Vincent Saint John
|Vincent Saint John|
|Resting place||Oakland, California|
|Parents||Silas St. John and "Mary" Cecilia Magee|
Vincent Saint John (1876 – 1929) was an American labor leader and a prominent Wobbly. He was born in Newport, Kentucky and was the only son of New York native Silas St. John and Irish immigrant Marian "Mary" Cecilia Magee. He had a sister two years younger named Helen.
The family moved frequently, Silas going wherever he could to find employment as a clerk or bookkeeper. St. John worked as a miner from the age of seventeen, moving to Telluride, Colorado in 1897. In 1900 St. John became president of the Western Federation of Miners' Union Local 63 at Telluride. He led the 1901 strike in that mining camp to a successful conclusion, gaining a standard minimum wage for the miners. Because of his success at organizing the miners, mine owners marked him as an "undesirable," and launched a campaign of persecution against him that lasted the rest of his life.
He was shadowed by Pinkertons hired by the Mine Operators' Association, stalked by gunmen, had a price on his head, was arrested and charged with crimes he never committed, and was condemned by the anti-labor press as a "murderer".
Bulkeley Wells, a Telluride mining company president and manager who was "born to privilege... [and was] convinced laborers were beneath him," was intent upon hanging St. John. Wells conspired with others, including Pinkerton manager James McParland, to accuse the head of the WFM local of conducting a "reign of terror" – and in particular, of murdering William J. Barney, a mine guard who had left his post. There was one significant complicating factor: Barney wasn't dead.
St. John was shot in Goldfield, Nevada by a "conservative" in the Western Federation of Miners. The two bullets in his right wrist shattered the bone, crippling his hand. St. John was an organizer for the I.W.W. and from 1908-1914 he led that union as the General Secretary. In January 1915 he retired to a small copper claim in New Mexico, but was later arrested in 1917 when the federal government brought sweeping indictments against I.W.W. members. St. John was not a member at that time, nor had he committed any crime, but the blanket indictments of hundreds of Wobblies brought blanket convictions, and St. John was sentenced to federal prison. He was freed by President Warren G. Harding in 1923. Vincent St. John died in 1929 and is buried in Oakland, California.
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