each group believed that the other group were Wobblies, exchanged gunfire, and John Haney was killed.
The US Attorney advised holding all suspected I.W.W. members throughout the nation on federal charges. Washington soon passed a law making it illegal to belong to the I.W.W. Many feared that the Centralia Massacre, as it had come to be known, was a planned piece of a larger conspiracy.
The outcome of the trial of 10 Wobbly members that followed was decided even before it started.
All motions to move the trial, to trial the defendants separately, or to discuss events leading up to the massacre were rejected. Ex-servicemen were given the right to wear their uniforms in court.
After six weeks of testimony, the jury acquitted Elmer Smith and Mike Sheehan, found Loren Roberts guilty but insane, and found the others guilty of third degree murder. The judge rejected this verdict, saying there was no such thing as third degree murder.
The jury was sent back and returned two days later with the same verdict, but convicting the remaining seven defendants of second degree murder. All 12 jurors petitioned the judge requesting leniency for the convicted men.
The judge rejected the petition and handed down sentences for the eight guilty men of 25 to 40 years in prison, far longer than the typical 10 year sentences for second degree murder. The Legionnaires thought the sentences were too weak.
All attempts at appeals were rejected. Four of the jurors later recanted their verdicts on the grounds that they feared repercussions on their family if they didn't vote for guilt.
Wobbly James McInerney died while in prison. Two defendants were paroled in 1931. Three more in 1933. By 1939 they were all out of prison.