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Four men die in the Centralia Massacre on November 11, 1919.

HistoryLink.org Essay 5605 : Printer-Friendly Format

On November 11, 1919, a gunbattle erupts during an Armistice Day parade of American  Legionnaires in Centralia, leaving four dead and resulting in the lynching of one member of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). World War I veterans and other Centralia citizens march on the local headquarters of the IWW, whose members anticipate an attack. Shots are fired, killing veterans Arthur McElfresh, Ben Casagranda, and Warren Grimm and wounding veterans John Watt, Bernard Eubanks, and Eugene Pfister. That night a mob removes imprisoned IWW member Wesley Everest, who is also a veteran, from the town jail and lynches him from the bridge over the Chehalis River.

From Parade to War Zone

An American Legion Armistice anniversary parade down Tower Avenue, made up of Centralia and Chehalis veterans, Elks club members, Boy Scouts, nurses, Red Cross workers, the Salvation Army, Centralia citizens, and the Elks Club band, stopped for a moment in front of the IWW hall, located in the Roderick Hotel.  World War I veteran and newly elected leader of the Centralia Legion Post, Lieutenant Warren Grimm, who was leading the Centralia veterans, ordered his men to stop. A group of the veterans rushed the IWW hall. Shots rang out and Grimm was hit.

The IWW of Centralia had been warned that their hall would be raided, as many other IWW halls had been since the autumn of 1917, and so had discussed what to do about it. Elmer Smith, their lawyer, advised them they were entitled to defend their property. They decided to do so and members volunteered to take places around the hall -- in the Arnold rooming house, the Avalon Hotel, and on Seminary Hill -- where they would be in firing range of the attackers, although they didn’t expect the raid to happen during the parade.

Many shots rang out.  Arthur McElfresh, a veteran who had sought cover peered around a corner and was shot in the head. Wesley Everest, an IWW member, shot ex-servicemen Ben Casagranda and John Watt as they were running toward him down an alley. Servicemen crouching in an alley saw Everest run past them and chased him. They eventually stopped him at the bank of the Skoocumchuck River, which Everest didn’t cross due to its fast currents and his heavy gear.

The Lynch Mob Forms

Dale Hubbard, one of the servicemen, pointing a pistol he knew was jammed, ordered Everest to surrender, and began moving towards him. Everest shot him, Hubbard fell, and Everest unloaded his gun by shooting him twice more. Hubbard died in the hospital later that night, becoming the fourth death from the parade melee, but not the final death of the day.

The others caught Everest and led him by a belt around his neck to the City Jail on Maple Street. A growing crowd of Centralia citizens followed as they went, kicking and punching Everest, whom they were told was Britt Smith, acknowledged leader of the local IWW. When the crowd arrived at the jail, one of them produced a rope and strung it around his neck.  It was thrown over a spike on a telephone pole, and Everest’s feet left the ground before Dr. Livingstone, the parade marshal, talked the crowd down, and Everest was put in a jail cell.

Meanwhile, vigilantes were rounding up anyone suspected of being involved with the Wobblies, and destroying the IWW hall. Men hauled all the furnishings out into the street and set them on fire. The IWW membership list and records were given to the town prosecutor, who just happened to be watching from the other side of the street. News of Hubbard's death further inflamed the vigilantes.

Later that evening, about a hundred men gathered at the Elks Club, waiting to be sworn in as deputies in order to take part in rounding up IWW suspects. They made their way down to the jail and gathered outside. Someone pulled a main switch in the power distribution building adjacent to the jail and the lights went out. The crowd broke a panel out of the door and entered the jail, removing Everest. They threw him in a car and took him to the bridge over the Chehalis River near the edge of town. A rope was thrown over the cross beam, tied to Everest’s neck, and he was thrown over the side. A witness, Bob Burrows, said perhaps 20 shots were fired at or close to the body, then the mob silently got back in their cars and left (McClelland, p. 81).

Other witnesses said he had been castrated, but the coroner's report the next day stated "no scars that could be located on the body outside where the rope cut neck. Hole that looked like bullet hole ... rope was still around the neck of the man" (McClelland p. 85).

The mob gathered again at the Elks Club, and Centralia judge George Dysart with his son, Lloyd, worked to talk reason into the men there, convincing them not to grab other IWW suspects now at the jail. At 11:25, the National Guard arrived by train and prevented further violence.

Sources:
John McClelland Jr., Wobbly War: The Centralia Story (Tacoma: The Washington State Historical Society, 1987); HistoryLink.org Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, "Industrial Workers of the World -- A Snapshot History," (by Ross K. Rieder), http://www.historylink.org/ (accessed November 3, 2003).
Note: On August 24, 2004, this essay was corrected to accurately name the veterans' organization as "the American Legion."


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Warren O. Grimm (1886-1919), the Centralia American Legion head killed in the Centralia Massacre, ca. 1917
Courtesy John McClelland, Jr.


Arthur McElfresh, a World War I veteran shot and killed during the Centralia massacre, ca. 1917
Courtesy John McClelland Jr.


Wesley Everest, the WWI veteran and IWW member who was lynched after the Centralia Massacre, ca. 1917
Courtesy UW Special Collections (Neg. UW5754)


Vandalized Centralia IWW Hall on Tower Avenue, taken the day after the parade, November 12, 1917
Courtesy John McClelland Jr.


Bridge over the Chehalis River where Wesley Everest was lynched, nicknamed "Hangman's Bridge," ca. 1929
Courtesy John McClelland, Jr.


Centralia jail, with truck carrying away Everest's body. At right, two National Guardsmen stationed at the jail to protect inmates, November 12, 1919
Courtesy John McClelland Jr.


 
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