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Big Bill Haywood


Big Bill HaywoodBorn February 4 1869 in Salt Lake City

Died May 18 1928 in Moscow USSR

William Dudley Haywood began his career as a hard-rock miner in Nevada as a 15-year-old, and learned more in a bunkhouse 60 miles north of Winnemucca than he ever did in school.

In 1917 the New York Times called him “The most hated and feared man in America”.

Bill was born to a mother who had emigrated to Salt Lake City from South Africa. His father, also William Dudley Haywood, had been a Pony Express rider, was 22 when they married, she was 15. He was a toddler when his father took a job as a miner at Camp Floyd in the Oquirre Mountains west of Salt Lake City. He died there of pneumonia “aggravated by a bullet wound” before Bill was four. A few years later his mother remarried; his stepfather William Carruthers was also a miner and the family moved to the rough silver mining settlement of Ophir Utah.

Ophir UtahAt Ophir little Billy saw pioneer life in the raw — a fatal shooting in he street on his way to school one day, and on another day three dead bodies in the dirt, aftermath of another gunfight. One of his schoolmates accidentally shot and killed another, and a local couple set off a bomb in the local hotel to settle a dispute. “These scenes of blood and violence happened when I was seven years old,” he recalled in his autobiography. “I accepted it all as a natural part of life.”

He also ran free in the open countryside around Ophir, making a collection of quartz crystals and gathering chunks of fool’s gold. “It was an idyllic American boyhood right out of Tom Sawyer”, as one biographer wrote. Except that when he was whittling a forked stick into a slingshot, the knife slipped and blinded his right eye.

When Ophir’s short-lived boom ended the family went back to Salt Lake City, and over the next few years Bill worked the jobs available to a boy there. He was a helper on a farm, a hotel bell hop, a boy of all work at a grocery store, a theater usher (and claquer, leading the applause for the performers after each act) and a messenger boy.

His stepfather meanwhile had become Superintendent of the Ohio Mine north of Winnemucca and he invited young Bill to come work with him there. Bill was two days riding the Central Pacific Railroad to Winnemucca and then north by stagecoach to the small settlement at Willow Creek, with a final four-mile trek to the mine in Eagle Canyon.

It was at this isolated mine that Bill received most of his education. “With few other diversions, the miners at the Ohio Mine were voracious readers,” a biographer wrote. “Magazines were regularly if tardily delivered, and four or five daily newspapers arrived a week late. The miners also owned many books which they passed around and discussed extensively. Haywood’s stepfather introduced young bill to Voltaire, Byron, Burns, and Milton.”

He also devoted himself to learning assaying from John Kane, and politics, sociology and economics from Pat Reynolds, a member of the Knights of Labor. Reynolds had been a member of the miners’ unions in Bodie and Virginia City and explained to Bill that if the working class was to be liberated from exploitation by the capitalist bosses, the workers would have to liberate themselves.

Haywood’s thinking eventually boiled down to this: “[The owners] did not find the gold, they did not mine the gold, they did not mill the gold, but by some weird alchemy all the gold belonged to them!”

The miners read in their newspapers about the 1886 Haymarket Riot in Chicago, a peaceful rally in support of an eight-hour work day after police had killed one and injured several striking workers the day before. Someone threw a bomb; seven police officers and four civilians were killed, with dozens of others wounded.

Haymarket riotIn the legal proceedings that followed, eight men were convicted of conspiracy and seven were sentenced to death; one was sentenced to 15 years in prison. Two had their sentences commuted to life in prison, and one committed suicide. The other four were hanged on November 11, 1887. He described the execution of the Haymarket leaders as a turning point in his life.

Under the tutelage of Pat Reynolds Bill studied the affair. “The last words of August Spies kept running through my mind,” he wrote later: “There will come a time when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you are strangling to-day.”

Burlington StrikeBurlington strikeHaywood became convinced by the experiences of striking railroad workers during the Burlington railroad strike of 1888 that some form of industrial unionism was necessary for workers to obtain justice.This had become apparent when the members of the craft-based union of locomotive firemen showed up for work and kept their fires blazing and steam hissing in the engines, helping to break a strike called by the engineers.

In 1889 Bill married a Willow Creek girl named Nevada Jane Minor. After the loss of a baby boy, two daughters were born, Vern in 1890 and Henrietta in 1897. Nevada Jane, always frail, suffered further health problems in the ensuing years, became a Christian Scientist and, eventually, an invalid. Bill worked as a cowboy/ranch hand for a while and then homesteaded at the recently abandoned Fort McDermitt. He worked on a haying crew at Paradise Valley and walked off the job with the rest of the crew when the boss announced a cut in wages — his first strike.

He and his father-in-law lost their homesteads when the fort was incorporated into an Indian reservation, and Bill was thrown into desperation. Searching for work he traveled to California’s Mother Lode and then back to Reno where he joined a contingent of the Washington-bound Coxey’s Army, riding a freight train to Wadsworth and there getting a job tending cattle as far as Winnemucca.

Eugene Debs created the American Railway Union (ARU), to include all railroad workers, many of them unskilled. In June 1894 the ARU voted to join in a wildcat strike by nearly 4,000 factory employees responding to reductions in wages at the Pullman Company in Chicago. Railroad traffic throughout the nation was largely paralyzed; in northern Nevada trains were virtually at a standstill.

Debs attempted to get help from the AFL, asking that AFL railroad brotherhood affiliates present an ultimatum that the strikers return to work, restored to their former positions, or, in the event of failure, to call a general strike.

But AFL officials viewed the plight of the rival organization as an opportunity to bolster the railway brotherhoods, and instructed all AFL affiliates to withhold help. Pullman strikeHaywood perceived that as “treachery” and “double-cross” by the AFL leadership — the ARU members had put their own organization at risk for others, but the AFL refused to even help them end the strike in a draw.

The strike was eventually crushed by massive government intervention that included 2,600 Deputy U.S. Marshals, and 14,000 state and federal troops in Chicago alone.

Kennedy Nevada, after the boomIn the fall of ’94 Bill was at work drilling a 100-foot tunnel at the Imperial Mine in Kennedy, a booming camp in southeastern Humboldt County. Nights he ran a poker game at Tom Powell’s saloon where he made more money than he’d ever made n his life. But Kennedy went bust in a hurry and Bill went back to Winnemucca to work as a teamster.

Still, the power of workers joining together in a fight against capital greatly impressed Haywood. He became convinced that some form of industrial unionism, rather than trade unions, was necessary for workers to obtain justice and he described the revelation as “a great rift of light.”

Silver City Idaho

He departed Nevada for Silver City Idaho in 1895. There he went to work in the Trade Dollar Mine, and shortly after Nevada Jane and little Vernie joined him in June of 1896 his right hand was crushed in an accident. The family was immediately forced to rely on the generosity of his fellow miners to survive his inability to work.

Bill Haywood at the Blaine Tunnel of the Trade Dollar Mine in Idaho
Bill Haywood at the Blaine Tunnel of the Trade Dollar Mine in Idaho, looking to his right as he almost always did in posed photos to hide his blind eye. This is the only photo we found of him as a working miner.

When Ed Boyce, president of the Western Federation of Miners came to speak, Bill was in the audience, his arm still in a sling.

The WFM had been formed two years earlier at Butte Montana in the aftermath of violence attending a strike by miners at Coeur d’Alene. In January 1894 the mine owners at Cripple Creek Colorado cut wages by 50 cents a day and the workers struck. Uniquely, the state militia was called out in support of the miners. Also supported by WFM locals around the West, the strikers stayed out until the owners gave in and restored the previous wage. The WFM also provided benefits for miners injured or sickened on the job, and for their widows if they were killed. The union even built hospitals and old age homes.

On August 10 1896 Bill became a charter member of Local 66 of the WFM and was appointed to the finance committee. He became financial secretary and oversaw the funding to build a hospital and then was elected president of local 66 as well as going back to work at the Blaine Mine. Henrietta was born in 1897 and Nevada Jane suffered a relapse of rheumatoid arthritis as a consequence.

In the WFM’s 1903–04 struggle in Colorado, with martial law once again in force, union attorneys asked the courts to free illegally imprisoned strikers. Adjutant General Sherman Bell responded, “Habeas corpus be damned, we’ll give ’em post mortems.” Reminded of the Constitution, one of Bell’s junior officers declared coolly, “To hell with the Constitution. We’re not going by the Constitution.”

For Haywood, industrial union principles were confirmed by the defeat of the WFM in the 1903–05 Cripple Creek strike due — he believed — to insufficient labor solidarity. The WFM miners had sought to extend the benefits of union to the mill workers who processed their ore.

Since the government had crushed the ARU, the railroad workers were again organized along craft lines, similar to the AFL. Those same railroad unions continued to haul the ore from mines that were run by strike breakers, to mills that were run by strike breakers.

“The railroaders form the connecting link in the proposition that is scabby at both ends,” Haywood complained. “This fight, which is entering its third year, could have been won in three weeks if it were not for the fact that the trade unions are lending assistance to the mine operators.” It seemed to him the obvious solution was for all of the workers to join the same union, and to take collective action in concert against the employers.

On June 27 1905 Haywood addressed the crowd assembled at Brand’s Hall in Chicago. In the audience were two hundred delegates from organizations all over the country representing socialists, anarchists, miners, industrial unionists and rebel workers. Haywood opened this first convention of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) this way:

Fellow Workers, 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. The aims and objects of this organization shall be to put the working-class in possession of the economic power, the means of life, in control of the machinery of production and distribution, without regard to capitalist masters.

On December 30, 1905, ex-governor of Idaho Frank Steunenberg, who had clashed with the WFM in previous strikes, was killed by an explosion in front of his house in Caldwell, Idaho. Harry Orchard, a former WFM member who had once acted as WFM President Charles Moyer’s bodyguard was arrested for the crime, and evidence was found in his hotel room. Famed Pinkerton detective James McParland, who had infiltrated and helped to destroy the Molly Maguires in Pennsylvania, was placed in charge of the investigation.

Before the trial, McParland ordered that Orchard be placed on death row in the Boise penitentiary, with restricted food rations and under constant surveillance. After McParland had prepared his investigation, he met with Orchard over a “sumptuous lunch” followed by cigars. The detective reportedly told Orchard that he could escape hanging only if he implicated the leaders of the WFM. In addition to using the threat of hanging, McParland promised food, cigars, better treatment, possible freedom, and even a possible financial reward if Orchard cooperated. The detective obtained a 64-page confession from Orchard in which he took responsibility for a string of crimes and at least 17 murders.

Of the four men named by Orchard as having a part in Steunenberg’s murder, Jack Simpkins had fled, and the other three were known to be in Denver. The prosecution feared that if they knew that Orchard was cooperating, the other three would also flee; at McParland’s urging the three were arrested in February 1908.

Under Idaho law, conspirators were considered to be legally present at the scene of the crime. Using this provision, the local county prosecutor in Idaho drew up extradition papers for Haywood, Moyer, and George Pettibone, falsely claiming they had been physically present in Idaho at the time of the murder.

Idaho Governor Frank R. Gooding accepted the extradition papers immediately. McParland had planned the arrests for early Sunday morning, when a special train would be ready to take the prisoners to Idaho. The prosecution plans were upset when Moyer went to the Denver train station on Saturday evening carrying a satchel, evidently to leave town. The police arrested him before he could board a train.

Moyer’s arrest caused the police to move up the arrests of Haywood and Pettibone. The train would not be ready until Sunday morning and so the prisoners were taken to the Denver city jail, but forbidden from communicating to lawyers or families. From there they were taken secretly to the Oxford Hotel and again held incommunicado.

On Sunday morning the three men, guarded by Colorado militia, were put on the special train which hurried out of Denver through Wyoming, and by nightfall they were in Idaho. To thwart any attempts to free them, the train sped through the principal towns, stopping for water and to change engines and crew only at out-of-the-way stations.

The extradition was so extraordinary that the president of the AFL, Samuel Gompers, directed his union to raise funds for the defense. However, the United States Supreme Court denied a habeas corpus appeal, ruling 8-1 that the arrest and extradition were legal.

Moyers, Haywood, PettiboneHaywood was the first of the three to be tried, beginning May 9 1907, with famed Chicago defense attorney Clarence Darrow defending him. The government had only the testimony of Orchard, the confessed bomber, to implicate Haywood and the other defendants. Orchard’s checkered past and admitted violent history were skillfully exploited by Darrow during the trial, though he did not lead Orchard’s cross-examination. Orchard admitted he had been a paid informant of the Mine Owners’ Association, in effect working for both sides. He also admitted to accepting money from Pinkerton detectives, and had caused explosions during mining disputes before he had met Moyer or Haywood.

After Darrow’s final summation on July 28 1907, the jury deliberated nine hours and acquitted Haywood. During the subsequent trial of Pettibone, Darrow conducted a powerful cross-examination against Orchard before falling ill and withdrawing from the trial. After the second jury acquitted Pettibone, charges against Moyer were dropped.

Haywood emerged from the trial with a national reputation. Eugene Debs called him “the Lincoln of Labor.” Along with his colorful background and appearance, Haywood was known for his blunt statements about capitalism. “The capitalist has no heart,” he often said, “but harpoon him in the pocketbook and you will draw blood.

Yet Haywood also had a flair for dangerous hyperbole that, when quoted in newspapers, was used to justify wholesale arrests of IWW strikers. “Confiscate! That’s good!” he often said. “I like that word. It suggests stripping the capitalist, taking something away from him. But there has got to be a good deal of force to this thing of taking.”

When the WFM withdrew from the IWW in 1907, Haywood remained a member of both organizations. His murder trial had made him a celebrity, and he was in demand as a speaker for the WFM. But his increasingly radical speeches became more at odds with the organization, and in April 1908, the union announced that they had ended Haywood’s role as a WFM representative. Haywood left the WFM and thereafter devoted all his time to organizing for the IWW.

Lawrence strikeOn January 11 1912, textile mill workers in Lawrence left their jobs in protest of lowered wages and within a week 20,000 workers were on strike. The strike quickly escalated into violence. Local IWW leaders Joseph Ettor and Arturo Giovannitti were jailed on charges of murdering Anna LoPizzo, a striker whom 19 witnesses later said was killed by police gunfire, and martial law was declared.

Over the next several weeks, Haywood personally masterminded or approved many of the strike’s tactical innovations. Chief among these was his decision to send strikers’ hungry children to sympathetic families in New York, New Hampshire, and Vermont. The IWW used announcements in socialist newspapers to solicit host families, then screened strikers to see who might be willing to send their children into the care of strangers.

Lawrence strikeOn February 10 1912, the first group of “Lawrence Strike Children” bid tearful goodbyes to their parents and, with chaperones to guide them, boarded a train for New York. The children arrived safely in Manhattan that evening where they were taken to a meeting hall. They were soon lavished with food and clothes and would stay in New York another seven weeks.

On February 24 strikers attempted to send still more children away, but police were ready. During a melée, women and children were forcibly separated, police lashed out with clubs, and dozens of strikers and their children were jailed.

Marching in Lawrence, 1912A national outrage resulted. The New York World wrote, “The Lawrence authorities must be blind and the mill owners mad.” The New York Tribune called the police response “as chuckle-headed an exhibition of incompetence to deal with a strike situation as it is possible to recall.” Nationwide publicity pressured the mill owners into cooperating with the strikers; on March 12, they agreed to all the strikers’ demands, ending the strike.

But Haywood and the IWW were not yet finished in Lawrence; despite the success of the strike, Ettor and Giovannitti remained in prison. Haywood threatened the authorities with another strike, saying, “Open the jail gates or we will close the mill gates.” Legal efforts and a one-day strike on September 30 did not prompt the authorities to drop the charges. However, on November 26, Ettor and Giovannitti were acquitted, and upon their release were treated to a massive demonstration of public support.

For many years Haywood was an active member of the Socialist Party of America. He had always been largely Marxist in his political views, and he campaigned for Debs during the 1908 presidential election, traveling by train with Debs around the country. Haywood also represented the Socialist Party as a delegate to the 1910 congress of the Second International, an organization working towards international socialism. In 1912, he was elected to the Socialist Party National Executive Committee (NEC).

Haywood compared the philosophy of the IWW with that of Marx and the socialist parties. Socialists advocated ownership of industries by the state, Haywood disagreed. All of industry should be owned “by the workers.”

The aggressive tactics of Haywood and the IWW, with their call for abolition of the wage system and the overthrow of capitalism, created tension with moderate, electorally-oriented leaders of the Socialist Party. Haywood and the IWW focused on direct action and strikes, which often led to violence, and were less concerned with political tactics. In February 1913 the recall of Haywood from the NEC was approved by a vote of more than 2-to-1. Haywood then left the Socialist Party, joined by thousands more IWW members and their sympathizers.

Anti-IWW posterLater that year Haywood was involved in the Paterson silk strike. He and approximately 1,850 strikers were arrested during the course of the strike, which ended in failure on July 28, 1913. Haywood again made headlines, however, when the IWW staged the Paterson Strike Pageant at Madison Square Garden as it was going on in Paterson, in which actual strikers appeared onstage as themselves. By then Haywood was a celebrity in progressive circles and began frequenting the intellectual salon of Mabel Dodge Luhan. Often wearing his Stetson hat he hobnobbed with writers and artists of the avant-garde.

In January 1915, Haywood replaced Vincent St. John as General Secretary-Treasurer of the IWW until October 1917, and again from February until December 1918.

The onset of World War I gave the federal government the opportunity to use the Espionage Act of 1917 against Haywood and the IWW. The Department of Justice raided 48 IWW meetings on September 5 1917 and arrested 165 IWW members for “conspiring to hinder the draft, encourage desertion, and intimidate others in connection with labor disputes.”

In April 1918, Haywood and 100 of the arrested IWW members went to trial, presided over by Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis. It lasted five months, the longest criminal trial up to that time; Haywood himself testified for three days. All 101 defendants were found guilty and Haywood, along with 14 others, was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison.

Nevada Jane Haywood's tombstone in WinnemuccaNevada Jane died in 1920. The article in the Silver State reported that she was buried at McDermitt, but this is a monument she shares with her parents Philoma and William Minor in the main Winnemucca cemetery.

In 1921 Bill skipped bail while out on appeal and fled to the Soviet Union. A $15,000 bond posted by millionaire William Bross Lloyd was forfeited as a result.

In Soviet Russia, Haywood became an advisor to Lenin’s Bolshevik government, and served until 1923. Visitors to his small Moscow apartment in later years recalled that he felt lonely and depressed, and expressed a desire to return to the U.S. In 1926 he took a Russian wife, though the two had to communicate in sign language, as neither spoke the other’s language.

Haymarket MemorialOn May 18, 1928, Haywood died in a Moscow hospital from a stroke brought on by alcoholism and diabetes. Half his ashes were buried in the Kremlin Wall Necropolis; an urn with the other half of his ashes was sent to Chicago and buried near the Haymarket Martyrs’ Monument.

Kremlin wall

By David Toll. The content of this article derives largely from the Wikipedia page devoted to Bill Haywood under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License. Further information came from Guy Louis Rocha’s essay “‘Big Bill’ Haywood and Humboldt County: the making of a revolutionary in the Spring-Summer edition of “The Humboldt Historian”, the quarterly publication of the North Central Nevada Historical Society, headquartered at the Humboldt Museum in Winnemucca, and from Bill Haywood’s Book, the Autobiogaphy of Bill Haywood. Further Resources: Roughneck by Peter Carlson; Big Bill Haywood & the Radical Union Movement by Joseph R. Conlin; “Big Bill Haywood” by Melvyn Dubofsky.


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