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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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100 years ago: Wobblies riot, beat sheriff in pre-trial fracas

An angry mob of Wobblies, incensed over a judge’s decision to move the trial of one of their members, rioted and attacked the Benewah County sheriff. (Spokesman-Review archives)
An angry mob of Wobblies, incensed over a judge’s decision to move the trial of one of their members, rioted and attacked the Benewah County sheriff. (Spokesman-Review archives)

A crowd of Wobblies attacked and pummeled the Benewah County sheriff in St. Maries, in a wild melee that the Spokane Daily Chronicle described as a full-blown “riot.”

Sheriff E.B. Noland was knocked down three times and “badly beaten by the Wobblies,” said a correspondent.

It all began when at least 200 Wobblies (members of the Industrial Workers of the World) converged on St. Maries for the trial of a Wobbly official named W.W. Nelson. They were gathered in a vacant lot when they learned that the trial had been moved to Coeur d’Alene because the judge believed that the Wobblies would intimidate the St. Maries jury.

This angered the Wobbly crowd and they “unanimously decided” to break Nelson out of the St. Maries jail.

Sheriff Noland was in their midst, and he “attempted to persuade the men to desist.”

“A dozen Wobblies jumped on him,” said the paper. “Onlookers sounded a riot call and in a few minutes, between 100 and 200 citizens, all who could obtain guns, were on the scene. The gang was quickly surrounded.”

A compromise was reached that afternoon, in which most of the Wobblies were released on the condition that those who beat the sheriff would be arrested. The sheriff suffered no serious injuries.

“The mob agreed to make no more trouble,” but the atmosphere remained tense in St. Maries, with more Wobblies pouring in by rail.

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