Frank Little (unionist)

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Frank H. Little
Born 1879
Died August 1, 1917(1917-08-01)[1]
Butte, Montana
Nationality United States
Occupation Labor leader

Frank H. Little (1879 – August 1, 1917) was an American labor leader who was lynched in Butte, Montana, for his union and anti-war activities. He joined the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) in 1906, organizing miners, lumberjacks, and oil field workers. He was a member of the union's Executive Board at the time of his death.

Industrial Workers of the World[edit]

Little was born in 1879; not much is known about his family background, but he told friends that he had "Indian blood" and his mother was part Native American. He was a union organizer with the Western Federation of Miners before becoming active with the Industrial Workers of the World in 1906.

He took part in the free speech campaigns in Missoula, Fresno, and Spokane and was involved in organizing lumberjacks, metal miners and oil field workers into industrial unions. On one occasion in Spokane, he was sentenced to 30 days in prison for reading the Declaration of Independence.[2] In 1910, Little successfully organized unskilled fruit workers in the San Joaquin Valley. In August 1913, Little and fellow IWW organizer James P. Cannon arrived in Duluth, Minnesota, to support the strike of ore-dock workers against the Great Northern Railway about dangerous working conditions; in the course of the strike he was kidnapped, held at gunpoint outside of the city, and dramatically rescued by IWW supporters.[3]

By 1916, Little was a member of the IWW's General Executive Board.[1]

Anti-war activism[edit]

Little was a strong opponent of World War I. While General Secretary-Treasurer William Haywood and members of the General Executive Board shared Little's opinions about the war, there was disagreement about whether to proceed directly with anti-war agitation. When the US joined the war, in April 1917, Ralph Chaplin, the editor of the IWW's newspaper Solidarity, claimed that opposing the draft would destroy the IWW by visiting government repression upon the union the likes of which had not before been seen. Other Board members argued further that organized labor would not have the power to stop the war until more workers were organized, and the union should continue to focus on organizing workers at the point of production, even where it might incidentally impede the war effort.

Little refused to back down on this issue and argued that: "...the IWW is opposed to all wars, and we must use all our power to prevent the workers from joining the army."[citation needed] He later called soldiers serving in Europe "Uncle Sam's scabs in uniform."[1]


In early July 1917, Little arrived in Butte, Montana, to help organize a copper miners' union and lead a miners' strike against the Anaconda Copper Company. In the early hours of August 1, six masked men broke into Little's hotel room.[1] He was beaten and taken to the edge of town where he was lynched from a railroad trestle.[1] A note with the words "First and last warning" was pinned to his chest, along with the initials of other union leaders, and the numbers 3-7-77 (a vigilante code famously used by the vigilance committee of Virginia City, Montana).[1]

It was widely believed that Pinkerton agents were involved, but no serious attempt was made by the police to apprehend Little's murderers. His funeral procession was followed by thousands as he was laid to rest in Butte's Mountain View Cemetery.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f "I.W.W. Strike Chief Lynched At Butte." The New York Times. August 2, 1917.
  2. ^ Beasts of the Field: A Narrative History of California Farmworkers, 1769-1913, by Richard Steven Street, page 860
  3. ^ By The Ore Docks: A Working People's History Of Duluth, by Richard Hudelson, Carl Ross, pages 60-62

Further reading[edit]

  • Phillips Russell, "To Frank Little (Lynched at Butte, Montana, August 1, 1917). International Socialist Review, vol. 18, no. 3 (September 1917), pg. 133.
  • "The Man that Was Hung," International Socialist Review, vol. 18, no. 3 (September 1917), pp. 134–138.
  • Jackson, Jon A. (1998). Go By Go. Tucson: Dennis Mcmillan Publications. ISBN 978-0939767311.

External links[edit]