Category Archives: News

“They Try to Create Despair Among the Miners”

One of the small treasures I brought back to New York from Lake Superior is Hannu Leppanen and Daniel Schneider’s 2013 letterpress edition of Tyomies, the Finnish workingman’s newspaper published during the strike of 1913. I’ve mentioned the project here before. Daniel set up his Chandler & Price Pilot Press at the Copper Country Community Arts Center in Hancock and turned out a limited edition broadside with the original Finnish text accompanied by an English translation.

I was lucky enough to cross paths with Daniel briefly at Michigan Tech last Thursday. I gave him copy of 1913 Massacre and he gave me his Tyomies.

No sooner did I open up the package than I came across the following passage:

Apparently, the bars of the city have already embarked to advocate the interests of the mining companies. In Italian and other language bars, it has been explained to the miners that the Finns have gone to work, and in Finnish bars people have been told that the Italians have not begun the strike. However, this is all a devious lie, by which means they try to create despair among the miners, and thus break their strike. Therefore, workers, do not believe what you are told in the bars. If you want to get information about the strike, you will get the right information in the union office.

This confusion of languages and the “despair” it caused helps put Tyomies in context. The union-busting disinformation campaign took advantage of the fact that many of the striking miners in 1913 could not communicate with others outside their own ethnic group. The plan — as someone in the audience at the DeVos Art Museum last Saturday remarked — was to generate and perpetuate distrust among the different ethnic groups: Italians vs. Finns, Croatians vs. Cornish, and so on.

As Arthur Thurner explains in Rebels on the Range, the Western Federation of Miners could not even try to organize the miners of the the Keweenaw until they found a way to counter these tactics. They had met with the same difficulties in a failed bid to organize the iron miners on the Mesabi Range in 1906 and 1907. Vincent St. John, a WFM board member, pointed to the need in 1906 for “competent organizers who speak Finnish, Italian, Austrian, Slovenian and Polish.”

One such organizer among the Italians of the Keweenaw was Teofilo Petriella, a veteran of the Mesabi range strike. In 1907, the Mesaba Ore denounced him as an “alien Dago anarchist.” His biographers in I Figli Della Campagna: Ensayos sobre la emigracion de los campanos en Argentina merely say that he was “stubborn” and that his political ideas often prevented him from getting work. (That echoes Petriella’s own self-description, which is preserved in the 1907 Proceedings of the WFM.)

Petriella and his wife Anita came to the United States in 1900, after he had had been fired for his politics from his job as a schoolteacher in Circello, a village in the Italian Campania, in the province of Benevento. He first got involved with IWW, then, in Minnesota, with the WFM. In 1913, we find him in Calumet, in the pay of the Socialist Party. His was probably a familiar face at the Italian Hall.

Teofilo Petriella, circa 1907, dressed for the Minnesota winter.

Teofilo Petriella, circa 1907, dressed for the Minnesota winter.

Check Out This Performance of ‘1913 Massacre’

After seeing our film, composer Rob Garcia was so taken with Woody’s song that he developed this original setting of “1913 Massacre.”

Here’s Rob Garcia’s Soap Box performing the song at the Brooklyn Society for Ethical Culture last month.

The Soap Box ensemble features:

Jean Rohe – vocals
Michel Gentile – flute
Todd Neufeld – guitar
Chris Tordini – bass
Rob Garcia – drums

Everyone Was In It


One of the enduring and iconic images of the 1913 strike is this photograph, of a boy carrying a sign that reads, “Papa Is Striking For Us.” Both the sign and the photograph were probably created by WFM organizers, who were pretty savvy when it came to media relations. (So, for instance, we learned that the WFM shot film of the Italian Hall funeral, which they used to stir public outrage; we looked for a long time but never managed to turn up a single frame of it.)

That’s not to say children did not feel genuine pride or admiration for their striking fathers. The children even followed their parents’ example. On the morning of October 6th, according to a local newspaper, nearly 500 pupils stayed home from school, on strike. “About 9 o’clock they formed a parade, marching about Ahmeek, yelling and employing tactics similar to those of their parents in a federation demonstration.”

And the children were already embroiled in the trouble: about a week after the children’s strike parade in Ahmeek, a group of children in Centennial Heights “attacked the home of a non-union man” and broke several windows.

That marching boy with the hand-painted sign may have helped the WFM win sympathy for the striking miners, but it’s just as important to realize that he was actually in the fight — striking for papa just as papa was striking for him. Children all around the Keweenaw were in it. Entire families were in it, whether they supported the strike or belonged to the Citizens Alliance or wanted nothing to do with either side. Everyone was in it.

“Unfinished Business”

Mike Ragogna interviews Nora Guthrie today on Huffington Post about her father and his music.

MR: Were there certain topics brought up in his material, such as the plight of the Mexican worker in “Deportees,” that resonated with you more than others?

NG: Woody wrote over 3000 songs for every aspect of life, a song to sing at each moment of the day, for every mood, for every step of life’s journey. So it’s impossible to single out any, as so many resonate at different moments in time…I grew up to understand what “Pretty Boy Floyd” was all about, and really began to appreciate his ability to tell a story that exists for all time, like “1913 Massacre.” Funny you should mention “Deportee.” On Labor Day, there was a dedication ceremony in Fresno, California, at the mass grave where the migrants who lost their lives were buried with no names. A young musician, Tim Hernandez, spent the last two years researching the story and actually found their names! So the dedication ceremony will finally list all their names. I’m so moved when moments like this happen. Woody wrote the song more than sixty years ago, but it was unfinished business. “All they will call you will be deportees” was his lament. Now, that is no longer the case. The same thing happened recently when two young filmmakers researched the story behind “1913 Massacre,” and made a documentary about the incident, also including all the names of the children and families that died. That film is currently being shown on some public television stations and film festival, and hopefully many people will want to learn more about what took place when the copper miners of Calumet, Michigan, decided to strike in 1913, and the consequences they suffered for their cause. “Pastures of Plenty” is just about the most singular piece of poetic writing ever in a lyric. A total work of art. Springsteen once said, “Nobody can write songs like that anymore.”

A Theme from Labor Day 1913

One hundred years ago today, in 1913, a crowd of almost 3000 people gathered in the sweltering heat at the municipal park in Hancock, Michigan for a Labor Day rally. It had been a difficult, violent summer, and there was no indication that the strike on the Copper Range was going to be settled anytime soon.

When George C. Bentley, a probate judge, addressed the crowd, it was to remind them that though they had every right to strike, they should remember that some kinds of persuasion were not permissible. He no doubt had in mind the taunting and beating of scabs in the street and the damage done to mining company property. Guy Miller, an organizer from the Western Federation of Miners, met this conciliatory gesture with a sharp rebuff. He rose and argued that “human rights were deserving of more consideration than property rights.”

Take some time to think about the theme and circumstances of Miller’s speech today. It seems to me a day dedicated to working people ought to be a day on which the basic human rights of all deserve more consideration than the property rights of the few.

Woody Guthrie dedicated one of the lesser-known verses of “This Land is Your Land” to the idea:

There was a big high wall there that tried to stop me;
Sign was painted, it said private property;
But on the back side it didn’t say nothing;
This land was made for you and me.

Women on the Verge of a Social Breakdown

womenmarchflagBy late August of 1913, authorities in Calumet were facing a problem that was “becoming more perplexing each day.” Women were mixing it up with strikebreakers, scabs, deputies and national guardsmen. “This development is perplexing,” read an article dated August 28th, “as the men are timid in resisting such attacks.” The women were “spitting in the faces of deputies and hurling curses and slurs upon the civil guards”; they “pummeled workmen returning to their homes from the mines,” and when one workman fought back, “this angered the dozen or more women in the crowd and a free-for-all melee followed.”

Brawling, spitting, cursing women — female furies loosed in the streets — came to stand for the social disorder that swept over Calumet in 1913. Local storyteller Jack Foster could think of no better way to communicate how bad things had gotten than to tell us, during the last interview we did with him, that in 1913 “you had women running around with brooms, dipped in the outhouses, slashing at you if you went to work. You can’t imagine what we went through here.” In Jack’s account, and in many popular accounts of the time, these women were something that ordinarily would be unimaginable.

But these were extraordinary times. The word often chosen to describe the problem these women in Calumet represented — perplexing — suggests a difficult entanglement of social logic. Things had gotten all mixed up, confounded. The women fighting in the streets were defying authority in all senses of the word: not just the deputized and enlisted forces of law and order, but also the social forces that ordinarily kept women in their place, or at least prevented them from roving in bands and taking over the streets.

First TV Broadcast of 1913 Massacre – Labor Day, 2013

We’re very happy to announce that 1913 Massacre will air on Twin Cities Public Television (tpt) over the 2013 Labor Day holiday.  This is the first television broadcast of the film.


On tpt Channel 2.1: Monday, September 2nd, at 11:00PM and Tuesday, September 3rd at 5:00AM.

On the Minnesota Channel (locally tptMN Channel 2.2): Monday at 12:00am, 6:00AM, 12:00PM, and 6:00PM

The online program listing is here.

If you are in the Minneapolis / St. Paul area, we hope you’ll tune in. And if you have friends or family in the area, please let them know!

Woody Guthrie, Mother Bloor and The New Marker at the Italian Hall Site

Here’s a recent local news story about the changing of the Michigan historical marker at the Italian Hall site in Calumet. The sign at the site no longer says that the doors of the Hall opened “inward,” as it did for years. As author Steve Lehto sees it, the story of the doors opening inward developed over time, to help people explain, and cope with, what seemed an inexplicable event.

Pete Seeger says in our film that Woody Guthrie took his version of events at the Hall from Mother Bloor’s autobiographical account of her years as a socialist organizer, We Are Many. Bloor had been working with Big Annie Clemenc and the ladies auxiliary to plan the party and she was there on Christmas Eve when the trouble started. She is careful to note in her account that “there were two doors to the box entry” of the Italian Hall, “both opening outward.” Here is the critical passsage from We Are Many.

What happened was this. In the panic a man with a child in his arms had fallen at the bottom of the stairs. There were two doors to the box entry, both opening outward. When the man fell, the child in his arms fell through one of the doors, out into the street. The deputies, who had been threatening to break up the entertainment, were standing outside of the door. They themselves had raised the cry of Fire! and knew what was happening. Someone, it was never known who, seeing the man sprawling on the threshold, quickly closed the door, and both doors were held shut from the outside, so that no one could get out.

Woody stayed pretty close to this account of the falling man and the doors held shut as he wrote his verse:

A few people rushed and it was only a few,
“It’s just the thugs and the scabs fooling you,”
A man grabbed his daughter and carried her down,
But the thugs held the door and he could not get out.

One important variation he made was to change Bloor’s passive — the doors were held shut — to the active: the thugs held the door.

Where Is Calumet?

It’s uncanny how this notice from a 1913 newspaper anticipates the opening scene of 1913 Massacre:

“Where is Calumet?”

That is a simple question, apparently. Almost anybody will say it is a thriving city up in the country where they blow open the earth with dynamite and wrest copper there from [sic] which makes some people rich and others strike.

“It is a city of about 35,000 people, with lots of hills and some mighty fine roads around about; roads made of trap rock, which is hard to crush either by a crusher or traffic; hence wears well.”

But the answer is not there. Calumet is a mirage city — it is here and it is not here. Calumet is the tomorrow of the country — it is always just ahead, yet it is not present. When you are in Calumet, you are in Red Jacket, but when you are in Red Jacket, you are not in Calumet. When you are in Calumet, you are in Laurium, but when you are in Laurium, you are not in Calumet.

How would you answer the question now?


Murder, Mother Jones and the Militia

By August of 1913, things in the Copper Country were really starting to heat up. The miners had been on strike since the end of July, and the strike was “gradually drifting,” in the words of the Calumet News, “towards its second stage, a period of guerilla warfare.”

The Michigan National Guard — over 2400 troops — were encamped near the Armory and in various locations. They conducted patrols, but were unable to keep the peace. Anyone carrying a dinner pail was likely to be attacked as a strikebreaker — spat upon, beaten, slapped around. There were shootings and somebody tried to dynamite the Red Jacket shaft. When a posse of deputy sheriffs arrived at a Hungarian boarding house near Wolverine, they were fired upon, doused with red pepper, scalded with hot water, and had to dodge a volley of household utensils, then surrounded by a crowd of angry miners. The deputies were able to escape when the militia men drove back the crowd with bayonets.


Mother Jones Arrives in Calumet – August 1913.

A thousand strikers and thousands more onlookers gathered at the train station to greet Mother Jones when she arrived in town on August 5th. “These strike movements,” she is reported to have declared after stepping off the Northwestern train, “are the greatest fun in the world.”

One week later, on August 11th, she was quoted in the local paper urging the strikers to stand firm until the mining company met “every concession” of the WFM, and denouncing judges and governors because they served “the interests of the money classes.”

The presence of the National Guard, Mother Jones argued, was more likely to incite than quell violence: “militia have no business in an industrial dispute; this is not a revolution.”  At the same time she pleaded with the men to steer clear of trouble with the militia, reprimanded them for their lack of organization, and urged them to see this as a defining moment for the country:

I want you to use your brains, not your hands…Your masters want you to use your hands. I see they have the militia up here to take good care of you. The militia loves you dearly. You make the guns and the bayonets and they’ve got to be used on you.

I’ve had experience with the militia. They’re not bad fellows. All there is about it, they put on dress uniforms and let you know they’ll clean hell out of you if you don’t do as they tell you. Washington and Lincoln didn’t want the militia. We didn’t have the militia in their days. We were Americans then.

What’s the matter with you fellows? Why don’t you elect the right men to public offices? You elect these men and most of you take a glass of beer — scab beer — for your votes and let it sink into your groggy, scab brains. You did that and you elected a scab governor to bring out the militia and camp on company ground and take care of company property. This ground belongs to you.

Don’t carry a gun or pistol. Let the other fellow do that. If he goes after you use your fists and black his two eyes and then he can’t see to shoot you.

You don’t need to have a fight here. Just be firm and peaceful. They can’t operate the mines without you….Just use your brains and wake up to the fact that you have the power.

The capitalists are organized, the doctors are organized, the lawyers are organized and the corporations are organized to skin you. Everyone’s been organized right along but you fellows.

Militarism is becoming an atmospheric disease in America and you see the girls, the poor little things, talking and laughing with the soldiers who come to shoot their fathers.

The stars and stripes shall float in Calumet and Michigan over free workingmen.

Firm and peaceful were not exactly bywords of the day. There would be a fight in Calumet — a big fight. The scuffle at the Hungarian boarding house in early August was just a token of of bigger trouble to come later in the month.

On August 14th, at the Putrich boarding house in Seeberville, where another armed posse had come to arrest another striking miner, Deputy Josh Cooper was struck in the head with a bowling tenpin. The posse opened fire on the men, women and children inside the house. Joseph Putrich and Alois Tijan were shot dead. John Stimac and Stanko Stepic were seriously wounded.

The killings at Seeberville “electrified the scattered mining communities from Painesdale to Mohawk,” writes Arthur Thurner in Rebels on the Range. By August 16th, the Miners Magazine could say, without exaggeration: “a reign of terror prevails throughout the district.”