Ten Persistent Myths About the Bisbee Deportation

(The first in a series on ten installments)

Despite the extraordinary events that occurred 102 years ago in Bisbee, Arizona, and a plethora of evidence vindicating and justifying the actions of those involved in the roundup and deportation of members of a radical anarchist organization who were actively engaged in an attempt to deprive the United States of the copper resources it desperately needed to win the war, insidious elements of our society continue to re-write history and perpetuate myths about what should be remembered as a valiant and successful campaign to rid the district of people who not only wanted to bring harm to Bisbee, but tried their best to bring about the defeat of the United States in the Great War. The more you read history the more you realize that many things never change. More than one hundred years ago there were forces at work to undermine the well-being of the United States, and those very same forces are at work today. One can see their poison and lies at work in the condemnation of our founding fathers, the removal of Civil War monuments, and the portrayal of the United States as a force for evil in the world. I have been told that my book Law of Necessity is a bit slanted in favor of the deportation. That is an understatement. The book, and I, wholeheartedly endorse the deportation and I believe it to be one of the most misunderstood and misrepresented chapters in the history of our great nation. I also believe that any time a group of people threatens the well-being of our country that they should be stopped by any means humanely possible.

“The Truth Shall Set You Free”

I used the words of Jesus Christ, taken from Matthew 8:32, as the title of Chapter 9 in Law of Necessity. The truth of this statement cannot be over-emphasized. I realize that not everyone can afford the luxury of researching the events of the past to the extent that I did while researching this novel. I spent a lot of time impartially studying the incident and personally visited the sites where it all happened and often discussed the deportation with a former Cochise County sheriff and older members of the community who knew people who had been deported. However, many, if not most people who expound on the subject either don’t know what they’re talking about or are purposely misinterpreting the facts of what really happened in July of 1917. I have made previous blogs referring to my perceived justification of the roundup and deportation of 1,186 souls, but I would like to further elaborate and add verification for my claims.

The other night I watched a program on television about researchers investigating Bisbee’s past, and of course the subject of how (paraphrasing) “those mean, intolerant townspeople formed a brutal mob and ran those poor, innocent miners out of town and dumped them in the New Mexico desert.”  I got so disgusted with the misrepresentation of what really happened that I changed channels. Also, Bisbee recently “re-enacted” the Deportation on its 100th anniversary and a recent film appears to side with the deportees. A novel written some time back obviously sides with the deportees and makes Sheriff Harry C. Wheeler, a true American hero if there ever was one, look like a complete buffoon, stooge, and idiot. I could find little or no facts in the novel and, unlike my novel, most of the events never happened (the author acknowledges this). So, removing any pre-conceived notions and bias instilled by decades of Left-wing lies, misinformation and revisionist history, let’s examine the first of ten installments revealing what really happened in Bisbee that tempestuous summer of 1917.

Myth #1: The Deportation Was Illegal

In The Truth About Bisbee, written by Samuel Morse, it is documented that “the case went to the Supreme Court and that court held that the defendants were NOT GUILTY of violating the Civil Rights Act, the federal statute under which the indictment had been framed.” In fact, the matter went through the state and federal courts, and resulted in ACQUITTAL in BOTH courts.

In the case of “Brown vs. Wooton,” Harry Wooton and, by implication, Sheriff Harry Wheeler and his deputies were found NOT GUILTY of kidnapping Fred Brown and the 1,100+ other deportees on July 12, 1917. It was decided unanimously by jury (more on the jury will be revealed in the eighth posting) that they acted under the “Law of Necessity,” under which they believed the imminent threat that Bisbee faced justified taking the men against their will and removing them from the district. They correctly believed that greater harm would have come by NOT removing the men, who were making life unbearable for the citizens of Bisbee, and there was much evidence that an attack on the city was imminent. Listen to excerpts from some of the jurors’ statements, which will be examined in detail later (emphasis mine):

“The testimony of the witnesses… showed conclusively that Bisbee had become a volcano, liable to burst into eruption without a minute’s warning.”

“The verdict of the jury is a vindication of the deportation, if not in the legal sense, at least in the moral sense. No man could listen to the evidence adduced during the trial without feeling that the people of Bisbee were in imminent danger, and that, if their fears were ungrounded, yet they were apparently real and pressing.”

“It was shown beyond the possibility of a doubt that the people of Bisbee were menaced, and that they took the only step they believed could furnish relief.”

“I believe that any unbiased jury would have been convinced that the deportation was the only available means to avert bloodshed and destruction of property in the Warren District.”

“The evidence showed, in my opinion, that the citizens of Bisbee only beat the strikers to it by a few days.”

“There could be no doubt in the mind of any reasonable man that the people of Bisbee were menaced and that they took the only way out of the danger as the necessities of the circumstances held out to them.”

Any reasonable, honest person who examines the facts will come to the conclusion that the Bisbee Deportation was absolutely justified and was the only way to avoid a greater tragedy. Many of the jurors in the Brown vs. Wootton case believed beyond the possibility of a doubt that Harry Wootton (named Henry in my novel to avoid confusing him with Sheriff Harry Wheeler), Sheriff Wheeler, and the deputies were fully justified in deporting those whom they considered a very real threat to their safety and livelihoods. Please read the link on this website to The Truth About Bisbee to learn more about the background of the deportation.

Next installment: Myth #2: The Deportation Was Unjustified.

Myth #2: The Deportation Was Unjustified

The strikers had threatened to blow people up in their homes, workers were being assaulted and beaten on their way to work, and the illegal strike threatened the nation’s copper supply in a time of war. If the deportation was unjustified, then all acts of self-defense are unjustified and we all may as well surrender our lives, property and safety to those evil elements who would take them from us. Many will never be convinced that the deportation was justified because it was a righteous, crushing defeat for Left-wing, anti-American forces in this nation, who are by their very nature liars and never acknowledge wrongdoing.

Justification #1: The illegal strike threatened the nation’s copper supply in a time of war.

Justification #2: People in the district were being harassed, intimidated, threatened, and assaulted.

Justification #3: The strikers represented a small percentage of the working population, most of whom simply wanted to get back to work and support their families. This had become impossibly by July of 1917 in Bisbee.

Next installment: Myth #3: The Deportation Was Immoral

Myth #3: The Deportation Was Immoral

I realize that I will never be able justify the deportation to the opposition on moral grounds. If you don’t believe that defending the interests of the greatest home of freedom in the history of the earth is moral, that to protect your home and family is moral, and protecting your livelihood is moral, you are a lost soul and no amount of reason will change your mind. Refer to the epigraph preceding Chapter 16 in my book, Law of Necessity, in which a darling of the Left and founding member of the ACLU, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, states, “I am not going to attempt to justify sabotage on any moral ground. If the workers consider that sabotage is necessary, that in itself makes sabotage moral. Its necessity is its excuse for existence.” The sheriff and citizens of the district were dealing with an enemy who was amoral. No amount of sweet talk or coddling could appease them. Removal of the cancer was the only viable option.

Myth #4: The Deportees Were Treated Inhumanely

There were only two people killed during the entire ordeal. One was Orson McRae, a deputy, and James Brew, a striking mine worker who shot and killed McRae. Considering the magnitude of the roundup and deportation it is a credit to the men who conducted it that there were so few deaths, and remarkably few injuries. There are conflicting reports as to whether the deportees were given food and water. Some say they were, others that they weren’t. It has been said that the Wobblies petulantly threw the food and water out of their rail cars as the train left the Warren Ball Park. I tend to believe that they were offered at least water, otherwise many of them would have been sickened or died on the trip to Columbus, New Mexico in the 100 degree July heat. A strong indicator that rough treatment of the deportees was the exception rather than the rule comes from the sworn testimony of Dr. Micolo V. Alesse, who ran the cantonment hospital at Camp Furlong in Columbus, New Mexico, where the deportees were housed. He stated under oath that one man had a scalp wound, that two or three came to the hospital with bruises, a few complained of headaches, and twenty to twenty-five sought treatment for venereal diseases.

Myth #5: The Families of the Deported Men Were Left to Fend For Themselves

I refer again to Samuel Morse’s The Truth About Bisbee:

“Another fact which may be kept in mind is that the town of Bisbee raised $80,000.00 for the care of families and relatives of deported men. These people were maintained for months by the City, and were finally given transportation and expenses to any place they made request for, to meet their relatives who had been deported.”

The citizens of Bisbee raised $80,000 in 1917 dollars. That is roughly equal to $1,732,800 in today’s dollars. Assuming an estimated population at the time of 8,000 (not including the deportees), that amounts to about $10 donated from every man, woman, and child in Bisbee (about $217 in today’s dollars). How often do people donate that much today to charity? Does this paint the townspeople as callous and uncaring, as most of today’s writers on the deportation would have you believe?

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James Rhodes Posted on

James Rhodes was born in Riverside, California in 1960. He has written and illustrated numerous short stories, and illustrated "Master Your Migraine" for Ron Lange, published in 1996. Law of Necessity is his first novel and is the result of years of research. He currently lives in Prescott Valley, Arizona with his wife, Kathy.

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