The story of “Big Bill” Haywood draws like a magnet and twists and twirls like a deadly snake. It winds and loops its murderous way into the fabric of Cripple Creek history.
The son of a …
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The son of a former Pony Express rider, Haywood was born in Salt Lake City in 1869. His dad died when he was three and after he punctured his right eye in accident involving a pocket knife and a slingshot, he was forced by family economics to go to work in the mines before he was ten years old.
As an adult, the six-foot-three-inch, gruff, imposing and sometimes-volatile figure with a thunderous voice, and a milky dead eye that he never replaced with a glass one, became one of the most feared radicals in the American labor movement.
In 1902, Haywood and Charles Moyer assumed leadership of the Western Federation of Miners. In his own words from a speech in 1911 in New York City, Haywood noted the importance of the Cripple Creek strike.
“Then came the general strike in Cripple Creek, the strike that has become a household word in labor circles throughout the world. In Cripple Creek 5,000 men were on strike in sympathy with 45 men belonging to the Millmen's Union in Colorado City; 45 men who had been discharged simply because they were trying to improve their standard of living. By using the state troops and the influence of the Federal government they were able to man the mills in Colorado City with scab millmen; and after months of hardship, after 1,600 of our men had been arrested and placed in the Victor Armory in one single room that they called the "bullpen," after 400 of them had been loaded aboard special trains guarded by soldiers, shipped away from their homes, dumped out on the prairies down in New Mexico and Kansas; after the women who had taken up the work of distributing strike relief had been placed under arrest--we find then that they were able to man the mines with scabs, the mills running with scabs, the railroads conveying the ore from Cripple Creek to Colorado City run by union men--the connecting link of a proposition that was scabby at both ends! We were not thoroughly organized. There has been no time when there has been a general strike in this country.”
Haywood would wind up the striking miners with thunderous shouts of “Eight hours of work, eight hours of play, eight hours of sleep — eight hours a day.”
Haywood often had to travel in secret through the mining camps and he is widely blamed for inciting much of Colorado violence that culminated in the 1904 bombing of the railroad platform at Independence in which thirteen died.
Then, according to Faces of Protest web site, “Shortly after Christmas in 1905, former Idaho Governor Frank Steunenberg was returning to his home in Caldwell after a day in his nearby office. As he opened his garden gate a bomb exploded, shattering the forty-four-year-old Steunenberg’s body. He died within hours.”
“Local police quickly arrested a suspicious figure staying at the Caldwell hotel. He eventually was identified as Harry Orchard. Under grueling questioning by law enforcement and Pinkerton private detectives, Orchard confessed to being an assassin hired by the Western Federation of Miners.”
Orchard claimed the hit had been ordered by Charles Moyer, “Big Bill” Haywood and former board member George Pettibone.
The Pinkerton men secretly arrested the three in no-knock raids in Denver in 1906 and “extradited” them to Idaho. (It was reported at the time, Haywood was found sleeping with his sister-in-law.)
Billed as “the trial of the century,” Haywood was able to secure Clarence Darrow as his defense attorney, and pay for it with small donations from union members around the country. During the trial, Orchard also confessed to killing two men with a bomb in the Vindicator Mine, as well as many other murders for hire and sport.
Despite that testimony and amid suggestions that the trial was rigged, Haywood was acquitted. Darrow depicted Haywood as victim of mine-owners conspiring against him in order to silence him.
Leaving the Western Federation of Miners in 1908 to work with a more aggressive union, he channeled his efforts into Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), the “Wobblies.” By 1915 he had become the leader of the IWW and managed strikes in New Jersey and Washington State.
From the head of “Wobblies,” Haywood was said to advocate sabotage or “direct action” against employers refusing to recognize union organization efforts.
“Wobblies were explicit about their eventual goal of toppling capitalism, and many of their leaders, including Haywood, expressed open admiration for the young Soviet Union,” according to PBS documentary “The West.”
Haywood, in addition to his reputation as a solid socialist, was also known for his atheism. Christianity, he said, “was all nonsense, based on that profane compilation of fables called the Bible.”
Arrested during World War I and convicted of violating the federal espionage and sedition act by calling a strike during wartime, Haywood served a year in Leavenworth. While out on bail pending an appeal of that conviction, he fled the country and went to Moscow. There, he became a “trusted advisor” of the Bolshevik government. He was often used as spokesman for worker advancements claimed by Vladimir Lenin and other Marxist but some historians claim he soon became disenchanted with corruption and abuses of power.
Haywood died in 1928 and his ashes were divided and half were buried in a wall of honor at the Kremlin. Half were returned to the United States and buried at monument to American workers in Chicago.
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