The Autobiography of Mother Jones
In 1910 I was summoned as a witness before Congress on the Mexican question. Mexico at that time was in revolution against the brutal oppression of the tyrant, Diaz.
Congressman Wilson asked me where I lived. “I live in the United States,” said I, “but I do not know exactly where. My address is wherever there is a fight against oppression. Sometimes I am in Washington, then in Pennsylvania, Arizona, Texas, Minnesota, Colorado. My address is like my shoes: it travels with me.”
“No abiding place?” said the chairman.
“I abide where there is a fight against wrong.’
“Were you in Douglas, Arizona, at the time of the arrest and kidnapping of Manuel Sarabia?”
“There was a strike going on the Phelps Dodge copper mines, and so I was there.”
“I suggest,” said congressman Wilson, “that you sit down, Mother, you will be more comfortable.”
“I am accustomed to stand when talking and am uncomfortable when sitting down. It is too easy.”
That brought a laugh from the committee.
“I was holding a street meeting in Douglas one Sunday night for the smelter workers. A great crowd turned out, the whole town. After the meeting a worker came running up to me and said, ‘Oh Mother, there has been something horrible going on at the jail. While you were speaking, a man was taken there in an auto. He kept screaming about his liberty being taken from him but the cops choked him off.’
“I guess it’s just some fellow with a jag on,” said I. I gave it no further thought.
“I went to my hotel and sat with a dozen or so of those poor, unfortunate wretches in the smelters, discussing the meeting, when the editor of ‘El Industrio’ burst into the room very excited. He said, ‘Oh Mother, they have kidnapped Sarabia, our young revolutionist.’
“Kidnapping seemed to be in the air just about that time. The Idaho affair was on. He was flushed and almost incoherent. I said, ‘Sit down a moment and get cool, then tell me your story.’
“He told me while I was addressing the crowd and the back streets were empty, an automobile had driven out of the jail, had driven to the office of the paper on which Sarabia worked and he had been kidnapped; that his cries for help had been smothered, and that he was held incommunicado in the jail.
“I said to him, ‘Get all the facts you can get them as correct as you can and immediately telegraph to the governor. Telegraph to Washington. Don’t stop a moment because if you do they will murder him.’
“We telegraphed the governor and Washington that night.
“The next day I met the editor of ‘El Industrio’ – the paper which has since been suppressed – and he told me the horrible details. Sarabia had incurred the hatred of Diaz and the forty thieves that exploited the Mexican peons because he had called Diaz a dictator. For this he had served a year in Mexican jails. He came to the United States and continued to wage the fight for Mexico’s liberation. Diaz’s hate followed him across the border and finally he had been kidnapped and taken across the Mexican border at the request of the tyrant.
“I said, ‘That’s got to stop. The idea of any blood-thirsty pirate on a throne reaching across these lines and stamping under his feet the constitution of our United States, which our forefathers fought and bled for! If this is allowed to go on, Mexican pirates can come over the border and kidnap any one who opposes tyranny.’
“We got up a protest meeting that night. We had a hard time getting the meeting announced, for the papers all belonged to the Southern Pacific Railway or to the Copper Queen mine, and their sympathies were of course with the pirates. But we managed to circulate the news of the meeting through the town. I spoke.
“I am not very choice, you know, when the constitution of my country is violated and the liberties of the people are tramped on. I do not go into the classics. I am not praying. I told the audience that the kidnapping of Manuel Sarabia by Mexican police with the connivance of American authorities was an incident in the struggle for liberty. I put it strong.
“I went up to Phoenix to see the governor, whom I believe to belong to the type that Patrick Henry, Jefferson and Lincoln belong to. We have few of that type today. The general run of governors care more for the flesh-pots of Egypt than they do for the dinner pails of the workers. I paid my respects to the governor. The governor had ordered Captain Wheeler of the Rangers to go into Mexico and bring back young Sarabia. This was done.
Congressman Clark asked, “Was he a soldier?”
“Captain Wheeler is captain of the Rangers and a pretty fine fellow to be captain. Usually I think that men who head blood-thirsty armies dressed up in uniforms for the killing, are not very fine men but Captain Wheeler is an exception.
“I left Arizona for the steel range in Minnesota where the steel workers were fighting the steel robbers.
Congressman Wilson said, “Mother Jones do you know how long it was from the time Sarabia was kidnapped in Douglas, Arizona until he was returned!”
Mr. Clark inquired, “Mother Jones, who sent Captain Wheeler there: the governor or the President of the United States?”
“That I did not inquire into, so long as they brought him back.”
A congressman asked me if I had been interested in the Mexican Revolution before I became interested in Sarabia.
“I have that,” said I. “In 1908 I learned that there were several men in the jail in Los Angeles – Mexicans who had exposed the rule of Diaz and the plunderers of their land. They had come to Los Angeles to carry on the fight against oppression and on some trumped-up charges had been arrested by American officers more interested in carrying out the will of the oil and land interests than in securing the rights of the people. They were patriots, like Kosciuszko, Carl Schurz, Kossuth and Garibaldi and George Washington – these Mexican in jail, fighting against a bloodier tyrant than King George against whom we revolted.
“I was not in very good health at that time but I went out and raised $4,000 that these Mexican patriots might have attorneys and stenographers and witnesses in Tombstone, Arizona, where they were to be tried before Judge Doan. They would need every defense they could get, I knew, for Judge Doan was not a very human man, and was more friendly to the copper interests than to the interests of mankind. They were tried and sentenced to serve eighteen days in the jail at Yuma but I am sure that our efforts in their behalf saved them from being turned over to the clutches of the tyrant who would have had them murdered.
“I heard that another Mexican patriot, Sylva, was apparently dying in the penitentiary in Leavenworth. I went to see him. I was angry that an American jail should imprison a man whose sole crime was his opposition to the exploitation of his people by foreign capital, that had taken over the oil and minerals and the land of Mexico. That had made the peon a slave to international finance.
“I went to see President Taft about the matter. ‘Mother,’ he said, ‘if you will bring me the evidence in the case, I will read it over.’
“I did this, recommending to the President that he pardon the patriots that languished in our jails.
“’Mother Jones,’ said the President, ‘I am very much afraid if I put the pardoning power in your hands, there would not be anyone left in the penitentiaries.’
“’Mr. President,’ said I, ‘if this nation devoted half the money and energy it devotes to penitentiaries to giving men an opportunity in life, there would be fewer men to pardon out of jails.’
“As a patriotic American I never lost interest in the Mexican revolution. I believe that this country is the cradle of liberty. I believe that movements to suppress wrongs can be carried out under the protection of our flag. The Irish Fenians carried on their fight for Irish liberty here in America. Money was raised here to send to Parnell, the Irish patriot. We have given aid and comfort and a home to Russian patriots, protesting the acts of a bloody czar.
“Gentlemen, in the name of our own Revolutionary heroes, in the name of the heroes unborn, in the name of those whose statues stand silently there in Statuary Hall, I beg that this body of representatives will protect these Mexican men from the tyranny and oppression of that bloody tyrant, Diaz.”
“Have you ever been in Mexico, Mother?” the chairman asked me.
“In 1901 I went with the Pan-American delegates to Mexico City, the Mexican government paying all my expenses. Then in 1911 I went again with Frank Hayes and Joseph Cannon. Madera had just been elected president after the overthrow of Diaz. I had a long audience with Francesco De la Barra, president ad interem, and with the chief justice; and also with Madera in his own home. I was most favorably impressed with Madera whose heart seemed filled with the desire to relieve the suffering in his country.
“’Mother,’ he said, ‘when I go into office, you will come down and organize the workers and help them get back their land.’
“Then Madera was assassinated and Mexico went on in turmoil. Obregon got in in 1921. Under Madera, Antonio Villareal, one of the men who had been in the Los Angeles jail, was made ambassador to Spain. When he returned, fortunes had changed and he was arrested and released on a $30,000 bond. He came to New York to see me.
“’You take the Pennsylvania railroad at four o’clock tomorrow evening and go to Washington and I will be on the same train. I will take the matter up with the government and I have no doubt that it will give you a square deal. You will not be dealing with these local pie counter holders but with the national government, the greatest government in the world.’
“The next morning we went to the Department of Justice.
“ ‘Won’t we need a lawyer, Mother?’ said Villareal.
“’I will be the lawyer,’ said I.
“I discussed his case with the attorney of the department and a full pardon was handed him. He was astonished. Later a friend of his came to me and said, ‘Mother, I have a beautiful piece of land in Mexico. It produces the finest flowers and fruits. On it is the most beautiful lake. I will give it to you for what you have done for the Mexican revoluntionists.’
“I thanked him and said, ‘I cannot accept compensation for doing a humane act for my fellow man. I want no strings tied to me. I want to be free to play my part in the fight for a happier civilization whether that fight is in America, Mexico, Africa or Russia.’”