The Jerome Deportation
Although the Bisbee Deportation is better documented, the Jerome Deportation was the precursor for what was to follow on July 12, 1917, when more than 1,100 men were rounded up in Bisbee and transported to Columbus, New Mexico.
Prior to 1901 the Arizona mining industry was financed and controlled by eastern investors. The town of Jerome is named for Eugene Jerome, a New York attorney who invested capital to purchase the claim that started it all.
Beginning in 1901 when President William McKinley was assassinated and Theodore Roosevelt was sworn in as the 26th president of the United States, there was a fifteen-year decline in popular support for business and industry and a rising national sympathy for labor. Unions gathered strength and moved west.
The United States declared war on Germany on April 6th, 1917 and entered World War I, creating a higher demand for copper and sending prices to an all time high. The unions, aware of the economic upturn, demanded higher pay ($5.25/day), recognition of the union and a grievance committe. As labor unrest grew, the copper companies, though former rivals, mounted a counter-offensive against the unions under the leadership of Walter Douglas.
In the patriotic fervor the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) was feared and hated as pro-German, socialist and radical. Throughout the United States the IWW encountered opposition. In Arizona the “Wobblies” were accused of targeting the west, with its hungry itinerant laborers, as a prime target for its anarchistic movement.
By May of 1917 all of the twenty or so mines in Jerome were affected by strikes. The strikes that led to the deportation were complicated by the rivalry between the IWW and the AFL’s Mine Mill and Smelter Workers (MMSW). The power struggle between them left the working-class community in the district bitterly divided.
A third labor union, the Liga Protectura Latina, representing about 500 Mexican miners, complicated the mix with their own demands.
As spring turned into summer, the Wobblies made increasing demands and tension increased. By the end of June a statewide copper mine strike was underway.
On July 6 the Metal Mine Workers Industrial Union, said to be an upstart of the IWW, was on strike at Jerome, along with some members of the established MMSW. But the following day, local membership of the MMSW voted overwhelmingly not to join the strike.
That decision brought on the Jerome Deportation. On the afternoon of July 9, several hundred men, many of them members of the Jerome Miners Union signed their names to a roster of “emergency volunteers.” That evening at a secret meeting held at the Jerome High School, union members and citizens in general made plans to “clean the town” and restore order. The deportation was to be a citizen’s affair. No one was deputized. The UV Copper Company provided two cattle cars for the deportees. The vigilantes agreed to identify themselves with white handkerchiefs tied around their arms.
By 4:00 am on Tuesday, July 10th, over two hundred men armed with rifles, pick handles and “billies” swarmed over and into any place where the Wobblies might bed down, and about a hundred thirty-five men were rounded up. Each man received a “trial.” A few were pardoned by mine supervisors who vouched for them, but were instructed to “keep their mouths shut.”
Seventy-five men were loaded into cattle cars. As the gates were lifted and the men climbed in, there was considerable horseplay. One man had waited until the last minute to state that he was leaving behind four children, the youngest of whom was only four days old. He was told that he had had his chance and that it was “too late.” The cattle car playfulness subsided. As the train pulled out, several deportees shouted that that they would be back, but probably only a handful ever saw Jerome again.
Some escaped along the way, and the rest were released near Kingman with orders not to return to Jerome. The Deportations of the summer of 1917 poisoned labor-industry relations in Arizona for many years.
The vigilantes and their supporters justified the deportation as a legitimate act of a community protecting itself from traitors, spies and anarchists who were determined to undermine the war effort.