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The Grabow Riot was a violent confrontation that took place near Grabow (Graybow), Louisiana, on July 7, 1912, between factions in the timber industry. The main factions involved were the Galloway Lumber Company and a party of striking unionized mill workers and their supporters. The union workers were known as the Brotherhood of Timber Workers, a branch of the Lumber Workers Industrial Union (LWIU), which was affiliated with the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). The Botherhood tried to recruit mill workers by giving speeches and conducting meetings at various mills. Although they had limited success in Louisiana, the LWIU became very successful from 1917 to 1924.
The clash left four men dead, including Asbury Decatur ("Kate") Hall, and an estimated fifty wounded. It was a crucial event in attempts to organize locals and unionize sawmill workers in Louisiana, which finally bore fruit in October 1940, when the Wages and Hours Act (later the Fair Labor Standards Act) was upheld by the United States Supreme Court on February 3, 1941.
The Graybow Riot
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Wanting better working conditions and pay, workers confronted the mill owners at the little sawmill town of Grabow, Louisiana, at around 6 p.m. on July 7, 1912. This might have signaled the beginning of the end of the 1911–1912 timber war fought in the Piney Woods of west Louisiana and east Texas.
There is nothing to indicate that either the Brotherhood of Timber Workers or the Southern Lumber Operators Association had planned this riot. But there is much evidence[clarification needed (what?)] foreshadowing a violent confrontation between them to occur somewhere in Beauregard Parish during this period. It was the stated intent of the union to strike against the mills in DeRidder, Louisiana, and the surrounding area, and it was the stated intent of the mill owners and operators to shut down the mills in the DeRidder area and to lock out and blacklist the workers. The Hudson River Lumber Company, the Long-Bell Lumber Company's subsidiary in DeRidder, was not part of the Southern Lumber Operators Association; not only did it honor the Brotherhood, but it paid cash to employees.
The Grabow Riot was fought by a small wandering group of timber workers (not all Brotherhood members) and the owners, close friends and employees of the Galloway family-owned mill at Grabow. The Galloway Mill was not affiliated with the sawmill operator's association;[clarification needed] it employed some 60–80 workers, of whom only 8–10 were present at the mill at the time of the riot.
The riot happened on a Sunday evening while the mill was closed. The union group was a remnant of a larger group of approximately 200 workers who had been demonstrating at the large corporate mills in Bon Ami and Carson, Louisiana. They were going home from Bon Ami, some 6 miles east of Grabow, when they decided to stray from the road back to DeRidder and demonstrate at Grabow. This instantaneous decision led to a violent confrontation at Grabow, resulting in 4 deaths and 50 wounded in a shoot-out of around 15 minutes and an estimated 300 shots. The timber workers and their associates, including the notorious gunman Charles ("Leather Britches") Smith, took part in this exchange of gunfire. Subsequently, 58 of the timber workers' group were tried on charges ranging from inciting a riot to murder. The trial ended in Lake Charles, Louisiana, on November 2, 1912. Most of the men were acquitted and set free; none was charged with murder or inciting a riot.[contradiction] Smith died soon after in a hail of gunfire from 4 deputies on September 25, 1912.[contradiction] There is a historical marker at the site of the riot, on what is now the property of DeRidder Airport, Louisiana.
Louisiana and Texas Timber War
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The Louisiana and Texas Timber War of 1911–1912 had its origins in the labor uprisings that opposed the powerful Long-Bell Lumber Company headquartered in Kansas City, which operated its mills along the route of the Kansas City Southern Railroad in western Louisiana. These uprisings centered around the Lake Charles area of Louisiana in 1906–1907 and helped create the forces that would fight the timber war of 1911–1912.
Three key events determined the shape of the war and its outcome: first, the Brotherhood of Timber Workers met in May 1912 in Alexandria, Louisiana, where they voted to affiliate with the powerful and militant Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). This alarmed the Southern Timber Association, which represented the mill owners. The Brotherhood of Timber Workers declared their intention to fight battles in DeRidder and within a 30-mile radius of it. DeRidder was then considered the center of labor unrest—it was the last area to return to work during the 1906–1907 strikes. It was seen by owners as the center of militant union activity. Both sides defined the area of conflict to be around northern Beauregard Parish (at the time still a part of Imperial Calcasieu Parish).
Secondly, the riot at Grabow and the ensuing court trials became the crucial events in the struggle to unionize the workers, bringing the conflict to a legal head with high national visibility.
The third event was a strike and lockout on November 11, 1912, at the American Lumber Company mill at Merryville, Louisiana, about 20 miles west of DeRidder. This event was instigated deliberately by the owners, led by association president John Henry Kirby of the Kirby Lumber Company of east Texas. The timber workers' union had been infiltrated by agents of the Burns Detective Agency who were on the payroll of the owners' association. As a result, Kirby knew that the union was in serious financial trouble because of the lengthy court proceedings following the Grabow Riot. Although the local union had affiliated with the IWW, the IWW gave no financial help, choosing to focus its efforts and priorities on the Northwest Pacific Coast timber war.
To cause a strike that would cripple the union financially, the Association blacklisted all union members associated with the Grabow Riot. This gave the American Lumber Company at Merryville a pretext to dismiss 18 workers who had testified for the defense at the Grabow Riot trial. The union then had no choice but to go out on strike again. This strike ruined the union financially and organizationally when in November 1912 the strikers' headquarters and soup kitchen in Merryville was attacked and destroyed by agents and friends of the mill owners. The strikers and union leaders were routed and they retreated to DeRidder. The strike was broken and the mills reopened in May 1913 using non-union labor.
These three events, occurring within six months of the Grabow Riot, marked the end of the 1911–1912 Louisiana-Texas Timber War. The union continued to exist as a shell until 1914, but the mills were never organized by the labor unions. This set the stage for further anti-unionism in the oil fields of Louisiana and east Texas.
By the end of 1921, the Piney Woods of Louisiana and Texas had been completely cut down, ending a 30-year boom for west Louisiana and east Texas. No effort was made by the timber companies to conserve or restore the Piney Woods, which many had thought could never be logged out. The ensuing recession left many sawmill towns deserted, including Grabow. Most of them, like Carson, Bon Ami, Neame, Ludington, and Hall, are largely forgotten; Grabow itself is remembered mainly for the riot.
Below is an excerpt from the newspaper article "A Year of Death", which appeared in the Beaumont Sunday Enterprise-Journal, Section C, September 15, 1974. It details the recollections of Seab Rogers about The Grabow Riot of July 7, 1912. Rogers was 79 years old at the time of the article.
The International Workers of the World [sic] was organizing sawmill workers and every non-union mill was (a) target. A.L. Emerson was the organizer making the sawmill rounds and speaking on this particular Sunday.
Rogers picks up the story as an eyewitness: "We had been to Merryville, Singer, Newlin and Carson and were headed for Bon Ami. Before we could get there someone came up and warned that Bon Ami was filled with gunmen and that we'd certainly be killed if we went there.
"There was 15 wagon-loads of us. Most of the men were armed. We headed for Grabow instead. I was driving the lead wagon, a brand new one pulled by a span of mules. Emerson was in my wagon.
"Somewhere along the way Emerson traded hats and coats with Decatur Hall. It was about 3:30 in the afternoon when we pulled up before the Grabow office and the shooting started right off.
"Three men were killed in my wagon. "Kate" Hall went down first, I guess they figured he was Emerson, what with him having Emerson's hat and coat on. Then a fellow named Martin was shot and another whose name I don't recall right off went down with him."
Leather Britches Smith
Charles Smith, nicknamed "Leather Britches", wore a pistol on each hip and carried a rifle everywhere he went. He was reportedly brought in as a hired gun by Arthur L. Emerson, then president of the Timber Workers. Some[who?] considered him a hero and benefactor of the timber workers.
The legend varies. Some[who?] thought him to be a good man unless he drank, when a different side of him would emerge. Rill (Loftin) Grantham stated that Leather Britches saved her future husband from hanging shortly after the Grabow Riot. Many just avoided him and some stories portray him less favourably.
A different man
Smith was also Ben Myatt of Robertson County, Texas. Arrested for the torture and vicious murder of his wife, he was brought before Judge J.C. Scott, with Frank A. Woods as prosecutor. The judge, on his own motion, ordered the trial moved to Falls County, in Marlin, Texas. Tom Connally was the prosecutor, together with Woods.
Evidence was also provided that Myatt had shot and killed a neighbor named John Cook and left him lying in a field. After he was convicted of murdering his wife in 1910 and sentenced to hang, he was transferred to Navarro County jail in Corsicana, Texas, to be tried for Cook's murder, but he escaped to Louisiana before his trial.
The community of Graybow
All that remains of Graybow are some bricks, a well, a mill pond, and a historical marker put there in 2003 by the descendants of the Galloway family and the Brotherhood of Timber Workers. It is still called Graybow; it is inhabited and has churches.
Other abandoned towns and communities
This community is now considered the outskirts of DeRidder. A street that ran to Bon Ami from DeRidder still bears the name.
Carson is located about 6.5 miles from DeRidder.
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This community is within the city limits of DeRidder and is still known to local people as Ludington.
The area known to local people and reflected on maps, situated in what is now Vernon Parish, no longer exists. Once a thriving lumber town, the only known remnants are a mill pond about 3.5 miles north of Rosepine, Louisiana, on the east side of highway 171, and two abandoned grave sites, one surrounded by trees near the old Neame mill pond and the other on the west side of highway 171 in the middle of a field. The latter is located on property south of and adjacent to a saw mill bearing the name Neame. There are some headstones dating to the early 1900s. Most of the graves are decaying, and many have already disappeared.
- http://www.kilgorenewsherald.com/news/2006-01-05/World/011.html (subscription required)
- Beauregard Daily News, Sunday, March 6, 2005. -Retrieved 2010-06-08
- Beaumont Enterprise Journal, October 8, 1972, Louisiana Edition. Retrieved 2010-06-08
- Grabow, Beauregard Parish, Louisiana, United States at histopolis.com
- Bon Ami, Beauregard Parish, Louisiana, United States at histopolis.com
- Carson, Beauregard Parish, Louisiana, United States at histopolis.com
- Ludington, DeRidder, Beauregard Parish, Louisiana, United States at histopolis.com
- Neame, Vernon Parish, Louisiana, United States at histopolis.com
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