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The Red Scare In Nevada, 1919-1920 - Chapter 3
by Ted DeCorte

Response to Immigrants and Socialists
Immigrants and Socialists were two of the principal groups on whom many Nevadans focused their intolerance during the Red Scare. In fact the attacks on Wobblies, Socialists and other political radicals, developed in part from older patterns of prejudice and hostility toward immigrants and minorities. Since the 1880s Americans had worried about immigration, especially the new tide flowing in from Southern and Eastern Europe. Westerners, including Nevadans, also had grave concerns over the influx of Asians. Native-born citizens considered these "new immigrants" racially and culturally inferior, and believed they would never make "good and loyal Americans." Thus, a major problem arose over how to rid the country of unassimilated and supposedly unassimilable foreigners.

Immigrants migrated to the United States hoping to escape overcrowded cities, industrial and agricultural depressions, and religious and political persecution. With hopes of obtaining high paying jobs, buying land, and eventually improving their social and economic status, they settled in ethnic ghettos with others from their homeland. Like most American cities, Nevada's communities had their own "Austrian Town," "Greek Town," and "Jap Town."

In 1919 over one-third of Nevada's population had foreign backgrounds. Nevadans, like most Americans, made sharp distinctions between the original Ango-Saxon settlers and the "new immigrants" from Italy, Greece, Poland, Russia, other Slavic countries, and Asia. The newcomers had generally darker complexions and spoke little or no English; they remained isolated from Nevada's general population, established their own newspapers and ethnic societies, and practiced Catholic, Greek Orthodox, or Jewish faiths. Proud of their heritage, they celebrated their national and religious holidays in hopes of preserving the Old World traditions for their children.

Hostility toward the foreign-born arose for a variety of reasons. Nevadans disliked the perpetuation of Old World customs and traditions, believing the United States to be "superior to . . . any nation." They also felt the newcomers instigated labor strikes, violated prohibition laws, and helped create the postwar atmosphere of radicalism and lawlessness. Furthermore, since most immigrants worked for lower wages, Nevadans believed the American laborer would be reduced to the level of the European or Asian peasant. The Las Vegas Age declared, "Our men should not be required to work with and compete with the alien element," and citizens agreed that jobs in Nevada were meant for "Americans only."

In early 1919 the Sparks Tribune declared, "One Hundred Percent Americanism . . . should be the slogan of the times. . . . The man who cannot register one hundred percent Americanism is not a desirable citizen at any time." The chief purveyor of "100% Americanism" in Nevada was the American Legion, which also vowed to "uphold and defend the Constitution, . . . maintain law and order, . . . (and) combat the autocracy of both the classes and the masses." Formed in 1919 by World War veterans, this organizations preached the virtues of "courage, justice, truth, sincerity, and hardihood," and adopted Theodored Roosevelt's racist rhetoric condemning "hyphenated-Americans." Legionaires also demanded "unquestioned loyalty" to America's flag and institutions, and embarked on a campaign to eradicate foreign influence on American life

Nevada's Legion played an instrumental role in suppressing radical activity in Nevada. For their efforts, the Nevada press proclaimed the state's 1,590 Legionnaires the "backbone of the nation," and expected "all men eligible (to become) members . . . of this patriotic organization." The Legion's determination to "hit IWW hard" and "purge" organized labor's ranks of the "Bolshevik menace," made the group immensely popular in Nevada. Citizens and the press adopted the Legion's patriotic rhetoric and supported their campaign for "100% Americanism." The Reno Evening Gazette declared, "If a man is loyal to any other flag . . . he is disloyal to the Stars and Stripes," while the Nevada State Journal exclaimed, "The citizens of this country must be all Americans or nothing." People suspected of not placing "America First" in their hearts and thoughts were labeled "slackers" or "un-American."

The concept of "un-American" is a strange phenomenon arising from the intolerance of World War I and the Red Scare. As historian David Shannon observed, there is no such thing as "un-Norwegian," and the "idea that something is un-French would seem as strange to the ear of a Parisian as the idea of un-Americanism." Nevertheless, Nevadans and the press branded picketing, ethnic societies, "aliens," critics, and reformers as "un-American." The editors of Nevada's newspapers emphatically supported the divisions between patriots and traitors: "Let us respect the one and destroy the other." The Reno Evening Gazette, in a precusor to the 1960s "America Love It or Leave It" slogan, announced: "If these noisy aliens do not like the way Americans run America, let them go back to the countries whence they came."

Nevadans were particularly disturbed with German-Americans, considering them "enemy aliens" who had maintained dual loyalties during the war. Confident that these Germans had upheld their allegiance to their native land during the War, the press branded them "cowardly, disgraceful and un-patriotic" and believed the United States should forever bar "those aliens who . . . neither (fought) for their mother country nor fought for this country . . . (and) bar from citizenship every man who evaded the service." Nevada ridiculed the Germans for keeping their Old World ideas, prejudices, and "Kultur," and suspected that the only solutions was to "get rid of them." Nevadans' hostility was not limited to "Huns." Eight Spanish and Mexican "aliens" who refused to join America's army were "forever barred" from becoming citizens of the U.S. by a judge in March 1919.

Nevadans like most Americans advocated three solutions to the "alien problem": deportation, restriction, and "Americanization." Although citizens urged the government to deport foreigners who were not "100% American" and other "un-American" citizens, Nevadans realized deportation would never work on a large scale. Therefore, they advocated immigration restriction and "Americanizing" those foreigners who remained. The Goldfield Daily Tribune wrote, "Let us keep this country pure . . . . We are more than a spawning ground for the insane and the defectives of the world . . . . We do not want the demoralized elements of Europe . . . . Let us keep America free and let us purify it rather than to further befoul it with those who at heart despise us and our institutions." Other newspapers joined the cry that the United States cannot afford to be made "the dumping ground for Europe's human wreckage" or "the pauperized element of other nations." Advocating restrictions on further immigration to the U.S., the Reno Evening Gazette wished to halt the onslaught of new immigrants who it considered "ignorant" and "mentally untrained for Americanism," and "too much for the melting pot." The Reese River Revielle stated that now was the time to "dam the stream of cheap labor, before it damns us."

Patriotic groups like the American Legion, the United War Veterans, and Reno's United Americans led the clamor for barring the immigration door. All three groups prohibited all "aliens," even veterans, from joining their ranks, advocated deporting non-citizens, anarchists, Bolshevists, and "other undesirables," and believed the United States did not need a dangerous alien population that refused to go through the "melting pot" process. They urged Congress to close the immigration door, to give America time to "digest the mass" it had swallowed.

One Hundred Percenters were dedicated to preserving "the American way of life," maintaining the status quo, and fostering a spirit of conformity. They had little toleration for "hare-brained" reforms, and agreed with one stalwart patriot who remarked, "Individualism? Down with all Isms." One Hundred Percenters attempted to eliminate all remnants of the immigrants' Old World culture, and melt them into the monolithic mold labeled "100% Americanism." To accomplish this task, patriotic organizations established "Americanization" programs to teach American ideals to both foreigners and citizens. The Battle Mountain Scout confidently declared, "The best preventative and cure of Bolshevism is education in American citizenship. A boy or girl who is reared under the influence . . . (of) Americanism . . . will never be a revolutionist." (Our Founding Fathers would have been proud.) Great pressue was exerted on the newcomer to adopt native customs and develop an appreciation for American institutions. Nevada's courts ordered prospective citizens to enroll in "Americanization" classes.

One objective of the "Americanization" movement was to emphasize the teaching of English. Many Nevadans believed enforcing the instruction of English along with a "doctrine of true Americanism" would eliminate radicalism. The editor of the Winnemucca Silver State wrote, "Find a radical and nine times out of ten he can't speak good English." Public officials and editors advaocated other "solutions" to the "melting pot" problem, the Bolshevik threat, and labor unrest: mandatory education, industrial training, instilling "thrift," saluting the flag, and teaching the Constitution.

As the teaching of English was the One Hundred Percenters' primary goal, the state legislature in 1919 passed a law prohibiting the instruction of German or other languages in Nevada's elementary schools. This measure appealed to advocates of "no frills education." The legislature also banned the employment of non-citizens on public works, barred foreigners from filing mining claims and holding water and grazing rights, outlawed interracial marriages, illegal cohabitation, and boxing matches between whites and members of "colored" races. Nevada's "anti-alien" laws produced the desired effect; immigrants either became "Americanized" by filing for citizenship or left the state. Editors rejoiced at the "exodus" of Austrian, Italian, Greek and Oriental immigrants. Ironically, this exodus created a severe shortage of "menial laborers," farmhands, mechanics, and road construction workers throughout the state. The exodus of immigrants from the state was in part due to the strict enforcement of prohibition laws. The Nevada State Journal wrote, "If national prohibition will keep foreigners . . . from coming here . . . it is a good law if for no other reason."

The Japanese were the one significant immigrant group not given the option of Americanization. Nevada's hostility toward the Japanese went far beyond any fears warranted by their number: in 1919 only 754 lived in the state. Japanese had resided in Nevada since the 1890s, and from the beginning had the distinct disadvantage of being neither European or Caucasian. Like most newcomers, they worked for low wages. In January 1919 when Nevada Consolidated Copper Company laid off white workers, they hired several Japanese at lower pay. Nevada's miners were enraged and claimed they could not compete with "coolie" labor. The Tonopah Daily Bonanza labeled the Japanese "a pest of the worst kind" and a "cootie" who "propagates like rabbitry." The Sparks Tribune agreed, declaring, "We don't want the Jap for our neighbor and we don't want the Jap for the associate of our children. . . . (In three years) he will probably be occupying the house adjacent to yours and his friends will live on the other side of you." Other papers condemned the "yellow menace," stating that the Japanese "are not the racial equal of the white man and never will be. Nevadans seized upon the fact that U.S. law prohibited the Japanese and other Orientals from becoming citizens as still another justification to "get rid of the Jap."

Nevadans urged Congress to close the door on the "Japs," while the state's attorney general recommended legislation barring them from owning or leasing land. Churchill County's Commercial Club demanded that the "colored people" should not "let the sunshine on (their) yellow hides here," and refused to allow the "little yellow men" to step off the train. In Las Vegas and Sparks, union members barred the Japanese from membership and urged employers to hire "white men only." Many communities closed Japanese laundries and drove their Oriental populations out of town. This fervent "anti-Jap" clamor eventually led to a law in 1921 prohibiting the purchase of land in Nevada by persons "ineligible for citizenship."

The state's growing hostility toward immigrants also colored its attitudes of "foreign" political ideologies, such as socialism. Nevadans like most Americans viewed socialism as an "un-American" Eastern European political philosophy. Many foreigners who had been socialists in Europe brought socialism with them to the United States. As David Shannon has observed, "The circumstances of living in a strange new land did not necessarily change the . . . immigrant's social and economic ideas and attitudes." Like the ethnic society and the church, the Socialist Party represented another way in which Nevada's newcomers maintained their Old World identity and traditions. Given the state's fanatical intolerance of "aliens" and foreign institutions, Nevada's Socialist Party became the chief political victim of the post war Red Scare.

Entering Nevada politics with the 1906 Election, the Socialist party thereafter profited from the reactionary behavior of bothe major parties. In 1908 Democratic governor John Sparks used federal troops to quell a Goldfield labor strike, and in 1912 Republican governor Tasker L. Oddie sent state troops to McGill during a labor dispute. Both incidents enraged Nevada's immigrant miners, and thousands of them joined the new Socialist party.

Nevada's Socialist party gained most of its new members from the Democrats. Socialist clubs sprang up in traditional Democratic strongholds throughout the state, with one of the strongest in Tonopah. In 1912 at the height of the party's popularity, Tonopah miners elected Socialist candidate Martin J. Scanlon to the state Senate and J. F. Lewis to the state Assembly. In that same election, Nevadans gave the Socialist presidential candidate, Eugene V. Debs, substantial support. Debs ran third behind Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt, polling more votes than President Taft. Although Nevada's Socialists failed to win state elections after 1912, several were elected sheriff, justice of the peace and county assessor. If America had not entered the World War, the Socialist party might well have become a major force in Nevada politics. In 1914 the Socialist candidate for the United States Senate, A. Grant Miller, received over 20 percent of the vote, and in 1916 he polled almost a third of the vote in a race against Samuel Platt and the popular Key Pittman. However, the outbreak of World War severely damaged Socialist influence in Nevada.

In May 1916 socialists had founded a colony in Churchill County, four miles of Fallon. The community, called Nevada City, was located on land reclaimed by the Newlands Reclamation project. The colony's physical isolation made it an excellent place to preserve traditional socialist ideals and to create a socialist utopia. The strong anti-war stand of Nevada's Socialists helped the group politically and coincided with the Democratic party's attitude toward the war. During the election of 1916, thousands of American Socialists deserted their party's standardbearer to vote for the Democratic "peace" candidate, Woodrow Wilson.

With the outbreak of war, the Socialist party's persistent antimilitarism ceased to be a political asset. Nevada City's newspaper denounced Wilson's war and recommended Nevada as a haven for antiwar agitators and draft evaders. The colony became a refuge for pacifists, and the draftboard listed one of the colony's members, Paul Walters, as a draft "dodger," and ordered Sheriff Mark Wildes of Fallon to arrest him. While attempting to do so, Sheriff Wildes was killed. A manhunt for Walters ensued, resulting in the killing of the young evader by bounty hunter "Skinny" Pascal. The antagonism toward the colony after the incident caused most the residents to leave. By 1918 only a few families remained at Nevada City, and a year later, the Socialist's Nevada Colony Corporation sold its 320 acres of farm land, officially ending Nevada's socialist utopia.

The general animosity toward "slackers" during the war, doomed Nevada's Socialist party. After the United States entered the war, many Socialists demonstrated a preference for patriotism over socialism. Several members of the colony left to join the army while others, such as Grant Miller took government positions. Miller, the Socialist party leader in Nevada, joined the Republican party in 1917 and turned to ferreting out subversive elements as the head of Nevada's wartime Defense Council. The Socialist party's decline was particularly evident in the elections of 1918 and 1920. In 1918 Martin J. Scanlon, the Socialist candidate for the Senate, received only 710 votes, less than three percent of the total. In the party's last election in 1920, the Socialist candidate received less than two percent of the vote.

By the outbreak of the Red Scare in 1919, a combination of outside pressures and internal dissension had dissolved the Socialist party's influence in Nevada. Nevada's antagonism toward local Socialists in the state was reinforced by radical activities on the national scene. Socialist leaders who preached paciicism and other "un-American" beliefs, like Eugene V. Debs and Victor L. Berger, provoked the public's wrath. To Nevadans, radicals like Debs and Burger, along with local Socialists, symbolized the Communist conspiracy to overthrow the United States. Citizens condemned all Socialists, and demanded that they renounce their radical philosophies and join traditional political parties. Those rejecting this option were told to leave the state, or suffer the consequences.

Although by 1919 Nevada Socialists played no active role in state elections, they remained active in local politics. In Tonopah, the Socialist candidates ran as independents and continued winning at least one office every election. Most of their support came from immigrants, miners and other members of the laboring class. This growth of "independent" support threatened the power of the conservative business community and the tradition of two-party politics in the town. Nevada's reactionary press struggled to undermine support for "independents" by equating the local Socialists with radicals and Bolsheviks. Editors branded the Socialists and their sympathizers "un-American" and denounced the party as "the greatest menace this country has to face." Obviously feeling the pressures of the antiradical sentiment, the more moderate Tonopah Daily Times declared taht the Socialist party had sprouted "an ultra radical" left wing which had drifted "far from their original ideals." In short, the Times believed the Socialist party had gone to the "bow-wows."

In January 1919 a Nye County state senate seat became vacant with the death of Tonopah's Senator James Wesley Stewart. County Republicans urged Governor Boyle to appoint Mrs. Oline Stewart to finish her husband's term. Boyle, a Democrat, ordered a special election. Fearing a contest against Harry Dunseath, a popular Socialist, the Republicans urged the Nye County Taxpayers Association to protest Boyle's decision as "too costly." Ignoring the protest, the state attorney issued a statement setting Tonopah's special election for January 17. While the Socialist party nominated Dunseath, a former Justice of the Peace, the Democrats joined the Republicans in supporting Mrs. Stewart. The Bonanza decried Dunseath's candidacy as "sinister," and an attempte "to thwart the wishes of the representative voters by foisting an interloper on the Nevada Senate."

The "budget-conscious" Taxpayers Association sought a temporary restraining order halting election preparations. The petition, filed by one George Christian, an ex-soldier, claimed he would lose his vote because military service prevented his registration in the last election. Judge Mark Averill of Tonopah agreed and granted a temporary injunction. Averill, who had been an outspoken critic of the special election, then disqualifieds himself, leaving further decisions to Judge J. Emmett Walsh of Goldfield. On January 16, after hearing Christian's petition, Judge Walsh ordered a permanent injunction barring the special election in Nye County. Most citizens in Tonopah approved the decision. Nevertheless, the reactionary Bonanza, once in favor of the injunction, now disapproved, characterizing Walsh's ruling a "sinister plot" framed by "Bolshevists and IWWs." It was never clear if William W. Booth, the editor of the Bonanza, aimed his "sinister plot" label at the judge or the Socialists. In any event, the Bonanza's rival paper called Booth the "laughingstock" of Tonopah, and urged Judge Walsh to hold Booth in contempt for his remarks. When confronted with this perceived Socialist threat, Nevadans proved willing to suspend the electoral process.

In November 1920 the Socialist party entered its last Nevada election, nominating candidates for the United States Senate, Congress, three state Assembly seats and various county offices. Tonopah's Socialists ran Harry Dunseath for district attorney, William Thomas for sheriff, and four others as "independents." From the campaign's beginning the Socialists posed a serious problem for Tonopah's Republicans and Democrats. The Reno Evening Gazette gave the Socialists a good chance of winning. To exclude the popular independents from the November ballot, the state filed a petition with Judge E. T. Lunsford of Reno on behalf of Nye County's political parties questioning the legality of the Socialists' nominating petitions. Judge Lunsford barred the six independents from the election, causing the Bonanza to exclaim, "Had they filed as Socialists . . . instead of attempting to use the camouflage of independents, this question of law evasion would not have come up." The Bonanza concluded that the candidates were trying to excape the Socialist "stigma."

Dunseath and Thomas appealed Lunsford's ruling to the Nevada Supreme Court which overturned the decision, stating the move was only to bar Socialists from the ballot. After a vicious campaign, Dunseath lost in a close election, while Thomas won by just nineteen votes. Other Socialist candidates in the state lost by substantial margins. This poor showing enabled the state attorney general, as prescribed by Nevada's election laws, to permanently remove the Socialist party from the ballot and ban its recognition as a distinct political party.

The experience of 1919-1920 of Nevada's immigrant population and Socialist party clearly illustrates the problems of those the state defined "un-American." The treatment of these groups ran the gamut from strident denunciation to repressive legislation and judicial harassment. However, their problems stopped short of the violence that occurred in other pasts of the country. While both groups were seen as undesirable when they refused to conform, neither was numerous enough to warrant physical attack. More extreme was the treatment Nevada reserved the group it perceived as most threatening: the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

All Rights Reserved, 1979, 2002 by Ted DeCorte.

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