Bisbee Riot

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Bisbee Riot
Bisbee AZ Brewery Gulch 1910-1919.jpg
A photograph of Brewery Gulch in the 1910s.
Date July 3, 1919
Location Bisbee, Arizona, United States
Also known as Battle of Brewery Gulch
Outcome ~8 wounded

The Bisbee Riot, or the Battle of Brewery Gulch, refers to a conflict during the Red Summer on July 3, 1919, between Buffalo Soldiers of the 10th Cavalry and members of local police forces in Bisbee, Arizona. Following an incident between a military policeman and some of the Buffalo Soldiers, the situation escalated into a street battle in Bisbee's historic Brewery Gulch. At least eight people were seriously injured, and fifty soldiers were arrested, although the consequences of this skirmish were relatively minor compared to others during the summer of 1919.[1][2]

Background[edit]

In 1919, Bisbee had a population 20,000 and was home to white, black, Hispanic, Asian, and native Americans. Although a busy place, it was described by author Cameron McWhirter as a "remote... dusty frontier town," ten miles north of the Mexican border. The economy hinged on the extraction of copper ore from local mines, and because the demand for copper decreased following the end of World War I, many of the miners in town were out of work. Furthermore, Bisbee authorities were known for their harsh treatment of miners. Two years before, in 1917, posses of Bisbee policemen and citizens rounded up hundreds of miners and deported them to New Mexico by train. Thus, morale was poor, and the town was ripe for civil unrest. After the deportation, the federal government began surveilling Bisbee authorities, and the case against them was still working its way through the courts when the riot occurred. As a result, the most detailed information concerning the riot comes from memos and reports collected by the federal government.[1][2]

According to Jan Voogd, author of Race Riots and Resistance: The Red Summer of 1919, Bisbee was a "stratified white man's mining camp," and "highly race conscious." The town had "rules" prohibiting Mexican men from working underground in the mines, instead the work was reserved for Welsh and Cornish miners. Chinese immigrants were not allowed to stay in the town overnight, and blacks could only find work as janitors. In 1919, Fort Huachuca was located about thirty-five miles west of Bisbee, however, it was still a popular destination for soldiers from the fort. The town's main street and red-light district, Brewery Gulch, was lined with brothels, saloons, and gambling halls. It was "notorious throughout the West," and would be the location of the fighting during the riot.[1][2]

Mrs. Frederick Theodore Arnold, the wife of the fort's commander in 1918, wrote the following about the town in her diary:

[The town was in] a gulch just wide enough for one street [with] the stores and houses ... built mostly where rock is dug away, ... all one above the other like the cliff dwellers. Long flights of steps lead on up and up from house to house. It is the queerest town and the street ... runs right up-hill its whole winding length with a streetcar line ... there must be several thousand people there, and it is the busiest place you ever saw ... [There was] an enormous general store with everything from carpet tacks to oranges and hair nets.[1]

Riot[edit]

On July 3, 1919, the 10th Cavalry arrived in Bisbee from Fort Huachuca to march in the Independence Day parade on the next day. While the regiment's white officers were attending a prearranged dance, the Buffalo Soldiers went to Upper Brewery Gulch, where the Silver Leaf Club was located. Later on that night, at about 9:30 PM, a white military policeman from the 19th Infantry, George Sullivan, got into a fight with five "drunken" Buffalo Soldiers outside of the club. According to Sullivan, he exchanged "hostile words" with the soldiers, who then drew their revolvers, hit him on the head, and took his weapon. Jan Voogd notes that several citizens came to Sullivan's aid, and validated his report of the encounter. She also says various sources agree that the soldiers immediately went to the police station and reported the incident to Chief Kempton. Kempton, sensing more trouble, advised the soldiers to turn over their weapons, but the latter refused. So, after the soldiers left the station, the chief began assembling a posse to "disarm all the negroes they could find."[1][2]

The following attempt to disarm the soldiers resulted in a street battle, centered around Brewery Gulch, that lasted for over an hour. According to McWhirter, deputized white civilians participated in the fighting, however, Jan Voogd says there is very little evidence that Bisbee's local residents played any significant role. Either way, most of the whites involved were city police officers, or Cochise County sheriffs and deputies. More than 100 shots were fired during the melee, and it ended around midnight, when fifty of the Buffalo Soldiers surrendered to the police. The remaining soldiers were put on horses and told to ride back to their camp at Warren, under escort by two police cars. Shortly after the column headed out, five soldiers who had stayed behind began arguing with some of the officers. During this, Deputy Joe Hardwick, who had a reputation as a gunman, pulled out his revolver and shot one of the soldiers in the lung.[1][2]

Panorama of Bisbee in 1916.

Aftermath[edit]

At least eight people were shot or seriously wounded in total: Four of the Buffalo Soldiers were shot, two were beaten, a deputy sheriff was "severely injured," and a Mexican bystander named Teresa Leyvas was struck in the head by a stray bullet. In the army's official report of the incident, the commander of the 10th Cavalry, Colonel Frederick S. Snyder, said that "local officials had planned deliberately to aggravate the negro troopers so that they would furnish an excuse for police and deputy sheriffs to shoot them down." A Bureau of Investigation report said that "many of the soldiers who were absolutely innocent... were roughly handled... and seriously injured. This was due largely to the activity of Deputy Sheriff Joe Hardwick, who has the reputation of being a gunman and who on this occasion almost completely lost his head." Bureau of Investigation agents, surveilling Industrial Workers of the World activity in Bisbee, reported that "representatives" of the IWW were "coach[ing]" the Buffalo Soldiers on what to expect from Bisbee authorities, telling them about the deportation in 1917, and "suggesting that conflict was imminent."[1][2]

Ultimately, none of the Buffalo Soldiers were seriously punished for the fighting, at least not by the army. The 10th Cavalry was also permitted to march in the Independence Day parade, under close watch by white cavalrymen, who had been sent to patrol the streets and prevent further conflict. The Buffalo Soldiers later returned to Fort Huachuca, and their lives were "unfazed" by the events of July 3, according to Voogd. McWhirter says that "[t]he Bisbee fighting, covered nationally, brought to the fore America's conflicting feelings about black participation in the war [World War I/Border War]. Whites demanded black loyalty, but never trusted it."[1][2]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Voogd, Jan (2008). Race Riots and Resistance: The Red Summer of 1919. Peter Lang. ISBN 1433100673. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g McWhirter, Cameron (2011). Red Summer: The Summer of 1919 and the Awakening of Black America. Macmillan. ISBN 1429972939.