Thurston-Lewis-Mason Central Labor Council
The Centralia Massacre Part 7
Updated On: Nov 19, 2021

One case above all others must have been on the minds of the prosecution, the defense, and the judge himself. This was the famous Everett massacre IWW trial, a nine week trial which took place in early 1917, arising from an exchange of gunfire between IWW members and law enforcement officials. As a result, two law enforcement officials and at least five IWW members or sympathizers were killed.

The gunfire took place on the waterfront of the city of Everett, a mill town located about about thirty miles north of Seattle. Seventy-four men were held for months before charges were finally filed against a few of them, and an actual trial was started against one of the seventy-four. The reason that the IWW became interested in Everett was due to a shingle weavers’ strike, which had many more members in the American Federation of Labor than in the IWW; however, the IWW had long found it profitable to “fish in troubled waters.” IWW members began to gather in Everett and made public speeches on behalf of the strikers. Some members of the business community countered by encouraging the sheriff, Donald R. McRae, to name approximately two hundred special deputy sheriffs whose job it would be to turn back IWW members who were trying to come into town.

The IWW members had done this in several cities or towns prior to this, and were not dissuaded by the show of force by the sheriff. The IWW opened a hall and became active. An official of one of the local lumber companies provided much of the leadership within the business community. It is important to note that the IWW members were usually not breaking any law when the newly sworn in deputies forced them to turn back. The sheriff and his deputies checked very carefully on nearly everyone entering the town to learn whether they were members or sympathizers of the IWW. Of course, attempts were made to evade the sheriff’s deputies. A group of IWW members and sympathizers went by train to the small town of Mukilteo, seven miles south of Everett. They then took a small vessel to Everett, but were intercepted by the sheriff and some of his deputies. Those aboard were hauled aboard the vessel the sheriff was on and taken to the jail for nine days.

Once again, a group of forty or so IWW members boarded a steamer on October 30, 1916 for Everett in an attempt to make speeches and agitate in favor of the strikers. A hundred or more deputies were waiting for them. The IWW members were transported a few miles south of the city to an area known as Beverly Park. The deputies formed a double line and forced the IWW members to run a gauntlet while they were beating at them with clubs or rifle butts. This presented a horrible scene with men bleeding and shouting and cursing. Eventually, the victims managed to board the interurban train, which ran between Everett and Seattle.

One can imagine how the other train passengers were shocked by seeing all of these bleeding and injured men stumbling aboard the train. The IWW did not give up, even after such a gross invasion of their civil rights under color of authority. The IWW chartered a vessel in Seattle called the Verona. Some of the men who boarded the Verona and a smaller accompanying steamer, the Calista, were armed because of what had taken place on their previous attempts to enter the city.

As the vessel approached the dock, they were accosted by three men: Sheriff McRae, Lieutenant Charles C. Curtis of the National Guard, and one of McRae’s deputies, Jefferson Beard. Sheriff McRae shouted, warning the passengers that they could not land in Everett. Shouts of disagreement came back from the passengers. Then a shot was fired.

It has been debated whether the first shot came from the dock or from the Verona. Sheriff McRae had a large number of uniformed men stationed back a slight distance from the edge of the dock to be used in the event the men defied the sheriff and actually attempted to disembark from the steamer. There was much gunfire coming from both directions. Sheriff McRae himself had a bullet strike his leg and his foot. The gunfire caused the passengers to rush to the side of the ship away from the dock, and this in turn caused the steamer to list so much that some passengers not only rolled across the deck, and through the railing and into the water. The Verona’s captain got the engines into reverse and freed the lines on the dock and was soon out of gun range. The passengers managed to warn those on the smaller vessel, the Calista, to turn back.

Two National Guard companies were sent to Everett. (One was Company M from Centralia.) It is possible that more people were killed since several passengers were in the water, but only five bodies of the IWW members and sympathizers were recovered. On shore, both Deputy Sheriff Beard and Lieutenant Curtis were killed. Law enforcement officials were waiting for the steamboat when it returned to Seattle, and seventy-four men were arrested. The two attorneys for the defendants were Fred H. Moore from Los Angeles and George F. Vanderveer of Seattle, the attorney who was now defending the Centralia Wobblies.

Contact Info
Thurston-Lewis-Mason Central Labor Council
PO Box 66
Olympia, WA 98507

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