We hear about labor unions from time to time. The groups generally don’t make the news until there is some sort of strike or lockout.
Back in the early years of the 1900s the International Workers of the World were one of the common labor unions of the transient workers. Members commonly included farm workers that traveled the country following the harvests..
The IWW was less charitably known as the “wobblies” and by the nickname “I Want Whiskey.”
The practice of the era was for the local farm groups to set a universal wage for farm transient workers. A traveling harvest worker would earn the same money on any farm in Stutsman County, for example. This prevented any sort of bidding war for the workers necessary to bring in the harvest.
While the farmers were on one side of the equation, the unionized workers were on the other side. In some areas, violence broke out and the IWW was commonly blamed for any problems.
During the harvest season of 1913 farmers and union workers in the Minot area had several flare-ups. The union was blamed for a number of fires on farms and in grain fields. The tension in northwest North Dakota spread across the state as the harvest advanced.
By the end of September the harvest workers were ready to travel south. Back in 1913 the best way to travel across the country was by train. For the transient harvest workers the best way to travel was by hitching a ride on the train without paying.
This earned them another nickname. They were also called hobos.
The railroad had rules against this and employed an entire line of staff, known as “railroad detectives” to kick the hobos off the trains. But sometimes there wasn’t a railroad detective when you needed one.
Northern Pacific brakeman William Paulson tried to throw a hobo off the train a little west of Jamestown On Sept. 26, 1913 and got shot for his trouble. The wound was not serious and he was able to describe his assailant.
Paulson said he was shot by a man of about 5 foot 8 inches tall and 150 pounds. Both probably about average for a man of that era.
He went on to describe the man as better dressed than the average hobo.
There is no way to know if the gunman was a transient farm worker or union member. He may or may not have been one of the classic hobos of the day.
But we do know they probably started the search in the nearest men’s wear department of a high end clothing store.