The Everett Massacre
Sunday, November 5, 1916 marked the bloodiest battle in Pacific Northwest labor history. On that day, about 300 members of the Industrial Workers of the World (the I.W.W.) boarded the steamers Verona and Calista from Seattle and headed north toward Port Gardner Bay.
The I.W.W. (or Wobblies) planned a public demonstration in Everett that afternoon, to be held on the corner of Hewitt and Wetmore, a spot commonly used by street speakers. Hoping to gain converts to their dream of One Big Union, the Wobblies began street speaking in Everett during a local shingle weavers' strike, encountering brutal suppression by local law officers. Free speech soon became the dominant issue. The number of demonstrators and the violence of the response from law enforcement grew as the weeks wore on.
On November 5th, word reached Everett that a group of armed anarchists was coming to burn their town. 200 citizen deputies, under the authority of Snohomish County Sheriff Donald McRae, met to repel the invaders. The Verona arrived first, pulling in alongside the dock. McRae asked "Who is your leader?" When he was told "We are all leaders!", he informed passengers they could not land. A single shot was fired, followed by minutes of chaotic shooting. Whether the first shot came from boat or dock was never determined. Passengers aboard the Verona rushed to the opposite side of the ship, nearly capsizing the vessel. Bullets pierced the pilot house, and the Verona's captain struggled to back it out of port. The Calista returned to Seattle, without trying to land.
On the dock, deputies Jefferson Beard and Charles Curtis lay dying, and 20 others, including the sheriff, were wounded. On the Verona's deck, Wobblies Hugo Gerlot, Abraham Rabinowitz, Gus Johnson, and John Looney were dead, and Felix Baran lay dying. While the official I.W.W. toll was listed as 5 dead and 27 wounded, it's likely that as many as 12 Wobblies lost their lives, their bodies surreptitiously recovered from the bay at a later date.
National Guard troops were sent to Everett and Seattle, and terror hung over Everett for days. 74 Wobbly passengers aboard the two steamers were arrested upon their return to Seattle and were eventually taken to the Snohomish County jail in Everett. All were released but one: teamster Thomas Tracy. Tracy was charged with murdering deputies Curtis and Beard, but was acquitted after a dramatic and much-publicized trial. Wobbly trial lawyer Charles Vanderveer counted this as one of the notable victories of his career, and it may have been the high-water mark of I.W.W. activity in the Northwest.
In hindsight one can see that a confrontation had been in the making for some time. Everett was an industrial mill town, with a predominance of lumber and shingle mills. Workers faced long hours in dangerous working conditions. Accidents were so common that it was said a shingle weaver could be recognized by his missing fingers, lost in accidents with unguarded saws. Cedar dust permeated the workplace, and many workers contracted "cedar asthma." Some lost their lives in horrible industrial accidents. The shingle economy operated in boom and bust cycles and wages were unsteady. For these reasons, much of the city's male work force was unionized by the early 1900s. Labor support was so strong in Everett that in January of 1909 the region's Labor Journal began publication from the local union hall on Lombard, and Everett gained regional prominence for its union strength.
In spring of 1916 the shingle economy had recovered from a sharp recession, yet workers in Everett mills were not receiving scale pay. They struck in hopes of regaining their 1914 wage scale. Proud of their status as trades workers, they were often at odds with the radical Wobblies who wanted to create a union that included unskilled workers in their ranks. The Wobblies had come to Everett to proclaim their message on numerous occasions. A group of 40 street-speaking Wobblies had been taken by deputies to an area known as Beverly Park where they were brutally beaten and told to get out of town. Despite severe injuries some were forced to walk the 25-mile interurban track to Seattle. The Wobblies vowed to return, in greater number, to show solidarity for their cause. Clearly neither side expected that the escalating confrontations would culminate in the tragedy remembered as The Everett Massacre; Everett's Bloody Sunday.