Bisbee deportation

In 1917 a 2,200-strong posse kidnapped 1,300 striking miners from Bisbee in Arizona, loaded them into trains, and sent them to New Mexico. The sheriff then sealed off all the entrances to Bisbee and began purging the town.

Bisbee deportation
Photograph scan created by Arizona Historical Society; AHS location information: Pictures-Places-Bisbee-Bisbee Deportation, #43179. Original photographer and publisher not known. / Public domain

Bisbee is a small Arizona town near the Mexican border. In the early 20th century it was a mining town: gold, silver, and especially copper were plentiful in the surrounding mountains. Phelps Dodge was the company running the mines, and they pretty much ran the town as well. So when three thousand (mainly Mexican American) miners began a strike, protesting unsafe working conditions and aiming to unionise, the company struck back.

First, because this is Arizona, you need a posse. In cooperation with Phelps Dodge, the local sheriff deputised around 2,200 people from Bisbee and nearby town Douglas. The Bisbee component of the posse represented about one in every eight residents of the town. They rounded up 1,300 of the striking mining workers and marched them, under threat from the sheriff’s car-mounted machine gun, to a nearby baseball park.

The miners were loaded onto train cars meant for cattle. After sixteen hours’ slow-moving travel through the desert, the train arrived in Tres Hermanas, New Mexico, and the miners were unloaded and told to never return to Bisbee.

Meanwhile, this lovely sheriff set guards at all the entrances to Bisbee and began a series of secret kangaroo court trials of anyone he suspected of harbouring union sentiment. In the months that followed, many Bisbee residents would also be deported. The state attorney general finally ordered the sheriff to stop, and the kidnapping, deportations, and trials were found to be completely illegal. Several lawsuits and court cases followed, one going as far as the US Supreme Court, but no-one was ever successfully prosecuted.

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