It was a rather quiet night in the small mining town of Butte, Montana. The owner of the settlement’s only hotel was a quaint old lady, who was sitting at the front desk, half asleep in her comfortably old-fashioned rocking chair. She suddenly woke up when five men walked hastily through the front door. Startled by the sudden intruders, she gathered some courage to ask the question as all five of them were giving her a look like she owed their boss some money.
“Whooo…are you?? What do you want??”
“We are officers, and we want Frank Little. What room is he in?”
The men were dressed in some sort of black uniform that was not of any particular regular government issue kind, and their faces were riddled with mustaches and beards. They had looks of bucko mates that you would never want to meet in a dark alley. She was hesitant at 1st to cooperate but when she saw the gents were packing, she gave into their wishes. She timidly pointed down the hallway signaling where he was resting for the night.
“Uhhh, Room 12.”
The group of men jetted quickly down the corridor as if they just stole from J.P. Morgan and Co. They charged into the room as quickly as they ran in. Inside there was a middle-aged scruffy chap wrapped in blankets who was deep in slumber. Three of the intruders held down the sleeping man. With a towel from the room, and some rope, the other two tied up and gagged him good. Right there he was as helpless as a crab on its back and still in his night clothes, which was nothing more than his underwear really. Once completely gone, the three who pinned him down also carried him out of the sleeping quarters and as the other two went 1st to deal with anyone that would cause them trouble. Only the elderly lady was yelling at them as the plug-uglies made their escape outside to the sidewalk and their black Cadillac car parked by the street corner.
With the extra rope end that was used in tying him up, the gunsels ended up connecting it to the bumper of the car. They all got in the vehicle and drove at a tortoise-slow speed along main street. They could hear cries of pain from their human contraband, as the rocky unpaved roads were rough terrain for the man to handle. Their souls were as black as the paintjob of their fancy Tin Lizzie.
He was still gagged so his cries for help were being muffled. The only people awake at this time in town were the Micks who drank ‘till they could see the Virgin Mary. And they were just as useless as the kidnappee.
They drove for about 20 minutes until they reached the railroad trestle that traversed the river at the edge of town. They all got out of the automobile and tried to put a noose on their victim, but even after the torturous car ride, he fought with the gusto he had left and surprisingly fended the bastards offs. It was not until one of them used the butt of his piece to coldcock him. Then they slipped the rope on the unconsciousness fellow, tied a flawless hangman’s knot on the railroad track, pinned a note on his body, and threw him off the side and watched the body plummet like a sack of potatoes in the air until they could hear the snap of the neck.
On August 1, 1917 Frank Little was pronounced dead.
In the cornhusker state of Nebraska, a mild mannered Quaker man would court a Cherokee woman. Even though they came from what would be considered different worlds to most folk, their values, ethics and codes that they lived by were the same. Preaching peace, social justice, and equality, they would find a common ground.
They would bring 6 children into this world of unsteady times, and all of them were born red. One of them went by the name Frank Little, who went on to be one of most influential figures in American labor history. He was a Hard Rock Miner, Labor Organizer, Free Speech Advocate, War Dissenter, and a Legend.
Fremont, Colorado was your typical burg at the turn of the Century, especially in the Wild West. It was a company town, where people settled in the area to get jobs harvesting some sort of raw material. This area of Colorado was hard rock Shangri-la, and the autocrats thought sticking pieces of wood into land that has been there longer than their great grandparents would claim it as theirs, and apparently it works if you got a half-decent shyster. This brought thousands of able bodied men to the frontier for work. A handful of miners were having dinner at the local greasy spoon, where they were chit-chatting over the day’s events.
“We lost poor o’ Bill in the bridal chamber today, the cave-ins are getting’ more rampan’ since we’ve been going deeper.”
“ And with Uncle Yeltzin’s lungs giving out last week, us minners are dropin like flies..”
“He wasn’t even 30 years old, but seems like he was most senior out all of us.”
“And the money ain’t even that good.”
“But if quit, we aint eatin what we eatin’ right now.”
“ And if you trying telling the plutes about money stuff, they fire you and your name gets on the list of you ain’t finding no more work.”
While almost all of the miners were complaining about how the bosses exploit their workers so much, they made no effort in their mind to fix it as they thought one day their hard work will pay off and they would get that Pie in the Sky that preachers like to tell the poor. One man though, who went by the name of Frank Little, stood their quietly listening to the complaining. He was a young fellow from Nebraska, who moved to this part of America to embark in his journey of independence. He only had been working in the mines for a month but he understood what was happening as if he was there for years.
“You know there what the problem here is fellas….”
The man who spoke was someone of a different breed. As a kid, he wanted to learn how to read so he could the Little Red Book. His brother Alonzo organized immigrant farm workers in Southern California, Hank was in jail in Seattle for inciting riots, and brother Fredrick was a traveling guitar player who played for the workers of the world. His blood was red.
“…You’re not organized, one person who makes a demand is complaining, 1,000 people who make a demand is a force to be reckoned with.”
He began to preach the men about the power of unions, collective bargaining, and the thing the bosses and barons feared the most, strikes. He knew of a union that met the needs of the men, the Western Federation of Miners.
“ Miners have the most dangerous job in the world, and in today’s world, it might be the most lucrative job as well. We all should be gettin’ the damn treatment we deserve.”
“ Who’s going to confront the boss? It’s not like he is afraid of you, or any of us, we all be replaceable here.”
Frank smiled at that concern, he was amused. No way in the name of Mother Jones was he going to be intimated by those slimy pigs, they were going to fear him. He answered all the concerns from his colleagues, his blunt yet fiery nature made him a favorite out the miners and his ability to inspire direct action made him the agitator from hell for management. A Cherokee Communist, his blood was truly red.
“ Well, you see they think that we are so desperate for jobs and that they can play us like chickens fighting over feed, but we can have, and what we should strive for, is solidarity. Cooperation not competition. We are all brothers that make that fat son of a bitch who he is, he does not make us.”
The man from Nebraska slowly converted his workmates into card carrying union miners, where they fought for better pay, improved safety conditions, and job security in the an environment more fatal than most war trenches. His work as an organizer was so admired that he became a leader in the Western Federation of Miners.
The mining unions of the west soon became part of a bigger movement and in 1906, that movement was officially born. The founding convention of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) happened in Chicago and Frank Little was a conventioneer. His work with miners was so well respected that he was voted to take part in the original congress that drafted their constitution; his signature can be seen on the original document. One union for all, that was their slogan, and “Workers of the World Unite” was their motto. Wobblies, what members of the IWW are called, fought against the capitalist interests that plagued the sands of equality.
While some of his comrades spread their message of industrial syndicalism through pamphlets, books and newsletters, Frank preferred to be out in the battlefield. He never had a permanent residence and never married. He essentially had no ties to anyone, but just to the cause that is the working class. He was known as the hobo agitator.
The Free-Speech Advocate
A train arrives in the bordertown of Spokane, Washington. Spokane is thee transportation hub for the Pacific Northwest of the States, transporting goods and supplies from the Great West back east. Hordes of people got off the rattler, whether it is young strapping lads trying to find work or families moving here to start businesses, they were told the American Dream is here. However, far away from coach, two men who were riding the rail jumped off the cargo cars before the Shacks came and give them trouble. The men brushed off their dirty duds, put on their hats, and moseyed on towards town.
The city was booming, as the two gents walked down the main drag, they saw large buildings filled with all different kinds of business, to Balkan owned grocery stores, Chinese food joints, and even land prospecting supplies. One thing though that was a sight to be seen was the disturbing amount of boys in blue and soldiers on the streets. Common folk were the minority in terms of who you could see walking around in Spokane. The two men ended up walking down to skid row but it still continued to mirror what would be best described as an Austrian military state. Taking a gander at the scenery, the two gentlemen’s focus was taken elsewhere when a tall man wearing a white port uniform called for their attention from the alley adjacent to them.
“ Hey you two, come over here.”
Walking towards the lengthy fellow, the two men then introduced themselves.
“ My name is Frank Little, and my colleague righ’ here is James Cannon. Word on the grapevine here is that good people of Spokane can’t do anything.”
The lofty sea stiff eye’s had opened as if he was starting at something small in the distance. He knew who they were. They were walking delegates, card men, wobblies sent from the General Assembly. Wobblies who have dealt with these situations. He told the story of Spokane.
“ The governor is wealthy man who controls the commerce and the military here in Spokan’. Me and my boys at the dock were getting paid like dirt, and even though the city is exploding with business, not any of us has seen pay cent raise. So we tried to get a union going, along with the coal passers, plough jockeys, and boomer boys, but the governor sniffed it out and shut it down. He is not letting anyone talk about anything you know, no organizing, no pamphlets, and no meetings. And as you can see, he’s got a lot of boys in uniform.”
Pointing at all the young kids who signed away their life into martial slavery, the situation looked worse than Joe Hill’s murder trial. Frank though beamingly look at James, and glanced back at the port worker.
“You know comrade, this is more than worker’s rights, this is about free speech. Right to assembly is something that god damn Jefferson wanted fer us all.”
Frank is a man action, he is more brash than a bundle tosser who sees his last stack. Within 10 minutes of hearing the initial tale, He marched towards the edge of the main stem, right in the sight of the officers and the local newspaper building. He looked around to see who was around in the vicinity, and started to recite something.
“…We Hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, and they are all endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness…”
He went on for 30 long minutes, people walking by tried to pay no attention to him as they did not want to associate with him at all. He did not stop declaring his god given rights until a few soldiers came and tackled him, and arrested Frank for public disturbance, treason, and some other trumped up charges. Word reached the masses that Spokane, Washington was silencing free speech, and eventually public pressure forced the corrupt mayor to let the workers organize, a win for the wobblies.
He was in the can for 30 Days, and they say he never stopped pacing in his cell, not for one minute.
The Labor Organizer
A huge crowd of striking dock workers and iron miners congregated around the marketplace in Duluth, Minnesota. It was 1912, Labor relations have been at an all time low for the workers, as the company officials completely suppressed the right to organize. The man in the middle of the gathering was a representative from the Industrial Workers of the World, his name was Frank Little.
He was a stout and yet strong man who wore incredibly raggedy clothes. He was telling the tales of when he worked as a miner in Colorado, and how he and his fellow laborers were part of what became the strongest and most radical union in the country, the Western Federation of Miners. As much power as his oratating had, what was captivating the interest of the crowd more was Frank’s looks.
“Yes, many of you are probably looking at me, and seeing what those goons did to me.”
The right side of his face was completely bruised, indicative of a dishonorable beating. His eye on that side of the body too was bloodshot as the thugs probably clocked a red blood cell in his retina. His right arm was being braced by a crutch, as his leg was completely wrecked. Even with all of these ailments, he stood tall.
“Yeah they kidnapped, roughed me a bit, but because they are scared, scared of all of you, scared of change, scared of what it means for labor to be organized.”
Frank was no intellectual scholar or artist from Greenwich Village, he was born and raised to be scrappy and that is why he was loved. Fearless, even to the point of arrogance, he showed the capitalist attack dogs who threw him in prison, dark alleys, or the trunk of cars, that he wasn’t afraid. If he wasn’t afraid than the strikers wouldn’t be afraid. And if the strikers weren’t afraid, than the bosses should be.
Frank rose in the Ranks of the IWW, and become Chairman the General Executive Board in 1915. Here he and the wobblies would fight the biggest battle of their existence, World War I.
The War Dissenter
All over the country, radicals and leftists were debating whether the not the US involvement in Europe’s war should be supported or not. Ask Frank Little and he’ll tell you:
“The Great War, as it been named by the politicians and capitalists, is nothing but kings and despots using their slaveling citizens as pawns in their lethal games. Workers and Solidiers get nothing out of this dang conflict. We have to believe in solidarity, let ‘dem do their dirty work. Let the capitalists fight the battles and we will go into the munitions plants and see they get plenty of bullets.”
Most organizers did not want to encourage strikes or any labor negotiations during war time, as good ole’ Woodrow Wilson was willing to send the National Guard to break the disputes. For Frank and a few others in the IWW, this was best time to stir up trouble, as it would undermine a wealthy man’s war. However the large stakes would create deadly backlash for the wobblies.
It was no secret who killed Frank Little. The Anaconda Copper Company in Butte, Montana hired Pinkertons, thugs and hitmen of the wealthy, to slay the hobo agitator. He was one of many casualties of activists and revolutionary figures during these volatile of times. However the infallible Frank Little, who seemingly survived more battles than Napolean Bonaparte, met his maker in 1917.
In the few months before Frank’s Little murder, a young man named Conn Lowney would see the striking miners and the infamous organizer trek back from the mine to their housing. Conn worked in the barbershop but also was a proud card carrying member of the IWW, as with every working man, woman, and child in Butte.
One day three gentlemen walked into the shop, looking sharp with their slick and fancy coats coupled with their fedoras, Lowney knew that these chaps were from out of town but not scabs looking for work but something more evil. Scabs are pretty high on the list of evils though. The tallest one wished for a haircut but the other two were discussing something. Trying to get closer without being too suspicious, the young wobbly picked up his broom and started sweeping around the area of the gentlemen, but could only hear snippets of certain words. One being Little, and he knew what to do with that piece of gossip.
When the miner’s walked across the town that day after striking, Conn left his shop and looked frantically in the crowd for Frank Little. He found him lagging behind the crowd.
“Hey Frank, some city folk are in the shop and I herd them rumorin’ about you. I reckon you should be careful.”
The proud half-breed gave a smirk that was famous in the west, a smile that stood in the face of adversity and spit right back in its face. No matter what shape he was in, he always had an air of confidence with him that empowered the worker’s around him. He belted out a hearty laugh.
“ Don’t worry son, it won’t be the 1st time I gotta look out for mysef.”
The young lad was eased by Frank’s assurance, he looked up to the man and knew that he has been through the gutter and back, and back again. He returned inside the barbershop.
The next day Frank Little was found lynched on the nearby railroad trestle. A note was pinned to his mangled carcass , “…First and Last Warning.” Sadness and concern of more murders soon overtook the mood of the union town, especially for Conn Lowney. The criminal investigation was never properly investigated, but the townfolk knew who did it, but the law can be bought just as easily as apple pie.
That night, Conn would break into the police headquarters and he pinned a new sign on Frank’s body. It said:
“ Slained by Capitalist Interests for organizing and inspiring his fellow men.”
To this day, you can see that quote on his burial in Butte, Montana.
*This is a story I wrote back in my creative writing class in college, one of the better courses I took during my tenure at UOG. It's influenced by history, but the scenes are romanticized a bit and dialogue is speculation at best, but the themes and messages are all there. It is about Frank Little, a person I have blogged about before, a labor agitator and organizer at the turn of the 20th century. I enjoyed this piece a lot, it really was so much fun to write.
My days recently have been pretty packed, my Grandpa is trying to find every reason to blame for my Grandma's sub par health, but the actual reason/sickness. Wanted to play my Trombone too today but my Grandpa didn't want the noise inside the house. Bless his heart (She has impaired hearing). Had some laughs with them today which makes me happy to see them smile, I really do feel their love of me, and how they give me so much respect and courteous when I have my girlfriend visits Like, today, had a nice and expansive conversation today. Enjoyed each other's presence immensely as well.