Monday, July 16, 2012

Colonel W.S. Paisley (approx. 1860-1894) - "Martyr to the Cause of Humanity"

Colonel W.S. Paisley's gravestone in the unendowed area

Colonel W. S. Paisley was a member of the Industrial Army. In 1894, Ohio businessman Jacob Coxey organized an "Industrial Army" to protest the federal government's inaction in the face of the Great Depression of the 1890s. Class tensions were at an all-time high in American history and unemployed “tramps” or “hobos” traveled on freight trains begging for work or food. Many in the upper class feared anarchy or violence and labor conflicts sprung up across the country, including the Pullman Strike, Homestead Strike and Carnegie Steel Works Strike. Coxey’s plan was for these trains to converge on Washington D.C. to put pressure on President William H. McKinley. 

The "Industrial Army" en route to Washington D.C. in 1894

Colonel W.S. Paisley, who had worked as a steampipe-fitter and mechanic for the Union Iron Works and Mills Building in San Francisco, seized a train in Oakland with 400-700 other men under the command of General Denning Smith. The train headed into Rocklin in Placer County where it was met by Constable J.B. Fleckenstein* who attempted to detain General Smith. Court records tell of varying accounts of what happened next. One thing seems clear, a struggle ensued and the Industrial Army tried to wrestle away Fleckenstein’s gun. He apparently tried to shoot Smith, but missed, and instead hit Paisley, who died during his medical examination.

The (SF) Morning Call, May 12, 1894
The ensuing trial created a sensation and newspaper accounts proclaim that the court was standing room only with people shouting from the galleries, conflicting testimonies, flashy cross-examinations, salacious accusations and even some humorous moments. At the end of the trial, Judge Gwynne ruled that Fleckenstein acted in self-defense.

The judge also criticized Paisley, stating to the court: 
“W.S. Paisley, then the highest officer in command of the Industrial Army mentioned, instead of making an endeavor to restrain his men or followers from committing unlawful acts, aided and assisted in hampering, harassing and retarding the officer in the performance of his legal and obligatory duty by laying violent hands on the officer, while others, persons under his command, were endeavoring to take from the officer his pistol, the only defense he had on his person.”

Paisley’s body was transported to Oakland’s Mountain View Cemetery for burial. But before the body arrived a crowd gathered at 10th & Broadway where angry condemnations and speeches ensued. The group passed a resolution with a resolved clause that stated:
“That the action of the said officer in slaying an unarmed citizen was hasty and unwarranted and should be condemned by all good citizens.”

The group raised the money to transport Paisley’s body from Rocklin and to have him buried. A number of prominent Populists showed up at Paisley’s funeral to demonstrate their support. His epithet reads "Martyr to the Cause of Humanity."

Jack London
Another person who joined Coxey’s Industrial Army in Oakland in 1894 was a man who had been shoveling coal for an electric railway power plant. The man quit when he discovered that he has been exploited, having performed the work of two men. He then joined the march East to protest unemployment. That man was the writer Jack London.

*Some newspaper accounts list him as Fleckenger, Flickenger or Flickenstein.

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