Roundup in Gallup — Belen bound
(La Historia del Rio Abajo is a regular column about Valencia County history written by members of the Valencia County Historical Society.
The author of this month’s column is a professor of history at the University of New Mexico-Valencia Campus. He is the author of 17 books, including his newest, “Murder, Mystery, and Mayhem in the Rio Abajo,” co-edited with John Taylor and available for sale at the Los Lunas Museum of Heritage and Arts.
Information for this column was drawn from newspaper accounts and a dissertation on Gallup labor unions by Katharine Dawson.
Opinions expressed in this and all columns of La Historia del Rio Abajo are the author’s only and not necessarily those of the Valencia County Historical Society or any other group or individual.)
The citizens of Belen contributed to the American victory in World War I in many ways. Young men volunteered for service in the U.S. Army, Navy or Marines.
Residents bought Victory Bonds to help finance the war. Many gave to the Red Cross. Families conserved food by growing Victory Gardens and observing Meatless Mondays and Wheatless Wednesdays.
Hundreds attended patriotic rallies with stirring speeches and inspiring music. Everyone read the Belen News for the latest news from the front.
Belen’s role in the war was much like many other communities’ across the United States. But one event made Belen far different than most any town in the war years, 1917 to 1918.
For two days in mid 1917 Belen “hosted” 34 suspected radicals deported from the coal fields near Gallup in McKinley County.
Coal strike in Gallup
The deportation incident began in early July 1917 when more than 300 coal miners went out on strike against Gallup’s main coal mining producers: The Diamond Coal Company, the Gallup Southwestern Coal Company and the Gallup American Coal Company.
Led by the United Mine Workers, the miners struck to gain union recognition and better pay, among other demands.
Tensions ran high, especially because coal was an essential source of energy for railroads, factories and homes during the war. According to the Gallup Herald, “Every pound of coal that comes out of the mines is as good in this war as a pound of gunpowder … Every hour put in mining by a miner is as valuable … as the same time put in the trenches.”
Meanwhile, Gov. Washington E. Lindsey had appointed a Council of Defense in each of New Mexico’s 28 counties. The councils were created to help coordinate local war activities. Influenced by coal company officials, the McKinley County council charged that the Gallup coal miners’ strike had been taken over by radicals who planned to call a general strike and instigate violence in Gallup.
In fact, some believed that the strike was an act of treason, financed by German money. The council ordered McKinley County Sheriff R.L. Roberts to round up the alleged agitators and deport them by train on July 31, 1917.
Gallup’s alleged agitators were accused of being members of the most extreme labor organization of the early 20th century. Founded in 1905, the Industrial Workers of the World was an anarchist union reportedly bent on overthrowing capitalism with labor strikes and widespread violence.
An outspoken IWW leader, Frank Little, was about to be lynched by an angry mob in Butte, Mont., just as the events in Gallup began to unfold.
The idea of deporting suspected members of the IWW (known as Wobblies) was not new. Seventeen days before the roundup in Gallup, more than a thousand men had been rounded up and forced to leave the copper mining town of Bisbee, Ariz. Loaded onto freight cars with little food or water, the accused IWW members had been transported to New Mexico where they were dumped in the summer heat at an isolated location north of Columbus.
The U.S. Army had assisted the Bisbee refugees by building a small camp and by providing food and essential supplies. Although few of the deported men were members of the IWW, the events in Bisbee undoubtedly “inspired” the Council of Defense’s copycat acts in Gallup.
Roundup in Gallup
Sheriff Roberts carried out his orders to round up Gallup’s suspected IWW leaders on the hot summer evening of Tuesday, July 31. Two armed deputies found most of the unwary suspects in their homes and boarding houses scattered throughout town. None of the accused resisted and no violence pursued. In all, 34 were gathered up and confined in a makeshift “bullpen” between the McKinley County courthouse and jail.
A 35th suspect could not be found so the deputies arrested his pregnant wife and questioned her at her home and at the courthouse where she was kept in jail for several hours. Threatened with a gun and given the “third degree,” the woman could not — or would not — reveal her husband’s whereabouts. Despite her ordeal, she delivered a healthy baby by early August.
At 7 p.m. the “Gallup 34” were marched in pairs from the courthouse to the local train depot between two rows of deputies armed with pistols and Winchester rifles. Fearing that the accused radicals might attempt to escape, Horace Moses, the Gallup American Coal Company’s superintendent, followed in a truck driven by a company employee. Moses armed a machine gun mounted on the truck, keeping his weapon trained on the small procession moving slowly before him.
Efforts had been made to clear the route of onlookers. But several hundred local residents had heard of the roundup and had gathered at the depot to witness the unusual event.
The Santa Fe Railway’s eastbound Train No. 22 (ironically named The Missionary) was scheduled to leave Gallup at 7:15 p.m. that evening. Just prior to its departure, railroad workers attached an extra passenger car. The deportees were hustled on board the extra car and informed that they would be killed if they attempted to return to Gallup. Ten armed guards, five at each end of the car, accompanied the exiles.
Moments later the train lurched into motion and slowly gained speed toward an unknown destination in the night. Critics say that deputies in Gallup celebrated the men’s departure with shouts, gunshots and, later, drunken disorder. The exiles on board No. 22 claimed that their 10 guards got “gloriously drunk,” causing the men to fear for their lives.
Who were the deportees?
Who were the 34 men who were considered so dangerous that they were forced into exile to preserve law and order in their community?
We know the names and backgrounds of only a few in the diverse group.
The best known deportee was W.H. Hanns, the editor of the Gallup Independent and the Carbon City News, two of Gallup’s three newspapers.
Hardly a member of the IWW, Hanns had nevertheless supported the miners’ strike in his newspapers’ columns and editorials. He was in fact accused of planning the feared general strike at meetings held in his newspapers’ offices. Deporting him was seen as an effective way to defuse the strike and lessen his considerable influence.
Frank Hefferly was only slightly less well known. Hefferly was a UMW organizer who had been instrumental in starting and leading the miners’ strike. Clearly not a member of the IWW, Hefferly was nevertheless on the companies’ short list of hated enemies, as were two other UMW leaders, including Hefferly’s brother.
A fifth member of the exiled group was an Austrian immigrant. Frank Bauer’s offense had had nothing to do with the strike. Bauer was included because he had failed to register for the draft and was probably suspected of allegiance to the enemy. (Austria-Hungary was a German ally in World War I.) There was nothing in Bauer’s background to suggest that he was ever a member of the IWW.
A sixth innocuous suspect was arrested in a mine. In fact, Steve Katzman was digging coal when he was apprehended and escorted to the bullpen beside the local courthouse.
An unnamed farmer was probably the least dangerous of the Gallup 34. Living six miles south of Gallup, the farmer had come to town simply to buy a new pump.
Surprised to see armed men in town, the farmer had inquired about what was happening. His seemingly innocuous question somehow aroused suspicion; he was apprehended and placed with the other detained men. His team of horses remained tied behind the hardware store where he had gone to purchase his pump.
The remaining deportees included Italians, Frenchmen, Mexicans, Austrians and American-born residents, at least one of whom was a native of Gallup. Most were reputable, law-abiding citizens who had lived in Gallup for 20 years or more.
Established members of their community, many had families; several had savings accounts in Gallup’s banks. One was a railroad worker and another worked at the power plant in town.
A third of the deported men were members of the UMW, but none were card-carrying members of the IWW. As members of the UMW, they were as opposed to the IWW and its radical goals as were the coal companies themselves. The IWW only hurt the UMW’s mainstream goals and reputation, especially when labor’s opponents lumped all labor unions together to adversely influence public opinion.
Exiled in Belen
The Santa Fe’s Train No. 22 pulled into Belen in the dark of night at 11:45 p.m. A railroad night watchman stood guard over the men as they debarked from the train and took shelter under a large tree near the depot.
With pleasant summer weather, the night passed peacefully and without incident. On the following morning, residents of Belen awoke to the unexpected sight of nearly three dozen strangers left destitute near First Street.
News of the Gallup men’s arrival in Belen drew national attention. Most newspapers assumed that the coal companies’ accusations were true and that Gallup had freed itself of IWW troublemakers who had schemed to disrupt coal production just as the U.S. desperately needed the fuel in World War I.
No one questioned how Gallup’s purge of so-called troublemakers could somehow be considered beneficial for tranquil Belen where the men had been unceremoniously dumped.
The Gallup 34 were not destitute for long. Word of their plight reached national UMW leaders, who wired money to them via Western Union. Using these funds, the men ate at nearby restaurants, including, we presume, the Harvey House, located just north of the deportees’ encampment on First Street.
The refugees also looked for a building they might rent for shelter for however long they might stay in Belen. Required to remain in a group, renting separate rooms at local establishments like the Belen Hotel was not an option.
A photo of the men showed that they were “not an unhappy bunch,” in the words of one observer. They were nonetheless outraged by the treatment they had received in Gallup. In a telegram to Gov. Lindsey they declared: “We most emphatically protest against the brutal, outrageous action of Sheriff Roberts and imported professional gunmen who in contravention of law and constitution deported us from Gallup July 31. We were always peaceful and law abiding and no cause for such outrage….”
Concern for the exiles
Rumors regarding the deportees’ destiny spread in Gallup, Belen and beyond. Albuquerque prepared in case the deportees were sent there next. Expecting the worse, Albuquerque’s police chief announced, “We’ve got work for them,” by which he implied work on a chain gang.
Some observers believed that the deportees’ destination would be in far-off Raton. Some of the exiles spoke of going to Trinidad, Colo., once they heard rumors that they would be arrested if they stayed in New Mexico. A few left, but most remained in Belen.
A second night passed with no decision made or announced. John Becker Jr., the son of Belen’s richest merchant, visited the refugees’ make-shift encampment and telegraphed an Albuquerque newspaper that he was unable to find a single member of the IWW in the bunch.
Fellow UMW members did not sit by idly. In Gallup, many signed a petition vehemently protesting the deportation. In the small mining camp in Madrid, N.M., 400 UMW members employed by the Albuquerque and Cerrillos Coal Company voted to walk off work in a sympathy strike until the Gallup men were returned home safely.
Some newspapers began to change their earlier favorable views of the deportation, calling it an outrage and a clear abuse of American freedom. The Santa Fe New Mexican, for example, criticized the “hasty” deportation as “high-handed” behavior that could easily become an abusive “popular fad” if allowed to occur in one town after another.
Gov. Lindsey also shared a concern for the refugees, less because he was sympathetic to labor unions than because he believed that the McKinley County Council of Defense had overstepped its authority in ordering the roundup and deportation of American citizens.
A prudent leader, Lindsey had dispatched special investigator Fred Fornoff to report on the situation in Gallup. Soon after his arrival in McKinley County, Fornoff, a former commander of the New Mexico Mounted Police, told Lindsey that the refugees’ return to Gallup was essential if the coal strike was to be resolved anytime soon.
New Mexico’s status as an important source of wartime fuel would be in jeopardy if the conflict in Gallup lingered much longer.
Given Fornoff’s findings and suggestions, Lindsey ordered that the Gallup 34 be returned home immediately. The governor instructed Sheriff Roberts to protect the men’s rights and, rather than taking matters into his own hands, request assistance from the state if any future concern for safety arose.
Most importantly, Lindsey ordered a halt to all future deportations either into New Mexico or within the state. The chief executive knew that if he stood by and did nothing overzealous leaders in towns like Gallup could use deportations as a convenient means to rid themselves of “undesirables” of all kinds in the name of patriotic duty during the war.
Who knew where such vigilante activity might lead just when all attention was needed to defeat Germany and its allies in Europe? How could the United States and its allies claim to fight a war to make the world safe for freedom and democracy if American rights could not be protected at home?
End of a crisis
And so the Gallup men returned home on Aug. 4, having caused no disturbance during their three-day stay in Belen. Traveling westward on the Santa Fe’s Train No. 21, a quiet crowd of at least 200 local residents greeted the first group of 10 exiles.
Conditions in Gallup soon changed for the best. Perhaps pressured by Gov. Lindsey or embarrassed by the course of events that culminated in Belen, mining company officials agreed to negotiate with UMW leaders and the coal strike soon ended.
Five weeks after the deportation fiasco, many people of Gallup were said to “rejoice” by staging the first Labor March in town history. Hundreds of UMW members marched from their union headquarters to the local opera house to celebrate both their colleagues’ return and the recently resolved labor dispute.
In a colorful display, a miner carried a large American flag to lead the procession while other marchers carried small flags donated by a local store owner. Half of the miners wore carbon-lighted lamps on their hats, creating “one of the prettiest sights that anyone could wish to see,” according to the Carbon City News.
A labor rally at the opera house followed. A capacity crowd heard speeches by UMW leaders and by Gallup’s mayor (and New Mexico’s future governor) Arthur Hannett. Editor W.H. Hanns and his wife were guests of honor. American flags, red, white and blue bunting and a photo of President Woodrow Wilson decorated the hall, as if to prove the miners’ strong loyalty to the United States and its ongoing conflict overseas.
Not everyone in Gallup was pleased with the outcome of the deportation crisis. The Gallup Herald observed that there were still plenty of IWW members in Gallup “hanging around the street corners and the saloons at all times of the day,” refusing to work and discouraging others to work in the best interest of their community and the nation as a whole. In the Herald’s conservative opinion, IWW really stood for “I Won’t Work.”
Others continued to believe that a sinister alliance existed between the IWW and the enemy, led by Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm II. To these cynics, IWW also stood for “I Work for Wilhelm.” If there was a lesson to be learned about assuming the identity and beliefs of strangers, some in Gallup had yet to grasp it during World War I.
Back in Belen, conditions soon returned to normal, or as normal as things could be in wartime. It does not seem that the bustling little town was intentionally targeted as the destination for the Gallup 34. The unassuming railroad community had simply been a convenient destination decided on in the midst of a hurried series of events.
The out-of-towners from Gallup had been a curiosity — and a small source of “tourist” dollars — while they remained in the Hub City. As in everything they did in this era, the citizens of Belen dealt with a potentially volatile situation as admirably as possible while helping their nation finally win the Great War by November 1918.