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   Chapter 4 No.4

The Desert of Wheat By Zane Grey Characters: 12783

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


Toward the end of July eastern Washington sweltered under the most torrid spell of heat on record. It was a dry, high country, noted for an equable climate, with cool summers and mild winters. And this unprecedented wave would have been unbearable had not the atmosphere been free from humidity.

The haze of heat seemed like a pall of thin smoke from distant forest fires. The sun rose, a great, pale-red ball, hot at sunrise, and it soared blazing-white at noon, to burn slowly westward through a cloudless, coppery sky, at last to set sullen and crimson over the ranges.

Spokane, being the only center of iron, steel, brick, and masonry in this area, resembled a city of furnaces. Business was slack. The asphalt of the streets left clean imprints of a pedestrian's feet; bits of newspaper stuck fast to the hot tar. Down by the gorge, where the great green river made its magnificent plunges over the falls, people congregated, tarried, and were loath to leave, for here the blowing mist and the air set into motion by the falling water created a temperature that was relief.

Citizens talked of the protracted hot spell, of the blasted crops, of an almost sure disaster to the wheat-fields, and of the activities of the I.W.W. Even the war, for the time being, gave place to the nearer calamities impending.

Montana had taken drastic measures against the invading I.W.W. The Governor of Idaho had sent word to the camps of the organization that they had five days to leave that state. Spokane was awakening to the menace of hordes of strange, idle men who came in on the westbound freight-trains. The railroads had been unable to handle the situation. They were being hard put to it to run trains at all. The train crews that refused to join the I.W.W. had been threatened, beaten, shot at, and otherwise intimidated.

The Chamber of Commerce sent an imperative appeal to representative wheat-raisers, ranchers, lumbermen, farmers, and bade them come to Spokane to discuss the situation. They met at the Hotel Davenport, where luncheon was served in one of the magnificently appointed dining-halls of that most splendid hotel in the West.

The lion of this group of Spokane capitalists was Riesinberg, a man of German forebears, but all American in his sympathies, with a son already in the army. Riesinberg was president of a city bank and of the Chamber of Commerce. His first words to the large assembly of clean-cut, square-jawed, intent-eyed Westerners were: "Gentlemen, we are here to discuss the most threatening and unfortunate situation the Northwest was ever called upon to meet." His address was not long, but it was stirring. The Chamber of Commerce could provide unlimited means, could influence and control the state government; but it was from the visitors invited to this meeting, the men of the outlying districts which were threatened, that objective proofs must come and the best methods of procedure.

The first facts to come out were that many crops were ruined already, but, owing to the increased acreage that year, a fair yield was expected; that wheat in the Bend would be a failure, though some farmers here and there would harvest well; that the lumber districts were not operating, on account of the I.W.W.

Then it was that the organization of men who called themselves the Industrial Workers of the World drew the absorbed attention of the meeting. Depredations already committed stunned the members of the Chamber of Commerce.

President Riesinberg called upon Beardsley, a prominent and intelligent rancher of the southern wheat-belt. Beardsley said:

"It is difficult to speak with any moderation of the outrageous eruption of the I.W.W. It is nothing less than rebellion, and the most effective means of suppressing rebellion is to apply a little of that 'direct action' which is the favorite diversion of the I.W.W.'s.

"The I.W.W. do not intend to accomplish their treacherous aims by anything so feeble as speech; they scorn the ballot-box. They are against the war, and their method of making known their protest is by burning our grain, destroying our lumber, and blowing up freight-trains. They seek to make converts not by argument, but by threats and intimidation.

"We read that Western towns are seeking to deport these rebels. In the old days we can imagine more drastic measures would have been taken. The Westerners were handy with the rope and the gun in those days. We are not counseling lynch law, but we think deportation is too mild a punishment.

"We are too 'civilized' to apply the old Roman law, 'Spare the conquered and extirpate the rebels,' but at least we could intern them. The British have found it practicable to put German prisoners to work at useful employment. Why couldn't we do the same with our rebel I.W.W.'s?"

Jones, a farmer from the Yakima Valley, told that business men, housewives, professional men, and high-school boys and girls would help to save the crop of Washington to the nation in case of labor trouble. Steps already had been taken to mobilize workers in stores, offices, and homes for work in the orchards and grain-fields, should the I.W.W. situation seriously threaten harvests.

Pledges to go into the hay or grain fields or the orchards, with a statement of the number of days they were willing to work, had been signed by virtually all the men in North Yakima.

Helmar, lumberman from the Blue Mountains, spoke feelingly; he said:

"My company is the owner of a considerable amount of timbered lands and timber purchased from the state and from individuals. We have been engaged in logging that land until our operations have been stopped and our business paralyzed by an organization which calls itself the Industrial Workers of the World, and by members of that organization, and other lawless persons acting in sympathy with them.

"Our employees have been threatened with physical violence and death.

"Our works are picketed by individuals who camp out in the forests and who intimidate and threaten our employees.

"Open threats have been made that our works, our logs, and our timber will all be burned.

"Sabotage is publicly preached in the meetings, and in the literature of the organization it is advised and upheld.

"The open boast is made that the lumbering industry, with all other industry, will be paralyzed by this organization, by

the destruction of property used in industry and by the intimidation of laborers who are willing to work.

"A real and present danger to the property of my company exists. Unless protection is given to us it will probably be burned and destroyed. Our lawful operations cannot be conducted because laborers who are willing to work are fearful of their lives and are subject to abuse, threats, and violence. Our camps, when in operation, are visited by individuals belonging to the said organization, and the men peaceably engaged in them threatened with death if they do not cease work. All sorts of injury to property by the driving of spikes in logs, the destruction of logs, and other similar acts are encouraged and recommended.

"As I pointed out to the sheriff of our county, the season is a very dry one and the woods are and will be, unless rain comes, in danger of disastrous fires. The organization and its members have openly and repeatedly asserted that they will burn the logs in the woods and burn the forests of this company and other timber-holders before they will permit logging operations to continue.

"Many individuals belonging to the organization are camped in the open in the timbered country, and their very presence is a fire menace. They are engaged in no business except to interfere with the industry and to interfere with the logging of this company and others who engaged in the logging business.

"We have done what we could in a lawful manner to continue our operations and to protect our employees. We are now helpless, and place the responsibility for the protection of our property and the protection of our employees upon the board of county commissioners and upon the officers of the county."

Next President Riesinberg called upon a young reporter to read paragraphs of an I.W.W. speech he had heard made to a crowd of three hundred workmen. It was significant that several members of the Chamber of Commerce called for a certain paragraph to be reread. It was this:

"If you working-men could only stand together you could do in this country what has been done in Russia," declared the I.W.W. orator. "You know what the working-men did there to the slimy curs, the gunmen, and the stool-pigeons of the capitalistic class. They bumped them off. They sent them up to say, 'Good morning, Jesus.'"

After a moment of muttering and another silence the president again addressed the meeting:

"Gentlemen, we have Anderson of Golden Valley with us to-day. If there are any of you present who do not know him, you surely have heard of him. His people were pioneers. He was born in Washington. He is a type of the men who have made the Northwest. He fought the Indians in early days and packed a gun for the outlaws-and to-day, gentlemen, he owns a farm as big as Spokane County. We want to hear from him."

When Anderson rose to reply it was seen that he was pale and somber. Slowly he gazed at the assembly of waiting men, bowed; then he began, impressively:

"Gentlemen an' friends, I wish I didn't have to throw a bomb into this here camp-fire talk. But I've got to. You're all talkin' I.W.W. Facts have been told showin' a strange an' sudden growth of this here four-flush labor union. We've had dealin's with them for several years. But this year it's different.… All at once they've multiplied and strengthened. There's somethin' behind them. A big unseen hand is stackin' the deck.… An', countrymen, that tremendous power is German gold!"

Anderson's deep voice rang like a bell. His hearers sat perfectly silent. No surprise showed, but faces grew set and hard. After a pause of suspense, in which his denunciation had time to sink in, Anderson resumed:

"A few weeks ago a young man, a stranger, came to me an' asked for a job. He could do anythin', he said. An' I hired him to drive my car. But he wasn't much of a driver. We went up in the Bend country one day, an' on that trip I got suspicious of him. I caught him talkin' to what I reckoned was I.W.W. men. An' then, back home again, I watched him an' kept my ears open. It didn't take long for me to find discontent among my farm-hands. I hire about a hundred hands on my ranches durin' the long off season, an' when harvest comes round a good many more. All I can get, in fact.… Well, I found my hands quittin' me, which was sure onusual. An' I laid it to that driver.

"One day not long ago I run across him hobnobbin' with the strange man I'd seen talkin' with him on the Bend trip. But my driver-Nash, he calls himself-didn't see me. That night I put a cowboy to watch him. An' what this cowboy heard, put together two an' two, was that Nash was assistant to an I.W.W. leader named Glidden. He had sent for Glidden to come to look over my ranch. Both these I.W.W. men had more money than they could well carry-lots of it gold! The way they talked of this money proved that they did not know the source, but the supply was unlimited.

"Next day Glidden could not be found. But my cowboy had learned enough to show his methods. If these proselyters could not coax or scare trusted men to join the I.W.W., they tried to corrupt them with money. An' in most cases they're successful. I've not yet sprung anythin' on my driver, Nash. But he can't get away, an' meanwhile I'll learn much by watchin' him. Maybe through Nash I can catch Glidden. An' so, gentlemen, here we have a plain case. An' the menace is enough to chill the heart of every loyal citizen. Any way you put it, if harvests can't be harvested, if wheat-fields an' lumber forests are burned, if the state militia has to be called out-any way you put it our government will be hampered, our supplies kept from our allies-an' so the cause of Germany will be helped.

"The I.W.W. have back of them an organized power with a definite purpose. There can hardly be any doubt that that power is Germany. The agitators an' leaders throughout the country are well paid. Probably they, as individuals, do not know who pays them. Undoubtedly a little gang of men makes the deals, handles the money. We read that every U.S. attorney is investigating the I.W.W. The government has determined to close down on them. But lawyers an' law are slow to act. Meanwhile the danger to us is at hand.

"Gentlemen, to finish let me say that down in my country we're goin' to rustle the I.W.W. in the good old Western way."

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