Frank Little and the IWW: The Blood That Stained an American Family

Frank Little and the IWW: The Blood That Stained an American Family

by Jane Little Botkin


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Franklin Henry Little (1878–1917), an organizer for the Western Federation of Miners and the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), fought in some of the early twentieth century’s most contentious labor and free-speech struggles. Following his lynching in Butte, Montana, his life and legacy became shrouded in tragedy and family secrets. In Frank Little and the IWW, author Jane Little Botkin chronicles her great-granduncle’s fascinating life and reveals its connections to the history of American labor and the first Red Scare.

Beginning with Little’s childhood in Missouri and territorial Oklahoma, Botkin recounts his evolution as a renowned organizer and agitator on behalf of workers in corporate agriculture, oil, logging, and mining. Frank Little traveled the West and Midwest to gather workers beneath the banner of the Wobblies (as IWW members were known), making soapbox speeches on city street corners, organizing strikes, and writing polemics against unfair labor practices. His brother and sister-in-law also joined the fight for labor, but it was Frank who led the charge—and who was regularly threatened, incarcerated, and assaulted for his efforts. In his final battles in Arizona and Montana, Botkin shows, Little and the IWW leadership faced their strongest opponent yet as powerful copper magnates countered union efforts with deep-laid networks of spies and gunmen, an antilabor press, and local vigilantes.

For a time, Frank Little’s murder became a rallying cry for the IWW. But after the United States entered the Great War and Congress passed the Sedition Act (1918) to ensure support for the war effort, many politicians and corporations used the act to target labor “radicals,” squelch dissent, and inspire vigilantism. Like other wage-working families smeared with the traitor label, the Little family endured raids, arrests, and indictments in IWW trials.

Having scoured the West for firsthand sources in family, library, and museum collections, Botkin melds the personal narrative of an American family with the story of the labor movements that once shook the nation to its core. In doing so, she throws into sharp relief the lingering consequences of political repression.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780806163079
Publisher: University of Oklahoma Press
Publication date: 04/08/2019
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 516
Sales rank: 602,782
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Award-winning author Jane Little Botkin served as a public school teacher for thirty years before turning to historical investigation and writing. As a high school teacher, she supervised the compilation of fifteen volumes of the student publication A History of Dripping Springs and Hays County (1993­–2008), a valuable resource for Texas researchers. In 2008 the Texas state legislature honored her career in education by formal resolution. Botkin continues to contribute to local historic preservation in the Texas Hill Country and New Mexico’s White Mountain Wilderness. Her book Frank Little and the IWW has won two Spur Awards from the Western Writers of America, the Caroline Bancroft History Prize from the Western History and Genealogy Department of the Denver Public Library, and the Best Historical Nonfiction Award from the Texas Association of Authors. She is currently working on a biography of labor organizer Jane Street.

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Frank Little and the IWW

The Blood That Stained An American Family

By Jane Little Botkin


Copyright © 2017 Jane Little Botkin
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8061-5791-7



When Walter Raleigh Little drove his wagon southwest over the red prairie dirt in the summer of 1889, he was determined to establish a new home for his extended family. Now fifty years old, he had left behind at least three medical practices in Missouri, as wanderlust and the prospect of life in a new state beckoned him to the Unassigned Lands in what would eventually be Oklahoma. On April 22, he had claimed 160 acres of land, free for the taking, in the first Oklahoma Land Run. After living in Indian Territory to the east for the past five years, he could now take legal residence in the newly formed Oklahoma Territory.

Walter was born March 20, 1839, near Vermont, Fulton County, Illinois. His father, Patrick Sullivan Little, was supposedly of Irish descent, but Walter's mother, Mary Ann Riley, was definitely Scots-Irish, her ancestors having immigrated to the United States in 1740 from Belfast, Ireland. It is with her ancestry that the Little family most identified, originating ruminations of relationships with Sir Walter Raleigh and Mary, Queen of Scots. One family member reminded her granddaughter that she was of Scottish ancestry and "to never be ashamed for they were from aristocracy."

Riding along with Walter in the jangling wagon were Almira, his wife of thirty years, and their youngest child, Bessie, who was almost six years old. Bessie wore her dark-blonde hair parted in the middle, a widow's peak crowning her heart-shaped face. Only a dimple in her chin spoiled the perfect heart's symmetry. Just four of Walter and Almira's nine children had survived to make the trek into Indian Territory. Bessie's sister Ora died before she was ten. She had been extremely tiny — still able to walk under tables when she was nine. Three-year-old James had also been left behind, buried in Fulton County.

Now two of the Littles' three surviving sons, impressionable boys at the onset of their teenage years, helped drive the wagon with family belongings packed tightly in trunks, firmly strapped to the wagon bed and side boards. They were also responsible for the livestock, lumbering behind, and nervous chickens, caged in pens. Walter Frederick, called Fred by his family, was almost fourteen years old, and his little brother Franklin Henry, or Frank, was eleven. Both boys' honey-colored heads were turning coffee brown, much like their suntanned skin, and their blue eyes belied any evidence of Cherokee blood. Fred and Frank were likely eager to make the journey to a new, wild frontier. Bessie, who adored her older brothers, would have absorbed their excitement. Years later she still embraced her relationships with them — until fear of retaliation silenced her voice.

An autumn palette best describes Oklahoma during the summer. Bluestem and Indian grasses, green in springtime, transform to burnished gold, dusty orange, and sienna brown, with various hues of ochre melding into one endless prairie as dry spells set in. Travel along cool, green creeks with their thin river birches and lanky sycamores was not possible in a wagon, and shade was a fleeting mirage, transmuted only upon entering meadows shielded beneath canopies of black walnut and pecan trees. Perspiration drenched the family's clothing within minutes, with only a momentary coolness to chill moisture droplets on faces and arms, a passing reminder of drier climates left behind. The family wagons, having left Ski-a-took (present-day Skiatook in Osage County) sometime after June 1889, rumbled over summer grass mounds, straw-like undergrowth rolled into the rusty soil by other eighty-niners looking for the most direct route to their land claims. The animals were urged along as they yanked mouths of crisp grass along the way.

The Little family had scraped by for the past four and a half years, living illegally in Indian Territory in anticipation of momentous land openings for settlement and this final trip to their staked claims. Sometime after November 1884, the family had left Burdett, Bates County, Missouri, settling first in Vinita, Indian Territory (now Craig County, northeast Oklahoma), and then in Ski-a-took, Indian Territory, both locations in the Cooweescoowee district of the Cherokee Nation. During these years, the children's unusual experiences enhanced their growth from early youth to adolescence. Most significant, their encounters shaped their values through identification with an ethnic mix of cultures. Years later Fred Little would describe his birth in Indian Territory, while Frank Little embellished even further — promoting his self-portrayal as a half-breed Indian, a deliberate stretch of the truth.

Twenty-five-year-old Oscar Ivanhoe Newland most likely accompanied the family on their trip from Missouri to Oklahoma since he had lived with them while employed as a farm laborer as early as 1880 in Grant, Cass County, Missouri. An orphan, he had shown up on Walter's doorstep one day looking for work. The family adopted him as their own, and he and Walter's eldest son, Alonzo "Lon" Carlton Little, became best friends. Oscar married Almira's niece Minnie Boyle in Indian Territory in 1886.

The newly incorporated Cherokee town of Vinita, a raucous shipping center for the thousands of brindle, black, and white longhorn cattle driven across Indian Territory's lush spring grasses, lay at the crossing of the first two railroads to enter what is now Oklahoma. A few miles east were major trails from the north and the east over which thousands of people traveled by horseback and wagons. The town was a logical destination for Walter and his family, who resided there about one year before moving to Ski-a-took and leaving Oscar Newland behind.

The trip to Ski-a-took was about fifty miles and took no more than three days. The family moved southwesterly by wagon, traveling among gentle, rolling hills. Osage Indians, living in colorful hide-and-canvas teepees dotting grassy valleys, welcomed thenoncitizens, as they could collect rents from them to pay for better government-built houses. Sitting under ancient walnuts, the old Ski-a-took trading post on Bird Creek was close to the line of the Cooweescoowee district and the Osage reservation.

Walter moved his family to Ski-a-took in part because of a Quaker mission school, which drew an influx of noncitizens whom the Cherokee Nation permitted to farm in the territory. Many of northeastern Oklahoma's most prominent men had been taught at the school. The decision would have a profound impact on Frank and Fred's moral compasses regarding fairness and relationships among diverse groups. Yet this was not their parents' sole reason for enrollment. After the 1884 death of Dr. George William Lloyd, who had negotiated with tribes to reserve a plot of land for Hillside Cemetery and Hillside Mission, a vacancy for a doctor opened. Walter Little could fill that void.

In 1886, eight-year-old Frank and eleven-year-old Fred moved with other students to a newly constructed, larger mission-school building on a hillside two miles north of the original school. The enormous white clapboard building, incongruous among Ski-a-took's log cabins and wood pens, had three floors with two wings for dormitories, their windows projecting like giant bug eyes. At this time the school was renamed Hillside Quaker Mission School but was commonly called Friends' Mission School. Rich or poor, white or American Indian, everyone was treated alike.

Frank and Fred's first teacher taught only six months before being replaced by Quakers John and Lisa Watson. The teachers' curriculum was "rather elastic" as courses were added as the school grew. Besides basic studies, including reading out of McGuffey Readers, the Watsons taught enrichment courses such as civil government, religion and dutiful responsibilities, general history, bookkeeping, and music. The mission school even had a literary society, to which all students belonged, providing a valuable scholarly culture and drill in parliamentary usage. Frank utilized the latter afterward as a member of the IWW's General Executive Board (GEB). The Watsons dedicated their lives to molding children into good neighbors and citizens while imbuing Quaker doctrine into students' young minds.

After the Civil War, a strong sentiment against violence and brutality had driven the Friends' Society to criticize the conduct of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. As a result, President Grant allotted control of the Indians' general condition and their affairs to the Friends' Society. By doing so, the federal government hoped to instill a more peaceable attitude among the tribes toward white settlement. This history with the Friends gave Quakers prestige among American Indians. Students at Hillside, including the Little boys, deeply adhered to the Quakers' pacifist convictions. This early formative education would influence Frank's later behavior among his peers. His attitude toward conscription during World War I, in particular, was partially shaped by this early Quaker schooling in pacifism, despite the martial tone of his hard, inflammatory words denouncing the Great War and challenging the capitalists who supported it.

Frank and Fred studied and played among Indian children for two more years in an area with little racial division among whites, Indians, and freedmen. Essentially all of them were settlers — many of Indian Territory's Native inhabitants were not even native to the area. The old mission school and its cemetery reflect a time during Oklahoma territorial days when prejudices were put aside for the purposes of education and evangelism.

The Little family, though, were likely considered intruders, individuals who illegally settled in Indian Territory and thus were subject to expulsion by federal troops unless they could produce a legal permit tied to economic development (such as ranching) or if they intermarried with a person of Indian blood. Tribal police regularly patrolled to see that these people had permits and to keep intruders from remaining within the Cherokee Nation. However, it is doubtful that Walter depended on his wife's heritage for residency.

Almira Hays Little privately professed American Indian ancestry to the family, although she was most certainly not a full-blood Indian, or even a half-blood. She was born in 1844 to shoemaker William "Billy" Carlton Hays and Julia Ann Williams in Fulton County, Illinois. Julia, who is believed to have possessed Cherokee blood, was born in Indiana in 1820 and died during the cholera outbreak of 1851. Little is known about Julia's background, but Almira acknowledged her noble Native ancestry, supposedly descending from a chief, when it bolstered her elevated position in the family and her condescension of her new daughter-in-law. Almira's photographs reveal a prim, slightly framed woman, her mouth a slash across her face, her nose hawk-like between high cheekbones. Aside from these Indian characteristics, she was rather fair. In all of Almira's images, her dark, deep-set eyes peer into the camera, one eyebrow raised if as to express her impatience with the photographer.

The overland journey toward a permanent homestead continued after Ski-a-took, this time to the free land that Walter had claimed in April 1889. Traveling separately to their new land claims were Walter and Almira's eldest son, Lon, a stout young man of twenty-eight years, and his new wife, nineteen-year-old Ella Evans Little. Lon had his own trap, consisting of a wagon and team of horses, a young colt, a cow, a pig, a plow, and the minimal household furnishings common to a newlywed couple.

Eleanor (Ella) Melissa Evans, daughter of a Methodist missionary in Indian Territory, was one of nine children — seven daughters and two sons. Her family had lived in a dugout near Ringo, Indian Territory, after moving from Boone Township, Bates County, Missouri, to minister to Cherokees and Delawares in the area. Her father, Rev. William Perry Evans, listed in 1883 as an intruder near present-day Ochelata, Washington County, Oklahoma, was a busy circuit rider. His limited attention to his daughters, as well as his wife Sarah's inadequate education, guaranteed Ella's shortcomings in both academics and genteel behavior. As family members report, Rev. Bill and Sarah Evans had their hands full trying to keep their daughters from going "behind the bushes with the Cherokee boys."

At some point before 1889, while awaiting the opening of the Unassigned Lands, the Little family had hired Ella as a servant in their Ski-a-took household. When Lon showed an interest in feisty, fair-haired Ella, Almira was not pleased, disdaining the girl's ignorance. She was not the only family member to scorn Ella. One family story tells how Fred and Frank were taught never to drink out of a glass someone else had used. To cause mischief, Ella, the "hired girl," would drink out of Fred's glass before serving him water. He would immediately throw a temper tantrum that she thought was funny. Despite his mother's objections to Ella's commonness, Lon married Ella on June 22, 1889, in northeastern Oklahoma, with Ella's father possibly officiating, immediately before they began the trek southwest. During the ensuing years, Ella proved to be an able bride for Lon with the requisite know-how and pioneering spirit, yet she and Almira continued to hate each other.

* * *

Washington Irving may have been the first to describe the geographic beauty and wealth of Oklahoma's natural resources after he made a hunting trip in 1834 to the territory. He afterward described Oklahoma's beauty in his sketch "A Tour of the Prairies." Later, newspaperman Milton Reynolds, writing under the name Kicking Bird as special correspondent for the Kansas City Times, coined the phrase "Land of the Fair God" during his coverage of a campaign to open the land for settlement. He was not the only journalist to propagandize Oklahoma's attributes. In 1885 other headlines painted Indian Territory as "the land where milk and honey flows" and the "garden spot of the continent" with "cattle, cattle, everywhere."

Although thousands of longhorn cattle roamed the territory, cattlemen who had leased lands there did not want settlers to encroach on their good arrangement, and they furiously lobbied against opening lands. On March 13, 1885, President Grover Cleveland issued a proclamation stating that anyone trespassing in Indian Territory would be arrested and that those who already lived illegally there needed to leave immediately or be evicted. Yet public reaction pressured opening land for settlement. With the passage of the General Allotment Act, or Dawes Act, on February 8, 1887, and subsequent creation of Oklahoma Territory, Indian Territory shrank to its final form: the Five Civilized Tribes (Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole) and the Quapaw Tract. These nations were assigned their own tribal areas, leaving a hole in the middle of Indian Territory. Known as the Unassigned Lands, this area further enticed white settlement since any land remaining after land allotments to individual Indians could become available for public sale.

Ignoring the presidential decree, people continued to flow to the border between Kansas and Indian Territory. They camped in tents and wagons while others, including the Little family, set up their camps within Indian Territory, evading patrolling federal troops. Many of these people were rootless settlers, folks who had failed at settlement elsewhere and were desperate for a second or third chance. Many were families that had never recovered their losses from the Civil War. Despite the government's attempts to restrict their settlement, contemporary newspapers prophesied that "Oklahoma will be wrested from barbarism and given to white settlement and civilization in the near future."

After enormous public outcry and squatters' aggressive attempts to settle in the Unassigned Lands, Congress attached a last-minute amendment to an Indian appropriations bill providing release of lands for homestead settlement in March 1889. Finally, the Unassigned Lands would be opened for settlement, beginning with the land run in which Walter and his eldest son participated. Under the provisions of the 1862 Homestead Act, families could claim 160 acres of public land. Those who had leased acreage in the area prior to the land runs, including the cattlemen and those who already had 160-acre homesteads, were not eligible to participate.

The first land run of the future Oklahoma Territory included almost three million acres in what would become the territorial counties of Canadian, Cleveland, Kingfisher, Logan, Oklahoma, and Payne. Perhaps 100,000 people vied for fewer than 12,000 quarter sections, 160-acre tracts that had previously been surveyed and marked by stones at each corner. Participants raced to drive a stake into a choice piece of land before a fellow "Boomer" could claim the property and then file claim in Guthrie, the new county seat.


Excerpted from Frank Little and the IWW by Jane Little Botkin. Copyright © 2017 Jane Little Botkin. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA PRESS.
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Table of Contents


List of Illustrations,
List of Abbreviations,
Part One. The Formative Years, 1884–1899,
1. Oklahoma, Land of the Fair God,
2. Hardscrabble, 1890–1894,
3. Outlaws and Heroes,
4. Emma and the Tramp Miner,
5. Cripple Creek, 1898–1899,
6. Broken Dreams,
Part Two. One Big Union, 1900–1916,
7. Bisbee, 1903,
8. The Visionaries, 1906,
9. The Organizer, 1906–1908,
10. The Four-Word Speech,
11. An Injury to One, 1909–1910,
12. Reds,
13. Fresno Free Speech Fight,
14. Trials and Truces,
15. Hallelujah! I'm a Bum!,
16. San Diego, 1912,
17. Midwest Folly,
18. Drumright, 1914,
19. Wilhelm's Warriors,
20. The Canary,
Part Three. The Dissolution, 1917–1920,
21. The Son-of-a-Bitch War,
22. The Vigilantes,
23. Butte, 1917,
24. Thirteen Days,
25. 3-7-77,
26. The Big Pinch,
27. Sleuths and Stool Pigeons,

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