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On July 7, 1912, a violent confrontation known as the Graybow Riot occurred between factions of the timber industry, primarily the Galloway Lumber Company, and a party of the striking union mill workers and supporters, near Grabow (Graybow), Louisiana. The union workers, known as the Brotherhood of Timber Workers , was part of the Industrial Workers of the World's (IWW) branch of the Lumber Workers Industrial Union (LWIU), was trying to get mill workers to join and was staging speeches and meetings at mills. Although the union organizers had limited luck in Louisiana the IWW became very successful from 1917 to 1924,
The clash left four men dead, including Asbury Decatur "Kate" Hall, and an estimated 50 men wounded. It was the defining event in the attempt to organize locals and unionize sawmill workers in Louisiana. The end result, not seen until October, 1940, with "The Wages and Hours Act (later Fair Labor Standards Act", upheld by the Supreme Court on February 3, 1941, certainly culminated from the Graybow Riot and other Labor disputes that occurred before and after.
Although some spell the name of the community Grabow it is spelled Graybow in many history accounts and on some maps. A mapquest search will show the community of Grabow on Grabow road but also has the spelling Graybow highway.
Sometimes the spelling of a name or location can be misspelled and if left uncorrected this will become the known spelling even if incorrect.
Motivated by a need for better working conditions and pay, verses a continuation of the Status quo for the mill owners, the forces of labor and ownership collided at the little sawmill town of Grabow, Louisiana (Graybow) around 6:00 p.m. on July 7, 1912. This might have signaled the beginning of the end of the 1911-1912 timber war fought in the piney woods of west Louisiana and east Texas.
There is nothing to indicate that either side in the war, the Brotherhood of Timber Workers or the Southern Lumber Operators Association, intended the Grabow Riot to happen. There is much evidence to foreshadow a violent confrontation between these two would occur somewhere within Beauregard Parish during this time period. It was the stated intent of the union to strike against the mills located in the DeRidder, Louisiana and surrounding area. It was also the stated intent of the mill owners and operators to shut down the mills in the DeRidder area and lockout and blacklist the workers. The Long-Bell Lumber Company's Hudson River Lumber Company, a subsidiary in DeRidder, was not part of the Southern Lumber Operators Association and not only honored the "Brotherhood" but paid cash to employee's
The Graybow Riot was fought by a small wandering group of timber workers (not all Brotherhood members) and the owners, close friends, and employees of the Galloway family-owned mill at Grabow. The Galloway Mill was not affiliated with the sawmill operator's association and employed some 60-80 workers of whom some 8-10 were present and involved at the mill at the time of the riot.
The riot happened on a Sunday evening with the mill closed. The union group was a remnant of a larger group of workers who had been demonstrating at the large corporate mills located in Bon Ami and Carson, LA. The small group of approximately 200 were wending their way home from Bon Ami, some 6 miles east of Grabow, when they decided to stray from the road back to DeRidder and demonstrate at Grabow. This off the cuff decision led to the violent confrontation at Grabow that resulted in 4 dead and approximately 50 wounded in a short shoot-out of some 15 minutes and an estimated 300 shots. The timber workers and their associates, one of them being notorious gunman "Leather Britches" Smith were engaged in the exchange of gunfire. 58 of the timber worker group were subsequently put on trial for various charges ranging from inciting riot to murder. The trial ended in Lake Charles, Louisiana on November 2, 1912. Most of the men were acquitted and set free. None of them was charged with murder or inciting riot. "Leather Britches" Smith met his end in a hail of gunfire from 4 deputies on September 25, 1912. There is a historical marker of the site of the riot on what is now DeRidder, LA airport property.
The Louisiana and Texas Timber War of 1911-1912 had its origins in the labor uprisings opposing the powerful Long-Bell Lumber Company headquartered in Kansas City and operating mills along the route of the Kansas City Southern Railroad in western Louisiana. These uprisings centered in the Lake Charles, LA area in 1906-1907 and helped create the forces that fought the war of 1911-1912.
Three key events determined the shape of the war and its outcome:
As a result of this, John Henry Kirby knew that the union was in desperate financial trouble because of the long, drawn out court proceedings resulting from the Grabow Riot. Although the local union had affiliated with the IWW, the IWW would not come to the financial aid of the local, choosing to focus its efforts and priorities on the Northwest Pacific Coast timber war.
To cause a financially crippling strike on the union, the Association blacklisted all the union members associated with the Grabow Riot. This gave the American Lumber Company at Merryville cause to fire 18 workers, all of whom had testified for the defense at the Grabow Riot trial. The union then had no choice but to go out on strike. This strike resulted in the end of the union financially and organizationally when in November 1912 the striker's headquarters and soup kitchen in Merryville was attacked and destroyed by agents and friends of the owners. The strikers and union leaders were routed and they retreated to DeRidder. The strike was broken and the mill reopened in May 1913 with nonunion labor.
These three events, occurring within 6 months after the Grabow Riot, marked the end of the 1911-1912 Louisiana-Texas Timber War. The union continued to exist as a shell until 1914. The mills were never organized by the labor unions and this set the stage for further anti-unionism in the oil fields of Louisiana and east Texas.
By the end of 1921, the great piney woods of Louisiana and Texas were completely cut and so ended a short 30 year time of boom and bust for west Louisiana and east Texas. No effort was made by the timber companies to conserve or restore the piney woods that many thought could never be logged out. The bust left many sawmill towns deserted and such proved to be the case with Grabow. Had it not been the site of violence, it would likely have vanished into the backwater history of west Louisiana as did other mill towns like Carson, Bon Ami, Neame, Ludington, and Hall.
Below is an excerpt from the newspaper article "A Year of Death", appearing in the Beaumont Sunday Enterprise-Journal, Section C, September 15, 1974, detailing the recollections of Seab Rogers about "The Grabow Riot" of July 7, 1912. Seab was 79 years old at the time of the article.
The International Workers of the World (sic) (IWW) was (sic) organizing sawmill workers and every non-union mill was (a) target. A.L. Emerson was the organizer making the sawmill rounds and speaking on this particular Sunday.
Rogers picks up the story as an eyewitness: "We had been to Merryville, Singer, Newlin, and Carson and were headed for Bon Ami. Before we could get there someone came up and warned that Bon Ami was filled with gunmen and that we'd certainly be killed if we went there.
"There was 15 wagonloads of us. Most ot the men were armed. We headed for Grabow instead. I was driving the lead wagon, a brand new one pulled by a span of mules. Emerson was in my wagon.
"Somewhere along the way Emerson traded hats and coats with Decatur Hall. It was about 3:30 in the afternoon when we pulled up before the Grabow office and the shooting started right off.
"Three men were killed in my wagon. "Kate" Hall went down first, I guess they figured he was Emerson, what with him having Emerson's hat and coat on. Then a fellow named Martin was shot and another whose name I don't recall right off went down with him."
The man known as Charles Smith, AKA Leather Britches, wore a pistol on each hip and carried a rifle everywhere he went. A man of dubious character, reportedly brought in as a "hired gun" by Arthur L. Emerson, president of the Timber Workers, he was considered by some to be a hero and benefactor of timber workers. A timber worker, other than a Foreman or Sawfiler (that received better pay), was provided a place to stay, which included a house if married, but the pay was not great at all and the hours were long.
Most of the mills built up to the early 1900s had one distinction, being that pay was delivered by Company scrips. Most of the mills had the necessities of life, and for the most part, amenities that could be found in town. The drawback was that the "company money" was only good at the mill where the worker was employed. The Union hands were fighting for improved pay and conditions at sawmills.
The legend of Leather Britches was that he was thought by some to be a good man, until he drank, then there was a different side of him. It was reported that Rill (Loftin) Grantham stated that Leather Britches saved the man that was to become her husband from hanging shortly after the Graybow Riot. Many just avoided him and some stories tend to portray him in less than a nice way.
Charles Smith, alias Leather Britches, was Ben Myatt in Robertson County, Texas. Arrested for the torturing and vicious murder of his wife he was brought before Judge J.C. Scott with Frank A. Woods as prosecutor. The judge, on his own motion, ordered the trial moved to Falls County, in Marlin, Texas. Tom Connally was the young prosecutor and together with Woods prosecuted Ben Myatt.
Evidence was also provided that Ben had shot and killed a neighbor named John Cook, and just left him lying in a field. After he was convicted of murdering his wife in 1910, and sentenced to hang, he was transferred to Navarro County jail in Corsicana for the murder trial. He escaped before trial and made his was to Louisiana.
All that remains of Graybow are some bricks, a well, a mill pond, and an Historical Marker put there in 2003 by the descendants of the Galloway family and the Brotherhood of Timber Workers. There are residents of the community and churches. The area is still called the Graybow community.
This community is now considered the outskirts of DeRidder. A street than ran to the town from DeRidder still bears the name.
Was located about a mile south of DeRidder and other than fleeting history has vanished.
This community is within the north city limits of DeRidder and is still known to locals as Ludington.
The area known to locals and reflected on maps, situated in what is now Vernon Parish, is no longer around. Once a thriving lumber town the only known evidence is a mill pond about 3.5 miles north of Rosepine, on the east side of highway 171 and two abandoned grave sites. One grave site is near the old Neame mill pond and hard to locate, being surrounded by trees, and the other is on the west side of highway 171 in the middle of a field. It is located on property south of and adjacent to a saw mill bearing the name Neame. There are some headstones dating to the early 1900s but most of the graves are in bad shape, decaying, and many have already disappeared.
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