A Little Bit About a Great American

Copper Trust to the Press: “It’s all right, pal, just tell them he was a traitor”  Cartoon was with “A Month of Lawlessness” by Mary Marcy on a Xerox I found. The body is labeled “Frank Little” and the tag on the side is the note found on his hanging corpse. It said, “Others take notice! First and last warning! 3-7-77. L-D-C-S-S-W”

Most people from the period and today assume that Frank Little was murdered by the copper bosses, particularly Anaconda Copper. One “source” is mystery novelist Dashiel Hammet (The Thin Man) who is said to have told his friend playwright Lillian Hellman that he knew who killed Frank Little. He was a Pinkerton Detective in 1917 and was apparently assigned undercover to Butte. Another “source” is editor and longtime progressive activist William Dunne, who named the perpetrators and said they were all in the employ of Anaconda. An interesting book and movie, A River Runs Through It, implies strongly that a newspaper reporter had his head beaten in by Anaconda hoodlums during the same period.

Initially, the capitalist press tried to lay the death of Frank Little onto the striking copper workers of Butte. Some strikers were in Little’s organization, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), but others were from the Western Federation of Miners (WFM), who were encouraged to hate the IWW. The American Federation of Labor (AFL) of that period also had a strong dislike for the IWW. The copper strike had heavy implications for “know nothing” nationalists who considered it their patriotic duty, during that same period and well into the mid-1920s, to commit murder and mayhem against anyone that they felt was retarding the war effort. Some people felt that Frank Little was murdered in such a patriotic frenzy, and the fact is that there were many victims of official and unofficial “patriotic” gangs during the period. Little was the main voice in American labor who opposed the war, and said so often, including in Butte.

In Little’s home state of Oklahoma, for example, people were killed for speaking up against the war. Others were jailed or beaten. One man, Wallace Cargill, had a picture of Frank Little in his pocket when the “posse” hunted him down and killed him.

Little’s outspoken nature gave his detractors many excuses for blaming somebody besides the copper bosses for his death. It could have been male chauvinists who opposed Little’s support for women pickets in the copper strike; it could have been racists who opposed Little’s approach to organizing agricultural workers. It could have been J. Edgar Hoover, who was heading the Palmer Raids during the period and showed himself and his organization during the “Cointelco” period to have been capable of the vilest acts.

One thing is clear: neither local nor federal officials did anything about the murder of Frank Little. The perpetrators who dragged crippled Frank Little through the streets of Butte were not afraid of getting caught, and they never were.

Elaine Lantz is pictured here at an intersection in Fresno, California, that is the site of the organizing center for the IWW that was burned down by a mob during the free speech fight of 1910. She and I have sifted through libraries in Tulsa, Oklahoma; Yale, Oklahoma; New York, New York; Butte, Montana; Missoula, Montana; and Fresno in search of Frank Little. America deserves to know about one of their greatest heroes!

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