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 when he was murdered.

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 Cherokee.[2][3]

He was said to live in Fresno where he worked as a union organizer with the Western Federation of Miners before becoming active with the Industrial Workers of the World in 1906.[1]

He took part in the free speech campaigns among workers in Fresno, California in 1910. Little and several hundred workers were arrested for violating a city ordinance; he was reported to have refused to work on the city rock pile. Many more IWW workers came to the city and struck in support. He also led free speech efforts in Spokane, Washington and Missoula, Montana. Little 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.[4] In 1910, Little successfully organized unskilled fruit workers in the San Joaquin Valley of California.

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 over 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.[5]

By 1916, Little was a member of the IWW's General Executive Board.[1] That year he also worked with mine workers in a strike at the Mesabi Range in Minnesota.[6]

Anti-war activism[edit]

Little was a strong opponent of capitalism and the Great War. While General Secretary-Treasurer William Haywood and members of the General Executive Board shared Little's opinions about the war, they disagreed about whether to work to create anti-war agitation. When the United States (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 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 if their actions 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."[1] In the summer of 1917 in Butte, Montana, he said that soldiers serving in Europe were "Uncle Sam's scabs in uniform."[1] He had gone to The Mining City to support union organizing after 168 men died in early June 1917 in a fire at the Granite Mountain & Spectacular Mines owned by Anaconda Copper.[6] The mine workers formed a new union, Metal Mine Workers’ Union (MMWU), and were joined in a strike by other trades. A federal mediator persuaded the other workers to return to work for the war effort.[6]


In June 1917, more than 1200 striking mine workers in Arizona were rounded up and deported to Mexico. Little had broken his ankle and was not part of that action, but visited organizers.

Following the fire, organization of Metal Mine Workers and strike in Butte, as noted above, in early July 1917, Little arrived in the city to help organize a copper miners' union and lead the miners' strike against the Anaconda Copper Company. The striking workers had been subject to attack by a "home guard" organized by the company, and newspapers worked to undermine public support for the workers. Little created a picket line at the mines, persuaded women to join the lines, and ultimately encouraged the other trades to join the strike. During this period, he also spoke out against US involvement in the war.[6]

In the early hours of August 1, six masked men broke into Little's boardinghouse room.[1] He was beaten and taken to the edge of town where he was lynched, hanged from a railroad trestle.[1] A note with the words "First and last warning" was pinned to his thigh, referring to earlier Vigilantes giving people three warnings to stop objectionable actions.[6] The note also included the numbers 3-7-77 (a sign of Vigilantes active in the 19th century in Virginia City, Montana, some people thought referred to grave measurements), and the initials of other union leaders, suggesting they were next to be killed. The attorney for the Metal Mine Workers said after Little's murder that the union had received warnings about Joe Shannon, Tom Campbell, and another man.[1] No one was apprehended or prosecuted for Little's murder. An estimated 10,000 workers lined the route of his funeral procession, which was followed by 3500 more persons.[6] He was buried in Butte's Mountain View Cemetery. His grave marker reads "Slain by capitalist interests for organizing and inspiring his fellow men."[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h "I.W.W. Strike Chief Lynched At Butte." The New York Times. August 2, 1917.
  2. ^ Dennis Lim, "A Second Look: 'An Injury to One'", Los Angeles Times, 30 October 2011, accessed 31 December 2014
  3. ^ "Find a grave"(However. his alleged Native American lineage is not confirmed.)
  4. ^ Richard Steven Street, Beasts of the Field: A Narrative History of California Farmworkers, 1769-1913, p. 860
  5. ^ Richard Hudelson, Carl Ross, By The Ore Docks: A Working People's History Of Duluth, pp. 60-62
  6. ^ a b c d e f "Frank Little: A Murder in Butte", United Food and Commercial Workers, accessed 31 December 2014
  7. ^ Fritz, Harry; Murphy, Mary; Swartout, Robert (2002). Montana Legacy: Essays on History, People, and Place. Montana Historical Society. p. 325. ISBN 978-0-917298-90-5. Retrieved 2 November 2015. 

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]