THE CASE OF JOE HILL by Philip S. Foner, International Publishers, N.Y. 381 Park Avenue S. 1966. Reviewed by Ammon Hennacy in THE ANARCHIST newspaper, October 1966.
The author has written a score of books on the history of labor in this country, and has produced the best book on Joe Hill. I have read the books by Barrie Stavis and Wallace Stegner and conversed with them on the subject, and with several men in Salt Lake City who have written about Joe Hill. In this review I will stress those facts that I have not seen elsewhere. The economic background of the state of labor in Utah is especially interesting. Since the summer of 1912 when the Western Federation of Miners tried to organize the Utah Copper Co. at Bingham Canyon, "the most repulsive mining camp" in the country, an army of gunmen had been imported to protect the scabs, and Governor William Spry, "the jumping jack of the copper kings," permitted the deputizing of these gunmen as sheriffs. He had votoed a bill passed by both houses of the legislature which would have made a coroner's investigation of death in the mines obligatory. Under the leadership of Ed Rowan, Local 69 of the IWW had in June 1913 organized a strike on D. & R.G. Railroad where the Utah Construction Company had imported scabs and gunmen to protect them, and after three weeks had won an increase in wages and shorter hours. The trainmen would allow only men with the IWW red card to approach by train. On August 12, 1912 the thugs openly atacked an IWW street meeting in Salt Lake City, protected by the local police. James F.Morgan, an IWW leader, not the armed mobster, Alex Steele, who attacked him, was arrested.
A few weeks before the execution of Joe Hill, Nov. 19, 1915, Major J.P. Myton, of the Salt Lake City police force, shot and killed A.J. Horton, an IWW member, who was unarmed. This was while he was making a speech at Second S. where hundreds of people witnessed the murder. He was promptly acquitted. Virginia Snow Stephen, daughter of President Snow of the Mormon Church, played the piano at Horton's funeral, and an effort was made to discharge her from the University where she taught art. But the IWW began to picket the University, so the authorities waited until after Joe Hill was executed, when a concerted effort was made to drive the IWWs from the city, and she was discharged from her job. Protest meetings advertized in Salt Lake City against the execution of Joe Hill had to be cancelled because pressure from the authorities did not allow the renting of any hall to the IWW.
In 1916 Attorney Hilton of Denver, who had been Joe's chief counsel, was disbarred by the Utah Bar Association from practicing in Utah because he had said that the court system, the Pardon Board and the Governor were united with the big corporations and the Mormon Church in the death of Joe Hill. Today the Mormon Church advised representatives in Congress who are Mormon to vote against the repeal of the Right to Work law, but two of them didn't. In 1915 there was a tighter hold of the reactionary interests on members of Congress than there is now. In 1914 twenty-two members of the faculty at the Univesity of Utah had either been dismissed or resigned in protest, showing the hold of the economic masters of the state over those who dared to defy them.
Although I had known that Bishop Paul Jones of the Episcopal Church in Salt Lake City was a pacifist, I had not hitherto read of his oposistion to the execution of Joe Hill. Judge Ritchie, who sentenced Joe, was in his congregation at Saint Mark's, yet he said, "The infliction of the death penalty on Joseph Hillstrom may at some later date prove the State of Utah to have been the murderer of this man rather than the adminitrator of justice and thus mar the honor of our state and become a burden upon the consciences of our administration of justice."
Thorwald Anderson, head of the Department of Modern Languages at the University, Oscar W. Larson, president of the Salt Lake branch of the Verdani, the most powerful Swedish organization in America, and Sigrid Bolin, sister of Professor Jakob Bolin of the University and former Swedish consul in Salt Lake City, opposed the execution. Governor Spry called all three and Mrs. Stephen before him, scolded them for having brought outsiders into the case, meaning the interest of the Swedish ambassador, who requested a new trial for Joe. Recently, when pictures were in the Sunday paper of the Governors of Utah and their problems, the picture of Gov. Spry was shown and his chief problem was given as Joe Hill and a verse from "I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill" was quoted.
Now, fifty years later, the DESERET NEWS had a special article entitled: "Joe Hill--Is he really dead?... But like John Brown of Harper's Ferry fame, Joe Hill's soul--and to some his truth--still goes marching on." The article ended with two verses of "I Dreamed I saw Joe Hill." And it mentioned that I came here in 1961 to found the Joe Hill House for transients in his memory because I felt that Hill "did not commit the crime."
Commenting upon the murder of former policeman Morrison and his son Arling on the night of Jan. 10, 1914, the Salt Lake papers headlined, "Motive Probably Revenge," for other attempts had been made on the life of Morrison, who had resigned from the police force and now ran the grocery store. He had told his wife that some neighbors did not like him, and he was in fear of men whom he had arrested and who had sworn to get him. In fact, Frank Z. Wilson, who had been arrested by Morrison and sent to the state prison, had just been released and in the first reports of Hill's arrest he and Wilson had been thought the same man.
Joe had gone to a Socialist friend, Dr. McHugh in Murray, a Salt Lake City surburb, saying that he was shot in an affair over a woman and that he was as much at fault as the man who had shot him. This was at midnight, while the shooting of the grocer at 8th and southwest Temple occurred at 9:45pm, five miles away. Morrison claimed a reward for turning Joe in, but did not receive any money. (I saw a copy of the request he made to the Governor which was only discovered recently.) The bullet wound in Joe was made by a steel bullet which went through his body with a clean wound, while the gun in the Morrison store shot a lead bullet which would spread. And no lead bullet was found in the walls of the store. In the preliminary hearing the thirteen-year-old son Merlin could not identify Joe as being one of the bandits, saying that the man who was shot was curly-haired and shorter. Three other witnesses who saw the bandits on the sidewalk after the shooting said Joe was not one of them. But when it came to the trial in June all of these witnesses were tricked into partially changing their stories. In the trial the summing up of the lawyers for prosecution and defense were not taken down by the stenographer. This prevented the defense from appealing the inflammatory arguments of the prosecution, which of itself was enough for the granting of a new trial.
Before the trial the DESERET NEWS carried a series of articles as to the menace of the IWW. Joe's court-appointed lawyers did not use wisdom in challenging jurors, and even the judge was partial to the prosecution. In summing-up to the jury the judge did not use the regular procedure in courts whereby bits of evidence had to build up to prove the guilt of the accused, but rather the general idea that whether the guilt was proven or not if the jury felt that the accused was guilty that was enough. This was despite the fact that no reason was given why Joe would want to kill the grocer. When the appeal came to the State Supreme Court, Justice McCarthy called the Eselius home in Murray, where Joe met with friends, "a rendezvous for criminals," meaning the IWW. Upon the final appeal to the Pardon Board the DESERET NEWS said that Joe had shot a deputy in Dayton, Utah in 1911 when Joe had only come to Utah in 1913; that he had been arrested in San Pedro, California in a steet-car hold-up; that he had been arrested in Butte, Montana and had transported dynamite from San Francisco to Los Angeles, and was thought to have acted with the McNamara brothers in the blowing up of the LOS ANGELES TIMES. All of this was pure fabrication with not an element of truth in it.
President Wilson sent two appeals for a delay of Joe's execution, but the hysteria against the IWW was so great that only the Ogden, Utah STANDARD in all of Utah did not condemn him for this action! The Swedish government offered $1,500 for an appeal to the United States Supreme Court but Joe and his lawyers felt that it would not accept jurisdiction. The day before the execution a man from Buffalo wrote that he was with Joe Hill the night he was shot over a girl, and this was after 10pm in Murray. William Busky had told the police at the time of Joe's arrest that he had been with him from 1pm to 10pm of that fatal day, and that he had not been near Morrison's store, but the police had made him get out of town. On November 18th this information had been telegraphed to Governor Spry from Seattle but nothing was done about it.
No one accuses the copper companies of searching out Joe Hill to try him for murder, but when by coincidence he was turned in by Dr. McHugh they seized upon this fact to get rid of the song-writer who had encouraged the IWW in its fight for better working conditions. This book should be used as a text in all classes dealing with labor in this country.