Far and away the most authoritative book, and indeed the only book which treats the entire incident, is Wobbly War: The Centralia Story by John McClelland, Jr. The events in Centralia resulting in the trial are best understood by quoting extensively and summarizing the key facts from his book.
The celebration of the first Armistice Day in Centralia was planned only four days in advance. Members of the Grant Hodge post met in the Elks hall on November 7 and decided it would be “strictly a military day.” They agreed to wear their uniforms. Everyone who had an American flag was to display it. And of course there would be a parade followed by a patriotic program.
The line of march would be led by the Elks band followed by the Mexican border veterans, Spanish-American War veterans, Boy Scouts, Red Cross, Salvation Army, Elks lodges of both Centralia and Chehalis, and any others who wanted to march and show their patriotism. The Chehalis and Centralia Legionnaires would be the last of the marching groups. The parade route was north on Tower to Third Street, then back the same way to the high school, where a speaker was to give an oration.
The edition of the Chronicle reporting these parade plans contained an editorial quoting a ringing resolution adopted at the recent Elks national convention pledging “all lawful means to combat the IWW and kindred organizations.” But lawful means were lacking in Centralia, or so city and county officials decided. There remained another way, used before in Centralia when action was called for and good men with right on their side were willing to act.
Raids on IWW halls in the Northwest were so numerous and effective that by the fall of 1919 few were left. In the war on Wobblies the opening of a hall in Centralia was regarded as a setback and so it was a surprise to no one, including the IWW, when plans to do something about it were openly discussed and reported. Unless law officers intervened, a raid was sure to come. It was only a question of when.
Raids were easy. No weapons were necessary. Raiders simply kicked in the door if it was locked, pushed any Wobblies on hand out into the street, then took everything that could be lifted or burned or smashed it. With a small hall like the one on Tower Avenue a raid could be over in minutes.
But when should it take place? The fact that the parade route was unprecedentedly long—all the way to Third Street before turning around, a route which would cause the parade to go past the IWW hall, located between Second and Third, going and coming—was often cited as evidence that Legionnaires decided in advance that a quick raid on the hall could be accomplished as a part of the patriotic events of Armistice Day. Parades in prior years had turned at First Street.
In any planning that was done, Legion leaders were in the forefront. Dr. Livingstone, the Legion commander, was the chairman of the Citizens Protective Association and held the office of leading knight in the Elks lodge. Warren Grimm, who succeeded Livingstone as commander of the Legion post, was a committee chairman in the protective association. Leslie Hughes, the police chief, was chaplain of the Legion, and C.D. Cunningham was historian.
It was clear that the law was not going to provide any protection. If a mob attacked, the Wobblies would have to provide their own defense, if there was to be any.
As Armistice Day neared, the men discussed their plight, and their courage improved. They convinced themselves that the hall had to be defended. Furthermore they felt challenged. The protective association, with its bold meetings reported in the press, seemed to be announcing its intentions to make an assault.
On Saturday night, the Wobblies gathered in their hall to talk about what they were going to do.
On Sunday a general meeting, open to all was held. After the meeting those who remained talked again about defense of the hall. The defense strategy was to catch them in a cross fire. Some defenders would station themselves in upstairs rooms of the rooming houses in the neighborhood where they could get a clear shot at anyone attacking the hall from the front. The Arnold and the Avalon were the closest. The Wobblies decided they had better be ready when the parade came by. Britt Smith quoted Elmer as saying, “’Britt, they are going to raid the hall. What are you going to do about it?’ I said that if they started to raid the hall, we were here, and by that I meant we were going to protect the place.”
Seven Wobblies chose to stay where the action would be, if there were any—in the hall itself. Four of these were willing to fight with guns if need be. . .Britt Smith had to stay in the hall. It was his home. And as the paid secretary of the local IWW unit, he was regarded as the chief of the local Wobblies. He had a revolver. Bland and Lamb, walking home after the Sunday night meeting, made their decision. The hall ought to be defended and they would help. They rented a room in the Arnold, almost directly opposite the hall, and went there on Armistice Day. Bland took a rifle. Lamb went unarmed.
Jack Davis was to be in the Avalon Hotel.
Ben Casagranda, an enlisted man, had come back from service overseas and opened a shoeshine parlor. He married and was living in an apartment on Center Street. His wife said she wasn’t feeling well on November 11 and didn’t intend to watch the parade. “You’d better go,” her husband said. “This may be the last time you will see me.” Then he kissed her goodbye and left. Mrs. Casagranda recalled that “afterward, when I thought over what Ben had said, I became worried and finally decided to go downtown and ask him not to march in the parade. I hurried down Tower but I was too late. The parade was going by and I found that Ben was among the marchers.”