Smith, Walker C. (1885-1927)

  • By Catherine Hinchliff
  • Posted 6/02/2008
  • Essay 8621

Walker C. Smith was a leading member of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) union also known as the Wobblies, who wrote and edited socialist newspapers, philosophical tracts, pamphlets, satirical plays, and even verse. Smith regularly went on speaking tours to promote the cause of  the Wobblies and recruit new members. Since Smith was a  "noted IWW agitator," police arrested him frequently for his union activities (Seattle Daily Times as quoted by Hanson). Smith, however, was perhaps more notorious for getting other IWW members arrested. Smith's most famous pamphlet, Sabotage, was used by courts throughout the United States as evidence that members of the IWW union were guilty of criminal syndicalism for simply belonging to the union. Though Sabotage was probably Smith's most widely distributed pamphlet, his most famous work was The Everett Massacre, a book intended to reveal the injustices committed against the working classes of Everett, Washington.

Early Life

Walker Conger Smith was born in Washington, D.C., on August 16, 1885, to Charles Payne Smith and Eleanor DeForest Potter. At the time of his birth, his parents had been married for six years. Walker was one of nine children, of which only seven survived to adulthood. Of the seven surviving children, he was the third child and second son.

Before settling in the District of Columbia between 1884 and 1885, the Smith family had lived in Minnesota and Ohio. They continued to reside in the District of Columbia until shortly before Smith’s younger brother Kenneth was born in February 1890. The family then moved to Kensington, Maryland, about 10 miles outside of Washington, D.C. While living in Maryland, Smith’s father worked as a compositor, arranging type for printing. When Smith’s older brother, DeForest, turned 16, he left school and worked as a grocer clerk. Smith attended both grade school and high school in the area until his father decided to move the family to Colorado in 1901 when Smith was 16. It was in Colorado that Smith and his younger brother Kenneth first discovered socialism. 

Cripple Creek, Colorado

When the family moved to Colorado Springs, Colorado in 1901, Smith’s father became a clerk for the city. Though the family lived about 60 miles away from the Cripple Creek mining district, Smith became interested in the labor struggle of the Western Federation of Miners (WFM) there, joining the WFM not long after the family’s move. 

The WFM was a radical labor union founded in Colorado in 1893. The Colorado business community feared the union for its socialist leadership and willingness to use violence. The labor clashes of the WFM piqued Smith’s interest in socialism and industrial unionism (a type of unionism that included all workers, not just skilled craft workers). Since the Smith family lived in Colorado Springs and Smith was only 18 at the time, it is unlikely that he was directly involved in the strikes and sabbotage of the Western Federation of Miners.

In 1894, the union gained notoriety for a successful strike in the Cripple Creek district, during which union members dynamited mine buildings and equipment. The WFM demanded an eight-hour workday and a wage increase from 2.50 dollars a day to 3.00 dollars a day. The striking miners demands were met after the Colorado state militia was mobilized to protect the union members from the private army the mine owners had employed to break up the strike.

When Smith first became interested in the WFM, the union was a strong presence throughout Colorado. From the time of the 1894 strike, the WFM had tried to pass a state law enforcing the eight-hour workday. However, the Colorado Supreme Court declared the law unconstitutional despite the fact that a similar law in Utah had been upheld by the United States Supreme Court. In an attempt to secure the eight-hour workday, the Colorado legislature passed an amendment to the state constitution. In November of 1902, an overwhelming majority of Colorado citizens voted to adopt the amendment. However, mining company lobbyists prevented the amendment from moving forward by placing pressure on the 1903 state legislature, and with the assent of the new governor, James Peabody, a Republican in favor of weakening labor unions.

With a state government that favored the interests of mine owners, the WFM saw less success in a series of strikes from 1903 to 1904. Increasing tensions during the strikes led to acts of violence by union members and the deployment of the National Guard. On June 6, 1904, a member of the WFM blew up a train depot in Independence, Colorado. The explosion marked the end of the Federation’s decade of success, as Governor Peabody responded essentially crushing the Western Federation of Miners. This period would later come to be known as the Colorado Labor Wars.

Walker Smith in Denver

On June 27, 1905, at the “Industrial Union Convention” held in Chicago, Big Bill Haywood, the socialist secretary-treasurer of the WFM, along with a large group of union leaders founded the Industrial Workers of the World union. The IWW union, also known as the Wobblies, sought to unify the working class against the “employing class,” take control over the means of production, abolish the wage system and end the reign of capitalism. Even though the WFM leadership had frequently argued for these socialist principles, the Western Federation of Miners quickly became disillusioned with the IWW and left the union in 1907. However, the IWW left a strong impression on Smith.

Smith first became involved in the IWW union after marrying Marie Beidel in 1909. They were both 23. Shortly after marrying, Smith and his wife moved to Denver with his younger brother Roger, who was 13 at the time. Upon moving to Denver, Smith worked as a tailor and Roger worked as a messenger in the same shop. Sometime in 1909, Smith and his wife also became charter members of IWW Local 26. In October of 1909, the couple had their first child, Enid Eleanor.

Spokane and the Industrial Worker

The couple and their young daughter moved to Spokane, Washington in 1910. Spokane had been a hotbed of IWW activism since the union's founding in 1905. When Wobbly James H. Walsh, known as the General of the Overalls Brigade, came to Spokane in 1908, he reorganized the largely defunct IWW local. Under his leadership, the IWW local in Spokane rented a large hall, increased membership to more than 1,200 people by 1909 and founded the Industrial Worker, an IWW newspaper.

In November 1909, the IWW union organized a free-speech fight against the Spokane City Council, which had passed an ordinance against street meetings in order to clamp down on the Wobblies. The purpose of the ordinance had become clear in August, when the City Council allowed the Salvation Army, but not the IWW union, to speak on the street. Over the course of the next month, more than 500 IWW members flooded Spokane’s jail cells by violating the ordinance. Wobbly orator Elizabeth Gurley Flynn was among those arrested for speaking in the street, but first she had to be unchained from a post in order to be taken to jail. By overwhelming the police and the City, the IWW union and its sympathizers forced the Spokane City Council to revoke the street meeting ordinance in March 1910.

While living in Spokane, Smith served as editor for the Industrial Worker from February 1, 1912 until July 17, 1913, replacing Fred W. Hulewood when he retired in 1912. Shortly after Smith assumed control of the newspaper, his wife gave birth to their second daughter, Lois Carol, in May 1912. During Smith’s tenure as editor, he published the Industrial Worker as a four-page, weekly newspaper. The Industrial Worker was the official newspaper for the IWW in the West. The paper primarily reported on labor and radicalism in the Western United States. It also featured international and national news that Smith considered pertinent to Wobblies, and included advertisements and job listings. As an official paper of the IWW union, the Industrial Worker had an explicit bias against the “employed class” and consistently promoted strikes, recruitment, and solidarity.


Before leaving Spokane at the end of 1913, Smith wrote one of his most important IWW pamphlets, entitled Sabotage: Its History, Philosophy and Function. This philosophical tract explained why sabotage was perhaps the most important tool for the IWW union and also argued that its use could be justified. In his introduction to Sabotage, Smith wrote “the object of this work is to awaken the producers [meaning the workers] to a consciousness of their industrial power. It is dedicated, not to those who advocate but to those who use sabotage.”

Smith argued that factory and mill owners should expect poor work for poor wages. Smith also argued that since those who produce and labor for a good are its rightful owners, the laboring class has every right to destroy what is rightfully theirs. At the conclusion to Sabotage, Smith repeats a popular IWW slogan: “Labor produces all wealth -- all wealth belongs to labor.”

Though Sabotage was meant to justify the tactics of the IWW union, it instead served as evidence against the union. For years after the first publication of Sabotage in 1913, the pamphlet was regularly used against IWW members as evidence that they had broken state and federal laws simply by belonging to the IWW union.

Writing for the Cause

At the end of 1913, Smith, his wife, and two daughters moved to Seattle, where he began working as a dry-cleaner, a trade he had learned from his older brother DeForest, who had a dry-cleaning business in Denver. For the remainder of his life, Smith remained actively involved in the dry-cleaning industry. Despite working as a dry cleaner, Smith continued to write essays, articles, and even verse supporting the IWW union. He also continued to help edit newspapers, serving on the editorial board of the Socialist World in 1916.

As a prominent member of Socialist World, Smith reported on the Everett Massacre of 1916. On October 30, 1916, a group of Wobblies traveled to Everett in order to support an Everett shingle-mill-workers strike. Rather than being allowed to speak, however, the IWW members were beaten by a group of citizen deputies in Berkeley Park. Not long afterward, the IWW decided to send two boats of workers from Seattle to Everett in order to demonstrate against this violation of the First Amendment.  On November 5, 1916, Everett police and citizen deputies met the Verona, one of two boats full of protesting Wobblies, at its dock. Shots were fired, and five union members and two deputies were killed by gunfire. When the Verona returned to Seattle, the police arrested 74 union members and charged one  of them, Thomas H. Tracy, with murder. Though the jury acquitted Tracy after a two-month trial, the Wobblies believed a gross miscarriage of justice had been carried out against IWW union.

Two days after the Everett Massacre, the Socialist World printed Smith’s detailed account written from the perspective of the IWW union. At the same time, Smith began to organize the defense of the 74 jailed workers. Though on crutches due to a broken leg, Smith worked tirelessly on behalf of the jailed Wobblies. He wrote articles for the International Socialist Review at the end of 1913 and in January 1914, as well as in Mother Earth in February. All of his articles on the Everett Massacre ended with a plea for funds for the Everett Prisoner’s Defense Committee.

Smith also began to write one of his most famous works, The Everett Massacre: A History of the Class Struggle in the Lumber Industry. The IWW Publishing Bureau of Chicago published the book in 1917, promoting it as the official Wobbly account of the Everett Massacre. The book outlined the abuse of the working class by the Everett lumber barons and blamed the police and citizen deputies for the massacre. It was a classic piece of IWW propaganda. However, it was also a very thorough and complete account of the context and events surrounding the massacre.

The Seattle General Strike

When Smith filled out his draft registration card in 1918, he listed his occupation as manager of the Equity Printing, Co. The Equity Printing, Co. was a co-operative publishing company owned in by a collection of socialist organizations and individual workers. The company printed socialist newspapers and pamphlets in the Seattle area. Smith volunteered the company to print pamphlets during the General Strike of February 1919 without charging for the cost of labor. However the strike committee opted instead to take over the Trade Printery plant for its propaganda materials.

The Seattle General Strike was called in early February 1919 to help support a shipyard workers strike that had begun on January 21. Starting on February 6, 1919, the General Strike Committee effectively shut down the city of Seattle for nearly five days. In response to the strike, Seattle mayor Ole Hanson (1874-1940), called in the National Guard and declared martial law. After a few days, many of those participating in the strike began to waver and the city soon returned to normal. Smith reportedly was a vocal advocate, encouraging IWW union members to join the strike. However, he had no direct involvement with the planning of the General Strike.

Despite Smith’s lack of involvement in the General Strike, police raided the Equity Printing, Co. and arrested Smith, claiming that he had been passing out inflammatory leaflets during the strike. When the chief of police reopened the shop shortly afterward, he allowed it to remain open only under the direct supervision of a policeman.

The Centralia Massacre

On November 11, 1919, a group of legionnaires attacked an IWW hall in Centralia, Washington. The Wobblies defended their hall, killing four World War I veterans. Two days later, Smith and many other IWW union members were arrested in panic. The Equity Printing Co. was again seized, and Smith was charged under the Espionage Act, probably for being editor of his paper, The International Weekly. In addition to announcing the raids, federal authorities, under the direction of Alexander Mitchell Palmer, publicly resolved to investigate the IWW union.

Though Smith was arrested in reaction to the Centralia Massacre, it was the IWW members in Centralia who suffered most from the public’s reaction. Possibly all of the Centralia Wobblies convicted of murder had not fired a gun during the massacre. In 1922 Smith wrote Was It Murder? The Truth About Centralia. Smith published the pamphlet in an effort to raise money for the Defense Publicity Committee run by Elmer Smith (no relation). The Defense Publicity Committee sought to get the seven imprisoned victims a fair trial.

Walker Smith continued to help Elmer Smith in later cases. Elmer Smith represented two Wobblies charged with criminal syndicalism in Sacramento in 1922. Elmer Smith brought in Walker Smith as a star witness and member of the IWW general executive board. Elmer Smith also brought forward nine other union members as witnesses. The judge had said that only members of the IWW could testify to the organization’s nonviolence, so that was exactly what Walker Smith did. Upon leaving the stand, he was arrested for being a member of the IWW union along with the nine other Wobbly witnesses.

Late in Life

In March 1922, Smith’s wife Marie gave birth to their third daughter, Shirley Janet. In 1925, Smith wrote a satirical play entitled Kangaroo Court of the State of Lumberlust. Smith used the stage of a courtroom for a series of absurd court cases against Jews, working-class witnesses, impoverished men, and A. Wise Wobbly. He cleverly claimed only to have transcribed these sardonic, stereotypical court cases. At one point, the judge in the play mistakes an Abraham Lincoln quote recited by the defense counsel as one of a threatening agitator.

On February 17, 1927, Walker Smith died from a pre-existing heart condition. He was 41 years old. Several hundred people attended his funeral including many of his friends from a variety of Seattle printshops. His wife Marie continued to participate in the labor movement and to work in dry-cleaning. Though his most famous works were published in 1913 and 1916, Walker Smith never stopped writing in support of socialist causes.


Norman H. Clark, Mill Town: A Social History of Everett, Washington ... (Seattle, University of Washington Press, 1970), 186-214; Tom Copeland, The Centralia Tragedy of 1919: Elmer Smith and the Wobblies (Seattle, University of Washington Press, 1993), 120-124; U.S. Department of Commerce and Labor, Bureau of the Census, Thirteenth Census of the United States: 1910 -- Population, Colorado State, Denver County, Precinct 5, Part of Denver City (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1910), Sheet No. 8B; U.S. Department of Commerce and Labor, Bureau of the Census, Thirteenth Census of the United States: 1910 -- Population, Colorado State, El Paso County, Precinct 3, Colorado Springs City (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1910), Sheet No. 5A; U.S. Department of Commerce and Labor, Bureau of the Census, Twelfth Census of the United States: Schedule No. 1 -- Population, Maryland State, Montgomery County, 13th District, Kensington Town (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1900), Sheet No. 2; U.S. Selective Service System, World War I Draft Registration (1917-1918), Washington State, King County, Seattle City, Local Board Division Four, Registration Card of Walker Conger Smith, Serial No. 0887; “Leader of Miners Arrested” The New York Times, June 14, 1904 (;  “Everett Riot Has One More Victim,” Ibid., November 7, 1916 (; “Raids Ordered By Palmer: I.W.W. Editor and Directors at Seattle Held Under Espionage Law,” Ibid., November 14, 1919 (; “Red Shoot Down Marching Veterans; Mob Lynches One,” Ibid., November 12, 1919 (; “Seattle Cars Run; Strike Near End” Ibid., February 10, 1919 (; Ole Hanson, “Smashing the Soviet in Seattle,” in The World’s Work ed. by Walter Hines Page et al. (Doubleday, Page & Co., 1920), 302-305; Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, “Citizen deputies beat 41 IWW members at Everett's Beverly Park on October 30, 1916” (by Margaret Riddle), “Five IWW members and two deputies die in a gunbattle dubbed the Everett Massacre on November 5, 1916” (by Walt Crowley), “IWW formally begins Spokane free-speech fight on November 2, 1909” (by Ross Reider and the HistoryLink Staff), “IWW organizer James H. Walsh arrives in Spokane and rejuvenates the Wobbly local in the fall of 1908” (by Priscilla Long), “Seattle Union Record” (by Ross Reider), and “Spokane ordinance prohibiting street meetings becomes effective on January 1, 1909” (by Ross Reider) (accessed March 27, 2008); Phil Mellinger, “How the IWW Lost Its Western Heartland: Western Labor History Revisited,” The Western Historical Quarterly, Vol. 27, No. 3 (Autumn 1996), 303-324; On the Firing Line (Spokane, The Industrial Worker, 1912); Colin M. Anderson, “The Industrial Workers of the World in the Seattle General Strike,” Seattle General Strike Project website accessed March 30, 2008 (; Chris Perry and Victoria Thorpe, “Industrial Worker,” The Labor Press Project website accessed March 30, 2008 (; Natalia Salinas-Aguila, “Seattle Union Record,” The Labor Press Project Website accessed March 30, 2008 (; Gary Siebel, “Socialist World,” The Labor Press Project website accessed March 30, 2008 (; Walker C. Smith, In the Kangaroo Court of the State of Lumberlust (Seattle: Seattle Prison Comfort Club, 1925); Smith, Sabotage: Its History, Philosophy & Function (Chicago, I.W.W. Publishing Bureau, 1917); Smith, The Everett Massacre: A History of the Class Struggle in the Lumber Industry (Chicago, I.W.W. Publishing Bureau, 1917); Walker C. Smith, Was It Murder? The Truth About Centralia (Seattle: Branch, The General Defense Committee, 1922); Anna Louise Strong, et al., “The Seattle General Strike of 1919,” (Seattle, History Committee of the General Strike Committee, 1919), website accessed April 10, 2008 (; Katherine Sutcliffe, “Western Federation of Miners,” Famous American Trials: Bill Haywood Trial 1907 website accessed April 5, 2008  (; Shirley Suttles, “Remembering Walker Smith,” Everett Public Library website accessed March 26, 2008 (; Robert L. Tyler, “The Everett Free Speech Fight,” The Pacific Historical Review, Vol. 23, No. 1 (Feb., 1954), 19-30.

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