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Skagit River Journal

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Sedro-Woolley vigilantes tar and feather
Wobblies organizer in 1918

(Minkler Lake Mill)
      Minkler Lake mill owned by the family of Birdsey Minkler. West of Lyman about two miles, this mill was at one time the target for labor organizers from the Wobblies, but we have no information that the union ever made any inroads there. Photo courtesy of Minkler descendant Mary Lynne Ball.

      Journal ed. note: This article was found in a 1918 newspaper and the incident attracted nationwide coverage as the International Workers of the World [I.W.W. or Wobblies] tried to organize workers in the woods all over the U.S., especially at timber mills. We feature the article below, followed by the context of labor organizing and violence of the times in Washington state, along with local incidents.

Local vigilantes would put quietus
on I.W.W. leader

Write Seattle police for D.E. Dietz, who was recently tarred here
He promised tar party to quit Wobblies

June 20, 1918, Sedro-Woolley Courier
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      D.S. [or D.E.] Dietz, former local secretary of the I.W.W., who some time ago was given a coat of tar and feathers by some local vigilantes, has turned up again, this time in the Seattle jail. The following letter received by the Seattle Chief of Police from the Sedro-Woolley vigilance committee, is self explanatory:
      We see by the papers that on Sunday, June 16, you arrested D.E. Dietz at an I.W.W. meeting. Mr. Dietz was secretary of the I.W.W. organization at this place for several months and was very active in fomenting trouble in the camps and mills of this vicinity. When, after appealing vainly to the authorities for months, we cleaned up the organization at this place ourselves. Mr. Dietz took an oath to quit the I.W.W.; never to have anything more to do with them, and to go to work. By a close vote his parole was accepted and he was let off with a coat of tar and feathers. As he has broken his parole, if you can find it convenient to return him to this county we will see that you are not troubled with him again.

Skagit River Journal research:
      The incident became so representative of small-town reaction to labor organizing that it was featured in chapter 87 of Upton Sinclair's 1924 book, 100%: The Story of a Patriot, about the conflicts between the investor and working classes. Here is the context of the reference in that chapter:
Upton Sinclair's 100 Percent: The Story of a Patriot
      "We charge that many thousands of members of this organization have been imprisoned, on most occasions arrested without warrant and held without charge. To verify this statement it is but necessary that you read the report of the Commission on Industrial Relations wherein is given testimony of those who know of conditions at Lawrence, Massachusetts, where nearly 900 men and women were thrown into prison during the Textile Workers' Strike at that place. This same report recites the fact that during the Silk Workers' Strike at Paterson, New Jersey, nearly 1,900 men and women were cast into jail without charge or reason. Throughout the northwest these kinds of outrages have been continually perpetrated against members of the I. W. W. County jails and city prisons in nearly every state in the Union have held or are holding members of this organization.
      "We charge that members of the I. W. W. have been tarred and feathered. Frank H. Meyers was tarred and feathered by a gang of prominent citizens at North Yakima, Washington. D. S. Dietz was tarred and feathered by a mob led by representatives of the Lumber Trust at Sedro, Wooley [sic], Washington. John L. Metzen, attorney for the Industrial Workers of the World, was tarred and feathered and severely beaten by a mob of citizens of Staunton, Illinois. At Tulsa, Oklahoma, a mob of bankers and other business men gathered up seventeen members of the I. W. W., loaded them in automobiles, carried them out of town to a patch of woods, and there tarred and feathered and beat them with rope.

      We suspect that one of the members of the local group was David G. McIntyre, who consolidated Skagit Steel & Iron Works under his family control that year, 16 years after it began as Sedro-Woolley Iron Works. McIntyre worked tirelessly against any form of what he saw as communist agitation, especially in local schools. If the Lumber Trust was behind the vigilantes, then more than likely the partners in the Skagit Mill of Lyman — Holmes, Hightower and Kirby, would likely have been involved. Fifteen years later, when workers at that mill struck for a nickel raise an hour, the owners shut it down in response. There was no labor relations board in those days. The online publication excerpted below addresses the class conflict of the time and summarizes more of the local incidents that marked the years 1916-19, at the same time as the Palmer Raids gained steamed around the country. This source is very sympathetic to the cause of the Wobblies:
Labor uprisings in Washington state
      The I.W.W. had been defending itself for years from such unprovoked attacks as the Everett Massacre of 1916, in which five Wobblies were gunned down in cold blood by police, and in the words of Harvey O'Connor "the I.W.W. maintained conditions only by an incessant guerrilla struggle" — a struggle of self-defense. [Harvey O'Connor, Revolution In Seattle, Left Bank Books, 1981] Wobblies had been successful in organizing lumber workers in the forests of Louisiana and East Texas too, where black and white members worked together as equals, and where also they were victims of attacks by gun thugs. Beatings and lynchings of Wobblies were commonplace in 1917 and 1918 as lumber barons reaping tremendously increased profits from war contracts branded as unpatriotic workers who wanted to share even slightly in these gains.
      A year before the 1919 affair the I.W.W. hall at Centralia was sacked by anti-union fanatics and Wobblies found in it beaten up and driven out of the county. The partially Wobbly-led Seattle general strike of early 1919 helped keep the war hysteria going, and in the summer of that year a blind Wobbly news vendor of Centralia, Tom Lassiter, was kidnapped, beaten and also dumped over the county line. (There have been a number of blind I.W.W. members, including Helen Keller, who wrote several brilliant essays on the Wobblies; perhaps the inner vision and logic of a person with fewer distractions in the world of the senses is conducive to a greater appreciation of I.W.W. principles for the organization of society.) [Helen Keller, In behalf of the I.W.W. from The Liberator, vol. 1, no. 1, p. 13]
      Several days before Armistice Day, 1919, the lumber interests and their dupes in Centralia let it be known they planned to attack the local I.W.W. hall again. Given the background of beatings, killings and raiding of halls, it is easy to understand why the Centralia Wobblies had had enough, and reasoned that if they were not forever to be on the run they must at some point defend themselves. They had learned to turn the other cheek, but only once — even the Bible did not say to turn it twice. So it was that on November 11, 1919 Wesley Everest, still in his Army uniform, announced to his fellow Wobblies, "I fought for democracy in France and I'm going to fight for it here." What followed is described in lucid and matchless prose by the I.W.W.'s Ralph Chaplin in this booklet. Just as in the I.W.W. strike of 1909 at McKees Rocks, Pennsylvania, once the harassed workers had shown they would defend themselves, they were not attacked again, and the next I.W.W. hall in Centralia was left alone. But at what a tragic cost in human life this observance of ordinary civil liberties was purchased!

      All these incidents culminated in the Centralia Massacre of Nov. 11, 1919, which marked the beginning of the swift downfall in organizing success by the I.W.W. at Washington mills. We have not been able to find what happened to the hapless Mr. Dietz after his experience here. He may have lit out for the territory, as Huck Finn would have said, finding greener pastures in other states. As Dave Lanier, a former labor organizer who lives in the Prairie District, explained to us, Skagit county remained a challenging land of opportunity for men in his field for the next few decades, men who dared to organize in the camps and mills realized that they were taking their lives and health in their hands. They learned to be smarter and to work alongside their potential labor members instead of showing up as a carpetbagger and inciting the wrath of both bosses and workers. The pool of potential converts also lessened dramatically in the late teen years and the 1920s because mill owners drew on scab labor from "Tarheel" — North Carolina, and mill workers knew that the next railroad chugging up the valley could easily have three or four scab replacements for their job should they have the temerity to make demands on the owners.
      When we researched the life and businesses of Birdsey Minkler, who built the first mill on the upper Skagit river in 1878 in his namesake Birdsview, we heard about suspicion of Wobblies involvement in a suspicious fire at Minkler's mill on Minkler Lake, west of Lyman. On May 17-18, 1920, the mill burned to the ground. Mary Lynne Ball, a Minkler descendant who loaned us copies of the mill to scan, wrote that some members of the family blamed the fire on Wobblies. But when we interviewed old timers over the year, we heard other stories about the fire — almost all of which pointed to arson but for different reasons.
      Birdsey died in 1911 and several of his sons had an interest in the burned mill. John Minkler was the working family member who lived near the mill and lake, and had overall responsibility for the mill along with his brother-in-law, Bert Vandeford. They were never implicated, or even suspected — as far as we know, for having any responsibility for the fire. But the fire occurred just days before another Minkler son, Garfield Minkler, committed suicide in his clothing store in Lyman. He was known to be in serious financial trouble, partly due to his divorce, and rumors quickly flew that he was somehow involved in the arson.
      When we interviewed the late Aaron Light Jr. a few years ago, he noted that his father was coroner at the time and Aaron Sr. told him about finding a long suicide note in Garfield's store office that recounted his financial troubles and the fact that his wife had remarried and was living with her new family in Lyman at the time. None of the rumors about Garfield's involvement were ever proven, much less seriously investigated by the authorities, and we never found any evidence that corroborated the rumors. We wish we could find the insurance records, assuming that a policy on the mill was in force. The late Howard Miller, who was an insurance man in Sedro-Woolley three decades later and whose wife, Frances, grew up within a few hundred yards of the mill, recounted several different fire scenarios for us, none of which had to do with union organizers. And he emphasized that nearly every family in the area had a different theory for the fire, with every local ne'er-do-well in the neighborhood tagged as the arsonist. Miller also noted that activity by the Wobblies had waned considerably in the year before, especially after the 1918 tar-and-feathers incident recounted above. We do hope, however, that a reader will share details if he or she has a family memory about the fire or Wobblies organizing at the time. [See our Journal website for our exclusive two-part Minkler profile.]

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Story posted on Oct. 15, 2004, moved to this domain April 16, 2011
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