Site of Grabow Riot/Beauregard Regional Airport
On July 7, 1912, a violent confrontation occurred between the Galloway Lumber Company and the Brotherhood of Timber Workers. The labor riot left four men dead and an estimated 50 men wounded. It was the defining event in the attempt to organize locals and unionize sawmill workers in the State of Louisiana. The site is on the National Register of Historic Places and is on Beauregard Parish Regional Airport property, south of the airport, adjacent to Grabow Road, off Hwy. 190 West and Hwy. 3099.
Backstory and Context
“The Grabow Incident,” from the “Chapters in History” booklet, printed by the Beauregard Parish Historical Society:
With the growth of industry and the growth of employment also came the growth of the union movement including the National Socialist I.W.W. and the locally organized B. of T.W. (Brotherhood of Timber Workers).
Conflicts developed and culminated in the “Grabow Riot,” an event which set off a claim of reaction felt throughout the state.
Mrs. Bertie Mae Taylor Jerrell, formerly of Merryville, did her master’s thesis in history on the Grabow Riot, tracing the cause and effect of this historic and bloody event. The following are excerpts from her research:
In 1911, union agitation continued to increase as did the operators’ efforts to crush the union.
In June 1911, the B of T.W. had presented a series of demands to their employers which included a wage of $2 a day for a 10-hour day on a bi-monthly pay basis. The Southern Lumber Association responded by reopening a few mills on such basis while others did not begin operations until the following February or May.
But conflict continued. Conflict seemed to have selected a small sawmill town to strike and on July 7, 1912, the explosion sounded … that set off a minor political revolution.
In Grabow, three miles west of DeRidder on the Santa Fe, the Galloways – owners of a small, privately-operated mill – had prepared for the worst. Their main office had been lined with steel circle saws to serve as a barricade during an attack, and armed guards, who shifted morning and evening, were posted in order to maintain a 24-hour alert.
Grabow had reopened in May 1912, after meeting some of the union’s demands. However, in June, the workers walked off from the mill, only to be replaced by strike-breakers. Wishing to convert the scabs to the B. of T.W., the union planned to demonstrate unionism on Saturday evening, July 6, 1912. The meeting did not materialize and on Sunday morning, July 7, the union leader and some two hundred men left DeRidder to speak and demonstrate to a crowd of union men in Bon Ami, three miles south of DeRidder.
Discouraged by the cool reception, the men moved on to Carson where union leader A.L. Emerson did speak.
Sensing trouble brewing and wishing to avoid it, he and most of his men cut through the woods to Grabow. A phone call from Carson warned the Galloways of the approach of the union men. Just before six o-clock, the crowd reached Grabow. The Galloways had taken refuge in the office and other nearby buildings. A few guards had been placed about the mill in strategic positions … in the planer, south of the track, and in empty box cars.
Mr. Emerson’s wagon stopped in front of the commissary and he rose to address the crowd … only to be drowned out by jeering laughter and the beating of tin cans.
Pure bedlam began when a man ran out of the office with a gun, aimed it at the speaker and fired. The bullet clipped the brim of Emerson’s hat. Decatur Hall, from DeRidder, was standing by the speaker, jumped from the wagon to run. He was unarmed. The next ten minutes were filled with chaos and confusion. Bullets flew in every direction as men fired without taking aim … vehicles were overturned and horses ran wild, many to fall dead during the battle. Union men ran, seeking cover behind wagons, fallen trees and empty box cars. After 10 fearful minutes, the furor ceased … three men lay dead and many were wounded, some to die later.
Before daylight, ten men were arrested by Sheriff Henry Reid from Lake Charles … including the Galloways and A.L. Emerson. The prisoners were placed in the Lake Charles Jail and the state militia was ordered out by the Governor to the troubled area.
The Grand Jury set July 15 as the date to investigate the Grabow Incident. By July 26, Judge E. G. Hunter was engaged as associate counsel for the B. of T.W.
The exoneration of the Galloways from the charges of murder and the arrests of 64 union men served to unite the farmers and the timber workers.
Besides Judge E.G. Hunter, the defendants were represented by Hundley and Hawthorne, also of Alexandria; Cline, Cline and Bellof, of Lake Charles; and Kay and Jackson, of DeRidder. Congressman A.P. Pujo was allegedly hired by the Southern Mill Operators to assist District Attorney Moore.
On Nov. 2, 1912, the defendants were acquitted in what was seemingly a victory of the B. of T.W.
Conflict still lingered over the DeRidder-Merryville area. On Sept. 25, 1912, a union organizer, “Leather Britches Smith,” was shot and killed while allegedly resisting arrest by nine men … members of the “Good Citizens League.” This made the situation even more tense.
In November, 1,300 men walked off the job at the American Lumber Co. in Merryville. But that strike soon came to an end, and was the last major strike of the era.
At Judge Overton’s request, a committee of inquiry was set up to investigate the situation of social-economic unrest in Merryville. The committee established that the trouble was not due to unfriendly relations existing between the B. of T.W. and the American Lumber Co., but in part was due to the harsh acts committed by members of the so-called Good Citizens League on one hand, and the continual agitation by the I.W.W. on the other.