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Frank Little and the IWW: The Blood That Stained an American Family

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Franklin Henry Little (1878–1917), an organizer for the Western Federation of Miners and the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), fought in some of the early twentieth century’s most contentious labor and free-speech struggles. Following his lynching in Butte, Montana, his life and legacy became shrouded in tragedy and family secrets. In double Spur-Award-winning Frank Franklin Henry Little (1878–1917), an organizer for the Western Federation of Miners and the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), fought in some of the early twentieth century’s most contentious labor and free-speech struggles. Following his lynching in Butte, Montana, his life and legacy became shrouded in tragedy and family secrets. In double Spur-Award-winning Frank Little and the IWW, author Jane Little Botkin chronicles her great-granduncle’s fascinating life and reveals its connections to the history of American labor and the first Red Scare. Beginning with Little’s childhood in Missouri and territorial Oklahoma, Botkin recounts his evolution as a renowned organizer and agitator on behalf of workers in corporate agriculture, oil, logging, and mining. Frank Little traveled the West and Midwest to gather workers beneath the banner of the Wobblies (as IWW members were known), making soapbox speeches on city street corners, organizing strikes, and writing polemics against unfair labor practices. His brother and sister-in-law also joined the fight for labor, but it was Frank who led the charge—and who was regularly threatened, incarcerated, and assaulted for his efforts. In his final battles in Arizona and Montana, Botkin shows, Little and the IWW leadership faced their strongest opponent yet as powerful copper magnates countered union efforts with deep-laid networks of spies and gunmen, an antilabor press, and local vigilantes. For a time, Frank Little’s murder became a rallying cry for the IWW. But after the United States entered the Great War and Congress passed the Sedition Act (1918) to ensure support for the war effort, many politicians and corporations used the act to target labor “radicals,” squelch dissent, and inspire vigilantism. Like other wage-working families smeared with the traitor label, the Little family endured raids, arrests, and indictments in IWW trials. Having scoured the West for firsthand sources in family, library, and museum collections, Botkin melds the personal narrative of an American family with the story of the labor movements that once shook the nation to its core. In doing so, she throws into sharp relief the lingering consequences of political repression.


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Franklin Henry Little (1878–1917), an organizer for the Western Federation of Miners and the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), fought in some of the early twentieth century’s most contentious labor and free-speech struggles. Following his lynching in Butte, Montana, his life and legacy became shrouded in tragedy and family secrets. In double Spur-Award-winning Frank Franklin Henry Little (1878–1917), an organizer for the Western Federation of Miners and the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), fought in some of the early twentieth century’s most contentious labor and free-speech struggles. Following his lynching in Butte, Montana, his life and legacy became shrouded in tragedy and family secrets. In double Spur-Award-winning Frank Little and the IWW, author Jane Little Botkin chronicles her great-granduncle’s fascinating life and reveals its connections to the history of American labor and the first Red Scare. Beginning with Little’s childhood in Missouri and territorial Oklahoma, Botkin recounts his evolution as a renowned organizer and agitator on behalf of workers in corporate agriculture, oil, logging, and mining. Frank Little traveled the West and Midwest to gather workers beneath the banner of the Wobblies (as IWW members were known), making soapbox speeches on city street corners, organizing strikes, and writing polemics against unfair labor practices. His brother and sister-in-law also joined the fight for labor, but it was Frank who led the charge—and who was regularly threatened, incarcerated, and assaulted for his efforts. In his final battles in Arizona and Montana, Botkin shows, Little and the IWW leadership faced their strongest opponent yet as powerful copper magnates countered union efforts with deep-laid networks of spies and gunmen, an antilabor press, and local vigilantes. For a time, Frank Little’s murder became a rallying cry for the IWW. But after the United States entered the Great War and Congress passed the Sedition Act (1918) to ensure support for the war effort, many politicians and corporations used the act to target labor “radicals,” squelch dissent, and inspire vigilantism. Like other wage-working families smeared with the traitor label, the Little family endured raids, arrests, and indictments in IWW trials. Having scoured the West for firsthand sources in family, library, and museum collections, Botkin melds the personal narrative of an American family with the story of the labor movements that once shook the nation to its core. In doing so, she throws into sharp relief the lingering consequences of political repression.

43 review for Frank Little and the IWW: The Blood That Stained an American Family

  1. 4 out of 5

    Nancie Young

    This is an amazing read, which grabs your attention from the very beginning. I was unaware of Frank Little's work with the IWW and only vaguely familiar with the copper mines in Butte Montana. Botkin's writing and impeccable research place the reader right in the middle of what went on making history very real. I look forward to reading subsequent books by this author. This is an amazing read, which grabs your attention from the very beginning. I was unaware of Frank Little's work with the IWW and only vaguely familiar with the copper mines in Butte Montana. Botkin's writing and impeccable research place the reader right in the middle of what went on making history very real. I look forward to reading subsequent books by this author.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Randi Samuelson-Brown

    When I picked up this book, I was expecting an account of a labor movement leader – a subject I admittedly know little about. Botkin is related to Frank Little, in fact, he is her great granduncle. Investigating the family’s skeleton closet, the author uncovered a man of principle who fought against the abuses of his time. Why was such a man relegated to the skeleton closet? For fear of retribution… The parallels between the early 1900s and today are eerie. Frank Little was the product of a docto When I picked up this book, I was expecting an account of a labor movement leader – a subject I admittedly know little about. Botkin is related to Frank Little, in fact, he is her great granduncle. Investigating the family’s skeleton closet, the author uncovered a man of principle who fought against the abuses of his time. Why was such a man relegated to the skeleton closet? For fear of retribution… The parallels between the early 1900s and today are eerie. Frank Little was the product of a doctor’s homesteading family that settled in Oklahoma at the time of the great land rush. From difficulties arising from economic insecurity in managing to hold onto their land, Frank Little developed his convictions. Agitating for better conditions for the working classes, he travelled throughout the western United States, from Spokane, to Bisbee Arizona, to the Iron Range of Minnesota and points in between. An enemy of abusive capitalism, he (along with the IWW) got swept up in the paranoia of World War I. And for his beliefs, he suffered mightily. The hardships Little faced are certainly not unknown today. Disparity among classes, division and hatred in America, discrimination against immigrants and those deemed as “other”, the fragility of free speech especially when those in power don’t like the message. The fact that free speech was so stifled bothered me the most. The IWW (known as Wobblies) met violence with passivity, holding the moral high ground time and time again. The men and women of the IWW were in part conscientious objectors (some members registered for the draft) against US involvement in WWI when patriotic fever was running high. This book is rare, in that it is exquisitely researched and written with a passion. Botkin takes a relatively unexplored part of 20th century American history and brings it too life. The fact that constitutional rights could be so grossly abused and taken away is horrifying. One question that emerges, is what is sedition vs. patriotism? Who makes the determination? It is, in my opinion, an important book.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Kare

    Jane Little Botkin has written an extraordinary book based on the life and ultimate death of her great-granduncle, Frank Little, a union activist and organizer for the IWW (Industrial Workers Of The World). For me, it was an education on the subject of union organizing, something I knew practically nothing about, and the miners who desperately needed a voice to stand up to their employer oppressors. Written in great detail and with historical elegance, Ms. Botkin has woven together the epic tale Jane Little Botkin has written an extraordinary book based on the life and ultimate death of her great-granduncle, Frank Little, a union activist and organizer for the IWW (Industrial Workers Of The World). For me, it was an education on the subject of union organizing, something I knew practically nothing about, and the miners who desperately needed a voice to stand up to their employer oppressors. Written in great detail and with historical elegance, Ms. Botkin has woven together the epic tale of Frank Little's passionate quest to make a better life for himself and other miners, the culmination of times which gave way to the creation of the IWW, the Little family, the sacrifices of thousands of miners and their families, the backroom deals, the dregs of the press, the never-ending corruption, and the manner of murder and violence undertaken by those parties opposed to the miners having a better way of life. The story of Frank Little will stay with me as even in today's society, such injustice still goes on.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Nancie Meng

    A beautifully written and well researched book. Not only is this an important piece of American history (one I would venture to say not enough people know about), it resonates with what is happening in our country today if one thinks about it. Without revealing what took place, I knew I had to read the entire book as the author's first few pages make it impossible to put the book down. A beautifully written and well researched book. Not only is this an important piece of American history (one I would venture to say not enough people know about), it resonates with what is happening in our country today if one thinks about it. Without revealing what took place, I knew I had to read the entire book as the author's first few pages make it impossible to put the book down.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Nancy Brunsteter

    Excellent historical account. Reads like a novel and conveys a realistic view of this time period in history. This is not a typical account of someone’s relative. This is a story well told and rich in descriptive fact, emotion and mystery.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Edward Sullivan

    An insightful biography of the labor organizer for the Western Federation of Miners and the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) who was lynched in 1917 during a miners stirke in Butte, Montana.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Natalie Bright

    Interesting story of American history, and how the author discovered this piece of her family history is unique. Superb writing, well researched.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Julier

    Surprisingly readable and interesting. I like the short, titled chapters. Am impressed by the way he author has incorporated and documented all the various sources she drew on. Excellent writing!

  9. 4 out of 5

    Derek Donwerth

  10. 5 out of 5

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  12. 4 out of 5

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